Friday, January 25, 2008

The case for Conservativism

Many times over the past year Cranmer has been asked why he is a Conservative. There are many reasons, yet none that have not been previously articulated more eloquently or more incisively by eminent others, like The Monarchist. The request for an apologetic treatment brought to mind the Christian and Kantian and pre-eminent Burkean Roger Scruton: ‘one of the most perceptive critics of the modern world. A professional philosopher, Scruton's insights have a holistic depth so sorely lacking in much of the professional punditry. Unlike most academics...his writing is striking by being not merely intelligible, a feat for anyone who has emerged from extensive contact with academic philosophy, but elegant’. In ‘Why I became a Conservative’, he observes:

A nation is defined by its language, religion, and high culture
The Old Fascist was de Gaulle, whose Mémoires de guerre I had been reading that day. The Mémoires begin with a striking sentence — “Toute ma vie, je me suis fait une certaine idée de la France” — a sentence so alike in its rhythm and so contrary in its direction to that equally striking sentence which begins A la recherche du temps perdu: “Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure.” How amazing it had been, to discover a politician who begins his self-vindication by suggesting something — and something so deeply hidden behind the bold mask of his words! I had been equally struck by the description of the state funeral for Valéry — de Gaulle’s first public gesture on liberating Paris — since it too suggested priorities unimaginable in an English politician. The image of the cortège, as it took its way to the cathedral of Notre Dame, the proud general first among the mourners, and here and there a German sniper still looking down from the rooftops, had made a vivid impression on me. I irresistibly compared the two bird’s-eye views of Paris, that of the sniper, and my own on to the riots in the quartier latin. They were related as yes and no, the affirmation and denial of a national idea. According to the Gaullist vision, a nation is defined not by institutions or borders but by language, religion, and high culture; in times of turmoil and conquest it is those spiritual things that must be protected and reaffirmed. The funeral for Valéry followed naturally from this way of seeing things. And I associated the France of de Gaulle with Valéry’s Cimetière marin — that haunting invocation of the dead which conveyed to me, much more profoundly than any politician’s words or gestures, the true meaning of a national idea.


Socialism is antithetical human nature
When I first read Burke’s account of the French Revolution I was inclined to accept, since I knew no other, the liberal humanist view of the Revolution as a triumph of freedom over oppression, a liberation of a people from the yoke of absolute power. Although there were excesses—and no honest historian had ever denied this — the official humanist view was that they should be seen in retrospect as the birth-pangs of a new order, which would offer a model of popular sovereignty to the world. I therefore assumed that Burke’s early doubts — expressed, remember, when the Revolution was in its very first infancy, and the King had not yet been executed nor the Terror begun — were simply alarmist reactions to an ill-understood event. What interested me in the Reflections was the positive political philosophy, distinguished from all the leftist literature that was currently à la mode, by its absolute concretion, and its close reading of the human psyche in its ordinary and unexalted forms. Burke was not writing about socialism, but about revolution. Nevertheless he persuaded me that the utopian promises of socialism go hand in hand with a wholly abstract vision of the human mind—a geometrical version of our mental processes which has only the vaguest relation to the thoughts and feelings by which real human beings live. He persuaded me that societies are not and cannot be organized according to a plan or a goal, that there is no direction to history, and no such thing as moral or spiritual progress.


The pursuit of liberty and virtue is individual
Most of all he emphasised that the new forms of politics, which hope to organise society around the rational pursuit of liberty, equality, fraternity, or their modernist equivalents, are actually forms of militant irrationality. There is no way in which people can collectively pursue liberty, equality, and fraternity, not only because those things are lamentably under-described and merely abstractly defined, but also because collective reason doesn’t work that way. People reason collectively towards a common goal only in times of emergency — when there is a threat to be vanquished, or a conquest to be achieved. Even then, they need organisation, hierarchy, and a structure of command if they are to pursue their goal effectively. Nevertheless, a form of collective rationality does emerge in these cases, and its popular name is war.


