Saturday, September 09, 2017

Brexit is the least Conservative measure you can imagine

The great Conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott defined Conservatism as follows:
To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.
You will see at once that Brexit belongs to the wrong side of every one of these contrasts. It is, in truth, the least Conservative measure you can imagine.

I find the philosophy Oakeshott sets out enticing. It has much in common with the negative utilitarianism that Karl Popper advocated - we should aim not to maximise pleasure but to minimise pain.

And it would be a fair criticism of the British Conservative Party over the past 50 years that it has not been half Conservative enough.

For a liberal critique of Oakeshott's view, one must turn to the perhaps unlikely figure of Friedrich Hayek and his Why I am not a Conservative (an extract from The Constitution of Liberty).

There he writes first of the appeal of Conservatism:
Conservatism proper is a legitimate, probably necessary, and certainly widespread attitude of opposition to drastic change. It has, since the French Revolution, for a century and a half played an important role in European politics.
But goes on to argue:
Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. 
It may succeed by its resistance to current tendencies in slowing down undesirable developments, but, since it does not indicate another direction, it cannot prevent their continuance. 
It has, for this reason, invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of its own choosing. The tug of war between conservatives and progressives can only affect the speed, not the direction, of contemporary developments. 
But, though there is need for a "brake on the vehicle of progress," I personally cannot be content with simply helping to apply the brake. What the liberal must ask, first of all, is not how fast or how far we should move, but where we should move.
Today the backwoodsmen of the Conservative Party are in the driving seat, and they have set the direction for an imagined and illusory version of Britain's past.

1 comment:

Stephen Bigger said...

Now I know why I am not a Conservative ... Stephen