Anthony M. Ludovici
The Fortnightly Review 111 (new series), 1922, pp. 948962
- p. 948 -
This was the attitude when, in January, Sir George Younger, the chairman of the Unionist Party organisation, intervened over the Prime Minister's General Election policy, and led the whole of Conservative England to believe that now at last a turn had come in the tide of their affairs.
What is the attitude now?
Over three mouths have elapsed, and in that time one after another of the possible Conservative leaders has publicly confessed his disinclination to recognise any change, and has made it plain that, in any case, the leadership of the resuscitated party was not to be sought in his quarter; the last to say this openly and emphatically being Lord Balfour himself, the acutest thinker of them all, who, as an ex-Prime Minister of a Conservative Government and the head of the Conservative Party in England, assured his constituents in the City of London that the only present policy for Conservatives in this country was to continue to follow a Liberal Prime Minister.
True, this advice, whether on the lips of Lord Balfour, or of Lord Birkenhead, or of Mr. Austen Chamberlain, has always been clothed in references sufficiently flattering to the Coalition and their alleged policy to conceal more or less the utter bankruptcy that it implied: the idea being that the more the Coalition were praised the less incumbent it was upon the speaker to reveal one syllable of the policy which his party favoured. Be this as it may, the bulk of Conservatives in this country cannot have been much deceived; for, whether or not they realised how
Much has been said, on the ultra-Conservative side, to support the view that a return to the old two-party system is now above all desirable. A chorus of speakers have denounced the Coalition, and have invited the country to consider whether a more healthy atmosphere could not be introduced into English political life by the parties constituting the Coalition once more falling asunder the one to take up the reins of Government and the other to go into opposition as of yore.
But, what merits soever such a scheme may possess, there is certainly a feeling among the more thoughtful members of the Conservative Party that this is hardly the time when a party of such great traditions and achievements as theirs undoubtedly is can with dignity recover its independence in opposition alone. Its identity as a party must rely upon something more positive and more definite. If it have a mission that mission must be capable of being enunciated. If it have a vocation that vocation can surely be described. It is not enough to proclaim that it will stand for cohesion and reconstruction, or that it will undertake to reverse or correct Coalition policy in Palestine, Mesopotamia, Egypt and elsewhere. It is not even enough to promise that it will arrest the "dangerous policy" of the Coalition in regard to the Army, or Capital and Labour, or foreign affairs. And the most ardent Conservative may be allowed to enquire what precisely is meant by the somewhat vague assurance recently made by the Duke of Northumberland that only in a revival of Conservatism can we secure a defence of that "principle of authority" which is being everywhere attacked and undermined.
A political faith implies a political objective; a political objective, however, involves a definite and positive programme. But where do we see any signs of such a programme on the Conservative side? Have not the leaders of the Conservatives themselves, by their very cry of "Continue to follow a Liberal Prime Minister," implicitly denied, not only that such a programme exists, but also that such an objective and such a faith exist? It is all very well for Sir George Younger to create a semblance of great activity in the Conservative camp; but, except for the country's wearying of the Coalition, we may reasonably ask on what exactly is he relying for his party's momentum?
The success of Liberalism during the last sixteen years has been due to the fact that it had a programme. We may,
At present it is exhausted. Admitted. But the reasons why it is exhausted are perhaps as instructive to Conservatives as to Liberals themselves. It is exhausted because it had recourse to a storehouse of ideas which were not exclusively Liberal property. The strength of latter-day Liberalism has been due to the fact that it had behind it that without which no political party, however rich, however powerful, can possibly hope to survive to wit, an unofficial thinking body, an independent, non-political conclave, of students, to whom it could resort as to an intellectual arsenal. This body, as everyone knows, was the Fabian Society.
The history of Liberalism during the last twenty-two years ever since the Boer War, in fact has been the history of the emergence of Fabianism from the obscurity of a private and almost secret factory of ultra-Radical ideas.
But, in addition to their activities as thinkers and deliberators upon Socialistic policy, the Fabians were also propagandists who undertook to educate public opinion. Long before a famous political party turned to them for ideological enrichment they had, with their lectures and pamphlets, made a considerable contribution towards the education of certain sections of the public on political questions. And, seeing that this education was entirely tendencieuse that is to say, partial and inspired Liberalism of the early twentieth century found not only its goods but also its customers its public tolerably well prepared for exploitation.
