January 1, 2001
To those of us who believe in liberty the last three years of New Labour has been a gloomy period of losses piled upon defeat. The fact that the Conservative Party is marginally better than it was before and seems to be led by a man who understands our language, if no longer fluent, is scant consolation as they are just about unelectable. On Europe we have been signed and sealed to an irreversible union with a corporatist behemoth. Although we are told that monetary union is not with us, our high taxes and misplaced spending belie this fact. In the economy we see the government take ever more management functions from the hands of the nominal owners of businesses, while at the same time leaving a tax burden of onerous scope and eye popping complexity. The claims of social liberalism for New Labour are exposed as thread bare as liberties are given only to the favoured groups, such as the homosexual identity lobby while market traders are threatened with prison for selling in ounces. Aspects of the very British constitution of liberty, with roots over a millennium deep, are discarded by faceless junior ministers for a wretched sound bite. We know all this, even the dulled senses of the Conservative Party have picked up some aspect of the monumental change afoot, but there is one area that has been left untouched the rise of a global empire.
The British right has a problem with Peace. Generally they are not for it. However the warfare state is as much of an enemy to liberty and tradition as the welfare state. For one thing, war is a great excuse to intervene in every part of our everyday lives. A government that seems to be itching to do away with outmoded ideas such as habeas corpus would not fail to see the precedent set by the detention without trial of Oswald Mosley. The idea of conscription was fostered by war, and reluctantly given up in peace, as were rationing, identity cards and press censorship.
Not just personal liberty is endangered by war, but economic liberty takes a battering as well, and recovers far less readily. It is not just taxation and spending that goes through the roof, which it does (and never recovers to quite the same level as before) but the very ideas of sound economic policy. Take nationalisation, the idea that it was some Fabian dream that set the workers hearts on fire is a convenient untruth. The Fabians and their unworkable schemes would have been disdained as middle class dreamers by the skilled trained unionists if it were not for the First World War. It was then that the coal mines and the railways were taken under government direction, and the government was found to be a far softer touch than the dividend (and customer) conscious owners. Hence the demand for nationalisation that found fruition in the government of 1945.
It is not just in the area of government ownership and control of industry that war has a detrimental impact on the economy. The First World War made the Gold Standard unworkable, and the period of permanent inflation that has dampened growth since 1914 is still upon us. Trade is disrupted by every war, and we have to accept the third class offerings of a siege economy. The civil service expands, and looks for new empires when the war is finally done.
Those on the right also have to look to the present mockery that is made of "national interest" by the war party on the left. When Tony Blair says that Kosovo was "the first (sic) Progressive war," it should make our flesh creep. The idea that the armed forces of this country should be used for anything other than the defence of our narrowly defined national interests is pretty close to treason. It is even closer to stupidity. Do we really want to be picking quarrels with Russians, Islamic fundamentalists and the Chinese? And should we do so all at once?
We should also be alarmed at another part of this great push for empire, the great melting pot of cultures. The monoculture in agriculture is an area planted with only one crop, as the west of Ireland was with the potato in the 1840s. When the blight strikes there is no refuge, no alternative, and there is a general breakdown of society as the children desperately try to eat the grass on the verge.
The same goes for Western civilisation. Now don't get me wrong parliamentary democracy, equal rights for women, the Judeo-Christian tradition (as far as we allow it) and private ownership are fine things. Very fine things. Indeed, I want more people to enjoy them. However, these things should be accepted in their own time and place. Imposing them just will not work. If everyone, everyone, adheres to the same cultural norms, what happens when a serious sickness develops in that culture? Social breakdown can be dire. Look at the African problem with AIDS. Do we want a breakdown without limits, a general inferno that devours the whole world, with no borders and no respite? That is what a monoculture offers us.
More important than running all these ideas on an imported template, is the very idea of diversity. Now it may seem barbaric to keep women at home and not let them work, but it cannot be said to affect us in the remotest if it is happening in Iran or Afghanistan, or for that matter in Ireland. It is simply none of our business. Similarly, it is no-one else's business if we happen to keep our monarchy, don't write down our constitution or elect parliamentarians by a plurality in each constituency. Diversity is not an abstract ideal, only fit for the left wing students who mean no such thing, but a real part of human life, making it richer and stronger and therefore fit for conservatives and libertarians to defend.
The right in Britain is allergic to this analysis for historical reasons. For a start the demonisation of the British Empire by the left has produced an equal and opposite reaction on the right. Firstly there is the belief that the Empire was an unalloyed blessing on the otherwise benighted natives. I am not someone who believes that the Empire was the highest form of evil, and that in many cases life was better than before. However, I doubt if putting proto-Fabians in charge of traditional tribal and princely societies was Britain's greatest hour.
The other point of imperialism is that it actually drained resources from Britain. Many of the best and brightest of the British went abroad, a brain drain never equaled. It was also an expensive operation, and apart from in a few places such as the Caribbean, never turned a profit. The Empire also stretched our military resources, to the extent that at the beginning of the Second World War it threatened Britain's very survival. We need feel no guilt for the Empire, and any fondness we feel for it should be tempered by the realisation that in the cold light of day it was an economic liability.
A further source of Conservative interventionism has been the legacy of the Cold War. The Cold War was to most Conservatives and centrists (and I include myself here) a war for survival. The Soviet Union was just as much a threat to Britain as was Nazi Germany, but like the fight against Nazi Germany it mutated into something more. It was assumed, reasonably, that the Soviet Union was both too powerful and too unstable to ever be a decent neighbour. Therefore, if survival was necessary then the Soviet Empire either needed to be cut back or to be ended altogether. Further to this aim dissident elements in various satellites were encouraged by the West. At some time in the eighties this tactical encouragement of dissidence merged into disgust for the genuine excesses of the system and so the liberation of much of the Soviet bloc mutated from being a tactical aim, to being the aim itself. This was a mistake as the size of the Russian state has no relevance when Russia is not a credible threat, and the state of Balkan democracy, let alone the ethnic composition of these states, is not any of our business. Weaning the right off this delusion may take another generation, and by then it may be too late.
Next Week: What is a Right Wing Peace Monger to do?
A contribution of $50 or more will get you a copy of Ronald Radosh's out-of-print classic study of the Old Right conservatives, Prophets on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism. Send contributions to
520 S. Murphy Avenue, #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086