In the Shadows of Giants: The Mallard pays Tribute to its Influences
A recent discussion between those of us who help to maintain this site and ensure a space for conservatives to hone their writing skills and make their voices heard, led to this article; a summary from each of us on a key figure of ours and how they have influenced us. If you think we have missed out on any major thinkers, email us – we would love to hear from you.
Millicent Fawcett – Sarah Stook
Some people walked so that we could run. Millicent Fawcett was one of those people.
Unlike other women in history, Fawcett was not an exciting revolutionary who ended up burned at the stake or exiled. She did, however, fight a battle along with thousands of others- the right for women to vote. Without her, we may not have seen equal suffrage for a couple of decades.
Fawcett didn’t need to use a hatchet. She used words to inspire, encouraging her sisters to show that they were equally as capable as men when casting their ballots. Her push, however dignified, is what leads me to write today. When Margaret Thatcher was born, women did not have equal suffrage to men. 53 years later, and she stood on the steps of 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister.
She wasn’t just a leader in the fight for the vote. Fawcett called out child marriage, unequal morality laws and slavery when these things were simply not discussed- especially by women. We still talk about these things today.
Lord Maurice Glasman – Dr. Rakib Ehsan (Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society)
If only the contemporary British Left listened more to Blue Labour godfather Lord Maurice Glasman, instead of the likes of Momentum crank-in-chief Jon Lansman.
Blue Labour’s founder has for some time, understood the sweet spot of modern-day British politics – social-democratic economics blended with socio-cultural conservatism.
While New Labour adopted a fairly uncritical view of free-market globalism, Glasman spoke to both the economic and cultural anxieties associated with globalisation.
Glasman’s vision for a self-governing, social-democratic nation-state – one which invests in skilling its own domestic pool and ending freedom of movement – commands considerable public appeal.
While Labour in recent times has obsessed over the politics of diversity, Glasman’s communitarian spirit – based on the traditional triad of family, faith, and flag – captures the hearts and minds of many living in blue-collar communities.
Edmund Burke – Henry George
Edmund Burke was a British politician and philosopher, born in Ireland in 1729. Burke served as an MP from 1766-1794 with the Whig Party, the party of the bourgeois middle-classes.
Burke wrote a number of philosophical tracts on aesthetics and politics. His most famous work is Reflections on the Revolution in France, about the French Revolution. He was pessimistic about its origins and motivations, and about its outcomes. He predicted the slaughter that came, and the rise of Napoleon.
Burke is seen as the founder of modern conservatism. He took a pessimistic view of human nature and saw the need for strong civil society to mould and cultivate our flawed human nature. Burke’s most important insight was that we are part of a covenant between the dead, living and unborn. We look to our past for lessons on present and future conduct.
Burke believed the encouragement of virtue to live a good life should be grounded in a belief in the transcendent, otherwise internal restraint would be replaced by external coercion. This universal drive to a good life is revealed in diverse way across different societies. As Burke articulated, universalism is not uniformity, a lesson conservatives should remember.
Peter Hitchens – Georgia Leatherdale-Gilholy
My choice for this list is journalist and author Peter Hitchens, the elder (and some would say wiser) brother of fiery “new atheist” commentator Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens’ intellectual trajectory from Trotskyite student and industrial reporter to Christian conservative, alongside his knack for captivating speech and prose, gives him a compelling and unique ability to expose the radical left’s tactics, mission, and its already consolidated grip on our institutions, including the so-called “Conservative” Party itself.
Hitchens’ hypothesis of a Britain, not just in decline but already disintegrated, is best encountered in his “Abolition of Britain” (1999), which scathingly rebukes the “Cultural Revolution” of Britain from the 1960s onwards, detailing the deliberate destruction of the education system, the legal and cultural assault on the family unit, and the consolidation of these aims by propagandistic television and radio programs.
