There Is No Inherent Contradiction Between Traditional Conservatism And Libertarianism in Britain | Adam Garrie
As the world plunges deeper into crisis, many are rightly beginning to examine the philosophies, ideologies and party political alignments that had hitherto shaped their views. Even before the present pandemic, the age of Brexit and Trump provoked a wider debate between traditional conservatives and libertarians.
At its best, such a debate is a highly instructive phenomenon to observe and at its most ugly, it threatens to do to the right what the left have done to themselves since 1789. Namely, there exists a danger of conservatives following leftists down the rabbit hole of violent fractious ideological dogmatism which has long rendered the left dangerous when in power and comical when in opposition.
In reality, moderate traditional conservatism and realistic libertarianism compliment each other as they have throughout the history of the English speaking world. Prior to the still widely misunderstood social revolutions of the 1960s, the institutions defended by traditional conservatives were still standing, even if some were wounded in the aftermath of the Second World War and Suez.
This was a kinder gentler Britain in which people could quote Psalms with ease and sing hymns with more confidence than most today could employ in an attempt to reproduce the latest pop hit. Grammar schools instilled both critical thinking and proper behaviour into the young and talented and did so for free. Divorce was seen as a failure to preserve a marriage rather than something as casual as changing one’s bed-sheets. Smut was hidden from public view, not by the KGB, but because most people wanted it hidden and prior to the infamous Chatterley trial, even the libertine elements of the establishment consented to the desire of ordinary people to keep the freedom to be obscene behind closed doors.
This was also a Britain where no one was gaoled for mocking failed politicians like Anna Soubry. It was also an age where one could smoke in a pub, safe in the knowledge that adults were already aware that their freely made individual choice has rather predictable health consequences. It was an age where the streets were policed through consent rather than through intimidation and as a result, the streets tended to be safer than they are in an age where police are largely absent when gangs terrorise major cities with guns, knives and acid, yet are omnipresent and seemingly omnipotent when someone wishes to go for a walk during a pandemic.
The British institutions and traditions cherished by so many traditional conservatives, created a society that was among the most libertarian on earth. Even the US with its glorious first amendment tended to adopt the role of Cold Warrior a bit too well, often sacrificing liberty in the name of security and ending up with neither. The fact that most federal institutions are today run by the progeny of the Cold War far-left, is proof positive that whilst America helped to defeat communism in Afghanistan and eastern Europe, the assault on liberty in the name of security was rather unsuccessful at fighting communism at home.
In Britain however, political thinkers that one wants to call the “loony left” were not dramatically blacklisted or brought before political committees. They held their marches, published their Marxist literature and strutted round Bloomsbury with an unearned pride. Through it all, they failed to win the hearts and minds of ordinary people.
On the whole, Britain was a far freer place for the individual during an age where traditions were still visible and palpable, than it is in an age where the self-anointed defenders of ‘human rights’ shape every piece of legislation ranging from that which tells us not to tell jokes about religious extremists, to that which tells us when and where adults can inhale tobacco into their mouths.
Similarly, as the erstwhile American term ‘libertarianism’ becomes more and more dominant in intellectual arguments throughout Britain, the policies of libertarianism become ever more remote from a Britain which in a fit of post-swinging 60s insecurity, blindly sacrificed both liberty and security on the altar of post-moral ‘internationalism’ or as it is more commonly called today, ‘globalism’.
What good is sacrificing tradition because of its allegedly repressive characteristics if this sacrifice brings the individual far less freedom than he/she had in an age where tradition rather than prescription was the governing force of society?
In fairness, right leaning libertarians will point out that the assault on liberty has come largely from big government leftists – mostly from the Labour party, but often from the Conservative Party and the awkwardly named Liberal Democrats. What such people fail to point out is that ultra-libertarians and leftist egalitarians each believe that ancient traditions should not be supported as a matter of principle.
The leftist can only gain power when tradition is abolished in the name of progress and the dogmatic libertarian can only gain satisfaction when tradition falls in order for society to be re-written on the blank canvas that the most extreme libertarian sees as liberating rather than boring and desolate.
The fact of the matter is that it is possible to be both a moderate libertarian and a moderate traditionalist whilst refraining from living with an ounce of contradiction. The history of Britain makes it clear that the most reliable path to individual liberty is through quiet reverence to the traditions of the land.
Crucially, when tradition is abolished, very recent history (as well as ongoing events) shows that this void is not filled by those with pictures of Hayek in their studies but instead, it is filled by those with the dogmas of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky in their hearts and minds. Socialists and communists are always ready to fill the void left by the absence of tradition (observe how the left are attempting to gain power by exploiting people’s fears about the current pandemic). Libertarians could only achieve the same if they abolished leftist parties and that of course would be deeply un-libertarian (as well as deeply un-British).
Individual liberty including the right to speak freely and own private property, is in fact as much of a pillar of tradition as are the pillars of Church, Crown and Parliament. These of course are the same traditions that have created a land of democrats, juries and sceptics whilst Europe continues to plunge headlong into the tyranny of technocrats, experts and censors.
The silent majority of libertarians instinctively understand this even though a minority of libertarian weirdos, trolls and misfits seek to use their liberty to provoke the sensibilities of the silent majority of traditionalists. In reality, there have always been those who seek to abuse their freedoms in order to provoke the feeling of the majority. Crucially, such people were far freer to do so in a Britain where individual freedom was the inheritance of tradition. There is far less freedom to provoke or make innocent mischief in the censorious age in which alien “human rights” diktats claim to have the power to save people from themselves.
There is therefore no contradiction between libertarianism and tradition unless one seeks to create such a conflict by exploiting the most extreme and outlandish interpretations of both.
Photo by R Boed on Flickr.