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"An Englishman Looks at American Conservatism in the New Century"
 

 

by  Roger Scruton*        

*Roger Scruton is England’s most prominent conservative philosopher. He is the author of over thirty books, including The West and the Rest, England: An Elegy, and An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture. He gave this address at a dinner sponsored by The Howard Center on May 1, 2004, in Chicago, Illinois, held in conjunction with the 40th Anniversary Meeting of The Philadelphia Society.

As English conservatives go, I am an oddball. My conservative philosophy is a conscious product of youth and early manhood. It evolved in reaction to May 1968 in France. It bears the mark of a continental movement, and is as rooted in high culture and highbrow books as the mumbo-jumbo of Foucault, Althusser and Sartre. Indeed, my conservatism is intelligible only as an English reaction to continental posturing. It was not rooted in the secure patrimony of the English ruling class, in the quiet common sense of the old English constitution or in any of those plain-man unassuming practices that are, in the life of an English Tory, a handy substitute for thinking.

However, as I began to familiarise myself with the literature of conservatism I came to see that my situation was by no means a novel one, and had indeed been the exact position of Burke, who was stunned into articulating his beliefs as I was, by a revolution in France. And Burke's response was imbued with the philosophical high-mindedness of the people he criticised. He gave a philosophical defence of the English settlement, against the unsettling effects of philosophy. He saw no greater danger in the French revolution than the presumption that reasonable politics must be generated by rational thought. And by a tour-de-force of rational thought he justified the kind of politics that rational thought (he believed) puts in jeopardy.

There is, therefore, a kind of paradox at the heart of Burke's conservatism, and it is one that endures to this day. Conservatives in the British tradition are heir to an island culture, in which custom prevails over reason as the final court of appeal. Their political process is governed by an unwritten constitution, whose principles are themselves a matter of custom rather than explicit rules. When interrogated as to the justice or reasonableness of any particular part of their inheritance - be it the common law, the monarchy, the nature and workings of Parliament, the Anglican church and its non-conformist offshoots - they tend either to shrug their shoulders, asserting that this is how things are because this is how they were, or else to take refuge in irony and self-mockery, confessing to the absurdity of a system whose principal merit is that nobody knows why it exists, and hence nobody knows quite why it shouldn’t.

At the same time British conservatives are aware of the constant pressure of questions raised about their inheritance. The policy of accepting inherited customs and institutions as bedrock seemed reasonable enough in Burke's day, when the mass of citizens was not in a position to question them. But in a media-dominated democracy, in which affluence breeds choice, and choice breeds doubt, the questions proliferate, and conservatives must contrive either to avoid them, or to address them in the language of mass-communication. But the language of mass-communication falls far short of the target. How can you justify the common law, for example - that intricate institution whereby law emerges from the conflicts that it resolves, rather than from the decisions of a sovereign power - in the language of the TV sitcom? How can you persuade ordinary democratic man of the merits of the hereditary principle (as Burke called it), which seems to confer privileges on people who have never earned them, and to deny rewards to others who give of their best? It is scarcely surprising, in the light of that, if British conservatives have on the whole preferred to avoid discussion of their doctrines, and to get on with the business of conserving things, even while pretending, like Margaret Thatcher, that they are following a progressive and 'modernising' agenda.

One great difference between British and American conservatism lies here, in the comparative willingness of Americans to discuss what they believe and to put down a case in defence of it. British and American conservatism began life in the same way, as attempts to vindicate an inheritance of customary law against radical innovation. But the American response was to adopt as much of the Enlightenment as seemed compatible with the social and political inheritance, and in the course of doing so to make the fundamental principles of American politics explicit. Hence the discussions of the Philadelphia Convention, the extraordinary philosophical exchanges among the Founding Fathers, and - as the culminating expression of the American idea - the written Constitution, with its philosophical underpinning and its Bill of Rights. British conservatives of the Burkean school are loath to make anything too explicit, for fear of exposing it to attack, and loath to define the rights of the subject for fear of encouraging those who wish to take those rights away. American optimism, the open space of early American society, and the need to communicate over what were then vast distances gave American conservatives confidence in the objectivity of the written word and the rightness of rational argument. A constitution hidden behind the customs that it authorises seemed, to many of them, like an underhand trick, a form of dishonest dealing. The true American way was to be open, honest and answerable. And this meant being prepared to discuss your beliefs and to change them under rational pressure.

