29 October 2020

The Ten Principles of the Orthodox Conservatives - Introduction

I ran across this group by accident, but I like them! They are a ginger group in the UK Conservative Party, trying to drag the Party back to actually being a conservative party in the Tory tradition.

I'll be posting each of the principles, with its accompanying essay, over the next dayten days.

From Orthodox Conservatives


There is no central text to conservatism, unlike The Communist ManifestoThe Rights of ManDemocracy in America, or On Liberty, except possibly Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, but even a cursory reading of this text will show that it is little more than ruminations on the political life, the ‘true’ foundations of social order, and those destructive forces that threaten to transform our societies into the “dust and powder of individualism”.

This lack of a central text is, for the large part, a boon; it frees conservatives in their particular expressions (a term that shall be explained in the series) from doctrine, and allows them to focus on the day-to-day activities of governing. But this leaves the intellectual conservative with a dilemma. This dilemma is simply, what do I believe in? For those of different philosophies, the answer is presented: if I am a liberal, I believe only in myself; if I am a socialist, I believe in equality; and if I am a postmodernist, I believe in nothing.

Any conservative will find that he instinctually believes in the settled way of things as they are. But in an age when this answer is “not enough”, he must have ballast to his arguments, a way of justifying these things beyond their mere factual existence. It is for this reason that conservative students who face this challenge almost daily in our interactions with other students, must articulate their arguments as best they can.

The purpose, therefore, of this document is not to propose the philosophy of conservatism, but a philosophy of conservatism, specifically our own. We will not suggest a political programme, nor a system of thought, but merely observe the principles of this philosophy in a manner akin to a structure of thought, within which you, if you consider yourself a conservative, can place yourself and understand your own philosophy. “The first task of conservatism… is to create a language in which “conservative” is no longer an insult”. It is our aim to do just that.

Michael Oakeshott once wrote that the conservative prefers present laughter to utopian bliss. It is a beautiful gift of mankind that we have the capacity to dream and imagine a better world; one of the first and most enduring imaginations that has captured the attention of all mankind was that of Heaven. But Heaven is a place where everything is perfect, and the imperfections of this earth are enough to know that Heaven is not of this world.

But why does this matter? Because the things we have, and have inherited, are precious and fragile, capable of being lost. They are not the products of design and artificial creation, but the slow, gradual and communal discoveries of the safest and most stables manners of ensuring good social continuity. 

The knowledge needed to understand the origins of these things might have since been lost, but rather are distilled into addressing circumstances which these institutions were responding to. 

It is forgivable to think that conservatism is overly-concerned - indeed, obsessed - with the past. The conservative often looks back with tears falling from behind rose-tinted glasses, thinking of all that is passing away. We say 'passing', and not 'passed', because the conservative can only love those things he encounters as real, and he cannot love that he does not experience which is confined to the past, for much the same reason the conservative is so skeptical of the dreams of absolute equality; they are not real. Already, and always, the present is passing away, and so the conservative will only ever live in misery and a sense of forlorn, if he obsesses over the past.

Conservatism, though, does not focus only on the past for what it has lost: he seeks to trace lineages and transcendent values that have been proven - not made - by the experiences of history. To this fact, the conservative responds by seeking to carry forth and transmit into the future those things revealed and proven by time, not mire in the present that is already ticking away.

It is the cultivation of values that must be the conservative's call to action: to defend institutions without justifying the foundations on which they are built is to cede the argument at the outset. For too long, the denial of the intellectual argument has been conservatism's undoing, and has played into the hands of conservatism's enemies - socialism, liberalism, and so on - to the extent that the debate has been decided and determined by the language of these enemies. How can the conservative make the case for duty and obligation in the face of the liberal's talk of rights? How can he justify the idea of service and defend the idea of deference when the socialist dreams of equality? From where comes the love of land and country when it does not figure in the calculations of the capitalist? Why would an atheist respect authority, when he denies its very source?

Conservatism needs to make a positive argument for the values it wishes to preserve and carry forth. It will be necessary to identify these values, no doubt, but truth is not accepted when it is difficult, especially in the face of comfortable fantasies. The case must be made then, and made clearly and intelligibly. The conservative vision must be present without apology or acquiescence. It is time, again, to speak of responsibility, of good public life, of loyalty, of Britishness, of cultural - not just political - identity. It is time, above all, to speak of love for the real world.

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