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The monograph below (a monograph is essentially a very long academic journal article) is both long and covers 1500 years of history -- and since both history and long articles tend not to be read, I think I had better summarize quickly what it says. It says: There has always been in Anglo-Saxon politics a major opposition between those who want to extend central government power and those who want to preserve individual liberties; Conservatives have been for the most part the chief repository for the individual liberties cause; Conservatism is a cautious psychological syndrome rather than a philosophy; That syndrome does naturally and strongly lead to both a respect for tradition and a policy preference for individual liberties. If you disagree with any of that, you had better keep reading


The historical origins and modern psychology of Anglo-Saxon conservatism



By John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.)




"Law, language, literature-these are considerable factors. Common conceptions of what is right and decent, a marked regard for fair play, especially to the weak and poor, a stern sentiment of impartial justice, and above all a love of personal freedom . these are the common conceptions on both sides of the ocean among the English-speaking peoples.

-- Winston Churchill's view of what characterizes people of British descent both at home and abroad


Preface: The 19th century

What I present below is an attempt to use history to define conservatism. And at the very least, I think you have to know something of the late 19th century to understand what has happened since then. So I am going to start this monograph somewhat in the middle of things rather than in the beginning or at the end. I do so because seeds sown in the 19th century have borne much fruit since. It was after all the era that produced Karl Marx, the most influential misanthrope of all times. But Marx was such an intellectual midget and such a depicable character (even his own father, the kindly Heinrich Marx, thought that Karl was not much of a human being) that it is no wonder his legacy has been so malign and, in the end, irrelevant. (If that summary of Marx seems too negative, a browse through the archives of my Marx blog should put any doubts at rest).

And insofar as Marxian politics were European, they lie outside the scope of what I attempt here. The conservative instinct does of course lead to different political policies in different times and places so I confine myself almost entirely to conservatism as it has developed in the English-speaking world. To a considerable extent, European conservatism is another beast altogether. As every conservative knows, however, simple, hard and fast rules serve us poorly in discussing human affairs so I am going to break my own rule immediately by looking briefly at a great European conservative. And a major reason why I mention him is because, like most great conservatives, he was also a major agent of change! The old Leftist slur that conservatives are simply opponents of all change has never been remotely true and it was certainly not true in the case of Otto von Bismarck. And who was it who said very publicly in the middle of the 19th century: "The past is buried...no human power can bring it back to life." It could have been any Leftist but it was in fact one of Europe's fiercest and most effective advocates of monarchy -- Otto von Bismarck. If that seems paradoxical, keep reading (and also see here).



So, by contrast with Marx, the two greatest political figures of the late 19th century, Disraeli and Bismarck, were both great monarchists and devotees of their national traditions generally, and both achieved an enormous amount for humanity, peace and civility. Bismarck is normally pictured wearing his Prussian Pickelhaube (spiked helmet) -- though he was only in the reserves of the Prussian military in his glory years -- and that does tend to mislead people into thinking of him as a brutal militarist -- but that is the sort of ignorance you have to expect of people who have been fed the highly selective pap that passes for school history lessons these days. In fact, for all his fearsome image, tough rhetoric and undoubted military achievements, Bismarck gave Europe a long era of peace and rapidly increasing prosperity.

After his great victory over Napoleon III at Sedan in 1870, one might have expected Bismarck to go on to a Bonapartesque quest to dominate all Europe, but he did nothing of the sort. A power-mad Leftist would almost certainly have done so but Bismarck was in European terms very much a conservative and, like American conservatives, his interest was in the welfare of his own country rather than in foreign adventures. The entire military campaign in France had not in fact been aimed at conquest at all. Bismarck simply used the war to unite all the German territories North of Austria under the Prussian crown. So when the war was over, all but a small German-speaking slice of French territory was evacuated and Bismarck concentrated on creating the nation that we now know as Germany -- not by force but by diplomacy -- albeit by diplomacy of a rather dubious sort at times. Very largely because of the great prestige accruing from the military victory that he had just engineered, he was rapidly successful. And a united Germany of course soon became the economic powerhouse that it has been ever since. But note this: from 1871 on, Europe had no major wars until 1914 -- a 43 year period of peace -- pretty unusual for Europe up until that time. And that long peace was largely Bismarck's doing. The united Germany's formidable military was as much a hindrance as a help because it made the rest of the world fearful and could well have encouraged a grand alliance against Germany. But by a series of ever-shifting and totally Byzantine diplomatic manoeuvres, alliances and treaties, Bismarck kept everybody off-balance and both Germany and the rest of Europe were left free to prosper peacefully and to develop the full fruits of the industrial revolution -- which they did mightily (though not without hiccups, of course). So Bismarck was instrumental in the great leap forward in prosperity that took place in the whole of Europe in the 19th century. Where Marxism and socialism breed at best stagnation, the cautious and pragmatic Bismarck created (or at least enabled) unheard-of rises in the standard of living in the whole of Western Europe.

Despite his success at ensuring international peace, Bismarck was not as successful at ensuring peace on the home front. As in most of Europe, the newly-created industrial working class was in a fairly ongoing ferment -- a ferment in which Marx played a small part. So there were some serious rebellions, uprisings and disturbances in Germany. As in foreign affairs, however, Bismarck's ever-shifting policies and alliances managed to keep the peace overall. Regrettably, however, it was a fragile peace and violent socialism still lurked just beneath the surface. So after Bismarck was gone it broke out again -- as the powerful Communist and Nazi movements of the post-1918 period.



Dropping the pilot
Sir John Tenniel's famous 1890 cartoon on the centrality of Bismarck to continued order in Europe was both insightful and prophetic.

I must reiterate, however, that there are large differences between the political Right in Europe and Anglo-Saxon conservatism. My reading has largely been confined to the latter but from what I have seen of the European Right, it is much more in favour of a powerful State, largely Catholic and and more antisemitic. What the European Right seems to have in common with Anglo-Saxon conservatism seems mainly to be a high degree of realism, which leads in turn to a rejection of revolutionary change and a respect for private property and what has worked in the past.

And Bismarck was of course firmly in the European tradition. His determined and successful creation of a strong and unitary German State is only one example of that. Whilst Kanzler of Prussia, he did for some years rule Prussia solely in the name of the Kaiser -- in defiance of the Prussian parliament. In doing so, he certainly rooted his authority in the past but he was also acting in a way totally alien to Anglo-Saxon ideas of consultative government and the authority of parliament. His belief in State power also manifested itself in the now almost forgotten episode of his approach to Marx. Bismarck rightly perceived that Marx aimed at a powerful and all-controlling State and found such a magnification of the power of the Reich attractive. As a student of Marx and Marxism notes:
Towards the end of the 1860s Bismarck, with a view to cementing in place the Junker regime, toyed with the idea of massive nationalization of industry. This would reinforce the Reich and provide numerous sinecures to employ down-at-heel Junkers. He needed to pave the way for this 'one big trust' solution by re-engineering public opinion. He even offered Karl Marx the editorship of the Staatsanzeiger, the official organ of his regime. Karl Liebnecht's father William was to given the editorship of Germany's main conservative daily. That both self styled revolutionists rebuffed the offers is frankly irrelevant, more important is that the offer was made in the first place





Across the Channel, however, there was a form of conservatism that was ultimately more successful. Bismarck's great English contemporary, Benjamin Disraeli, certainly presided over a great increase in British prosperity but, in addition, he was far more successful at containing domestic unrest. Like Bismarck he saw the need for worker-welfare legislation as a means of buying social peace and both men were notable welfare innovators -- THE welfare innovators, it might be said. So what was the secret of Disraeli's success? Fundamentally, it was sentimentality. Although he was always vocal about his own Jewishness, Disraeli had a sort of love-affair with the English people that was only surpassed in more recent times by the love-affair that Ronald Reagan had with the American people. And the results Disraeli got were arguably as transformative as the results Reagan got. Disraeli had a great love and respect for English traditions and preached the virtues of Englishness incessantly. And he included in his embrace the ordinary English working people -- whom he saw as "angels in marble" -- people with great and good potential. He actually trusted the working-class -- an almost unheard-of idea among all the governing classes in Europe at that time. So he sponsored legislation that gave the workers the vote on a greatly increased scale. And they rewarded his trust by being far less susceptible to the political and social agitation that plagued their contemporaries in Europe. They developed a lasting trust in their national institutions that did far more for lasting peace and civility than anything else could have done.

At one of the great international political conferences of the time (Berlin Congress of 1878), Germany was represented by Bismarck and Britain by Disraeli. To Britain's considerable benefit, Disraeli ran rings around all of them -- causing Bismarck to make his famous admiring remark: "Der alte Jude. Das is der Mann" ("The old Jew. THAT is the man"). Coming from Bismarck, that was a compliment indeed. Disraeli himself attributed the greater social peace of 19th century England to Englishness but to a considerable extent it was also his own personal achievement.

I am always a bit amused at how well Disraeli's propaganda has lasted. Although the idea was NOT original to him, it is mainly Disraeli whom we have to thank for rebranding the British Tories in the 19th century as the "Conservatives". And the reason Disraeli did that is a very modern and rather clever one. Disraeli and the Tories did indeed want to conserve SOME things from traditional British ways and customs but, under Disraeli's leadership, the Tories ALSO became a great party of reform. As already mentioned, it was Disraeli who introduced some of Britain's first worker protection laws and who extended the vote to many working class people who had never had it before. So Disraeli chose a name that was certainly accurate in one respect but which also disguised another major part of his agenda -- which was CHANGE! He named his party in a way that deflected attention from its belief in the need for change in certain areas -- in order to confuse his opponents and reassure his allies. Communists do something similar when they label their governments as "Democratic".

So why did Disraeli lead the Tories so far down the road of reform? Basically because he saw that the pressure to give the vote to the workers would in the end be irresistible. There had long been agitation for it and that agitation was getting ever more energetic. So what he wanted to do was to avoid another French Revolution. He wanted the transition to majority rule to be peaceful, orderly, non-destructive and non-tyrannical. He succeeded brilliantly. He succeeded in moving the Tories away from being a party of the rich to being a party for all Englishmen and he rightly saw that working class Englishmen could be relied on for patriotism and good sense just as well as more prosperous Englishmen could be. And that is true to this day.

So while it is true that Disraeli wanted to conserve what was best from the past, conserving anything was for him primarily a means to an end. And if that end needed reform to achieve it, that was fine too. So what was he aiming at achieving by his reforms? What WAS the end he was aiming at? Unlike Leftists, he was not aiming at equalizing everybody or creating the worker-led tyranny that his contemporary, Karl Marx, was advocating. He was aiming at the opposite of that. He wanted to preserve civility and avoid tyranny. He wanted people to be free to get on with their lives in their own accustomed way without interference from other people or from the State. He was part of that great tradition in English politics that values individual liberty and suspects the State. And that tradition goes back a long way in England -- right back to the time when Britannia became England about 1500 years ago. The advocates of the individual versus the collectivity have not always been called conservatives but in England they have always been there -- as I will set out at length in the rest of this article.

Leftists, of course, have always been happy to misrepresent conservatism as resistance to ALL change -- something that all conservative thinkers that I know of explicitly reject -- including both Edmund Burke and Disraeli (as we shall see) -- but even conservative intellectuals these days are still sometimes misled by Disraeli's old propaganda trick (see e.g. here or here) and assume that the PRIME aim of conservatives is to conserve -- but in so doing they simply show their ignorance of history. There are only SOME things that conservatives want to conserve and those things that conservatives do want to conserve they want to conserve for a reason, not as an end in itself. And the end they seek is safety and liberty for the individual to live his own life in his own way with minimal interference from others and from the State. They realize that the State and society generally are sometimes needed to secure that freedom but do not lose sight of the fact that freedom for the individual is the end of political policy, not an optional extra. And present day politics are much like the politics of Disraeli's day. Conservatives don't want to conserve our disastrous educational and social welfare systems, they want to reform them. And they want to reform them by empowering the individual -- just as conservatives have always done.

The most loved and most influential conservative leader of the 20th century knew what conservatism was about, of course. He said: "If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism..... The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom". And if Ronald Reagan did not know what conservatism was all about, who would?

Although the term "conservatism" first acquired a political use in the 19th century, that does not of course mean that thinking now generally called conservative arose for the first time in that era. Political labels come and go and ideas that are at one time associated with one political party can at a later time come to be associated with another party. It is my basic thesis in this article, however, that there has long been an important polarity in politics that has survived the comings and goings of political parties and I aim to trace that polarity through history at some length. As a matter of historical interest, however, I set out below a potted history of the term "conservatism", which I owe to Martin Hutchinson, author of Great Conservatives:

"The etymology of Conservatism is straightforward. The term was first used as a description of a political party in a 50 page article, probably by John Wilson Croker, in the January 1830 Quarterly Review, a publication that generally supported the great Tory governments of 1783-1830, then in their last months of power before losing definitively to the Whigs in November of that year. The "Conservative" party was indeed the party that sought to preserve what was already there; in this case the specific constitution and policies of those Tory governments, which were by that time embattled.

After the series of Tory disasters in 1830-32, the term "Conservative" was picked up by Sir Robert Peel, leader of the Tory remnants, and was used to do three things. First, it was used to reassure traditionalist voters that the party was opposed to further destructive change. Second, it was used to give the party a "new image" that might appeal to moderates. Third, by stigmatizing them as not "Conservatives" but "reactionaries" it was used to de-legitimize the remnants of the Tory right, such as the Duke of Wellington and more distantly the aged Lord Eldon, who were a threat to Peel's dominance.

By the time Disraeli became leader of the Conservative Party in 1868, the term had been in use for nearly two generations. It had been set aside after the 1846 split over the Corn Laws, when the party divided into "Peelites" and "Protectionists" but had been brought back into full use by Disraeli's predecessor as leader, the 14th Earl of Derby, after Peel died in 1850 and the party abandoned protectionism in 1852".


But it was Disraeli who was by far the most eloquent advocate of the virtues of conservatism and it was he who is generally credited with bringing the term into common use as the name of his party. How much of Disraeli's often-expressed sentimental attachment to almost everything traditionally English was propaganda and how much was sincerely felt, we can really only speculate but that his deeds served the preservation of English liberty and civility well there can be no doubt. There were none of the big 19th century upheavals in England that there were in Europe. Calling on the accumulated wisdom of English traditions to both guide and limit reform was certainly a practical, popular and political success.

This is not the place for a full discussion of the many huge social and economic changes that took place in the 19th. century, so I have contented myself with a quick mention of just Disraeli and Bismarck. Those two do not remotely, however, exhaust the list of interesting conservatives from that time. There were in fact many conservatives of the time who acted in ways that upset stereotypes popular today. A good place to start exploration of that would probably be any history of the life and works of Richard Oastler. He was a notable predecessor of Disraeli in worker-welfare agitation and legislation yet was also, like Disraeli, a high Tory. By modern standards he would be the most hopeless reactionary yet he was also a passionate and effective advocate for the welfare of the workers. History is very good at overturning simple theories! And I think it should already be clear that the concept of conservatism as opposition to change is one of the silliest of all theories.

I might note at this stage that this article is not intended as a simple chronology (there are already plenty of political histories that do that) but rather as the development of an argument, so for the purposes of that argument I will skip back and forth through history to some extent. For that reason I will not say any more about Disraeli and the 19th century at this stage but we will meet him on several occasions below. See for example here and here. I might also mention that this article is intended as a survey of the facts rather than as a statement of my personal beliefs. For anybody who is interested in what my personal views on political matters might be, there is a brief summary of that here.



Military Dictators?


In the late 20th century, it was a common rhetorical ploy of the more "revolutionary" Left in the "Western" world simply to ignore democracy as an alternative to Communism. Instead they would excuse the brutalities of Communism by pointing to the brutalities of the then numerous military dictatorships of Southern Europe and Latin America and pretend that such regimes were the only alternative to Communism. These regimes were led by generals who might in various ways be seen as conservative (though Peron was undisputably Leftist) so do they tell us anything about conservatism?

Historically, most of the world has been ruled by military men and their successors (Sargon II of Assyria, Alexander of Macedon, Caesar, Augustus, Constantine, Charlemagne, Frederick II of Prussia etc.) so it seems unlikely but perhaps the main point to note here is that the Hispanic dictatorships of the 20th century were very often created as a response to a perceived threat of a Communist takeover. This is particularly clear in the case of Spain, Chile and Argentina. They were an attempt to fight fire with fire. In Argentina of the 60s and 70s, for instance, Leftist "urban guerillas" were very active -- blowing up anyone they disapproved of. The nice, mild, moderate Anglo-Saxon response to such depredations would have been to endure the deaths and disruptions concerned and use police methods to trace the perpetrators and bring them to trial. Much of the world is more fiery than that, however, and the Argentine generals certainly were. They became impatient with the slow-grinding wheels of democracy and its apparent impotence in the face of the Leftist revolutionaries. They therefore seized power and instituted a reign of terror against the Leftist revolutionaries that was as bloody, arbitrary and indiscriminate as what the Leftists had inflicted. In a word, they used military methods to deal with the Leftist attackers. So the nature of these regimes was only incidentally conservative. What they were was essentially military. We have to range further than the Hispanic generals, therefore, if we are to find out what is quintessentially conservative.

It might be noted, however, that, centuries earlier, the parliamentary leaders of England -- led by Fairfax, Cromwell etc. -- did something similar to the Hispanic generals of the 20th century. Faced by an attempt on the part of the Stuart tyrant to abrogate their traditional rights, powers and liberties, they resorted to military means to overthrow the threat. There is no reason to argue that democracy cannot or must not use military means to defend itself or that Leftists or anyone else must be granted exclusive rights to the use of force and violence.



It might also be noted that the Hispanic generals were operating within a very different tradition. The abiding hero of Latin America is Simon Bolivar, the great liberator. But the ideas about government put forward by Bolivar were very authoritarian -- ideas about how the masses need to be "educated" and generally dominated by a self-chosen elite -- ideas that put Bolivar in the company of men like Mussolini and Lenin -- ideas that are totally outside the democratic traditions of Anglo-Saxon conservatism. Excerpt:

"Education was also touched upon by Simon Bolivar, especially in his Essay on Public Education, as a tool for governments to re-educate their citizens to the responsibilities and duties of participation in public life. Bolivar also commented on the weaknesses and limits of liberal democracy when writing to explain the necesity of a strong, republican form of government.... Spanish American people required that their new states be organized in such a way as to maintain order by checking the popular forces until they could be trained in the civic virtues. Bolivarism emphasizes the common good over the individual"

The Hispanic generals were doing very little more than putting Bolivarism into practice and Bolivarism was certainly not conservatism.



Historic Origins




It is a common claim that conservatism, as we now know it in the English-speaking world, originated with the Anglo/Irish parliamentarian Edmund Burke (of whom more anon) at the time of the French revolution. What Burke (1790) himself said is the opposite of that, however. He saw what he was defending as stretching far back into English history -- and an updated version of that type of thinking is presented here.

My submission is that the modern-day conservatism of the English-speaking world is a survival into modern times of an ancient human tradition that the English inherited from their Germanic ancestors -- the invaders (Angles and Saxons) from coastal Germany who overran Romano-Celtic Britannia around 1500 years ago and made it into England. They brought with them a very decentralized, consultative, largely tribal system of government that was very different from the Oriental despotisms that had ruled the civilized world for most of human history up to that time. And they liked their decentralized, consultative system very much. So much so that the system just kept on keeping on in England, century after century, despite many vicissitudes. Only the 20th century really shook it. So conservatism in English-origin countries is simply Anglo-Saxon traditional values.

The curious thing, of course, is that similar values were also observable in ancient Greece and Rome and may even have been what underlay the city-states of the original human civilization in Mesopotamia. The affinity of the Anglo-Saxon and Nordic people for democracy is certainly very reminiscent of ancient Greek democracy and the early Roman republic and, in turn, the city-states that characterized ancient Greece and Rome are very reminiscent of ancient Mesopotamia. What appears to have happened is that the human race has a great tendency towards centralization of government -- seen vividly in the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, in the bureaucratic states of pre-modern China, in various Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian, Roman, Moghul and Ottoman empires, in the Kings of Mediaeval Europe and in the vast swathe of communist bureaucracies in the 20th century. And this centralizing tendency almost always seems to triumph over an even earlier tendency towards respect for the individual and a form of government that is directly responsive in some way to the popular will. And it is that very early tradition that only the Anglo-Saxons -- and their close relatives in Scandinavia and the Netherlands -- have carried forward into the modern world. Only among the Anglo-Saxons and their close relatives did the power of centralism never quite succeed in squashing human dreams for responsive, respectful and representative government. And it is this dream that conservatives of the English-speaking world carry forward today.

My thesis here is, of course, not exactly original. Montesquieu, De Tocqueville and even Thomas Jefferson all saw English exceptionalism and independence of spirit as tracing back to German roots and all harked back to Tacitus for their view of the early German character. If I was mischievous, I suppose I could have called this article "Jefferson Revisited", or some such. The work of Macfarlane (1978 & 2000) is however probably the best modern reference on the topic.

But let us look at what Tacitus said about the early Germans that he knew around 2000 years ago. Excerpts:



They choose their kings by birth, their generals for merit. These kings have not unlimited or arbitrary power, and the generals do more by example than by authority.

