Time for a cleverer conservatism
This past week has seen the election of two of the most significant individuals in world affairs. In the US, the American electorate has once again opted to flood the White House with the forces of political correctness, secularism and permissiveness, although perhaps without fully understanding what they were doing as they flocked once more to the banner of “Change”. The Crown Nominations Commission came up with a distinctly less known quantity. Justin Welby’s nomination to the See of Canterbury was greeted with cautious optimism by many orthodox Anglicans at home and abroad, including myself, right up until the moment he chose to open his mouth.
We traditionalists are forever accused of being obsessed with gays but, without wanting to sound petulant, he brought it up. We all knew Bishop Welby supported women bishops but to expect anything else from the next Archbishop of Canterbury was fanciful. Where it was still all to play for was in the defence of the Christian understanding of marriage, and in Justin Welby it seemed we had someone on our side. And yet in his first speech as nominee there he was pledging rethinks to the (God help us) “LGBT community”. One wondered if it was a condition for getting the job.
In the US the defeated Republicans picked over the carcass of the Romney campaign. As far as I could tell from their flagship magazines, the neocons who had so strongly backed Romney felt that their policies were correct but the candidates were all wrong, while the Buchananites bemoaned the dreadful neocon policies and pointed out (correctly) that they had predicted this defeat all along. What no one could ignore were the ominous racial voting patterns now plaguing American politics. Successive governments had permitted mass immigration, neoconservative doctrine had at times encouraged it, and now there was no denying it – the demographics of the US had changed forever, and with it voting patterns. Hispanic and African-Americans were instinctively, tribally Democrat, and they were growing in number. The Republicans, it would seem, have a choice – change or die.
So what to do? Marco Rubio has already been anointed by some as the next Republican Presidential nominee. There has been talk of an end to the historic opposition to illegal immigrant amnesties. It is apparently time to stop debating immigration in “cultural terms” and start considering only the economic benefits. As a Briton it is interesting watching someone else’s country, or at least one of its major political parties, busily engaged in “heaping up its own funeral pyre”.
In the Church of England we have seen catastrophic declines in church attendance, for which chronic separation from the modern world was the diagnosis. The cure? Modernisation – engagement with the real world, with issues of social justice and environmentalism. Gender equality was the first priority appended to the 39 Articles, and that battle is almost won. Climate change, fair trade, anti-globalism (of the capitalist variety, never the political) and even immigration became the stuff of sermons up and down the country, as the liberal middle class nodded approvingly, albeit with a slightly smug smirk. Now the church once again looks inwards, this time seeking a battle on the grounds of sexual preference. And again, as the forces of liberalism progress through the Synod, the modernizing powers-that-be look on with approval.
But the liberal, modernizing powers-that-be don’t go to church. Nor do the militant homosexuals. Nor the radical feminists. They never did, and they never will. Those who do go to church want clarity, and leadership, and the Gospel, and they are finding it easier to find in Pope Benedict’s Catholic Church, or in the free Evangelical churches, than in the modernized Church of England. Even those newly seeking truth and faith in this modern world of ours are not dawn to this newly modern church. It might only be anecdotal, but stories of white British converts to Islam abound, and New Age paganism certainly continues to grow.
So I’m sure Bishop Welby’s prayerful rethink will be greeted with muted approval by the LGBT community, and by their fans in the liberal press. But it isn’t going to fill any pews because the gays are not going to start coming to church. And that same liberal press might well greet the Republican Party’s repudiation of immigration controls with enthusiasm. But it won’t get them elected because the Hispanics aren’t going to start voting Republican and nor are their friends.
These policies of trying to love your opponent into supporting you might feel good when the Guardian or the New York Times smile warmly at your efforts, but in the long run are nothing short of suicide. Because these additional immigrants you’ve decided to allow in are going to vote Democrat. And if all lifestyle choices are deemed equally valid then staying in bed on a Sunday morning is just as virtuous as going to church.
So conservatism around the world is undergoing a stumble, a shaking of confidence. None of this, however, is justification for a cop out. There is a pernicious trend emerging among elements of the traditional right, an attitude that sticks a middle finger up to the world and cries “damn you all”, and this won’t do either. If the result in the USA shows us anything, it is how close the Right is to oblivion. Withdraw from the democratic process and we cede the battlefield to the opposition, and they will consolidate fast. Some advocate this total abstention from politics, but there are other ways of withdrawing from the process – some damn all politicians or abuse their opponents, while others exclude themselves through self-indulgent political incorrectness. Yes, it is important to speak the truth, but provocative statements for the sake of controversy get us nowhere except barred from the discussion. It is impossible to influence events if you are not even invited to the table, and too many people seem intent on upsetting those who, for better or for worse, are dishing out the invitations.
We must keep traditional conservatism coherent and mainstream precisely so we can keep the engines of conservatism, institutions such as our established Church and our conservative political parties, out of the hands of the modernizers who would so surely drive them to destruction. The modernizers believe we are dinosaurs that hold back their efforts to formulate a more welcoming conservatism, one they genuinely believe will win them parishioners and presidencies. This fight is too important to value our ideological purity above political savvy; our opponents will play the political game and we must too. There may be some hollow satisfaction in being right but, in this time and in this battle, it’s more important that we win.
Venator, 15th November 2012