Reflections on the revolution in the west
How to put the nation back into conservatism and conservatism back into the nation
I was one of the speakers at this week’s National Conservatism conference in London.
You can find videos of the other speakers at the conference here, and you can watch the video of my own address, which lasts about 22 minutes, below. For those who prefer to read rather than watch, a text of my remarks follows underneath the video.
Reflections on the revolution in the west
In the 1990s, I managed to secure for myself entry to an inner circle of hell by arguing that, in general, children were best served by being brought up by their own father and mother. Of course, I said, some marriages would always fail; and of course, many lone parents did a heroic job in bringing up their children. But surely it was best to avoid such disadvantage wherever possible. This was denounced as heartless, cruel, anti-feminist and, of course, right-wing.
Somewhat to my surprise, therefore, I was approached by a TV producer to make a film about my views on the destruction of the nuclear family. Since I was already cancelled in the best circles, I asked the producer why he wanted to publicise my views. “You’re so reactionary, you’re now in the very vanguard of progress”, he replied.
Given what I went on to say in subsequent years about the destruction of education, multiculturalism, the demonisation of men, Islamisation and anthropogenic global warming theory, I obviously became so progressive I managed to advance to the very end of time itself and met myself coming back.
The onslaught on the traditional family was an early example of a world turned upside down, in which certain kinds of disadvantage became a human right; victim status weaponised bullying and bigotry against those who were denied this status; and untold numbers of children were sacrificed on the altars of mass fatherlessness, the wilful promotion of ignorance in the classroom and the infantilisation of adults.
This all-out onslaught on the nation and its core social and moral norms has created our age of unreason. Language has been hijacked and evacuated of meaning. Anti-racism means people are now judged, and damned, not for the content of their character but for the white colour of their skin. People with male genitalia are said to be women and are indeed hailed as female role models. Dissent means vilification, character assassination and intimidation.
It’s reminiscent of the Salem witch hunts and the Soviet show trials. Liberal tolerance has been replaced by cultural totalitarianism — not just by the usual suspects on the left but now by many of the professions, many businesses and across Whitehall.
In short, we’re living through a five-decades old revolution.
As we know, conservatism was supposedly created when Edmund Burke defended the cultural architecture of a free society that depended on traditional institutions. Burke wasn’t actually a conservative; he was in many respects a radical, opposing the unrestrained power of the king and supporting the revolting colonials in America. But he understood the acute threat the French revolutionaries posed to civilised life under the guise of progress.
Today we have the equivalent of the guillotine in cancel culture. Our own Committee of Public Safety, orchestrating a dictatorial reign of terror, is composed of the Labour party under Sir Keir Starmer and the university vice-chancellors. And just as Danton and Robespierre were themselves finally consumed by the conflagration they had unleashed, today’s revolution is also eating its own as one-time radical feminists are purged by those who believe that biological fact is fiction — and fascism.
And yet we have no Burke. The understanding of what it’s vital to conserve has collapsed.
Instead, some conservatives support mass immigration to bring down wages and do the jobs native Brits can’t or won’t do. Controlled immigration enhances a nation. But uncontrolled immigration can bring it to its knees.
Conservative candidates for Parliament are given lessons on “white resentment” in diversity and inclusion training sessions via the Party’s online training platform and are being offered “unconscious bias” training.
A Conservative government, that genuflected to a hysterical teenager predicting the end of the world, is actively promoting scientifically illiterate climate catastrophism and Net Zero goals which would take us all back to a pre-modern age.
A Conservative government is silently presiding over a cancel culture which is destroying people’s livelihoods and their mental and physical health.
A Conservative government has flapped its hands but failed to stop the institutionalised child abuse through the transgender cult which is deconstructing what it is to be a human being.
Michael Gove is a rare politician who really understands how education has ceased to transmit the culture and instead has been weaponised against it. Yet it was a Conservative prime minister who sacked him as Education Secretary because he was rocking the boat too much.