About minor matters the chiefs deliberate, about the more important the whole tribe. Yet even when the final decision rests with the people, the affair is always thoroughly discussed by the chiefs. They assemble, except in the case of a sudden emergency, on certain fixed days, either at new or at full moon; for this they consider the most auspicious season for the transaction of business. Instead of reckoning by days as we do, they reckon by nights, and in this manner fix both their ordinary and their legal appointments. Night they regard as bringing on day. Their freedom has this disadvantage, that they do not meet simultaneously or as they are bidden, but two or three days are wasted in the delays of assembling. When the multitude think proper, they sit down armed. Silence is proclaimed by the priests, who have on these occasions the right of keeping order. Then the king or the chief, according to age, birth, distinction in war, or eloquence, is heard, more because he has influence to persuade than because he has power to command. If his sentiments displease them, they reject them with murmurs; if they are satisfied, they brandish their spears.

In truth neither from the Samnites, nor from the Carthaginians, nor from both Spains, nor from all the nations of Gaul, have we received more frequent checks and alarms; nor even from the Parthians: for, more vigorous and invincible is the liberty of the Germans than the monarchy of the Arsacides.


Our modern-day parliamentary procedures are a little more sophisticated but the basic values and principles seem to me not to have changed at all. As Razib (See here and here) points out, in the 2002 Index of Freedom, all the top countries seem to have a connection to the Anglosphere or are Germanic. Indian institutions and political customs have of course been enormously influenced by Britain. Razib, incidentally, is of Bengali Muslim origins so has some claim to a disinterested (though far from uninterested) approach to these matters.

As already noted, it could also be said that the decentralized nature of the early German communities was no different from the decentralization in Greece before the Athenian and Macedonian Empires, the decentralization in Italy before the ascendancy of the Roman Republic or indeed the decentralization of the original Mesopotamian civilization. The important point, here, however is the much longer survival of that form of organization among Germans -- and it is certainly to their German ancestors that the English must trace it.

A common objection to the sort of account given here is that it is too reliant on Tacitus and that Tacitus was using his picture of the Germans to propagandize for a return to old Roman ideals. Tacitus was a very senior Roman politician in the early imperial period and both saw close up and deplored the corruption and arbitrary power of that period. Tacitus is however a convenient reference rather than a sole one (Caesar, for instance, also distinguishes between the Gauls and the Germans and even "Beowulf" characterizes Germanic Kings primarily as being "givers of rings" -- scarcely tyrannical) and the similarity and common Indo-European origin of Roman republican, Greek democratic and German tribal systems are not in any case in dispute. Tacitus was right to see important similarities.

It would be too large a digression here, however, to debate the merits of Tacitus as a historian, though he was certainly a dedicated one and a brilliant and highly civilized man to boot. Like all historians of the ancient world, he saw what he wrote as didactic. He COULD have had the almost total disregard for truth and evidence that seems to characterize 21st Century Leftist historians but he is not usually accused of that. Unless we are "postmodernist" enough to discard him altogether, then, what we have at a minimum from him is an assertion that the powerful Germans of his day were like the Romans of the republican period -- and that is certainly very confirmatory of what is said here, given the great fractionation of power that was characteristic of the Roman republic. And those similarities persisted even longer than Tacitus could have envisaged. The similarities between (say) the Hanseatic League and the city-states of Northern Italy during the Renaissance on the one hand (both of which were primarily Germanic) and Greece at the time of Pericles and the early Italic communities (from which the Roman hegemony originally emerged) on the other hand are obvious.



And moving far beyond Tacitus, who cannot see the similarity between the legions who marched behind the signum SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus or "the Senate and the People of Rome") and the Cromwellian New Model Army that marched in the name and cause of the English Parliament? And is the beheading of the Stuart tyrant much different from the popular expulsion of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus? The Romans too once had what the Germanic peoples retained. We don't need Tacitus to tell us that.



A picture is said to be better than 1,000 words so this link to a BBC educational site should help fix in our minds the fact that the English are historically the Western branch of the Germanic people -- and that the basics of what is German should also therefore be the basics of what is English. Though 1500 years of history can create a lot of differences, of course. The words in the yellow text-box are particularly relevant to my stress on the historical importance of political decentralization among the Germanic peoples.



There is now even some evidence that the German influence on Britain may have had a much earlier wave as well. When the grave of the so-called "King of Stonehenge" (dating from about 2300 BC) was opened, he was found to be of Southern German origin:

"Different ratios of oxygen isotopes form on teeth in different parts of the world and the ratio found on these teeth prove they were from somebody from the Alps region," said Tony Trueman from Wessex Archeology.


Germans in more recent times


Just where the English get their traditional dislike of unrestrained central power from is not the main point or even an essential point of the present account. Nonetheless, tracing that dislike to the ultimately German descent of most of the English population might seem colossally perverse in view of Germany's recent experience. Was not Hitler a German and was he not almost the ultimate despot and centralizer of power in his own hands?

A very easy way out of this dilemma might be to say that 1500 years of history can make a lot of difference in the evolution of a people. The English could well have retained their traditions of 1500 years ago while the incessant brutalizing wars of Europe could have caused modern-day Germans to have lost their traditions of 1500 years ago. And maybe that is the whole of the answer. I consider other answers here, however. In particular, I contend that the idea of the Hitler episode as being typical of Germans and German history is little more than a hangover of wartime propaganda.

Before I leave the topic, however, I might mention that there is a good argument to say that most of the tribes we generically refer to as the Anglo-Saxons came from a different branch of the early Germans than do most of the Germans of today. So some differences between them and the Germans of today are on that account to be expected. They would appear to have originally been the Baltic-coast branch of the Germans and in fact in some ways have more in common with the people from the other (Northern) side of the Baltic (the Norse) than with other Germans. Germans and the Norse are both of course Teutons but a splitting of the Teutons into just Germans and the Norse is undoubtedly too crude. The Anglo-Saxons (or at least the tribes among them who were in the end most influential) could well be seen as an intermediate group between the Norse and the more Southerly Germans. The chief evidence we have for this idea lies in language. There are many words in modern English which came via Anglo-Saxon but which have no good German equivalents -- but which do have close equivalents in coastal Teutonic languages. "Take" is a good example of such a word. It has close equivalents in Norse languages, in Dutch and, of course, in Frisian but the modern German equivalent -- "nehmen" -- is obviously completely unrelated. And this closer association of the Anglo-Saxons with the Norse rather than with other Germans in no way weakens what has been said so far about the consultative nature of early German government. The world's oldest parliament is in fact Norse -- the Althing of Iceland, established in 930 A.D.

At any event, in 1066, William of Normandy disrupted the traditional decentralized and competitive power structure of Germanic England to some degree but by the time of King John and Magna Carta it was back with a vengeance. And the ascendancy of Simon de Montfort not long after that also displayed the traditional English belief in the limited nature of central government power.



Tudor England


No account of Englishness can however be complete without mention of England's great and transformative Tudor period. The period started out well with the cautious Henry VII giving England much-needed stability but his son, Henry VIII (1491 -- 1547), gradually evolved into a powerful and ruthless despot and so is undoubtedly in some ways a blot on the history of English liberty. But it must be noted that even in his reign there were still in England great and powerful regional Lords and many less powerful but numerous local notables representing local interests that the King had to take great care with. Even Tudor central government power was highly contingent, far from absolute and much dependant on the popularity of the ruler among ordinary English people. And Henry was undoubtedly popular. But Henry's great deed for England was to let off the leash once and for all that great religious expression of individualism -- Protestantism -- something that had been popular among the ordinary English people since Wycliffe (1330 -- 1384).



It is however in the reign of Henry's brilliant daughter -- Elizabeth I (1533 -- 1603) -- that we see best what has long distinguished the English from others. She herself is famous for her tolerance of individual differences as expressed in her well-known statement that she did not wish to make a "window into men's souls" and, even whilst still young, she reproached that great bureaucrat and religious tyrant, King Philip II of Spain, by asking him: "Why cannot Your Majesty let your subjects go to the Devil in their own way?" (Quoted on p. 38 of That Great Lucifer: A portrait of Sir Walter Ralegh by Margaret Irwin [Bungay, Suffolk: Reprint Society, 1960])

Perhaps most revealing of all about the English difference at that time, however, is this account (pp. 102-104 Op. cit.) of the conquest of Trinidad by Elizabeth's most enduring favourite -- the enormously popular Sir Walter Ralegh:



The Dragon's Mouth and the Serpent's Mouth are the two ominously named long channels for entry to the island; and deep in the maw of the Dragon's Mouth was the new Spanish settlement of San Joseph, now Port of Spain, under the Governor Antonio de Berreo. He had provided the immediate practical reason for Ralegh's haste, not merely to better his lost fortunes, but also to catch up in the fresh spurt of the race between England and Spain.

Berreo had begun a search for the golden city of El Dorado, whose fame had been so firmly believed and attested by the Indians that few Europeans thought of it as fabulous. It was believed to be far up in the mainland hidden among what The Times, in 1959, called 'the virtually unexplored jungles of the Amazon Basin and the Orinoco ... and the still ill-defined frontiers of Columbia, Venezuela, Brazil and the Guineas.... The unknown reaches of the Orinoco are a glimpse of the beginning of human time.'

The Spaniard Berreo's initial attempt for the Golden City had been disastrously cut short; but he was still determined to find it. Ralegh was determined to find it first. He had sent out a reconnaisance party late in the previous year under his 'most honest and valiant' Captain, Jacob Whiddon. It had never reached the mainland, for some of them were hospitably invited ashore at Trinidad by Berreo, and then murdered in cold blood. As England and Spain were still openly at war, he doubtless felt his treachery a justifiable hint to the English that they were not welcome. Ralegh at once followed his unlucky forerunners. Undeterred by the fact that he had now only one other ship to support his own, he made a surprise attack on San Joseph, and took Berreo prisoner; with the characteristically laconic comment, 'Which had I not done, I should have savoured very much of the Ass.'

But there was no ill feeling or unpleasantness between them: Ralegh treated his prisoner as an honoured guest and wrote charming compliments of him which show his extraordinary power of detachment, in view of Berreo's treatment of Captain Whiddon-and even more inhuman treatment of others, as Ralegh quickly discovered. Yet he describes the suave and cultivated murderer that he had captured as 'a Gent, well descended ... very valiant and liberal ... of great assuredness and of a great heart'; and how he himself entertained him 'according to his estate and worth in all things I could, according to the small means I had'.

They had long and amicable talks as they feasted together on the luscious mangoes and glossy crimson and yellow globes of the juicy fruits that contain the treasured little kernel of the pistachio nut; and the nubbly, crusty little oysters, 'very salt and well-tasted', wrote Ralegh, who described their being plucked off the low-dangling mangrove branches at low tide-just as they are today -- and so was accused later of telling Travellers' Tales-for whoever heard of oysters growing on trees? Berreo told his travellers' tales of the green hell of jungle, monsters, and savages along the Orinoco; and with warm, even passionate feeling, for 'he was stricken with great melancholy and sadness' as he begged his delightful host for his own sake not to risk his life in that horrible wilderness where he himself had so lamentably failed.

And Ralegh, with a tact equally friendly, refrained from assuring his guest that at least he would not assist his own failure by tying up five or six Indian chiefs together and leaving them to rot in a den underground. For this was one of the unpleasant discoveries he had made about his pleasant companion; and he had at once set free the wretched caciques whom he had found 'almost dead with famine and wasted with torments'. Berreo had burned many alive and had caused some torn to pieces by dogs, a livelier form of sport, depicted in early prints of the Spaniards in South America. He might have recognized his mistake, if not his crime, for his cruelty had caused the Indians on the mainland to revolt against him, force him to evacuate Guiana, and so leave it clear of Spanish rule for Ralegh to advance upon it.

Ralegh was quick to improve upon Berreo's methods; and even on those of Christopher Columbus ninety-six years before, the first European Discoverer of the island, who had won a reputation for 'sweetness and benignity' unparalleled by his later countrymen. But his business instincts had been a bit sharp for the natives, who still grumbled over their greatgrandfathers' slow disillusionment after Columbus had struck a good bargain for himself by trading a large number of brass chamber-pots to them as an interesting novelty, whose value had quickly worn off as news, and left the recipients doubtful as to their use. They might indeed have earned their cost and keep as cooking-pots with their additional convenience of a handle, but their intended use as a 'convenience', in a world so warm and wide and indecent, was, so Columbus tells us, 'but coldly met'. His sweetness and benignity to the natives also sounds rather cold and negative; for the chief instance given of it is that he refused to allow his crew, even when hungry, to kill and eat them.

Ralegh's appeal to the Indians was more positive and personal. He gathered all he could of the tribes together, and told them that he had been sent by his Cacique to set them free from the Spaniards, for he was 'the servant of a Queen who was the great Cacique of the North, and a virgin, who had more caciques under her than there were trees in the island'. The metaphor is the earliest instance of his quickness to understand the native mind. Already he saw how impossible it was for them to take in anything of actual numbers; time and space, as well as people, could not be measured, only suggested by some vivid pictorial image.

The wise old Chief Topiawari whom he met later on the Orinoco, and who became Ralegh's true friend, could only explain hard facts by such imagery, which Ralegh delighted to note down for their natural poetry...

So we see with crystal clarity there the English difference: A respect for others, for the individual and for individual liberty that is the very basis of democracy. And that example is not an isolated instance. Reading further on in the same history (p. 123) we find Ralegh's account of the conquest of Cadiz -- undertaken in alliance with a Flemish fleet:

"English sailors were being piped over their ship's side, and on board the enemy's. Like rats the St Philip's crew began to bolt from her on every side. They had run her aground, and fire had broken out. At the peal of a trumpet, the English cut the anchor ropes of all the four great Apostolic galleons; they began to heel over on the mudbank, and from the St Philip there came 'tumbling into the sea heaps of soldiers, so thick as if coals had been poured out of a sack ... some drowned and some sticking in the mud.... The spectacle was very lamentable, for many drowned themselves; many, half burnt, leapt into the water; very many hanging by the ropes' ends by the ships sides, under the water even to the lips; many swimming with grievous wounds, stricken under water and put out of their pain; and withal so huge a fire and such tearing of ordnance in the great Philip and the rest, when the fire came to them as, if any man had a desire to see Hell itself, it was there most lively figured. Ourselves spared the lives of all, after the victory; but the Flemings, who did little or nothing in the fight, used merciless slaughter, till they were by myself, and afterward by my Lord Admiral, beaten off."

Sir Richard Grenville's Revenge was thus revenged, as Ralegh had sworn; but his own account shows little enjoyment in it. Horror and pity seem his strongest feelings at the 'very lamentable spectacle'; and it was his long-boats from the Warspite that were the first to be rowed through the flames and blinding black smoke from the kegs of powder exploding on the ruined galleons, to try and rescue such Spaniards as were yet alive.

Can anyone of English origin not feel pride in that account? English civility and respect for others is very distinctive and goes back a very long way. One is rather reminded of the harrowing stories by Bacque about the way the French starved to death thousands of German prisoners of war immediately after WW2. British forces of course observed the Geneva convention.



Left and Right in Tudor times?


I have already argued at length elsewhere to the effect that a Leftist personality underlies the rhetoric of the Leftist ideologue. I think all history shows that Leftists are basically unhappy people with big ego needs -- needs that make them crave attention, praise and -- ultimately -- power. And along with that goes a hatred of any success, recognition, happiness or power in others. And the Leftist aims to exercise power by taking away the liberties and regulating the lives of ordinary people. But if such a Leftist personality does exist, it should have been around for a long time -- far longer than we have had the term "Leftist" for it. I believe that evidence of such personalities does abound in history and we do see it in the Elizabethan era. Note the following excerpts from a discussion of two of the most powerful politicians in the reign of Elizabeth I -- Sir Walter Ralegh and Elizabeth's Prime Minister -- Robert Cecil:



Cecil's shrinking heart probably allowed him to receive only the unpleasing news of how much he was in Ralegh's debt. 'He worked with a cold fervour for the things of this world,' writes C. V. Wedgwood, 'but he did not love the world at all ... it seemed to him no more than a painful, unrewarding purgatory.'

Ralegh loved the world, and his work in it.

Robert Cecil was Secretary of State as well as Leader of the House of Commons, and made earnest efforts to regulate the private lives of citizens into a neat and tidy pattern. His paternal policy was one that has often since led to disaster. He tried to enforce economy by law; it was 'most necessary' to insist on coarser bread, and thinner beer, and fewer ale-houses, and 'opening hours' for them; they must be closed at least one day a week (as in the modern 'Six Day Licence') and then, so he argued, people would grow more food. Sheep-grazing was also wrong, and must be replaced by crops of hemp and corn; though as he added, 'in these last few wet years', their deaths might as reasonably be blamed on the weather. Cecil's piety failed to convince some of the M.P.s that men should be 'compelled by penalties', as one complained, to grow the regulation amounts of wheat and hemp, etc.

Francis Bacon's outstanding intellect came to Cecil's help with heavily embroidered eloquence. This would be a 'law tending to God's honour'....

By contrast with Bacon's incomprehensible rhetoric, Ralegh's forthright attack on the bill is startling. His pungent rejoinders made short work of the Government's high-flown theories. The practical knowledge he had gained as a child on his father's farm had shown him at first hand how absurd it was to try to legislate for land without experience of it. And there was something at stake more important to him even than the land -- and that was individual liberty. 'I do not like this constraining of men to manure or use their ground at our wills; let every man use it to that which it is most fit for, and use his own discretion.' Let Parliament set corn and hemp at liberty, 'and leave every man free, which is the desire of a true Englishman'.

He won over the whole House. They shouted 'Away with the bill!' and persistently rejected it, though the Government pushed it twice to a division.

Ralegh, that 'liberal-minded independent',' also [opposed] the bills to enforce a right religion. There was one against the Sect of Brownists, whom he had agreed gravely were 'worthy to be rooted out of any commonwealth'. But just how, demanded the uncompromising realist, were they to set about rooting them out? ('I am sorry for it, I believe there be ten or twelve thousand of them in England.') If by banishment, who was to pay their transport, and to where? And who was to maintain their wives and families? And did the House really know what exactly the Brownists were, even after a Committee had been locked in by Cecil to study a book of their Articles of Belief? They should be judged, Ralegh insisted, only by their acts, not by their opinions. Like his Queen, he would not admit to anyone the right to set up 'window to peer into men's souls'.

His loathing of such spiritual tyranny helped to cut out the cruellest measures of repression. It was expressed again, in terms of sheer hard common sense, against the new bill to make church attendance compulsory, and the church-wardens act as informers to the J.P.s. With the brisk logic of mathematics, Ralegh pointed out that if there were only two offenders in each parish, their sum total, together with the church-wardens, would add four hundred and eighty persons to every quartersessions, and 'what great multitudes-what quarrelling and danger may happen, besides giving authority to a mean churchwarden'.

In matters more vital it was Ralegh's voice more than any that persistently championed the poor. He attacked with open scorn the meanness of rich men who called it good policy to squeeze the pockets of the poor and oppress their liberties.

He championed the humble housewife as keenly as he did his sovereign lady, and more dangerously for himself. Robert Cecil spoke in patriotic praise of the news that 'some poor people were selling their pots and pans to pay the subsidy.... Neither pots nor pans, nor dish nor spoon should be spared', he announced unctuously. He was sure it would have an excellent effect on the King of Spain when he heard 'how willing we are to sell all in defence of God's religion', etc. His listeners applauded this noble sentiment. It has a hollow echo coming from a man who had made a large fortune, as Master of the Wards

His complacent eagerness to sacrifice the household goods of poor folk was backed by Bacon. The poor ought to be taxed as heavily as the rich: because, as he quoted in Latin, it was a right and 'sweet course to pull together in an equal yoke'.

This smug hypocrisy brought Ralegh to his feet. 'Call you this an equal yoke, when a poor man pays as much as a rich? His estate may be no better than he is assessed at, while our estates are entered as 30 or 40 pounds in the Queen's books -- not the hundredth part of our wealth!' His outrageous frankness over this unfair advantage given to his own class, shocked his opponents. His final blow demolished them: 'It is neither sweet nor equal.'

(Quoted from p. 136 - 138 of That Great Lucifer: A portrait of Sir Walter Ralegh by Margaret Irwin [Bungay, Suffolk: Reprint Society, 1960])

So we see that, even back then, it was the conservative defender of individual liberty (Ralegh) who was -- as conservatives have always claimed -- the true champion and helper of the poor. While the power-mad control freaks such as the scheming Cecil and the intellectual Bacon had no real concern for the poor at all. Nothing has changed.

And in another very modern touch, Queen Elizabeth ended her reign by announcing a big tax cut (by abolishing government-granted monopolies) -- to much popular acclaim (p. 158). Big tax-cutters such as Thatcher and Reagan thus have a most respected and successful predecessor in English history.


The Stuarts

But the Tudors did not last forever and when the Stuarts, with their doctrine of "the divine right of Kings", ignored treasured English liberties and tried to turn the English monarchy into something more like a centralized Oriental despotism, off came the head of the Stuart King.

And note that the attitude of the Scottish Stuarts towards the relationship between the individual and the State differed from traditional English views from the very outset. Note this report of an incident on the initial journey to London of James I:

He ordered a pickpocket to be hanged straight away without trial. The prudish English were too dainty for 'Jedburgh justice', which hanged Border robbers out of hand. They muttered tiresome objections about their Common Law, and Sir John Harington, that privileged wag, proclaimed loudly: 'If the new King hangs a man before he is tried, will he then try a man before he has offended?'

