Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Is Boris really a conservative?

Boris Johnson was an editor of the 'conservative' Spectator magazine, then a 'conservative' MP, then a shadow minister on the 'conservative' front bench, before becoming the 'conservative' Mayor of London.

But he is a liberal.

Consider his reasons for supporting Barack Obama in the upcoming US elections. He writes:

And then there is the final, additional reason, the glaring reason, and that is race. Huge numbers of voters, whether they admit it to themselves or not, will hesitate to choose Barack Obama for President because he is black. And then there are millions of white Americans who will undoubtedly vote Obama precisely because he is black, and because he stands for the change and the progress they want to see in their society.

After centuries of friction, prejudice, tension, hatred - you name it, they've had it - America is teetering on the brink of a triumph. If Obama wins, then the United States will have at last come a huge and maybe decisive step closer to achieving the dream of Martin Luther King, of a land where people are judged not on the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.

If Obama wins, then black people the world over will be able to see how a gifted man has been able to smash through the ultimate glass ceiling.

If Obama wins, then it will be simply fatuous to claim that there are no black role models in politics or government, because there is no higher role model than the President of the United States.

If Barack Hussein Obama is successful next month, then we could even see the beginning of the end of race-based politics, with all the grievance-culture and special interest groups and political correctness that come with it.

If Obama wins, he will have established that being black is as relevant to your ability to do a hard job as being left-handed or ginger-haired, and he will have re-established America's claim to be the last, best hope of Earth.

Consider the way Johnson frames this. On the one side there are the bad guys, the whites who won't vote for Obama because he is black. On the other side there are the good guys, the whites who will vote for Obama precisely because he is black and because he stands for change and progress.

So the point of the election is not to select the best candidate, the one who will conserve what is best in the American tradition, but for whites to prove something about themselves, namely that they are non-racist and in favour of more modernist "change and progress".

How is this genuinely conservative?

Note too that Johnson defines the American past in terms of "centuries of friction, prejudice, tension, hatred". But finally, with Obama, a "triumph" over this past is a looming possibility.

Again, what kind of conservative would so limit his appreciation for American history and culture to prejudice and hatred? It is subversive in the extreme to read a national history in these terms. It is an act of delegitimation rather than conservation.

Then there is Johnson's argument that Americans should elect Obama because that would smash a glass ceiling and provide a role model for blacks all around the world.

Is it really the case that a US President should be elected to encourage the aspirations of Africans? Would someone who really cared about the fate of the existing American tradition really make this a priority?

A genuine conservative would not make smashed ceilings a principle for electing presidents.

Then there is Johnson's shallow claim that electing Obama would make race irrelevant in the world, thereby ending race-based politics, political correctness and a grievance-based culture.


This is much the same as believing that by electing Hillary Clinton, feminist women would realise that there was no office denied to them, thereby finally putting an end to a feminist inspired gender war.

Nothing of the sort happened when Margaret Thatcher was elected and why would it? Feminism has its roots in the modernist mindset, something that can't be overturned by a particular election result. Furthermore, why assume that feminist women would abandon a movement which gives them advantages in their pursuit of power? Why would feminist women agree to a level playing field when they have the benefit of positive discrimination legislation, quotas, public funding, university departments and so on?

Feminism is much more likely to lose position when men begin to set limits on what they will accept.

It's the same with the ethnic grievance culture Johnson refers to. When white Americans accept the premises put to them, namely that the American tradition is illegitimate because of its racism, and that whites must redeem themselves of guilt, and that any inequality is due to an institutional racism perpetrated by whites on the "other" - then the demands placed on white Americans will only grow.

Finally, there is Johnson's claim that an Obama victory, by making race not matter, will re-establish America's claim to be "the last, best hope of Earth".

I can't believe that a genuine English conservative would look to any foreign nation to be the "best hope" for the world. Was the song "Land of Hope and Glory" really composed for some other country?

Nor would a genuine conservative make the principle of non-discrimination the "telos" of the world - the end-point to which history is progressing and on which the moral fate of the world depends.

A conservative wishes to conserve his own tradition and to build on what is best in this tradition. He isn't likely to focus on a single, abstract, political telos, but on the health of family, community and nation.

On this basis, Boris Johnson is not a genuine conservative.