One of the most striking things about American conservatism today therefore is its willingness to define itself, to engage in debate, and to cultivate the intellectual and cultural dimensions of the conservative worldview. American conservatives want to ‘win the battle of ideas’, and to that end will found and join networks, associations, think tanks and gatherings such as this one of the Philadelphia Society, whose purpose is to send people home encouraged in the truth and effectiveness of their beliefs. This eager engagement with ideas is manifest, too, in the proliferation of intelligent conservative journals. In Britain we have a conservative broadsheet - the Daily Telegraph - and a conservative weekly, The Spectator. But these are light-weight publications compared with the fortnightly National Review, or the various monthlies and quarterlies - from the New Criterion to the National Interest, and from the American Spectator to First Things and Modern Age - which carry long and carefully argued articles examining the fundamental items of conservative doctrine.

We have only one conservative journal that remotely attempts to match the level of discussion found in the American press, and that is The Salisbury Review, which I founded 20 years ago, and which has had to survive without funding, without paying editor or contributors and with a readership that would be overtaken by a parish magazine in rural Dakota. Throughout those 20 years the climate of opinion in my country has been inimical to conservative thinking, and contributors to the Salisbury Review have found this fact held against them in their careers, several of them being actually fired for writing in our pages. And an interesting result of my own attempt to give an explicit and intellectual grounding to conservatism has been first virulent attacks from the academic left, and then ostracism from the political right. This defining and arguing, this rendering explicit and reasonable, is simply not the done thing on the right, and can be done with impunity on the left only because the underlying purpose of left-wing argument is not to conserve existing things but to destroy them. It is always so much easier to find arguments against the imperfect customs of human society than arguments in favour of them, and so much easier to posture as the virtuous champion of the underdog than as the prudent defender of social hierarchy and other such 'permanent things'. But in my country any explicit defence of the Permanent Things is viewed as a kind of culpable naivety and a dangerous provocation by those charged with guarding them.

Mention of the Permanent Things brings me to another vital point of difference between British and American conservatism, namely the active presence over here of self-confessed conservative gurus, such as Alfred Jay Nock, H.L. Mencken, Richard Weaver, Whittaker Chambers and of course Russell Kirk, who took the phrase ‘the Permanent Things’ from his mentor T.S. Eliot, in order to give a comprehensive definition of what it was that both of them stood for in the tide of destructive change. In so far as we have had a conservative guru in 20th century Britain - one prepared not merely to be such a thing, but also to admit to it - it was T.S. Eliot, and he, of course, was an American. There have been major conservative thinkers in modern Britain. I would count F.R. Leavis among them, and also Michael Oakeshott. But the first leaned to the left in politics and refused all attempts to align him with the conservative intellectual tradition, while the second retained a stance of ironical detachment, believing that nothing was more vulgar than believing.

Our few intellectual gurus have been immigrants, escaping from persecution or corruption, and bringing with them an admiration for the British way of life and for our unconscious refusal to be conscious. I would count Elie Kedourie among them - an Iraqi Jew who understood not only the Middle East but the damage done to it by Lawrence of Arabia - and also F.A. Hayek who, however, added a chapter to his Constitution of Liberty entitled 'Why I am not a Conservative'.

American conservatism too has been enriched by refugees from European utopias. One of these refugees, Leo Strauss, had an influence of a kind that no British academic could hope for. Another, Ayn Rand, though hardly known in England, is the founder over here of a far-reaching movement, with both a popular and an intellectual impact. Others, like Eric Voegelin and Gerhart Niemeyer, have been able to establish in America networks of discipleship that would preserve the fruits of their experiences. In fact there has been, in America, a sizeable market in 'permanent things', and since the main feature of markets, from the moral point of view, is that they render everything that they deal in impermanent, this development has not been without a certain contradictory character. Nevertheless, we should note that the hospitality offered to these incoming gurus has been afforded by resident gurus who, with typically American openness, extend a welcome to their competitors. Thinkers like Richard Weaver, Edward Shils, R. P. Blackmur, Allan Bloom and a hundred more were all in the business of influencing the young in a conservative direction, but none of them had a desire to monopolize the market. That desire, if it existed, was typical of the immigrants themselves, and notably of Leo Strauss, the only conservative philosopher to be identified with an institutionalised school of thought.

