*Unsheathes the sword of pluralism buttressed by classical liberalism*
“Earlier this week, J. D. Vance — a person I admire greatly, by the way — delivered an address to the National Conservatism Conference that caught my attention and highlighted an important distinction between more-nationalist and more-statist Republicans (like Vance) and more-libertarian conservatives (like me). The issue is a key question: How much can government help solve the existential crisis that grips so many American hearts? …
By contrast, the questions I ask are different. What are the most effective means of addressing deaths of despair? If we know what is most effective, should we not concentrate our efforts in that sphere? Moreover, what are the lessons that we can learn from the past, including lessons about the role of government in addressing deep-seated social problems?
Applying this frame, I freely admit that I want to double down on God and not government. I freely admit that I see that while government can do some good, it also has immense, demonstrated ability to do harm even as it tries to help. …
Given the choice of allocating my limited time between seeking religious renewal and government intervention, we should prioritize renewal. And given government’s oft-repeated pattern of hurting when it tries to help, I’ll maintain my skepticism of even its well-intentioned efforts. Facing declining life expectancy and rising despair, we urgently need to ask, “What or who is most effective at healing the human heart?” In that contest, believing conservatives should take God over government every time. …”
According to David French, God and religious renewal is the solution to America’s cultural collapse, not the government. Big Government … BAD. Free market … GOOD. The underlying assumption is that belief in God is compatible with the eternal principles of True Conservatism.
What if this Frenchian combination of evangelical Christianity, free-market capitalism and classical liberalism has a historical beginning and an end though? What if the eternal principles of classical liberalism and free-market capitalism or True Conservatism end up killing God and inevitably collapsing into secularism, nihilism, atheism and national suicide in the long run? What then?
No way … that could never happen, right?
“The Church of England is facing a catastrophic fall in the proportion of young adults who describe themselves as Anglican as data shows an acceleration towards a secular society.
For the first time, more than half the population say they have no religion, and the generation gap on religious affiliation is widening, according to the British Social Attitudes survey.
Only 3% of adults under 24 describe themselves as Anglican – fewer than the 5% who identify as Catholic. Almost three out of four 18- to 24-year-olds say they have no religion, a rise of nine percentage points since 2015.
Among the next age group, 25-34, only 5% identify as Anglicans and 9% say they are Catholic. The presence in the UK of young European workers may be a factor in the relatively high proportion of young Catholics.
Among all adults in Britain, only 15% consider themselves to be Anglican, compared with almost one in three at the turn of the century, according to BSA data. Nine percent overall identify as Catholics, 17% as “other Christian” and 6% say they belong to non-Christian religions. …”
Hey David, where did your peculiar ideology get started anyway? Who were the progenitors of your absurd worldview? It was launched into orbit in 19th century Victorian Britain, right?
Thomas Carlyle saw it coming in his Latter-Day Pamphlets:
“To rectify the relation that exists between two men, is there no method, then, but that of ending it? The old relation has become unsuitable, obsolete, perhaps unjust; and the remedy is, abolish it; let there henceforth be no relation at all. From the ‘sacrament of marriage’ downwards, human beings used to be manifoldly related one to another, and each to all; and there was no relation among human beings, just or unjust, that had not its grievances and its difficulties, its necessities on both sides to bear and forbear. But henceforth, be it known, we have changed all that by favor of Heaven; the ‘voluntary principle’ has come up, which will itself do the business for us; and now let a new sacrament, that of Divorce, which we call emancipation, and spout of on our platforms, be universally the order of the day!Have men considered whither all this is tending, and what it certainly enough betokens? Cut every human relation that has any where grown uneasy sheer asunder; reduce whatsoever was compulsory to voluntary, whatsoever was permanent among us to the condition of the nomadic; in other words, LOOSEN BY ASSIDUOUS WEDGES, in every joint, the whole fabrice of social existence, stone from stone, till at last, all lie now quite loose enough, it can, as we already see in most countries, be overset by sudden outburst of revolutionary rage; and lying as mere mountains of anarchic rubbish, solicit you to sing Fraternity, &c. over it, and rejoice in the now remarkable era of human progress we have arrived at.”
The English historian Correlli Barnett diagnosed the ideological disease that consumed Britain and which was transplanted into our Northern states where it became the doctrine of True Conservatism defended by National Review in his book The Collapse of British Power.