(Quoted from p. 172 of That Great Lucifer: A portrait of Sir Walter Ralegh by Margaret Irwin [Bungay, Suffolk: Reprint Society, 1960])



A Conservative Revolution


"Conservatism and tradition rather than innovation is the keynote of the attitude of most of the principal opponents of royal policies in the 1630s and 1640s. The fact that the same is not true of all of them is, of course, important, but not the least significant of the effects of this was to confirm and heighten the conservatism of the majority. From their point of view it was the Crown - influenced by its evil advisers -- which was the innovator"

Robert Ashton on p. 17 of "The English Civil War: Conservatism and Revolution 1603-1649". (2nd. Ed.; London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989



The English parliamentarians who were responsible for beheading King Charles I in 1649 were perfectly articulate about why. They felt that Charles had attempted to destroy the ancient English governmental system or "constitution" and that he had tried to take away important rights and individual liberties that the English had always enjoyed -- liberty from the arbitrary power of Kings, a right to representation in important decisions and a system of counterbalanced and competing powers rather than an all-powerful central government. It is to them that we can look for the first systematic statements of conservative ideals -- ideals that persevere to this day. And they were both conservatives (wishing to conserve traditional rights and arrangements) and revolutionaries!

So right back in the 17th century we had the apparent paradox of "conservatives" (the parliamentary leaders -- later to be referred to as "Whigs") being prepared to undertake most radical change (deposing monarchy) in order to restore treasured traditional rights and liberties and to rein in overweening governmental power. So Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were not at all breakaways from the conservatism of the past. They had very early and even more determined predecessors. Nobody who knew history should have been surprised by the Reagan/Thatcher "revolution".

And it was in deliberate tribute to the parliamentarians of Cromwell's day and their immediate successors that two of the most influential conservative theorists prior to Reagan and Thatcher both described themselves as "Old Whigs" -- Burke (1790) and Hayek (1944). Hayek described Whig ideals as "the only set of ideals that has consistently opposed all arbitrary power" (Hayek, 1960).



Edmund Burke and attitude to change



And it is the conservative nature of the English revolution that critics of Edmund Burke tend to overlook. Burke's (1790) fundamental criticism of the French revolution was to contrast it with what he saw as the slow, evolutionary and organic development of the English "constitution" or governmental system. He correctly foresaw that the opposite French procedure of wanting to reinvent everything overnight must lead to a vicious tyranny. Perhaps the major objection to Burke, however, is that he was making it all up. England itself had had its own revolution not much more than 100 years before (Cromwell dissolved the "Rump" parliament in 1653 and the Bastille fell in 1789) so where was the gradual evolution in that?

The important point in answer is that the English revolution, far from aiming to reinvent everything, aimed simply to restore historic and traditional liberties against the encroachment of a non-English (Scottish) tyrant. There are revolutions and there are revolutions -- as any American ought to know. What the revolution stands for and aims at matters. Cromwell himself became a mild tyrant for a short while of course but he was merely one part of the English revolution (and certainly not its initiator) and when he died traditional English governmental arrangements were soon restored.

But the English tradition, as Burke rightly saw, has never seen liberty as the sole good. Total liberty would mean total chaos, so England has always balanced liberty against the need for order and it saw government as having a crucial role both in preserving that order and in guaranteeing liberty. So conservatism is not and never has been libertarianism or anarchism. And is precisely because the balance between liberty and order is difficult to strike that Burke and other conservatives have always seen a need to hasten slowly with social change. There are always many who want to suppress the liberties of the people and any new order can easily leave liberty out in the cold -- as happened in 18th century France and as happened so often in the 20th century.

And, in case anyone is unaware of it, Burke supported the American revolution as much as he opposed the French one. Why? As Kelley Ross summarizes it: "The difference, as it happened, between the two revolutions was that the American Revolution was based on the demand for rights that had been already recognized in English law, while the French revolution had turned into an exercise in rationalistic and a priori legislation of rights that had never existed in France." Burke too was a supporter of conservative revolution.

So to say that Burke and those like him reflexively oppose ALL change is nothing more than lying Leftist propaganda. It is often noted (e.g. by Owen Harries) that Burke said: "A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation." As Harries goes on to say, "so the issue was not reform versus no reform; it was between the view that reform was a simple matter that could be engaged in sweepingly and the view that it required prudence and was best approached incrementally". So conservatives have NEVER opposed change per se and it is little more than a calumny to say that they do. A careful and cautious approach to change certainly characterizes conservatives but opposition to change does not.

And, in case it needs stating, Burke saw the useful role of government as being very limited. As he said: "It is in the power of government to prevent much evil; it can do very little positive good". (See Burke, 1907).

Kelley Ross criticizes both Burke and the sort of "Germanic origin" argument advanced here from a "Frisian" philosophical standpoint. The critique seems to depend however on an acceptance of the old Humean is/ought disjunction -- a view which assigns a rather mystical status to "ought" statements. Since I regard "ought" statements as simply a variety of "is" (empirical) statements, I don't think such objections need detain us. See also here for more on that.

I will return to Burke's thinking on these matters a little later below.



Dicey on English and continental law

In case others do not find history as interesting and instructive as I do, I think I should at this stage skip forward to late 20th century politics (though, like Macarthur, I shall return) but before I do so, I think I should hand over to A.V. Dicey to tell us about traditional English respect for individual liberty and the concomitant restrictions on the power of the State. Dicey wrote in the late 19th century long before the deliberate deceptions and distortions of political correctness and is of course one of Britain's greatest legal historians. The quote is from The Law Of The Constitution, Third Edition, 1889, pp. 176-179:

"Modern Englishmen may at first feel some surprise that the "rule of law" (in the sense in which we are now using the term) should be considered as in any way a peculiarity of English institutions, since, at the present day, it may seem to be not so much the property of any one nation as a trait common to every civilized and orderly state. Yet, even if we confine our observation to the existing condition of Europe, we shall soon be convinced that the " rule of law" even in this narrow sense is peculiar to England, or to those countries which, like the United States of America, have inherited English traditions. In every continental community the executive exercises far wider discretionary authority in the matter of arrest, of temporary imprisonment, of expulsion from the territory, and the like, than is either legally claimed or in fact exerted by the government in England; and recent events in Switzerland, which by the way strikingly confirm De Tocqueville's judgment of the national character, remind us that wherever there is discretion there is room for arbitrariness, and that in a republic no less than under a monarchy discretionary authority on the part of the government means insecurity for legal freedom on the part of subjects.

If however we confined our observation to the Europe of the year 1889, we might well say that in most European countries the rule of law is now nearly as well established as in England, and that private individuals at any rate who do not meddle in politics have little to fear, as long as they keep the law, either from the Government or from any one else; and we might therefore feel some difficulty in understanding how it ever happened that to foreigners the absence of arbitrary power on the part of the Crown, of the executive, and of every other authority in England, has always seemed a striking feature, we might almost my the essential characteristic, of the English constitution.

Our perplexity is entirely removed by carrying back our minds to the time when the English constitution began to be criticised and admired by foreign thinkers. During the eighteenth century many of the continental governments were far from oppressive, but there was no continental country where men were secure from arbitrary power. The singularity of England was not so much the goodness or the leniency as the legality of the English system of government. When Voltaire came to England -- and Voltaire represented the feeling of his age -- his predominant sentiment clearly was that he had passed out of the realm of despotism to a land where the laws might be harsh, but where men were ruled by law and not by caprice. He had good reason to know the difference.

In 1717 Voltaire was sent to the Bastille for a poem which he had not written, of which he did not know the author, and with the sentiment of which he did not agree. What adds to the oddity, in English eyes, of the whole transaction is that the Regent treated the affair as a sort of joke, and, so to speak, "chaffed" the supposed author of the satire "I have seen" on being about to pay a visit to a prison which he "had not seen". In 1725 Voltaire, then the literary hero of his country, was lured off from the table of a Duke, was thrashed by lackeys in the presence of their noble master, was unable to obtain either legal or honourable redress; and because he complained of this outrage, paid a second visit to the Bastille. This indeed was the last time in which he was lodged within the walls of a French gaol, but his whole life was a series of contests with arbitrary power, and nothing but his fame, his deftness, his infinite resource, and ultimately his wealth, saved him from penalties far more severe than temporary imprisonment. Moreover, the price at which Voltaire saved his property and his life was, after all, exile from France. Whoever wants to see how exceptional a phenomenon was that supremacy of law which existed in England during the eighteenth century should read such a book as Morley's Life of Diderot. The effort, lasting for twenty-two years, to get the Encyclopedie published was a struggle on the part of all the distinguished literary men in France to obtain utterance for their thoughts. It is hard to say whether the difficulties or the success of the content bear the strongest witness to the wayward arbitrariness of the French government.

Royal lawlessness was not peculiar to specially detestable monarchs such as Louis the Fifteenth. It was inherent in the French system of administration. An idea prevails that Louis the Sixteenth at least was not an arbitrary, as he assuredly was not a cruel ruler. But it in an error to suppose that up to 1789 anything like the supremacy of law existed under the French monarchy. The folly, the grievances and the mystery of the Chevalier D' Eon made as much noise little more than a century ago as the imposture of the Claimant in our own day. The memory of these things is not in itself worth reviving. What does deserve to be kept in remembrance is that in 1778, in the days of Johnson, of Adam Smith, of Gibbon, of Cowper, of Burke and of Mansfield, during the continuance of the American war and within eleven years of the assembling of the States General, a brave officer and a distinguished diplomatist could for some offence still unknown, without trial and without conviction, be condemned to undergo a penance and disgrace which could hardly be rivalled by the fanciful caprice of the torments inflicted by Oriental despotism. Nor let it be imagined that during the latter part of the eighteenth century the government of France was more arbitrary than that of other countries. To entertain such a supposition is to misconceive utterly the condition of the continent. In France, law and public opinion went for a great deal more than in Spain, the petty States of Italy, or the principalities of Germany.



20th Century politics


And it is not only conservative theorists and historians such as Burke and Dicey who see overweening government power as the bete noir. Even practical conservative politicians do. Note this excellent statement of the conservative mission from one of America's most notable conservative politicians in the second half of the 20th century:

"Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed. Their mistaken course stems from false notions of equality, ladies and gentlemen. Equality, rightly understood, as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences. Wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.

Fellow Republicans, it is the cause of Republicanism to resist concentrations of power, private or public, which enforce such conformity and inflict such despotism. It is the cause of Republicanism to ensure that power remains in the hands of the people. And, so help us God, that is exactly what a Republican president will do with the help of a Republican Congress.

It is further the cause of Republicanism to restore a clear understanding of the tyranny of man over man in the world at large. It is our cause to dispel the foggy thinking which avoids hard decisions in the illusion that a world of conflict will somehow mysteriously resolve itself into a world of harmony, if we just don't rock the boat or irritate the forces of aggression - and this is hogwash.




And who said that? It is from the acceptance speech by Barry Goldwater at the 1964 Republican convention which nominated him as its candidate for President. Some people with short memories trace GOP conservatism only as far back as Ronald Reagan but Goldwater for one shows that Reagan was in fact building on a long tradition of GOP conservatism. Another good Goldwater quote:

"I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden... And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents' interests, I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can."

So, for over three centuries, the central values of conservatism -- at least in the English-speaking world -- have remained the same. Just to reinforce the point, note this summary from a speechwriter for one Richard Milhous Nixon:



Richard Nixon kicked off his historic comeback in 1966 with a column on the South (by this writer) that declared we would build our Republican Party on a foundation of states' rights, human rights, small government, and a strong national defense, and leave it to the "party of Maddox, Mahoney, and Wallace to squeeze the last ounces of political juice out of the rotting fruit of racial injustice."

The words of another well-known American conservative, Patrick Buchanan. Mahoney and Wallace were of course Southern Democrats. And Nixon subsequently swept the polls for the Republicans with a 49 State landslide. His conservative policies were popular even if his subsequent Machiavellianism was not.

And Nixon in fact was a rather good example of how conservatives are NOT automatically in favour of the status quo but DO promote individual liberty where they think they reasonably can --- as Gary North points out. He notes that Nixon abolished conscription and instituted an all volunteer army DESPITE conscription being a long established policy, one that had been in place since FDR. And Nixon did it during a war and against considerable opposition from the military! If conservatives are supposed to support the status quo, nobody told Nixon.

And another old warrior of American conservatism, W.F. Buckley says: "The conservative instinctively rejects collectivization": A pretty useful short definition.

And the most distinguished 20th century Australian conservative surely deserves at least a brief mention. Sir Robert Menzies was Australia's longest serving Prime Minister (in the 1950s and 60s) and is noted for how few his "initiatives" were over all that time -- a truly heroic achievement for any politician, given the temptations to meddle and the pressures to "do something" that come at governments from all sides. Here is one excerpt from his thinking:



"We are told today that the parliamentary system is antiquated, that it is slow, inefficient, illogical, emotional. In the presence of each charge, it may admit to some degree of guilt. But with all its faults, it retains a great virtue, alas! in these days, a rare virtue. Its virtue is that it is the one system yet devised which ensures the liberty of the subject by promoting the rule of law which subjects themselves make, and to which everyone, Prime Minister or tramp, must render allegiance. We British people still believe that men are born free, and that the function of government is to limit that freedom only by the consent of the governed."

Once again we see the emphasis on the primacy of individual freedom. And another instance of government inactivity being both beneficial and difficult to do is the case of colonial Hong Kong -- as we read here.



The Gipper




An account of the nature of conservatism can hardly give enough attention to the most loved conservative of the 20th century -- and arguably the most loved conservative of all time: Ronald Reagan. Fortunately, The Gipper (as he was affectionately known from one of his heroic roles when he was a movie actor) makes the task easy. No real-life politician could have been clearer, more consistent or more emphatic about what he stood for than the Great Communicator. Very little more is needed than simply quoting him. Let's start with just two small excerpts from the many cutting points he made in his famous 1964 speech in support of Barry Goldwater:

"And this idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except to sovereign people, is still the newest and most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man. This is the issue of this election. Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves....

Well, now, if government planning and welfare had the answer and they've had almost 30 years of it, shouldn't we expect government to almost read the score to us once in a while? Shouldn't they be telling us about the decline each year in the number of people needing help? The reduction in the need for public housing? But the reverse is true. Each year the need grows greater, the program grows greater...."

And from a 1975 interview:

"If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals-if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.

Now, I can't say that I will agree with all the things that the present group who call themselves Libertarians in the sense of a party say, because I think that like in any political movement there are shades, and there are libertarians who are almost over at the point of wanting no government at all or anarchy. I believe there are legitimate government functions. There is a legitimate need in an orderly society for some government to maintain freedom or we will have tyranny by individuals...

So, I think the government has legitimate functions. But I also think our greatest threat today comes from government's involvement in things that are not government's proper province. And in those things government has a magnificent record of failure.

Q: Are there any particular books or authors or economists that have been influential in terms of your intellectual development?

REAGAN: Oh, it would be hard for me to pinpoint anything in that category. I'm an inveterate reader. Bastiat and von Mises, and Hayek and Hazlitt-I'm one for the classical economists...."

And from his 1984 speech accepting the Republican Presidential nomination:

Isn't our choice really not one of left or right, but of up or down? Down through the welfare state to statism, to more and more government largesse accompanied always by more government authority, less individual liberty and, ultimately, totalitarianism, always advanced as for our own good. The alternative is the dream conceived by our Founding Fathers, up to the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with an orderly society. We don't celebrate dependence day on the Fourth of July. We celebrate Independence Day.

Individual liberty versus government authority was from the beginning clearly the conservative message to the great conservative communicator. And he had the same message in his farewell speech as President. He makes it clear there that there is just ONE thing he stood for above all: Individual liberty. Some excerpts:

"And in all of that time I won a nickname, "The Great Communicator." But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn't spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation - from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in principles that have guided us for two centuries.... Almost all the world's constitutions are documents in which governments tell the people what their privileges are. Our Constitution is a document in which "We the people" tell the government what it is allowed to do. "We the people" are free. This belief has been the underlying basis for everything I've tried to do these past eight years.... I hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There's a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts.... We've got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom - freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It's fragile; it needs protection".

It is sometimes held that Reagan transformed American conservatism but we see that Reagan himself says that he simply reasserted America's founding values -- values that the early Americans inherited from their English past.

And an integral part of those values was trust in the wisdom of the ordinary people as a whole -- something Reagan was famous for. He constantly said that the great achievements of his era were not his but those of the American people as a whole. Trust in ordinary people and a belief in giving them large liberties are integrally related. And that trust has been rather remarkably vindicated in recent research summarized in a book on the wisdom of crowds and reviewed here. The book shows that, time and time again, the wisdom of ordinary people beats that of any elite or any individual. Excerpt:

"James Surowiecki is fascinated by prediction markets. In his opinion, they demonstrate that crowds are often wise. He rejects the widespread view that groups of ordinary people are usually wrong--and that we do better to ignore them and follow experts instead. Even when individuals blunder, he believes, groups can excel: "Under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them." This is so even when "most of the people within the group are not especially well-informed or rational.""


Conservatives from Burke through Disraeli and Hayek to Reagan have of course always trusted the people as a whole to come up with better decisions than elites do. Burke looked to the wisdom of the people of both the past and present combined; Disraeli saw the ordinary people of England as "angels in marble" and Hayek saw the information available to the population as a whole as infinitely superior to any other information source.

And we all know that, despite great political difficulties and the inevitable compromises that practical politics require, Reagan managed to translate his words into deeds time and time again. So just one small example of that may suffice. As Thomas Sowell put it:

"During the gasoline shortage that began in 1979, motorists were often waiting in long lines of cars at filling stations -- sometimes for hours -- in hopes of reaching the pump before the gas ran out. The ways that Ted Kennedy and Ronald Reagan proposed to deal with this situation speaks volumes about the difference between the left and the right.

Senator Kennedy said: "We must adopt a system of gasoline rationing without delay," in "a way that demands a fair sacrifice from all Americans."

Ronald Reagan said that we must get rid of price controls on petroleum, so that there won't be a shortage in the first place. One of his first acts after becoming president was to end federal price controls. Lines at filling stations disappeared. Despite angry outcries from liberals that gas prices would skyrocket as Big Oil "gouged" the public, in reality prices came down within months and continued falling for years".

Critiques of Reagan:

British blogger Oliver Kamm is a moderate Leftist who supported the Iraq war -- much like his Prime Minister. In his postings of 7th & 8th June, 2004, he has an interesting survey of the Leftist claim that Ronald Reagan turned into a peacenik in the latter part of his Presidency. The claim is not as ridiculous as it seems. Reagan definitely did have the very idealistic aim of de-nuclearizing the world. And he went close to achieving it. He and Gorbachev at Reykjavik actually agreed to scrap all nuclear weapons on both sides. It was only Reagan's refusal to scrap his missile defence program that scuppered the agreement. And it may also be noted that Reagan was no warmonger. The overseas military operations he initiated were tiny compared to what his three successors as President have done and tiny compared to the great but fumbled intervention in Vietnam. Reagan's concentration was on building up American strength at home rather than on intervening abroad.

Like various others in that small subsection of the Left which takes a genuine interest in reality, Kamm takes all this as evidence that Reagan was as much a Leftist as a Rightist: "Reagan's political skills encompassed being able to convince American conservatives that he was one of them; yet he was not. Indeed on the nuclear issue - the one above all on which European protestors converged to denounce him - he was far the most left-wing President ever to hold office". There is a minimum of five things wrong with that claim:

1). Against furious Leftist opposition, Reagan already had well underway by the time of Reyjavik a huge buildup of American CONVENTIONAL forces -- so that deterrence by conventional strength was at least potentially available to replace nuclear deterrence. And by the time any anti-nuclear agreement became effective there would of course also be time even for Western Europe to begin pulling its weight in conventional defence -- a prospect which Europe, particularly Mrs Thatcher, resisted vigorously, of course.

2). The claim also shows very little knowledge of conservatism, and of American conservatism in particular. Reagan's "America first" strategy is in fact a good example of the isolationism that ruled among American conservatives right up until Sept. 11, 2001. American conservatives have always wanted to let the rest of the world to go to hell in its own way and it was DEMOCRAT presidents that got America into both world wars, Korea and Vietnam. America normally has to be under serious threat of some kind for American conservatives to take any notice of the rest of the world at all. Even the 1898 ouster of the pathetic Spanish presence in Cuba had to be preceded by a Spanish "attack" on the battleship Maine. So it was only Saddam's serious threat to oil supplies that got George Bush Senior into the first Gulf war and even then he pulled out as soon as the threat was removed. It was only when 9/11 showed beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that America was under serious and lasting threat from implacable Islamic hatred that George Bush II began his interventions in the Islamic world.