The only flaw in Liberal strategy was this no Liberal leader seems to have foreseen that, by moving so very far to the Left, in order with some colourable warrant to be able to pilfer the ideological storehouse of Fabianism, Liberalism committed itself to a policy essentially Socialistic, and abandoned all its traditions and strongholds. But, by so doing, it allowed itself no retreat in the event of a truly Socialistic Party coming into being. Given a group that was prepared to champion the so-called "popular" cause with more logical consistency and independence than the Liberals given, that is to say, a frankly Socialistic Party, which would take Liberal experiments with Fabianism in its stride, and Liberalism would most certainly be superseded.
And this is precisely what has happened. In 1906 a new party
This, however, is hardly the point we wished to make. The lesson to be gathered from it all, both by Liberals and Conservatives, is that, as matters stand to-day, it is hardly possible for a political party to exist unless it have behind it a body of students and thinkers who, while they are inspired by the general faith and objective of their party, undertake to work out solutions of current problems, and a programme of reform, retrenchment or consolidation along lines consistent with that faith and that objective.
The fact that the Liberals fell back on a storehouse of ideas not strictly Liberal, and flourished for a while in consequence, proves the advantage of such an ideological background to the theatre of active politics. And, if only that storehouse of ideas had been of purely Liberal manufacture, if only the men responsible for its creation had been inspired by the general faith and objective of their party, and not by a faith and an objective alien to their very traditions, we should still be able to behold a great Liberal Party in existence to-day, capable of asserting its independence both against the Labour Party and the Conservatives.
What is true of Liberalism is also true of Conservatism. The weakness of the Conservative Party, ever since the days when Matthew Arnold was levelling his criticism at it, has been the absence behind it of any thinking body to which its active politicians could resort for enlightenment, guidance and ideas. No conclave of students, inspired by a strong Conservative faith or a vivid perception of Conservative aims, has ever been formed behind the stage of active Conservative politics. With a renitency against conviction, which could be justified only if they were entirely successful, Conservatives have resolutely refused to recognise the immense value of ideas.
Although the Liberals committed the capital error of resorting to an intellectual arsenal not strictly their own, and are now suffering in consequence, at least their action revealed them as men not entirely oblivious to the value of ideas. But Conservatism has not even this kind of capital error to its credit. And to-day all those Conservatives who, with the writer, feel that no better opportunity has ever before existed for a great constructive
The position is too critical to justify anything but plain speaking. For it is not only the fate of a political party that hangs in the balance; there is the nation and the Empire beyond, both of which are involved in the issue.
If Lord Balfour, if Lord Birkenhead, and if Mr. Austen Chamberlain knew of a Conservative programme; if they were aware of a clear-cut and comprehensive Conservative policy, it is inconceivable that they should have behaved as they have done. Even if they themselves were in the least inspired by a strong Conservative faith, they could not thus have abandoned their party. We may therefore conclude that the official Conservative Party, as represented by its old figure-heads, is as dead as the Liberal Party which used to oppose it. And, indeed, this is the conclusion formed by the Duke of Northumberland. 1
The only live party in the land, therefore, is the party that can frankly and consistently claim Fabianism as its own.
Now, in the midst of this predicament, it is hardly enough to raise the standard of authority, as the Duke of Northumberland has done, 2 and to imply that this will prove an adequate rallying-point for all the Conservatives of the land. It is hardly enough to point to cohesion and reconstruction as the panacea for all ills, and to enumerate the weak points in the Near East and at home where Conservative correction or cure is most urgently needed. 3
True, there is vast scope for the sagacity and creative power of a great political party. There are problems enough for the thought and ingenuity of veritable giants of statesmanship. But when, in the face of these problems, we hear that on a "steadfast adherence to Conservative principles, which after all only mean the courage to face facts and to tell the truth about them, rests the only hope of rescue from that dry rot of opportunism which is degrading public life," etc., 4 we feel inclined to reply in the words of the famous Earl of Strafford, "It will cost warmer water than so."
