London July 4, 2019
VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia’s president, has declared the liberal idea “obsolete”. It will not surprise you to learn that we disagree. Not just because he told the Financial Times that liberalism was all about immigration, multiculturalism and gender politics—a travesty—but also because he picked the wrong target. The idea most under threat in the West is conservatism. And you do not have to be a conservative to find that deeply troubling.
In two-party systems, like the United States and (broadly) Britain, the right is in power, but only by jettisoning the values that used to define it. In countries with many parties the centre-right is being eroded, as in Germany and Spain, or eviscerated, as in France and Italy. And in other places, like Hungary, with a shorter democratic tradition, the right has gone straight to populism without even trying conservatism.
Conservatism is not so much a philosophy as a disposition. The philosopher Michael Oakeshott put it best: “To be conservative…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.” Like classical liberalism, conservatism is a child of the Enlightenment.
Liberals say that social order emerges spontaneously from individuals acting freely, but conservatives believe social order comes first, creating the conditions for freedom. It looks to the authority of family, church, tradition and local associations to control change, and slow it down. You sweep away institutions at your peril. Yet just such a demolition is happening to conservatism itself—and it is coming from the right.
The new right is not an evolution of conservatism, but a repudiation of it. The usurpers are aggrieved and discontent. They are pessimists and reactionaries. They look at the world and see what President Donald Trump once called “carnage”.
Conservatives believe in character, because politics is about judgment as well as reason. They are suspicious of charisma and personality cults. In America plenty of Republicans who know better have fallen in with Mr. Trump even though he has been credibly accused by 16 different women of sexual misconduct.
Brazilians have elected Jair Bolsonaro, who fondly recalls the days of military rule. The charismatic Boris Johnson is favourite to be Britain’s next prime minister, despite being mistrusted by MPs, because he is deemed to be the “Heineken Tory” who will, like the beer, refresh the parts other conservatives cannot reach.
By John Felsted, Political Commentator, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Canada fares no better.
Principled conservatism is under siege. The standards and values we hold have been compromised from within by those who espouse a ‘big tent’ approach and are not just willing, but eager to jettison principles to attract votes. It never occurs to these dolts that their ‘progressive’ actions erode our support base. Principled conservatives are not leaving the party – the party is leaving them.
Conservative drift towards ‘lite socialism’ is costing us long time, solid support that is replaced with newcomers with transient, if any principles. Reaching out to millennials is hazardous. It is a sad fact that our universities and colleges are conservative deserts.
Character, ethics, honesty and openness still matter. Our shift to the left and adoption of questionable tactics puts us in a melee of competing political parties with very little to differentiate them from one another. Our position of not risking offence to anyone makes us vulnerable and unworthy of support.
The result is a loss of public trust and political apathy. Why would the public place trust in any political party that spends its money making personal attacks on rival party leaders rather than mapping out a plan to deal with our major concerns?
Our current government is embroiled in two major scandals which involve interference in and misuse of our justice system and is ideology driven rather than practical and realistic. Conservatives are not stepping up to reassure the public that they will take specific action to ensure that it cannot recur under their watch. They have made no indication that they will limit the powers of the PMO to make another SNC-Lavalin incident impossible.
Our current government is fixated on climate change as the major threat to Canada.
Canadians are concerned over our economy in terms of a steadily increasing cost of living with no offset in income, health care, taxation, crumbling infrastructure, employment, affordable housing and immigration.
Electors can be forgiven for suspecting an October election may result in a change of faces but few, if any, changes in function. We are failing to signal that we are listening to the electors we want to support us.