Isn't it odd that people can agree upon the facts and yet draw such different conclusions? That's my reaction to Matthew's response to my post on the rationality of crime.
He says that what keeps him honest is social standards; he gets more status for being a law-abiding graduate in a respectable career than he would from being a criminal. He continues:
The breakdown in standards leads, rapidly, to a wider social breakdown as choosing a civilised way of life is then not the rational choice for far too large a body of people. That is why, for all the repressive effects that social mores can have, I respect their vital importance. It is this insight, more than anything, that causes me to describe myself as a conservative these days.
Now, I agree that standards matter. And I agree they have broken down. But I'm not sure this justifies being a small-c conservative. And it certainly doesn't justify being a big-C conservative, in three ways:
1. Conservatism, especially in its Thatcherite form, celebrated greed and wealth, however acquired. To many Conservatives, wealth from inheritances or rising house prices is as much admired as wealth won by hard work or entrepreneurship. If wealth matters more than how it's acquired, then the stigma attached to criminality fades.
2. The individualism which Thatcherism unleashed can easily spill over into narcissism. And that weakens the sympathy which Gracchi rightly recognizes as the basis of secular morality.
3. Managerialism, which Conservatives believe as much as New Labour, favours external goods (money, power) over internal goods (excellence at a practice) to use MacIntyre's distinction; this is why managers see fit to tell professionals and craft workers how to do their jobs. In downgrading internal goods, the respect given to excellence in profession or crafts, managerialism has eroded a major source of social standing, reducing the superiority of teachers or carpenters over criminals.
One could, then, agree with Matthew and yet draw the opposite conclusion to him. What we need to restore social standards is not conservatism, but revolution.