“They hang the man and flog the woman
That steal the goose from off the common,
But let the greater villain loose
That steals the common from the goose.
The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own,
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who take things that are yours and mine.”
– English Nursery Rhyme, circa 1764
I am worried about Conservatism, I am worried about this British-made mess, this “oldest political party”, and I am worried that the humans that identify and associate with this word or this group have destroyed that part of their belief which was most welcome. The belief that there are things (whether cultural, social, spiritual, political, or legal…) that are worthy of preservation or conserving. You might see that I have drawn a connection between two similar words and I argue that this is the good and welcome essence we should be associating with conservatism. I imagine being a conservative implies an attempt to maintain and look after something of value that you want to keep away from decay and erosion. Well, please someone tell me exactly what contemporary Conservatives are conserving? When they say, ‘we stand for a particular and distinct way of life.’ Then I still find myself unable to appreciate what this would be? Elitism, inheritance, toxic nationalism, cultural myopia, and a distinct monochromatic outlook.
Today, being a conservative in the United Kingdom means you are a member of a political party that has been in possession of a strong majority and therefore rule over Parliament. Their leader an ex-journalist and graduate of a private School (Eton of Oxford) has recently been accused by his ex no.002 of disregarding compassion for the elderly who faced the mortal threat of the Corona virus. Supposedly talented in the classics but more probably skilled in betrayal. Pericles is said to be one of his heroes but if we were to speak to the ancient Greek he would see through this leader’s ineptitude and disregard for truths and observe a monstrous incapability. I am not here writing to attack just one conservative the worry I share runs way deeper than my disagreements and detached distaste for any one individual. However, whilst briefly venting against overly powerful people; there are two more characters that embody the way Conservatism has become deeply lost. One politician likes money and the other likes education. Both, have been utterly absorbed in attacking and eroding the modest and humble social bedrock of their country. So, through austerity they entrenched a deadly dogma that maintains an unnecessary inequality and impoverishes so many.
I vote to alter the name of a former Prime Minister to Mr. Scameron because in offering up a referendum on membership of a European union he also offered a route towards legitimizing the most uninhibited racism imaginable in the form of that power leech Nigel Farage. It is the success of the Vote Leave campaign in splitting the kingdom toward a scenario where we can no longer seriously believe the United part of a London dominated group of nations. The comedian Russel Brand described Farage as a mini Enoch Powell and this description is accurate. The success of this crop of English conservatives is predicated on a method of aggressive manipulation and manufacture of information. A culture war has been initiated and it positions old against young, foreign against local, and woke against conservatism. Such a war did not defeat Corbyn’s Labor without a secret weapon. Some individuals would have you believe that it was the demos or the people who initiated an honest and fair democratic defeat. This is far removed from the truth.
The Conservative and vote leave campaign’s secret weapon are the new abilities found in the targeted digital advertising (manipulation) of social media users. It is now widely understood that votes in both the U.K and U.S.A are purchased with money. Capital set aside to digitally infiltrate the perspective of citizens has been used to maintain a puppet mastery over the elderly and middle to high classes whilst also slowly funneling support away from political opponents. This has proven to be evidently successful regarding the narrow aim of maintaining power. A success that has resulted in a very nasty and soulless brand of modern Conservatism. One which is comfortable when organizing ‘Go Home’ buses targeting immigrants directly and denying poor children free school meals. Such is the level of destruction and decay these British Conservatives have wrought on their own country that I cant imagine how it is possible to maintain a slither of trust in such an organization. If I were a conservative I would find it impossible to wash my face in the morning because the conservative face has now become so unnaturally unclean.
Please, I am sure their exists a slither or modicum of decent conservatives hidden behind the mucky and murky dealings of the political party of the same name. Please, tell me exactly what is it that Conservatism is conserving today? Legacies of imperialism, nostalgia for past senses of nationhood, triumphs of bygone industrial innovations, freedom of opinion (as if dogma is never completely anchored to its dogmatist’s belief) and the manipulation and profiteering of immigrants (sellers of labor). What would be beneficial in the continuation of these modes or parts of our existence? I am not begging the question! My inquiry has a pragmatical anchor. If there exists no such Conservatives to step forth and offer up a seriously overdue corrective then our thoughts should move to a less friendly questioning. How do we cast this nasty conservatism away to permanently reside in the ‘I’d-rather-not-go-their-again’ forms of governance dustbin? Well, let’s take a longer, deeper, and critical look into this nasty conservatism that England harbors.
Returning to Russel Brand’s characterization of Nigel Farage as an equivalent to the prior conservative politician Enoch Powell. This characterization is useful as it offers a case study of what English Conservatism actually believes in. In 1968 Mr. Powell gave a speech in Birmingham titled ‘Rivers of Blood’ warning the public of unchecked immigration from the colonies of the empire. The title of this discriminatory speech is taken from the ancient roman poet Virgil. Who did indeed look at the Tiber river in Rome and imagined it full of blood; in Virgil’s epic the ‘Aeneid’ the future of Rome is reflected upon and it is true that this ancient city has seen immigration and blood shed. Yet, are immigrants solely responsible for conflict that is what Powell and Farage seek to persuade. However, a quick glance at Virgil’s epic poem and Latin masterpiece reveals the evil selectivity of Mr. Powell’s speech and his citation runs up against the true diversity of the ‘Aeneid’.