  1. Apart from describing your post as complete tosh, a couple of points that need bringing to your attention:

    i) Boris Johnson was never a 'minister' for the Conservative Party/Govt. He was a Shadow Minister as part of the Shadow Cabinet/Official Opposition (Shadow Minister for the Arts, and Shadow Minister for Higher Education).

    ii) Given that the UK Conservative and Unionist Party is a 'broad church' with many differing opinions, there is no one singular type of Conservative. Boris has often described himself as a 'Socially Liberal' Conservative, someone who is relaxed about homosexuality, same-sex civil partnerships, etc. In your eyes, this may not make him a 'true Conservative' but then again, that's clearly your problem to worry about.

  2. "there is no one singular type of Conservative. "

    Hogwash! There is indeed a definition and Mr Johnson does not live up to it.

    All this post modernist relativism results with nothing meaning anything except whatever a person says it does. Either conservative and liberal refer to specific philosophies or the mean absolutely nothing - and neither does anything else if we can just redefine words to suit our agendas.

    Now Obama says he isn't a socialist - after calling for "spreading the wealth around." Same problem - the word socialist has a definite meaning which includes spreading the wealth around and progressive taxation. Ergo, Obama is a socialist.

  3. Liesel Libertarian you said:

    'There is indeed a definition and Mr Johnson does not live up to it'.

    Oh dear, I'm not sure if you've actually studied politcal philosophy, but there is no singular Conservative, Liberal or Socialist philosophy.

    Casse in point: are you telling me 'economic/laissez-faire' Liberals are the same as the Gladstone reform 'Welfare' Liberals who introduced the policies that led to the modern welfare state in the UK? What do you think are the on-going arguments between those who advocate 'Positive' and 'Negative' forms of Liberty c.f. Isiah Berlin? Are you telling me that the 'One-Nation' Conservatism of Disraeli is the same Conservatism of Margaret Thatcher? Or Edward Heath? Or Neville Chamberlain?

    I think you need to go back to school, because the statement you make about there being only one form of Conservatism is vacuous as it is factually inaccurate.

  4. First of all, you need to get over yourself. This blog owner has identified what he means here by conservativism http://ozconservative.blogspot.com/2007/04/what-is-conservatism.html
    This is what we are talking about, not your personal opinions on the matter.

    I know the difference between classical liberalism and welfare liberalism. But most people today mean welfare liberalism and you know that full good and well but like to a pedantic putz anyhow. Obama, and therefore Johnson, fails this test but it is not the only test of conservatism. Futher this blog owner has elaborated what he means by liberalism http://ozconservative.blogspot.com/2007/04/conservatism-vs-liberalism.html
    Your personal opinion on the matter is very irrelevant.

    No way, no how is Obama's progressivism conservative. No way, no how could one who supports his policies have a conservative argument for such support. Everything about him is change, get rid of the old and usher in the new socialism.

  5. Anonymous, you're right of course that Johnson was a shadow minister rather than a minister - I've corrected the post.

    However, I disagree with your other point. Yes, there are various kinds of liberalism. This doesn't mean, though, that liberalism can't be defined as something distinct from conservatism.

    If you try to do this in a serious way, you find that most establishment 'conservatives' are really liberal in their first principles - often quite openly so.

    This helps to explain the failure of 'conservatism' over the centuries. There has been no real counterweight to a liberal politics, as there has been no party organised to opposed liberalism on a principled basis.

    So for those of us serious about conserving our tradition, it's important to make the distinction between liberalism and conservatism clear.

    We have to raise up a principled conservative politics, one which isn't simply a mask for an older type of philosophical liberalism.

  6. Anonymous, I spent a few moments googling Johnson, to try and find out how he describes his own politics.

    It didn't take long. As expected, Johnson doesn't describe himself as a conservative. He stated to Time magazine:

    "I'm a libertarian."

    When asked about his manifesto, all he offered was the idea of "financial rigor".

  7. Sorry to go slightly off topic - but Jim Kalb has an article up on Taki Mag about the Tyranny of Tolerance that might be of some interest to the conservatives at this Journal.


  8. Liesel Libertarian

    You said:

    'This blog owner has identified what he means here by conservativism.....This is what we are talking about, not your personal opinions on the matter'.

    Liesel Libertarian (I'd change your username, if I were you, because you're not much of a Libertarian. I think that John Stuart Mill would take issue with you, with regard to freedom of speech and ideas).

    Anyhow, you don't seem to get the idea of blogging and discussion threads, do you?

    Are you saying that there is only one version of Conservatism, which Mark Richardson espouses and adheres to?

