What motivates British Neocons?
British Neoconservatism is very different from its US counterpart, but shares a rejection of the social liberalism, moral relativism, and New Left counterculture of the 1960s. The election of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minster in 1979 in the United Kingdom brought new imputus to neoconservative ideas on both sides of the 'pond', with Thatcher representing the triumph of key 'neoconservative' ideas not only over the 'socialist' ideals of the European post-war consensus, built around union representation and the Welfare State - but over traditional 'British conservatism' too. So-called Reagonomics and Thatcherism were two names for the same neoconservative policy.
There is a suspicion in British public life of 'philosophy', which has meant that politicians in the UK rarely refer to any overarching theories. In The Centre-left and New Right Divide?: Political Philosophy and Aspects of UK Social Policy in the Era of the Welfare State , for example,1 Steven Smith argues that academic explanations of the resilience of the welfare state in the face of the New Right reforms have focused on the social, political and economic processes that tend to bolster the activities of state welfare provision, rather than the underlying philosophies.
Spinwatch describes Douglas Murray as 'the 'enfant terrible' of British neoconservatism. Murray is typical of the movement in arguing that that the 'innate flaws of liberal democracy' leave Europe vulnerable to domination by Muslim immigrants and that strong armed forces prepared to go to war are essential to the survival of what he sees as Conservative values. As head of the Centre for Social Cohesion, he claims to have influenced UK Government policy, and that his ideas have been influential in some NATO circles. Philosophically, he claims to be influenced by the authoritarianism of Leo Strauss , and the concept of dhimmitude as it was put forward by Bat Ye'or .2
|Pearls of Wisdom falling...|
|Interviewer 3 In a recent interview with historian Michael Burleigh, he said “Terrorism as a tactic is, bound to fail.” Do you agree?|
|Douglas Murray: No I don’t. Terrorism is bound to fail when those being subjected to the terrorism are resolute and determined. Terrorism is bound to fail when the terrorists are identified, singled out, isolated and told in no uncertain terms that if they are determined to wage war on us then we will wage it back on them – and they will be the ones who lose. But I don’t think that is happening at the moment. As Jean-Francois Revel, among others, said, liberal democracies are the first societies in human history which, when attacked, ask what they did wrong.|
|In Britain we have a Home Secretary who has asked us to refer to Islamist terrorism as ‘anti-Islamic’ activity. And across the Western world our leaders, political and spiritual often seem to have spent the last seven years denying the root of the problem more busily than they have been tackling it.|
|It took one set of bombs to change the government of Spain. When the next big attack happens here in Britain, will the British people turn on their enemies and say: that stops right now, we don’t care for any ifs or buts, that won’t happen here. Will they say that even if, as I do not think is the case, this is all caused by our foreign policy, we will not allow terrorists to dictate our foreign policy? Or will they decide it was all our fault, that we must have ‘provoked’ them, that it would never have happened if we forced Israel to cede the West Bank or Spain to give its bottom-half away or France to reverse the headscarf ban? I’m not confident that I know which way we would go. Terrorists fail when they try lacerating a society which is tough and resolute. But what about when they attack societies so riven with relativism that they’re willing to out-source their self-harm? That’s what worries me most. But it’s something we can sort out. It’s easier to cure ourselves than to get rid of the enemy. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do both.|
Murray's keynote book, Neoconservatism: Why We Need It was published by the 'Social Affairs Unit' (London) in 2005. An inspiration for Murray, who he frequently praises in the book, is the academic philosopher, Roger Scruton , who advocates variously the right to hunt foxes and animal rights, was part of a group of right-wing Cambridge University intellectuals under the influence of Maurice Cowling , an historian. In 1978 Cowling helped found the Salisbury Group4 of conservative thinkers (named after the earlier British Prime Minister). In the same year Cowling published Conservative Essays which states baldly:
"If there is a class war - and there is - it is important that it should be handled with subtlety and skill. ... it is not freedom that Conservatives want; what they want is the sort of freedom that will maintain existing inequalities or restore lost ones".5
The original Cambridge group however also included John Vincent, another historian, and Edward Norman, a theologian and historian. As Scruton says in his semi-autobiographical book, Gentle Regrets: Thoughts From a Life6, it influenced a new generation of neo-con thinkers including Charles Moore, former editor of The Daily Telegraph and the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks. Scruton himself offers the French post-war President Charles De Gaulle as a model because the General defined the French nation in terms of its high culture, while detesting the philosopher Michael Foucault , who (he moans) was 'one the gurus' of his students, for shallow relativism and for teaching that `truth' requires inverted commas.
In The Meaning of Conservatism Scruton says that Conservatism (which here means neoconservatism) is 'fundamentally opposed to the ethic of social justice, to equality of station, opportunity, income and achievement, and to the attempt to bring major institutions of society such as schools and universities under government control'7
The Social Affairs Unit is famous for driving its coach and horses through the liberal consensus scattering intellectual picket lines as it goes [and] for raising questions which strike most people most of the time as too dangerous or too difficult to think about.
An early version of this page was drawn from Wikipedia, where (despite continual. and invariably successful. attack from Wikipedian gnomes) some good 'political essays' are from time to time attempted. This is one of them.
The Centre-left and New Right Divide?: Political Philosophy and Aspects of UK Social Policy in the Era of the Welfare State, author: Steven Smith, published in 1998, ISBN 1840143274 )<
Bat Ye'or defined "dhiminitude" as the condition of the non-muslim persons forced to live under islamic law in the context of Jihad.<
- 3By someone too conservative to give thier name, on a neocon website too rotten to be still going, but saved here: http://politicsandpoetry.com/2009/02/interview-with-top-british-neoconservative-commentator-douglas-murray/
The Salisbury Group publishes the 'Salisbury Review'<
Cowling, Maurice (1978). "The Present Position", in Cowling, Maurice (ed.): Conservative Essays, London: Cassell, p. 1, p. 9<
Gentle Regrets: Thoughts From a Life by Roger Scruton, Continuum 2005 ISBN 0826471315<
- 7The Meaning of Conservatism, Roger Scruton, Palgrave Macmillan; 3Rev Ed edition (14 Feb 2001) ISBN 0333912446