12 March 2011

Why you should be a reactionary

Why I am not has disclaimed the label of "reactionary" I put on him when I linked to him. Fair enough, it is a clumsy label (perhaps "Sith" as used by MM is better), and the title of his blog suggests a certain wariness of labels in any case.

Concretely he goes on to paint a more optimistic view of conservatism than you will get from us reactionaries. 
Frankly, my lifetime (I was born in 1981) has seen progressivism dragged behind conservatism, as the right has progressively neutered the left and so the progressive need to stand on some of the middle ground has forced them ever rightwards. The current Labour Party is far to the right of where the SDP stood at its formation.
I think that is his mistake. It is true that since the 1970s we have seen privatisation, liberalisation of international trade, and reduction in top tax rates.

But those were just a blip in the tide of advancing progressivism. Even leaving out the nationalisations resulting from the financial crisis, the regulatory state, backed by employment, equality, competition and environmental laws, exerts as much control over a lot of "private" business as the 70s state did over nationalised industries.

Top marginal tax rates are pushing back towards 1970s levels, and for most people the tax burden is much heavier than then.

Voluntary co-operation has been all but wiped out by crowding out from government services and from state-sponsored fakecharities, and also by regulation, most egregiously the protection of children laws, but with health & safety, occupational licensing and so on doing their bit. The coalition has rolled back a tiny fraction of the last decade's impositions, but the expectation is that, like other governments, that is the lot and it will then turn round and start adding on further restrictions. (Remember that Labour on coming to power started by liberalising pub licensing hours — a typical "opposition" policy that looks totally out of place against their subsequent approach).

Voluntary association is also hamstrung by the nationalisation of virtue — the idea that only the state is entitled to distinguish moral and immoral behaviour.

As for "ending the progressive war on the family" — that is long ended; the war on the family was won decades ago. With illegitimacy rates near 50% and most marriages ending in divorce, family life is now a faintly eccentric choice, rather than an expected norm.

In all these areas, everything except international trade, that is, the current Conservative party is far to the left of the 1970s Labour party. And I can say with confidence that the Conservative party in 20 years will be further left still.

So what of the trade question — why is that an exception to the general leftward drift of the Zeitgeist: a mysterious consensus, which changes over the decades? The only answer is that occasionally reality made itself felt. In the post-war period, protectionism was believed to be generally a good thing across left and right.  Reality occurred in the 70s, free trade got a good jump in the 80s, and has been fading ever since. We get as much state as we can afford, but just occasionally the left gets ahead of itself and we get a level of state destructiveness that physically cannot be sustained. In that circumstance, and only that circumstance, are rightists allowed some small victories. To claim those as victories for conservatives is to underestimate reality. (In fact, I seem to recall that in its last days even the Callaghan government was moving towards some Thatcherite policies, as the situation so urgently demanded them).

The best understanding of the place of conservatism in Britain today comes from Peter Hitchens (e.g. The Cameron Delusion, as well as his blog.  I have not come round to his views on drugs, but otherwise I consider his analysis sound.  (Remedies are another matter, but there we are all floundering to some degree.)

Only reactionaries realistically oppose progressivism.

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