    That may well be his deeply held conviction and belief of what Conservatism means, that does not mean he is correct (nor does that mean that I am correct either). However, it does mean that there is a difference of opinion and bloggers like me, pop up on threads like this one and others to discuss the said difference(s).

    Therefore, whether I agree with Mr Richardson or not (and respectfully, I do not), what is the point of blogs and discussion threads if posters are not allowed to express personal opinions'? Or should people only post on blogs if they happen to agree with the author?

    Liesel Libertarian? 'Liesel the Authoritarian' is perhaps more appropriate.

  9. Mark Richardson

    You are correct that Boris Johnson has described himself as a Libertarian, as is his right to self-determination.

    However, as I mentioned in my above post, the Conservative Party in the UK (to give it its proprer title, 'The Conservative and Unionist Party' is a broad church, encompassing many different strands of Conservatives, from those who are socially Liberal (like Johnson) to those who are fiscally conservative and many others besides.

    Anyway, I digress. We may have to agree to disagree on whether the Conseravatism espoused by David Cameron and others past and present, is truly Conservatism (a la Edmund Burke) but in my considered opinion, the UK Conservative Party is managing to hold this coalition of views together. Those that do not agree with the policies or the direction it is taking, can join the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) or the British National Party (BNP).

    I'm sure you are aware of this but there isn't a major political party in the United Kingdom, the United States of America, France or even Australia that does not have some internal dialogue and disagreement about what are the core principles and political philosophies of their particular party.

    I have studied the UK Labour Party at univeristy degree level, which encompases Christian Socialists, Democratic Socialists, Social Democrats, Tribunists (supporters of the Trade Union/Labour Movement), Marxists and former Conservative Party members.

    To a lesser extent, I studied the UK Conservative Party and there are many who aregue that there is no such thing as Conservatism or a Conservative ideology. There are those who cite the writings of Edmund Burke and argue that he lays out a principled framework of Conservative thought. There are those who argue that Thatcher was not a 'true Conservative': her conviction/divisive policies, and economic liberalism/monetarism was more akin to classical Liberalism. In the UK, there were/are Conservatives who advocate a welfare state (no matter how minimal) and those that do not, as well as on going arguments as to whether the UK should remain in the European Union (Kenneth Clarke, Michael Heseltine, et al) and those that advocate withdrawal (William Cash, John Redwood, etc). As for William Hague, he seems to have gone cool on the issue and is possibly agnostic but leaning towards re-writing certain treaties (e.g. European Convention on Human Rights) and a referendum in the Lisbon Treaty.

  10. Anonymous, credit to you for fleshing out your argument.

    As I wrote earlier, I think it's true that there are all kinds of distinctions within modernist politics, and these are worth attempting to understand.

    However, nearly all of these political positions are variants of a single political orthodoxy - namely liberalism.

    This is widely recognised amongst academic advocates of liberalism. Professor Appiah from Princeton, for instance, has written that liberalism encompasses “nearly all members of nearly all of the mainstream political parties in Europe and North America”.

    And here is Associate Professor Kautz:

    "Classical and contemporary liberal teachings ... dominate our political discourse. America is still now, or perhaps now more than ever, somehow a liberal regime ...

    Why is "community" such a problem for us, here and now? The short answer is liberalism. The political philosophy of liberalism, its critics and friends agree, is in some sense our political philosophy: we are somehow all liberals."

    The only mainstream politicians I've come across with genuine Burkean type beliefs try to combine them with mainstream forms of liberalism - rendering the Burkeanism ineffective. See here for an example.

    If the mainstream "conservative" parties are led by those who accept the liberal orthodoxy, then we cannot expect much resistance to the onward march of liberal modernity.

    We'll get a somewhat different product to that offered by social democratic left-liberals, but the general drift of society will be in the same direction.

  11. BTW, Liesel, thanks for your earlier comments and for posting the links to the relevant articles.

  12. It's interesting how a lot of centre-right politicians in the English-speaking West outside the US are critical of the US over race issues.

    I don't think this is necessarily because they are more liberal than US centre-right politicians, but because they have been told at university and through US media that American whites have been unwilling to give Black Americans a far chance.

    However as Fred Reed points out on his blog, this may have been the case prior to WWII, but it is certainly not the case today.

    Since the mid-1960s American whites have made just as many accommodations for Blacks as whites in other English-speaking countries have made for their minority populations.

    Americans may be more right-wing on economic issues, but when it comes to things like race relations they are used as PC as the rest of us.

