Weekend Reading: Jacob Levy: Autonostalgia: "Autonostalgia reminded me that seven years ago there was a Cato Unbound about Philip Blond's Red Toryism... https://www.facebook.com/jacob.t.levy/posts/10101195175465610
...but the link was dead; the whole issue seems to have been taken down, maybe because (IIRC) Blond obnoxiously refused to write his promised reply and it ended up being his critics talking to each other.... I went and dug up my piece. Considering that this was written in 2010, I'm pretty pleased with how this description of conservatism has aged. Remember the findings last year that, in both the primaries and the general election, it was especially elites in non-elite areas—richer whites in poorer regions—who tended to support Trump.
The "armed agents of the state" part has held up grimly well, too. Remember which unions supported Trump. And given the special place of Goldman Sachs in the demonology of certain swamps on the right, and more generally the rise of the alt-right and the Nazi frogs, 2016 bore out the suggestion that Jews are on conservatism's enemies list...
The politics of western societies since the French Revolution has often been dominated by three great party-ideas. We could call them “ideologies,” but that word has such specific baggage that I think it’s best to avoid it—and part of the distinctive feature of the party-ideas has been that they have animated parties—“parties of principle” as David Hume (who distrusted such parties) termed them. These have not always been the stable institutions of the full-fledged democratic political party as came to exist in the United States and the United Kingdom in the first third of the nineteenth century, but they have been more stable and more organized than Hume’s personal factions “founded on personal friendship or animosity.”
Liberalism (and here I include both its welfarist and libertarian variants) has been the party-idea of the rule of law, religious toleration, careers open to the talents, and markets. It represented the interests and ideas of agricultural smallholders, lawyers, religious dissenters, entrepreneurs, urban traders, merchants, and artisans, as well as the interests and ideas of a portion of the wealthier classes—particularly those involved in finance and trade, and those who were “new money.” It has also, I think, often been associated with the young and single.
Socialism has been, of course, the party-idea of economic equality within industrial society, and an equalization of power over economic decisionmaking. It quintessentially represented the interests of the organized industrial working class, and disproportionately represented the ideas of professional intellectuals and urban artists.
Conservatism is the party-idea of slowing the pace of change, of preserving order and returning to real or imagined lost virtues and communal ways of life.
One part of conservatism’s base has traditionally been the armed agents of the state—the military and police. But the rest of its social base has an odd character. It is the alliance of the rural landlord and the rural peasant, of the established-church priest and his relatively poor flock. It is the party idea of resisting the changes associated with the urban middle class and working class alike, of protecting traditional ways of life (including, importantly, traditional hierarchies) against the disruptions associated with both markets and politics.
Socialism is famously ambivalent about what came to be known as capitalism, appreciating its tremendous productive capacity and disruption of old power relations, while indicting the new power relations it creates. Liberalism is committed to capitalism, in more or less restrained forms. But conservatism is bitterly anticapitalist, much as it is anti-urban and for much the same reasons. The traditional rural elite finds that the creative destruction of the market threatens his status; the traditional rural poor resent that the city draws away their young to a godless and promiscuous life while also disrupting their stable economy. A local economy based on primary goods (farming, fishing) could be stable for generations, and then suddenly become uncompetitive for mysterious reasons of finance or long-distance trade, apparently decided far away by other people.
Conservatism as a party-idea is in large part the attempt to defend against those disruptions — or to express resentment after they take place.
These disruptions are real and have real social and human costs. But politics requires resources and organizational capacity and human capital—and these are concentrated in the hands of the landlords, not the peasants; the priests, not the flocks. And so, more or less inevitably, conservatism is the party of the traditional elite, drawing on the votes or social support of those they have traditionally dominated.
It is the alliance the aristocrat offers the peasant against the tacky, educated, often-Jewish new money city slicker; and the aristocrat sets the terms of the alliance.
This is Red Toryism—really Toryism simpliciter, with “Red Tory” a retro-fit (like “pocketwatch”) that only has to be invented after some other version has come around.
The ideas offered by Phillip Blond are not so different from those of his honestly claimed intellectual forbears, Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin. It was Carlyle who coined the epithet “dismal science” in his attack on economists like the liberal John Stuart Mill, because they failed to appreciate the attractive stable paternalism of West Indian slave plantations. The conservative elite offers to take paternalistic care of their subjects, and to protect them against the scary and unpredictable forces of the market. The paternalism and protectionism, the insulation of the poor from market forces, make the Tory seem “Red” by comparison with the surrounding commercial society. Indeed, part of what is so striking about Blond’s essay is how thoroughly and self-consciously it returns to the conservatism of those reacting against commercial and democratic modernity in its earliest days.
