Preserving the substance of a nation: the role of a traditional conservative counter-establishment
by John Kersey
This is the text of a speech delivered earlier today to the Traditional Britain Group conference.
I am going to begin with a simple thesis: the loss of the English nation has progressed to such an extent that ordinary measures will not be sufficient to restore it. I am going to propose to you that if we aim to see the restoration of traditional Conservatism in this country, we cannot rely upon the existing mechanisms of our society – its national politics and its institutions – to serve that purpose. I have two main reasons for proposing this theory, and after I enumerate them, I will then go on to explain their consequences for us and the necessity for a traditional conservative counter-establishment.
The first difficulty we face is really more of a historical phenomenon than anything else. It is that where change of a widespread and fundamental nature has occurred, it is then near-impossible to return to the status quo ante. If we look to English history, there are events – such as the Restoration of 1660 – that may seem to look backwards, but in reality constitute the combination of elements of the past and present. The most usual pattern is that of thesis – which in this example is absolute monarchy; antithesis – the Puritan Commonwealth; and then synthesis – the constitutional monarchy that constitutes the Restoration. England is very good indeed at giving the veneer of continuity to what is in fact profound change. This can fool us into mistaking style for substance. I am going to suggest to you that we as conservatives are too often fooled in this way, and that we are sometimes satisfied with a change of style where in fact it is substance that needs to be addressed. Genuine change of substance – in this case reactionary reversion – is extremely rare, and will almost invariably be achieved at the cost of much bloodshed. We in Britain have not succeeded hitherto in turning the clock back in public life. I suggest it is unlikely that we can easily succeed in doing so in the future.
The second difficulty is in our perception of the effects of change. We often see the results of change and we must then look for its causes. Sometimes this is uncontroversial, but often we feel sure that we can connect cause and effect in a straight line more because of our inner convictions rather than because of an actual and measurable connexion. Many of us believe that much of the blame for the problems that face our country can be placed at the feet of our current batch of elected representatives, or their immediate predecessors. But what if what we are perceiving is in fact a much more gradual and deep-rooted process working its way out, and with less to do with politicians than with social change that is the outcome of a variety of post-1945 factors? The root of conservatism is in an extremely guarded attitude to change, precisely because change has unpredictable, and sometimes unmeasurable effects. We should therefore be very careful not to assume that where we propose change we can predict its outcome. In particular, we must not assume that the solutions of yesterday can be applied to the problems of today with the same results. And we must be aware that anything we create will be at constant risk from both external opposition and infiltration.
Conservatism and traditionalism are not ideologies; they are anti-ideological in that they rest upon a system of fixed, guiding principles rather than upon an agenda based upon change. As such, if we define ourselves as conservatives and traditionalists, we need to beware of ideologically-driven forces that oppose what we stand for. In our time the two most prominent ideologies that threaten conservatism and traditionalism are socialism and neoconservatism. Neoconservatism is the outcome of an attempt to apply Left-wing models of ideology and change to core conservative ideas.
Because ideology and traditional conservatism are opposed, what this produces is a hybrid of limited conservative principle and a Leftist commitment to so-called progress and constant change. Neoconservatism wins a popular mandate by accepting the Left’s rules and playing the Left’s game, but it is a complete misconstrual of conservatism, because constant change can never bring about conservative ends. If a conservative government were to behave in a truly conservative way, the first thing it would do on gaining power would be to reverse much of the legislation of the past twenty years and secure our immediate withdrawal from the European Union. We should be clear that if we do not find that the present-day Conservative Party is advocating that this is what should happen, we must conclude that it is because it is no longer conservative in any true sense of that word. Instead, what it is illustrating very clearly is the confusion between style and substance that I outlined earlier.