The Strauss phenomenon is again remarkable from an English perspective. Attempts by central European thinkers to build up circles of discipleship have not met, in England, with any great success. Wittgenstein and Popper briefly enjoyed a kind of sovereignty in philosophical circles; but it was short-lived and had little impact on politics, despite Popper's undeniable influence on the intellectual agenda of conservatism - an influence that was again more acutely felt in America than in Britain. The idea of a whole school of political thinking, devoted to essentially conservative causes, colonising departments in universities all across the country, and spilling over into political circles, the media and the think-tanks - such an idea is in Britain more or less unthinkable, or thinkable at all only as a part of left-wing activism. The phenomenon is the more remarkable in that Strauss himself was both an extremely dry and academic political scientist in the old central European style, and also the purveyor of a theory which goes right against the grain of American politics - the theory that the real force of a writer's words is to be found by reading between the lines, seeing through the overt declaration of the text to the devious agenda that lies concealed behind it. Apply this method to the American constitution and you will be in effect negating the entire legacy of American politics - the legacy of open debate and free discussion in the effort to achieve a framework acceptable to every citizen.

Still, the fact remains that political science in America has, thanks to Strauss, a conservative movement within it - one that is academically respectable and widely distributed. From Allan Bloom to Harvey Mansfield and Thomas Pangle, from Harvard and Chicago to home grown schools in the Shenandoah Valley, American political science presents the student not merely with the exalted manner of the old Central European scholar, who sees Plato and Aristotle as the masters from whom all study of politics must begin, but with a distinctive interpretation of the American Constitution as a conservative manifesto.

The contrast with British academic political science is eloquent. The idea of a conservative movement within the academy - not only in my country, but anywhere in Europe apart from the countries recently liberated from communism - would now be regarded as a laughable fiction. We European conservatives look with amazement and relief on enterprises like the Committee on Social Thought here in Chicago, which has managed to combine rigorous scholarship with a toleration towards, even endorsement of the conservative vision. We all of us ask ourselves what we have to do in order to be put on the waiting list for membership of a club which - amazingly - will have us as members.

Perhaps it is thanks to this culture of open debate about conservative values that American conservatism seems such a divided movement in the political sphere. The great virtue of the British Tory Party is that it has understood that it can never be anything more unified or determined than an alliance. It exists through the attempt to represent all those interests that are threatened by the egalitarian machinery of the modern state: business, family, law, national identity, the elite culture, and so on. The Tory hostility to thinking derives in part from the recognition that thinking will divide these interests from one another. From the point of view of ultimate values the corporate executive, the dutiful Latin master, the cussid dairy farmer, the small shopkeeper with Methodist principles, the factory hand whose job is threatened by the cheap labour of immigrants, the old fashioned patriot who spends his retirement listening to Elgar and entering his vegetables for local competitions, etc., have nothing in common. Encourage them to think about their position in the world, and you will automatically sow the seeds of dissent. But they have a common interest in opposing the dependency culture, in resisting egalitarian dogma, and in upholding a vision of human beings as responsible for their own lives and entitled to their earnings. Keep them focussed on those things, and unified in the pursuit of them, and you will sooner or later be in office - such is the Tory Vision. And it has much to recommend it.

With your permission, let me illustrate from my own brief attempt to enter politics. In 1974 I travelled with Hugh Fraser, a patrician Tory MP of the old school, from his house in Scotland to London. It was a grim time in British politics. Edward Heath had been driven from power by the miners’ strike, and a Labour Government under Harold Wilson held on to a precarious majority in the Commons. The deviousness of Heath, the dreariness of Old Labour, and the decline of English institutions encouraged in me the belief that conservatives needed to think more. This belief was not, I think, shared by Hugh. If he had an opinion in the matter, it was probably that conservatives needed to think less. Nevertheless, out of his abundant good nature he agreed to found a society, the purpose of which would be to discuss, at the highest level compatible with the presence of politicians, the doctrines of conservative philosophy.

Thus was founded the Conservative Philosophy Group, which existed for twenty or more years, addressed at first by some of the most serious post-war political thinkers - Hayek, Oakeshott, Friedman and Elie Kedouri - but gradually succumbing to inanition as the Party drifted in the stagnant days of John Major. Once or twice Mrs Thatcher looked in - an unwelcome intrusion, since politicians lose all self-respect in the presence of their leader, and seem quite unable to appreciate that the shabby academic who is speaking from the chair might have more to say to them than this person whose thoughts and whims and fancies they have studied obsessively all day. In any case, we had little influence on the high command of the Party, and none whatsoever on the academic world.  Our meetings - which took place in Jonathan Aitken’s house - were attended by back-benchers too sincere in their convictions to expect promotion, dons too contrary to learn from others, and - that most creative and under-acknowledged segment of our intellectual heritage - the hard core of drunken right-wing journalists, among whom the blind Peter Utley was king.