3). The claim that Reagan's antinuclear stance made him a Leftist also appears to stem from the common Leftist conceit that only the Left are "antiwar" or "antinuclear". So if Reagan was antinuclear he must have been a Leftist. That is a total misrepresentation of conservatism and really is the most offensive arrogance and aspersion on conservatives. No person in his right mind, Left or Right, wants war, particularly a nuclear war. The only difference between Leftists and Rightists over the issue was the means adopted to avoid war. Conservatives had the guts to believe that there was some alternative to surrendering to tyranny and undertook the arduous task of deterring war through strength -- which in the end brought about the marvellous achievement for all humanity of destroying the threat of nuclear world-war and destroying the world's most threatening tyranny as well. The only idea that Leftists had in the matter was surrender -- or "unilateral disarmament", as they called it. They probably rather fancied themselves as Soviet Commissars in a Communist State anyway.

4). Reagan's refusal at Reyjavik to abandon missile defence is a perfect example of conservatism. Whatever else it may be, conservatism from Burke onwards has been cautious and Reagan's desire to have a defence in case nuclear disarmament did not completely succeed was clearly caution -- and caution that he rigorously insisted on above all else. There was a far cry from the unilateral disarmament nonsense that the peaceniks of the Left were always preaching at that time. As always, of course, Reagan himself summed it up best in his well-known maxim: "Trust but verify". There was idealism there indeed: Very high ideals. But it was never allowed to overcome good conservative caution.

5). In the end, however, Kamm does arrive at an essential insight: "My own interpretation of this idiosyncratic record is that, having established his anti-Communist credentials, Reagan's 'soft diplomacy' approach worked well at exactly the time it was needed. It was puzzling, but effective, and probably no one else could have done it". In other words, Reagan was no rigid ideologue. Ideals are not ideology. Ideology and grand theories are for Leftists. Conservatives are pragmatic and flexible. Conservatives have ideals but in pursuing those ideals they go by what works. And our Ron showed that flexibility and pragmatism to brilliant effect.

Mikhail Gorbachev himself noted Reagan's principled pragmatism. He commented in a 2004 New York Times article: "Reagan was a man of the right. But, while adhering to his convictions, with which one could agree or disagree, he was not dogmatic; he was looking for negotiations and cooperation" (See also here).

It is interesting that Kesler's survey of American conservatism in the 20th century also identifies American conservatives generally as being overwhelmingly and repeatedly pragmatic and little concerned with or unified by broad theoretical systems -- though Kesler, as a believer in natural-law morality, deplores that. Excerpts:

"it is possible to have conservatives without having a unified conservative movement. Indeed, this was the situation in America before the mid-1950s. If it is not quite the plight of conservatives today, it may soon be again... Meyer's fusionism thus missed many of the hard questions about morality and politics.... The overwhelming practical imperative was to resist liberalism at home and defeat Communism abroad, and it would have been wrong to try to insist on other principles or conditions for such a necessary alliance... More and more, conservatism lacks a common message or focus, and the education it offers citizens and politicians is splintered into myriad discussions of specific policies."

The word "pragmatic" however, is a rather broad term and it could be held to imply a total lack of principles. I think that Reagan himself is the best demonstration that that is not so. His was the most principled pragmatism one could imagine. Everything he did was calculated to get the best possible deal for the individual. His goals and principles could not have been clearer or more firmly-founded. And who would deny that getting both the USA and the USSR to scrap all nuclear weapons would have been a tremendous victory for the individual? As a true conservative, Reagan had guiding values but he was very flexible about the means of attaining them. Conservatives go by what works but they go by what works in the service of the individual and individual liberties.

Another point I explore below is that the association between love of individual liberty and pragmatism is no accident. The two attitudes are in fact related.

---------

Another lame put-down of Reagan that sometimes comes from the Left (e.g. Yglesias) says that Reagan in fact showed the impossibility of the conservative agenda by failing to cut the overall size of government: "Reagan was supposed to be the man who saved conservatism, but instead he seems to have buried it". What that failure to cut in fact shows, of course is that Reagan couldn't do everything by himself. He had to get what he could from Congress. He got an amazing amount in some ways and very little in others. No matter which party is nominally in control of Congress, it is an essentially corrupt body that thrives on the art of the deal -- and the loser in every deal is the taxpayer. It is only Congress that can cut back the size of government and there is no sign that it will. And, like Reagan, George W. Bush also had bigger (foreign) fish to fry rather than wasting time on trying to make Congress do something that is against its fundamental nature. U.S. Congressmen are very good at keeping their jobs and they largely do it by robbing Peter (the taxpayer) to pay Paul (their supporter groups) and that is not going to change any time soon. As Reagan himself pointed out in 1964, long before he came to power:

"No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this Earth".




Reagan and Salisbury

A more substantial criticism of Reagan is that he was really too radical to be a true conservative. He was really a libertarian masquerading as a conservative. And as we have seen, Reagan was not at all shy of the libertarian label. And Reagan does of course stand in stark contrast to the pussyfooting that has always been too common among conservative politicians. Conservative moderation and search for compromise can too often lead to an appparent complete lack of principles. But the principles are there nonetheless and Reagan was in fact not at all outside the tradition of other great conservative leaders. Long before the word "libertarian" was invented, one of the most articulate spokesmen of such views was in fact Lord Salisbury -- one of Imperial Britain's most distinguished Conservative Prime Ministers, who held office in the closing years of the 19th century. To take just one tiny excerpt of what could be said about Salisbury:



"By a free country," he told the Kingston and District Working Men's Conservative Association in June 1883, "I mean a country where people are allowed, so long as they do not hurt their neighbours, to do as they like. I do not mean a country where six men may make five men do exactly as they like." His attitude towards freedom of contract was fundamentalist: "When it is a question of what men should commercially gain or lose by a bargain, Parliament had better let grown-up men settle with each other their own bargains," he pronounced in Edinburgh in November 1882, adding that although the Whitehall civil servant generally believed "he himself is the best person to decide", he was usually wrong, and over-centralisation of power was inimical to liberty. "You can no more act against the operation of great economic laws than you can act against the laws of the weather", was his laissez-faire philosophy, believing that "all Parliament can really do is to free the energies and support the efforts of an intelligent and industrious people".

I think that speaks for itself. More here



A little-known wartime episode

And, in his respect for individual liberties, Salisbury was not without American counterparts prior to Reagan. Democrat hero FDR imprisoned almost all people of Japanese descent living in the USA after the attack on Pearl Harbour by the Empire of Japan. This totally Fascistic contempt for individual liberties is well-known and fortunately still attracts some controversy. But there was little opposition to it at the time. "Progressive" thinking was very dominant in American politics in the first half of the 20th. century. One State governor salvages some self-respect for America over it, however: Colorado governor Carr:
"On Feb. 19, 1942, then-Gov. Carr was fuming. He yelled at his staff even though they were not the object of his scorn, but since he did not have direct access to the White House and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, they'd have to do. Clutching Executive Order 9066 in his hand, he paced and shouted, "What kind of a man would put this out?"

The president's order allowed for the de facto declaration of martial law on the West Coast with one not-so-veiled purpose: to remove anyone of Japanese descent. It was soon after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, which killed thousands of Americans. The Japanese were called "yellow devils" on the front page of papers like The Denver Post. People clamored for them to be locked up, sent to work camps, or - in the words of one Colorado farmer - "just killed." No one distinguished between non-citizen and citizen. No one talked about constitutional rights. No one except for Ralph Carr.

"Now, that's wrong," Carr told his staff. "Some of these Japanese are citizens of the United States. They're American citizens." And yet, nearly 120,000 people of Japanese descent, many of them American citizens, would spend the war years in internment camps, including Camp Amache, located near Granada in southeast Colorado. Barbed wire lined their boundaries and military police guarded their exits.

Carr would share his message with Colorado. He said we must protect the Constitution's principles for "every man or we shall not have it to protect any man." Further, he said, if we imprison American citizens without evidence or trial, what's to say six months from now, we wouldn't follow them into that same prison without evidence or trial? The Constitution, he said, starts with, " 'We the people of the United States.' It doesn't say, 'We the people, who are descendants of the English or the Scandinavians or the French.'"
Governor Carr was a Republican.



George W. Bush: Conservatism as balance

"It is not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work -- work with us, not over us; stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it." -- Ronald Reagan
The above Reagan quote would seem to summarize the thinking of President George W. Bush rather well.

Bush is in my view primarily a Christian gentleman rather than a conservative but there are nonetheless some ways in which he is conservative. And there is of course a convergence in thinking between conservatism and at least some streams of Christianity which leads conservatism and Christianity to similar conclusions. We see something of that in the way George Bush explains his foreign policy stance:

"The other debate is whether or not it is a hopeless venture to encourage the spread of liberty. Most of you all around this table are much better historians than I am. And people have said, you know, this is Wilsonian, it's hopelessly idealistic. One, it is idealistic, to this extent: It's idealistic to believe people long to be free. And nothing will change my belief. I come at it many different ways. Really not primarily from a political science perspective, frankly; it's more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn't exist.
So Bush explains his classically conservative love of individual liberty in Christian terms (though wishing to expand liberty abroad by force of arms is of course another matter that both Christians and conservatives would -- and do -- argue over). So we might say that Bush is conservative BECAUSE of his particular Christian beliefs. Such a linking is of course a common one -- particularly in the USA. That there are Leftist versions of Christianity (as in "liberation theology") must however also be noted. When Bush came to power in the year 2000, however, it was domestic rather than foreign policy issues that were salient so it is at those issues that we must primarily look to find conservative continuities.

Virtually anybody who has had any contact with any government agency knows how inefficient, rigid and unresponsive such agencies are. So selling government power is a hard sell. Normally, therefore, Leftists can justify their love of government power only by claiming that government powers are needed for "compassionate" ends -- to provide charity or protection to those in dire need of it. So in modern political discourse "compassion" has come to be identified with government activism -- even if the effects of government activism are often far from compassionate in any comprehensive evaluation. The idea that large-scale compassionate results can be achieved by non-government or minimal government means is generally a complex one so the much more simplistic "get the government to pass a law" has wide appeal and wins lots of votes.

So when in his initial Presidential campaign George W. Bush claimed to be a "compassionate conservative", it was clear that he was claiming to be sympathetic to government provision of welfare. And he was true to his word by undertaking a major expansion of government welfare (the prescription drug benefit for the elderly) when he came into office. Another way in which he was clearly "compassionate" was one not widely expected: His championship of a sweeping amnesty for illegal immigrants. That put him offside with most American conservatives (big business excepted) but was well explicable by his priorities being basically Christian. And it did tend to show that his compassion was always genuine rather than politically expedient (given the unpopularity of his wishes in the matter). His adoption of some big government remedies for perceived problems was then consistent with him putting Christian compassion first.

But how can he be pro-government and also a conservative? Are not conservatives the advocates of minimal government? In answering that, it is important to note WHY conservatives tend to be anti-government: Because they see government power as restrictive of individual liberties. From Disraeli and Bismarck on (see below), however, there have always been some conservatives who have held that there are ways in which government power can EXTEND individual liberties -- in Disraeli's case by freeing workers from oppressive conditions in the working place and in Bismarck's case by freeing the sick and old from the penury that sometimes accompanies age and sickness. And there is no conservative PRINCIPLE infringed by such views. Unlike anarchists on the Left and extreme libertarians on the Right, conservatives have always accepted the need for SOME government power. Just how much is the issue. Conservatives have always undertaken the hard yards of making complex rather than simplistic decisions. They make the fine distinctions that are needed to achieve a balance between "too much" and "not enough". They are nervous of slippery slopes but in the end often decide that they can enter such slippery slopes without falling down them. And George Bush is clearly one of those.

Conservatives who do see extensions of government activity as justified, however, can offer very little PHILOSOPHICAL distinctiveness between themselves and Leftists. The devil, as always, is in the details. So George Bush is a good exemplar of the important fact that conservatives seek a balance rather than adopting extreme ideological positions. That said, however, it is clear that the balance he arrived at is a rather extreme position on the broad spectrum of conservative thinking. He moved as far to the political centre as he could without sacrificing basic conservative values. So at this point we need to look briefly at how Bush actually described his thinking. Two brief quotes:

From February, 2004: "The American people will decide between two visions of government: a government that encourages ownership and opportunity and responsibility, or a government that takes your money and makes your choices,"

So he could hardly have been clearer there that it was not government per se that he opposed but rather the type of government -- tyrannical government versus government that was respectful of the individual. Who could deny the importance of such a difference? Another quote:

"We believe in open societies ordered by moral conviction. We believe in private markets humanized by compassionate government. We believe in economies that reward effort, communities that protect the weak and the duty of nations to respect the dignity and the rights of all.... We value our own civil rights, so we stand for the human rights of others. We affirm the God-given dignity of every person"

So in good conservative tradition, Bush did gave pride of place to the rights, liberties and dignity of the individual in defining what he stood for there (in speaking to a distinguished British audience at Whitehall Palace in London on November 19th, 2003). The full text of the speech here or here spells out that committment.

But his 2005 inauguration address shows best how Bush belongs in the conservative tradition. It is literally suffused with the theme of how basic and important individual liberty is. A few excerpts:

"We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.

America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth....

The great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations. The difficulty of the task is no excuse for avoiding it. America's influence is not unlimited, but fortunately for the oppressed, America's influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom's cause....

We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right. America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies.

We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul.

So the long conservative preoccupation with individual liberty is as central as ever. Critics can and do dismiss advocacy of liberty by rightly observing that there is no such thing as absolute liberty. Liberty of one kind implies constraint of another kind. My liberty to enjoy my life constrains your liberty to murder me, for instance. Such dilemmas can generate much windy discussion among theorists but for conservatives theories are unimpressive. They look instead to tradition and experience to decide just which freedoms are practicable, beneficial and widely desired and supported. They decide what mix of freedoms to support by reference to the laboratory of history. And in the full version of the speech excerpted above President Bush does just that -- turning to American traditions and history to both define and justify the sort of freedom he is advocating.

We see again however that conservatism is NOT libertarianism or anarchism. President Bush has spelt out very clearly that he, like all conservatives before him, DOES see a role for government, but a carefully specified one. The 2003 speech quoted in fact exemplifies how conservatives seek a balance between the role of government on the one hand and a great respect for the individual and individual rights and freedoms on the other hand. It's not simple, it never has been, and conservatives know that striking that balance will always be a difficult problem with no cut-and-dried or permanent solutions -- which is why conservatives have always scorned the dogmatic slogans and simplistic recipes of the Left. To conservatives the individual is what matters and the State is merely a necessary instrument. To the Leftist only grand plans, theories, power and collectivities matter and steamrollering the individual is no problem at all -- as Stalin, Pol Pot, Kim Il Sung and the great legion of Leftist mass-murderers worldwide attest.

And, as mentioned, that conception of conservatism shows in Bush's policies too. Many conservatives were totally appalled at the way he expanded the size of the U.S. government -- first with post 9/11 security measures and then with the prescription drug benefit for seniors. Where did the Reagan cutback mentality that launched America's long economic boom go?

A much-noted NYT article by David Brooks (also reproduced here) has part of the answer to that, however. One excerpt:

"Last week the GOP behaved as a majority party in full. The Republicans used the powers of government to entrench their own dominance. They used their control of the federal budget to create a new entitlement, to woo new allies and service a key constituency group, the elderly.... Minority parties are pure but defeated; governing parties are impure but victorious. The Republicans are now in the habit of winning, and are on permanent offense on all fronts. They offer tax cuts to stimulate the economy and please business. They nominate conservative judges to advance conservative social reform and satisfy religious conservatives."

And as Fred Barnes said:

"The essence of Mr. Bush's big government conservatism is a trade-off. To gain free-market reforms and expand individual choice, he's willing to broaden programs and increase spending.... When I coined the phrase "big government conservative" years ago, I had certain traits in mind. Mr. Bush has all of them. First, he's realistic. He understands why Mr. Reagan failed to reduce the size of the federal government and why Newt Gingrich and the GOP revolutionaries failed as well. The reason: People like big government so long as it's not a huge drag on the economy. So Mr. Bush abandoned the all-but-hopeless fight that Mr. Reagan and conservatives on Capitol Hill had waged to jettison the Department of Education. Instead, he's opted to infuse the department with conservative goals.... A second trait is a programmatic bent. Big government conservatives prefer to be in favor of things because that puts them on the political offensive."

But the Brooks/Barnes points do need to be supplemented again by an awareness that, from Edmund Burke onwards, conservatives have ALWAYS seen some role for government. And protecting the country from outside enemies is absolutely one of those proper roles of government. Outside the anarcho-capitalist camp, even most libertarians would agree with that one. So George W. Bush's post 9/11 security buildup is a very proper conservative thing to do, even if -- as one expects from a government activity -- its execution is hamfisted.

And, despite America's traditional political policy of isolationism, the Afghanistan/Iraq interventions fits in well with the psychology of conservatism -- discussed at more length a little later in this paper. Whatever else one may say about conservatives they have always been strongly motivated by caution -- most notably by caution about sweeping change to society's existing arrangements -- but caution above all. And given the terrible disasters that Islamic terrorists are now known to be capable of inflicting on America, it is surely the height of caution to go to the breeding ground of the terrorists and try to root out both the terrorists and those who aid and abet them. Prevention is better than cure.

And, as Brooks pointed out, the prescription drug benefit is well targeted too. Older people are one of the major conservative groupings in society. Age and experience has taught them caution. So if a political party leaves it to its opposition to woo away its own support base, it is moronic indeed. That they are the realists is another historic claim of conservatives and the political reality is that if the GOP had not supported the prescription drug push, it would have just have sent a big slice of elderly GOP voters off to vote for the Democrats instead. It may be worth noting that Australia's conservative government was at the same time in the midst of expanding its Medicare expenditures too.

So, much as many conservatives regret the Bush-era expansion of government, it may be the price one had to pay for George W. Bush's more active and realistic approach to protecting American security against the Islamic threat. With the difficult threat from abroad to cope with, Bush had no political capital left with which to take on the big-spending ways of Congress. His only option was to make the existing system work for him rather than against him. If Al Gore had been in charge, the U.S. would probably still have got the prescription drug benefit but with United Nations resolutions being the only measures taken to counter the Islamic threat.

And Bush's mention in his speech of moral convictions contrasts sharply, of course, with the "postmodern" Leftist mockery of all morality, tradition and guiding values. I am reminded in that connection of one of Stalin's famous sayings when someone mentioned the Vatican's opposition to him. As a good Leftist, Stalin's answer was of course in terms of power rather than in terms of any principles or morality. He said: "And how many divisions does the Pope have?". The Pope of course had no army at all, only Christian morality and values. But who had the last laugh? Stalin's Soviet creation ended up, as Ronald Reagan predicted, on the ash heap of history and it was a Polish Pope and his Catholic flock in Poland who were instrumental in finally pushing over that tottering and rotten edifice. And the authority of the Pope and the life of his church still continue worldwide. Morality trumped brute force. The Leftist contempt for moral values serves no-one well -- not even Leftists themselves. I treat the Leftist approach to morality at greater length elsewhere

The Leftist approach (or non-approach) to morality did of course handicap them considerably in the 2004 U.S. election campaign. Exit polls (which do of course need to be treated with caution) showed moral issues as a big concern for large numbers of voters and Bush was very clear in aligning himself with a Christian view of morality -- something that gave him an obvious advantage in as deeply a Christian country as the United States. Bush's formulation of his views on abortion (from one of the 2004 Presidential debates) is very instructive:

" I think it's important to promote a culture of life. I think a hospitable society is a society where every being counts and every person matters. I believe the ideal world is one in which every child is protected in law and welcomed to life.

I understand there's great differences on this issue of abortion. But I believe reasonable people can come together and put good law in place that will help reduce the number of abortions.

Take, for example, the ban on partial-birth abortion. It's a brutal practice. People from both political parties came together in the halls on Congress and voted overwhelmingly to ban that practice. Made a lot of sense. My opponent out - in that he's out of the mainstream, voted against that law.

What I'm saying is that as we promote life and promote a culture of life, surely there are ways we can work together to reduce the number of abortions. Continue to promote adoption laws - that's a great alternative to abortion. Continue to fund and promote maternity group homes. I will continue to promote abstinence programs".

Despite much Leftist frothing at the mouth over the "extremism" of Bush's moral and religious views, what we note above is in fact a surprisingly libertarian approach to the abortion conundrum. He starts out rooting his opposition to abortion in that great intersection between Protestant/Christian and conservative/libertarian views: Respect for the individual and the rights and liberties of the individual. And precisely because he sees that principle as axiomatic, he does not go on to advocate a dogmatic policy of coercion or total prohibition but rather a policy of seeking voluntary ways of just REDUCING the number of abortions -- very much the sort of policy that I myself have advocated. So Bush was preaching a synthesis that was both classically conservative and yet also very supportive of Christian values -- with their view of all human life as the work and gift of God. It's the sort of synthesis that might have served a clever politician of the Left well in a religious country but it was the "dumb" George Bush who actually put it forward and won much kudos among Christians in doing so.

Bush, then, was undoubtedly a good conservative in his thinking but his judgment of what he needed to do to gain and retain power meant that his actual policies were often only slightly to the Right of centre.

