Modern Conservatism

It is a sad statement about the efficacy of our democracy that most countries have two parties; a progressive party and a conservative one. One party seeks to change, the other seeks to preserve. This is all conservative can really be said to mean. It is an ideology of stagnation. I will use the term sometimes, such as in ‘socially-conservative’, however I use it because it’s a term that’s understood. Truthfully, the terminology is incorrect. I do not want to conserve the current social order. I want to change it, but I want to change it in a way that the progressive party do not. Therefore, conservative is the only tag that will do. This conflict is at the centre of Conservatism as an ideology. It does not know what it is. As time progresses and society changes, a new, little conservative ideology comes into existence, alongside the relic ideologies that had looked to preserve a world order that has now disappeared. Certain people will join a conservative party because they want to maintain our current neo-liberal capitalism, but it would be impossible to equate their tradition with that of Viscount Bolingbroke.

The ultimate conservative was Benjamin Disraeli. Selfish and ambitious, Disraeli liked the Conservative party because it provided him professional opportunities. His political opinions changed with the wind, he followed public opinion as though in a raft on a fast flowing river. Gladstone, a man with political and moral principles, soon found that he couldn’t maintain those principles in the Conservative party. He had to join the opposition. And this set the pattern for British politics for over a century. The progressive party, of whatever breed, would suggest an idea. The Conservative party would gain support from the electorate by rubbishing it, right up to the point where the idea became popular, when they would promptly pass it in to law and claim it for themselves. This behaviour makes it very difficult to describe oneself as a conservative without a cringing sense of shame. The majority of those on the right feel this; they, as I, treat the Conservatives like a slow-moving disaster, compared to the instant catastrophe of a Labour government. The Conservatives are better, only in that they will do the same things but with less conviction. They call themselves the ‘Party of Government’ – this is true, but it’s all they are.

The Conservative party in opposition should really be in its natural state, but in reality it’s a sorry affair. They have so few beliefs of their own all they can do is whimper disapproval as the Labour party begins its wanton destruction. They are forced to create an opinion of their own as they can no longer define themselves by their own success. And this is where they really show their true colours. The 70s conservative party created themselves a new ideology based on the resuscitation of the old liberal order – neo-liberalism – and finally revealed what modern conservatism stands for. Liberalism. The Conservative party and the Republican parties are Liberal parties. And this is no surprise. We live in a liberal society, they have no opinions other than desperate preservation, thus they are liberals. In fact, the whole establishment is liberal, socially and economically. Corporations, the media, government, parliament, education, policing, all of it is run with the liberal order in mind. Everyone knows this and yet, somehow, there is still some confusion. Right and left will clash over the BBC; each thinks it is biased against their cause. Some say the BBC tried to sink Brexit, some that it tried to sink Jeremy Corbyn. Some argue that, because both sides have been offended, that the BBC must therefore be fairly even-handed. Only one of these opinions is wrong. The BBC is a liberal institution; it tried to sink Brexit and Corbyn, and for the same reason.

The confusion over this is disastrous for left and right. For the right, they implore the government to do something about the BBC, the education system, the media; to stop the liberal bias. The government places conservatives in positions of power and the right are mollified, but of course they’ve been tricked. In a liberal society, the conservative is a Liberal. For the left, they are constantly mollified with trinkets and gestures, hanging rainbow flags and talking earnestly about racism, while the central structure of the society remains utterly unchanged. Radical socialism, or even social-democracy, is constantly undermined as the ruling classes placate protestors with empty gestures that distract and do nothing to help. If you are reading this and you regard yourself as a progressive and a rebel, think for a moment about recent protests. If you make a stand on an issue and you are immediately supported by the government, the opposition, the aristocracy, the corporations, the media, the police, the church and the military, perhaps you are not a rebel, but a crutch for the establishment. Much like the right, which has been forced into a box called conservative, the wealth of leftist thought is now being crammed into a box called ‘progressive’. In a similar manner to how conservatives have just become advocates for whatever the present state of affairs, progressives will just become advocates for the future state of affairs and lose their capacity to decide what that should mean.

We must not allow ourselves to fall into those binary boxes, people must define their ideologies. Ideology is dangerous when held to rigidly, but they are helpful to group people with genuinely common interests. The ‘left’ used to be represented by Liberals. When the Socialists, who had nothing in common with them, came onto the scene, they didn’t just merge with the liberals by virtue of the fact both sides wanted ‘progress’. That would’ve been meaningless. The Socialists founded their own party and, particularly in 1945, made a tremendous impact, not towards ‘progress’ but towards Socialism. The left must remember that and the right must learn it. I reject the current liberal order, both economically and socially. Therefore, there would be no value in supporting the Conservative party in its current avatar. We must define our own ideology outside of the binary of progress against preservation, just as the Socialists did. And this is the time to do it. Liberalism, which can be described as simply as possible as right-leaning economically and left-leaning socially, is probably the least popular ideology in the country currently. There are many on the left who are socially and economically left-leaning. There are many on the right that are socially and economically right-leaning. I would wager there are a significant amount of people, particularly among the working class, that are susceptible to leftist economics and social-conservatism. But the liberal, capitalist order is almost completely derided outside of the ruling classes.

I usually call this establishment the Whigs. The primary reason for this is that ‘liberal’ has a number of different implications. It often suggests left-wing, while most Whigs are in the Conservative party. It often suggests support of personal freedom, which I don’t really believe is their intention at all. The second reason is that the old Whigs far better represent this current order than the Liberals ever did. The Liberals were, mostly, a progressive party. The Whigs were a ‘liberal’ establishment, formed from bourgeoisie whose entire motivation for greater liberality was the growth of their businesses and empires, not in the slightest the happiness of those at the bottom. I am also aware, of course, that Americans often use the term ‘liberal’ to mean left-wing and that in the UK we still have a centre-left Liberal Party. This is not what I am referring to. The Whigs are the establishment liberals across all parties. They are the bulk of the Conservative party, moderate Labour party members and most Lib-dems. They are internationalists and fervent capitalists, materialists and snobs. We should all benefit if these Whigs are identified for what they are. Maybe then we can finally have an election where their removal from power is on the ballot.

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