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Conservatism's Holy Grail US Can't Pass English 101

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How About Those BritCons?

by Christopher Chantrill
May 16, 2008 at 12:08 am


FOR ELEVEN long years the British Conservatives have wandered in the political wilderness. Political magician Tony Blair won three smashing elections with a re-branded “New” Labour Party in 1997, 2001, and 2005. The Tories were written off as the “nasty” party, and it looked like New Labour would rule forever.

Not to worry, an old Tory, Ken Clarke said. “Labour governments always run out of money,” and Conservatives get back in to clean up the mess.

Only this time, Labour didn’t run out of money. This time, it’s worse. Labour has spent money like a drunken sailor as of old, but it hasn’t quite run out yet. Instead, Britons are looking back at the last eleven years and saying: What was the point?

All the reckless promises New Labour made in the 1990s about education, crime, “joined-up” government, and an “integrated transport system” have turned out to be just that: promises. Education is dumbed down, children are regularly robbed of their “mobiles,” government screw-ups are reported weekly, and the British railway system is plagued by endless delays.

As soon as magician Tony Blair left the stage the magic show collapsed. A couple of weeks ago the Conservative Party won an overwhelming victory in the May 1, 2008 local elections, even electing Conservative Boris Johnson as mayor of Labour London.

OK, so British Conservatives won a famous battle. What comes next is obvious: pursuit.

Last week, Conservative Party leader David Cameron sallied forth to sow discord and demoralization in the Labour rank-and-file. He wrote an op-ed in the lefty Independent newspaper “We are the champions of progressive ideals”and advised his progressive readers to give up on the Labour Party.

Look, he wrote, let’s agree for the sake of argument that throwing money at the poor worked back in the twentieth century. But the returns from redistribution programs are “not just diminishing, they are disappearing.” If you look back at the Blair/Brown years you realize that something went wrong with the progressive program:

A painful reality is dawning on Labour MPs: in its longest unbroken period in office, Labour has done little to advance progressive ideals.

You can see the cavalry saber flashing in the light. The game is up, Cameron tells his lefty readers.

No more thinking that the central state shifting money around can provide the long-term solution to poverty. It is now widely accepted that it is the cycle of family breakdown, worklessness, crime, drug and alcohol abuse that traps people in deprivation.

Everyone now understands that the Labour Party’s governing strategy of top-down redistribution fails to help people trapped in deprivation. But the Conservatives have a plan.

Our plans for radical school reform, bringing the best education to the poorest children by opening up the state system to new providers, show we are not prepared to let ideology, dogma or vested interests stop children gaining the best start in life.

Finally, down comes the saber on the cowering foot-soldier of the left.

If you care about poverty, if you care about inequality, if you care about the environment – forget about the Labour Party. It has forgotten about you. If you count yourself a progressive, a true progressive, only [Conservatives] can achieve real change.

The Daily Telegraph’s Janet Daley tells us what is going on here. In the old days the British Labour Party was the tribal party of the working class. Workers voted for Labour because it was the workers’ party. Then along came Margaret Thatcher and broke up the working class.

Thatcherism had detached the aspiring portion of it (what used to be called the "respectable" working class), and a vastly inflated welfare state had turned the unaspiring portion into a non-working underclass.

Tony Blair papered over this chasm with his personal charisma “and the phenomenal skills of [his] image builders.” Now that Blair has gone, the Labour Party suddenly feels like a cartoon character looking down in horror at a thousand feet of emptiness. For if it no longer leads a unified class-based working-class movement, what is it for?

The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, himself a liberal, has attempted to articulate the liberal belief system in his Sources of the Self. It is, he writes, founded upon the idea of dignity, creativity, and equality as the highest goods, superceding like the Protestant celebration of ordinary life and older notions of duty and honor.

This is all very well in theory, but conservatives have some questions about how this works in practice. What kind of equality is it for the poor to go to lousy government schools, we ask? What kind of dignity is it for single mothers to raise broods of fatherless feral children on government housing projects? Only the Conservative Party, Cameron tells the British lefties, have a workable plan to deliver dignity and equality. Only Conservatives have the right to call themselves “progressive.”

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Responsible Self

[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.

Taking Responsibility

[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050

Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust

What Liberals Think About Conservatives

[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists,” she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican

Liberal Coercion

[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State

Moral Imperatives of Modern Culture

These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self

US Life in 1842

Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism

Society and State

For [the left] there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in. No-one but the Minister, nowhere but Whitehall, no such thing as society - just them, and their laws, and their rules, and their arrogance.
David Cameron, Conference Speech 2008

Faith and Politics

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable... [1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006

Never Trust Experts

No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense.
Lord Salisbury, “Letter to Lord Lytton”

Conservatism's Holy Grail

What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph

Class War

In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status... Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher... The academics lost their power and prestige and... have been gloomy ever since.
Freeman Dyson, “The Scientist as Rebel”

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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