Those who claim that the Bush policies were a large divergence from Reagan conservatism have a fairly good rebuttal here, however. Excerpts:

"We forget that the current charges of "theocracy" were thoroughly rehearsed in the Reagan years, when Reagan's open support for the beliefs of evangelicals was passionately decried, and his affirmation of the veracity of the Bible was used against him (notably in the 1984 campaign) to suggest that he would recklessly seek to bring on Armageddon.
And:

Nor is Bush's insistence on the universal appeal of free institutions out of line with a sensibility that since the American Revolution has envisioned the United States as a carrier of universal values and a beacon to the rest of the world. Hart decries this "Wilsonian" aspect of Bush's presidency as a form of Jacobinism, promising the forced conversion of the world to American values and practices. But what has Bush said that is not a restatement of what Ronald Reagan said so often and with such conviction? Consider Reagan's address to the British parliament on June 8, 1982, a self-conscious echo of Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech 36 years earlier:

We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. . . . The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means. This is not cultural imperialism, it is providing the means for genuine self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy.

If Bush has abandoned conservatism in saying such things and acting upon them, then what are we to make of Reagan?



Was Pope John Paul II a conservative?




The American political Left have always of course raged at the conservatism of the late Holy Father -- because of his opposition to abortion, female equality in all things, and homosexuality, three of their great causes. But the same people also see George W. Bush as only a small step removed from Hitler so that judgment is not necessarily reliable. Of slightly more interest is that some conservatives also saw him as disturbingly to the Left. The far-Right (e.g. Auster) faulted him for his ecumenism and his insufficient emphasis on tribe, nation and national traditions while the libertarian Right faulted him for his criticisms of capitalism -- as seen in (say) his encyclical Centesimus Annus.

The truth is, of course, that like the famous encyclical it commemorates (Rerum novarum), Centesimus Annus is a thoroughly conservative balancing act. It says Communism is no good but neither is unbridled capitalism. It says there is a right to private property but not an unrestriced right. It says the State should interfere to look after the poor but it should not interfere too much. As I point out above, conservatives have always undertaken that difficult balancing act. Simplistic all-or-nothing theories and systems are only for the ideologues of the Left. And since George W. Bush is no champion of unbridled capitalism, we can hardly expect more of the Pope! Real-world conservative politics at least from Disraeli on have almost always consisted of finding a safe balance between competing political claims rather than pursuing some hard-line ideology. Hard-line ideologies are for Leftists. So I think critics of him miss the point that John Paul II was of necessity a real-world politician -- so compromises were to be expected of him.

What I think critics also miss is that political centrism is thoroughly Papal. The attitudes of John Paul II in respect of capitalism were simply modern adaptations of traditional Papal thinking. The syndicalism that was recommended in the famous 1891 encyclical De rerum novarum of Pope Leo XIII also tried to strike a balance between capitalism and socialism. Syndicalism is however much further to the Left than anything in place or generally proposed in the Western world today, though attempts were made to implement it in various Southern European Fascist regimes and modern Germany does have a watered-down version of it.

In the end, however, there is one respect in which His Holiness was NOT a centrist -- his stand in favour of individual rights versus the power of the Communist State. So in that respect he was very much a conservative, and a great one. And there seems little doubt that his respect for the individual lay at the instinctive heart of his thinking -- as two wonderful stories (here and here) from his early life strongly suggest. It is a great tribute to the church that it found such a holy man to lead it for so long and it is a great tribute to conservatism that a man of such integrity and genuine righteousness is called conservative. If any man deserves the title of "compassionate conservative" it is undoubtedly John Paul II.



Is Tony Blair a conservative?


My pointing to pragmatism and compromise as characteristic of conservatives is undoubtedly true as a statement about political history (Norton & Aughey, 1981; Gilmour, 1978; Feiling, 1953; Standish, 1990) but it would seem to lead to the view that democracy is inherently conservative -- in that any political party wishing to gain power in a democracy has to keep pretty close to the centre.

And a man who hews very much to the centre in his rhetoric is the electorally very successful U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair. So much so, that the chief opposition to many of his policies seems to come from his own Labour party rather than from the opposition Conservatives. This has led some people to describe him as the best Conservative Prime Minister that Britain never had. And that, in a way is the point: A pragmatic centrist is rightly seen as conservative. But the reason why he is in fact the leader of a historically very Leftist political party is instructive. Note his own summary of his thinking here:

"At the heart of my politics has always been the value of community, the belief that we are not merely individuals struggling in isolation from each other, but members of a community who depend on each other, who benefit from each other's help, who owe obligations to each other. From that everything stems: solidarity, social justice, equality, freedom. We are what we are, in part, because of the other. I apply that idea here in Britain. I try to apply it abroad."

I cannot help compare that statement with a similar statement by a very different Socialist:

"The activities of the individual may not clash with the interests of the whole, but must proceed within the frame of the community and be for the general good."

And contrast both statements with this summary of historic British Conservative party thinking:

"They distrust general notions such as "the community" and would argue that the despotism of reason may cloak as much sinister self-interest and self-deception as any other tyranny."

The summary of Conservative thinking is by Feiling, an historian of the British Conservative party. The second quote above is from Adolf Hitler.

I have no doubt that Mr Blair is a genuinely compassionate man (something I would say of few Leftist leaders, though it is true of many Leftist followers) but, in good Leftist fashion, he is in love with the community rather than with the individual and that endears him to his party. From the rest of his speech we also note that, also in good Leftist fashion, he sees government as the best way to accomplish his goals, though he also acknowledges the limitations of government -- a rare thing on the Left and something again that marks him out as unusually conservative for a leader of his party.

That a Leftist party can give birth to conservative thinking is probably most clearly seen in the Australian case. Neville Wran, a Queen's Counsel of working class origins, was Labor party Premier of Australia's most populous state (New South Wales) from 1976 to 1986 and during his tenure introduced his party to conservatism (though not under that name of course). The electoral success of his approach was noted on the Federal level and was put into practice on the Federal level with the accession to power of Bob Hawke. Prior to his career in Parliament, Hawke was known as the king of compromises in the field of disputes between unions and business. As Prime Minster (1983-1981) he of course continued that approach and was in addition remarkably pragmatic on economic matters -- largely traceable, no doubt, to his degree in economics. It was he who initiated large scale privatizations of government enterprises in Australia -- very much akin to what Margaret Thatcher did in England.

So whether any given government can be identified as conservative or not is clearly a matter of degree -- a matter of how much the individual person is respected, a matter of how much government is trusted and a matter of how much compromise and pragmatism is resorted to -- but broadly conservative government can clearly arise from parties that are either nominally Leftist or nominally Rightist. In the Australian case matters have progressed to the point where the major choice on offer is between two conservative parties -- though there are of course also various minor parties (Greens, Democrats) that lean well to the Left. In the case of Tony Blair one would have to say that his conservative inclinations have generally led to little in the way of conservative results because of his trust in bureaucracy as a way of achieving his goals.

Blair's limited moves in the direction of privatizing both schools (the city academies) and health-care (the increasing "farming-out" of NHS patients to other providers) are however at least in the right direction as far as conservatives are concerned. And to move a party that was once the party of unilateral nuclear disarmament to being the party of Iraq intervention and a pro-U.S. foreign policy generally was a quite astounding Rightwards shunt to that party. But that is what Blair did to the British Labour Party (not without opposition, of course). Contemporary British Conservatives are ineffectual largely because Blair has stolen their clothes.



Baroness Thatcher



I have devoted some attention to three relatively recent American Republican leaders (Goldwater, Reagan and G.W. Bush) but have so far alluded only in passing to the most electorally successful recent British Conservative leader -- Margaret Thatcher. I think however that anything I could say about her would be superfluous. No-one with the slightest interest in politics can be unaware of what The Iron Lady stood for. While conservatives often talk about rolling back the State and unleashing private enterprise, Margaret Thatcher actually did it on a large and epoch-making scale. She removed great swathes of British life from out of government control and put them into the hands of the private sector -- and in so doing set an example that was gradually emulated worldwide -- from Poland, through Russia to China and many points in between. I will therefore take her position in the mainstream of conservative thought as read and will look elsewhere for an indication of where British Conservative thinking stands in the 21st century.

A small quote from her showing that her great economic success had roots in morality and principle might not go astray, however:
We must not focus our attention exclusively on the material, because, though important, it is not the main issue. . . . The economic success of the Western world is a product of its moral philosophy and practice. The economic results are better because the moral philosophy is superior. It is superior because it starts with the individual, with his uniqueness, his responsibility, and his capacity to choose. . . . Choice is the essence of ethics. . . . Good and evil have meaning only insofar as man is free to choose.
No doubt about the committment to individual liberty there! She said that in a 1977 speech, before coming to power, and she in fact made similar observations to me personally when I met her at a small Home Counties garden party in that year.



Ancram: A 21st century British conservative



There would be many choices possible for looking at the views of a contemporary British Conservative but the views of Michael Ancram QC MP, 13th Marquess of Lothian and Deputy Leader of the Conservative party in 2005 should be of some relevance. Mr Ancram has conveniently set out a long list of policies and principles that he thinks the Conservative Party should promote but the following excerpts should sound familiar:

"Freedom of the individual lies at the heart of Conservatism and sets us apart from those who believe the state knows best. It must be the driving engine of Conservatism today, only to be restrained when it unfairly exploits or curtails the freedom of others. There are various forms. Freedom to choose which depends on genuine and maximum variety in both economic and social life from within which to exercise choice. In a free society people cannot be forced to choose. Freedom to choose is a right to control their own lives if that is what people wish. Choice must be for all and not just those who can afford it. It must be based on the Conservative principle of equality of opportunity rather than the left wing aim of equality of outturn. Freedom to decide which means removing regulations restricting decisions being taken. It means encouraging enterprise. It means, crucially through lower taxes, leaving people with more of their own money with which to make their own decisions. It means demonstrating that government does not need to keep taxes high. Freedom to live one's own life which is central to the freedom of the individual. An individual must be able to pursue his or her freely determined choice of lifestyle so long as it is within the law. Freedom of expression which is increasingly strangled by repressive legislation and political correctness. Free speech lies at the heart of democracy and freedom. The presumption of the Law must always be in favour of free speech.

In the 1980s it took a determined Conservative leader to cut an overbearing State back to size. We now face that same challenge again if in a somewhat different way. Today's overblown, interfering and insensitive State is hostile to freedom. We need to achieve a smaller State, not just by reducing bureaucracy but by shrinking the ability of the State to intervene in the lives of ordinary people and businesses. The protection of our civil liberties must be the overriding priority. We do not protect freedoms by restricting or undermining them. Measures to invade our privacy or impede our freedoms must be opposed. From ID cards to detention without charge we must not allow hard won rights to be dismantled. And if they are, we must promise to reinstate them. Deregulation is also fundamental. The mountain of red tape which is strangling businesses, professionals, private providers of care and many others must be levelled. Only that which clearly in the public interest needs regulating should be regulated. We must find an effective mechanism for stripping out reams of unnecessary regulations and for time-limiting new ones.... There are those who argue that in the modern world the small state is a chimera. I disagree. Recent research from the IMF and the ECB, published by Politeia in this country, shows that in the past two decades a number of countries have cut public spending by 10-16 % thereby reducing spending to around 35% of GDP. It can be done. It will require the unravelling of the all-pervading dependency culture which has taken such deep root in our country over the last generation. It will take determination to achieve it. It will be one of the great tests of Conservatism in the years ahead.



Fred Thompson



True conservatives very rarely win elections. Reagan and Thatcher are the exception rather than the rule. Almost all elections are won by people who are close to the centre. So Ancram faded from prominence as the undoubtedly centrist David Cameron rose to prominence in the British Conservative party. Something similar happened in U.S. politics not long afterwards. In the 2008 primaries, American conservatives were very enthusiastic about Fred Thompson. But Fred had little centrist appeal so the GOP nomination went to the very centrist McCain.
What Thompson stood for remains of interest, however, and he summarizes that below:
Spending some time on the campaign trail has confirmed a couple of thoughts I've had before I entered the Republican primary race.

First, conservatism is alive and well in America; don't let anyone tell you differently. And by conservatism, I don't mean the warmed-over "raise your hand if you believe ." kind of conservatism we see blooming every election cycle. No, I'm speaking of the conservatism grounded in principles based upon enduring truths: an understanding of the importance of human nature in the affairs of individuals and nations. Respect for the lessons of history, the importance of faith and tradition. The understanding that while man is prone to err, he is capable of great things when not subjugated by a too-powerful government. These are the principles that inspired our Founding Fathers, and resulted in a Constitution that delineated the powers of the central government, established checks and balances among the branches of government and further diffused governmental power by a system of Federalism.

Second, change - whether it "real change," "bold change" or the "change we can believe in" variety others are selling - isn't itself an innovative policy or a particularly strong leadership stance. In fact, from Burke to Buckley, there has been an acknowledgement that change in the political arena is inevitable and necessary, and we in the U.S. tend to experience it in regular, 2, 4 and 6 year intervals, so 2008 is hardly our first rodeo. The challenge for conservatives is calibrating whether the change being proposed is consistent with our principles and our philosophy, and whether that change is appropriate.

Our nation has some serious issues to work through for today . and for the next generation. Now isn't the time for conservatives to be looking for a tailored message or a politically expedient route to victory if the end result is going to be the inevitable slide toward the liberalization and secularization of America, and the growth of government and loss of freedom that inevitably ensues. For us conservatives it must be about principles and policies that are grounded in freedom, free markets and the rule of law.
What Fred says above reiterates of course themes frequently encountered above in the words of other conservative thinkers. There is great consistency in what conservatives see as the dominant themes in conservatism, with individual liberty always prominent.


John McCain

Is McCain a conservative? Lots of American conservatives don't think so. Although McCain got the GOP Presidential nomination, Fred Thompson was the pick in 2008 for conservatives. Fred unfortunately was too much of a conservative. Conservatives basically just want to be left alone to get on with their own lives (hence their advocacy of liberty) and that is about what Fred wanted too. He just did not have the fire in his belly to work hard enough to get the nomination.

But it is almost always centrists (from either party) who get to run a democracy so McCain was a wise GOP choice. His main claim on conservatism was a strong defense posture and a vow to appoint strict constructionist judges to SCOTUS. Lots of conservatives gritted their teeth and said that was good enough reason to vote for him.

An interesting feature of his campaign was that, like Obama, he claimed to stand for change. Does that shoot down his claims to be a conservative? Not at all. Attitude to change per se does characterize the Left pretty well: They hunger for sweeping change across the board. But conservatives would like to see quite a few changes too: Mostly changes that undo government interventionism and maximize liberty.

For the rest I prefer to pass over McCain in pained silence. He is a man of good instincts but just not too bright, in my opinion. So he has bought in to a lot of Leftist flim-flam.


Other conservative voices in history


Showing a continuity in the basic political polarity that moves all the way from Cromwell to Nixon, Goldwater and Reagan etc. is surely impressive but it does leave out a great deal of history in between. So let us also look briefly at some of the intervening history:

To quote one history (Roberts, 1958) of the earliest English Tories (Conservative Party):

"The principles of Tory paternalism do not lend themselves to effective legislation or improved administration. Coleridge, the most profound and influential of these theorists, looked to the moral regeneration of the individual, not to the reforming State, and he envisaged the Church of England as the head of a paternalistic society. He despised what he called "act of Parliament reforms", and he exalted the Church as much as he feared the State."

Again in Roberts (1958) we read of a slightly later period:

"Only State aid to all voluntary schools could extend education, but the Tories would not tolerate State intervention in a sphere reserved for the Church. In a grandiloquent speech to the Commons, Disraeli played deftly on this deep jealousy of the State. He raised the spectre of a centralized despotism comparable to those which oppressed China, Persia and Austria, and sombrely warned that the grant would force a return "to the system of a barbarous age, the system of a paternal government".

It may also be noted that Disraeli's influence was instrumental in passing the 1867 Reform Bill -- which gave two million working class people the vote for the first time. It was conservative trust in the individual, not Leftist egalitarianism, that brought about that great step forward. As Disraeli himself said, he saw working class people as "angels in marble" -- i.e. as people who could be trusted with choice, as people who could in aggregate be trusted to behave wisely if given the chance. Disraeli was of course twice Prime Minister in the Conservative cause. It was primarily his influence, in fact, that caused his party to become known as the Conservatives rather than as the Tories -- though the old name is still on occasions used to this day. (More on Disraeli below).

So dislike of State intervention and a belief in the primacy of the individual has long been a prominent theme (though not of course the only theme) among conservatives. Nor do we have to go so far back in history to come up with instances of this sort. Two notable quotations that might be referred to are by the eminent British Conservative Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and by the noted Conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott (See Buck, 1975 p.139-141 and p. 153 & 154 as a convenient reference for the texts of both statements). First Oakeshott:

"Further it is said that a disposition to be conservative in politics reflects what is called an 'organic' theory of human society; that is tied up with a belief in the absolute value of human personality, and with a belief in a primordial propensity of human beings to sin. And the 'conservatism' of an Englishman has even been connected with Royalism and Anglicanism.

Now, setting aside the minor complaints one might be moved to make about this account of the situation, it seems to me to suffer from one large defect. It is true that many of these beliefs have been held by people disposed to be conservative in political activity, and it may be true that these people have also believed their disposition to be in some way confirmed by them, or even to be founded upon them; but, as I understand it, a disposition to be conservative in politics does not entail either that one should hold these beliefs to be true or even that we should suppose them to be true. Indeed, I do not think it is necessarily connected with any particular beliefs about the universe, about the world in general or about human conduct in general. What it is tied to is certain beliefs about the activity of government and the instruments of government, and it is in terms of beliefs on these topics, and not on others, that it can be made to appear intelligible. And to state my view briefly before elaborating it, what makes a conservative disposition in politics intelligible is nothing to do with a natural law or a providential order, nothing to do with morals or religion; it is the observation of our current manner of living combined with the belief (which from our point of view need be regarded as no more than an hypothesis) that governing is a specific and limited activity, namely the provision and custody of general rules of conduct, which are understood, not as plans for imposing substantive activities, but as instruments enabling people to pursue the activities of their own choice with the minimum frustration and therefore something which it is appropriate to be conservative about."

And Churchill, in a speech to the Conservative Party Conference, on 5 October 1946:

"We oppose the establishment of a Socialist State, controlling the means of production, distribution and exchange. We are asked, 'What is your alternative?' Our Conservative aim is to build a property-owning democracy, both independent and interdependent. In this I include profit-sharing schemes in suitable industries and intimate consultation between employers and wage-earners. In fact we seek so far as possible to make the status of the wage-earner that of a partner rather than of an irresponsible employee. It is in the interest of the wage-earner to have many other alternatives open to him than service under one all-powerful employer called the State. He will be in a better position to bargain collectively and production will be more abundant; there will be more for all and more freedom for all when the wage-earner is able, in the large majority of cases, to choose and change his work, and to deal with a private employer who, like himself, is dependent upon his personal thrift, ingenuity and good-housekeeping. In this way alone can the traditional virtues of the British character be preserved. We do not wish the people of this ancient island reduced to a mass of State-directed proletariats, thrown hither and thither, housed here and there, by an aristocracy of privileged officials or privileged party, sectarian or Trade Union bosses. We are opposed to the tyranny and victimisation of the closed shop. Our ideal is the consenting union of million, of free, independent families and homes to gain their livelihood and to serve true British glory and world peace."

There is a fuller excerpt from the Churchill statement with some comments here. Although both statements were made long before the Reagan/Thatcher/Gorbachev era, both stress how important to Conservatism is the limiting of State power and activity -- though neither of course limits the concerns of Conservatives to that one theme. And note also the following excerpt from a May 13, 1940 speech by Churchill in the British Parliament, three days after his becoming Prime Minister:

" My friends, I must tell you that a socialist policy is abhorrent to the British ideas of freedom. Although it is now put forward in the main by people who have a good grounding in the liberalism and radicalism of the early part of this century, there can be no doubt that socialism is inseparably interwoven with totalitarianism and the abject worship of the state. It is not alone that property, in all its forms, is struck at; but that liberty, in all its forms, is challenged by the fundamental conceptions of socialism."

V.I. Lenin did not really disagree. He said: "The scientific concept of dictatorship means nothing else but this: power without limit, resting directly upon force, restrained by no laws, absolutely unrestricted by rules."

And Friedrich Engels had similar views: "Revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon" (from his controversy with the Anarchists).



Neo-liberalism: The contribution from economics


What North Americans now call "liberal" is a long way from what was called "liberal" in the 19th century and earlier. The original liberal ideas came principally from the early economists and hark back at least as far as the writings of Adam Smith (1776). And what are called "neo-liberal" ideas today still have their main source and are most influential in economics. In their more general form, however, such ideas seek to elevate individual rights above the claims of State and community power. The writings of J.S. Mill (1859) are most quoted as a comprehensive development of such ideas. Note the following passage from his famous essay "On liberty":

"The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to some one else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign."

So the early economists arrived at conclusions which strongly reinforced traditional British ideas about the value and importance of individual liberty in general. And classical liberal ideas had great influence in 19th century Britain. British politics at that time could in fact be seen as competing versions of liberalism, with the more Leftist version to be found in the British Liberal party. Note that it was a Conservative leader -- Peel -- who sponsored Catholic emancipation and abolished the restrictive corn laws. Perhaps because of Disraeli's extension of the franchise, however, the old gentlemanly British Liberal party was steadily eclipsed in the early 20th century by the rise to prominence of Statist ideas -- particularly Marxist, Fabian and Fascist ideas. And conservative politics came to be dominated by the need to combat, refute and compromise with the new Statist ideas -- with the old liberal ideas becoming secondary. Late in the 20th century, however, under the influence of writings by Hayek (1944), Ayn Rand (1977) and many others, the original liberal ideas were powerfully revived and extended -- when they came to be known among the cognoscenti as "neo-liberalism" or "Libertarianism". They are perhaps best known to the world at large, however, as "Reaganomics" or "Thatcherism" -- from their most prominent and successful political proponents.