If the Conservative party doesn’t defend education, population capacity, scientific reason or freedom against coercion and bullying, what’s the point of the Conservative party?
In Britain there’s been no culture war but a cultural rout. In their “long march through the institutions”, progressives found every door was opened because conservatism progressively abandoned its role as conservers of the nation and its values.
It was the Conservative party that destroyed the nation’s self-governing democracy by taking the UK into the European community in 1973 and assumed that this would remain the natural order of things in perpetuity. It was the British people who, when finally given the chance, voted against the Conservative government to get their nation back.
But restoring independent self-government doesn’t mean the nation itself is restored to what it was, any more than an emergency operation on someone with a life-threatening illness automatically restores them to health.
Instead of conserving the culture that formed its national identity, Britain had outsourced much of that culture to Europe along with Britain’s powers of self-government. When the Conservatives signed away their nation to Brussels, they stopped conserving its national character.
In order to put conservatism back into the nation, we need to put the nation back into conservatism.
To do that, we need first to understand why the Conservative party is so confused over what this means.
After the Second World War, there wasn’t one revolution but two. Following the Holocaust, the left decided that, since this monstrous evil took place at the apex of western culture, the west was rotten and had to be remade into a brave new world. And the way to achieve that was a “long march through the institutions", to turn the culture itself against the western nation and its core values.
After the war, however, there was also a revolution in conservative circles against post-war collectivism and the welfare state. This became the dogma of the free-market which viewed all state activity as an attack on individual liberty.
These free-market ideologues, who viewed everything through a economic prism and made a fetish of competition, failed to acknowledge that there was something of great value between the free-market and the state. This was called civil society, and was held together by bonds of tradition that linked the present to the past and gave society a future.
Margaret Thatcher, a free-market devotee — who did many great things — was in this respect not a conservative at all. Believing that tradition and intangible values constituted an old boy’s network that thwarted her agenda and promoted a continuing story of British decline, she tried inappropriately to apply market forces to a range of institutions, undermined the bonds of trust that defined the professions and politicised the hitherto politically neutral civil service.
When the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed, conservatives decided that their fox had been shot. Looking for a new standard behind which to rally, they decided on liberty — failing to realise that this took them straight on to the same territory as the left. While the left was promoting a free market in behaviour, so-called conservatives were promoting a free market in economics.
In addition, conservatives were frightened to resist what they viewed as an inexorable process of cultural change. Failing to recognise that it would only become inexorable if they didn’t stand up to to it, they decided instead that they wanted to curry favour with their children and the infantilised left in the media and other citadels of the culture. Subscribing to the progressive mantras of egalitarianism and universalism, they thought this would insulate them against charges of being “the nasty party”.
There was surely no more graphic example of the way this led to perdition than Theresa May’s Modern Slavery Act, which has helped facilitate the unstoppable tide of illegal immigration through the “small boats” crossing the English Channel. It is so very sad that Mrs May, the former prime minister, cannot see how her very well-meaning initiative has helped erode the boundary that defines a nation.
So: one faction of the Conservative party is a pale lavender version of left-wing “equality of outcomes,” trans-nationalism and trashing energy supplies to prevent the reportedly imminent yet mysteriously ever-moveable climate apocalypse. The other faction thinks conservatism is all about cutting taxes and letting the market rip, from de-regulating childcare to the mass importation of foreign workers.
Neither of these alternatives remotely embodies conservative values. Each in its own way represents instead hyper-individualism or the ideological attempt to remake the world to create utopia, which all serve to corrode society rather than conserve it.
The belief that conservatism means freedom from the state is to confuse ends and means. Freedom isn’t an end value but the means to live a good life. If freedom isn’t bounded by duty and obligations it leads to division, cruelty and anarchy.
