26 December 2017

A few reminders

It is worthwhile to remember that classical British High Toryism has long had a suitable interest in the old, operatic China for its own sake. The appropriation of Ji Junxiang’s The Orphan of Zhao as a broadside against Horace Walpole may have been a fairly crude example of the orientalist genre, but one must argue that it was at least well-intentioned (insofar as it opposed rather than supported British imperial projects), and certainly more respectful of the source than Voltaire.

It is also worthwhile to remember that classical British High Toryism has long had a suitable interest in the old, philosophical Russia, for reasons which were not purely mercenary. Many of the Jacobites found themselves fighting on behalf of Tsar Peter the Great and Tsarina Catherine I. It is worthwhile to remember, additionally, that the interest of the old, philosophical Russia in classical British High Toryism has been heartily reciprocated in several quarters.

On the other hand, classical British High Toryism has historically wanted very little to do either with the United States of America, or with the Confederate States of America. British enthusiasm for the Southern cause was primarily a Liberal phenomenon led by Gladstone and Lord Palmerston, for profiteering reasons which do neither statesman much credit. Southern statesmen like Calhoun justified themselves on grounds that were, quite frankly, Whiggish and utilitarian. Any kind of modern Toryism which looks back on the antebellum American South with a kindly eye is, quite frankly, delusional.

In the modern day, then, conservatives that consider themselves classically-oriented, whether or not they are sympathetic to my (ahem) idiosyncratic œconomic views, should at least consider these historical trends, if they claim to value history at all. Say what you like about the Soviets, but Russophobia is not conservative, particularly not in its sillier contemporary forms, dripping with patronisation. Say what you will about the Chinese Communists, but opposition to Chinese sovereignty or cultural or territorial continuity is not particularly conservative either. And say what you will about the idiocies of Antifa over Confederate monuments and statuary, but Confederate nostalgia is also not particularly conservative; or rather, it attempts to conserve the wrong things. See George Grant on the subject of Barry Goldwater. At the very least, a good conservative who can differentiate culture from politics should not fall into the vulgar trap of mistaking a certain political formation, even a political formation in power, for the deeper civilisation beneath.

There are plenty of opportunities to articulate the conservative canons; dear readers, let us at least see some decent level of creativity in their application. The consistent idiocies of the neoconservative and neoliberal tendencies on the modern Right are annoying enough as it is; it would be nice to see the palæoconservatives at least not add to them.


  1. I hate to sound like a philistine, but does it really matter that much what Tories in the 19th century thought about empires that are now gone?

    The political realities of our world have changed so much and this surely needs to be reflected in the policies we advocate.

  2. I am confused about which part of the 'Right' you are addressing in this piece, Matthew. The neoliberals and neocons are effectively the same people, and they don't want to conserve anything. In any case, they are beyond reason. Is it then the Paleocons? If it is, then I can't see where you take issue with them; outlets such as Chronicles don't have the slightest interest in provoking Russia or China, they are hardly part of the Rand cult and they certainly don't bat for NATO or Tel Aviv.

    Luke Daxon

  3. Hello, Matthew:

    I believe I addressed precisely this problem. Looking at the political exigencies of the moment leads one to miss the deeper cultural continuities beneath the surface.

    If you're blinded by your odium for Mao Zedong, you might miss the deeper (and non-Maoist) ethics that the Chinese countryside still holds to. Likewise, if you're blinded by hatred for Putin, you might miss the subtler shifts that have been happening in Russia's civil society (which, yes, does exist) since the Soviet Union fell.

    And if you are convinced (for reasons of electoral power politics) that black people in the United States are The Problem, you'll miss that they have historically tended to be more conservative on social issues, with good reason, than their white counterparts.

    If conservatives, and particularly those who claim the mantle of the Tories, can't take the long view, then who the hell will?

  4. Hello, Luke:

    Different sections of the Right have different 'blind spots', as I've found. The neocons-neoliberals (which you are right to say are largely the same people) tend to have major blind spots when it comes to foreign policy and economics. They hate Russia and China because they don't toe the Washington Consensus line. The palaeocons have blind spots when it comes to our own domestic history; they distrust black people as subversives, and tend to romanticise the antebellum South in ways which are... let's politely say, intellectually sketchy.

    This is why I tend to point to conservative figures of the last generation like Peter Viereck or particularly George Grant, who did not buy into Russophobia even at the height of Cold War paranoia, and who also did not buy into Barry Goldwater and the mythos of the Lost South (which he rightly identified as another form of liberalism, just one which was politically passé).