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Gray on modern conservatism « Previous | |Next »
April 25, 2010

John Gray has an excellent article on modern conservatism in the London Review of Books that has some relevance to Australia. He says that Thatcher defined the aim of her policies thus ‘Economics are the method; the object is to change the soul’ and he adds that Thatcher:

fully shared Hayek’s view that free markets reinforce ‘traditional values’, which is an inversion of their actual effect. The conservative country of which she dreamed had more in common with Britain in the 1950s, an artefact of Labour collectivism, than it did with the one that emerged from her free-market policies. A highly mobile labour market enforces a regime of continuous change. The type of personality that thrives in these conditions is the opposite of the stolid, dutiful bourgeois Thatcher envisioned. Skill in re-inventing yourself is the key virtue, along with a readiness to cut your losses as soon as any commitment becomes unprofitable or unexciting. Thatcher’s economic revolution was meant to go along with something like a social restoration. Instead, it led to Britain as it is today, a society obsessed with the idea of personal self-realisation, more liberal in sexual matters, less monocultural and less class-bound, more insecure and more unequal.

So too Australia, and that creates problems for Tony Abbott and his conservative backers in the Coalition who fully share Thatcher's idea of social restoration. They hold that the only model available to Australia is the prevailing version of American capitalism. This meant advancing this brand of capitalism and re-engineering social institutions when they failed to obey its imperatives. In the real world the market has imploded, but the Coalition (and Rudd Labor) continues to insist that society must adjust to market imperatives.

Gray adds that the society that emerged in part as an unintended consequence of Thatcher’s policies in the UK (and Howard's in Australia) can’t be dismantled. Hence the loss of social cohesion which followed the unleashing of free markets---with its rootless cultural relativism’, godless and cynical. Abbott's response has been to demand policies that strengthen traditional values, especially in the family: As these Conservative see it, what was wrong with modern conservatism represented by Malcom Turnbull, is that it was too liberal – a mistake that Abbott's is set about remedying. They stand for a return to a ‘broad culture of responsibility, mutuality and obligation’.

These conservatives are programmed for ideological warfare on sex and the family and climate change.Behind this is the old Conservative desire to take an ax and sunder the connection between the words ‘welfare’ and ‘state’, thereby freeing government from the expensive business of dispensing social services and to dump them on the ‘third sector’ of charities, voluntary organisations, non-profits and the like.

An ideologically driven Conservatism is here to stay – even if it means the Coalition once again drifting into limbo.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:04 PM | | Comments (3)


Another one with the pushbike (Cameron)!
Did NOT make for pleasant reading, like us the brits remain an example of the disconnect between neo liberalist globalisation and the nation state based on realities like economic efficiency and environmental sustainability, underpinned by a respect For the dignity of the human, missing for a generation. Neoliberalism suppresses expressions of individual and local autonomy that run counter to capitalism and incites its governmental mole-whackers to yet more authoritarian subversions/transgressions of the legal system and governance; from wall to wall surveillance to the continuance of what Gray seems to indicate to be the autonomy of a state within a state; the City of London.
As what Gray talks of is Australia's situation in many ways, it starts to take on a disturbing, dystopic resonance for me.
Another thing, surely Brown will go after the election after the hiding he'll cop?
Will the parlous state of their politics encourage the Brits to break with both main parties, or will they retreat into the normal decison avoiding mindset that sees Brown or Cameron elected?

One aspect of Abbott's conservatism is his invoking the ''Anglosphere'', privileging a place for the US, Britain and Australia in world affairs.That doesn't make much sense with the rise of China.

Abbott is looking backwards as usual to Howard and thence to Thatcher.

Abbott is about a return to the Howard years big time.