Old Toryism, Risen from the Crypt

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For those following Brexit’s twists and turns, there has been – and continues to be – a lot of moving parts and concepts to try to keep abreast of. It’s a big ask for a domestic UK audience to attempt to understand even the contemporary events. For anyone in the UK seeking, should it even exist, a deeper explanation of the Brexit saga, you’re not at all helped by much of the mainstream media coverage that appears to be written by people who were born yesterday and have already forgotten everything they ever learned. Non-UK readers? You must be gluttons for punishment to even try.

There is one, repeating, piece of terminology which is used – misused – so frequently that it justifies some clarification. The term is “Tory”. It’s one of those words which is employed so casually and as so much of a catch-all, it is in danger of becoming meaningless. And that’s just in the UK media. As non-UK readers will also come across the word, with much less exposure to it through history, all kinds of wrong thinking are probably being generated. Even in Canada, where Tory is a popular term for a party in that country, and Australia, where it is less-frequently encountered (but still heard) there are significant differences between what the word Tory would imply for a person living in those countries and what it means to a UK reader.

What readers will not find in this short explainer post is something which is, as is the custom in modern written material, festooned with links or excerpts from sources. Existing explanations of Toryism are almost universally inevitably limited to descriptions of particular Tory governments in the UK, or notable Tory policies. As such, they are backward-looking – and invariably fail to convey what is the Tory idea.

Nor will the reader find either during or at the end of this piece any attempts to impart any definitive views of what Toryism, specifically for our purposes here, Old Toryism, is or isn’t. Rather, my hope is that the reader will be introduced to some notions which are old, ancient even, but will then reflect on how they are as present as ever and manifest themselves in our modern-day lives.

In doing so, my wish is that, rather than being told what to believe, the reader will think for themselves what to believe. In doing so, it may also be possible to do what is becoming something of a trend in the mainstream media, certainly in the UK, and try to fit the Brexit phenomena into a broader historical and cultural context.

What, then, is the ideological basis of the Old Toryism? Put simply, it is the right to govern – to rule – based on the ownership of property and the membership of class.

The first aspect – ownership of property – generates the second aspect. Drawing this out in a little more detail, the rulers are selected by the property-owning upper class on the basis of their fitness and expertise in ruling. The fitness and expertise in ruling is demonstrated and identified by how well the owner of property maintains and expands their property. For the Old Tory, there is inevitably property ownership. There is inevitably class division. And rulers are inevitably selected from the ruling class. There is always a hierarchy. Whether you rule, or are ruled over, depends on your place in the hierarchy. That place is derived from your property ownership. It matters not whether that property ownership was acquired in this life or merely bestowed on you by inheritance from those who had to pass it on to you because they couldn’t take it with them to the next one.

How are readers prone to react to this idea? Instinctively, the reaction may well be one of outrage because, as a mostly progressive and liberal audience, Naked Capitalism’s readership is not only conditioned to resist such notions but might also feel compelled to rebel against them when expressed.

However, it’s worth scratching a little below the surface of our comfort zones here, because although we might not like to admit to it, there’s potentially a secret, repressed (or maybe not so repressed) Old Tory in many of us.

For example, assuming you own a house or apartment – even if mortgaged – or perhaps rent your accommodation, you will enjoy certain property rights associated with the title to it or the payment for use of it. Within your ownership or usage domain, it’s a virtual certainty that you would resist as strongly as you could any attempts by another actor to, for instance, tell you how you furnished your property. Or who you could invite into or onto it. Your thought-processes – whether you consciously acknowledge them or not – give you a sense of entitlement to rule over what you have acquired. And you think you’re entitled to rule as you see fit.

If you are brave enough to be honest, you might also confess that, having gained an interest in a piece of property, whether through ownership or rental, you also extend your gaze beyond it. Assuming you have some long-term connection to where you live, through job, family or financial commitments, you’ll probably have views on zoning changes (such as allowing vacation rentals or commercial development in your area). You’ll probably want educational or healthcare facilities to be delivered in a particular way and to a particular standard. You might like certain environmental constraints to be imposed, or lessened. You will have opinions on transportation and what is appropriate or inappropriate — and this may extend beyond your immediate community to your county or borough.

None of these spheres of influence are inherently yours. You have merely anointed yourself as a rightful instigator of how these things are run based on nothing more than your investing – either time or money or both – in a place with your presence and almost certainly some of your financial capital, too.