And the greatest of these is love
Moreover — and here is the corollary that came home to me with a shock of recognition — any attempt to organise society according to this kind of rationality would involve exactly the same conditions: the declaration of war against some real or imagined enemy. Hence the strident and militant language of the socialist literature — the hate-filled, purpose-filled, bourgeois-baiting prose, one example of which had been offered to me in 1968, as the final vindication of the violence beneath my attic window, but other examples of which, starting with the Communist Manifesto, were the basic diet of political studies in my university. The literature of left-wing political science is a literature of conflict, in which the main variables are those identified by Lenin: “Kto? Kogo?”—“Who? Whom?” The opening sentence of de Gaulle’s memoirs is framed in the language of love, about an object of love — and I had spontaneously resonated to this in the years of the student “struggle". De Gaulle’s allusion to Proust is to a masterly evocation of maternal love, and to a dim premonition of its loss.


Real freedom is found in subjection to tradition and truth
In effect Burke was upholding the old view of man in society, as subject of a sovereign, against the new view of him, as citizen of a state. And what struck me vividly was that, in defending this old view, Burke demonstrated that it was a far more effective guarantee of the liberties of the individual than the new idea, which was founded in the promise of those very liberties, only abstractly, universally, and therefore unreally defined. Real freedom, concrete freedom, the freedom that can actually be defined, claimed, and granted, was not the opposite of obedience but its other side. The abstract, unreal freedom of the liberal intellect was really nothing more than childish disobedience, amplified into anarchy.


Conservatism is an organic movement, not a petrified monument
I had been struck by Eliot’s essay entitled “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in which tradition is represented as a constantly evolving, yet continuous thing, which is remade with every addition to it, and which adapts the past to the present and the present to the past. This conception, which seemed to make sense of Eliot’s kind of modernism (a modernism that is the polar opposite of that which has prevailed in architecture), also rescued the study of the past, and made my own love of the classics in art, literature, and music into a valid part of my psyche as a modern human being.


Collectivism is a taste of hell
It was not until much later, after my first visit to communist Europe, that I came to understand and sympathise with the negative energy in Burke. I had grasped the positive thesis — the defence of prejudice, tradition, and heredity, and of a politics of trusteeship in which the past and the future had equal weight to the present — but I had not grasped the deep negative thesis, the glimpse into Hell, contained in his vision of the Revolution. As I said, I shared the liberal humanist view of the French Revolution, and knew nothing of the facts that decisively refuted that view and which vindicated the argument of Burke’s astonishingly prescient essay. My encounter with Communism entirely rectified this.


The best human beings can hope for
Briefly, I spent the next ten years in daily meditation on Communism, on the myths of equality and fraternity that underlay its oppressive routines, just as they had underlain the routines of the French Revolution. And I came to see that Burke’s account of the Revolution was not merely a piece of contemporary history. It was like Milton’s account of Paradise Lost — an exploration of a region of the human psyche: a region that lies always ready to be visited, but from which return is by way of a miracle, to a world whose beauty is thereafter tainted by the memories of Hell. To put it very simply, I had been granted a vision of Satan and his work — the very same vision that had shaken Burke to the depths of his being. And I at last recognised the positive aspect of Burke’s philosophy as a response to that vision, as a description of the best that human beings can hope for, and as the sole and sufficient vindication of our life on earth.

Conservatism as a lasting vision of human society
Henceforth I understood conservatism not as a political credo only, but as a lasting vision of human society, one whose truth would always be hard to perceive, harder still to communicate, and hardest of all to act upon. And especially hard is it now, when religious sentiments follow the whims of fashion, when the global economy throws our local loyalties into disarray, and when materialism and luxury deflect the spirit from the proper business of living. But I do not despair, since experience has taught me that men and women can flee from the truth only for so long, that they will always, in the end, be reminded of the permanent values, and that the dreams of liberty, equality, and fraternity will excite them only in the short-term.

The task before us
As to the task of transcribing, into the practice and process of modern politics, the philosophy that Burke made plain to the world, this is perhaps the greatest task that we now confront. I do not despair of it; but the task cannot be described or embraced by a slogan. It requires not a collective change of mind but a collective change of heart.


Anonymous asian colonial subject said...

Anyone read his "Case for Conservatism"? A brilliant book and articulation of the dogma of Conservatism.

Here's the link to his other online journals and articles:

25 January 2008 at 09:26  
Anonymous maty tudor said...

An updating of Christopher Logue's 1966 poem 'I shall vote Labour' has recently come to my majesty's regal attention:


I shall vote Labour because

God votes Labour.

I shall vote Labour in order to protect

the sacred institution of The Family.

I shall vote Labour because

I am a dog.

