Rediscovering Moral Imperfection | Harry Fitzpatrick
For those of us who would identify as social-conservatives or traditionalists, one question is imperative – what exactly has led to the state of moral decline that we find ourselves in? It should go without saying that without facing this question and coming to a conclusion – however unpalatable or outside the Overton Window that may be, we will go nowhere in attempting to slow or reverse the decline western civilisation finds itself in. I would argue, however, that while the answer may provoke great discomfort for the political squeamish, it is based on a well-established pillar of mainstream Conservative doctrine and is commonly observable for all to see.
It is, in short, time we as Conservatives reaffirmed our fundamental belief in the moral depravity of man and the necessity of rule and law to keep man in line. It is time we as Conservatives stopped flirting with populism and realised the danger and dereliction of duty that modern democracy can pose. I say “reaffirmed” because, of course, this has been a Conservative pillar for some time – all the way back to Thomas Hobbes and the maxim that without firm leadership life would be “nasty, brutish and short”. And after all – if this doctrine of the fallibility of the masses is wrong, what is even the need for conservatism?
Conservatism depends upon man being prone to do wrong – it is this foundation, rooted in our Christian heritage, that provides the basis for all further Conservative observations and doctrines. Neither is this some archaic “High Tory” dogma – modern Conservatives have been at the forefront of the fight against vain and arrogant attempts at “modernising” and “democratising” the British constitution, whether that be the Blairite Lord Reforms or Devolution, or the Liberal Democrat proposals to bring in alternative voting systems. And yet there has been a notable shift, apparent to most commentators and Tories alike, that this current administration – and indeed Conservatism in general post-referendum, has become instinctively more populist – “the people’s government”, prepared to brush aside old truth’s and traditions in place of going straight to the masses.
But I would argue that while this may be tempting given the referendum win and the landslide general election victory, this is a hugely dangerous move. The truth is this new embracing of popular democracy by the Tories is because for many Conservative politicians “democracy” and the “will of the people” are the only justifications they could give for backing Brexit – which many of them had long-opposed and campaigned against. Thus, for these “BeLeavers”, this vague sense of democratic entitlement became their only means of justifying delivering Brexit (aside from those who took sides in the referendum for purely pragmatic means, of which there surely is a not under significant amount).
Curiously, it was the anti-Brexit campaigners that took up the age-old argument of noblisse oblige, arguing that as figures of stature it was their responsibility to do what they thought was right for their constituents. Thus, for all of us who backed Brexit, the temptation became to simply adopt the tribal opposite opinion and embrace radical democracy. But this is unnecessary. If – like me, you believe Brexit was objectively the right policy for the United Kingdom, irrespective of whether a majority supported it or not, then there is no issue. Indeed, this entire argument only occurred because our political leaders are too weak to take true decisive and creative action – hence why even a Eurosceptic Conservative government would have almost certainly put Brexit to a referendum rather than merely triggering Article 50 by a majority vote in Parliament without a referendum.
But this is yet another symptom of a system that rewards short-term opportunism and craven leadership. Likewise, increasingly policy is made in a collective capacity by organised groupthink – creative or dangerous solutions ostracised, and their proponents alienated. Yet in so doing it should come as no surprise to us that we find ourselves increasingly incapable of dealing with the evermore complex situations modern life directs at us – from issues varying from the ever-growing burden of socialised healthcare to automation. The response has been a tiresome repertoire of ever more widened budgets and deeper spending, all while those involved acknowledge the ultimate folly and un-sustainability of the solutions, they themselves propose.
When the public does demand radical change, these bureaucrats and committee-politicians prove to be incapable of decisive decision making, instead hiding behind vague compromises or further attempts to delegate decision making back to the electorate (Brexit being the ideal scenario). But what else do we expect when we empower and incentivise salesmanship and marketing ahead of genuine meritocracy? The fact of the matter is – as much as such a belief is now viewed as genuinely beyond the pale, this issue did not present itself for most of our history.
As unbelievable as it might seem to us today, the current model of universal suffrage to everyone aged eighteen and above – with no checks or conditions, was quite beyond the imaginations of even most political radicals until recently. And while discussion of this might quickly fall to accusations of snobbery and elitism – I challenge anybody to seriously present the argument that all the inhabitants of the British Isles are equally able and educated when it comes to political and economic affairs. If this is not the case – as it self-evidently isn’t, why should every one of us have an equal share of power in the political process? It sounds radical when presented through the lens of politics, but is much less alien to us than it might seem.
Does your average family decide on the children’s bed-time through equal vote? Of course not. The children would vote for 3am bedtimes and ice cream for dinner every time. Does that make the child of less value? Of course not – it simply acknowledges that in certain areas it is the parent’s duty to make informed and educated decisions on behalf of their children. I believe to a great extent many us know and acknowledge this (universal suffrage has always been more of a theory than a practice anyway, given how many choose not to partake in it), after all, is it not the case that all of the various egalitarian and mass uprisings in human history have simply led to the restoration of authority, usually in the form of some extreme zealous tyranny?
The biggest irony is that democracy will usually instead lead to tyranny by empowering charlatans and demagogues.
Photo by jean louis mazieres on Flickr.