CONSERVATIVE-minded Brits don’t do revolution. Traditionally, we leave such vulgar things to bearded Lefties – and to the French. Preserving, or, as the name implies, conserving, existing society is our metier. And we have met with considerable success. Ever since Edmund Burke extended it from an attitude of mind into a political philosophy, large as well as small ‘c’ conservatism have been dominant forces in the public square.
Alas, no longer. The Left’s long march through the institutions, starting in the 1960s, sowed the seeds of profound change. The radical programme of Tony Blair, perpetuated by his disciples Cameron and May, and if anything accelerated by Johnson, has reaped a yet more dramatically altered political and cultural landscape. Big Government, multiculturalism, climate change and, increasingly, the medico-surveillance state are now, of all things, Conservative Party articles of faith.
The genuine conservative has been disenfranchised: culturally, a stranger in his own now-woke land; politically, compelled to vote, if at all, for the lesser of two or three ‘progressive’ evils, or for a small new party. Unless and until an electable, authentically conservative party is formed, or emerges from among those already established, the political outlook is bleak.
But in the meantime, our present straitened circumstances provide an opportunity to cast ourselves in a strange and surprising new role – as revolutionaries. For many, ‘conservative revolutionary’ is an oxymoron. But wokery’s tentacles have spread so far – even to the England and Wales Cricket Board and the National Trust – that the term is now plausible.
Paradoxically, the prerequisite for adopting this bold new guise is humility. The conservative revolutionary acknowledges the marginality of his cause, even as he maintains the staunchest belief in it. This is tricky enough in promulgating an upstart new philosophy; with one which has reigned supreme for much of his lifetime, a potentially painful concession.
There is also a temporal disconnect to negotiate. The customary political trajectory for men (and women) is to start life as firebrands and end it as reactionaries; or to put it more moderately, to become less rebellious as they age. To take on the mantle of revolutionary in middle years or above seems counter-intuitive, the stuff of mid-life crisis. Not to mention, let’s be honest, somewhat arduous – storming those burning barricades probably won’t do much for the aching joints.
These concerns are natural, but baseless. British politics and culture, not least the Conservative Party itself, has been dragged so far to the Left in recent times that for the true conservative to be a revolutionary, metaphorically speaking he or she merely has to do one simple thing – stand still.
‘Revolutionary’ is a part we would never have imagined, or chosen, for ourselves, to be sure, but it has been thrust upon us. And the beauty of it is – aside from not needing to digest any turgid revolutionary text – we can play it in the subtlest ways, the smallest vignettes. Being a gentleman; not wearing a mask; reading the Bible; respecting our past. In some woke environments – the university town street party springs to mind – even displaying the Union Flag carries the revolutionary power once vested in Le Tricolore.
Our new revolutionary persona has the capacity to wrong-foot opponents. To keep itself moving inexorably forward, as its ‘progressive’ ideology demands, the woke Left needs constantly to be on the offensive, cynically setting up endless ranks of straw men, restlessly fighting for ‘justice’ against the ‘Tory Establishment’. But a tactical concession of defeat in the culture wars changes the dynamic, taking the wind out of our opponents’ sails and filling ours with counter-attacking revolutionary gusto. The Left can now be depicted in usefully disorienting terms (for them) – as the new Establishment.
Deliberately unmoored from its specific historical context, the epithet of ‘Tory’ has always been, if not a millstone around the neck of the conservative, a nagging barb. The myth was finally exploded by Brexit, of course, when it was liberals who hankered for the status quo. But its negative associations with elitism and conformity have always carried pejorative freight, and continue to play well with the Left, especially on university campuses.
However, with the woke dominating almost all the commanding heights of our national culture, the tables can with profit be turned; the charge of conformism and elitism can now be aimed at them. And justifiably so – for all their soi-disant radicalism, have our slavishly Left-leaning, lecturer-pleasing university students ever been such an orthodox crowd? Let them stew on the notion that they, the young and indeed middle-class woke activists everywhere, donning their luxury beliefs to separate themselves from the masses, are now the stale and snobby traditionalists, the new Tories.
We, on the other hand, have been handed a gift in defeat – a rebooted, reinvigorated identity retaining all the settled wisdom and virtue of conservatism with none of its phoney Establishment baggage, and a ‘cool’ new revolutionary spirit to boot. Whisper it softly, but the latter is even known to elicit unexpected amatory attention, in middle age or no, from the fairer sex, as the happily married James Delingpole has revealed.
For anti-lockdown protesters, meanwhile, the greatest pleasure, widely attested, has been in meeting the eclectic range of one’s fellow marchers – so much, again, for the canard of stuffy, insular conservatives.
So though by definition it renders us outside the mainstream tent, where in truth we dwell, let us embrace our emancipatory new role of conservative revolutionary. It still leaves us striving, often struggling, to save what remains of our country; but at the same time it subverts, to our advantage, the self-imagery on both sides of the culture wars. In doing so, it grants us, at last, insurgent forward momentum of our own, the prospect of turning retreat into fighting retreat. And for now, perhaps that’s the best we can hope for.
In a different age, Edmund Burke famously managed to combine the attitude of revolutionary and conservative. As a growing number of us are already showing, it’s within our compass to do likewise.