« Galloway: psychologically ill? | Main | Commemorating Elvis »

January 06, 2006



This seems to echo the obvious philosophical confusion in Anthony Browne's pamphlet on political correctness.

What we have at Civitas seems to be a bunch of died-in-the-wool Tories trying to sell themselves and their agenda as being Libertarian without really understanding what that actually means. It's philosophy straight from the pick 'n mix counter - Browne's at the same game, namechecking Voltaire and quoting Jefferson to cover up the fact that he's just a reactionary old git.


First, in defence of David Green. So far as I'm aware he wouldn't classify himself a Tory - he used to be a Labour councillor if you go back to the early 1980s, in fact. Further, for most of the past ten years (certainly since his IEA pamphlet "Reinventing Civil Society") he has always referred to himself as a classical liberal rather than a libertarian, and has attacked libertarianism on several grounds.

Second, to Chris's taking issue with Green's suggestion (shock, horror) that some Millians existed within the Tory Party. The quote from Green's article is far less outrageous when said in full, with this bit included:

"...when the old Liberal Party collapsed in the 20th century. They picture society as a self-governing community reliant on the qualities of its individual members."

This is pretty much true. The collapse of the Liberal Party after World War I, and especially its role in the National Government, led most old-fashioned liberals to end up in the Tory Party. In fact, even more, quite a few new-fashioned liberals ended up in the Tory Party - Stanley Baldwin was quite a fan of New Liberal thinking. The standout British conservative political theorist of the 20th century, Michael Oakeshott, was very much a liberal as you would expect from a philosopher in the British Idealist tradition.

For this reason, it is hardly unsurprising that being liberal (primarily on economics) became quite a thing in Toryism as it most definitely hadn't been before the 20th century. In the 19th century, the Tory Party was the party against laissez-faire and unbridled free trade and free markets, after all. From the 1970s to the 1990s it proselytised massively for them.

Now, 'tis true that any Millian tendency rests on a partial reading of Mill. But then that's hardly confined to Tory Millians, is it? After all, most of Mill's Leftist fans don't like it when he said stuff like (e.g.):

"There are... conditions of society in which a vigorous despotism is in itself the best mode of government for training the people in what is specifically wanting to render them capable of a higher civilization."

Not that this matters too much to me, as I'm not a great fan of Mill (it's all very quaint Victoriana...). And on the whole, I think Tories who do see themselves as Millians are buying into a philosophy that is inherently antithetical to conservative goals. But it's beyond question that the Tory Party carried some of the Millian legacy through the 20th century, for better and worse.

(Incidentally, the point about female suffrage is silly: liberals were well against it too, at the time. It's been a while since Tories have been against it - especially as we were the ones that equalled the female voting age in the 1920s. It's a bit like saying US Democrats can't be nice about Frederick Douglass because they used to favour slavery.)


Ho hum: the Ku Klux Klan were for Women's suffrage. And a right bunch of Old Labour types they were.

The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Blog powered by Typepad