Hitchens’ 2010 “Rage Against God” subtitled “How Atheism led me to Faith”, is equally noteworthy. He uses Soviet totalitarianism as a case study of the moral chaos we invite when we severe our civilisation from religious morality and lambasts the innumerable damage Christian churches have self-inflicted by “allowing themselves be confused with love of country and the making of great wars”. Hitchens’ justifiable pessimism is a breath of fresh air in a militantly optimistic world, and his concern for truth should be a model for journalistic integrity across the political spectrum.
Margaret Thatcher – Calvin Robinson
When I reflect on political leaders who have shaped my outlook with their unapologetic approach led by conservative values, British values, and indeed Christian values, I find myself looking toward the controversial figure that is our former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Although the implementation of her policies is often considered divisive, I do tend to think that her radical approach to economics was never outweighed by her Christian values. The Iron Lady famously said, “Economics is the method; the object is to change the soul” to which I believe she meant fixing our economy is important, but nothing is more important than living a good life based on Christian teachings. The daughter of a local preacher, and a former preacher herself, Mrs Thatcher at least attempted to put her Christianity at the heart of everything she did.
As Secretary of State for Education, she is quoted as saying “Children need security and must be brought up in a stable, loving environment in which parents offer time, affection and guidance. These things are most likely when the parents are married – and stay married.” A statement of principle and conviction. Mrs Thatcher put Christian values at the core of her policies, and by doing so, she evangelised politically engaged people like me. As a schoolteacher and political activist myself, while I don’t support all of her decisions, I do admire Mrs Thatcher’s natural approach to mission and evangelism.
Working on the basis that ‘mission’ quite literally means to ‘send out’ and evangelism is ‘speaking the gospel’, mission and evangelism in the broader sense could mean living out our lives in the gospel. That we are sent out into the world as we say in the post-communion prayer “in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory”. As the body of the Church, it is our role as individuals and as a collective, to spread the gospel not only by preaching its contents – although that is important – but also by living its message of salvation. Thatcher demonstrated a particular emphasis for living the gospel even at work, or rather, especially at work. What is more missionary and evangelical than bringing Christ into everything we do, remembering His sacrifice for our sins and using that encouragement as a strength to not only be a better person but to shine as a light for Christ (Matthew 5:15)?
Sir Robert Anthony Eden – Jacob Groet
Anthony Eden is a political figure maligned in the canon of British politics.
Spending years in the shadow of Winston Churchill during the Second World War, his elevation to Prime Minister in 1955 was ended prematurely by the one piece of foreign policy that would come to dominate his memory: The Suez Campaign, which was an attempt to capture the Suez Canal after it was nationalised by Egypt under the direction of President Nasser. The invasion, which involved Israel and France, failed when the US under Eisenhower threatened to withdraw financial support which was vitally needed to keep the pound competitive.
I do not imagine that this foreign policy could have gone any other way- it was always doomed for failure. However, I do not for a moment believe that this qualifies the derision of Eden in the way that it has. Yes it was a failure, but Eden should not be demonised for actioning the last piece of foreign policy that attempted to keep Britain as a first-rate power.
In many ways, the Suez campaign was the final charge in defence of the British sphere of influence before the slow decline over the latter half of the century, culminating in the hand-over of Hong Kong in 1997 (albeit with a brief resurrection in the shape of the Falklands War). Of course, the Suez campaign would never be applicable today- quite rightly. Nevertheless, we should not attempt to characterise policies of the past with the sensibilities of today.
Benjamin Disraeli – Samuel Martin
Like many others I am sure, my conservative politics is best defined as instinctive, stemming from a deep and rooted love of my country. Throughout British political history, few statesmen have reflected this better than Benjamin Disraeli.
For Disraeli, politics was far less to do with the intricacies of policy papers and the mechanics of government. Rather it was one of a higher calling; it was to bring glory and reverence to the British state. His story is not merely a political career, it is a romantic tale of woeful failures and heroic triumphs.
Disraeli embodies what one may call the “Radical Tory Spirit”. His philosophy is both Toryism; the support and affection for traditional institutions and attitudes, synthesised with a willingness to reform and, if necessary, willingness to react for the sake of their defence. Unlike many of our politicians today, Disraeli adored and understood the spiritual sense of Britain, and the unifying power patriotism could be.
