Saturday 17 December 2022

From Peter Hitchens' Roger Scruton lecture delivered at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, 24th October 2022


[The lecture is here. I completely agree with most of what Peter Hitchens says here (and elsewhere). I especially agree that Margaret Thatcher was not a conservative (unlike him I thought so in her time), excepting for the famous Section 28 which prohibited the "promotion of homosexuality" by local authorities and which was a dead letter. And, a small thing, creating three hereditary peerages, two of which she awarded to men without heirsTony Blair was a modern liberal rather than a socialist, but though socialism is a terrible, authoritarian and misguided ideology, that has been shown not to work, the worst thing about socialists is that they are also liberals.]

'The great institutional buildings of London and Oxford are still standing after many decades of turmoil. In many cases they are in better condition than they have ever enjoyed.

'But they lie. Here in Oxford, the kingdom of thought and learning which used to lie in the small damp triangle between the Cherwell and the Thames, is not at all the same place as it once was. The commercial imperative roars ever more loudly for its money. The Egalitarian siege tightens, more total and inevitable than anything the Cromwellians ever managed. And as these things happen, Oxford’s role as a home for independent thought will shrivel.

'And the same is horribly true of our actual capital city. When I first saw official London, it was filthy black from a century of coal smoke, but it was real. Now it is golden and pristine, but it is a great fake – a scrubbed and primped Treasury, with no Treasure, an Admiralty with hardly any ships, many of them inclined to conk out when they go to sea, an officially adversarial Parliament without proper adversaries, and so on.

'...I have often thought that the exaggerated loathing of so many metropolitan bourgeois bohemians for Margaret Thatcher arose from their fury at having to toil at low-paid jobs in the engine-rooms of the state, the political parties and the academy, at a time when their opponents still appeared to dominate everything.

'But in the end they were once again free to live working lives which did not conflict with their personal tastes and aims.

'How odd in retrospect that they used up so much bile against a figure who, in truth, was not especially conservative. I challenge anyone who disputes this remark to name a single socially, morally or culturally conservative action she undertook in office. The unused Section 28, even if you think it qualifies in theory, cannot really be said to have counted in practice.

'So here we have been since the 1980s, in the grip of a great double illusion – that Margaret Thatcher was a conservative, and that Blair was her heir. The illusion has been widespread. Many Tories, even some conservatives, genuinely thought that the Blairite Labour Party was their ally, at least to begin with. They should have watched more carefully, seen the programme of sexual, educational, cultural and moral revolution which they launched.

'They should have grasped its driving purpose, to make its actions irreversible by any future Tory government. The conversion of the Tory Party into an arm of New Labour, was finally achieved by the election of David Cameron as its leader. As Peter Hyman, once a close Blair aide, said quite recently ‘The [New Labour] “project” was infinitely more revolutionary than anything proposed by Jeremy Corbyn or his supporters’'

'Mr Hyman explained: ‘The idea of New Labour was not to be a good opposition party, to protest loudly or have an “influence” over events, but, rather, to take and hold on to the levers of power. New Labour sought political hegemony: winning power and locking out the Tories to ensure that the 21st century was a Labour century with Labour values in contrast to a Tory-dominated 20th century.'

1 comment:

  1. A """"conservative"""" who doesn’t even want to conserve our 400 year old kingdom presumes to be the gatekeeper of conservativism? Irony, thy name is Hitchens. He invites: ‘I challenge anyone … to name a single socially, morally or culturally conservative action she undertook in office’—could ‘challenge’ anyone similarly to ‘name a single socially, morally or culturally conservative’ thought that he’s ever spoken or written.

    Mags is certainly overrated—neither as good as some of the Right claim nor as bad as the Left does. Amongst her mistakes was the Anglo–Irish Agreement, which (to her credit) she later acknowledged as error, and that Enoch’s ‘assessment was right’—but admitting error in 1998 does not prevent the Anglo–Irish Agreement being signed in 1985. (Of course, Hitchens wants to hand Ulster over to Dublin.)

    And tbf to Mags, she was one person amongst 339 (as of 1979) Conservative MPs—if it’s all down to Thatch, what were the 338 other MPs doing? (One MP absent from that 338 was Airey Neave, murdered by INLA prior to the ’79 GE—Shadow NI Secretary, he promised to be even better in office than the able Roy Mason, not only continuing but escalating the aggressive anti-IRA policies of his Labour predecessor and integrating NI more closely into British life. He might also have stiffened Mags’ sinews in other areas.)

    Hitchens’ screed is typical magical thinking, blaming all problems on one object—and if we only change that one thing, everything will magically become better. Get rid of the Jews/Jocks/whites/blacks/Thatcher/Brown/royals, bring back National Service, secede, etc. However, we live on a chaotic world populated by imperfect mortals navigating seas of ignorance and confusion, and it will take far, far more than changing one measly thing. We got rid of Thatcher and got Major instead, followed by Blair, Cameron, Johnson, etc. (I doubt Mags would have shut the country down as BoJo did.)

    The final nail in conservatism’s coffin was Whig radicals like Scruton, Hitchens and Heffer being allowed to not only infiltrate the movement but attain prominence. The failure of conservatism was remarked upon over a century ago by such as Robert Dabney:
    [C]onservatism. This is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is to-day one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will to-morrow be forced upon its timidity, and will be succeeded by some third revolution, to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. … [C]onservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. … It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle.
    (Dabney, Robert L. Discussions, vol. 4, 1897. 496.)

    See also Chesterton in 1924, ‘The Blunders of Our Parties’.

    The failed conservatives of yesteryear have given way to faux conservatives like Hitchens, et al, who have exchanged conserving opposition policy for promoting it instead.