Honesty and courage are admittedly our first prerequisites; but in our present quandary they cannot carry us very far. They are
1. See The National Review, February, 1922. Article, "The Future of Conservatism," p. 777.
2. Ibid., p. 785.
3. Ibid., p. 785.
4. Ibid., p. 786.
The framing of a Conservative policy to meet the needs of the age, to correct the abuses that have sprung up within recent years, and to avert the disasters that threaten in the future, is not an impossible task, it is not even an undertaking demanding superlatively high genius; but it certainly depends on one condition, which, so far as we are able to judge, no Conservative leader or member of the rank and file has hitherto seriously contemplated, and that is the immediate formation of a body of men who will be prepared and equipped to do for Tory politics what the Fabian Society has done for Socialism and the so-called "popular" party.
Let it not be imagined for one moment that the only function of such a body would consist in re-stocking the intellectual arsenal of Toryism, although this would indeed be one of its principal aims. Like the Fabian Society, however, it would have wider duties to perform than the mere purveying of ideas. It would require to undertake that which is the direst need of modern times, both in England and in every quarter of the civilised world, and that is the re-education of public opinion in the matter of sound political and economic doctrine. For a hundred years and more now the world has been flooded with the literature of the party that stands for social disintegration. No organised protest, no systematic and flat contradiction, supported by wise
Thus, in the field of public education alone, a body of thinkers, working along Conservative lines, would find more than enough scope for the exercise of its faculties; and, seeing that the ultimate constructive reforms with which it would fill a Conservative programme would be of little use unless the ground were prepared for their reception, it is probable that for some years (as in the case of the Fabian Society) this body would find itself engaged in little else than the re-education of public opinion.
The franchise has recently been extended. Large masses of the electorate of this country have suddenly been given a weapon, with the uses of which they have not and cannot have the smallest acquaintance. Ideas are afloat in the air the creation of the radical and Socialistic thinkers of this and the last century which this electorate seizes upon with the avidity of ignorance and to which it chugs with the obstinacy of deep suspicion; and by far the greater portion of these ideas are demonstrably unsound or positively pernicious. These ideas are, however, their only political pabulum. They have no others. Whence should any others have come, forsooth?
To wait until these ideas reveal themselves as errors to those who hold them (as they must, of course, in time) may be to wait until the ruin they have wrought is too serious to be repaired.
When, therefore, the Duke of Northumberland inveighs against Mr. Lloyd George, as he does for over four and a half pages of his article in the February issue of The National Review, and argues that "the Prime Minister's conception of his office is that of the manager of a music-hall who produces that popular form of entertainment known as a 'revue'"! 1 it would be highly interesting to know from him how much this government by "stunts" or "turns," as he calls it, is not imposed upon the modern politician by the actual condition of the electorate, and how much of it is deliberate juggling on the part of the active politician in office.
If, as we believe, a good deal of it is imposed upon the politicians of the day by the deplorable ignorance and emotionalism of very important and very large sections of the electorate in this country, and their Press, his Grace's analysis of the present methods of government reflects greater discredit upon the nation as a whole than it does upon those who may be doing their utmost to rule it. for what they conceive to be "the best."
Observe, for instance, the gradual crescendo of emotionalism
1. See p. 780.
Now it may pertinently be asked whether this rapid conversion of sound political argument into popular and emotional decoy-phrases and catch-words has not become a necessity of the hour to the active politician. True, this would not justify it; but in criticising those who yield before this necessity, we should always be careful to remember that, after all, it may be the most difficult task on earth to sustain a serious and profound political rôle nowadays without thereby forfeiting, through the loss of popular favour, the very opportunity and power one may have of contributing to the wise government of the country.
It is not our present object to defend any particular politician, or any particular act of the Government, against the Duke of Northumberland's attack. It is rather to point to the difficulties of a situation for which his Grace does not appear to have allowed.
Suppose it were true, as we believe to some extent it is, that ever since the extension of the franchise in 1917, which doubled the electorate (in some measure it was so even before that), it has been impossible, with any hope of success, to confront the country at a general election with a programme of sound and far-reaching reforms. Why? Because it would not be feasible
What would be the fate of the Duke of Northumberland's cry of cohesion and reconstruction, for instance? It might appeal to those who see the need as we do. But what about those who do not see the need? And suppose, on the basis of cohesion and reconstruction, a programme were formed, which would provide a solution for most of the problems at present confronting us a programme which in its necessary profundity would elude the grasp of the bulk of the electorate would the Duke of Northumberland himself not be compelled to descend to claptrap if only to save his opportunity of realising his programme?
