A LEGACY we rather take for granted is that afforded by the Judeo-Christian tradition which affirms the sanctity of life and that nature is inherently good. This seems so obvious as not to need saying but, unfortunately, it now does. These traditional ideas can be applied to individuals and to civilisations which represent collective life and culture. Current media diktats require an attitude of prostrate apology with regard to the days of an empire which is, to all intents and purposes, seen as an evil empire, but, of course, empires can be looked on in different ways. They can equally be seen as the irrepressible and almost spontaneous overflow of the life, vigour and energy contained in certain very successful civilisations beyond their own borders. In a well-known description the British historian, John Robert Seeley, described the British Empire as having been acquired ‘in a fit of absent-mindedness’ perhaps while its attentions were on other things such as commerce. The transformation from such blithe confidence to our present abjection is instructive. What is behind it is the battle for history.
There are particularly conservative ways of looking at history. W H Auden had it right when he referred to it as a ‘squalid mess’ with no scheme or narrative. Michael Oakeshott, the notable conservative philosopher, was right too when he saw conservative government as a careful negotiation of the rocks and shoals of history by the ship of state whose chief aim was simply to stay afloat rather than arrive at a marvellous destination. On the same subject, the phrase, ‘History is written by the victors’ is generally attributed to Winston Churchill (his insistence on victory reinforces the truth that the primacy of good civilisation is often dependent, precisely, on having won bloody battles). The battle to write history is not always retrospective, though. Karl Marx understood the importance of history. He attempted to reinterpret it for the purposes of the future, imposing narrative and inserting into it new meaning regarding perceived dynamics of oppression and exploitation. Henceforth those in the ascendant in terms of authority, birth, wealth, establishment and ownership found themselves, by simple virtue of these neutral things, in the wrong. What’s more, Marx realised how the seizing of the narrative was a matter of life and death for his new ideology. Making it axiomatic and unchallengeable was an imperative. Marx knew that seizing the narrative had to be done in an aggressive manner in order fully to displace what preceded it. For his conservative enemies, this means that defence against such corrosive narrative is just as much a bitter life-and-death matter. Assert your life and resist or be politically and culturally obliterated by being demonised mainly by means of a caricature that has conservatives as self-centred, self-serving and callous.
How have things gone in that particular battle? As we see Kipling’s poems removed from university atriums, arguments over the toppling of colonial statues and urgent inquiries at Cambridge University about how the proceeds of the slave trade funded its institutions we can only wonder at how optimistic confidence has mutated into a photographic negative of itself. Life, self-assertion and vigour have become guilt-ridden self-harming and castigation. We can only conclude that this has happened because the punitive Marxist account of our empire won the day. As a result we are the self-loathing head cases the Marxists have told us to be.
The other indicator of how well the battle went is the state of the modern Conservative Party, another incarnation of the life-force. The capitulations of the modern party can only lead us to conclude that after a contest in which it was to slug it out with the Marxist narrative in favour of Oakeshott’s or Auden’s versions, it has emerged looking like a depersonalised and brutalised victim of coercive control with a dose of Stockholm Syndrome thrown in. It now tamely recites its opponents’ nostrums, pouring all of its creative energy into apology. The brainwashing bully has won hands down, it seems.
Therefore, in October 2002 at the Conservative Party Conference in Bournemouth Theresa May, instead of cheerfully resisting the Marxist account of what Tories are, dutifully told the faithful that they needed to worry about being seen as ‘the nasty party’. Following on from this David Cameron, counter-intuitively for a Conservative, talked of ‘modernisation’ and ‘reform’ – terms that sounded like an apology. The party went on to do things that you wouldn’t expect of it – to pass the gay marriage law for example, and, now, under Theresa May, to genuflect before the national religion of the NHS (rather than that of the old-style Church of England) by shovelling more and more money into its bottomless maw. Then there’s Philip Hammond’s socialist taxation measures, hate crime and transgender laws and the recent unceremonious dumping of Sir Roger Scruton, whose positive expositions of Conservative ideas give him a claim to be the current soul of the party. Reform and modernisation seem to be euphemisms and synonyms for a wholehearted jettisoning of real conservatism in favour of the craven embrace of the neo-Marxist zeitgeist. Nothing is worth conserving, it seems, and there is no faith in the inherent merits of traditional conservative values which simply celebrate nature and the world as it is.
When one encounters real, unapologetic conservatism in the guise, for example, of Jacob Rees-Mogg, who insists on the centrality of the family and essentialist biology, he is pushed to the extreme of the party, demonised as an ‘alt-Right’ extremist or caricatured as an 18th century anachronism. The latter is, of course, not a valid attack on conservatism at all as we should be aiming to conserve what is good from whatever century it originates. A long view that doesn’t see the present as the only repository of wisdom is required, by definition, of conservatives. It’s good, therefore, to see Rees-Mogg wear such accusations as a badge of honour.
The Left’s winning narrative has required of the party that, like an easily gulled, elderly relative guided by the elbow to board a plane to Switzerland to use the offices of Dignitas, it collaborate in its own suicide while selling its birthright into the bargain. If this is all the fight it shows it really deserves to die.