Thursday, 6 January 2011

Throwing the Fight

The always excellent Neil Clark writes about Auberon Waugh, and stimulates some interesting comments about an alliance between the paleo-cons and left wingers.

My own view, however, is that the old right in Britain really WANTS to lose in a strange way, and in their opposition to neo-cons/ neo-liberals, there is actually a profound agreement to disagree.

During the reign of Charles I, which saw a great growth in architecture and aesthetics, people commonly observed that those who supported High Church Episcopalianism were lukewarm whilst those who hated it were passionate. This seems a certain paradox of British culture: that there is a kind of ferociously proselytising ugliness combined with an esoteric hoarding of beauty. In Scotland itself, much of the Reformation era vandalism was actually carried out by Catholic nobility, hoping to line their pockets in a time of chaos.

And today in Scotland, there are many palladian estates huddled behind conifer groves and sandstone walls, whilst brash plutocrats want their phallic brutalist eyesores to be as prominent as possible.

And indeed, it is the same with politics. The paleo-cons failed very spectacularly throughout the 20th Century to try and develop a universalist alternative from the Graco-Roman world to either Marxism or market fanaticism. Surely through having near hegemony of the classics departments they could have come up with something more than timid conservatism?

Just look by contrast at the drivelling of the historically ignorant neo-cons and neo-liberals who are entirely certain that there is no alternative to concrete malls. There are many for whom fried cow's rectum is as great an affirmation of modern Western progress as the basillica was for the Romans or the railways were for the British Empire. Adoring ugliness, being profoundly vulgar and lacking imagination are not obstacles to messianic zeal, but more likely preconditions.

Even in faith, the Church of England has been dismal at reaching out the to the people. Whilst it becomes increasingly decrepit, fundamentalist Christianity grows in tandem with white conversion to Islam.

And in art, the free market has free reign to revel in the ugly. The utter rubbish that changes hands is all we ever hear about. Whilst paleo-cons (in common with some old leftists) might enjoy huffing and puffing over how utterly crap it is, the truth is that there seems little drive to make great works of art more accessible to people through broadcasting.

It is unfortunate that the modern left generally speaking is no more Fabian than the right. The teachings of William Morris should be of interest both to genuine conservatives and genuine leftists. But instead they are neglected by both.

Just as gold and diamonds partially owe their value to their very scarcity, I doubt if the British old right really wants to share beauty, ethos or culture. If you see the scarcity of these things as a part of their value, then I suspect you could do worse than join forces with the Thatcherites.


  1. Great post, Gregor. The paleoconservatives are hard to figure out, but I think they can be seen as descendants of the traditionalist conservative position that was destroyed by the French Revolution and industrial capitalism. Many old aristocrats, left with nothing to do under the new order, either attempted to merge with the new capitalist class via marriage or were content to stay within their own universe, ignoring the new world they hated so much.

    Many modern paleocons, such as Thomas Fleming from Chronicles argue for the same thing in a kind of “tend your own garden” philosophy, advising traditionally minded people to forget about politics and concentrate instead on simply trying to live life according to traditionalist values.

    To a certain degree, I find this philosophy very appealing. Politics seems so dirty and dominated by money and sociopathic personalities that I sometimes wonder if perhaps becoming an apolitical traditionalist is the way to go. But the big problem here is that, for most people, living the traditionalist lifestyle can be quite hard when all the forces of contemporary capitalism work against it.

    This is where the anti-egalitarianism of paleoconservatism comes in. Many paleocons seem to lack any interest in developing a society that allows most people to partake in the best aspects of Western civilization because they really do think most people are low-grade morons and that there is nothing that can be done about it because it is a natural condition.

    However, there have been some writers, such as Christopher Lasch, who have put a more populist spin on paleoconservative themes like the importance of the family. Lasch, for example, was interested in guild socialism, and if I am not mistaken, I believe many of the British guild socialists were influenced by William Morris.

    I think there is hope for some alliance of Old Right and Old Left, but the Old Right will probably have to ditch its anti-egalitarian, anti-populist tendencies to make it work. Otherwise, I think most paleocons will reluctantly remain in the liberal conservative camp simply out of an opposition to any egalitarian scheme from the Left.

  2. @John
    Thank you for your comment. I will try to find out more about Christopher Lasch.