Saturday, February 11, 2017

Ben Waite — A battle for the meaning of British Conservatism


There are several types of conservatism. 

There is traditional conservatism that favors an authoritarian state (monarchy), a state religion and an established order as guardians of tradition and custom and bulwarks against innovation and change. This is called Traditionalism. It's chief opponent is Liberalism. Traditionalism is reactionary, and it regards Liberalism as radicalism.

The other type of conservatism is actually an aspect of Liberalism. This sort of conservatism tends to be  economically liberal but politically and socially traditional. This is the conservative-liberal divide in US and UK politics for example.

Within the conservative aspect of Liberalism there are several approaches. One is neoliberalism and the other compassionate conservatism. This article explores this dichotomy in UK politics, specifically the differences in approaches of David Cameron and Theresa May. 

While the Cameron government espoused the neoliberal principals of fiscal consolidation and austerity economically and globalism and open borders politically, the May government has jettisoned that approach in favor of a more inclusive capitalism, declaring the age of Thatcherism over in favor of nationalism and using the power of the state for public purpose including promoting the general welfare. 

The post suggests that instead of abandoning of conservatism, this can be viewed as returning to the policy approach of Benjamin Disraeli's One Nation Toryism.

Longish, but worth the read. Although it is about the UK specifically, the issues are similar in the US. A good summary of conservatism within the Liberal political tradition.

Ben Waite

12 comments:

Random said...

"declaring the age of Thatcherism over"

Hahahaha.

PR. After 'Leave' the government will invite workers from places like Zimbabwe or Burma with little to no rights as "guest workers"/" indentured servants ". The May govt is not really anti-neoliberal in some aspects as even the Trump admin.

Tom Hickey said...

Well, it is still a Tory government after all.

MRW said...

So what's the conservatism that's economically traditional but politically and socially liberal?

Ignacio said...

I read somewhere than half of the immigration in the UK is from outside the EU anyway, they will just be increasing the quota.

@MRW: "neo"liberalism, or liberalism really. If by economically traditional you mean pro-business, pro-wealthy, etc.

If you mean small govt, reduced taxes and not economic interventionism from the govt I guess you could say "libertarianism" (or anarcho-capitalism and similar brands).

MRW said...

Ignacio,

If by economically traditional you mean pro-business, pro-wealthy, etc.

No. I mean earn a living, send the kids to school, save enough for retirement. Nothing grand.

blissex said...

I don't like the contrast between «Traditionalism. It's chief opponent is Liberalism» because it is based on Corey Robin's analysis which is very american and in particular clintonite: its aim is to show that conservativism is based on reaction to emancipation. If that is true then "liberalism" means both "free" markets and fight against discrimination, because "free" markets deliver just deserts if there is no discrimination. Which argument is the basis of New Labour and New Democrat "identity politics" in the UK and the USA.

My take is rather different: that conservativism is about the defence of incumbency, whichever incumbency (it is not ideological). Whether it is incumbency in property ownership and social order (tories), or incumbency in business ownership and financial power (whigs).

T May is more on the tory side of the spectrum, and G Osborne is more on the whig side of the spectrum, but both are primarily about defending the benefits of incumbency. And the benefit of incumbency has been for a thousand years the primary cultural value of England.

Since the defence of incumbency is a non-ideological aim, whichever tactic goes. So for example in the past 30-40 years Conservatives and New Labour have bestowed a sliver of the benefits of incumbency on small property owners in the southern England, reaping their support.

So currently all T May is doing is to talk, and it is for now just talk, about redistributing a very tiny sliver of the benefits of incumbency to "native" voters. The problem is that it is not clear from whom it is going to be redistributed. The benefits of incumbency in southern England property have been based on colossal redistribution from renters everywhere and from property owners in the north. But those are precisely the categories that should be gifted that tiny sliver of incumbency. The only obvious solution is to create an "apartheid" state where the benefits of incumbency for "native" workers are extracted from the low pay no rights long hours work of indentured immigrants like say in the persian gulf states, but that works well only when the "native" worker population is small.

So my expectation is that T May will keep just talking about "one nation" conservativism to appease with words the "native" workers, and perhaps will find some mostly symbolic, mostly status based, way to make them feel more like incumbents.

blissex said...

«the government will invite workers from places like Zimbabwe or Burma with little to no rights as "guest workers"/"indentured servants"»

That's my expectation and also the expectation of a private equity fund manager:

www.ibtimes.co.uk/buyout-boss-says-brexit-will-be-good-his-business-will-mean-30-cut-uk-wages-1602631
«One of the biggest names in European private equity said that Brexit will be good for his business, but will mean a 30% wage reduction for UK workers.
... He added that EU immigration will be replaced with workers from the Indian subcontinent and Africa, willing to accept "substantially" lower pay.»

But the numbers will not be large enough to pay for substantial improvements to "native" workers.

Bob said...

So what's the conservatism that's economically traditional but politically and socially liberal?

American libertarianism. Anti-state means keeping the government out of people's personal lives. As you might imagine, this upsets religious folks.

Matt Franko said...

"currently all T May is doing is to talk, and it is for now just talk,"

That's all any of them can do if they think we are "out of money!"... odds are it is going to effectively stay all talk...

Tom Hickey said...

So what's the conservatism that's economically traditional but politically and socially liberal?

Clinton's New Democrats, which is a center-right party.

Random said...

I mean its pretty amazing how they only gave tiny concessions after the election of Corbyn *and* the Brexit vote. The establishment is pretty entrenched here in the UK and its not going away any time soon.

Schofield said...

May's One-Nation Conservatism? All spin! Still believes the government should run its accounts like a household and back-pedalled on pushing for worker representation on company boards.