Typos p. 6: politican [= politician] p. 6: Revolutionairies [= Revolutionaries]; p. 7: undiciplined [= undisciplined]
In defence of Conservatism
Anthony M. Ludovici
The South African Observer 1.2, 1955, pp. 57
- p. 5 -
In other words, they should exercise that wise caution and hesitation in reform, which is inspired by a proper and tender regard for traditional usages and practices throughout the nation.
Superficial statesmen and politicians always too plentifully represented in every Reform, Radical or Revolutionary Party constantly make the mistake of assuming that if a well-tried and old-established institution begins to reveal serious flaws, the fault must inevitably lie with the institution itself and not with the men trying to run it.
Consequently, the facile remedy such men invariably seek is that of scrapping the institution altogether and replacing it by some new-fangled untried contraption, hastily contrived, which is then with infantile naivete handed over to the very same generation of men who have made a mess of the scrapped edifice.
At bottom, this policy amounts to attempting to correct the faulty and incompetent driving of a car by tinkering with its mechanisms and structure, instead of improving the driver.
And yet, as a thinker like Röpke has abundantly shown, if the modern Western world now lurches forward in chaos, it is due precisely to this reckless destruction of venerable institutions and their hasty replacement by extemporally devised half-baked innovations, all quite untested by time, whose only virtue is their sparkling chromium-plated newness, and of which Mankind can have had no experience.
Compared with a policy of this kind, which is steadily dismantling our civilization in every branch of its activities, from married life to the education and character-formation of our children, the ideal policy of Conservatism, as briefly summarized above, is the acme of human wisdom; and to rail against it as an essentially reactionary attitude, one must be nothing but a thoughtless demagogue, confident that he has only an audience of nit-wits before him.
But and here we have to utter an important warning if Conservatism is not to degenerate into a policy of torpid obstruction, the true Conservative must be concerned above all with the maintenance of his nation's psycho-physical quality; for, if he fails in this sphere, he abandons the institutions he would fain preserve to the mercy of a generation which, with a stature inferior to that of the men who founded those institutions, are bound to bring them into disrepute and thus give the slap-dash Radical the chance he prays for, to foist his half-baked measures on his fellow-men.
Collapse of competent leadership
To say that in England the old Conservative Party was utterly oblivious of this aspect of their political function, would he merely to sum up in a sentence one of the fundamental causes of the collapse of competent leadership in this country. For, ever since the dawn of their existence, back in the 17th Century, they have not only consistently neglected this essential task, but have also aggravated their difficulties by not even caring about the psycho-physical quality of the men and women of their own persuasion, including, of course, their ruling aristocracy.
Disraeli had told them that "A great statesman's first thought must bo for the health of the people". If only he had added, "and first and foremost the health of the ruling caste", he would have displayed greater wisdom, and the rest of the desiderata would have followed as the night the day.
Unfortunately, besides showing themselves incapable of even this elementary self-preservative caution, they sinned deplorably in leaving the framing and improvising of sound Conservative measures and policies to their executive members, already sufficiently preoccupied with the routine business of their offices and their work in the Commons. Thus they committed their Party to what inspiration the exigencies of the moment might offer, and to a consequent opportunism which remained unchecked by any conscientious research.
Instead of garnering and exploiting the strength of what Right thinkers and philosophers soever might be distributed over the country, and resorting to them for the help in constructive thinking which their leaders so badly needed, they left to their implacable opponents the brilliant plan of founding an independent thinking body, which could feed the active members of the Left with fruitful ideas and policies. It was thus that the Fabian Society came into being as the intellectual citadel of the Socialist Party, which it led to Office and to Power.
But the unquenchable arrogance of the Conservative leaders which induced them to omit to organize a thinking body of the Right, proved more disastrous than merely to deprive them of sound Conservative ideas and policies. It actually led even those at the spear-head of the Party, secretly or surreptitiously, to try to gather some of the crumbs that fell from the Fabian Society's table.