In 1978, after four years of the Conservative Philosophy Group, and by now a barrister, I applied to join the Conservative Party’s list of candidates - the first step towards representing the Party in a General Election. A veteran Member of Parliament, Dame Something Something, who conformed exactly to the old image of the blue-rinse maiden aunt, and who looked me up and down with angry sniffs as I answered her questions, demanded what I had done for the Party. Had I been a local councillor? Had I worked in my local office, canvassed at elections, attended functions, organized tea-parties and speakers’ events? Had I joined the Young Conservatives, spoken in Union debates, attended Party Conferences? And if none of those things, then what on earth had I done for the cause and in what conceivable respect did I regard myself as qualified?

I mentioned that I had founded the Conservative Philosophy Group. She made it clear that the conjunction of the two words ‘conservative’ and ‘philosophy’ was so absurd that she could only doubt the existence of such an organization. Under her withering stare I began to feel that I was as much a fake as she believed me to be. She asked me whether I wrote in the press, since that at least was useful, and I replied that I had written book reviews for The Spectator, so confirming her suspicion that if my name ever did appear in newspapers it would be in the wrong parts of them. I added that I had also written a book.

‘A book? On what subject?’

I hesitated.

‘Aesthetics.’

Her stare became suddenly vacant. She closed the file containing my application and turned to her colleague, a young MP who had remained silent throughout, occasionally sending out a pitying glance in my direction.

‘I suppose he could apply for this new European Parliament thing, could he?’

I indicated that I did not believe in parliaments where there was no national loyalty. She laughed involuntarily at the quaintness of my words - the first sign that laughter lay within her behavioural repertoire. And then, after brief handshakes, I was dismissed.

I doubt very much that my attempts would be dismissed in so peremptory a fashion here in America. Conservatives recognize the value of ideas and the need to debate them, even if the debate has no immediate impact on political events. The dominating presence of the Constitution has ensured that the bi-polar politics that emerged in the nineteenth century has remained the political norm. The expense of innovation, and the natural propensity of the human mind to accept dichotomies as the paradigms of choice, have ensured that the two main parties are the only parties with any chance of success. Hence vigorous debates within the ranks of either will do little or nothing to change their electoral chances. Yet the American passion for explicit utterance means that these debates are always in the air.

Hence the current debate, confusing to an outsider, but wholly natural to an American, between the neo- and the paleo-conservatives. Under Margaret Thatcher's regime there was, briefly, a debate among British conservatives between the advocates of the market economy and those who saw the conservative mission in paternalistic terms, and who wished to use the state and its apparatus to guarantee social stability and the loyalty of the disadvantaged. But the debate was half-hearted at best, and was quickly overtaken by the realisation that a market economy and a paternalist state are not necessarily in conflict - a point seized on and made much of by New Labour. The debate over neo-conservatism is completely unlike that brief spasm of conflict in Britain. It is a debate about the entire nature of the American settlement, about America's role in the world, and about the long-term future of the nation. It is a debate between recent converts to conservatism, who have jettisoned the cosmopolitan stance of the old Partisan Review and re-branded themselves as exponents of the real America, and others from long-standing rooted communities who have never accepted the fact that America has any role in the world whatsoever, apart from that of defending its people and enabling them to get on with the business of living according to their lights.

Of course, that is not how the debate started. When Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Midge Decter and Gertrude Himmelfarb first staked out what came to be known as the neo-conservative position it was very obviously an attempt to repossess the European cultural inheritance, and to reaffirm for a secular community the moral values of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. It was a belated endorsement of the culture that was taken so much for granted by the Founding Fathers that it never occurred to them to make explicit that the Constitution was premised on it. The neo-conservatives had woken up to the fact that this vital underpinning of American society, because it was without explicit protection in the political settlement, was exposed to attack from the left. They saw the damage that would ensue, if the antinomian culture of the liberal intelligentsia were allowed to install itself at the centre of things, by reinterpreting the Constitution as a liberal, rather than a conservative, manifesto. And it must be said, to the credit of the neo-conservatives, that they drew up the conservative battle-lines against the liberal assault - as they saw it - on the American settlement. They saw, partly because they saw it from a position to some degree outside the American normality, that the Constitution was open to capture, that it depended upon institutions that had grown from it and which had provided it with a self-reproducing line of defence, and that all this could crumble if the patrician disdain of the NYRB [New York Review of Books] were allowed to take over the legal, academic and literary professions. They knew the insidious determination of liberals, since after all they had once possessed it. And they saw danger where others saw only disagreement.

