The message of the end of austerity has certainly reached the Center for Policy Studies (CPS). On June 10, the CPS launched Post-Brexit Britain, a new collection of essays edited by George Freeman, written largely by his fellow 2010 MP recruiters. CPS rented the largest room at 1 George Street, a huge hall adorned with gilding and portraits of bearded Victorians, and treated guests not only to decent sandwiches, but also to champagne and scones with cream and strawberries. Several leadership candidates such as Sajid Javid and Dominic Raab made speeches. Penny Mordaunt cackled like a mother hen (I wonder if her decision not to run in this leadership election could prove that she is the most sensitive student in the class of 2010). Mr. Freeman loudly declared that his book gives the party “a new conservatism for a new generation” and the intellectual tools it needs to fight the resurgent far left.
His enthusiasm is infectious. But he asks too much. His book is more like a priest’s egg than a Viagra pill capable of resurrecting a flagging conservative philosophy, not to mention a hand grenade aimed at the headquarters of Corbinism. In his preface, Mr. Freeman rightly argues that the Conservative Party is facing a crisis of the same magnitude as it faced in 1848, 1901, and 1945. to the fact that Thatcherism offers no obvious solution to pressing problems like overcrowded suburban trains. Various participants are also addressing issues that conservatives have shied away from, such as the importance of devolution.
However, much of the book demonstrates how difficult it is for a party to get intellectual refueling while still in government. Matt Hancock’s head of health secretary is startlingly bad: predictable praise for technological innovation, devoid of interesting examples, and written in a string of clichés. (One well-read Tory quipped that the fact that the chapter was so bad proved that it was written by its supposed author and not by an assistant.) The book as a whole is noticeably free from detailed discussion of such topics as social assistance. (the issue that killed the party in the last election) or corporate reform. The Conservative Party as a whole will have to do more than that if it is to make a strong case against the resurgent far-left Labor Party.
Great cover pack this week New statesman to “Closing the Conservative Mind” (with the promise of more!). Robert Saunders argues that the Conservative Party has always been a party of ideas much more than it wants to pretend: its resurgence in the 1940s and especially in the 1980s was due to its willingness to embrace radical new thinking about the basic building blocks of society. . But now, instead of ideas, the party has nothing but the ideology of kamikaze (“Brexit or crash”) and empty faith in markets and technologies (see above). Theresa May was an idea-free zone (compare her to Lord Salisbury or Arthur Balfour). Boris Johnson, her almost certain successor, is no longer an intellectual, despite his ability to quote Latin tags. There are some interesting thinkers in the party, like Jesse Norman and Rory Stewart (both sadly old Etonians), but it’s much more the party of Gavin Williamson, a former fireplace salesman who boasts of a lack of interest in political theory. than a party of these eccentric “reading men”.
The job is well done. But can’t this apply equally well to liberal thinking or Labor thinking – or perhaps to Western thinking in general? The Blair-Cameron-Clinton liberalism that dominated politics in the 1990s and early 2000s has run its course. This liberalism was based on a simple formula: just add social liberalism to economic liberalism and you have the ingredients of a good society. More astute observers of politics have always known that this is too good to be true: Daniel Bell, in his book The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, demonstrated that social liberalism can destroy the moral capital that forms the basis of economic liberalism.
But over the past few years, we have learned that Mr. Bell rather underestimated the contradictions of his position. The biggest problems that most capitalist societies currently face stem from the extremes of both forms of liberalism. The excesses of economic liberalism have given us giant corporations that stifle competition and, in the case of Internet companies, develop a sinister form of surveillance capitalism. The excesses of social liberalism have given us various forms of social breakdown that can be seen in the most extreme manifestations in America: a record number of broken families; an epidemic of drugs, especially opioids; millions of men who have dropped out of the labor force and lead a life of petty crime and binge watching TV. It is unfair to blame only social liberalism for these problems. They have a lot to do with the destruction of manufacturing jobs and the legacy of slavery. But social liberalism clearly has something to do with it: loosening inhibitions on self-destructive behavior leads people to make decisions that, in the long run, may leave them either addicted to drugs or lacking the skills or self-discipline to become productive members of society. A prime example of the collapse of dual liberalism is San Francisco, where hundreds of homeless drug addicts live on the streets, and tech billionaires and would-be billionaires must dodge piles of human feces as they go to the latest sushi craze. compound.
And then there is Labor thinking. The Labor Party responded to the collapse of neoliberalism not by trying to create a new progressive synthesis, but by re-embracing one of the bloodiest ideologies of the 20th century. Jeremy Corbyn, the man who makes Theresa May look like an intellectual, has surrounded himself with hardline Marxists like Andrew Murray and Seamus Milne. pages of David Kot’s book “Companion Travelers”. John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, is undoubtedly one of the smartest men in Parliament, inclined to reinforce his Trotskyism with ideas borrowed from other traditions, especially the cooperative one, and able to use new ideas (such as taking 10% of the shares into state ownership) for old purposes. But the fact that he is such an energetic walker should not hide from us the fact that he is going in the wrong direction and is trying to bring his country off the cliff. As long as this gang is in power, Labor’s mind is not so much closed as dead.
V New statesman the cover more or less coincides with the publication of George Will’s new great work, a 640-page study of conservatism called “Conservative Sensibility” (Mr. Will says he chose “sensibility” over “reason” because “reason” was already occupied by Russell Kirk). The “Conservative Sensibility” – a stream of philosophical reflection on the great American and European conservative traditions – is proof that at least one conservative mind is still open. Mr. Will still surpasses all his rivals in his ability to combine high thinking with a shrewd ability to understand everyday American politics. The reception of the book is also evidence that it was not only conservative minds that were closed: when, as a Princeton graduate, he recently approached a group of Princeton students, these privileged children decided to turn their backs on him for various unknown intellectual sins. But Mr. Will’s book also implicitly supports the thesis of closing the conservative mind: it’s hard to imagine any of today’s embittered young conservatives of the “movement” who would have lasted fifty years in journalism like Mr. Will, and still have enough strength. to, let’s say, release a big book at 78 years old.