Not optimistic about a conservative future

John Derbyshire writes on NRO:

If your national economy consists of a large private sector and a large public sector, and if neither big political party is nakedly hostile to either, or looks like doing serious harm to either, then politics comes down to a dull, wonkish tussle between those who think that the private sector is over-regulated and those who think the public sector is under-funded. Right now in Britain the economy is humming along nicely; the welfare state is in reasonable working order; and the public-private mix in life services like health, education, and pensions seems to offer about as much choice as people want.** Center-left or center-right? A state that occupies 40 percent of the national economy, or one that occupies 38 percent? Why change?

There isn’t much room in there for a strong, principled conservatism. Nor do the British seem to want such a thing. Look at those voting figures. Since the Lib-Dems are to the left of Labor, and most of the little nationalist parties are even further left than that, the vote breaks down as one third for conservatism — the much diluted conservatism of the post-Thatcher Tories — and two thirds for everything further left. Apparently our cousins across the pond are pretty happy in their Old-Europe-trending welfarist consensus. Real conservatism is dead in Britain.

Is it any better off here in the USA? Hardly. Executive, legislature, judiciary — where can we look for strong promotion of, and adherence to, conservative principles? We think of our president as a conservative, but in what respects can he be said to have advanced conservatism? John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, in The Right Nation , tick off the six fundamentals of classical, Burkean, Anglo-Saxon conservatism:

a deep suspicion of the power of the state.

a preference for liberty over equality.


a belief in established institutions and hierarchies.

skepticism about the idea of progress.


“The exceptionalism of modern American conservatism” (the authors go on to say) “lies in its exaggeration of the first three of Burke’s principles and contradiction of the last three.” All right, let’s ignore the last three of those principles and mark George W. Bush on the first three.

Definitely a worthwhile read. Some readers might remember my comments a few weeks ago about how triumphalism is the last sign before the reversal. And if the USA is going the way of the UK, it’s not terribly hard to figure out what is going to take the place of the EU in that analogy.