I am cautious, but I do hope that the party, having branded itself with the One-Nation label, will reacquaint itself with both the theory and the sentiment that underpins it, and pays sufficient tribute to the man whom it owes its existence.
Nigel Farage – Christopher Winter
Dangerous provocateur to some, saviour of Britain to others. Nigel Farage is like no other politician in modern Britain and has been one of the most interesting and relevant people in British politics in the last few years without ever holding office outside of the EU parliament.
I cannot say I like every aspect of Nigel Farage; his free market Thatcherite economic beliefs stand in stark comparison to my own. However, I most certainly admire him. He was a lone voice for people like me, people who were sick and tired of both major parties’ liberalist, Europhilic policies. He successfully took the fringe issue of Euroscepticism and thrust it into the public consciousness, which ultimately led to the British Departure from the EU. There certainly is a reason Americans refer to him as ‘Mr Brexit’.
Throughout his prominence in the public eye, Mr Farage has always done politics ‘differently’ from the rest of the competition. His detractors often argue that his style is evocative of ‘extremist’ politics. However, his supporters love his energetic, exciting, and counter cultural takes on topics other politicians dare not mention. Love him or hate him, it is certainly clear that Nigel Farage has changed the course of British politics forever.
Theodore Dalrymple – Ben Thompson
Conservatives are often accused of being pessimists, and if you were to read the work of Theodore Dalrymple, you could certainly make that case. However, his books are as illuminating as they are damning.
Dalrymple, through books such as ‘Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass’ and ‘Not with a Bang but a Whimper: The Politics and Culture of Decline’, masterfully explores the fragility of modern British life. His essays explore alcoholism, drug addiction, domestic abuse and various other ailments that disproportionately affect Britain’s poorest citizens.
He writes from his experience as a doctor working with criminals and those struggling with mental illnesses. His work is never easy to read, as it gives account of a lot of depraved behaviour. But through it, you can see change. He often writes of patients that he is able to put on a better path in life.
Often conservatives focus so much on economic growth that they forget the humans lost in the midst of all the commotion. A lot of people live dysfunctional lives and are subjected to constant misery. A lot of it can be down to financial circumstances no doubt, but many also start from a base of having little love in their homes, or lacking proper guidance.
Dalrymple’s books are testament to the power of confronting issues head on. If we see somebody suffering, we should reach out and try to offer them guidance.
Professor Sir Roger Scruton – Jake Scott
On the 12th January of this year, the sad news of Professor Sir Roger Scruton’s passing was shared by his family on his website, Scrutopia. The outpouring of support for Sir Roger and his works was immense, from home and abroad, most of all from the old Communist Bloc countries of Eastern Europe, where he had worked clandestinely to help ensure the flame of true philosophy never died out.
Throughout his life, Sir Roger published fifty books, and the breadth of his knowledge is well-documented. Writing on architecture, wine, poetry, hunting, religion, music, academia, and of course conservatism, Sir Roger’s influence is flatly denied in the halls of the academy today; but outside, in the real world, Sir Roger’s influence is only just being felt. Swathes of young conservatives, disillusioned with the liberalism of the last forty years and in search of someone to give them meaning, are turning increasingly to the Professor’s works, not for the meaning within them, but for the meaning towards which they gesture.
Sir Roger was not a perfect figure, but a key part of his philosophy was a deep recognition of the immutability of imperfection, and constantly pointed in the direction of reconciliation with what he called the lebenswelt, the living world, or quite simply ‘the love of the real’. Sir Roger’s influence on myself is unequivocal; through reading him, I have become emboldened not only in encouraging others to fight the menace of the Left, but also to delve deeper into the activity of learning, recognising that there is always more knowledge to discover, and even more people to love.
At a time when the Conservative Party is clearly in need of intellectual revival, it could do worse than to read the greatest conservative philosopher of the last century.