Conservatism is dead in Britain — as it is in Europe, as it is in most of the world — and if you want to know what the problem is, a good place to start is the one where I’ve just been: the David Horowitz Restoration Weekend in Palm Beach, Florida.
Horowitz is a prominent US activist, author and intellectual whose Freedom Center, if you didn’t know better, you might assume was a conservative think tank. But it’s not. As Horowitz reminded us on the first night of our three-day palm-fringed extravaganza of cocktails, fine cuisine, and sound conservatism courtesy of Mark Steyn, Ann Coulter, Herman Cain, Allen West, Baroness Cox, Bernie Goldberg, Douglas Murray and, ahem, James Delingpole, ‘We’re not a think tank. We’re a battle tank.’
And Horowitz is right of course, as he has been since the early Eighties, which is the moment he converted from cradle socialism (his parents were communists — or ‘progressives’, as so many of their ilk generously styled themselves) to Reagan conservatism. What Horowitz understands, as far too many do not, is that western civilisation is facing its greatest crisis since the second world war; that this trouble has been brewing for decades; and that if we lose this war we lose everything: our freedom; our livelihoods; our culture; our future; our very existence.
Often former leftists make the best conservatives — think Paul Johnson and Peter Hitchens — for they suffer fewer illusions about how devious, dangerous and unprincipled the left can be. Schooled in Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals and the Leninist method, Horowitz knows all too well that the left will lie, besmirch, cheat, character-assassinate, bully, threaten, blackmail, ballot-box-stuff, bomb, kill, anything to get its way. Conservatives are no match because ‘they’re too decent, too civilised,’ up against ‘destroyers, racists, bigots. I refuse to call them liberals — we are the liberals. They are totalitarians.’
If this sounds extreme to some readers — and it will, even in The Spectator, which says it all really — let’s consider briefly the state of the world right now. The USA, bastion of the free world, is on the brink of collapse. Its economy is $15 trillion in debt, brought low by out-of-control Keynesian deficit spending, itself the response to a crisis generated in part by a suicidal scheme to make mortgages available to people who could never afford to pay them back, exacerbated by the ever more burdensome encroachment of the state on the private sector.
In the Middle East, the only stable, productive democracy in the region is assailed on all sides by Islamofascist failed states hellbent on destroying it. And instead of standing up for their only friend in this strategically vital region, its former western allies nitpick over settlements and borders, because that way they won’t have to feel so bad when the Iranians nuke it off the map.
In Britain, democracy has long since been abandoned with all three main political parties holding more or less identical positions on Europe, on ‘climate change’, on immigration, on tax, on equality, on the ailing ration-era National Health service. Political correctness reigns. There are now, operating in parallel to the British judicial system, at least 80 sharia courts, where wife-beating is sanctioned, where divorce if you’re a woman is all but impossible, where for a rape case to be considered the crime must have been witnessed by four males.
In the EU … no, let’s not go there.
These are just the very edited highlights and in every case they happened because conservatives let them happen. Why? Because apparently there were more important battles to fight, like the positioning of sweetie packets in supermarkets. And because ‘elections are won in the centre ground’. And because the kind of zealots who believe in truth, empiricism, small government, liberty, responsibility, entrepreneurship, equality before the law and equality of opportunity (but not of outcome) have no place in forward-looking ‘progressive’ conservatism.
That last weasel cop-out is an especial favourite of Cameron’s conservative crowd: ‘If we throw a few of our own off the back of the sledge to feed the ravening wolves, maybe they won’t come after us quite so hard.’ But of course those wolves will. It’s what wolves do. So all that ends up happening — ‘detoxifying the brand’, as it’s known — is that you do the enemy’s work for them, while sacrificing your bravest, best and most articulate ideological allies. ‘Conservatives are particularly vicious with their own kind,’ says Horowitz. ‘They particularly hate warriors like Glenn Beck. That’s because rather than confront their enemies, conservatives prefer to appease them or win favour with them.’
What applies to Glenn Beck in the US is true over here of Douglas Murray and ‘Mad’ Mel Phillips (‘Mad’ being the favourite dismissal for awkward truth-tellers, in much the same way that all those who predicted the EU and the euro were going to be a disaster were called ‘swivel-eyed’ and ‘barmy’) and Peter Hitchens and others I’m far too modest to name. We’re hated by our own because we’re a daily reminder of what cowardly, loathsome ideological sell-outs the rest of our kind are.
Still, I asked Horowitz, who understands the Gramsci culture war better than anyone on the planet, whether there was any room for emollience of the kind ‘pragmatic’ conservatives advocate? ‘Sure there is. Politics is an art,’ he says, sounding for a second worryingly moderate. ‘If you’re adopting a mellow tone to deceive your enemies that’s good, if it’s a Trojan horse that’s fine. But if you’re just doing it to make yourself liked, that’s Stockholm Syndrome.’
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated November 26, 2011