This week’s Spectator features that rare event in the mainstream conservative press, an article that suggests conservatism is not all about global markets, small government, open borders, and general laissez-faire – but that it values traditions, attachments, and communities, even classes and hierarchies, and is protectionist, even green. In short, conservatives are not laissez-faire liberals, neither socially nor economically.
Tim Stanley, one of the most thoughtful commentators in the conservative press, has penned the article. Modern laissez-faire atomistic conservatives will be shocked by the suggestion that traditional Toryism was more like ‘socialism with medieval characteristics’ or that traditional conservatives ‘have more in common with socialists – who at least value community over the individual – than they do with ultra-liberals’. But that is only because they do not have a conservative bone in their bodies.
Yet though the article is commendable so far as it goes, Stanley, all too predictably, evades the existential issues:
First, there cannot be an organic community, a ‘cohesive’ society, without a common culture of shared norms, traditions, obligations, customs, and experiences, into which newcomers are assimilated; the prevailing orthodoxy of multiculturalism, along with its mantras of diversity and inclusion, spiced up with critical race theory, aims to destroy that common culture. True, it is a moot point whether there is anything left of that common culture – of the host culture –for newcomers to assimilate into. But the issue is clear enough.
Second, there cannot be a cohesive society founded on private property, familial attachments, and individual freedoms (as opposed to forced collectivisation) unless it is accepted that privileges will naturally arise and outcomes will differ; the fashionable dogma of equality of opportunity (or ‘levelling up’, or ‘the war on privilege’, or ‘social justice’) is therefore antithetical to these conservative values.
Perhaps I am being unfair. There is only so much you can incorporate in a thousand-word article. Tim Stanley’s book Whatever Happened to Tradition? is now out, and perhaps that is where he tackles the twin dogmas of multiculturalism and equality of opportunity (aka the war on privilege), bravely risking his reputation, his liberal credentials, in the process. But I shan’t be holding my breath.