The canvas of our political landscape has a gaping hole: true conservatism has been cut out.
Yet it isn’t just nature but also politics that abhors a vacuum. The empty place on the right of the picture had to be patched up, and then something else had to be painted on the patch.
That something could never be the same as the original but, not to scare traditional viewers away, it had to display some commonality with the fragment excised and destroyed.
Hence we have any number of political movements that retain some superficial resemblance to conservatism while being in fact its exact opposites.
One of those has even pilfered the name, only attaching the prefix ‘neo’ to it. ‘Neo’ means new and, in modern jargon, new means better – as Darwin taught us, when things develop they invariably improve.
Hence the implication is that neoconservatism is like the old thing, only better. In fact, neoconservatism is a blend of American jingoism (not exclusively on the part of Americans), Trotskyist temperament and inveterate belligerence with rampant statism, welfarism and atheism – all underpinned by totemistic worship of democracy.
That doesn’t sound like conservatism to me, but to the modern lot words mean whatever they want them to mean.
If, following their founder Irving Kristol, neoconservatives declare that there is such a thing as a ‘conservative welfare state’, or that killing millions in pursuit of the Chimera of democracy is a perfectly conservative policy, then that’s it.
Unlike the neocons, the libertarians actually do have something in common with conservatism, namely aversion to the big state.
For those incapable of thinking synthetically, that’s enough. A simple syllogism is hastily slapped together: conservatives are against statism; libertarians are against statism; ergo, libertarians are conservatives, with an extra dimension.
That’s like saying that Muslims think the West has become decadent; true conservatives think the West has become decadent; ergo, true conservatives are Muslims.
In the same vein, libertarians and conservatives aren’t the only ones who have ever deplored the power of a big state over a small individual.
For example, Russian anarchists felt the same way, which is why they frequently joined forces with the Bolsheviks in the Civil War. That was like militant vegans supporting cannibals in their battle against beef eaters.
For libertarians don’t just oppose the rampant statism of modernity. They equally abhor the restraining power of traditional institutions, such, for example, as the Church with its moral absolutism.
Just like neocons who, going into battle against every conservative tenet, scribble conservatism on their banners, libertarians in effect overlap with their cognates, so-called ‘liberals’.
Just like anarchists, whose aversion to any arbitrary power made them allies to the very incarnation of arbitrary power, libertarians find themselves rubbing intellectual shoulders with those whose sole purpose in life is to make the state omnipotent.
One example, if I may. Perhaps the most divisive political issue of the last 12 months has been the Marriage Act, which legalised homosexual marriage.
I don’t know a single conservative, or for that matter anyone even broadly on the right of the political spectrum, who supported it – and nor have I met any ‘liberal’ who was against.
So which side of the watershed would libertarians support, considering that they see themselves not just as an alternative to conservatism, but its replacement?
To clarify this matter, here’s a paragraph from an article in a libertarian on-line publication:
“Libertarians are supposed to be pro-gay marriage. That is that. We have to be satisfied with the geometric argument that as consenting adults ought to be free to do as they will with other consenting adults, and as gay men are consenting adults, and as ‘getting married’ involves no aggression on any third party, gay men ought to be free to get married and this involves getting married in an Anglican church.”
I don’t quite understand what ‘geometric argument’ means outside, well, geometry, but that’s the least of the author’s problems.
Marriage may no longer be universally regarded as a sacrament, but in our secular world it still involves a legal contract officiated and validated by the state. As such, it requires endorsement by the state, which it may grant or withhold.
Hence two homosexuals are perfectly free to call themselves husband and wife or, for that matter, brother and sister, but, unless the state nods its approval, they won’t legitimately be husband and wife any more than they’ll be brother and sister.
Suddenly we’re no longer talking about such abstract notions as ‘liberty’ but about such concrete concepts as the law.
In other words, had the state not passed the subversive Marriage Act, two homosexuals could no more be husband and wife than they could be Siamese twins.
So far I haven’t left the confines of elementary logic, something that libertarians evidently regard as too constricting. Now, however, I’ll enter the domain of elementary morality, which they clearly see as even more suffocating.
What does ‘aggression on any third party’ mean? Both ‘aggression’ and ‘third party’ need to be tightly defined for the whole paragraph to have any meaning.
Does aggression strictly mean incurring physical injury to another person? Contextually, this is what the libertarian author seems to mean, which is most unfortunate.
Let’s say, when walking through St James Park on a nice, sunny afternoon, a tweedy subject of Her Majesty sees a couple of homosexual newlyweds consummating their union on a bench.
No breach of consent is involved, and none of the flailing limbs makes contact with the middle-aged gentleman. He suffers no physical damage, but wouldn’t it be fair to say that his sense of propriety has suffered an act of egregious aggression?
Do libertarians accept the idea of moral damage? More apposite would be to ask if they accept the idea of morality.
One man’s liberty is another man’s licence, one man’s right is another man’s wrong and so forth. For morality to have any meaning at all, it has to be absolute, which is to say the same for all and codifed by an authority accepted as such by all.
Extrapolating from our tweedy chap to society at large (and, contrary to Margaret Thatcher’s careless quip, such a thing does exist), this collective entity can’t survive as such if its morality is atomised among all its members.
If they all reserve the right to decide what is moral, the society won’t just become immoral. It’ll become amoral, which is to say first evil and then nonexistent.
Yet for a libertarian with half a brain (few of them can possibly have the whole thing) to make any sense of his half-baked politics, he has to believe that indeed there’s no such thing as society – and if it did exist, it would be by definition oppressive.
This is nonsensical, but not as much as suggesting that two homosexuals ‘ought to be free to get married… in an Anglican church’.
Since homosexuality is explicitly proscribed in both the scripture and Christian tradition, no church can possibly marry two homosexuals without forfeiting any claim to being Christian.
Should it insist on clinging on to that nomenclature, it can only officiate a homosexual marriage if made to do so by the state, national or supranational. Hence the freedom that’s so dear to libertarian hearts can only be enforced by a despotic exercise of state power – something the libertarians claim to oppose.
What a desperate situation we find ourselves in. The two political movements vying with each other for the honour of replacing conservatism on the right end of politics aren’t right at all.
They are very, very wrong – and as bereft of intellectual content as of moral fibre.
My new book, Democracy as a Neocon Trick, is available from Amazon and the more discerning bookshops. However, my publisher would rather you ordered it from http://www.roperpenberthy.co.uk/index.php/browse-books/political/democracy-as-a-neocon-trick.html or, in the USA, http://www.newwinebookshop.com/Books/0002752