The neo-conservatives were influential partly because they already had a captive audience. The East Coast Jewish intelligentsia were part of that audience, and had adopted Commentary as their parish magazine. The over-lapping but distinct readership of The Public Interest augmented the impact of the neo-conservative idea, and in due course new journals were founded to spread the message. Hilton Kramer  started The New Criterion and the Manhatten Institute launched City Journal, both taking off from the neo-conservative agenda, the first remarkable, however, for the interest in high culture and for the desire to define conservatism at the highest intellectual level, as a form of cultural criticism. New Criterion was self-consciously adopting the stance of Eliot, after whose journal it was named. And it is, to an English observer, frankly unbelievable that such a journal should be able to survive in the modern climate. That it does so is testimony to the health of American conservatism, and its ability to attract funding to the most unlikely projects.

The proliferation of neo-conservative journals has, it is true, induced a paleo-conservative reaction, and it is again remarkable, to the outside observer, that this reaction should involve the founding of a journal The American Conservative. In this journal Pat Buchanan and others have attempted to define what is really at issue between them and the neo-cons. And the main disagreement seems to focus on foreign policy, the paleo-cons blaming the neo-cons for crusading on behalf of democracy rather than attending to the national interest. To an English observer, however, the dispute is not really with the neo-conservative position, but with specific writers and political advisors - such as Richard Perle and David Frum - who have used that position as the launching pad for a new kind of internationalism. The neo-conservative movement originated in the recognition, on the part of cultural critics like Norman Podhoretz, that the relentless advocacy of liberal values undermines socially necessary certainties, and that the old-fashioned decencies of American society had much to recommend them, despite the fact and because of the fact that they could not be recommended without also being questioned. There was no reason at all why this way of looking at things - which was, after all, merely the awakening of a powerful liberal mind to the truth that liberals owe their survival to conservatives - should lead to any particular beliefs about foreign policy, still less to a conservative internationalism.

However, this dispute, which is too multi-layered to admit of easy summary, has also become so entwined with the question of foreign policy that American conservatism is often identified, by outside observers, with a posture towards the rest of the world. Put simply, the European press contrasts the Clinton approach - which hopes to soften belligerence by negotiation, trans-national institutions, the UN and international law - with the Bush approach - which marches in and changes governments. The first is premised on the old liberal illusion, that tyrants will respect the rule of law. The second is premised on the new conservative illusion, that people who have suffered under tyrants will know what to do with democracy. On the whole the European press prefers the old liberal illusion, since it makes America look weaker.

I don’t see the matter as the European press sees it. For me, the true conservative approach in international relations is that adopted by the paleo-conservatives - namely to do whatever is required by the national interest, but to leave others to their fate. However, I also think that leaving others to their fate is not always in the national interest. The September 11th attacks awoke America to the existence of enemies that it had neglected to uncover and therefore failed to destroy. Whether it was right or wrong to invade Iraq, I believe that the motive for the invasion was one that all conservatives - whether neo or paleo, American or European - could endorse, namely a perception that the national interest required it. That perception may have been wrong. But it was not so obviously wrong that a responsible president could merely choose to ignore it - as Mr. Clinton chose to ignore the persistent threats from al-Qa’eda during his presidency.

The difficulty for American foreign policy is that America is always held to a much higher standard than any other country. To be precise, America is required always to have some other motive than self-interest when it goes to war, and is therefore compelled - in the forum of world opinion - to justify its belligerence in terms of benefits conferred on others. We invaded Iraq, the President will find himself saying, in order to bring law, rights and democracy to a people which had suffered under tyranny. We will do what is necessary to confer these benefits, and then we will withdraw. It is somehow not acceptable to world opinion - though it would be perfectly acceptable to me, as an English conservative - for the President to say ‘we invaded Iraq in order to destroy a tyrant who presented a real threat to our security. Having destroyed him we will leave, and allow Iraqis to get on with their lives’. It is not American conservatism that has led to a foreign policy of democratic internationalism, but the tyranny of liberal opinion, which won’t allow to America what every other country claims by right, namely, the freedom to make war in the national interest. America is allowed to make war, but only in the international interest, as this is defined by liberals.

