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February 05, 2013


Ed Rooksby

"That the conservative disposition should have deserted them on these issues makes me fear that they are not coherent thinkers but merely bigots who hate people who are not like themselves, such as gays and workers."

Not sure if you're playing faux-niaf here, but I think Corey Robin (and Honderich) are right about the basis on which the conservative disposition pivots - which is a fundamental commitment to the defence of certain privileges.


I think you're being too generous. Moore's comment piece on this (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-politics/9842384/This-Equality-obsession-is-mad-bad-and-very-dangerous.html) is rationalistic, not suspicious of the power of reason. His case rests on a definition of "nature" - "It reminds me of the moment when, in trendy Islington in the 1980s, I was summoned by the health authority for a cervical smear. Some things just cannot be done." Gay marriage cannot be done because there can be no procreative act: "The drafters have belatedly realised that, since there is no procreative act which defines homosexual behaviour, there can be no consummation, or non-consummation, and no adultery."

It's like reading Thomas Aquinas: marriage can only be if there is a pro-creative act, and as this is impossible between gay people, there can be no marriage. He doesn't see marriage as a changing institution which satisfies different human needs. It's a natural law argument, not Tory traditionalism.

Shane Taylor

Actually, Corey Robin's argument may be at its weakest when it comes to Michael Oakeshott. Back when Robin debated Daniel Larison, I found Larison's defense of Oakeshott compelling:


Larison has set himself apart from most American Republicans as far more coherent in this regard, because he is genuinely sceptical of rationalist hubris in foreign policy.


I'm a massive fan of this blog, absolutely amazing.

Something I've been wanting to ask for a while, and I'd really like to hear what Chris or anyone else thinks, relates to this post and the broader talk of psychology and irrationality.

I'm not sure what the 'cognitive biases programme' is that Chris is referring to exactly, but these biases are brought up quite regularly on here. I think they are extremely powerful ways to understand what people harbour the beliefs they do, act the way they do, and also how these are barriers to creating a better society.

My question is this - are these innate, inescapable biases, as I sometimes think is implied here. Or can they be overcome through their understanding and acknowledgement (is Chris swayed by the just world illusion, for example)? Could it be possible that these, like most of our tendencies, are socialised or socially constructed even?

I'm not a great one for static notions of human nature - these usually arise from (I'm grossly simplifying) maintenance of power. So I just want to say that I think although these biases exist and are important, we are not holden to them and we can be (and I think this is the correct word) freed from them.

I share the scepticism of total worship of rationality (like humans could ever be capable of such a thing....thankfully), but would love to hear whether there's a 'pygmalion effect' of people just accepting such weaknesses as permanent and insoluble.


I think this particular issue does no favours for Corey Robin's view that reaction is essentially the defence of privilege, as the gain for gay couples does not entail a corresponding loss for straight couples (at least outside the psychic realm).

But I'm also not convinced that Moore et al are simply fighting the anti-enlightenment cause against pro-enlightenment neoliberals. Gay marriage seems a strange battleground to choose, given that the "progressive" argument concerns extending an essentially conservative institution, a point Cameron has repeatedly made.

This looks like a bigotry that dare not speak its name.

alastair harris

Moore's mistake was to come up against the power of the BBC. Humphrey's should be ashamed of himself.

Marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Some might not like this, but genitals are very relevant - without consumation there is no marriage. But I guess at some point we will reach the logical conclusion - homosexuality will become compulsory.


Marriage mostly used to be a matter of a man and a woman swearing that they were married in front of witnesses. Then the Church took over. Consummation hardly came into it, except of course as being permissible after marriage, not before.

Wait a minute, is Alastair Harris a poe?


Trades unions and the NHS are relatively recent phenomena - on any timescale that a true conservative would recognize, the NHS and the welfare state are no more than Johnny-come-latelys.


Scruton and Blond put forward a much more convincing Tory defence of marriage traditionally conceived than does Moore:


It's also a much more nuanced argument than most that have been aired recently regarding the matter.


Marriage is just one form of the non-casual union of a man and a woman, on a spectrum that ranges from slave concubinage through an open relationship. The essential characteristics of marriage concern property, not genitals.

Whether it's a handfast or a church ceremony, the marriage act has always been a public statement of property rights: ownership of the woman as sexual property; the rights of her offspring to inherit; and the transfer of property from her father (either a dowry or the entire estate should the woman be sole heir).

Though non-consumation was traditionally regarded as grounds for annulment, this was rarely invoked unless there was a clear threat to property. Marriages of convenience were tacitly accepted and women were under social pressure not to make a fuss (on the grounds that they shouldn't like sex anyway).

Going back to Chris's citation of Norm: there are rational arguments against homosexual marriage; they just happen to be the same rational arguments against heterosexual marriage.


From a certain angle, the conservatives are acting liberal and liberals are acting conservative. The conservatives are effectively saying, 'You do what like, just keep it private.' The liberals are saying, 'Tradition is good; all people should have access to it.' In a way, the conservative isn't just afraid of reason, they're afraid of desire (both subversive); tradition tells us what we should do, it stops us from thinking about what we want to do; the conservative doesn't want too many options. I doubt that the conservative disposition is going anywhere: Skyfall is the highest-grossing film of all time in the UK.


An excellent post, as usual.

@ Alex: on the ‘cognitive biases programme’, you might want to grab a copy of the collection of texts edited by Kahneman, Slovic and Tversky, titled “Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases.”

Another way to reach the conclusion that we should not trust our anticipations of the future is to side with Hayek and his ‘epistemic impossibility’ argument about economic planning.


I find it strange that many of the same Conservatives who 'want the State to get off people's backs' nonetheless believe that the State should decide who can't and can't marry.

Further, I find it strange that many of the same Conservatives who believe that 'marriage is the cornerstone of social cohesion' should seek to prevent more people from marrying.

More couples divorce every year than will ever seek gay marriages. Perhaps Conservatives' time would be better spent addressing marital breakdown?

gastro george

"Perhaps Conservatives' time would be better spent addressing marital breakdown?"

Isn't there a strand that wants to make it more difficult to divorce? Add in Gove's back-to-the-fifties mania and it's like the last 50 years never happened - which I suppose is true for many Tories.


Is true.
The total change is always more extensive than the change designed; and the whole of what is entailed can neither be foreseen nor circumscribed.


"Moore's mistake was to come up against the power of the BBC. Humphrey's should be ashamed of himself.

Marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Some might not like this, but genitals are very relevant - without consumation there is no marriage. But I guess at some point we will reach the logical conclusion - homosexuality will become compulsory." alastair harris.

No. Rubbish. Marriage is a Romantic union based on free choice. Some people who marry may want to raise children; that is their choice. Infertile couples should be banned from marrying on that theory or the elderly. Why does this simple matter produce intellectual incoherence? Nor is being Gay going to be compulsary as a result!! Why is the world full of idiots?


And Chris you need to give up taking Tories so seriously. Conservatives have no ideas; that's why they are conservatives, they oppose every plan for reform or improvement in society maintaining it has some unexplained sinister connotation.Then after a delay they claim they believed in it all along.


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Charles Moore is yet another blinkered Christian who objects to equal Human Rights for everyone, but who thinks Christians should be granted every right and freedom that they demand for themselves. It is hard to contemplate a more blatant example of pure arrogance.

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