If you are one of the many people who seem to be suffering from the lethal combination of ignorance and a sense of self-importance, then Question Time could very well be the programme for you. It was with great trepidation I tuned in to Thursday’s edition of the show, fully expecting the usual plethora of whiners and moaners to fully sap the soul of any hope for the future. Indeed, the only reason I attempted such remarkable masochism, was the appearance of what could perhaps be described as the most influential Anglo-sphere Conservative currently living; Roger Scruton. Being a rare combination of both an Intellectual and a Conservative, he offers an incredible wealth of philosophy to conceptualise politics in a way that transcends the traps of Modernity and Ideology.
In an age where politics is a barren wasteland for anyone concerned with truth or wisdom, figures like Scruton become a diamond in the rough. It takes serious courage and insight to ask on Question Time “Isn’t the problem, not the yobbery of the members of parliament, but the bad judgement of the people who vote for them?”. I could not help smile at the awkward grin on the Labour MP ‘Lizz’s’ face, as she said “controversial”. God forbid a Labour MP ever accepts an uncomfortable truth. Such criticisms of the electorate, while being entirely justified, simply aren’t usually levelled in a democracy. Vote chasing populism will always triumph in modern politics. Which is why we on the genuine Conservative right must turn to the likes of Oakeshott, Burke, Powell, Minogue, Scruton and maybe even Hayek (at a push). For these figures give us an outline of something far more sophisticated, that is the philosophy of Conservatism.
What Scruton represents to a philosophical Conservative approach, is that modern politics is shaped by a lot more than MPs and Politicians. While there are many things to disagree with from the revered John Maynard Keynes, he did get one thing right: “Practical men, who believe themselves free from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist”. Okay, maybe one small correction is required, we must supplant the word ‘economist’, with ‘academic’. For the works of Gramsci, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Milton Friedman all influence the direction of public policy; and thus politics itself. We create consensuses around particular ideologies, that when they finally exhaust themselves, are replaced by another hyper-rational theory. What can very simply be deduced, is that culture and politics are entirely separate, but not exclusive. Those who control the institutions that define culture itself, such as universities, schools, churches etc. can define the direction of a nation itself. Public policy, is usually a reflection of those changes in broader society.
This is where Conservatism has the ability to triumph. Oakeshott once argued, that Conservatism was almost too sophisticated for politics; preferring instead to influence the world through culture and academia. This kind of approach is useful to anyone who seeks a revival in genuine Organic values, as opposed to the advances of one rational planner to the next. These archaic values, that are scorned so much by Starbucks-drinking Progressives, are simply the backbone of any healthy people. This is the message I feel figures like Scruton are attempting to force on the national phsycie of the Anglo-sphere countries; or what we may call the ‘West’. To return to this week’s Question Time, there was an excellent point in the debate, where Scruton blames the decline of educational standards not on one policy or another, but a general culture of indolence. It is this broader approach, that supersedes the narrowing agendas of Modernity. Once we understand that legislation is often the result of some ideological dogma, be that of the market or of the state, we can begin to construct a new politics based on genuine Organic values; that mitigate the changes of social engineers. We must wake up to the failure of the public sphere, whose primary goal for some time was to engineer society to ideology.
If there is one thing we can take from figures like Scruton, it would be to remember that politics is much more than just the actions of the state, or the ideologies that occupy public debate. It is in fact, a much broader thing, in which a broader culture can define the way we think and act. It is in this field, that we can hope to lead the almost-holy crusade to restore all things natural and organic, to restore our freedoms and traditions, our rights and our duties; and that force is, and always has been, Conservatism.