The reality is that the Conservative Party today is a mixture of several strands – of which the most prominent are neoconservative and centrist (that is to say left-wing) conservative. These are in what appears to be a permanent ascendancy, despite some dissonance with both the Parliamentary party and the grass roots. They are in the ascendancy for one reason and one reason only – because to engage with modern politics involves both the acceptance of change and a commitment to continuous change, which is incompatible with traditional conservatism, and it is by nature ideological. It has become impossible for anyone in mainstream politics to say that he or she is reactionary or traditionalist, or that if given power they will reverse the measures of the previous government. They must instead embrace the ideology of change and in doing so, they will cease to profess the substance of traditional conservatism and retain only, at best, its style. They will be asked “What will you do if we vote for you?” and what they should answer is “We will take such measures as are necessary to preserve and protect the enduring traditions and way of life of the English people. Other than that, we will do nothing.” The reality is that such a platform will not succeed under our present democracy. Indeed, the understanding necessary to arrive at the conclusions of traditional conservatism is reserved to a few – not because the masses are incapable of this, but because most are faced with such a raft of pressures and distractions that they are not able to form a correct overview of the actual state of things. Furthermore, most people want to fit in and lack the courage to stand out from the crowd. Most people remain absorbed in the microcosm and this enables them to embrace the paradox that it is only the present system – which is built on constant and disorienting change – that can give them security. There is also the problem that our country now contains a good many people who care nothing for the traditions and way of life of the English people because they are either indifferent to them or actively desire their destruction. I can assure you that not all of them are of immigrant stock. Indeed, a good many of them are White and English and have been made to feel thoroughly guilty about both.
What has happened to the Conservative Party is not dissimilar from the process that has affected all of our major institutions. They have all become, to a greater or lesser extent, infected by the change agenda. They are expected to move forwards, to embrace progress, to be modern and to be interconnected with other institutions that share these values. It is anathema to be old-fashioned, to resist change, to conserve, or to be independent or critical of developments in other parallel institutions. Most institutions adapt to the status quo and do not challenge it. Indeed, they judge their success by their ability to adapt and to respond to popular taste. In doing this, institutions are required to sign up to an ideological agenda. In theory, it could be that this agenda might be neoconservative. But here is the central problem. Neoconservatism is a deeply incomplete philosophy. When the Left accuse neoconservatives of philistinism and a disregard for culture, they are right. Neoconservatives have confined their attention to areas where they believe they are on safe ground – defence, economics, foreign and home affairs. They have created a yawning chasm where their cultural values should be, which is why both Tony Blair and David Cameron are correctly classified as neoconservatives even though they have led different parties. But there is no vacuum. Instead, the chasm has been very ably filled by the Left, which has created a hegemony in certain areas of our society that is seemingly unbreakable. It is now common to hear politicians of the Conservative Party embracing the cultural values of the Left. Our Prime Minister, Mr Cameron, tells us that he likes the music of The Smiths, whose music is undeniably that of the Left*. It seems to me unlikely that he has heard music by artists of the Right, or that if he were to hear it, he would recognize or respond to the traditionalist conservative elements in it. He has not done so, because fundamentally culture is not important to him except as relaxation, as aural wallpaper or as a shared experience with his peers. He does not realize that unless the Right can advance its own cultural values and successfully combat those of the Left, it will never offer a complete solution to the problems of this country.
As soon as we start to talk in depth about the cultural values of the Right, we are faced with the relentless onslaught against those values that began among Marxist thinkers and has become a key element of the post-1945 consensus. For Leftists such as Adorno and Horkheimer, Rightist culture was a symptom of what they, in the Left’s favourite quasi-psychoanalytic jargon, called the “authoritarian personality”. They convinced many that there was a direct line between Rightist culture and Nazism, and they ensured that any who associated with that culture could conveniently be dismissed with the label “far-right”. Their cultural struggle required that traditional conservatism could only be defeated by setting a directly opposing force against it in a culture war. This process also declared war on the cultural values of the White working class where those values supported Traditionalism. Teenage rebellion was not invented by the Left, but it was the Left who would cynically exploit it and ally it to the agenda of constant change, and ensure that pop music and pop culture became the repository for Leftist values. Youth became the focus for the Left because it was the group in society most susceptible to being sold change as a way of life. Meanwhile, the idea of a hierarchical society was remorselessly attacked by the Left both culturally and economically, resulting in the ascent of shallow materialism and the deification of fashion and the modern. Traditional morality and social views became the new taboos; opposition to them, notably in the recent promotion of homosexual civil marriage, has become an essential badge of the political elite.