That seems to be the greatest danger at present the fact that, owing to the condition of the electorate, its complete and fast hold of false ideas, and its all too exclusive emotionalism, it has become almost impossible to lay before it, in a form sufficiently attractive or comprehensible, a programme which, by virtue of its wisdom and efficacy, would necessarily be too profound and obscure for presentation in "stunt" form.
Besides, even if we grant that, the noble Duke could find it within his power to embody, in a popular "revue," schemes which were both wise enough and far-reaching enough to meet present needs of reform and reconstruction, how is he to safeguard himself against unscrupulous opponents or competitors, who, while less gifted than he is in political honesty and statecraft, were nevertheless more ingenious in contriving the "stunts" that appeal to a modern electorate?
In criticising Mr. Lloyd George's personal conduct of affairs, and that of his Government, it seems only a matter of reasonable caution to bear these conditions in mind. If, therefore, we scoff at his "revue" entitled "The New Heaven and Earth," and at the various stunts of which it is composed, we should at the same time reflect to what extent we ourselves, in a similar situation, might be compelled by the exigencies of the age to descend to shifts which, as critics, we cannot too strongly deprecate. And we should be well advised to do this, not in order to forgive what cannot be forgiven, not to condone what must remain a very scandalous development of the times; but in order to be quite clear about the present difficulties of political life in England, and to convince ourselves of the necessity of removing some, at least, of these difficulties, or of modifying them, before we ourselves can hope for and attempt better things.
There is urgent need of a sound Conservative programme.
The field is wide enough in all conscience. There are problems in profusion, both at home and abroad, for every available brain. It may even be necessary to devise hitherto unheard-of remedies for abuses or vices hitherto unknown. It may prove imperative to introduce reforms which at first will find the whole front of the other camp, in addition to Conservative friends, against them.
To dwell only on a few of the problems that face the new party at home is sufficiently edifying. There is the Constitution, which at present is two-thirds gone. It will require reintegrating. It was evolved to constitute a balance of parts. To-day its equilibrium has vanished, and the safeguards it once possessed are almost forgotten. There is the health of the people. No people can entertain sound, sober, and rational views, no people can enjoy a sane outlook, that does not possess bodily serenity. The Liberal solution of this problem was, in accordance with Lloyd Georgian tradition, to form a Ministry of Health, which since its establishment has left all the abuses to which national ill-health is due practically untouched. Health is primarily a question of sane living, of healthy food properly prepared, from the dawn of life to the end. Now the conditions prevailing among the masses of the people, both as to their food and as to its preparation, are incredibly bad. A mere glance at them would provide matter enough for half a dozen articles. Even the supply of milk, alone, would afford ample opportunities for beneficent and valuable legislative reform. While staying in Dorset last summer, the writer was appalled by the condition
In the realm of the spirit, too, how much could not be effected by beneficent reforms? The whole of the elementary education of the country badly needs modification. The curriculum ought everywhere to be cut down, and the fundamental and minimum requirements of a sound spiritual life given a very much more important place in the school programme. The children of England ought at least to be taught English, their native tongue. It is at once an ideal means of disciplining and training the mind, of clarifying thought, and of correcting vagueness and looseness of reasoning; it is an excellent preservative of natural nobility of character, opening up, as it does, to the student the whole treasury of lofty thought and sentiment that the language con-
The danger of the present political situation is that we have an electorate, large sections of which do not know, and have never been taught, their native language. Their English is the babble of babes, their vocabulary that of a Hottentot. This electorate does not know how to listen to words spoken, or how to read and understand words written. Such a statement will possibly strike the reader as exaggeration. But, if he understands by knowledge of a language, that ability to distinguish nicely between words that have a definite and practical meaning and those which are susceptible of but the vaguest definition; if he also understands by the knowledge of a language that power to read and listen with some capacity for criticism, he will probably be more ready to agree. At present the bulk of the proletariat are at the mercy of the glib speaker and the glib writer because they have not the equipment wherewith to check or criticise him. It ought not to be forgotten that a large number of the mere words for which quite recently masses of modern Europeans are known to have sacrificed not only their homes, but also their lives, are of a kind the emotional appeal, and therefore dynamic force, of which is out of all proportion greater than their intellectual meaning.