I shall vote Labour because Richard Wilson votes Labour.

I shall vote Labour because

upper-class hoorays annoy me in expensive restaurants.

I shall vote Labour because

I am on a diet.

I shall vote Labour because if I don't

somebody else will:


I shall vote Labour because if one person does it

everybody will be wanting to do it.

I shall vote Labour because

my husband looks like John Prescott.

I shall vote Labour because I am obedient.

I shall vote Labour because if I do not vote Labour

my balls will drop off.

I shall vote Labour because

there are too few cars on the road.

I shall vote Labour because

Gordon Brown promised me £5 if I did.

I shall vote Labour because I am a Trotskyite

and my brain is in a deformed state.

I shall vote Labour because I am

a hopeless drug addict.

I shall vote Labour because

I failed to be a millionaire aged three.

I shall vote Labour because Labour will build

more maximum-security prisons.

I shall vote Labour because I want to shop

in an all-weather precinct stretching from Yeovil to Glasgow.

I shall vote Labour because Peter Mandelson kissed me.

I shall vote Labour because I am in favour of keeping Trident.

I shall vote Labour because

the Queen's stamp collection is the best in the world.

I shall vote Labour because

deep in my heart

I am a Conservative.

25 January 2008 at 10:56  
Anonymous nedsherry said...

A nation is defined by its language, religion, and high culture...

All of which flow from something more fundamental still: its race. A conservatism that does not place race at its heart is liberalism under another name, because if whites lose control of Europe, their religion and culture will be lost too. Rhodesia is an excellent example of the process and South Africa is a better example by the day. Scruton is moving towards a realization of this and I hope His Grace is doing the same:

Roger Scruton on Immigration, Multiculturalism and the Need to Defend the Nation State

25 January 2008 at 15:09  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr Nedsherry,

Scripture is clear that there is neither Jew nor Greek in Christianity. The faith transcends race.

25 January 2008 at 15:22  
Blogger AethelBald, King of Wessex said...

Maty Tudor,

I love your poem. You are so funny. Will you marry me? I'm in a "maty" kind of mood, too, at the moment. Oh wait, does Roger have an opinion on whether the long-dead may marry? Good Lord, I've just had a horrible thought. Perhaps you're really a man? He wouldn't like that, not even if we were both dead.

Ah, Roger. A Real Conservative. So much the part, even to the extent of becoming a fox-hunting gentleman farmer, that one might wonder what was going on in his state-educated head. In between the Great Thoughts, I mean.

I also wonder if His Grace is not perhaps "having us on" with this post? What, after all, does Burkean conservatism have to do with the present Conservative Party? Both parties are so much the same, so "communitarian", and so psephologically obsessed that any real debate has to be held outside their ranks. Both have expelled their Jacobins and both are more interested in focus groups than in principles. The Conservatives might even prefer it if he kept a low profile, and not because he's wrong about so many things. Quite the opposite.

25 January 2008 at 15:43  
Blogger Wrinkled Weasel said...

"any attempt to organise society according to this kind of rationality would involve exactly the same conditions: the declaration of war against some real or imagined enemy"

This is a theme in "1984"; a society perpetually at war, the sole purpose being to keep its members adrenalized, aquiescent and unquestioning.

Its also the process where liberal nihilism - political correctness - seeks to find scapegoats.

A very important article.

25 January 2008 at 15:53  
Anonymous hear o israel said...

your grace most interesting

i refer to 1 cor 13
if i speak in tongues of men and angels , but have not love .I am only a resounding gong or clanging cymbal.

the verse then carries on to define what love isnt rather than what love is , which perlexes alot of people but i have now come to appreciate the wisdom of the words as i grow a little older.

most of my youth i was labour , then i mellowed into the lull of liberal thinking. it is only when you are forced to work out the endings or even have to experience the harsher realities that you begin to value conservatism.

socialist,marxist, communist and liberal thinking all have very sad endings , they waste , they consume , they destroy all to make there ideaology work. they are an imposter of love because they only seek power and not the christian change of heart that transforms the human mind and heart.

25 January 2008 at 17:02  
Blogger Miss Jelly bean said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

25 January 2008 at 17:23  
Blogger Miss Jelly bean said...

There is no way in which people can collectively pursue liberty, equality, and fraternity, not only because those things are lamentably under-described and merely abstractly defined, but also because collective reason doesn’t work that way."