In light of the ongoing debate over the merits of Frenchism on the American Right, I will post some generous excerpts that I saved in my notes years ago:
“In the eighteenth century the English ruling classes — squirearchy, merchants, aristocracy — were men hard of mind and hard of will. Aggressive and acquisitive, they saw foreign policy in terms of concrete interest: markets, national resources, colonial real estate, naval bases, profits. At the same time they were concerned to preserve the independence and parliamentary institutions of England in the face of the hostility of European absolute monarchies. Liberty and interest alike seemed to the Georgians therefore to demand a strategic approach to international relations. They saw national power as the essential foundation of national independence; commercial wealth as a means to power; and war as among the means to all three. They accepted it as natural and inevitable that nations should be engaged in a ceaseless struggle for survival, prosperity and predominance. Such public opinion as existed in the eighteenth century did not dissent from this world-view. The House of Commons itself reflected the unsentimental realism of an essentially rural society. Patriotism coupled with dislike and suspicion of foreigners were perhaps the only emotions that leavened the vigorous English pursuit of their interests; a pursuit softened but hardly impeded by the mutual convenience and decencies of international custom and good manners.
Between 1689 and 1815, in the face of formidable rivals and despite the loss of America, England grew from a second-rank nation on the periphery of the Continent into a great power whose wealth, stability and liberty were the envy of Europe.
When however Wellington waved on his red-coats after the routed French at Waterloo on 18 June 1815, it marked for the English the apparent end of centuries of struggle with European great powers. The British Empire was at least supreme and safe. And during the next thirty years of tranquil security from external menace and of bounding industrial development, the British outlook on international relations and on England’s role in the world underwent profound changes. The traditional strategic view became more and more discredited on two grounds: in the first place because the currently unchallenged British world supremacy in commerce and manafactures rendered protected and exclusive imperial markets and sources of raw material unnecessary or even cramping; and secondly because it became more and more generally felt by public opinion that moral principle and moral purpose rather than strategy or mere interest alone should be the inspiration of English policy. For in the course of the first half of the nineteenth century a moral revolution was completed in England; a revolution which was in the long term to exercise decisive influence on the shaping and conduct of English foreign policy. It is indeed in the transformation of the British character and outlook by this moral revolution that lies the first cause, from which all else was to spring, of the British plight in 1940.”
Correlli Barnett, The Collapse of British Power (New York: William Morrow & Co, Inc, 1972), pp.20-21
This is best description of Frenchism that I have ever seen:
“Edmund Burke was himself among the most famous and eloquent of early advocates of idealistic purpose as a guide to national policy, although the Members of Parliament of his own time so little relished his high-mindedness that he was known as the dinner bell, his rising to speak being the signal for men to depart the chamber in search of mutton chops. . . Indeed, their pew-hard certainty, on which no outside evidence could make an impression, was a distinguishing characteristic. …”
David French is our modern day dinner bell.
When Pastor French rises to speak, it is time for everyone else to exit the building to go enjoy a good meal. You know it is true!
“The revolution had begun to gather momentum in the late Georgian age; a peculiarly English manifestation of the romantic movement common to all Western Europe. The essence of romanticism was to value feeling above calculation or judgement. Romanticism exalted sentiment — soon crudened into sentimentality — over sense. Romantics themselves yielded willingly to their hot-flowing emotions. And, in turn, their emotions governed their thoughts and actions, inspiring visions of the noble and the ideal which freed them from the limitations of the world as it was, and human nature as it was; uplifting them from mere consideration of material interest to fidelity to high principles.
For the first time since the doctrinaire seventeenth century a concern for principle had begun to manifest itself in politics by the early part of George III’s reign, when, for example, the war against the rebellious American colonies was denounced by politicians like Burke as unjust as well as unwise. Edmund Burke was himself among the most famous and eloquent of early advocates of idealistic purpose as a guide to national policy, although the Members of Parliament of his own time so little relished his high-mindedness that he was known as the dinner bell, his rising to speak being the signal for men to depart the chamber in search of mutton chops. Nevertheless abstract principle continued to wax in favour in British politics. After 1793 Charles James Fox attacked the war with revolutionary France as being an attempt to crush a noble experiment in human liberty rather than the parrying of a national danger. Radicals of the day, like Samuel Whitbread, the brewer MP, were even more passionately moralistic in denouncing English policy and excusing French actions, thereby setting a pattern of emotional response to be followed by the romantic left of politics down to the present day.