To the conservative, traditional bonds of hierarchy, community, family, and faith are under threat as never before. Indeed, they are on the verge of collapse. That is to say, throughout modernity and the era when there has been self-conscious conservatism as a party idea, conservatives have always thought that traditional bonds of hierarchy, community, family, and faith are under threat as never before and on the verge of collapse.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1848): Reactionary Socialism https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch03.htm: A. Feudal Socialism...
... Owing to their historical position, it became the vocation of the aristocracies of France and England to write pamphlets against modern bourgeois society. In the French Revolution of July 1830, and in the English reform agitation, these aristocracies again succumbed to the hateful upstart. Thenceforth, a serious political struggle was altogether out of the question. A literary battle alone remained possible. But even in the domain of literature the old cries of the [French] restoration period had become impossible.
In order to arouse sympathy, the aristocracy was obliged to lose sight, apparently, of its own interests, and to formulate their indictment against the bourgeoisie in the interest of the exploited working class alone. Thus, the aristocracy took their revenge by singing lampoons on their new masters and whispering in his ears sinister prophesies of coming catastrophe.
In this way arose feudal Socialism: half lamentation, half lampoon; half an echo of the past, half menace of the future; at times, by its bitter, witty and incisive criticism, striking the bourgeoisie to the very heart’s core; but always ludicrous in its effect, through total incapacity to comprehend the march of modern history.
The aristocracy, in order to rally the people to them, waved the proletarian alms-bag in front for a banner. But the people, so often as it joined them, saw on their hindquarters the old feudal coats of arms, and deserted with loud and irreverent laughter.
One section of the French Legitimists and “Young England” exhibited this spectacle.
In pointing out that their mode of exploitation was different to that of the bourgeoisie, the feudalists forget that they exploited under circumstances and conditions that were quite different and that are now antiquated. In showing that, under their rule, the modern proletariat never existed, they forget that the modern bourgeoisie is the necessary offspring of their own form of society.
For the rest, so little do they conceal the reactionary character of their criticism that their chief accusation against the bourgeois amounts to this, that under the bourgeois régime a class is being developed which is destined to cut up root and branch the old order of society.
What they upbraid the bourgeoisie with is not so much that it creates a proletariat as that it creates a revolutionary proletariat.
In political practice, therefore, they join in all coercive measures against the working class; and in ordinary life, despite their high-falutin phrases, they stoop to pick up the golden apples dropped from the tree of industry, and to barter truth, love, and honour, for traffic in wool, beetroot-sugar, and potato spirits.(2)
As the parson has ever gone hand in hand with the landlord, so has Clerical Socialism with Feudal Socialism.
Nothing is easier than to give Christian asceticism a Socialist tinge. Has not Christianity declaimed against private property, against marriage, against the State? Has it not preached in the place of these, charity and poverty, celibacy and mortification of the flesh, monastic life and Mother Church? Christian Socialism is but the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat.
B. Petty-Bourgeois Socialism: The feudal aristocracy was not the only class that was ruined by the bourgeoisie, not the only class whose conditions of existence pined and perished in the atmosphere of modern bourgeois society. The medieval burgesses and the small peasant proprietors were the precursors of the modern bourgeoisie. In those countries which are but little developed, industrially and commercially, these two classes still vegetate side by side with the rising bourgeoisie.
In countries where modern civilisation has become fully developed, a new class of petty bourgeois has been formed, fluctuating between proletariat and bourgeoisie, and ever renewing itself as a supplementary part of bourgeois society. The individual members of this class, however, are being constantly hurled down into the proletariat by the action of competition, and, as modern industry develops, they even see the moment approaching when they will completely disappear as an independent section of modern society, to be replaced in manufactures, agriculture and commerce, by overlookers, bailiffs and shopmen.
In countries like France, where the peasants constitute far more than half of the population, it was natural that writers who sided with the proletariat against the bourgeoisie should use, in their criticism of the bourgeois régime, the standard of the peasant and petty bourgeois, and from the standpoint of these intermediate classes, should take up the cudgels for the working class. Thus arose petty-bourgeois Socialism....
In its positive aims... this form of Socialism aspires either to restoring the old means of production and of exchange, and with them the old property relations, and the old society, or to cramping the modern means of production and of exchange within the framework of the old property relations that have been, and were bound to be, exploded by those means. In either case, it is both reactionary and Utopian. Its last words are: corporate guilds for manufacture; patriarchal relations in agriculture...