In many ways, I am a ‘small-c’ conservative. I am fairly skeptical of utopian social engineering. I recognise the importance to human well-being of rootedness, tradition, locality, family and (to many) faith. I believe that history and culture must be valued and recognised, not ignored (or, at the other extreme, idolised), and that the traditional social fabric and social morality have an important role in sustaining the good life. I have a mostly Aristotelian and organic view of society, that opposes with equal vigour both the centralism associated with certain forms of socialism, and the atomistic rational-egoist individualism of liberalism.
I’m quite culturally and aesthetically conservative too, with a penchant for real ale, folk and sacred music, gothic architecture, and old books. I’m somewhat (although not completely) suspicious of new technologies, and I’d rate an Amish craftsman, who can make things with his hands, above the likes of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs any day. I’m a bit of an amateur medievalist and I reject the pervasive modernism that thinks the past is to be forgotten rather than learned from.
But none of this makes be a Conservative (in the sense that is now meant) politically and economically. Conservatism of the sort peddled since the Thatcher era is utterly corrosive of the good society. It is nothing more than doctrinaire neo-liberalism put into the service of a rapacious, selfish, greedy oligarchy. Nothing destroys society faster, or is more harmful to the good life, than that.
If we had a moderate, centrist Christian Democratic party – one that embraced the major aspects of Christian Social Teaching within the framework of a mixed, regulated, social-market economy, and that took seriously its duties of full employment, social justice, subsidiarity, environmental stewardship, and peace – then I wouldn’t need to be such a ‘raving lefty’. I’m only on the left because the political spectrum has veered so far to the neo-liberal oligarchic and imperialist right.
Likewise, I wouldn’t need to be such a red-bonnetted ‘Tom Paine’, if only we had a decent written constitution (broadly comparable to the constitutions of most other Northern European countries). Such a constitution, founded upon ‘common right and freedom’, would enable our country and our communities to democratically manage themselves for the common good, while protecting the rights that are essential to an open society and to human dignity.
Unfortunately, however, we are not in that position. We are stuck with a grossly oligarchic political and economic system, which, according to its corrupt nature, has no regard for social justice, democracy, or the environment, and which uses its hegemonic power to maintain itself for the benefit of a rich and privileged few. I cannot be content or complacent to live in a society where the lives of so many are scarred by inequality, exclusion, poverty and insecurity.
So, in opposing that oligarchy, I am compelled (in my own small-c conservative, warm beer, village green way) to take my stand on the left. This is not, however, the ineffective ‘Guardianista‘ left of individualist, bourgeois liberalism, with its petty symbolic obsessions, its hotch-potch philosophy of Hobbes and Bentham, and its self-defeating mantra of ‘more choice’. We’ve been there and seen that doesn’t get us anywhere. Although most of those Guardianistas would probably regard me as socially conservative and maybe a bit of a traditionalist dinosaur (I don’t even like much modern art), what I have in mind is much more radical than anything they can imagine.
The left I embrace is a Christian left, perhaps even an ‘Aristotelian-Thomist’ left: a type of left-wing radical politics that says ‘there is such as thing as society’, there is such a thing as the common good, and there is such a thing as ‘righteousness’ in economic life and in politics. It is that righteousness for which I hunger and thirst. Achieving that righteousness embraces political action through democratic means (works of justice) with social action (works of charity), and roots both in a community through which faith, hope and love are sustained. That’s my vision.
(Vive le révolution! Aux barricades, citoyens! And all that.)