Disraeli, not Thatcher: Why Economic Liberalism is No Longer Compatible With Conservatism | Liam Murphy
Despite the proclamations of Thatcher, there is such thing as a society, and the Conservative party now has the support of an economic group which values family and community deeply. In order to maintain the support of a largely communitarian working class, the Conservative party must implement policy which favours economic intervention, which is necessary to preserve the social and cultural institutions which make the United Kingdom great.
A fact every conservative must come to terms with is that the Conservative Party was so successful because it won a culture war Labour did not even know they were fighting. The working class have entrusted the Tories to vanguard the virtues and values of their existence. When social radicals who call for the abolition of the family, and denounce the working class as racist, sexist and uneducated swarm the ranks of modern Labour, it is no surprise that many were compelled to vote for the Conservatives.
However, another great force exists which endangers British traditions, that of the neoliberal economic order. In its reckless pursuit of capital gain, neoliberal economics seeks to marketise every aspect of life, until the human condition is ripped from the individual, sanitised, debased and sold back; the last stage of neoliberalism is the consumption of the self. Surely it is not in the interest of those who wish to uphold the cultural and social institutions of the United Kingdom to pursue an ideology of mass marketisation.
The danger of neoliberalism is its indifference to the wider interests of society and culture. Its amorphism and ambiguity allow it to adopt the aesthetic visage of liberalism or conservatism, whilst simultaneously destroying anything which impedes economic growth. This necessarily puts it at odds with social conservatism, which seeks to maintain societal institutions. The consequences of neoliberalism are clear; the poor are worse off than they were thirty years ago, and the ruling classes engage in an unprecedented level of decadent behaviour.
How can it be that I have seen the most fervent of the Tory-adherent, Country-home dwelling young take copious amounts of cocaine in West London flats? The contradictions are clear, yet neoliberalism is indifferent to them. A lifestyle that is met with disgust by the working class and putatively the Conservative party, is common amongst the children of the elite. As Priti Patel said, there is no such thing as dabbling in drugs.
These contradictions are not rare, nor are they modern; they constitute the classical notions of bourgeois morality, sexuality and family. The Nietzschean archetype of the bourgeois subject admires the “terrible beauty of the deed”, that is, the contempt for weakness and the working class, who must be subjugated by greater, more powerful men. As Horkheimer and Adorno outline in Dialectic of Enlightenment, there is a clear correlation between physical and sexual dominance. The prostitute becomes an aspect of the bourgeois family, and with her, the other decadent activities of the ruling class. The individualisation and atomisation of society in an era of relentless capital accumulation lead to the desecration of virtue. In analysing the sexual and moral behaviours of the bourgeois class, Horkheimer and Adorno write “In Sade as in Mandeville, private vice constitutes a predictive chronicle of the public virtues of the totalitarian era”.
The Conservative argument for greater economic intervention is not without precedent. Benjamin Disraeli introduced sweeping social and economic reforms to improve the conditions of the working class, with policies such as the Artisans’ and Labourers’ Dwellings Improvement Act 1875, the Conspiracy, and Protection of Property Act 1875, which paved the way for workers to protest factory conditions, and the various instantiations of the Factory Act. At this time, it was not the Conservative party which championed Laissez-Faire economics, rather Gladstone and the Liberal party. The dwindling wing of the Conservative party which recognises the need for greater economic intervention, the so-called “Red Tories”, ought to find their voice in a country whose public services have been stripped to the bone by ten years of austerity enacted for purely ideological reasons. The Conservative party now has the reluctant support of a working class who has rejected the cosmopolitan, socially liberal values of a Labour party appropriated by the sons and daughters of the ruling classes. During the leadership election, the question of transgender rights took precedent over the rampant levels of inequality and child poverty in the United Kingdom. The material conditions of the working class are of little interest to the young, cosmopolitan elite, who seek to use the Labour party, once the property and voice of the worker, to advance and normalise their decadent lifestyles. Corbyn aside, the differences between the two largest parties is tantamount to “aesthetic activity […] in their enthusiastic obedience to the rhythm of the iron system”, i.e. the market.
The culture industry is in the death throes of decadence in a society in which profit is prioritised. The cultural anaesthetic of the modern BBC serves only to numb us to the Kali Yuga of western media. The creative man is suppressed under a totalitarian neoliberal order. Our cultural output is becoming increasingly derivative and soulless, with institutions producing postmodern husks of media into which the interpretation of the individual can be injected. Modern media says nothing, and panders to the narcissistic instinct to implant one’s personal experiences into film music and literature. We have long abandoned the Brechtian practice of the morality play, favouring instead a new type of opiate. For society to flourish, the Conservative party must once again adopt its Paternalism, in order to safeguard our institutions from further decay.
A Conservative break from the neoliberal hegemony already has its foundations. The Tories have been handed a huge majority due to their promise to deliver Brexit. The working class, despite what the cosmopolitan voice of the modern Labour party may claim, are neither thick nor racist. They have witnessed the effect of unfettered immigration on communities, driving wages and living standards down. The Left’s argument for remaining in the EU is that the free movement of capital ought to mean the free movement of labour, but this simply creates a system in which workers are forced to move to markets in which working conditions are better, liquefying the family unit. Controls on immigration can safeguard British industry, and force companies to pay their workers decent wages, instead of relying on an endless supply of cheap immigrant labour. It is difficult to understand why a party who claim to support the advancement of the conditions of workers would wish to be a part of a bureaucratic institution designed to uphold neoliberal hegemony and sacrifice the economies of Southern European nations in order to maintain the stability of German banks.
The choice is clear, and the future lies with the Tories; we can have Thatcherism and decadence, or Disraeli and Paternalism. In a Post-Brexit Britain, there is a golden opportunity to create a society that balances egalitarianism, fiscal responsibility, and a social conservatism which places the family and community, two aspects of life held dearly by the working class, at the heart of society.
Photo by Ben Abel on Flickr.