Thursday, 28 February 2013

“A very good horse to ride; but to ride somewhere.”

So said Matthew Arnold, in turn quoted by Roger Scruton in a thoughtful article in Prospect magazine on the future direction of political conservatism in Britain. Of course, British Conservatism has always been notoriously (or famously, depending on one's point of view) pragmatic, even dismissive and suspicious of anything which could be categorised as 'ideology'. 
However, one of the concerns of those who are broadly 'religious conservatives' (very inaccurate shorthand, as the theological and ethical aims, particularly of orthodox 'catholics,' are in many ways different, but it will have to do for now) with their modern political counterparts is, in Scruton's words, that the latter seem now to advocate  "a new kind of conservatism which conserves nothing, changes everything, and is guided by the very same rhetoric of equality and human rights that shapes the left-liberal agenda." - and, we could add, a secularist liberal-left agenda at that. That is a very far cry from the traditional Tory, essentially socially conservative, battle cry of Church and Crown: it's not even an attempt to update it in a way which would make sense to contemporary society. 
Little, then, seems to be left of traditional conservatism except an adherence to free market economics (and in its degenerate form, corporatism)  and social utilitarianism, things which, of course, are historically  nineteenth century 'liberal' views rather than anything which could be said to lie at the heart of conservative philosophy. The Conservative Party seems now in the strange position of being entirely dependent upon a culture which is inimical to its traditional core values and forced to adopt in perpetuity the agenda of its opponents. 
Here are two excerpts from the article, which is a (not totally unsympathetic) critique of the arguments of a group of Tory modernisers:
"...On this point the contributors to Tory Modernisation 2.0 are uncertain. What is it, in the end, that they wish to hold on to: the nation, the Union, the family, the free economy, the freedom of the individual? Their discussions veer constantly away from the places where this question can be asked. The tone is for the most part secular, utilitarian and disenchanted. Religion is off the agenda; so too is national sovereignty. The loss of our legal autonomy to Europe is barely mentioned. The family is there, sort of—but gay marriage is above it on the agenda. The contributors are serious people, troubled by the obvious fact that the old sources of social sentiment, to which we might appeal in building a civil society that is not just another name for the state, are drying up. But—with the exception of Willetts and d’Ancona—they show little or no familiarity with the tradition of conservative thinking. Modernisation seems to mean looking at the world as though it began this morning. The result is interesting in its way: but it would be better described as the “postmodernisation” of the Tory party. And I doubt that the electorate would vote for a postmodern Tory party..."
"...This leads me back to philosophy. What, in the end, does a conservative seek to conserve, and why? If you can answer those questions you can address the practical corollary: how? The answer is implicit in the arguments of the five MPs. They are seeking to conserve a country and its institutions, in the face of internal and external threats. They do not believe that Britain can flourish, either economically or morally, under the present weight of welfare dependency, or with an education system that puts equality ahead of knowledge as its goal. They believe that British business must be freed from excessive regulation if it is to function properly, and that the free economy is an asset that we should value as much as we value freedom generally. They point to all the areas, from policing to healthcare, in which regulation is defeating initiative, and tired old policies are holding us back. And I find nothing to disagree with in their diagnoses. However, their argument raises a question that it does not answer: just what is this country, this Britain, that they wish to conserve? ..."
The full article can be found here

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