    The wide gulf between Blacks and Whites in the US is not because of prejudice (as shown by East Asian economic success in California)but because the US has a more classically liberal economic system in which things like lower educational attainment are more ruthlessly exposed.

  13. Sorry, that second to last para was supposed to read:

    Americans may be more right-wing on economic issues, but when it comes to things like race relations they are just as PC as the rest of us.

  14. I think the fallowing link could be of interest in the discussion:


  15. Mark Richardson

    Thanks for your comments.

    I'd have to revisit my lecture notes and text books to see if your statement:

    'However, nearly all of these political positions are variants of a single political orthodoxy - namely liberalism'.

    is true.

    I think it is fair to say that the Labour Party in the UK, the Liberal Democrats and to a lesser extent, the Conservative Party, do have some shared beliefs in terms of their political orthodoxies.

    For example, I think they all believe in the Enlightenment principles of reason, thought, positivism and empirical evidence (although I'm aware that some Conservatives would be wary/critical of some of these points). There all agree on the rule of law (not sure that this is necessarily a Liberal position) and the fundemental institutions that underpin the functioning of a nation-state (whilst they may disagree on whether the nation-state should be a constitutional monarchy or federal republic).

    So I think you have a point there. Whether 'traditional' Conservative ideology is older than Liberal ideologies/philosophies, as I said, I've had to do some research. However, there are some who have argued that the biggest failing of the Left and Centre-Left in the UK during the late C19th and C20th, was the creation of the Labour Party - which in effect put an end to the Liberal Party as an political force and on the current electoral system, is unlikely to gain power - which split the progressive, anti-Conservative vote.

    Now, I would argue that the Labour Party of the C20th was distinctly different to the Liberals until quite recently, where disgruntled members of the Labour Party created the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and then merged with the Liberals. Some would go further and argue that apart from differences on liberty and personal freedom, there's not much difference between New Labour and Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats. As mentioned in the previous post, the Liberal Democrats are a coalition of Welfare Liberals versus Free-Market Liberals. The Welfare Liberals probably would feel at home in the Labour Party and the Free-Market Liberals perhaps would not feel out of touch with the Conservatives.

    I think it is best to see political views on a spectrum (there are those that say there is no such thing as Left or Right anymore), where the three main political parties in the UK over-lap on the margins (as I've explained above). Out of interest Mark, how do you define Winston Churchill who, as you know, was a Conservative, crossed the floor to be a Liberal and then rejoined the Conservatives: Is he a true Conservative?

    Finally, after all that, I think I will agree with you to one extent: if all the political parties in the UK (I'm not so sure about the US, Australia or the rest of Western Europe) believe in fundemental rights, privileges, freedoms, etc, then yes, there is some form of Liberal hegemony that prevails but that for me is more about an agreed framework in which we understand and do politics. I would argue that the Conservatives in the UK under Cameron et al are more 'progressive' on issues such as same-sex relationships, co-habiting, the family and other private matters/social policy, but there are still marked differences in emphasis and policy that is not Liberal or progressive, when compared to the Labour or Liberal Democrat parties.

  16. Where was I ever trying to suppress anyone's ideas or speech?????

  17. Oh, Liesel Libertarian.

    You said:

    'Where was I ever trying to suppress anyone's ideas or speech?????'

    Is that you I see on the lake, rowing back furiously from your original position? Now, now.

    When you say:

    'This is what we are talking about, not your personal opinions on the matter'.

    How is one to interpret that statement?

    It surely did not appear to be a welcome invitation to join in a discussion on the merits or otherwise of Boris Johnson's Conservative credentials or for that matter, whether there is truly one form of Conservative thought.

    It seemed to me, in my honest opinion, that you were saying:

    'These are the parameters of the discussion (i.e. what Mark Richardson defines traditional Conservatism to be) and if your opinion dissents from that line, then we are not interested in "your personal opinions on the matter" ' Only post on this blog if you share my/our narrow world-view.

    Are you telling me your words are an invitation for a free and frank exchange of opinions or ideas based on Millean principles? Pull the other one!!!

    How say you?

  18. "If Barack Hussein Obama is successful next month, then we could even see the beginning of the end of race-based politics, with all the grievance-culture and special interest groups and political correctness that come with it."

    He is dreaming. The black-white academic achievement gap will continue (while Chinese outperform both groups). The discrepancy will be attributed to discrimination and so race based quotas/diversity mandates will continue. The possibility that these differences may be intractable and genetic is too difficult to accept.