Today, the Leftist hegemony is reinforced by an audit culture that claims to provide accountability but actually serves as a means of control. Genuine independence is impossible under such a system because all the truly significant decision-making is centralized and takes place far above the level of those at the coalface; frequently in the implementation of some European Union socialist diktat. Our schools and universities exemplify this climate. When I tell people that English universities used to regulate themselves, and that separation from the control of government was a key element of their independence, I receive looks of amazement. The professions have been key driving forces in audit culture. The purpose of a profession is to act as a gatekeeper; not so much to keep people in as to keep undesirables out. The result is ever-growing layers of standardization, accreditation and assessment. The culture of professional management tends to uphold the view that centralization and systemization is preferable to a traditionalist, human-scale way of doing things. When UKIP say that they intend to embrace professionalism, my heart sinks. If they do so, they will suppress their traditionalist and individualist elements, and rather than resisting it, will adapt to the prevailing system.
A major reason why people have accepted this regulatory culture is because they have been systematically intellectually disempowered. Gone are the days of the rounded education, the gentleman amateur and the Renaissance man as concepts at the heart of our society. The encouragement of micro-specialism is the Left’s way of reinforcing the role of the expert. In academia, post-war structures such as peer review, scientific method and departmental collegiality mean that a hegemony is reinforced and that those who would challenge it are firmly excluded. The global warming fiasco exemplifies this very clearly. Entire areas, such as sociology and cultural studies, have emerged that consist almost entirely of the study of Left-wing thought, and the ascent of postmodernism has ensured the dominance of the Left across the arts and humanities. Meanwhile, those who educate themselves on a topic find that their opinion is discredited as supposedly unqualified, not because of any deficiency in their expertise, but because they speak from outside the academy. A certain amount of dissent is, of course, tolerated within the establishment – just as it was in the Soviet Union. But if anyone transgresses too far against the sacred cows of political correctness, he or she is hung out to dry and the establishment closes ranks. Some choose to be Rightist dissidents within Leftist institutions and are granted some degree of toleration in consequence. But this is a lonely and often bitter calling. Professor Roger Scruton has talked eloquently about the decade he spent within mainstream English academia. His dissidence achieved little in the way of change; in the end it simply wore him down.
Because the Left has comprehensively captured our institutions, we cannot simply expect a change of government to bring about improvement. Nor can we adhere to a nation that may call itself by an old name while completely changing its substance. The label may say Chateau Latour, but opening the bottle reveals the whiff of Sarson’s. In place of a political adherence to the nation as it stands, we must substitute adherence to the core values that support the nation as traditional conservatives understand it. If we do not, then we fall into the very trap that the Left has set for us, and find ourselves supporting the remnants of style rather than substance.
In the culture war we need, first of all, to acknowledge that we have not so much lost as failed to put up much of a fight to begin with. Now, we would need a revolution in the prevailing culture of this country before we could see genuine results. We need, in short, to rebuild our nation from the ground up, not the top down. Most public sector employees are so ideologically committed to a Leftist agenda that they will bring this country to a halt with a general strike before they will accept the defeat of their ideology. Unfortunately, we cannot simply dispense with them; if we do we will be in a position where we cannot govern. The European Union will not go away without exacting as heavy a price as it can for our withdrawal. And although there are worthy traditionalist conservatives in a number of political parties, politics is about power, and there is no prospect that a traditionalist conservative government will be formed in the foreseeable future. In fact, electoral politics is the icing on the cake in terms of what needs to be done in this country. Unless there is a fundamental appeal to hearts and minds that leads to the widespread embrace of traditional conservatism among the populace, it will not have the broad platform that it needs to build a power base. And the reality is that change from within is a near impossibility. The Left has secured such a stranglehold not only on our institutions but their supporting, multi-layered framework that a fundamental reversion in their character would require complete control of both institutions and framework to succeed. So we are back at the grass roots, and it is there that the counter-establishment must start.
