Disraeli quipped about Sir Robert Peel that “the Right Honourable gentleman caught the Whigs bathing and walked away with their clothes”. This witty statement, which was said in the House of Commons in 1845, was meant to embarrass or shame Peel. Today the leadership of British Conservative Party (with a few exceptions of course) seems to be in want of ideas, and have turned to see if Labour’s clothes fit. Unfortunately, for some of them the clothes could have been tailor-made on Savile Row.
The empty shell policy that has been adopted in recent times, must now come to an end. If not, the British Conservative Party shall be blown by the winds of ‘progressive’ change from fad land to fashion land and back again. Conservatives should not be blown around by these winds like an autumnal leaf, but channelling these winds into the sails of custom. Thus, playing the triangulation game is over.
Conservatives with ideas and sound principles are in demand, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, Daniel Hannan MEP and Dr Liam Fox MP to name only a few. The British Conservative Party needs its own policy agenda, based on conservative ideas and worldview. To be able to build any coherent policy platform and to build a conservative renewal, the policies must be anchored in conservative ideas and thought.
It is pleasing to see that George Freeman MP has understood the need for ideas, as Richard M. Weaver taught us that ideas have consequences. Thus, he setup an ideas festival called The Big Tent to generate ideas for a Conservative policy platform, which by all accounts was just the ticket. These types of events, and magazines such as The Conservative, must play a larger role in the future, because the ideas-generating institutions, such as universities have seen the long-march of the Left straight thought the middle of them. Of course, there are exceptions such as the University of Buckingham in the UK, which was established when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, and Hillsdale College in the USA.
The spiffing news is that a lot of the difficult thinking has been done. The British Conservative Party has a long and glorious past, and conservative thought is rich and nourishing for the soul. The leaders of the party only need to lower their bucket down into the well of ideas, dwell on them for a bit perhaps take a sip of the water, and all will come clear.
The foundation of any conservative platform must grow from Edmund Burke’s view of society. His view is an association of the dead, the living and the unborn. This view provides the foundation to build any policy from.
How? You may be thinking. Here are two examples to demonstrate my point: intergenerational fairness and the alienation of the young from their families, culture and their country. I shall take the two examples together as they bleed into one another. Intergenerational fairness, is of course a hot topic. First, what does a conservative think of fairness? Conservatives are on the whole inclined towards Aristotle’s ‘proper proportion’ view of the fairness – meaning that it would be unfair for a person to receive a greater or smaller proportion of the good than what he himself has earned. Thus, tying Aristotle’s ‘proper proportion’ and Burke’s transgenerational view of society together we can see that dealing with our debts, deficit, environment, and plastic in the oceans are a matter for the unborn, the dead and for us. It is incumbent upon the present-day generation to only take our proper proportion and not to rake-up debts and pass these onto the unborn. This is because our ancestors bequeathed to us our way of life, and we should pass this on to our dependents through traditions.
Why should we be interested in our traditions, our history, and our ancestors? Well, let me have a bash at that. Our ancestors were not wrong about everything (as some on the Left shall have us believe) and therefore drawing on our past shall enlighten our future. Burke said, “People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors”.
Traditions, according to Michael Oakeshott, an English Philosopher, are a source of disseminating information and tacit knowledge. This knowledge is not explicit, meaning the knowledge embedded in the traditions and customs may not be easily put into a textbook, and consequently it is revealed in practice. Furthermore, Sir Roger Scruton argues that traditions are a source of disseminating this knowledge through the ages and bringing ‘the past into a present aim’. In other words, they are a way of solving issues that arise whilst living in a community as man is a political (or social) animal. Therefore, traditions are a product of built up wisdom and experience and a guide to living. These traditions also play a role in binding society together; in ceremony, ritual, deed, and so on. Thus, creating that sense of ‘us’ or a ‘we’ and the young, of course, should be inculcated in them.
There is no doubt in my mind that family breakdown has played a major role in the alienation of the young from their families, culture and their country. Indeed, the family is a way of passing on traditions, folklore, ways of doing things, and all that sort of thing. This helps to alleviate the alienation and the desire to turn things upside down. According to Hegel, the family unit and the public world of civil society needs to be sustained by authority of the state and not consumed by it. Hegel insist on the priority of the state (which must be a strong state according to Plato) and its independence from the individual, family, and institutions of civil society. We are bound by our identity to the family, to the city and we are born into a network of obligations, which we did not choose and are inherited. The British Conservative Party must therefore reject the notion of an abstract ahistorical individual rational agent as purely nonsense, because we are born with a biological sex, we a born into a family, which has a culture, which is situated in a country. In other words, we are settled beings, we are someone, living somewhere in our ‘little platoons’ and build our homes. The British Conservative Party must put the family unit front and centre of any policy agenda or we shall become ‘flies of a summer’.
Come on, the conservative spring water is splendid, just lower your bucket, please.