In book eight we see the main character Aeneas and a companion in Latium the area of Italy where the city of Rome was to be founded. Showing how Rome was founded by the very process of immigration. So here we see a cringe worthy aspect of Conservatives; they are often privately educated in the classics but somehow they develop a belief that this knowledge empowers them to creatively edit these masterworks and show little fidelity to the original text. Here a reasonable and sane person must agree with the Times newspaper who responded to Mr. Powell’s speech by calling it out and warning its readers that this speech was deeply racist. To those who would try and defend these ways Farage and Powell are undeniably racist because they use their freedom of speech to attack immigrants who are accused of stealing jobs. Powell felt the need to do this because of a legal act by the Labor government to ensure race equality. Farage raged against the European Union and in doing so our Polish and other Eastern European residents where targeted and again accused of stealing jobs.
Branding everyone who travels to the British Isles in search of work as completely other to those who were born on these islands is absurd. Why? It is simple: every country on this planet has experienced human immigration the only natives are those immigrants that first settled. But, this nasty conservatism will keep banging the drum, ‘the movement of people disrupts and disturbs settled people’ they wont even acknowledge that these newcomers bring with them new culture, new experiences, and perspectives. This unforgivable narrow mindedness is exemplar of the problem decent conservatism faces yet there exists one more horrendous belief of this nasty conservatism. Thatcherism is something that cripples Conservatism (the good belief in conserving positive social norms and practices). It does this by laying the ground work for austerity and legitimizes it using a certain economic theory. This is from Friedrich Hayek’s ‘The Constitution of Liberty’ (1960), the text that created monetarism: a belief that tries to control inflation by controlling the amount of money in the economy.
This doesn’t sound to bad does it? It wouldn’t be if such economic policy actually controlled money towards greater equality. Conservatives will insist that this is impossible and base their prejudice on ‘supply-side economics’, freeing the market, and lowering taxes for the already wealthy. Here is a deeply sad situation indeed because the U.K and U.S.A are economically operating with the wrong perspective. Trickle-down economics only creates a surplus of greed and privatization. Resulting in a nation that cares not about extreme child poverty and will willingly make it harder for those poor citizens to develop social security. These two widely observable characteristics of British Conservatism are so shocking because there are alternatives that Conservatism could take influence from and emulate. Just look at the economic alternative that was thought through by a Conservative. John Maynard Keynes’s basic argument was for governments to regulate the economy/the market because its destructive force is too volatile.
Keynes unlike advocates of free markets had brutal first hand experience of why markets are not free. In 1919 he was a member of the ‘Versailles Peace Conference’ where after the victory over Germany in World War 1 Keynes failed to stop the debt repayments being too high. Resulting in Germany being financially crippled creating the foundations for the rise of Hitler and the Nazi National Socialism. Here is a direct contradiction to the nasty Conservative claim that the economy is a free phenomenon and should not be subject to regulation. Markets are natural but they should never have been so enthusiastically designated as free. The result is an alarming inequality in both capital and culture. The second positive influence British conservatism could look back to for guidance on how to recover some standards is one of Oxford university’s finest. The historian of ideas Isiah Berlin was a Latvian immigrant and provided a memorable summation of ideas.
Berlin’s essay ‘The Hedgehog and the Fox’ splits philosophers and their history into two groups a hedgehog (thinkers who advocate one main idea) and foxes (thinkers who see unlimited ideas and experiences). Today’s Conservatives are neither and should not be associated with such fantastic animals; and hardly any of them are remotely close to loving any wisdom. If you doubt the urgency of attempting to resuscitate British Conservatism back towards a life of some decency. Then I would like you to watch videos narrated by the journalist George Monboit describing disgusting British colonialism and just how corrupt British political elites can be… Looking abroad there is still hope for conservatives look at those in Japan and Germany. The Japanese offer an example of preservation with an attempt to be open to other influences and the Germans who when faced with an immigration/asylum and humanitarian crises in 2015 after conflict in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Responded with the finest example of conservatism.
Angela Merkel summoned the positive energy and spirit of Germany and at the same time proved that Germany is equal to France as a practical inheritor of the legacies and history of ancient Rome. In response to doubts that her country could welcome and cope with 1, 400, 000 new citizens Merkel tried to conserve her fellow human beings in dire need of a new home. Her words were,
‘Wir haben so vieles geschafft – wir schaffen das. / We have managed so many things – we will also manage this situation.’
‘Wir schaffen das / We will make it! or, We can do it.’-Angela Merkel
Notes – Post Scriptum
- Hayek. F. (1960), ‘The Constitution of Liberty’, University of Chicago Press.
II. The Bullingdon club is a private all male club with influential members from the private schools associated with Oxford university.
III. Berlin. I. (1953), ‘The Hedgehog and the Fox: An essay on Tolstoy’s view of History’, Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
Ancient origins of the title: Archilochus: πόλλ’ οἶδ’ ἀλώπηξ, ἀλλ’ ἐχῖνος ἓν μέγα / Erasmus: Multa novit vulpes, verum echinus unum magnum. (“a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog knows one big thing.”)
IV. Keynes, John Maynard (1919). The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1 ed.). London: Macmillan & Co., Limited. p. 279. Retrieved 2 June 2016 – via Internet Archive.
V. Russel Brand describing Nigel Farage
VI. The sentence, ‘One politician likes money and the other likes education’ refers to George Osbourne and Michael Gove. These two have presided over the targeted impoverishment of the poorest members of the British community. Under their austerity implementation child poverty has increased, the national health service privatised, and the arts have been demoted from the national education. I only hope that future iterations of conservatism excludes such unwelcome monstrosities from public life.