Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Three Kinds Of Conservatism

George Monbiot writes that there are three kinds of conservatism:

Conservatism takes three main forms. Inclusive conservatism seeks to protect objects of value for the benefit of everyone. These might include great urban vistas, or national parks, or wildlife, or works of art, or great institutions, such as the NHS and the BBC. This is the conservatism governments invoke when a nation goes to war.

Exclusive conservatism, by contrast, resists change that would assist the great majority, on behalf of a privileged elite. This is the form – fighting the universal franchise, workers’ rights, progressive taxation and the welfare state – that has prevailed in the United Kingdom for most of its history.

Then there is a third form, which calls itself conservatism but is nothing of the kind: tearing down everything to clear a path for capital. This is the form that prevails today in Britain, in the United States and across much of the world. Its mission is the destruction of the norms, the values, the institutions, the public properties and the public protections that impede the scope for profit-taking.

The third form of conservatism is presently ensconced in the United States. For ten years, it was ensconced in Ottawa -- and, despite a change of face, it appears to have survived in tact. Now, Monbiot writes, it's laying its foundation in Theresa May's Britain:

The reason is as follows. In converting European law into UK law through the so-called great repeal bill, the government will grant itself the power, as its white paper states, “to correct the statute book where necessary”. “Correcting the statute book” will come to be seen as one of the great political euphemisms of our time.

The corrections will take the form of secondary legislation, which means using something called a statutory instrument. The government estimates that 800 to 1,000 of these instruments will be required – on top of the usual total – and their impact will be profound, as they are dealing with huge issues. In practice, there is almost nothing parliament can do to challenge them. As the Brexit analyst Ian Dunt points out, the bill is “shaping up to be the single biggest executive power grab in Britain’s postwar history”.

That's been the goal for thirty-five years. Neo-liberalism has sought to bypass legislatures. It happened here. It happened in the United States. And it's happening in Britain.



The Mound of Sound said...

A few years ago I tried to work out a model of the political spectrum. I discovered it's circular, not linear. Here's how it works.

Draw a circle. At the dead center bottom write "liberal democracy." At the dead center top write "authoritarianism."

At dead center bottom, on the inside of the circle, write "liberalism." To the immediate left write "socialism." To the immediate right write "conservatism."

As the circle goes up to the right and left, at the 4 and 8 o'clock positions, write "illiberal democracy." At the 2 and 8 o'clock positions write "authoritarianism/plutocracy/autocracy."

What that model illustrates is that conservatism, just like socialism, is inherently a form of liberal democracy. However, as socialism goes further to the left and conservatism goes further to the right, liberal democracy loses purchase and yields, first to illiberal democracy, then to authoritarianism and finally, left and right reach the top, totalitarianism.

Monbiot appears to argue that true conservatism, of the liberal democratic tradition as espoused by Edmund Burke and others, has been supplanted by "exclusive conservatism" of the illiberal democracy style, and may be headed for the 2 O'clock slot - authoritarianism/plutocracy/autocracy. I expect he's probably right.

Dead center bottom is progressive, liberal democracy. We have drifted loose of that mooring ourselves. Harper succeeded in shifting Canada's political centre well to the right of bottom dead center liberal democracy and the others followed in trail, largely abandoning progressivism along the way.

I have argued that progressivism should not be the exclusive preserve of the Left. Read Burke or Lincoln or Roosevelt and you'll find that progressive principles can and should be integral but only to the group Monbiot labels "true conservatives." I don't know they're capable of surviving in a neoliberal political/economic order.

Owen Gray said...

We seem to have forgotten, Mound, that one of our major parties used to call itself the Progressive Conservative Party.

Steve said...

Conservatism is an oxymoron, there is no conserve and no ism, its purely about power. Conservatives believe that an invisible hand dictates, or maybe they dont just like no one believes Jesus mother was a virgin.

Owen Gray said...

Modern conservatives are obsessed by the market, Steve. But the conservatism which Edmund Burke espoused was concerned with much more than economics.

Anonymous said...

I prefer John Stuart Mill's concise and precise definition of Conservatives as people.
Who was it Owen, that noted Conservatism is simply based on Justifying Selfishness.
FYIGM, if you will.

Scotty on Denman said...

One of the problems with defining conservatism these days is that the name has been usurped or misappropriated by essentially non-conservative agencies. It also doesn't help when nominal conservatives evoke history to justify conserving hegemony of wealth and power in a world where frontiers have run out. Ultimately it's perverse to relate conservatism to its opposite: the consumption of the golden egg and the destruction of the goose that laid it.

Harper's so-called "Conservatives" are actually neo-rightists who usurped a Western conservative party that wanted liberation from what it saw as Eastern domination, and who destroyed a Tory party that wanted to stay progressive; with Tories and Reformers displaying such activism, it's small wonder the neo-right could get away with styling itself as a return to true conservative values by preaching that government should be nothing more than a passive arbiter of capitalism. Neo-rightists are anything but conservative.

Real conservatives are communitarian just like socialists---only admitting class distinction---and subscribe to an organic society where every citizen has his or her purpose and place; in contrast, neo-rightists believe in a dog-eat-dog world where those who fall behind because of bad luck are to be discarded along with the indolent, neither warranting social assistance.

While it's true some conservatives espouse "socially conservative" values regarding abortion, gay marriage, and immigration, Harper never made goo his promises to religious-right MPs on his backbench. His insincere "family values" rhetoric illustrated the neo-rightist's cavalier attitude toward supporters whose concerns fall outside purely neo-right sabotage of the public enterprise.

Real conservatives are, like most Canadians, national patriots, and what they defend---and even fight for in foreign lands---is sovereignty; in contrast, the neo-right Harper-Cons disrespected our armed forces in so many ways, both active and veteran servicemen-and-women---who used to count as conservatisms most loyal supporters---were compelled to organize an "Anybody-but-Conservative" movement that surely contributed to the Harper-Cons' demise. Furthermore, the Harper-Cons signed offshore trade deals that undermine our sovereignty in many ways---- the very thing soldiers lay down their lives for---because stateless corporatists need to weaken democratic sovereignty in order to dodge taxes, environmental regulation, and having to pay decent wages.

The most neo-right government left in Canada (I use that moniker because "neo-con" and "neo-liberal" are confusing) is the BC Liberals'. It follows most religiously the basic tactics of the neo-right to destroy public enterprise by: starving public service ministries, sabotaging, crony-parasitizing and intentionally bankrupting of Crown Corps, and signing parasitic offshore trade deals that levy less-than-break-even public resource royalties.

The existential mess neo-right governments worldwide find themselves in (including the Harper-Cons, the BC Liberals, and the Albetarian PCs, the American Republicans, the UK Conservatives, etc.) results partly because real conservatives have stopped supporting them. Where did they go? In Canada they went to the Liberals, NDP and Greens---or they stayed home.

Why don't real conservatives start other parties that conform to true conservative values? Well, they tried in Albetar in the wake of the PCs astounding loss to the NDP, but the neo-rightists cannot allow this to happen, thus the Kenney-fly flew right into the ointment. But there must be a ton of crypto-conservatives out there hiding in other parties. If only an ethical, patriotic, and environmentally responsible conservative party could present itself without being infected by neo-rightists, it'd probably do pretty well---considering natural conservatism has been thoroughly frustrated for the past 20 years.

Owen Gray said...

I believe that was John Kenneth Galbraith, lovingit. And Mill was right when he wrote that not all conservatives are stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives.

Owen Gray said...

Your analysis of the Neo- Right is spot on, Scotty. We are very sloppy these days when we use words. Their meaning doesn't seem to matter much anymore.