The Status Quo of Conservatism

For various reasons, I’m re-reading Anthony Crosland’s The Future of Socialism. This quote resonated:

[The British Conservative Party] lacks the essential attribute of a counter-revolutionary party – a faith, a dogma, even a theory. A passionate desire to restore the past must rest on a deep attachment – moral, ideological, or theoretical – to the virtues of that past. And this the British Conservative, typically pragmatic and empirical, seldom has. His attachment to the status quo, whatever the status quo may be; and his function is less to reinstate the past than to preserve the present.

I think this is a key reason why I consider myself to be Of The Left – The word ‘Conservative’ means resistance to change… and that’s not me. Indeed, the quote above looks like a slur to my eyes.

Interestingly, though, I sense that it does not look like a slur to anyone who does consider themselves Conservative, or just conservative. Last year’s Christmas reading, The Conservative Soul by Andrew Sullivan, puts the reluctance to change things at the heart of the Conservative mindset.

Sullivan also rejects the need for a core ideology. He celebrates what Crosland condemns, calling the Conservative approach the politics of the doubter. Indeed, that is the distinction between the religious/social Conservatives and the fiscal/libertarian Conservatives, two groups who are becoming increasingly uneasy bedfellows within the US Republican Party (and I suspect the British Conservative Party too). The religious/social Conservatives do seem to wish for a return to an earlier time, which is what makes them so much more worrying than Conservatives of the fiscal/libertarian bent.

None of this, however, allies me with blogger Alex Hilton’s recent suggestion that Toryism is ‘evil’. There’s more subtlety to politics than that, which is why its so interesting, and challenging.

3 thoughts on “The Status Quo of Conservatism”

  1. Indeed – from memory, rather than extensive research, the conservatism (or rather Conservatism) of the 1980s was far from adhering to the Status Quo. The Thatcher years oversaw and instigated a period of massive change in UK politics that the Labour party of the 90s has adhered to. Whether you agree with their politics or not, I don’t think you can accuse that particular government of inertia…

    A x

  2. I think “conservative” only means resistence to change in terms of the power relationship between the capitalist and the working class, where they historically want to at least maintain the status quo. But as the contributor above says conservative governments, at least since Thatcher, have arguably been more “progressive”, in terms of changing societal structures, than nu lab have been – much of their change is in fact only re-branding or recycling of old ideas.

  3. I know we use the “white working men’s club” short-hand to remind us that those on The Left can be socially conservative too. But broadly, surely there Conservatives (big C) also seem to be more conservative (small c) on social issues like homosexuality, marriage and immigration.

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