There is a parallel in the position that the Catholic Church has found herself in since the modernist disasters of the First and Second Vatican Councils. In both cases, these events have prompted resistance groups which have, in the case of those reacting to the First Vatican Council with whom I myself have association, lasted for well over a century now. Bishop Richard Williamson, who represents the resistance to the Second Vatican Council, has said “It seems that, today, God wants a loose network of independent pockets of Catholic Resistance, gathered around the Mass, freely contacting one another, but with no structure of false obedience.” Let us widen his reference to those whose adherence is to Tradition, of whatever religious background, and then we have a model for a counter-establishment; one that does not enter into the inevitable fissuring of large institutions but that instead centres each nexus upon a central and perhaps specialized principle, working co-operatively with others when necessary, but concentrating upon a local and grass roots cultural restoration that can establish the proper foundations upon which a return to order can be built.
We should be aware that it is hard to build traditionalist conservative institutions that will last. The law and its myriad regulations enforce Leftist principle and restrict what can be done. Moreover, the democracy and openness that is forced on our institutions by law is a gift to those who would destroy those institutions. The Left for years has practised entryism. Neoconservatives have done the same more recently. Unless there is not only a large caucus of traditional conservatives but a continual supply of new people with a similar commitment to these ideas, and a means of excluding those who do not share them, the institution will be diluted and in time will be absorbed into the mainstream. We must learn from the Left. For several hundred years, institutions such as the unions, the co-operative movement and the working mens’ clubs sustained and supported the Left. Thousands of men and women, their names now forgotten, pounded the pavements in the cause of socialism, propagating their creed in the workplace, at leisure, in homes and schools. From these actions, each on its own barely significant, grew the present inculcation of the Left into the fabric of our society.
We on the Right had no such support network. We too often disdained proselytization among the masses, and were too often divided among ourselves. It is only through the life and values of a community that we can allow the individual to experience what would otherwise be an intellectual abstraction. We need to use what opportunities remain to us within the law to organize and to work together with common aims to preserve and restore traditional conservative values, through institutions such as the Traditional Britain Group and through building others that will nurture and promote the culture of the Right both locally and nationally for generations to come. Above all, we need those who have wealth to establish permanent foundations that will embody and perpetuate the ideals they believe in, and we need to ensure that Traditionalists have large families and strong support networks.
Strategically, we need to assert our rights as vociferously as do many minority groups in this country. We must do so without shame, without apology and without fearing the inevitable condemnation both of the Left and of neoconservatives. The mainstream media are largely creatures of the Left or of the Quisling Right. The internet has proved a godsend largely because its reach is out of all proportion to its costs. I am greatly encouraged by the spread of Traditionalist ideas on the internet and by the number of young people who, perhaps in response to being force-fed a constant diet of socialism and egalitarianism, are discovering those ideas and actively debating them. At the end of the day, the rebuilding of our nation starts with its most fundamental units: its individuals and families. It begins with the reinforcement of inner principle that leads to knowledge and the development of consciousness – as Julius Evola terms it, inner awakening. Only when we are able to work these ideas out in ourselves to the point where we ourselves are living a free life can we then begin the essential process of passing those values on to others. Our mission is one of resistance, and our planning must be for the long term – towards an ultimate aim that is beyond the lives of many of us, and that will live on in others. There will eventually come a point where the present society will show its weakness openly and where public dissent will spill over. What will be needed then will be those who can channel that dissent and provide solutions to it that have at their root the most fundamental values of our civilization. That will be our moment, and we must be ready for it.
*In subsequent discussion, it seems that I may have erred in classifying the music of The Smiths as being of the Left. I shall endeavour to educate myself further on the matter.