But what about Rousseau's concept of the general will? The idea that "individuals submit not to the will of any other person, but subject themselves to a set of general conditions or conventions that they themselves have willed. The forms these conventions take, from the perspective of each citizen, is that they place the same limits on the freedom of others that persons are willing to accept for themselves."

This way we are able to exercise a collective will without infringing upon each others individual will and sovereignty. We are therefore able to pursue collective liberty and equality by exercising the general will... I think.

I read this book about Rousseau's 'the social contract' and I'm not sure whether I agree with him. I find him confusing at times, but I suppose his argument about the general will, could be taken as a counter argument against the idea that we need to be subjects of an individual sovereign. Hmmmmmm...

25 January 2008 at 17:27  
Anonymous nedsherry said...

Scripture is clear that there is neither Jew nor Greek in Christianity. The faith transcends race.

It does indeed, but Christian civilization does not and no Christians before the twentieth century would have accepted mass immigration by non-whites. Particularly not by non-Christian non-whites. A conservatism that ignores race is liberalism by another name.

25 January 2008 at 18:35  
Anonymous mary tudor (decd) said...

AethelBald, King of Wessex said...
Maty Tudor,

I love your poem. You are so funny. Will you marry me? I'm in a "maty" kind of mood, too, at the moment.

Well My Majesty is suitably flattered and I find myself batting my regal eyelashes in your direction...


and at least you couldn't possibly be one of those Protestant types (you know the sort)...

BUT! I can see two possible problems:

1. You are even deader than me

2. If I were to mention a certain Judith, what would we (not the roayal we and my impeccable good manners) have to say???



Well, erm, matey?

25 January 2008 at 19:21  
Anonymous mickey said...

And all of the above once again demonstrates that Conservatism can more readily be defined by what it isn't, than what it is!

25 January 2008 at 19:56  
Blogger AethelBald, King of Wessex said...

Mary Tudor,

Unfortunately my Queen, Aethelbalder, has discovered our relationship and has raised an objection that I had not previously thought of, so close was I to the vexatious issue of whether or not a man may marry his cat, or whether his attachment to a particular meme complex might be more to do with his life trajectory than any particular insight, however well-informed that insight may be. her objection is that I am already married - to her as you might have guessed - and that I am therefore not at liberty to wed another according, even virtually, and even if already dead. She says that that's just the way it is, and that she'll bobbittise my internet disinhibition if I do not comply immediately. So maybe I have wasted my energy on the cat question, too.

BTW, were you refering earlier to Judith the Terobal?

26 January 2008 at 15:43  
Anonymous hohoho Green Giant said...

Nedsherry's right - you cannot defend a culture without defending the specific people who carry that culture.

Even the normally hopeless Scruton acknowledged this:

“It is a tautology to say a Conservative wants to conserve things; the question is what things? To this I think we can give a simple one-word answer, namely: us. At the heart of every conservative endeavour is the effort to conserve a historically given community.”

See here at the Conservative Democratic Alliance philosophy blog.Text to be displayed

Cranmer, why the fawning support of ethnic nationalism for Jews but the 'neither Jew nor Greek' meme for Englishmen - it's a horribly racist double standard on a fundamental issue for every peoples' survival.

26 January 2008 at 16:15  
Anonymous mary tudor said...

AethelBald, King of Wessex said...
Mary Tudor,

Unfortunately my Queen, Aethelbalder, has discovered our relationship and has raised an objection that I had not previously thought of.... I am already married - to her as you might have guessed

Bah!!! Was looking forward to that...

Still the 'already married' point has force


Remember that stuff you wrote about my Royal Mother???

I certainly did ;-)

And you got your just desserts


Mind you, I believe 'roasting' means something different these days...

All very confusing

26 January 2008 at 19:15  
Anonymous mary tudor said...

ps balder than what? or who I suppose...

26 January 2008 at 19:17  
Blogger AethelBald, King of Wessex said...

hohoho green giant,

The fawning support stems from the Bible. The Jews are the chosen people. It says so in the book, so it is true.

Deuteronomy 14:2:

For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.

Deuteronomy 20:16-17:

But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth:

But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee:

Give those A-rabs hell, Olmert. They've got it coming. God hath commandeth it. You have no choice. And if we all get blown away, aw shucks but that's too bad.

26 January 2008 at 19:51  

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