Surprisingly, however, modern-day North American "liberals" and their ilk generally seem to view neo-liberalism as anathema. And in fact Neo-liberalism has found its home entirely on the political Right in recent times. Why? The explanations of Leftist motivation given elsewhere would appear to be very helpful in explaining why.



Why "liberals" hate Neo-liberalism


But the reason why is not initially obvious. Neo-Liberalism of course is very pro-change, particularly in the economic sphere, and aims principally to break down, wherever possible, government-imposed restrictions on what people can do. Its application has led to all sorts of economic reorganization, some of which has been very disruptive to the employment (and hence the lives) of many people. Globalization is just one of its manifestations. So how in heaven's name did such a revolutionary doctrine find its home on the Right rather than among the normally pro-change Leftists?

The answer becomes obvious if we posit (as I have done at length elsewhere) that Leftists really have no concern at all about what they are advocating, that they do not really care about human advancement at all, that their "concern" for the poor etc. is a sham. What they really want they want now -- and that is power, simple causes that will win them praise and drama in which they can star as the good guys. That really is about all. And neo-liberalism meets none of those needs. The policies advocated by Neo-liberals do demonstrably lead to slow but steady human economic advancement and do increase prosperity for all to levels once undreamt of in human history. But such policies also diffuse power, are far from simple and are very undramatic. It is hard work just to understand neo-liberalism and there are no immediate rewards inbuilt. One could, for instance, TRY going onto the streets and demonstrating in favour of "comparative advantage" (one of the essential ideas underpinning advocacy of free trade) but that would almost certainly lead to total incomprehension rather than win kudos. And Che Guevara is someone that anybody and everybody can understand -- which is a lot more than can be said for Eugen von Boehm-Bawerk.

So neo-liberalism suffers from the huge handicap that it is a highly intellectual body of ideas that requires considerable study and knowledge of economics -- something that Leftists normally seem to avoid like the plague -- in order to understand it fully. It originated with an economist (Smith), it could even be seen as the practical application of modern economics and some of its most prominent proponents have won Nobel prizes for economics (Friedman, Hayek etc.). It is certainly much harder to explain and communicate to laymen than are such simple ideas as "all men are equal" or "get the government to pass a law". And the heroes and villains of neo-liberalism do not suit the Leftist either. The neo-liberal hero (the business entrepreneur) normally has to work long and hard to achieve his status. Storming the Winter Palace (as the Bolsheviks did in October, 1917) or vandalizing Seattle (as the anti-globalization protesters did in December, 1999) are heaps quicker, simpler and easier. And the neo-liberal villain is government! The solitary proposal that Leftists have for solving social ills is snatched away from under them! No wonder Leftists do not like neo-liberalism!

On a more fundamental level, Leftist hostility to neo-liberalism revolves around the fact that governments and their instrumentalities are far and away the most effective means of obtaining and exercising power over large numbers of people. They exist for that purpose. So Leftists -- with their yearning for power and the ego-boost it provides -- will always advocate anything that promises to extend State power -- in the hope that they can influence or participate in the exercise of it. Communist governments, of course, represent an extreme in the exercise of State power and, for this reason, some US "liberals" were once wont to speak indulgently of Communists as being simply "liberals in a hurry". So Leftists are perfectly accurate in seeing neo-liberals -- with their advocacy of reduced and limited State power -- as their deadly and hated enemies.



Conservatives and Neo-liberalism


So neo-liberalism was for a long time largely deprived of a home in politics. It went against the normal caution of conservatives to advocate any radical shake-up in society's existing arrangements and Leftists wanted an entirely different shake-up. Neo-liberal ideas about globalization had some continuing effect (e.g. through GATT -- the predecessor of the WTO) but, generally, without the energy of Leftists to push it, neo-Liberalism languished for most of the 20th century as a purely academic theory -- one seemingly outmoded by the 20th century's love-affair with the State.

But neo-liberalism is in essence perfectly practical (tax cuts, deregulation, privatization etc.) and Rightists have always been interested in practical proposals for human advancement and betterment. To mention just a few particularly striking historical examples of such practical proposals:



The origins of welfare legislation

And the myth that only Leftists "care"

The claim that Leftists "care" is undoubtedly one of the great hoaxes of all time. When Leftists get unrestrained power (as in Soviet Russia, Mao's China etc.) we soon see how much they care! Nonetheless, Leftists in democratic societies continue to have considerable success with the propaganda line concerned. They regularly use the excuse of "caring" to justify their various grabs for power and control. So it seems worthwhile to look at the "welfare" policies which are identified by democratic Leftists as examples of "caring". Do conservatives also favour such policies when it is economically viable to do so? Conservatives often want to restrict or even unwind some welfare policies so do conservatives have an in-principle objection to such policies or are they objecting to them on other grounds -- such as the perverse effect on incentives or the social destructiveness of such policies? I think history shows clearly that conservatives DO support welfare policies as long as they are realistically applied.

Few people could be more Rightist than Prince Otto von Bismarck, Prussia's "Iron Chancellor" of the late 19th century and the man who unified modern Germany under the Prussian crown by way of successful wars on Austria and France. He was an hereditary aristocrat who for some years defied the Prussian parliament to rule Prussia in the name of the King alone and often wore his Prussian military uniform -- complete with Pickelhaube (spiked helmet). Yet the same man also gave Germany an extensive welfare system (workers compensation, old-age pensions etc.) that exceeded in generosity anything else of its kind in the world of those days. See here. It was a Prussian traditionalist who was the pioneer of the welfare state, not some Leftist.

And perhaps Britain's most famous conservative thinker of the 19th century, who was also one of her most notable Prime Ministers, was Benjamin Disraeli (already mentioned above). It is he who is often credited with creating the modern British Conservative party and he certainly had a large role in causing his political party to be known as the Conservative party rather than the Tory party. He was a constitutional traditionalist, a great monarchist and imperialist and was responsible for declaring Queen Victoria "Empress of India". Yet he was a great friend of British working-class people too -- extending the vote to them in 1867, bringing in legal limits on how many hours per day they could be asked to work, limiting the age at which they could start work, bring in health regulations and for the first time giving some legal protection to labour unions. He saw his duty as Prime Minister as: "to secure the social welfare of the people." He saw his guiding principles as being not only to "maintain the institutions of the country" -- which he saw as an essential barrier to tyranny -- but also "to elevate the condition of the people". And despite often being accused of megalomania and mere opportunism, he refused both a Dukedom and burial in Westminster Abbey.

David Gelernter has a useful introduction to Disraeli's thought. I quote below what I see as Gelernter's central insight:

Reverence for tradition was central to Toryism and to Disraeli's own personality. He wanted his new-style Tory party to embody respect for tradition--wanted it to be new and old, to be a modern setting for ancient gems, a new crown displaying old jewels. This was a popular idea in 19th-century Britain, where "the future" and "the past" were both discovered, simultaneously.... His underlying thought, which defined Disraeli-type Toryism and reshaped conservatism for all time, was that the Conservative party was the national party. Sounds simple and is. But everything else followed. If you understood "national" properly, then (on the one hand) the Tories must be a democratic, "universal," progressive party that cared about the poor and working classes--since the party was national it must care for the whole nation, for all classes. But the Tories must also be a patriotic party that revered ancient traditions and institutions, again inasmuch as they were the national --and therefore honored profoundly the nation's heritage and distinctive character. He put it like this:

"In a progressive country change is constant; and the great question is not whether you should resist change which is inevitable, but whether that change should be carried out in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws and the traditions of a people, or whether it should be carried out in deference to abstract principles, and arbitrary and general doctrines".

The quotation above could perhaps mislead one into thinking that reverence for tradition was an end rather than a means for Disraeli but the quotations I have given earlier and Disraeli's record as a reformer both reveal that Disraeli's goals were much deeper than that. He wanted to maintain the civility, order and freedoms of English life and saw English traditions as a major (but not exclusive) means to that end rather than the end in itself. And note (in the quote from Disraeli that Gelenter gives) that Disraeli explicitly rejects the Leftist calumny that conservatives are simply opponents of any change.

Even the very Prussian Wilhelm II ("Kaiser Bill"), who is often seen as the man who started World War I, saw part of his duty as German monarch as being to represent the interests of ordinary Germans against the influence of the middle and upper classes. This was a significant part of the reason behind his much decried dismissal of Bismarck as his Prime Minister in 1890. Bismarck was of course a "Junker" (landowning Prussian aristocrat).

So protecting and promoting the welfare of ordinary people is a venerable tradition on the Right, for all the shrillness of Leftist claims to the contrary. And note this comment by a historian about the Austro-Hungarian Empire that was Wilhelm's ally in World War I:

"Among the empires of the day, the Habsburgs stood out for their protection of the civic, cultural and political rights of minorities, Jews included.... and ... The economic and cultural interests of indigenous peoples were usually safer under bureaucratic or aristocratic imperial rule".

So the Leftist claim that only they care about welfare and protecting the underdog is a fraud. The truth is, of course, that conservatives are interested enough in welfare to deal with the issue in all its complexity rather than seeing welfare as being just ever-increasing handouts for anybody who wants a handout. The debate described here or here sums it all up rather nicely.
Parenthetical note:

It may be noted that all the examples of conspicuously "caring" conservatives given above were also imperialistic or militaristic conservatives (generally both). This makes them somewhat unusual in the conservative tradition -- particularly in the American conservative tradition, which is isolationist rather than expansionist or aggressive. The basic conservative dictum: "You leave me alone and I will leave you alone" translates into an international policy of letting other nations go to hell in their own way as long as they don't threaten or attack America. So it has almost always been Democrat Presidents that have deployed American military power abroad on a large scale.

So it is ironic that the one type of conservative thinking which has always provoked the most furious Leftist criticism and opposition -- promotion of military strength and preparedness (generally in the name of precaution or prevention) -- is in fact precisely the thinking that is most likely to be associated with social intervention of the kind that Leftists would normally favour. What we see in that, of course, is a type of sibling rivalry. From the French revolution onwards, Leftism has always been fiercely and bloodily aggressive and tyrannical both in internal and external policy while also making large attempts at social reform. Internal interventionism and international interventionism tend to go together and Leftists want mastery of both those spheres of action for themselves.
But the most basic point when it comes to "caring" is that the conservative's respect for the individual and rejection of authoritarianism and arbitrary power is far and away the most important sort of caring. Caring is in fact basic to conservatism in that sense. The connection is perhaps most vividly seen in the thoughts and career of Edmund Burke. Note the following brief excerpts about the origin of Burke's thinking:
"In his book Edmund Burke: A Genius Reconsidered, Russell Kirk writes: "Detesting the arbitrary exercise of political power, Burke was led into the four great struggles of his life - his effort to obtain conciliation with the American colonies, his participation in the Rockingham Whigs' contest against the domestic power of George III, his prosecution of Warren Hastings [the governor-general of Bengal], and his impassioned resistance against Jacobinism, the 'armed doctrine.' In America, in England, in India, and in France, the denial of justice roused Burke to greatness; for his Dublin Castle years had shown him how order and freedom must be kept in a tolerable balance or tension, that all may be safe together...

Burke's resistance to unbridled power and his rejection of political vice are important reminders for contemporary conservatives that reform is wholly compatible with their political philosophy. A Burkean approach expands and improves upon our conception of modern conservatism: it is both a defender and a restorer of liberty
So it was a dislike of the arbitrary and minimally restrained exercise of political power (such as is seen in tyranny, authoritarianism, totalitarianism, absolute monarchy, the socialism of the French revolution etc.) over the individual that was at the heart of all that Burke advocated. As previously noted, it was not remotely contradictory for him to be both a conservative and a great advocate of reform. What mattered was the DIRECTION of the reform -- towards greater individual liberty and liberation from government power. Burke CARED about the oppressed people of his day and argued their cause.



Burke's pessimism about government upheld in the 20th. century


And the traditionally gloomy conservative view of the powers of government -- summed up so succinctly by Edmund Burke (1907) over two centuries ago as: "It is in the power of government to prevent much evil; it can do very little positive good" -- fits in well with the neo-liberal view that market forces are usually far superior to government activism in producing generally beneficial outcomes.

Furthermore, the practical failure of Leftist economic ideas was well evident to all who would see in the final decades of the 20th century, so that awareness, combined with the rising levels of public education, meant that some limited forms of economic rationality could be made to have popular appeal and get through the processes of democratic politics to implementation. So some Rightists did eventually have enough vision to embrace publicly and actively promote change in a "neo-liberal" direction and did turn some neo-liberal ideas into reality -- a reality that soon spread throughout the world.

And that is also why what is here called "neoliberalism' has at times also been called "neoconservatism". These days, however, "neoconservatism" is usually applied to a much different set of ideas -- of which a little more shortly.

And note that Hayek, one of the great inspirations of neoliberalism, did in his later years come to the the profoundly conservative and Burkean conclusion that human society is too complex to be modelled by anyone or be well described by any theory. As it says here:

"Hayek initially thought the dividing line between possible and impossible positivism lay in the distinction between natural sciences and social sciences, but by the 1950s he had come to understand that the issue was really one of complexity. A positivist, predictive science is possible only for phenomena, whether human or natural, that are relatively simple- particle physics, for example. One can never fully model and predict complex phenomena such as the spontaneous orders produced by the interactions of simpler agents. These orders include the human brain, whose higher functions cannot possibly be inferred from its physical substratum, as well as ecosystems and, of course, markets, cultures, and other human institutions."

There is also a long and wide-ranging essay here which highlights the convergence between conservative and neo-liberal or libertarian ideas: "From the 1950s to the present, libertarianism has been an important and influential - arguably the most influential - stream of thought on the Right, informing both Republican policy making and conservative ideology more generally". The author faults libertarianism, however, for not coming to terms with the fact that lots of people seem to WANT big government and says that it is only the New York neoconservatives who are realistic about that fact. He presents the neoconservatives as being the practical, pragmatic dealers in political reality. He does definitely have a point but I would argue that no libertarian is unaware of how difficult it is to implement any part of a libertarian agenda and that ALL conservatives compromise with the possible. The difference is that the libertarians have the clearest vision of the direction in which they want to head -- and the best evidence that their ideas work for the general betterment.



Neoconservatism

The term "Neo-conservative" is in the USA usually applied to a group of mainly New York intellectuals (Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz etc.) who started out as idealistic Leftists but who were honest enough to allow themselves eventually to be at least partly overwhelmed ("mugged" in their terms) by reality. The experience that comes with age gradually forces reality onto many of the more idealistic Leftists but the New York Neo-conservatives documented in great detail that process as it happened to them. Their principal journals are "Commentary" and "The Public Interest". Their original focus was primarily anti-Soviet rather than neo-liberal and they are still generally seen as interested in foreign policy rather than in domestic policy. The Left anathematize them as "warmongers" or "imperialists" but it would perhaps be most dispassionate to describe them as advocates of traditional Realpolitik.

The older neoconservatives are of course ex-Trotskyists so lack the traditional conservative suspicion of the State. They just want to use the State in a more realistic and genuinely benign way than their former brethren on the Left. But lovers of the State they are. I personally am very glad that no type of neoconservatism seems to have any mass following. Their influence seems to be solely of a think-tank kind. Note this report by Corey Robin titled "Grand designs" about the current thinking of Irving Kristol, probably the leading light among the founders of neoconservatism. He has what I can only call a horrifying vision for America. He wants America to become the world's new dictator, no less -- for the "good" of the rest of the world, of course. He won't sell that idea anywhere in mainstream America. I think Rockwell voices the libertarian reply to the neoconservatives pretty well here.

One person who does agree with Kristol is, of all things, a Scottish historian: Niall Ferguson. There is a good article on Ferguson here which both sets out his arguments and mentions some of the problems with them. A lot of intellectuals are obviously way out of touch with ordinary people. The idea that you could persuade the average American to take on the burdens of empire for some dreamy reason is absurd. The great majority of Americans just want to be left alone to get on with their own lives in peace and safety.



Strauss and the Straussians




I have read nothing by conservative philosopher Leo Strauss. I have however read accounts of his thought by various sorts of Straussians and anti-Straussians as a way of deciding if it seemed worthwhile to sit down and read the great man himself. He is said to be a difficult and ambiguous study so preliminary enquiry seemed needed. Two of the many accounts I read are here and here. Strauss disciples do seem to be rather prominent in the Bush administration and that does of course get the Left frothing at the mouth and trotting out their usual conspiracy theories. And for once there is a small germ of truth in what they say. Strauss was what would usually be called a "Gnostic" -- a purveyor of "hidden" knowledge or knowledge known only to initiates. Gnostics were very influential and widely followed in the ancient world both before and after the time of Christ. The best known Gnostic sects of the modern world are probably the Rosicrucians, the Scientologists and whatever is left of the old Freemasons.

I myself think that all Gnosticism is rubbish so decided not to waste my time reading Strauss. The idea of any real and widely useful knowledge remaining secret for thousands of years is ludicrous. But I can see the appeal of Straussianism. Like all Gnostic sects it is both elitist and fraternal -- which is a pretty powerful combination. It both tells you that you are superior and that you have a band of similarly wise brothers on your side. No wonder it has attracted followers! I find its elitism particularly obnoxious. Elites as such are no problem for me. They exist. They become obnoxious when they see themselves as a natural ruling class who are licensed to lie, conceal, collude and deceive in order to bend "the masses" to their will -- "for their own good", of course. Yuk! Straussianism has too much in common with the Left for me. I will stick with liberty-oriented conservatism. Many conservatives have been pretty appalled by the big-government agenda of George W. Bush and I have argued that Bush is in fact in some ways to the Left of Clinton. Maybe he really has been influenced by his Straussian advisors.

Strauss focuses on the major thinkers of the ancient world to find precedents for his view that the REAL knowledge must be kept secret from "the masses". In fact, however, it was the mediaeval Catholic church that really put such ideas into practice. The "mysteries" of the Mass were celebrated behind a "rude screen" in mediaeval cathedrals -- so that the people could not see what was going on. And the church's opposition to the Bible in the language of the people (because of the "danger" of it being "misunderstood") is well-known. So if anybody thinks that this real-life Straussian entity was an ideal arrangement, they have all all the Protestant thinkers from Wycliffe and Luther onwards to contend with -- not to mention the many earlier Catholic reformers as diverse as Abelard and St. Bernard of Clairvaux. I should add, however, that there are large divides among Straussians and I would agree with some (e.g. Mansfield) much more than others. See here. Understood as principally an attack on moral relativism, Straussianism can be valuable.

And indeed what primarily motivated Strauss was his concern that the "nihilism" or moral relativism preached by Leftist ideologues (and now accepted by many educated people) would eventually make civilization impossible. There are however many alternatives in philosophy to moral relativism and I think my version of ethical naturalism is only one of many accounts of morality which take into account the arguments for moral relativism but still show or purport to show that values and standards are important, non-arbitrary and persuasive.

The practical upshot of Straussian thought does seem to be reasonably conservative in that Strauss opposed both Communism and Nazism and supported Christianity and traditional values but his reasons for those conclusions seem to be peculiarily his own.



The "neocon conspiracy" myth

There is one of many books here condemning "neoconservatives" generally and "Straussians" in particular. These wicked souls are said to be the force behind a current push to make America some sort of "empire". They LIKE big government and are trying to to expand its influence worldwide.

There are of course some "conservative" intellectuals (such as the Kristols) who do think like that -- particularly those who have migrated from the Left. But to say that such people are the power behind the throne in the Bush administration is absurdity of a high order. No doubt some of George W. Bush's advisers do favour broadly "neocon" thinking, though I am sure there are big differences among them over actual policy. The point is, however, that George W. Bush receives a wide range of policy advice from many sources. Practically every newspaper and TV station for a start is keen to give him advice, to say nothing of his many official staff. And it is George W. Bush who decides what advice to take from the menu that is offered to him. And one thing nobody claims is that George W. Bush is a "neocon". He is plainly a Christian conservative and that is of course the major theme of his policies. The idea that a handful of neocons would have more weight with him than would the many millions of Christian conservatives who put him into office is absurd.

And there is an article here (and a previous one by Canadian historian Ignatieff here) which portrays George W. Bush as very much his own man who bows to nobody in the pursuit of his agenda: Not at all a puppet of the "neocons" or anybody else.

{Excerpt from the Ignatieff article: "Ignatieff is no fan of the president or, for that matter, the entire Bush clan, whom he refers to as "the Corleones of American politics." It is simply that "it never pays, never, to underestimate this president, intellectually or politically," he says. "He is not the cipher of Dick Cheney or Don Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, or Condoleezza Rice. He is the boss. There is absolutely no question about it. Sorry"}.

The Left portray George W. Bush as a puppet of Karl Rove or the neocons because they cannot admit how smart and capable he is beneath his relaxed Texan manner. Even his complete trouncing of them in 2004 did not seem to do much to shake such delusions. And some conservatives portray him as a puppet because they don't want to face the fact that their guy is more realistic than they are about such things as immigration, Iraq and how to use government. Both groups are kidding themselves and would do a lot better to face reality instead of indulging in puerile conspiracy theories. In Ronald Reagan's time he too was routinely portrayed as just an actor spouting lines fed to him by others but all the insider accounts of his Presidency that are now available reveal him as exactly the opposite to that -- a man who persistently went against ALL the conventional wisdom -- with the epoch-making results that nobody can now dispute. President Bush seems to be similarly unwavering.