Neither state control nor individualism can form a civilised society. For that we need what Britain’s late and much lamented Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks called covenantal politics. This looks beyond the individual or the state. It involves instead long-term binding reciprocal relationships based on promise and obligation rather than rights and short term transactions. It lies in the laws passed by national parliaments, communal institutions, traditional values, continuity and the transmission of national memory through an education system designed to transmit that culture to the next generation.
Without tradition we are rootless. Without roots there is no community. Without community there is no nation. Without nation there can be no defence of fundamental values.
Conservatism is not a creed. It’s about conserving and protecting the attachment to community through a cultural and political inheritance. Left unchecked, the onslaught against traditional values will ultimately destroy the country as a shared national project and will cripple its ability to thrive and even survive.
That’s why the British public are currently repelled by the Tories as well as by Labour. Neither speaks to people’s most fundamental wish to live in a place they can call home, where they subscribe to a shared, independent and sovereign national project based on a set of inherited traditions and institutions which will be upheld, passed down to their children and defended against attack in order to protect the rule of law, democracy and freedom against oppression. These are conservative values. That’s why such people voted in their millions for Brexit.
So the big question is whether conservatism can be be rescued and the nation accordingly saved.
The answer is yes. But it entails conservatively-minded individuals adopting an unfamiliar approach. Conservatives tend not to be activists proactively taking the initiative for change. They tend instead passively and warily to watch the tumult taking place all around them.
As a result, they are always caught on the back foot. They are always having to defend themselves against the attacks from the left. But playing defence like this, on ground chosen by their foes, is to lose the battle before it’s even begun.
Conservatives need to go onto the front foot. They need actively to take the ground from under the feet of the left. This can be done in two ways.
First, they need to take back British culture by getting rid of the influences that have corrupted and undermined it. Few understand that there’s now a generation of younger people who, after several decades of de-education, simply have no idea even what of priceless value has been lost. Conservatives now have to take back the universities and the schools by ensuring that what is taught transmits the culture rather than destroying it and promotes an open mind rather than snapping it shut.
Conservatives need once again to prioritise marriage. And they also need to make a bonfire of equality and human rights law, which are causing such injustice and denial of human rights. It won’t be possible to stop the illegal boats across the Channel unless Britain exits the European Convention on Human Rights.
The government is terrified of doing any of this because it thinks that being seen to tear up equality or human rights law is “terrible optics”. But this is terrible politics and terrible cowardice. For goodness sake, Britain invented liberty and equal rights through the common law. It lost liberty and equal rights when it made these contingent on coded universal rules and choices made by judges between competing claims. Conservatives need to make the case with pride for the unique value of their own cultural traditions.
The second way they can take the ground back is to hobble the left through their Achilles’ heel. What is this Achilles’ heel? This is the fact that they don’t actually care for the people or groups whose causes they wear on their sleeve. They care above all for their own self-image as virtuous people.
So they need to be called out in terms on their own terms: for example, as racial bigots against white people. Called out as callous and cruel towards the children whose interests they have crushed. Called out as supporters of cultures abroad that enslave women.
And they are all too vulnerable on all these things and more. Cancel culture, after all, is driven by terror that they cannot win the argument. The know their arguments rest on sand. Which is why they have to shut the argument down altogether.
The more vicious the attack, the more they advertise this weakness. As we can see from their hysterical and frankly often disgusting reactions to this conference. they are terrified, above all, by the reality staring them in the face: that they are utterly out of step with the ordinary people of the country whom they claim so noisily to champion but whom they actually despise and fear.
And there’s the irony. The historically Labour voters of the working-class “Red Wall” are more conservative than the Conservative party. Redwallers are rooted in community, attachments to each other, traditions and in patriotic loyalty to the nation. They value conventional family structure on which they depend for security and emotional well-being. They value social orderliness; they depend on the networks of mutual obligation bound by tradition that make a community of shared interests and values, and form the place they can call home.
In short, there are silent millions waiting impatiently for a political class that will conserve all these things and defend the nation against those who would destroy it.
The political prize is there for the taking. All that’s needed is the courage to win it.
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