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Dreher Is All Wet on David Cameron

Mr. Dreher's generally sensible idea of "crunchy" conservatism (his new shorthand way of referring to Kirkian, pro-conservation, localist and traditionally religious conservatives) has temporarily gone off the rails with what seems to be an inexplicable endorsement of David Cameron, the toffy new leader of the Tories, as a crunchy con. The endorsement, if we can call it that, is based on a thorough misunderstanding of what Mr. Cameron represents. In other words, crunchy cons are nothing like Mr. Cameron--more's the pity for the Tories. Thus Dreher writes:

We now know that the free market is not enough; that there is, as Cameron has said, such a thing as society. We need to recover what the Romans called pietas. That is, respect for authority, respect for our obligations to family and community, respect for the generations that came before us and which will come after us.

Of course, as John O'Sullivan pointed out when the Tories selected Cameron, the "there is such a thing as society" drivel (drivel because it was done entirely for the benefit of the media and possibly to placate wobbly Labourites who are sick to death of Tony) does not reflect some greater sense of the need for stable, local communities and the strengthening of a sense of familial and social obligations. As Mr. O'Sullivan pointed out, Lady Thatcher denied that "society" existed in the sense that she denied that society-as-abstraction meant anything--society is made up of nothing other than the bonds of family, community and friends that form the very stuff of ordinary life.

To prove to the fawning press corps that he was not a serious Thatcherite, David Cameron affirmed the existence of the abstraction--he confirmed that he is just the sort of New Class, denatured, deracinated globalist that Lady Thatcher has never been and that, presumably, crunchy cons dislike very much. Cameron has embraced the New, the Global and the Abstract (to use Mr. Dreher's own terms) and pays lip service, if he even does that, to the things Mr. Dreher values.

What's more, if Mr. Dreher identifies being crunchy with being fairly religious (or at least that a lot of crunchy cons are seriously religious), he would be disappointed to find that Mr. Cameron is actually less pious, in simple church-going terms, than Blair. That would hardly be surprising for someone of his "hideously privileged" background, but it is the case. Dr. Trifkovic has a fine, withering dissection of Mr. Cameron, in which he explains why Cameron represents the death of old-fashioned Toryism.

It is a capital mistake to take Mr. Cameron's posturing for some return to the spirit of the village-and-shire Toryism of Lord Salisbury's day, for example, or an attempt to reorient British Conservatism away from its latter-day market and individualism fetishes. Hague and Duncan-Smith were bad leaders, but they were not the complete sell-outs to Mr. Blair's Britain that Cameron clearly is--they were the last defenders of a real, albeit ineffectual, Tory Opposition.

If Blair pursued the Third Way by adopting some of the old Thatcherite pro-market rhetoric and generally being favourable to corporations, Mr. Cameron now goes to meet him in the fields of the center-left to lay a Tory claim to Labour's mantle through more overt nods to Labourite socialism. This is not because crunchy conservatism has much, if anything, in common with such socialism, but because Mr. Cameron is simply a cipher, whose role it is to hollow out what remains of the Conservative Party by making it as "compassionate," "diverse" and progressive as Mr. Bush's GOP. There may be crunchy cons in Britain (indeed, I expect there are a fair few), but they will not turn out for Mr. Cameron. What will become horrifyingly clear to the Party is that nowhere near enough other British voters will turn out for him, either. The 'modernising' gamble, always on the cusp with the ridiculous Michael Portillo and the elephantine Ken Clarke, will have failed them, just as all such ruses fail because they are superficial and empty.

Believe it or not, the one party in Britain today that has been seriously making aesthetic and cultural arguments for conservation and a "social model" centered on obligation and community is none other than the much-maligned British Nationalist Party. I doubt Mr. Dreher will be writing kindly things about them in the Times anytime soon.

Mr. Dreher did get something right, though, and this was that Reaganism and Thatcherism were adventures in variants of libertarianism in economics (as most of what has passed for "conservative" economics does). This implies that Reagan was not really a conservative. When he became a pro-market liberal, he switched to the appropriately pro-market, liberal party.

Finally, on an impotant semantic point, Russell Kirk was not the "ideological godfather" of anything (since, as I'm sure we all know, conservatism and the conservative mind are antithetical to all ideology), and I suspect if he had ever been called "ideological godfather" during his lifetime he would have rent his clothes (or at the very least become very disappointed that yet another NR writer misunderstands him).

Daniel Larison | January 02, 2006


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