Left Wing Conservatism

18Jun10

(some initial thoughts, please play devil’s advocate)

Imagine a volcano erupts in the middle of the ocean and creates a new landmass –complete with rivers, fertile land, decent natural resources etc. In one of the most unlikely events in human history, this land mass remains unclaimed, and soon millions of immigrants flock to the new landmass. They collectively have to decide on a new system of politics, create a judicial system, establish laws and institutions etc. Free from any traditions or established ways of doing things [1], they are able to discuss how their new state should work without the voice of tradition.

This is actually a common thought experiment as it asks us to consider what systems, or practices, are based on logic and principles of fairness or justice, and which ones are sufficiently stupid that nobody else would seek to create them. For example it is unlikely that this new state would introduce the practice of hereditary peers in its legislative chamber, fund homeopathic treatments through a public health program or allow various types of religious loonies to educate its young.

On the other hand there are obvious limitations of applying this type of thought experiment, in the real world those emigrating to this new country would bring their existing beliefs about the way things should be, they would bring their old cultural, social and religious practices, and would probably try to re-create their old social lives with the same music, sports etc. Even the comments above assume the group would decide on a democratic system of governance. We are essentially always going to be trapped by our own history and our cultural values.

A conservative would also go further, and point out that human history is littered with examples of totalitarian dystopias that have emerged precisely from the attempts to create societies based upon ‘visions’. The basis of conservatism was precisely a reaction to the French revolution, and a belief in the virtue of ‘tradition’. If something has been done in a certain way for a long period of time, then that is in-itself an argument for continuing to do it in this way. We fuck with things we don’t fully understand at our peril, and a version of the hippocratic oath is something that governments should be forced to take.   A  persuasive argument against ‘progressives’ can be found here that elaborates on many of these points.

So why is that many actual Conservatives (as in members of political parties or movements associated with conservatism) routinely forget the basics of their philosophy and frequently propose schemes aiming to radically change countries, and systems?  Online libertarians are at the extreme end of this spectrum (and wouldn’t claim to be conservatives), often arguing for the wholesale destruction of many parts of the mixed economy, to be replaced by pure free markets.

One of the most common questions on politics examinations is whether Thatcher was a radical? (or some other version of asking the question). The student is expected to answer the question by demonstrating some knowledge of the changes to the UK that occurred under Thatcher, and contrast the philosophical approach of her government with that of the UK’s post war political consensus.

It is undeniable that Thatcher’s governments privatised many industries, broke the power of trade unions and reduced direct taxation amongst numerous changes. Yet Dillow points out that in reality Thatcher cut overall spending once, and only froze it once. So the aim to reduce the size of the state wasn’t fulfilled (instead what happened was changes in the role of the state).

So we have to bear this in mind when it comes to the proposed cuts of the leberal dimocrat /conservative administration. An actual cut rather than a change in types of spending is a massively major change in the way the UK is run. So why is it not being opposed by conservatives?

After all, the UK has been a mixed economy, with state provision of healthcare, education, social services, welfare provision etc for over 60 years. Indeed for the vast majority of British born people, the NHS really is a national icon, with us having never lived without it. Indeed any remotely successful state worth living in is a mixed economy with the principle that the state provides healthcare, education and welfare services. The other political models are either absolute totalitarian regimes where the state is all powerful or collapsed states like Somalia. In other words libertarians and ultra ‘free market’ conservatives have no actually existing model to use that is remotely desirable. Which is probably why many are reduced to arguing about different service delivery methods based upon market simulations (eg: voucher schemes for education funding – Even then the number of places using pure vouchers is measurable on one hand).

This leaves us with the somewhat uncomfortable conclusion that the real inheritors of the conservative tradition are the democratic (as opposed to revolutionary) left, and in particular the centre-left parties of Europe who have always pursued more pragmatic and practical programmes aiming to build on what has already been achieved.

Contrast this with the rhetoric of the coalition government, who are using the alleged budget crisis to propose massive cuts and changes in the role of the state. Nor are they averse to proposing authoritarian measures to achieve this. In fact if the leadership was named Davidov Cameronsin and Nick Il Clegg (sorry for the poor imagination) and the country based in Eastern Europe or Asia we would regard the extent to which it proposed to change things as a revolutionary programme. And actual conservatives would oppose such changes, and warn that the vision should be treated with the utmost scepticism.

So with what is being proposed, it is now time to create left wing conservatism and defend the traditions of the mixed economy, and the principles of welfare, public service, and progressive taxation.

Advertisements


No Responses Yet to “Left Wing Conservatism”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: