Free markets cannot be reconciled with traditionby Robin McGhee / February 21, 2013 / Leave a comment
Conservatism in 2013 faces an existential problem: how can it reconcile free markets with traditional values? As the Conservative party shuffles meekly towards electoral demolition, this intellectual imbalance can only become more damaging.
Case in point: a Prospect essay by the usually brilliant conservative philosopher Roger Scruton. In reviewing recent pamphlets on modern conservatism, he inadvertently exposes the failure of intellectual conservatism. It is remarkable to realise that this is notionally the best brain of the old guard examining the leading lights of the young.
One of the pamphlets—it seems over-indulgent to call it a book—is Britannia Unchained, published last year by five prominent Conservative MPs including Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel and Dominic Raab. According to the authors, Britain can only be great if it turns itself into a global economic powerhouse, and this requires radical structural reform of the economy to curtail state intervention and encourage hard work.
It is clear that this approach is deeply incompatible with a conservatism that protects traditional values and institutions. In common with many political works that purport to be patriotic, Britannia Unchained displays an amazing contempt for the average British citizen. They are stupid, selfish, indolent, lazy and ignorant. They drink, eat, sleep and die too much. Conservatism, in anything resembling its traditional form, embraces all Britons with its respect for the traditions of liberty that have benefited them. Kwarteng & co only seem to be interested in squeezing every atom of productivity from the beleaguered population so that we can “compete” with countries like India and China, which benefit from vastly greater resources of land and labour. “Too many people in Britain prefer a lie-in to hard work,” the MPs claim. Well, good. That shows they are human and able to enjoy life.
The creative destruction of life’s pleasures for the good of economic indicators is not a conservative position. It is the opposite: completely without regard for traditions that do not hasten the advance of capitalism. Kwarteng and his co-authors are apparently unable to grasp this. But it is impossible to understand why it has been so hungrily lapped up by Scruton—a man who has buried himself, perhaps six feet…