I suppose Americans are only now beginning to wake up to the fact that they cannot avoid being seen as an exception. Excuses available to tin-pot dictators, mass murderers, and ordinary double-dealing statesman, are not available to American presidents. As the world’s most successful country, the place where almost all its critics want to live and whose generosity all its enemies are determined to enjoy, America occupies a large place in the envy and aspiration of the world’s people. Americans believe that people will therefore love them. In fact it means that people will hate them. Human nature is so framed that, unless rescued by a large dose of humility, people will hate those who possess what they covet. They will destroy what they cannot create. And the sight of freedoms enjoyed by a people who seem to have no special entitlement to them, other than being born in the right place at the right time, gets up the nose of snobs, failures and fanatics everywhere.

This is where I believe American conservatism has an important message not just for America but for the world. Whether neo or paleo, American conservatives are aware, as few European conservatives seem to be aware, that the battle is about culture. You don’t win hearts and minds with an economic doctrine, however rational. You don’t win hearts and minds by flagrantly displaying your success or your freedom. And the more your freedom expresses itself in forms offensive to people who do not possess it, the more it excites them to take it away. America’s survival depends upon winning hearts and minds - not of Americans only, but of all those who need to be induced to accept what they envy and acquiesce in what can never be theirs. Now a culture of blatant materialism, of luxurious display, sexual exhibitionism and instant gratification does not merely corrode the society that produces it. Such a culture is a standing offence to those who live by more sober and sacrificial routines. American conservatives have a growing awareness of the need for constraint, for action taken to curb the excesses of American culture and to present a less provocative image to the world.

The culture war is therefore of ever-growing significance not just for you but also for us. It is a war that English conservatives have hardly ever engaged in, except by way of uttering poignant lamentations over vanishing forms of life. Here in America a concerted effort has been made, by think-tanks and churches as well as by journals and those who write in them, to outline cogent responses to the prevailing cultural decay. The Howard Center has been at the forefront of this effort, recognizing the family as the core institution of Western society. In the face of a vandalism that refuses to recognize any human relation as privileged or sacred, and all as open to revision in the interests of the present incumbents, American conservatives have bravely acted, as the Howard Center has acted, to project the vision of a sustainable social order, in which individual appetites are subdued to the common good.

So let me conclude with my own conception of what conservatives should do. Conservatism, as I understand it, means maintenance of the social ecology. Individual freedom is a part of that ecology, since without it social organisms cannot adapt. But freedom is not the sole or the true goal of politics. Conservatism and conservation are in fact two aspects of a single long-term policy, which is that of husbanding resources. These resources include the social capital embodied in laws, customs and institutions; it also includes the material capital contained in the environment, and the economic capital contained in a free but law-governed economy. The purpose of politics, in my view, is not to rearrange society in the interests of some over-arching vision or ideal, such as equality, liberty or fraternity. It is to maintain a vigilant resistance to the entropic forces that erode our social and ecological inheritance. The goal is to pass on to future generations, and if possible to enhance, the order and equilibrium of which we are the temporary trustees.

This means that conservatism, in the eyes of its critics, will always seem to be doomed to failure, being no more than an attempt to escape the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Entropy is always increasing, and every system, every organism, every spontaneous order will, in the long-term, be randomised. However, even if true, that does not make conservatism futile as a political practice, any more than medicine is futile, simply because ‘in the long run we are all dead’, as Keynes famously put it. Rather we should recognize the wisdom of Lord Salisbury’s terse summary of his philosophy, and accept that ‘delay is life’. Conservatism is the politics of delay, the purpose of which is to maintain in being, for as long as possible, the life and health of a social organism.

Moreover, as thermodynamics also teaches us, entropy can be countered indefinitely at the local level, by injecting energy and exporting randomness. Conservatism emphasizes historical loyalties, local identities and the kind of long-term commitment that arises among people by virtue of their localised and limited affections. While socialism and liberalism are inherently global in their aims, conservatism is inherently local: a defence of some pocket of social capital against the forces of anarchic change. And it is when it focuses on the renewal of local communities, on the small-scale sacrificial work of institution-building and association-forming that so impressed Tocqueville, that American conservatism brings hope, not just to America but to the world. This is why we English conservatives will, in the end, always set aside our ironical posture, our sarcastic digs at the kitsch naivety of the old American ideal, and recognize that here, at least, someone is doing something, and here, at least, someone might succeed.

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