Whatever happened to good, genuine conservatism? I'm prompted to ask by a post by Ben Cobley. He says that a debate about immigration which focuses only upon economics misses the point - that immigration also matters because it challenges our sense of home and community.
In this, Ben is echoing Oakeshott (pdf):
To be conservative...is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried...Familiar relationships and loyalties will be prefered to the alure of more profitable attachments...Change is a threat to identity, and every change in an emblem of extinction.
Such a sentiment isn't wholly absurd. There's some - albeit mixed (pdf) - evidence that immigration (pdf) can undermine some types of social capital, at least in the short-run and when it occurs against a background of deprivation (pdf) and inequality.
However, the most vocal Tory critics of immigration don't seem to take this Oakeshottian communitarian line. Instead, they seem to prefer to challenge the economic evidence which shows (pdf) that immigration is - for the most part - a net (pdf) economic benefit.
And here's the paradox. Oakeshottian sentiments are, I suspect, far more common on the left than the right. Elegies for lost working-class communities, for example, are more Oakeshottian than much of what we hear on the right, and Ben himself is writing from a leftist perspective.
Hence my question: why did the conservative dispostion fade on the right?
Perhaps it hasn't, and I'm a victim of the selection bias: shrill overconfident hysteria makes itself heard above quiet melancholia - a process amplified by the media selecting voices for controversy rather than truth-value.
If it has, what went wrong? I would blame - but then I would! - the capture of the Tory party by managerialists and the rise of an egomaniac culture which prefers to parade overconfident ignorance rather than gentle scepticism.
Whatever the reason, Ben's lament about the state of the immigration debate tells us something not just about immigration but about the decline of a reasonable and sometimes valuable sentiment.