The big obsession among the propagators of the "neocon ascendancy" myth is the current military involvement of the USA overseas. That is their "Aha!" factor. Neocons want a more activist foreign policy so the present involvements abroad must be an outcome of that. I suppose the involvement of Wilson in World War I, Truman in Korea, Johnson in Vietnam and Clinton in Serbia were "obviously" the product of a fiendish neocon plot too! The point I want to make, then, is that there are many reasons why America might take up military involvements abroad and "neocon" thinking is only one of them. And to attribute the present involvements to neocon thinking is quite simply perverse. The reason for America's present activist foreign policy is as plain as a pikestaff and is known to everybody. It is the outcome of one event: The fact that America was grievously attacked by Muslim fanatics on 9/11/2001. No country will last long if it ignores attacks on it and America has finally got to the point where it can no longer do so. It now just has to hit back in some way if the attacks are not to escalate. So it has moved to take down two of the world's biggest and most assertive Muslim power centres and bases of support for Islamic aggression. The "neocon" theory for America's actions ignores all that and just shows that those who hold it are as much out of touch with reality as conspiracy theorists always are.

In the circumstances, I was rather amused to see that there is a recent article in The Public Interest (the premier journal of the neoconservatives) which points out at great length that the support-base for George W. Bush and the GOP is overwhelmingly "cultural". In other words, among GOP voters, economics plays second fiddle to concerns about things like abortion, guns and military strength. It shows that it is George W. Bush's voters who want him to hit back at America's attackers. Another proof of the vast neocon conspiracy? Far from it. The article is in fact written by a Left-leaning author and is little more than a parade of exit polls and other voting statistics -- statistics that are publicly available for anyone to check (and I have checked some of them). So it may suit the neocons that George W. Bush's voters want an assertive military response to the 9/11 attacks but it is the voters who matter. And I am sure that intelligent people like the neocons are not stupid enough to think that American public opinion will ever support America becoming any sort of empire -- though some of them can be remarkably naive, as George Will points out.

Perhaps most amusingly of all, Strauss's thought on the matter is summarized here as: "Thus according to Strauss, the purpose of foreign policy is or ought to be survival and independence, or self-preservation, and nothing else". So any influence from Strauss is in fact towards isolationism, rather than foreign involvements.



Nisbet




Conservative sociologists are as rare as hen's teeth. I ought to know -- being one of them. Robert Nisbet is probably the best known example of one. Like conservatives generally, he was appalled by the gradual growth of State power over the last century and pointed out how the State had supplanted and destroyed local community-based organizations and ways of doing things. And I agree that a lot of that did happen. As Steven Chapman, put it:

"Could it be said that it is precisely the rise of the State - i.e. Statism - that has led to the erosion of community/society? Think of it this way: a community or society is, traditionally, an informal thing, depending for its existence on goodwill and mutual dependence among a group of people, however large or small. In a traditional society, everyone needs to stay on pretty good terms with their neighbour because, after all, you never know when you're going to need him/her. Then the State comes along, and tells you that, when the going gets tough, you can rely on it to get by. This new state of affairs relieves you of the 'burden' of maintaining the high degree of goodwill and mutual self-interest which maintains a community/society, and furthermore, because the state is a system rather than a person, no expenditure of goodwill on your part is necessary to get what the State is offering. All you need to do is fill out the relevant forms and provide the relevant supporting documentation to prove that you're entitled to the State's goodies."

But I think it is sheer romanticism to say that it could all have been avoided. I think the whole trend of history is towards de-localization of almost everything. Globalization of world trade is the clearest case in point. Division and specialization of labour has become more and more pronounced as time goes by and is part of the essence of modernity. And division of labour means ever larger and more complex organizations (businesses and factories) to make that specialization work. And, after that, large and complex networks of people to distribute the fruits of that specialized labour are needed. Doing everything locally is as obsolete as the spinning wheel. So big, complex organizations have inevitably replaced small, local organizations. So the State was just one of the things that destroyed localism and community.

I cannot see that we will ever get the same sort of community back under any circumstances but we are also forming new communities all the time. We may no longer live in villages but, for many people, those they work with are an important community and most of us are part of various communities connected with our leisure activities. So I think we will always have about as much community as we want.

Large, complex organizations do not have to be part of the State, however. And the State is in fact very bad at running large, complex organizations. So modernity may have destroyed the old communities and replaced them with new ones but the role of the State in that process was certainly unnecessary and will hopefully yet be at least in part ridiculed out of existence.



Scruton




I have always found Roger Scruton's view of conservatism to be rather idiosyncratic too. To me he is a reactionary, not a conservative. He summarizes his view here. There is much that he says about conservative psychology which is correct and insightful (such as: "British conservatism has always been suspicious of ideas" and "conservatism is less a philosophy than a temperament") but he claims to say what conservatism is without once mentioning the major policy preference which springs from that psychology -- the desire for individual liberty.

And is there ANY American -- conservative or not -- who would agree that "the future is the past"? That is Scruton's summary of a core conservative outlook. By that criterion there are no (or very few) conservatives in America, I would think. I prefer an infinitely more influential conservative's view of what is important in conservatism, Ronald Reagan's : "If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.... The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom"



The psychology of conservatism: Love of liberty versus realism


It has then been shown that there is large historical precedent for the current conservative preoccupation with individual liberty and it is argued here that a love of personal liberty and its concomitant respect for the individual is a basic value or policy preference for conservatives. It is reasonable to ask, however, whether this is really FUNDAMENTAL to conservatism. Could there not be a deeper level of motivation that underlies a love of liberty and respect for the individual?

Not necessarily. Simple selfishness is a pretty good motivator for the love of liberty. Advocating liberty for all is probably the best way of getting liberty for oneself. So the idea that the conservative is basically someone who just wants to be left alone to get on with his own life is perfectly reasonable, defensible and historically well-founded. And I think I could quite well leave my discussion of conservative psychology at that. Nonetheless, there have been various proposals from conservative and other thinkers about a deeper level of motivation among conservatives so on at least some occasions, the love of liberty may have more complex origins than simple selfishness. Perhaps we could put it another way by asking what are the psychological characteristics of people who just want to be left alone to get on with their own lives? Why are they like that? That conservatives are happier than Leftists we have any number of surveys to attest but enquiry never ceases so even that observation leads on to a query about WHY they are happier. Being a psychologist, I certainly like to explore such questions so I want to go on now to a quick look at the various proposals about the fundamental roots of conservatism.

We find one such proposal in the conclusions drawn by some historians of the British Conservative party -- who find a certain realistic, practical and pragmatic outlook as the main enduring characteristics of Conservative thought (Feiling, 1953; Gilmour, 1978; Norton & Aughey, 1981; Standish, 1990) and this is clearly a theory about the wellsprings of conservatism rather than a description of what conservatives have tended to stand for. And it is not at all difficult to see why a realistic view of the ham-fisted and restrictive things that governments characteristically do has led to doubt about the benefits of extending such activities. So we might say that this proposal is that a certain STYLE of thinking leads to a predictable CONTENT in thinking. Or, putting it very broadly, there is a conservative psychology that explains and gives rise to conservative political positions.

Perhaps I should expand that point: It may be asked whether the contention that realism -- particularly about human nature -- is basic to conservatism is consistent with my contention here to the effect that respect for the individual and a love of personal liberty is basic to conservatism. Which of the two really is basic -- realism or love of liberty? The simple answer is of course that the two are intimately related. If you are realistic about the evil that people individually and people collectively (i.e. governments) often do to one-another, you will want the individual to be as free from outside attentions as possible. Putting it another way, liberty is what conservatives advocate and realism is why they advocate it.

But while the proposals of Feiling, Gilmour and others are perfectly reasonable, they do have a large philosophical problem: How do we define what is realistic, practical and pragmatic? So while I also think that realism is a large part of the psychology underlying a conservative stance and have advocated that view at some length in the past (in the introduction to my book Conservatism as heresy), garnering evidence for its truth is a difficult task and certainly not one that I have found a way to investigate by the normal techniques of psychological research.

I do not think that this leads to any need for great vagueness about what conservatism is at the political (policy-preference) level, however, so would reject the view noted by Owen Harries when he says:
"In introducing his anthology The Conservative Tradition, R.J. White defensively (or perhaps smugly and archly) claims, "To put conservatism in a bottle with a label is like trying to liquify the atmosphere or give an accurate description of the beliefs of a member of the Anglican Church. The difficulty arises from the nature of the thing. For conservatism is less a political doctrine than a habit of mind, a mode of feeling, a way of living."
One must obviously agree with White that the habits of mind and ways of feeling are prior and causative -- and I will say more about that below -- but I do not agree with White that the political policy-preferences they lead to are hard to define.

Noted American conservative thinker Russell Kirk starts out from a premise very similar to White's but draws quite different conclusions. He finds LOTS of policy-preferences that a conservative outlook leads to. He says here:

"Being neither a religion nor an ideology, the body of opinion termed conservatism possesses no Holy Writ and no Das Kapital to provide dogmata.... Perhaps it would be well, most of the time, to use this word "conservative" as an adjective chiefly. For there exists no Model Conservative, and conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order.....

In essence, the conservative person is simply one who finds the permanent things more pleasing than Chaos and Old Night. (Yet conservatives know, with Burke, that healthy "change is the means of our preservation.") A people's historic continuity of experience, says the conservative, offers a guide to policy far better than the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers. But of course there is more to the conservative persuasion than this general attitude."
And Kirk then goes on to list ten themes which he sees as historically common in conservative thought. And there is no doubt that the themes he lists (1. An enduring moral order; 2. Custom, convention, and continuity; 3. Standing on the shoulders of giants; 4. Prudence is chief among virtues; 5. The preservation of differences; 6. Resisting the utopian and anarchic impulse; 7. Freedom and private property are related; 8. Voluntary community vs. involuntary collectivism; 9. Power and passion require restraint; 10. Permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled) have often appeared in conservative writing.

What I think Kirk partially overlooks, however, is that conservatism is not limited to those "who find the permanent things more pleasing". Such people will of course be conservative but most people who adopt a cautious attitude to social change do so for a more practical reason -- because they see that as serving their basic aim of a better life for the individual. Almost all of the most influential conservatives (e.g. Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan) were in their earlier years Left-leaning, so their conservatism can hardly be attributed to an inborn preference for permanence or a dislike of change as such. They became conservative for a good reason -- to promote and conserve one thing in particular -- respect for the individual and for individual liberties. So, particularly in the progress-minded USA, Kirk speaks only for a small subset of conservatives.

Another theory for the psychological origins of conservatism is related to the "realism" theory but is a lot less sweeping than it. It is one that is very often quoted and finds its principal exponents in Burke (1790), Hayek (1944) and Oakeshott (1975) -- though the two former thinkers in fact described themselves as "Whigs" rather than as conservatives. This theory also traces policy to a style of thought -- or a "habit of mind" as R.J. White put it (see above). The theory basically is that there is an underlying wariness and skepticism in conservatives (particularly about human nature) that makes them question ANY political policies whatever -- including policies that call for change. Conservatives need good evidence that something will work well and have the intended consequences before they will support it. And for this reason conservatives prefer "the devil they know" and want any change to be of a gradual and evolutionary kind -- progressing by small steps that can easily be reversed if the intended outcomes are not realized. And there has never been any doubt that conservatives do indeed think that way. Note the following comment on one of the enduring heroes of American conservatism:
"In Have You Ever Seen a Dream Walking, William F. Buckley Jr. mobilized a group of writers to set forth certain ideas about the conservative movement for which he and they played such a decisive and animating role. It is telling that they did not seek to enumerate a list of issues on which conservatives must agree. If anything, Buckley, Meyer, Chambers, et al. argued that conservatism is neither an ideology nor an exercise in litmus tests. Buckley spent as much time reading fringe groups out of the conservative movement as he did defining what it was, precisely because he knew that conservatism is as much about temperament and tendencies than it is about a specific position on a given issue".
So cynicism and wariness (whether inborn or not -- lots of people learn it as they get older) is the motive of conservatives and advocacy of liberty is the political result. So we now have a three-level account of conservatism here: Realism leads to wariness which in turn leads both to to a desire for liberty and a respect for what is proven ("tradition").

And the preference for "the devil they know" has led to conservatives being caricaturized as wanting NO change when in fact all that they insist on is CAREFUL change. From Cromwell on, conservatives have never been characterized by a rejection of change for its own sake. When a regime is clearly oppressive or an experiment has clearly failed (such as State ownership of industry) conservatives find no difficulty in abandoning it and changing to something else.

The reasons why conservatives are cautious about change SHOULD be universally known. The horrors that the abrupt, theory-loving French revolution inflicted on its people are still not totally forgotten and, if they were, the megadeaths caused by the evil twins of the 20th century -- Fascism and Communism -- should alert us to the dangers of radical transformations of society. "It couldn't happen to us" seems, however, to be a universal human fallacy so it may be of some interest to look at a summary of some recent AMERICAN experiences with the disastrous consequences of radical change. The essay concerned is in my view one of the best arguments for caution about change since Burke. Do read it.

But this account of conservatism in terms of caution about change is insufficient by itself. It fails to ask what the CRITERION is in evaluating change. How do we evaluate whether a policy is beneficial or not? How do we define "beneficial"? And it is in answering that question that we come back to individual liberty as being a core value. Conservatism is a broad church and conservatives will of course use many criteria in evaluating the desirability or efficacy of particular political policies but, in making such evaluations, it is the high value that one gives to leaving the individual free to make his/her own decisions and obtain his/her own preferences that makes one a conservative. Rejection of change can be an INSTRUMENT in protecting the individual but it is no more than that.

Two other aspects of conservative psychology that seem worth noting come from articles by two popular American conservative journalists: Jonah Goldberg and Joseph Sobran:

Goldberg sees "comfort with contradiction" as fundamental to conservatism:

"I mean this in the broadest metaphysical sense and the narrowest practical way. Think of any leftish ideology and at its core you will find a faith that circles can be closed, conflicts resolved. Marxism held that in a truly socialist society, contradictions would be destroyed. Freudianism led the Left to the idea that the conflicts between the inner and outer self were the cause of unnecessary repressions. Dewey believed that society could be made whole if we jettisoned dogma and embraced a natural, organic understanding of the society where everyone worked together.... Liberals and leftists are constantly denouncing "false choices" of one kind or another. In our debate, Jonathan Chait kept hinting, hoping, and haranguing that - one day - we could have a socialized healthcare system without any tradeoffs of any kind. Environmentalists loathe the introduction of free-market principles into the policy-making debate because, as Steven Landsburg puts it, economics is the science of competing preferences. Pursuing some good things might cost us other good things. But environmentalists reject the very idea. They believe that all good things can go together and that anything suggesting otherwise is a false choice....

Now look at the arguments of conservatives. They are almost invariably arguments about trade-offs, costs, "the downside" of a measure. As I've written before, the first obligation of the conservative is to explain why nine out of ten new ideas are probably bad ones. When feminists pound the table with the heels of their sensible shoes that it is unfair that there are any conflicts between motherhood and career, the inevitable response from conservatives boils down to "You're right, but life isn't fair."

Any ideology or outlook that tries to explain what government should do at all times and in all circumstances is un-conservative. Any ideology that sees itself as the answer to any question is un-conservative.... Contrary to all the bloviating jackassery about how conservatives are more dogmatic than liberals we hear these days, the simple fact is that conservatives don't have a settled dogma.... we all understand and accept the permanence of contradiction and conflict in life. Christians and Jews understand it because that's how God set things up. Libertarians understand it because the market is, by definition, a mechanism for amicably reconciling competing preferences. Agnostic, rain-sodden British pessimists understand it because they've learned that's always the way to bet. Conservatism isn't inherently pessimistic, it is merely pessimistic about the possibility of changing the permanent things and downright melancholy about those who try."
So Goldberg is very much in accord with those English Conservatives quoted earlier who see conservatism as an adaptive, pragmatic, "trimming" approach to the problems of the world -- i.e. conservatism as balance or the true "middle way".

Sobran sees conservatives as happier and more contented personalities:

"More and more I find myself thinking that a conservative is someone who regards this world with a basic affection, and wants to appreciate it as it is before he goes on to the always necessary work of making some rearrangements. Richard Weaver says we have no right to reform the world unless we cherish some aspects of it; and that is the attitude of many of the best conservative thinkers. Burke says that a constitution ought to be the subject of enjoyment rather than altercation. (I wish the American Civil Liberties Union would take his words to heart.)

I find a certain music in conservative writing that I never find in that of liberals. Michael Oakeshott speaks of "affection," "attachment," "familiarity," "happiness"; and my point is not the inane one that these are very nice things, but that Oakeshott thinks of them as considerations pertinent to political thinking. He knows what normal life is, what normal activities are, and his first thought is that politics should not disturb them....

"He who is unaware of his ignorance," writes Richard Whately, "will only be misled by his knowledge." And that is the trouble with the liberal, the socialist, the Communist, and a dozen other species of political cranks who have achieved respectability in our time: they disregard so much of what is constant and latent in life. They fail to notice; they fail to appreciate.

For some reason, we have allowed the malcontent to assume moral prestige. We praise as "ideals" what are nothing more than fantasies--a world of perpetual peace, brotherhood, justice, or any other will-o'-the-wisp that has lured men toward the Gulag. The malcontent can be spotted in his little habits of speech: He calls language and nationality "barriers" when the conservative, more appreciatively, recognizes them as cohesives that make social life possible. He damns as "apathy" an ordinary indifference to politics that may really be a healthy contentment. He praises as "compassion" what the conservative earthily sees as a program of collectivization. He may even assert as "rights" what tradition has regarded as wrongs"."
It might be noted that it is a common finding from survey research that conservatives are happier. See e.g. here. One might perhaps ask how conservatives could be both wary and happier but I think that to ask that question is almost to answer it. Wary people are more likely to avoid the heartbreaks and disappointments that overconfident people experience. And who is more overconfident than a Leftist with his insouciant prescriptions about how the whole world should be re-organized? Because they tend to be better at dealing with the world realistically, conservatives are happier with the same world that deeply dissatisfies the Leftist -- who blames the world for his own failures at comprehending and dealing with it.

It might be objected that I have by now set out rather a large range of traits as constituting conservative psychology. Is conservatism cynicism, wariness, realism, pragmatism, belief in compromise, satisfaction with the world or willingness to accept complexity? It is of course all of those. In psychological or medical terminology, it is a "syndrome" -- a complex of traits that go together and spring from a common underlying cause. So what is the common cause? As I said at the beginning of this section, I believe the common underlying cause to be realism -- but that is something that has, I think, to be inferred rather than being directly and simply provable.



But what about the pro-liberty 19th century liberals?


At this stage I think we can now look at a question that must have been niggling at a lot of readers who know their history. I have said that individual liberty is an instinctively conservative cause and yet in 19th century Britain, the most vocal advocates for all sorts of liberty were in fact associated with the Liberal Party rather than with the Conservative party. How come?

Let me answer that in a slightly roundabout way by looking at another question first: Why did American "progressives" believe what they did in the early 20th century? I have already documented what that was at some length elsewhere so I will just summarize here: The Left of American politics from the beginning of the 20th century up to FDR and the "New Deal" were essentially Fascist. They believed in eugenics, in nationalism, in national uniformity, in war as a purifying force, in the inferiority of Jews and blacks etc. Nowadays the American Left rejects all that with apparent horror (though the antisemitism does seem to have roared back with a vengeance recently). So how did THAT huge change in doctrine come about? The explanation is a psychological one. As we have seen, psychological explanations for conservatism (e.g. Norton & Aughey, 1981; Gilmour, 1978; Feiling, 1953; Kirk, 1993, Scruton, 2002, Standish, 1990) are routine (though Leftist accounts of conservative psychology are amazingly counter-factual) and I think Leftism also has to be explained psychologically.

As I have set out at great length elsewhere, the primary aim for most Leftist activists and intellectuals (though not for most Leftist followers) is to get acclaim for themselves. That is a perfectly normal human motivation but one that is pursued by Leftists more or less to the exclusion of all else. But how do you get acclaim? The surest way by far is to adopt as one's own whatever it is that the population already acclaims and become a great champion of that. If people generally think it is unquestionable that blacks and Jews are inferior and need to be kept down then a Leftist will become a vigorous advocate of keeping blacks and Jews down. And Leftists did just that in the early 20th century. Up until World War II Harvard had an excellent relationship with the Hitler regime, for instance and Hitler in turn took American eugenic policies as a model for his own. But if certain world horrors take place (WWII) which cause people to change their views and see tolerance is a virtue above all else then Leftists will immediately become great preachers of tolerance. And that too has now happened.