However, it was religion which was to give the romantic movement in England its singularly moralistic direction and force. The eighteenth century founders of Methodism, the evangelists Wesley and Whitefield, although standing in an older tradition, brought to life a new religious emotionalism by loosing men’s feelings in vast open-air assemblies tumultuous with mass-hysteria; the archetypes of the mass-meetings of future democracy and its political demagoguery. From the Methodists themselves, the flame of emotionalism leaped and ran through the traditional but now torpid nonconformist sects. It ignited even the Church of England, a body which in the late eighteenth century might have been regarded as wholly proof against feelings stronger and deeper than those of respect for the squire or for a well-roasted goose. The Church of England revivalists, the so-called ‘evangelicals’ or ‘saints’, such as William Wilberforce, Hannah More and their friends, carried intense religious emotion and zeal for righteousness into the upper-middle classes. By the opening years of the nineteenth century all British Churches and sects, regardless of doctrine, had been set aflame. And the evangelical attitude to religion, indeed its attitude to the whole of personal and public life, spoke to the hearts of the future rulers of England, the rising middle classes of the towns.
To evangelicals morality was no mere matter of pragmatic observance of the laws and mores of a society; no unconscious affair of habit; not something to be taken for granted. On the contrary, their attitude to morality was higly self-conscious; they saw it as an intensely personal question, to be answered according to strict doctrinaire principle. For evangelicals were tormented by a sense of what they called ‘sin’, a term which covered most aspects of human nature, and especially its strongest and most basic impulses. ‘Sin’ was to be conquered by earnest prayer in the course of private struggles of conscience conducted in a state of spiritual abasement. Evangelicals therefore saw human existence in all its rich complexity in simple terms of good and evil, right and wrong. They had no doubt at all that they were, although sinful, right. Indeed, their pew-hard certainty, on which no outside evidence could make an impression, was a distinguishing characteristic.
The importance of evangelicalism in terms of future British attitudes to world affairs lay in that it did not limit itself to theology or private examination of the soul, but saw religion as a rule-book to govern every aspect of personal, social and international life. In the words of Sir Edward Barker: ‘It has indeed been a feature common to the Evangelical and Catholic sections of the English Church — and, for that matter, a feature common to both with various nonconformist societies . . . that they have all sought to make religion a general social force.’
Traditional English pragmatism was therefore threatened by the onset of a rigid concern for doctrinaire principle. No less significant for the future tone of British politics and foreign policy was the emphasis of evangelical religion on humanitarian concern and pacifistic sentiment. This was the theological aspect of the new middle-class sentimentality that Dickens both tapped and stimulated, the compassion first manifested by the philanthropists of the eighteenth century. In the past religion had often served rather to justify struggle with one’s fellow men. St. Athanasius, for example, in the early Christian era, declared that it was lawful to kill enemies in war. There is no biblical disapproval of slavery, although the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 as a result of a campaign led by William Wilberforce and of slavery itself in the British Empire in 1833 were the earliest of the great social achievements of British evangelicalism. Religious bigotry had served Cromwell and his Ironsides only to whet their resolution in battle. But while it is true that evangelical religion was to inspire some ruthless English men of action in the nineteenth century — General Gordon; the Lawrence brothers who administered the newly-won Punjab — these were nevertheless exceptions. To embrace one’s fellow men in brotherly love rather than smite them with the sword of righteousness was the broad instruction of evangelicalism to the British people. As a historian of Christian pacifism observes:
. . . our concentration on the primacy of love in the nature of God, and therefore in the Gospel .. . and therefore in the social, national and international implications of the Gospel, is a relatively modern phenomenon . . . I do not find it with any prominence earlier than about a hundred years ago.
By 1870 evangelical Christianity, like a clove of spiritual garlic, had permeated British life.
No one will ever understand Victorian England who does not appreciate that among highly civilised countries . . . it was one of the most religious that the world has ever known. Moreover its particular type of Christianity laid a peculiarly direct emphasis on conduct . . . it became after Queen Victoria’s marriage practically the religion of the court, and gripped all ranks and conditions of society. After Melbourne’s departure it inspired nearly every front rank public man, save Palmerston, for four decades . . . nothing is more remarkable than the way evangelicalism in the broader sense overleaped sectarian barries and pervaded men of all creeds. . . Even Disraeli, by nature as remote from it as Palmerston, paid ever deference to it in politics.
As a consequence of this spiritual revolution English policy ceased to be founded solely on the expedient and opportunistic pursuit of English interests. International relations were no longer sen as being governed primarily by strategy, but by morality. As Gladstone put it in 1870: ‘The greatest triumph of our epoch will be the consecration of the idea of a public law as the fundamental law of European politics.’
An accurate description of libertarianism.
