Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The 2015 Committee?

I love those Conservative MPs who are saying that they would have to have a vote on any new Coalition Agreement.

Which party did they think that they had joined?

They are there to do as they are told. That is just how the Conservative Party works.

If you don't like that, then join one of the other ones.


  1. Off-topic-but which book of yours covers the history of conservatism in Britain?

  2. The second one. There is quite a bit on it in there.

  3. If it explores any or all of Carlyle, Coleridge, Newsom, Oakeshott, Cortes or De Maistre, I'd be interested in getting hold of a copy.

  4. Oh, no, I am trying to get other people to write that one. Watch this space.

  5. Why don't you write it?

    And what British conservative thinkers does your book cover?

  6. It mostly says that there aren't any, or hardly any. The Conservative Party is a Liberal creation and vehicle, while the Jacobites became the Left.

  7. Hardly any? What?

    Erm what about Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas Carlyle, John Henry Newman, John Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, TS Elliott, Michael Oakeshott, F.R Leavis and G.K Chesterton?

    Hardly any?

  8. Yes, hardly any.

    Apart from the very unfortunate religious opinions of Coleridge, Carlyle or Arnold, I do not see what many, if any, people on that list have to do with British Conservatism.

    Put a random but representative passage of, say, GKC in front of any adherent thereof, and he would screech about Communism, Cultural Marxism and the Frankfurt School until he was barely able to breathe.

    As for more specifically "religious" writers such as Newman, he would take it as read that they were nothing to do with politics.

    Conservative intellectuals, as such, are almost entirely a Continental and a wider Latin phenomenon. Almost all English-speaking writers who think that they are, in fact are not.

    Any attempt to construct an intellectual conservatism in Britain leads one to the very British, very un-Continental Left.

    Indeed, that was largely how the very British, very un-Continental Left started. Not least by reference to most or all of the writers whom you list.

  9. "I do not see what many, if any, people on that list have to do with British Conservatism."

    They are listed in any good book on traditionalist conservatism as its leading intellectual proponents in Britain-with Leavis and Elliott the most recent in a long line.

    As Roger Scruton wrote "without Eliot, the philosophy of Toryism would have lost all substance during the last century".

    They all defended high culture, natural law, classicism, hierarchy, tradition and custom, private property and organic unity.

    The reactionary views of those I listed would be screamed down as "chauvinist, racist, Victorian, sexist, homophobic, prudish, elitist, snobbish" (or variations on that theme) by almost any British Leftist today.

    FR Leavis rightly called TS Elliot the last great conservative intellectual in Britain.

    I suggest you read the many great British conservative thinkers.

    Continental conservatism simply cannot compare to us-because Britain's tradition of civil liberties, common law and parliamentary democracy is entirely unique in Europe.

    There's nothing like it anywhere else (apart from our former colonies).

    Continental Europe stopped admiring our freedom since they adopted The Rights of Man and the Code Napoleon.

    History has since shown they have less than nothing to teach us.

  10. Scruton is a fringe figure in Britain. It does not necessarily give me any pleasure to say so, but there we are. His only potential audience is closed off to him by being the Cult of Margaret Thatcher instead; Edward Norman's Church Times obituary of her was devastating.

    Scruton should have been French. Traditionalism has little or no political following here, except perhaps in sections of municipal Old Labour and the trade union movement. Most people think of Eliott as poet for teenage boys.

    You have the difference with the Continent entirely the wrong way round. There are still real critiques of the Revolution and of its works published well within the mainstream in several Continental countries, especially France.

    Whereas the acceptance of the Whig paradigm on the British Right and on most of the British Left is total.

    The only exception worth mentioning, possibly the only one that exists, is the Postliberal movement that failed to become Red Toryism but which has become Blue Labour.

    Nothing comparable to the intellectual power that some of us had the privilege of experiencing at the recent Nottingham conference exists anywhere else in British political thought today.

  11. Thanks for your reply.

    I don't know where to begin here (I suppose I'm going to have to get this book since it is at least an interesting argument).

    If your argument is that there are many great British conservative thinkers, but we don't pay enough attention to them (and their ideas are now dead on these shores) then I agree.

    But to say that there are "hardly any" great British conservative thinkers is just demonstrably wrong.

    Our conservative intellectual tradition is incredibly rich and influential.

    Russell Kirk often acknowledged the enormous intellectual debt he owed Carlyle, Coleridge and Newman in particular (not to mention Burke). As did Disraeli.

    Carlyle's criticism of the "cash nexus" of industrial capitalism (and his defence of hierarchy, custom and tradition over utopian ideology, class unity and organic society) is the precursor to many of the movements you describe.

    The same is true of John Ruskin, whose defence of high culture against the commercial 'race to the bottom' in the arts and academia mirrored that of Leavis, Elliot and Matthew Arnold (you ought to like Ruskin-he used to call himself a 'Christian socialist').

    Far from being some pop-culture poet, TS Elliott has rightly been called the 'last great poet of the English language' (as well as the last great conservative of that tongue).

    As for Continental Europe-I admire De Maistre, Cortes and De Bonald certainly had important things to say.

    And I'm not surprised the Europeans still criticise the French Revolution...unlike us, most of their Constitutions and legal systems still derive from the Code Napoleon and those 'utopian abstractions' known as the Rights of Man (from armed gendarmeries to "human rights", civil law and ID Cards).

    But the point is that Europe has no tradition of law-governed liberty to compare with Britain's. So conservatism just doesn't mean the same thing over there.

    Britain's system of common law, presumption of innocence, adversarial courts, limited government and long-running Parliamentary democracy is unique in Europe.

    We've avoided the Continental norm of secret police forces, torture chambers, standing armies and military dictatorships (Cromwell was a minor aberration swiftly corrected).

    The very idea of respect for the 'rule of law' (as Orwell observed in 'Lion and The Unicorn') is an entirely British phenomenon.

    That is why Britain's is really the only European country where conservatism goes hand-in-hand with "ordered liberty"...as Edmund Burke once called it.

  12. Our conservative intellectual tradition is incredibly rich and influential.

    Rich. But not influential. Not on the Right, anyway. Increasingly on the Left, though.

    Try Carlyle or Ruskin on anyone in the Conservative Party or UKIP, or even on anyone who votes for either of them, and see the reaction. Try Roger Scruton, come to that. Never mind Russell Kirk.

    Try Kirk on almost any professing American conservative. He never even learned to drive. I don't think taht you get any further from all things Reagan-Thatcher than that (although I don't know if she could drive, but she certainly always expected to have a man on hand who could).

    I never said that Elliot was a pop culture poet. I said that most people associate him with his teenage male admirers in each generation, although there is nothing pop-cultural about the boys in question. That that is how people see him, makes my point. It was not lost on him when he was alive.

    Your subscription to the Whig interpretation of history is total. You do not even seem to realise that you are doing it.

    Mention of Scruton raises an important point: the critiques of Liberalism on the Continent and in the Latin world are certainly not grounded in anything so sandy as religion-without-God, good-Cranmer-and-King-James-atheism, a position to which even Christopher Hitchens subscribed and to which even Richard Dawkins still does subscribe.

    But that is as much as English Toryism will bear, and it struggles even with that. It is a pure product of the Enlightenment and of the Revolutions. Especially of the American Revolution, which it represents more faithfully than most Americans do, and the principles which it accepts uncritically as normative, from civic secularism to the inherent evil of personal taxation.