Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The New Conservativism - Red Toryism

If you want to understand the philosophical underpinnings of the Cameron agenda, you need to examine the so-called 'Red Tory' phenomenon.

Red Toryism is a new kind of 'one nation' conservatism that has emerged out of the ideological vacuum left after the implosion of the New Labour agenda. It is anti-Thatcherite in many ways, its heroes being Belloc and Chesterton rather than Hayek and Rand.

It is philosophically and politically eclectic but its main philosophical focus is communitarianism (hence it is lib dem friendly). It also believes in intrinsic value, especially the attempt to democratise excellence via government by wise elites.

Given the decline of class based forms of solidarity Red Toryism tries to pass itself off as the true heir to socialism - as it maintains the importance of the social dimension against liberal individualism. However, against the orthodox left Red Tories believe that the state creates a dysfunctional and servile version of the social and so its looks to civil society rather than the state as the guarantor of the social nexus.

Thoughts please!

Neil Turnbull


  1. On a personal (and not especially philosophical, I'm afraid,) note, though I suspected that the cons and libs would get together, it still appears to be a strange alliance, at least at first inspection. However, if your analysis is correct, Neil, then the colonisation of the centre ground by the cons-libs becomes less of a strange hybrid and more of an inevitablity.
    As a staunch labour voter myself, I can only hope that this is a fairly temporary development in the political scheme of things, and that a spell in opposition will enable Labour to form a strong centre-left agenda in opposition.
    My fear is that the centre ground will be so thoroughly colonised by the coaliation that Labour will be spending a long time in the politica wilderness.
    It is hard to be stoical when the likes of William Hague, Ken Clarke and Iain Duncan Smith are pictured waving on the steps of Number 10, irrespective of the checks and balances to conservatism hopefully offered by the lib dems. Ah, the joys of democracy!

  2. Well I am shocked neil that you referred to the academocracy as red conservatism. it sounds like these guys want to reduce the state, not expand it as myself and ed would. However it does seem like an interesting alternative to both traditional socialism and traditional conservatism. I do, as you know, like the idea of a wise elite and a solidarity based on that rather than class. Coming straight from writing my dissertation, a third of which was on Hobbes, I fail to see how we can have a communitarianism without a state, its the state that stops people from either ripping eachother off or killing eachother.

  3. I saw an interview on the news the other day where the interviewer was trying to say Cameron was a new Disraeli, and the tory back bencher interviewed certainly wasn't advocating this 'one nation conservatism: mark II'.

    I think your right (Neil) about Cameron's aim, but it won't work because of the coalition. There are two many old MP's sat at the back shaking their heads on both sides.

    Something interesting I've already noticed about the newly allied Cabinet Ministers is that some of them seem to be referring to both the conservative and lib dem parties in the third person, as though they belong to neither! Could a successful coalition see an end to party politics?

  4. Interestingly, the backdrop for the Thatcher image is orange on my macbook, and red on the work computer. Perhaps this handily symbolises, as Rob suggests, the merging of traditional party lines and, by association, colours...
    It will certainly be strange to see cons and libs united in parliament while in council elections it's vitriolic business as usual...

  5. Fred - I do think that there are some interesting similarities for you to consider here...Although I accept that you are probably more of a 'blue communist' than a 'red tory'. Also, 'shock' is not necessarily a bad thing for a philosopher - as thinkers from Socrates to Duchamp were well aware.

    There are two issues here.

    Firstly, the issue of the election. To me, it does look like some kind of political re-alignment may be taking place -from centre-left, to centre-right. I am not sure how stable this realignment will be in the medium term, but the current economic context may firm it up in the end. We can debate the significance of this, but I think that it might be more historically significant than people realise at the moment.

    However, the more interesting issue here is the way in which the political class in the UK seems to be inching away from the old neo-liberal consensus based on the 'virtues' of deregulated finance (the Thatcher-Blair-Brown era).

    The new tory agenda may involve an attempt to break up large financial oligopolies and attempt a significant dispersal and relocalistion of capital.

    Again this points us towards the red tory. Red tories do not believe in collective owenership of production, they are not socialists, but they do believe in what is known as distributivism -that is the belief that property should be spread around more fairly and evenly. Also, red tories are not against property but a broadening of the very idea of property itself; only in this way, they believe, can we secure the significance and worth of the individual.

    This idea takes us back in to the very heart of red tory idea in a way. Red tories like markets, but not markets dominated by large mulitinational corporations. The market for them is simply a mechanism, not an end in itself. For markets to work effectively they argue that they need a radical infusion of virtue.

    Virtue is the key idea here. Red tories believe in the development of a 'virtue culture' - and only in the context of such a culture will we be able to move beyond the dysfunctional version of captialism currently in operation.

    And it is here, Fred, that I can see real similarities between your project and red toryism.

    Neil Turnbull

  6. fair enough. i have just ordered that phillip blond book from amazon so i shall read it with interest. aside from anything else i comnpletely agree that the new merger may be more profound then many think, it is clea8r that we are moving away from tradional 'party' politics and maybe moving towards personality politics. this years election seemed to be more about people then parties. we will see what happens in the long run, especially when these austerity drives spread west from helen's house to ours... maybe there will still be a place for the traditional left in such situation....

  7. That's ok, but philosophically the book to read on this issue is McIntryre's 'After Virtue' (this book has one of the most compelling openings to any philosophy book in the 20th century)....

    But who/what/where is the 'traditional left'? Does it actually exist anymore?

    Neil Turnbull

  8. One final thing from me on this...

    A lot of the new tory agenda is essentially about valorising 'civil society' against the socially distorting powers of the state.

    'Civil society' effectively refers to the bourgeois public sphere and it still has its critical uses I think. We need a lively, argumentative and autonomous public sphere. Hopefully this blog is contributing to this!

    Neil Turnbull