Inevitably, and with ever increasing regularity, they began to beg at the back-door of the only Party in the land that had any ideas and constructive proposals, and thus insensibly became slavish imitators of the Left.
This charge can be proved by the most cursory perusal of the biographies and memoirs of the last hundred years. It is notorious, for instance, that men like Arthur and Gerald Balfour, Churchill, Lyttelton and many others, used, unbeknown to their supporters, to sit at the feet of Beatrice Webb to obtain her advice and guidance. "Every politican one meets", she declared, "wants to be coached . . . all alike have become mendicants for practical proposals". (OUR PARTNERSHIP, p. 402.)
The consequence was that, instead of a consistent, constructive and independent policy and programme, which would have been able, on its own merits, to challenge and oppose the popular window-dressing of the Left, the Conservatives found themselves more and more committed to an undignified competition with their opponents in promoting purely Leftish plans.
Even as late as 1922, the Duke of Northumberland saw only the aggravation of these bankrupt tactics. "Conservative ideals", he said, "are no doubt cherished by a very large number of people; but they are not at present represented by any political party".
Then, of the Conservative Party of his day, he declared: "It assented to the inauguration of a system of State Socialism, to unexampled Government extravagance, to wild promises which could not be fulfilled, to continual surrender to the demands of powerful trade unions dominated by a caucus of Revolutionairies, to a compact with the Russian Soviet, to a foreign policy which offended our Allies, etc.", and he added: "It acquiesced without murmur in the Franchise Bill of 1917 which doubled the Electorate . . . although it was utterly opposed to every principle of Conservatism".
True, this tendency to borrow from the Left and to compete with it by means of Leftish weapons, had been displayed long before Balfour and Churchill had been heard of; for, owing to their indolence and self-confidence, the Right, under Lord Derby had already lighted on the bright idea of cutting the ground under Gladstone's feet by introducing a Reform Bill. And when certain Tories protested that this showed a lack of principle, all they heard was that the Party had already been too long out of power and must secure patronage.
Now this policy of trying to defeat your opponents and rivals by imitating them and filching their ideas might be justified as between manufacturers, retailers or even caterers, but when it is pursued by two allegedly opposed political parties, one of which pretended to stand for the Conservation of all that was institutionally precious in the nation, it is catastrophic. For, in the end, it can culminate only in driving the more radical and more socialistic party to ever greater extremes of Leftish policy, in order still to have something fresh to offer to its supporters, which its opponents, the Conservatives, had not yet filched.
This explains the precipitous decline in the Communistic direction of all public measures recently passed in England.
It explains, moreover, the undisguised drive towards complete Communism in one wing of the Labour Party a drive which, at bottom, is being forced on the more ambitious and restless Labour Members in their endeavour to shake off the Socialistic Conservative who is always close on their heels.
In this way i.e., through their indolence, ideological bankruptcy and inability to devise independent constructive policies consistent with the true traditions of the Right the Conservatives have really been the instigators of the very extremes in the Labour Party's plans and outlook, which they most heartily deplore and which make them most apprehensive for the nation's future.
Well may they cry, "mea culpa; mea maxima, culpa!" for, had they been more scrupulous and less unabashed in their thefts from the armoury and General Staff of their opponents, the latter would not have been driven to extremes and the country would not now be faced on all sides with the threat of Communist innovations. Thus, although the philosophic attitude of Conservatism is at bottom quite unassailable and, when soundly
Untrained Corps de Ballet
For, unless a vacuum can be called a substance, no such complete renunciation of political duty, intellectual application, independent judgment and original and constructive thinking, as marks the attitude of Conservatives for the last hundred years, could possibly entitle those who have adopted it to call themselves a political party at all.
They were at best a body of lazy opportunists, an undiciplined and untrained corps de ballet, able to scrape through their daily evolutions under the eye of the nation, only by closely copying the actions and performance of their more alert and better equipped competitors.