Typos — p. 5: write [= wrote]; explaned [= explained]; p. 6: briliant [= brilliant]

Britain's Conservative statesmen

Anthony M. Ludovici

The South African Observer 1.4, 1955, pp. 5–6

- p. 5 -
Owing to the insistence with which bewildered supporters of the Right in England and elsewhere are asking why the Party which calls itself "Conservative" so constantly emulates the Socialists and cuts the ground from under their feet by forestalling them in Leftish innovations, it seems necessary to add a few remarks to the article I write for this journal in June.
        That people should be asking this question at all shows that in the minds of not a few staunch Conservatives like myself, considerable doubt has lately arisen concerning the justice of the claim made by recent Conservative Governments to be in any respect the exponents of a Conservative political philosophy.

Conservative sloth and ignorance

        But it is impossible to understand the conspicuous deviations of Conservative politicians from the traditional philosophy of the Right unless we are aware of the Party's fundamental and inveterate shortcomings. For many decades now, these have been due to the fact that in the "upper" social levels from which the Party's leading recruits and administrative officers have been drawn, the distinguishing and one might say "specific" vices have always been sloth and ignorance.
        Too comfortable to see any urgency about enhancing their reputation in the country; too well fed, housed and clothed to be driven by misery to scan the horizon anxiously for competent pilots and navigators of the ship of State, and too uncritically loyal to old school, college and Parliamentary associates to exercise stern discipline over their friends in Office, or to exact from them a minimum standard of brain-power, efficiency and even information, Conservative administrations have for generations been so lacking in political wisdom, prescience and ability, and so defective in their grasp of their Party's history, doctrines and functions, that had a large section of the population, chiefly in the commercial, industrial and propertied classes, not believed that their bank-balances and other assets were better safeguarded by a Party ostensibly hostile to Socialism than by one professedly wedded to it, they would have been swept from the political scene long ago.
        To scrape through the responsibilities of Office with the least possible effort and the smallest sacrifice of their sports, comfort and leisure; to achieve political prominence with the minimum strain on their energy, memory and thought, and to oppose their political rivals without too much exhausting originality and initiative — with such ideals, brilliantly constructive Tory policies could hardly to be expected of them. As I have already explaned, they had to have recourse to the Left in order to frame any policies whatsoever.

Their dread of intellect

        Their ignorance and indolence are thus as much a matter of tradition as their dread of intellect. Even their most famous nineteenth century leader, Disraeli, was repeatedly guilty of a sin which above all betrays the idler — to wit, Plagiarism. For he had quite enough personal ability to be independent of other people's brains. Yet his unacknowledged filchings from various predecessors and contemporaries argues a characteristic endowment of sloth.
        We know, for instance, that in many of his political utterances and attitudes he was more than "inspired" by Bolingbroke, whilst in his literary work and oratory he did not scruple, for example, to "lift" the idea and actual words of his "two nations" from Heine (WILLIAM RATCLIFFE, 1821, Sc. 6); and his pompous funeral oration on the Duke of Wellington in the Commons in 1852, was taken word for word from Thiers' panegyric on Marshal Gouvion de St. Cyr, which had been published in a French periodical. He could, of course, stake on this not being discovered by any of his listeners, and had the GLOBE not pointed it out, they and the British public would never have known about it.
        A more recent Conservative statesman, A. J. Balfour, was notorious for his indolence, and I remember a certain luncheon party in the "twenties" at which his private secretary revealed very much the same infirmity. We were advocating a return of his master, Balfour, to power. "God forbid!" he exclaimed with great feeling. "That would ruin my hunting." This is typical of the frame of mind of the Party in general. Sport was their serious concern. Politics was a tiresome corvée, the "white man's burden" of their class.

Ignorance of political economy

        Nor is the tradition of ignorance any less evident. The elder Pitt admitted that the only history of England he had ever read was Shakespeare. Fox is alleged to have "led the Opposition in utter ignorance of political economy," and Sheridan to have "failed of the Chancellorship of the Exchequer only because he could not master the mystery of fractions." Carlyle reported an incident which suggests that the politicians of mid-Victorian England were no better. He told Thomas Woolner that at a nobleman's house "where were collected some of the chief lawyers and statesmen of the land, not one of these distinguished persons had ever heard of the battle of Chesme in 1770, in which Anglo-Russian forces had annihilated the Turkish fleet and Constantinople was laid bare." Of a prominent modern statesman, Viscount Mersey relates: "Gerald Balfour told me that it was to him the Duke of Devonshire had said, after a Cabinet on Far Eastern Affairs, 'Where is this place, Manchuria?' and Gerald Balfour added that the Duke was a man of limited education and information."
        Significant testimony to the same effect is given by A. J. Balfour himself in a letter to Lady Elcho (4.1.1896), where he says, "I dined with the Duchess of Manchester. I mentioned incidentally that I had seen H.S. (Herbert Spencer). She had never heard of him." This example certainly relates to a female member of the ruling caste. But when we reflect that her ignorance implies that in the circles she frequented she could never have heard anyone refer to England's greatest thinker of the day, the revelation is significant.

- p. 6 -
        Even of Balfour himself, the most briliant woman of the Age — Beatrice Webb — observed that he was "not a strong intellect and deficient in knowledge," a remark reminiscent of Lord Morley who said: "Balfour's mind is barren and unfruitful soil." Whilst the same lady, who was the Minerva of the Fabian Society, said of the Duke of Northumberland in 1906, that he was "just a stupid, commonplace Englishman — made much stupider and more commonplace by his lifelong entombment in the magnificence of the Percys of Northumberland."
        Objection may be raised to my mentioning Fox among the ignoramuses, because he was not a Tory but a Whig. Yes, but he came from the same ruler caste whose descendants today furnish the Conservative Party with the majority of their prominent politicians, and in this sense my inclusion of him is relevant.

Want of sense and reason

        In short, from Lord Brougham, who in 1835, said of the English ruling caste, "The want of sense and reason which prevails in these circles is wholly inconceivable," to Mr. T. C. Worsley who, 105 years later, speaking of the Public Schools that rear the bulk of the recruits to the Conservative Party, said: "the result has been to saddle the nation with a body of leaders whose understanding of the world they live in is hopelessly inadequate," and who added that this same body of men "have landed us in the present mess" (meaning the state of England just before World War II), the verdict is always the same. Nor can it be said that Mr. Worsley's treatise (BARBARIANS AND PHILISTINES, London, 1940), where these strictures appear, is in any respect unduly biased.
        Thus, when earnest Conservatives outside politics anxiously ask how it is that the politicians of their Party so seldom display a sagacity and resource equal to that of their opponents of the Left, perhaps the above necessarily brief and limited outline of the causes accounting for the anomaly may help to answer their question.