With an electorate constituted largely of elements that do not even know their own language, in this sense, it is possible for a very Saviour of mankind to be set aside in favour of one who is unscrupulous and agile enough to exploit this ignorance of language for his own private ends; or at least, to put it more mildly, it is impossible to prosecute reforms which are insusceptible of being presented in the accepted "stunt" or popular form. (But what then becomes of any programme, however wise and however desirable, that a truly patriotic and honest party might wish to carry through? Suppose through its lack of tinselly sentiment and fair-booth phraseology it failed "to make a hit" at the hustings? Should the party in question have to bow to the inevitable and relinquish its opportunity in favour of men better practised in the buffooneries of a "revue"?
And, finally, in the fields of commerce, industry, and finance, there would have to be a searching examination of every possible means of deliverance from the present parlous and highly unsatisfactory conditions. No return to the old régime of uncontrolled capitalistic exploitation and to the Manchester School policy of laissez-faire is any longer practicable. But. that does not mean that the present policy of drift, accompanied by repeated blind and ill-considered concessions, is the right one. It would have to be superseded by masterly direction, by the consciousness of a definite aim, and the determination to find the means thereto. Not only honesty and courage are needed here, but, above all, sagacity and originality the boldness of conviction together with the confidence of profound understanding. There is a feeling abroad as if the present tangle of Finance, Capital, and Labour were a Chinese puzzle that has no key; as if the extreme complexity of the situation which past history and past errors have bequeathed to us baffled solution. Does anybody really believe, however, that a tangle created under human hands is incapable of being unravelled by human effort?
But let no one imagine that it is the active politician, whose place is in the limelight of the executive stage, who is the person to whom we should look for an adequate solution of our problems. This illusion is now surely dissipated, once and for all. Two great parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, have both been wrecked by it. To-day the field is too vast and the problems too intricate. The active politician who pretends to have pondered a situation sufficiently deeply to have discovered a sound and statesmanlike method of meeting it is a self-confessed humbug. At best his idea will be but an opportunist's last shift.
The field of Conservative ideas, and Conservative solutions to modern problems, lies practically unexplored. All modern solutions, all modern ideas, have been disruptive, disintegrating solutions and ideas. The first item on any Conservative programme, therefore, whether Conservatives find themselves in power or not, should be the immediate formation of such an unofficial body a body of men sincerely and vividly inspired by a strong Conservative faith; men who might for years, perhaps, make no sign of life, and offer no assistance to their party; but whose sole aim and pride it would be to apply themselves to the discovery of the intellectual raison d'être of their party, and the solution along Conservative lines of the most perplexing problems of the age.
And, seeing that Conservatism is the principle and faith, not of a political party alone, but of a whole section of mankind, distributed over every civilised quarter of the globe; seeing that it is much more a permanent philosophic outlook than a local and passing political prejudice, and a philosophical outlook which those who support it stubbornly believe to embody no small number of the world's eternal truths; the wonder is, not that such a body of thinkers should not long ago have been formed in Great Britain itself, but that corresponding bodies should not now be in existence in every centre of civilisation, ready to offer resistance to, and to defeat, that other philosophic persuasion which has now taken the field in such alarming force the philosophic persuasion known as anarchy, revolution, and disorder.
As a modest wing of the official Conservative Party in this country, however, the unofficial body of students and thinkers which we propose would have a twofold duty. It would have to stock the ideological arsenal of Conservatism, and at the same time constitute a centre from which all public education in Conservative ideas and doctrines would have to emanate. While it furnished the active politicians with their programmes and their
To discuss the future of Conservatism, or to outline a Conservative programme, without first of all providing for some such auxiliary Conservative institution as we have suggested, would appear to the writer to be riding for a fall, not only more severe than that with which Liberalism has met, but one that would be further aggravated by the discredit that would be bound to pursue a party which, after attaining to power through a righteous deprecation of claptrap and opportunism, found itself compelled to employ those very methods to remain in office.