Thursday, November 30, 2017

It goes back some way

Liberalism has dominated the English speaking countries for quite some time. I came across an interesting example of this from the Spectator magazine in 1935. This magazine has been mostly linked to the British Conservatives, but in the following excerpt the liberalism can be easily recognised.

The excerpt is from a reply to a speech by Rudyard Kipling. Kipling had argued in this speech "An Undefended Island" that something of the fighting spirit of the English had been lost due to the loss of a certain type of man in the Great War and that there was a risk that powers like Germany and Russia would rise in strength whilst the English remained complacent.

The Spectator writer argued in response that pacifism was in line with British values:
These questions may plausibly be put, but only if those who ask them are prepared to say what ideals, other than that of peace, but in accordance with traditional British virtues, are preferable...The more closely we examine the question the more we shall find that the qualities which we prize as being characteristically British cannot readily be manifested under the conditions of war...The prospect of war...leads to a demand in each country to be self-contained, and so to economic nationalism, trade restrictions, uneconomic production, and unemployment. It involves the exclusion of aliens and restriction on travel. These various consequences condemn each nation to a too self-dependent and therefore narrow existence, cut off from healthy intimacies with other people; and the general regimentation of life which follows when a strong central authority sets itself to prepare for war and organize economic supplies leads or tends to lead to dictatorship under which freedom and tolerance disappear.

The British people are in the main pacifist by temperament not only because they dread war itself, but because they value all the things which wars and threats of war destroy. The roots of modern pacifism lie far back in the history and character of the British people...In the past they have willingly granted asylum to aliens on British soil, partly because they believed that freedom of movement and trade were profitable, but partly also because their standards of conduct were based on a conception of the personal rights of every individual as an individual, and not merely as a Briton. Citizenship of the world is a notion which can be more easily entertained by the British than by other people. The conception of citizenship which can be widened out to include the native inhabitants of countries once subject and now becoming increasingly free makes us less insular than we once were, and certainly more ready to respect citizen rights in foreign countries.

This is the mindset of classical liberalism. Note how British values are defined in terms that could only in the long run undermine Britishness: citizenship of the world, citizenship widened out to those living in former colonies; granting citizenship to asylum seekers; freedom of movement; personal rights based on every individual as an individual and not merely as a Briton etc.

It clearly had an influence among Conservative Party types and you can understand from this why Britain changed so radically after WWII.


  1. Mr. Richardson

    Good find!

    What I see here is how many of his claims, but not all, would have been accepted to British Liberals 50, maybe even a 100 years before this was written. So the 1880's or even 1830's.

    War leads to dictatorship, free trade without interruption and the idea of the individual as being important because they are individuals.

    Although the idea of being a citizen of the world would have only been acceptable to radicals. But as you quite rightly point out, this is where these ideas lead.

    Mark Moncrieff
    Upon Hope Blog - A Traditional Conservative Future

    1. Thank you Mr Moncrieff. I agree that the "citizen of the world" phrase would not have been used by most right liberals in the 1930s. But, still, it's interesting that the philosophy put forward in this Spectator article from 1935 was accepted as policy in 1948 with the arrival of immigrants into the UK from the Caribbean.

      Ideas have consequences. Britishness was being defined in a liberal way on the right in 1935 in a way that could only lead to the UK of today. The politics was wrong even back then.

    2. Mr. Richardson

      "Although the idea of being a citizen of the world would have only been acceptable to radicals."

      I meant that it would have been unacceptable in the 1880's for most Liberals. But by the 1930's it clearly wasn't, although most would have used the term cosmopolitan.

      Mark Moncrieff

    3. Mr Moncrieff, yes this was clearly being thought among the right wing intellectual/political types, though I doubt they would have openly gone to the electorate on this platform in 1935.

      There's another interesting aspect to the Spectator article which deserves consideration.

      The writer seems to think that open borders, the free movement of people, people as individuals not as Britons etc. goes hand in hand with freedom of speech and not regimenting life.

      But as we now know this is not true. The opposite is true. In multicultural England you can be arrested for wrongthink - and the police force is increasingly being set up to patrol political opinion. And society is being increasingly regimented to enforce liberal norms in every part of life, from kindergarten onwards.

      The liberals of 1935 had forgotten the warning of one of the most influential of English liberals, J.S. Mill, who wrote in 1861, "“free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities. Among a people without fellow-feeling, especially if they read and speak different languages, the united public opinion necessary to the making of representative government cannot exist”.

      Not just "united public opinion" but even united identity and collective interest. Once these are gone, then liberalism will be imposed at the cost of free speech and through an intensive effort by the state, the education system and the media to force people to be "politically correct" via liberal standards, i.e. via regimentation.

      So the liberals of 1861 would be disappointed by the liberals of 1935 who would be disappointed by the liberals of 2017.

  2. Good article. This is what I see as one of the big problems with the Anglosphere, that there has been no serious opposition to liberalism since when, the time when the Tories were real Tories, instead of yesterday's Whigs?

    I personally believe that all these classical liberal values need to be uprooted if the Anglosphere. Problem is, these sundry shades of liberalism are all most of us have ever known. I keep asking this question, How can our societies reject liberalism? Can they even do so?

    1. This is what I see as one of the big problems with the Anglosphere, that there has been no serious opposition to liberalism...

      Until very recently, nearly everyone has come up with creative ways to avoid challenging liberalism.

      I keep asking this question, How can our societies reject liberalism? Can they even do so?

      I think they can, but I don't think we should underestimate what it takes to challenge an entrenched ideology.

      There are some voices now "on the ground floor" challenging liberalism in a principled way, but nobody yet with much prominence. We have to push up the more talented ones as much as we can. I think then you'd begin to see a wider shift.

      In other words, we need to find ways to "platform" the right people.

    2. This is what I see as one of the big problems with the Anglosphere, that there has been no serious opposition to liberalism since when, the time when the Tories were real Tories,

      Agreed. By the end of the 18th century traditional values and beliefs had been largely abandoned in England. They had been entirely abandoned by the ruling class.

      As for the United States, it was a liberal project from the beginning. Conservatism has never existed in the US.