“The innocence and unreality were not limited to free-trade liberals or the Labour movement. In the late nineteenth century there was a great deal of hybridising between the three original species of Victorian romanticism — rational abstraction, evangelical religion and simple sentimentalism. In terms of international relations, the result was a romantic idealism which believed that the whole world was well on the way to becoming one highly moral society — like Britain itself. Mankind was taken to be essentially good and kind and rational. His natural condition was believed to be peaceful harmony because the interests of all nations were naturally harmonious. That mankind’s history to that date had been mostly concerned with struggle, ambition, greed and violence was attributed to evil governments and social systems. Once these were removed, harmony and love would prevail. The fundamental relationship between human groups was not competitive and strategic, but moral. International relations were therefore not governed by power but by moral law. Moral law was believed to be inherently capable of restraining the wrongdoer.”
Barnett rips apart liberalism here, and by extension, libertarianism (the most radical species of liberalism yet).
“In a hundred years British industry had thus changed its character from an army of conquest, mobile, flexible and bold, into a defensive army pegged out in fixed positions, passively trying to defend what it had won in the past. The fire of creative purpose flickered low in the blackened grate of the British industrial regions.”
“This swift decline in British vigour at home and the failure to exploit the empire were not owing to some inevitable sensecent process of history. They shared a specific cause. The cause was a political doctrine; a doctrine blindly believed in long after it had ceased to correspond with reality.
The doctrine was liberalism, which criticised and finally demolished the traditional conception of the nation-state as a collective organism, a community; and asserted instead the primacy of the individual. According to liberal thinking a nation was no more than so many human atoms who happened to live under the same set of laws. From such a belief it followed that the State, instead of being the embodiment of a national community as it had been under the Tudors and the Commonwealth, was required to dwindle into a kind of policeman, standing apart from the national life, and with the merely negative task of keeping the free-for-all of individual competition within the bounds of decorum.
Liberalism, like evangelical religion, flowed from a late-eighteenth century intellectual spring. Like evangelical religion again, it was a manifestation of the middle-class mind, and arose with the middle classes before 1850 and with them prevailed. Indeed liberalism and evangelical Christianity were head and tail of the same idealism, often expoused by the same persons, as in the case of Richard Cobden, and fueled from a common reservoir of moral passion.
Central to liberalism was the belief that human progress and human happiness were best assured by leaving individuals to compete freely with each other: laissez-faire; let them get on with it. What was socially necessary could be safely entrusted to spontaneous creation by private initiative. As Adam Smith, the founder of liberal economics, put it in 1776: ‘By pursuing his own interest [an individual] frequently promotes that of society the more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.’ It was Adam Smith who formulated the doctrine of Free Trade, keystone of liberalism, which was to exercise as long-lived and as baneful effect on British power was Wesley and Whitefield’s preaching. Adam Smith attacked the traditional ‘mercantilist’ belief that a nation should be generally self-supporting: ‘If a foreign country can supply us with a commodity cheaper than we ourselves can make it, better buy it them with some part of the produce of our own industry employed in a way in which we have some advantage.’
Therefore the State should not protect home markets or industries from competition:
To give the monopoly of the home market to the produce of domestic industry, in any particular art or manufacture, is in some measure to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, and must, in almost all cases, be either a useless or hurtful regulation.
Adam Smith thus looked forward to a division of labour between different countries, whereby each specialised in certain trades and industries, and therefore became dependent on one another. Nevertheless he agreed that the State should continue to regulate shipping so that the nation might always be sure of a supply of seamen, ships and naval stores, because ‘. . . defence, however, is of much greater importance than opulence’. This vital distinction was totally forgotten by the nineteenth-century apostles of Free Trade. Indeed Richard Cobden so lost sight of national security that he believed that Free Trade was ‘the international law of the Almighty’, and that ‘the honest and just interests of this country, and of her inhabitants, are the just and honest interests of the whole world’.
In any event, Adam Smith erected a ‘scientific’ theory out of the passing circumstances of his own era. He could not forsee that national defence would come to depend not just on seamen and naval stores, but on total industrial and economic capability. He could not forsee the effects of the most revolutionary technological developments in the history of mankind, just beginning when he was writing. Thus, to give one small example, he believed that Free Trade could not ruin British cattle-raising because it was impossible to transport enough meant on the hoof into the country. Yet a hundred years after this confident judgement refrigerated steamships began to bring in meat in immense quantities from all over the world.
Nevertheless Adam Smith’s doctrine of Free Trade was to win unqualified acceptance by 1850, and British economic policy – or, rather – non-policy – was henceforth to be based on it, without giving the least priority to defence over opulence. It was part of the general triumph of liberalism, which confidently left all social and industrial questions to solutions by private individuals by private initiative — the layout of towns, the future of industry and agriculture, the housing, health and education of the people.
