The greatest single problem in the western World is sclerosis of the imagination, wrote Conrad Black a few days ago,
Indeed. The liberal paradigm, so dominant throughout the West for the past 25 years, has surely run its course: we seem to be running on empty, our economic and social capital exhausted. An atomised consumer society based on narcissistic self-fulfilment can only function if it brings economic opportunities to the broad mass of people: it has no answers to technological challenges that may condemn many to very limited economic prospects at the same time as giving others more opportunities than ever before.
Social conservatism is often depicted as the enemy of progress: the ideology of the small-minded Nimby and the mean-minded reactionary. In fact, its emphasis on social bonds and the building of networks of trust based, for want of a better expression, on the values of faith, family and flag mean that it is vital for the formation of a cohesive society that can most effectively rise to these new technological challenges.
In contrast to previous industrial revolutions, technological advances in the past few decades have emphasised the virtual over the physical world: indeed, some economists suggest that our current economic malaise is a mirage, created by our inability to both measure or sense the magnitude of changes bereft of a physical presence.
All that appears to be about to change: by now everyone knows about the march of the robots and how they will revolutionise everything, indeed a cynic may say that the only evidence of automation is the production of endless repetitive articles on the subject. However, other new and fantastic inventions that will impact mightily on the physical world are coming to the fore: in the world of transport alone we have drones, the hyperloop, the driverless car, even the flying car and the scram jet. These promise to revolutionise travel in a way not seen since the invention of the car or even the railway. In the energy sector, fracking, thorium nuclear reactors and solar power could revolutionise energy production. Manufacturing could be transformed by 3D-printing.
Perhaps, the virtualised Internet age lent itself towards atomisation – we could immerse ourselves in amphibious life without regard to others. However the new wave of inventions will impact mightily on the physical world, and in order to reimagine and remould the social space we share a more cohesive society is required, inspired to an extent by a collective vision.
However, does a jaded, feminised, atomised and ageing society still have the collective will to grasp this future, to reimagine and transform our cities and societies, or are we simply too risk averse and selfish, too wrapped up in our own personal fulfilment to lift our eyes, to think big and bold in the manner of the Victorians? Just suppose those who predict a workless future for many are correct: how can we reimagine, let alone finance, a society that can give those displaced meaning and value to their lives? Do we have the courage to break free of a dying European continent that seems set to miss these new opportunities the way monolithic China missed out on the industrial revolution, or shall we, like an abused spouse, just stick with what we know out of fear of change?
The present model is plainly not an option. Economically, we are kept just afloat by the cheap drugs of debt and mass immigration. Needless to say, in the long term, all these achieve is the further diluting of both economic and social capital. Switch off the taps, and our underlying festering problems would be laid bare.
What we need, to quote William Wilberforce, is a reformation of manners, a way of reconnecting to what we have been and can be again. A society based on faith, family and flag, far from being outmoded, is the only way we can meld social cohesion while preserving individual liberty. Upon that rock, we can begin to reimagine our future based on the fantastic opportunities new technologies can offer. It is social conservatism that points the way to the birth of an even more brilliant New Victorian age.