And something similar happened in the 19th century. England was at that time enormously influential and powerful so whatever was characteristically English came in for great scrutiny, not the least in England itself. What was it that made England great? And as I have set out at great length above, the English themselves had for centuries seen their liberties as a great national treasure. English liberty was a byword and its virtue was unquestionable. So again Leftists did the sort of thing that they always do. They became great champions of liberty. They supported laissez faire in business and writers such as J.S. Mill pushed ideas of liberty to just about their logical extreme. Conservatives, of course stuck with the ideas of extensive but not unlimited liberty that had been normal up until that time. That the "liberals" of that time really were just Leftists can perhaps most clearly be seen in the case of Mill himself. As I have set out briefly here and here the actual policies Mill advocated in parliament were often quite socialist and interventionist. If he could get acclaim for himself by advocating various government interventions in people's lives, all his pro-liberty principles suddenly vanished, just as eugenics suddenly vanished from the Leftist vocabulary after Hitler.

And note Mill's much-cited and most illiberal statement that "Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians". Leftists have never met a despot they dislike unless he attacks Leftists. Even the socialist Hitler was widely popular among Leftists until he attacked the even more Leftist Joe Stalin.

So conservatives just plod along with their boring quest for balance and realism (including, as always, liberty up to a point and tolerance up to a point) while Leftists push what are usually good ideas to extremes. Leftists once masqueraded as extremely pro-liberty. They now masquerade as extremely pro-tolerance. But they believe in neither. Their behaviour always gives them away as believing in nothing but their own entitlement to power. Leftists who get virtually unlimited power (Stalin, Mao etc) soon show how much liberty and tolerance they believe in.

I will now move on to address briefly a few remaining issues about conservatism before moving on to coverage of how Leftists explain conservatism.



Christianity and individual liberty


There is a widespread view among American Christians in particular that disregards the history mentioned above in favour of the simple view that conservatism and respect for the individual flows directly from Christianity itself. Just taking note of your Bible makes you a conservative and an upholder of liberty -- no matter who you are or what your origins are. This is a very unsophisticated view with much evidence to contradict it but is widely held in some circles so I have treated it in a separate article here


Conservatism in Japan


Everything I have said here is focused on "conservatism" in the English-speaking world. I make no attempt to explain political alignments outside of that. The topic of conservatism elsewhere did however once arise during an exchange I was having with Jim Ryan of Philosoblog, I received the following email from Derk Lupinek in Japan:

I have just read your piece on conservativism, and it seems to me that your disagreement with Philosoblog is more semantic than anything else. I live in Japan, and when I first moved here I found myself trying to decide whether the Japanese were deeply conservative, as I had been led to believe, or whether they were actually quite liberal, especially given their attitudes toward sex. They clearly do not value individual liberty, which would mean they are not conservative by your definition, but they seek to preserve their culture down to the most excruciating details, leaving me with the feeling that they are in fact deeply conservative, at least in the sense that Philosoblog intends. So, while I do agree with your definition as it relates to conservativism in the West, it certainly doesn't account for deeply conservative individuals in other cultures, and those individuals are indeed trying to "conserve" something. In other words, you seem to be using the term "conservative" to refer to a political movement that has occurred in the West, and Philosoblog is just using the term more generally to refer to a psychological mindset. Am I mistaken?

My reply: "Conservative" has come to have the lexical meaning of "opposed to change" but my point is that those individuals usually so labelled in the Anglosphere are motivated primarily by a love of liberty and that calling them "conservative" is a misnomer -- often a major misnomer given the changes that they favour. "Rightist" would be a less ambiguous and hence less misleading term for them. For all I know, attitude to change may well be a major differentiator of political movements in Japan, but it is not a major differentiatior of the two main political streams in the Anglosphere.



The "Germanic" USA


My thesis tracing both conservatism and Protestantism to an originally Germanic spirit of independence and dislike of centralized power or authority is of course well exemplified in the early history of the USA. At the time of independence, the USA was not only "Germanic" (in the sense of having a large Anglo-Saxon population) but it was also literally German in that German ancestry was nearly as common among Americans at that time as was British ancestry. And what was the American revolution if not a rebellion against the centralized and remote authority of King George III? And what did the architects of the new American constitution set up if it was not a decentralized system -- with the Federal government at that time being little more than an appendage to the various State governments? And what was the American revolution fought in the name of if not in the name of individual rights and liberties?

I have also treated this topic more fully elsewhere



American isolationism


US conservatives do of course differ from British conservatives in various ways that reflect their different history and different national situations. And attitude to monarchy is not the only difference. Another major difference is isolationism. American conservatives would like to tell the rest of the world to go hang if they could. And, even in the post 9/11 world, this attitude is not dead yet. Some US conservatives (sometimes called "paleoconservatives") such as Patrick Buchanan still express it. And Buchanan knows his history. He uses a knowledge of history to support his isolationist views. For instance, he points out (as I have done here) that Mussolini was initially anti-Nazi and with some justice blames the Western Allies for Mussolini's eventual defection to Hitler. He omits to mention that Hitler would probably have been a lot better off if Mussolini had stayed neutral. Mussolini's alliance with Germany gave Germany so many additional problems that it is probably the best thing that Mussolini could have done for the Allied cause!

But Buchanan's conclusion -- that Britain and the USA should have stayed out of the war with Hitler -- I have to disagree with. England could not afford to let Hitler grab the whole of Europe unopposed. Once Hitler had wrapped up Europe, the world would have been his oyster. The American intervention in World War I, however, is a much more arguable matter.

And it is a tribute to what a hardly plant American isolationism is that it survives even today when the world is a global village and the US has been savagely attacked by Islamic terrorists from half a world away.



Leftist theories of conservatism


As I have pointed out at some length above, the explanation of conservatism that is almost universally given by conservative scholars and thinkers is a psychological one. They see conservatism as being primarily a state of mind rather than as a philosophy or body of doctrine. Some (e.g. Oakeshott) go on to argue, as I have done, that such a state of mind leads to a preference for political policies that favour individual liberty but the starting point always seems to lie in a discussion of psychological traits. In such circumstances, it is truly amazing that academic psychologists generally (who are overwhelmingly Left-leaning) show themselves to be totally oblivious of that entire body of thought. Science is a cumulative enterprise wherein those who are working now start from what has gone before. Scientific journal articles would not be laden with long lists of precisely referenced prior articles otherwise. And yet academic psychologists totally ignore the major body of prior thought relevant to their attempts to explain conservatism. A lack of scientific orientation among Leftists is, however, hardly surprising, as science is a fundamentally conservative enterprise in the sense that it builds on what has gone before. That Leftists who try to be scientists often fail miserably should therefore be little surprise and I will show below (primarily via references) that their attempts to explain conservatism have indeed been a miserable failure



The best-known and most-cited academic treatment of political psychology comes from a 1950 book compiled by a team of Leftist authors led by the well-known Marxist theoretician Theodor Wiesengrund (a.k.a. Adorno). See Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson & Sanford (1950). They claim that conservatives are pro-authority whereas Leftists are anti-authority. This vast oversimplification is perhaps an understandable mistake given the characteristic opposition by Leftists in the economically successful "Western" democracies to the existing centres of authority and power in their countries and given the characteristic acceptance by conservatives of those same authorities but it once again lacks in historical perspective. What Leftists oppose is not authority as such (or there would be no Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao etc.) but only authorities that they do not control; and what conservatives favour is not any and all authority but rather carefully limited authority -- only that degree of central authority and power that is needed for a civil society to function. As conservative theorist Russell Kirk put it: "We restrict the operation of our positive laws to those essential matters of public security that cannot be neglected without immediate danger to the whole fabric of civilized society".

In the best Leftist projective style, Adorno et al also claimed that, as well as being "authoritarian", conservatives were rigid, intolerant of ambiguity, prone to black-and-white thinking and to have a whole host of Freudian disorders. Conservatives definitely cannot not see the world straight, according to Adorno et al. See Ray (1988, 1989 & 1990) for an extensive academic demolition of the various Adorno claims.

That after more than 50 years the Adorno theory still looms large in the thinking of academic psychologists can be seen from the "meta-analysis" of research into conservatism written by a distinguished group of psychologists and published in a prestigious psychology journal in 2003 -- by Jost, J.T., Glaser, J., Kruglanski, A.W., & Sulloway, F.J. -- called "Political conservatism as motivated social cognition" (Psychological Bulletin, 129(3), 339-375). There is a summary of the article here and a PDF of the full article here. In plain English, the title of the article translates as: "Conservatives cannot see the world straight". The article is however a perfect example of the unscientific approach of Leftist psychologists. If it really were the meta-analysis it purports to be, it would have covered ALL the research literature on the subject, or, at the very least, a representative sampling of the literature concerned. In fact, the paper ignores hundreds of relevant articles -- those that disagree with the conclusions that Jost et al. draw. Although it is a parody of science, however, it is a useful indicator of what academic psychologists believe. It is as good a partisan analysis as it is a bad meta-analysis. You can find a demolition of the paper's claims to offer scientically defensible conclusions here.

Just by way of an aside, it may be noted that Frank Sulloway, one of the authors of the Jost et al. study has shown elsewhere how much of a scientist he is. When another scientist could not replicate the findings reported in Sulloway's book, Sulloway used the legal system in an almost successful attempt to suppress the contrary evidence. How Leftist! Replicating (repeating) a finding is the acid test of any scientific theory so Sulloway has totally discredited himself as a scientist. His book was devoted to the theory that it is birth order that makes you Leftist or Rightist. If you are not a firstborn, you should be a Leftist according to Sulloway! So his legal attack on the critics of this absurd theory was an attack on scientific procedure itself. Parenthetically, I can think of two younger brothers among my relatives who are so far Right they are almost out of sight. I wonder how Sulloway would account for them? There is a very good scientific accounting for them here however.

The biggest mistake that has been made by psychologists and others, however, is to identify conservative motivation with opposition to change. Obviously, from Cromwell to Reagan and Thatcher, change has never bothered "conservatives" one bit -- but preservation of their rights and liberties from governments that would take those rights and liberties away always has. THAT is what has always lain at the heart of political conservatism -- and it still does.

But let me now move on to a consideration of what is the second most influential (after Adorno) account of conservatism in the psychological literature -- the account by Altemeyer. Altemeyer's account could be described as a modified version of the now obviously flawed Adorno account and, as such, has become widely accepted.



Altemeyer


The work of Altemeyer on "Right-wing authoritarianism" has become so popular among psychologists that The American Academy for the Advancement of Science gave Altemeyer's 1988 book its prize for Behavioral Science research. So we clearly need to take a close look at that work here.

As an example of a concerted, systematic and persistent research exploration of a particular set of ideas the book is indeed outstanding. Where it falls short is in an apparent deficiency of historical and theoretical background. Altemeyer writes as if no-one before him has had much useful to say on the topics of ideology or authoritarianism and he accordingly very largely ignores what can only be described as two vast literatures. In his earlier book (Altemeyer, 1981) he did review the literature on authoritarianism up to about 1972 or 1973 fairly comprehensively but the later book made no attempt to update that review. So most of what has been written on his topic since 1973 is effectively ignored by him.

This might not matter much in some circumstances. One does sometimes despair of the quality of much psychological writing and perhaps little advance in thinking has been made in recent years. Perhaps a great mind could leap over recent meanderings and present fresh new insights that radically advance all our thinking. There is nothing like that in Altemeyer's work, however.

To take the obvious major example: One would think that any book on Right-wing authoritarianism would give very careful and extensive consideration to what was meant by "Right-wing" and "authoritarian". As I have previously pointed out on several occasions (e.g. Ray, 1985b & 1987), in his first book Altemeyer (1981) failed entirely to consider what was meant by "Right-wing". As a result of ignoring what went before in this matter, he ended up "rediscovering" the concept. His definition of "Right-wing authoritarianism" was a catalogue of attitudes which have in the past commonly been regarded as simply conservative (Ray, 1973 & 1987). By his own inadvertent confession he was studying conservatism rather than anything else. This was confirmed by the strong resemblance of his RWA scale to an ordinary conservatism scale and by the fact that the RWA scale correlated very highly with other conservatism scales and not at all with a behaviorally valid measure of authoritarianism (Ray,1985b). In short, Altemeyer's a-historical approach to his topic simply caused him to re-invent the wheel.

In his later work, however, Altemeyer shows little sign of having learned from this. He dismisses in a few words any thought that he might "only" be studying conservatism and offers a definition of conservatism that reflects something of the basic dictionary meaning of the word but which shows little awareness of contemporary politics. He identifies Right-wing politics with "conservatism" in the sense of opposition to change. That attitude to change is now (and perhaps always was) a quite inadequate criterion of who is on the Right or Left he totally ignores. That Rightists like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were and are great advocates of change is ignored by Altemeyer.

He also ignores that the most ferocious enemies of change were not to be found anywhere in the West in the 20th century but rather in the Communist countries (Brahm, 1982). Stalin, Brezhnev and Li Peng were the great enemies of change and defenders of their status quo for their peoples in the 20th century. So Communists are Rightists and Margaret Thatcher is a Leftist according to Altemeyer's naive definitions.

What Altemeyer appears not to know and which any course in modern political history might have taught him is that those described as "conservatives" politically have long opposed the extension of State power while Leftists have justified it for assisting the poor. As mentioned previously, some historians of the British Conservative party find only skepticism and pragmatism as enduring characteristics of Conservative thought (Norton & Aughey, 1981; Gilmour, 1978; Feiling, 1953; Standish, 1990). But such skepticism leads to familiar outcomes. It has tended to lead to both suspicion of social innovations and suspicion of big government as a solution to problems -- but it has certainly not led to any rejection of change for its own sake. When an experiment has clearly failed (such as State ownership of industry) conservative pragmatism finds no difficulty in abandoning it.

In an era when extending State power was all the rage opposition to it could be calumnied as motivated only by dislike of any change. Political "Conservatives", of course always denied that charge vigorously and in fact have always clearly believed in "progress". For instance the major "conservative" political party in Altemeyer's own country (Canada) for a long time called itself the "Progressive Conservative" party. It is that very belief in progress that now tends to bring "conservatives" into conflict with environmentalists so that it is they (the "conservatives") who promote change while the environmentalists oppose it. The obvious lesson is that we all now seem to have no alternative to accepting what the "conservatives" have always claimed: That it is your attitude to State power that determines where you stand on the Right-Left divide of practical politics. "Conservatives" (Reagan, Thatcher) want limited State power, influence and intervention while Leftists (Stalin, Brezhnev, Li Peng) want a lot of it. Altemeyer, however, shows no awareness that this debate ever took place.

Even outside the political literature, one of the major writers on conservatism in the psychology literature was aware at least as long ago as 1978 of the highly conditional relationship between dictionary-type conservatism and Rightism (Wilson, 1978) but it was obviously too much to expect that Altemeyer would keep up with the work of the major writers in his own field.

It is perhaps therefore fitting that Altemeyer's political unawareness seems to have ended up causing him to fail in predicting political stances. By his own admission (p. 239 of his 1988 book), his scale of "Right-wing authoritarianism" gives almost no prediction of actual political choices (as in who votes for what candidate). He has indeed studied conservatism -- but not conservatism of any politically relevant kind. The fact that those who are politically tagged as "conservatives" are not in fact conservative in Altemeyer's simple sense meant that his enterprise was completely undermined from the start. So in the end his own research confirmed what greater political sophistication might have predicted: That what he studied has no current party-political relevance.

It might finally be noted that Altemeyer's apparent lack of background seems to be to a degree self-inflicted. Although I have had over a hundred papers on authoritarianism and conservatism published over the years, Altemeyer cites only three of them. Altemeyer seems to have felt some need to justify this. His "explanation" took the form of an attack on just one of my papers, one in which I presented the first version of my "Directiveness" scale (designed to measure authoritarianism). As a first version of a scale it was not difficult to find fault with -- and Altemeyer proceeded to find fault. What he failed to mention to his readers, however, is that I agree with such criticisms. The scale would not be in its Mark VI version by now if I did not. Altemeyer seems to think there is some relevance in criticizing the Mark I version of an instrument that is now in Mark VI form!

In the same attack Altemeyer also says that I think that Milgram's experiments used students as subjects and Psychology Department faculty as authority figures. I said no such thing. I said that the "tradition of research" emanating from Milgram's work was so characterized. In other words, Milgram's successors tend to be less rigorous than Milgram. Altemeyer's attempts to denigrate my work are then quite shallow. It is hard, therefore, to avoid the impression that Altemeyer was simply looking for anything which might justify his failure to consider ideas other than his own.

And, strangely, his ideas were even less sophisticated than the ideas he claims to supersede: the ideas of Adorno et al. (1950). The Adorno work did at least attempt to measure conservatism and authoritarianism separately so that any association between them could be examined empirically. They did it very badly but they did at least make an attempt at it. Altemeyer made no such attempt. He just assumed what he had to prove: that conservatism and authoritarianism were intimately associated. There can be no advancement in knowledge from "research" like that.

My remarks here are of course only an introduction to the Adorno and Altemeyer comedies but, for those who are interested, I treat the issues concerned at somewhat greater length in my article here (see particularly the second part of the article). My published academic articles on Altemeyer's work can be found here, here, here, here and here.

Another unbelievably naive Leftist theory purporting to explain conservative psychology that has become popular in recent years claims that conservatives have a "social dominance orientation". I will however refer readers elsewhere for a discussion of that particular piece of projectivity.




ONE DIMENSION OR TWO?





As is evident from the above, describing the entire domain of political attitudes in terms of a single Right/Left dimension does have its problems. For this reason various authors (e.g. Eysenck, 1954; Rokeach, 1960; Kerlinger, 1967) have proposed that an adequate description of world politics really needs two dimensions (One possible schema above). They propose, for example, that the Left-Right dimension be supplemented by an Authoritarian/Permissive dimension. So that democratic Leftists and Rightists are Permissive Leftists and Rightists whereas Communists and Fascists are Authoritarian Leftists and Rightists.

I look at this problem more fully here but I think I need to say a few things at this point as well:

Although two-dimension proposals have considerable intuitive appeal, they do not, unfortunately, seem to coincide with how people's attitudes are in fact organized when we do surveys of public opinion. It is very easy to find people's attitudes polarizing on a Left/Right dimension but nobody has yet managed to show in a satisfactory way any polarization of attitudes on the postulated second dimension (Ray, 1980 & 1982 -- online here and here).

The summary from my 1982 paper published in The Journal of Social Psychology reads as follows:

The Eysenck/Rokeach/Kerlinger theory that social attitudes are two dimensional suffers from disagreement about what the second dimension should be called and how it should be measured. The present work tests the proposal that there is a dimension of libertarian/authoritarian attitudes orthogonal to radicalism/conservatism. A set of items designed to maximize the likelihood of such dimensions appearing was administered to a random postal sample of Californians. No real evidence of the proposed second dimension appeared. It was concluded that authoritarianism is a personality variable only.

"Orthogonal" is statistician-speak for "unrelated" or "at right-angles to". The correlations observed in the data showed that people who agreed with one conservatism statement, no matter how it was conceived, tended to agree with all other conservatism statements. Similarly for expresions of Leftist views. But "authoritarian" or "libertarian" statements did not cluster together at all. Your being a libertarian on one issue did not mean that you would tend to be libertarian on other issues. So it is solely the Left/Right dimension on which people in fact polarize.

The account of Left/Right attitudes that I have given suggests why this is so. For a start, the assumption that Fascists or Nazis are Right-wing is false. Hitler himself energetically claimed to be a socialist and Mussolini (the founder of Fascism) was a prominent Marxist. I have already summarized the evidence for that at great length so will elaborate it no further at this point.

Historically, the core content of conservatism has always been a suspicion of government power and intervention and conservatives therefore accept only the minimum amount of government that seems needed for a civil society to function. So it is no wonder that there is no authoritarian version of conservative ideology. If it were authoritarian it could not be conservative.

Leftism, on the other hand, IS intrinsically authoritarian and power-loving and will always therefore tend in the direction of government domination. It is only non-authoritarian to the extent that is thwarted by external influences (such as democracy) from achieving its aims. Leftists in democratic societies do of course commonly deny authoritarian motivations but that is just part of their "cover". Deeds speak louder than words.



REFERENCES


Full citation details for all references used above can be found here

*****************

Clickable index:

Preface: The 19th century
Hispanic generals
Bolivarism
Conservatism the Anglo-Saxon tradition
Tacitus on Germanic government
Germans different today?
Tudor England
Elizabeth I
Sir Walter Ralegh
Left and Right in Tudor times
A Tudor tax cut
The Stuarts
A conservative revolution
Edmund Burke and attitude to change
Dicey on English and continental law
20th. century: Barry Goldwater
Richard Nixon
Ronald Reagan
Critiques of Reagan
Reagan and Salisbury
George W. Bush: Conservatism as balance
George W. Bush on abortion
Was Pope John Paul II a conservative
Is Tony Blair a conservative?
Baroness Thatcher
Ancram: A contemporary British conservative
Fred Thompson
John McCain
Other conservative voices
Disraeli
Churchill
Lenin and Engels
Neo-liberalism: The contribution from economics
Why Leftists hate Neo-liberalism
Conservatives and Neo-liberalism
The myth that only Leftists "care"
Burke's pessimism vindicated in 20th century
Neo-conservatism
Strauss and the Straussians
The "neocon conspiracy" myth
Nisbet
Scruton
The psychology of conservatism: Love of liberty versus realism
Burke, Hayek & Oakeshott as prophets of caution
But what about the pro-liberty 19th century liberals?
Christianity and individual liberty
Conservatism in Japan
The Germanic USA
American isolationism
Adorno and Leftist theories of conservatism
The Altemeyer confusions
One dimension or two?




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