The doctrines of liberal individualism were congenial to the English temperament. Since the early seventeeth century the English had nourished a deep suspicion of the state that had hardly diminished with the waning of monarchical power. As foreigners noted, the English were anarchical and quarrelsome, renowned for their love of liberty. [b]’Liberty’, put another way, meant dislike of being organised; a dislike vividly manifested by the extraordinary illogic and localism of English institutions in the eighteenth century. Liberal doctrine provided a new and ‘scientific’ justification for this English dislike. The English therefore entered the industrial era — the era of organisation — with a deep-seated horror of organisation, and the larger the organisation the greater the horror.
In fact it proved impossible to carry out liberal doctrines in unsmirched purity; awkward realities would keep breaking in. For example Acts of Parliament were passed controlling the hours and conditions of work and female and infant labour in factories, to be enforced by government inspectors. Local government was reformed. Public sanitation was undertaken. Yet such matters as these were only incidental details, and under the young Victoria the British State abandoned any pretence of generally guiding the national destiny or expressing a collective national will. As Matthew Arnold, intellectual, poet and Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools, expressed it in 1869:
. . . we are left with nothing but our system of checks, and our notion is of its being the right and happiness of an Englishman to do as far as possible what he likes, we are in danger of drifting towards anarchy. We have not the notion, so familiar on the Continent and to antiquity, of the State, — the nation in its collective and corporate character, entrusted with stringent powers for the general advantage, and controlling individual wills in the name of an interest wider than that of individuals.
Barnett proves that statism, not liberalism, is the key to progress. Liberalism is a retarding force upon progress that is driven by crude ridiculous emotionalism.
All these nations were bent on becoming great industrial powers — all based their development on the thorough exploitation of science and technology and on a high degree of organisation. All possessed (or in the case of Japan was swiftly creating) first-class education system geared to serve national progress.
According to liberal doctrine, the entrepreneur was supposed to respond to the competition of a more efficient rival by changing his methods and becoming in his turn yet more efficient still. Unfortunately British industry between 1870 and 1914 failed to react as expected. It was now led by the sons or grandsons of its ruthless founders — too often fatly complacent men, constipated with inherited wealth. Not merely in the boardrom but throughout industry the successes of the past induced a fatal smugness. Existing methods and products evoked a devoted and emotional loyalty. The British in general could not even see that their industrial techniques were outmoded, fit for scraping; instead they saw a way of life that was eternally valid. They inactively watched foreign invasion of the British home market itself. Inded, British machine-tool makers, for example, were content to act as agents for advanced machines from Germany and the United States. So the response of British industry to the challenge of foreign competition and of ever more rapid technical change was too little and too late.
Since British enterprise signally failed to be enterprising, the alternative lay in some form of government action. This might have followed the German example — a broad economic strategy to encourage and guide industrial progress in the national interest by tariffs, subsidies and rebates.
But to suggest in Britain in the late nineteenth century that the government should guide the industrial and commerical life of the nation was like suggesting medical treatment to a Jehovah’s witness. When cheap wheat from the rich virgin soils of North America began to flood into Britain in the 1870s, British agriculture was ruined despite its own high standards of husbandry. Yet such was the hold of free trade doctrine that this national disaster was acquiesced in without thought of action. On the contrary, it was thought that, thanks to this beneficient operation of Free Trade, British industrial population was now provided with cheap food. And it was true that cheap food enabled British industry to compensate to some extent for its excessive operating costs by paying low wages. British industry was therefore partially shielded from the consequences of its own inefficiency by means of allowing the ruin of British agriculture.
Thus after 1870 liberal economic doctrine was the most catastrophically inappropriate of all the outdated components of Britain’s economic equipment. Like an enchantment, liberal doctrine seemed to blind British eyes and paralyse British willpower. The most the nation could manage in the late nineteenth century was a serious of immense reports by royal commissions and other bodies on various aspects of the ever more urgent need for national reorganisation. The sombre evidence of such reports and their recommendations were either ignored or acted upon years of delay; and then often only timorously, shadows of the original proposals.
Education was a key to industrial — indeed national — progress and efficiency. In 1870 England still had no national education system. There were the ‘public’ schools; there was an assortment of private schools and ancient grammar schools, but there were no State secondary schools at all. Technical education took the form of a scanty patchwork of locally or privately supported technical industries. Lastly there were the State-aided elementary schools set up in 1861 on the rock-bottom standards of the workhouse. None of these types of education stood in any organic relationship with another. Between therefore the cult of the ‘practical man’ on the one hand and the high-minded pursuit of knightly ideals by the public schools (and the day schools that imitated them) on the other there was virtually nothing. It was just where there was this immense void in England that in Europe there were harmonious structures of elementary, secondary, technical and commercial, and university education; the whole designed to promote national efficiency.”