It is, then, but a short step from saying that you don’t think a waste incinerator should be built in your town – because, after all, you live in the town, don’t you? –- to the tech billionaire thinking that they have a legitimate voice in who should be the next candidate for president because, after all, they live in the country, don’t they? Proportionately, you both have the same invested in the things you are seeking to have some control over. To deny the billionaire’s right to rule over, at least in part, how the country is governed is to – if you are being intellectually consistent – to deny your own right to rule over, at least in part, how your homeowners’ association is managed or how your child’s school is run or what gets built in your back yard.

I am positing here that, withing each of us, lurks an Old Tory. Our ownserships, or investments, give us a right to rule. Others, who have similar rights as a result of similar ownerships, belong to the same class as us. As a class, we have class interests and we will not hesitate to use our class loyalties and class associations to bring about what we want to happen.

Of course, many of us would think, or would like to think, that such such Old Toryism is tempered by our pluralism or liberalism. We don’t, or we hope we don’t, ignore that ideas and theories should govern our decisions at least as much as – possibly even a lot more than – our ownership of things and our class associations with others who own the same sorts of things as we do. We’re probably similarly incensed by the notion of inherited privilege and a right to rule based merely on who one’s parents are. Other concepts such as meritocracy comfort us that, regardless of the station into which we were born in life, our talents are sufficient to ensure advancement. Implied, too, is that with that advancement, comes a proportionately greater share of the material pie. Also implied is a more forceful ability to influence society’s choices as we demonstrate our capacity for more nuanced decision making than those who lack our particular merits.

For the UK in the latter half of the 19th century Old Toryism, too, proved unable to withstand this onslaught of progressive thinking. Socialism turned the entire theory of the inherently divine right to rule by those who owned the most on its head. Instead, it was those who provided the work, not those who owned the capital, who should sit at the top of the hierarchy. Note that socialism sought to preserve the continued presence of the hierarchy – along with class divisions within it – but put the workers in the position of ruling. Theoretically, as the workers came to dominate and replace capital, the hierarchy would disappear, as would class, because everyone would be an equal worker enjoying an equal distribution of society’s collective output. Or, for those who could not accept that capital would ever truly be banished, Liberalism advanced the belief that the political economy could influence markets and apply democratic, social and even moral forces onto them so as to remove the inequities of both winner-takes-all laissez-faire capitalism and also inherited wealth and privilege.

Toryism morphed into Conservatism (although the old “Tory” label still stuck, indicating Conservatism’s ideological heritage) which combined free market philosophy with doses, of varying strengths, of statism and corporatism. Liberalism became Social Democracy, where individual freedoms and capital freedoms were honoured, but curtailed by generous applications of government interventions which had the aim of ameliorating the worst excesses of untrammelled markets. How could Old Toryism possibly survive, with its intellectual origins traceable back to antediluvian models for society such as feudalism? Surely the medieval and rigidly hierarchic power structures it required of landed gentry, local squires, established church and – if parliamentary or democratic institutions existed at all — also a very limited franchise of voters who could vote because they were deemed capable of excising their votes “responsibly”, were gone, never to return?

It seemed so. Centralised administration formed an alternative structure that replicated the old hierarchical certainties. Mass affluence dissolved the rigid class differentiation and associated class struggles. A managed economy delivered socially useful provision of healthcare, education and essential public works. A free market economy occupied the remaining territory and delivered consumer durables.

Where did it all go wrong? The causes of the demise of the post-war consensus are overdetermined, but it is possible to glean that, with the benefit of hindsight, the structures it employed – a strong centralising and administrative base – were too susceptible to the reemergence of old class instincts. A credentialed class gained a monopoly on policy definition and then defined policies which embedded what quickly became a self-serving influence over supposedly citizen-led programmatic political government. A managerial class brought a closed shop to running both business and government but set its own rules gamed the system to reward itself, no matter how well or badly it delivered. And, crucially, feckless, rootless international capital, dominated by a new billionaire class had no loyalties to anyone but itself. Both Conservatism and Social Democracy then became powerless in the face of a new hard-line tyrannical Liberalism, intent on nothing more than preserving this newly beneficial — to these particular class interests – setup. Socialism willingly allowed itself to be captured by the same authoritarian progressiveness and identity politics, with identity struggle replacing, unsatisfactorily, class struggle.

The UK thus finds itself at a crossroads. Brexit is a reaction to fragility of pluralism, the political economy and the social contract. Do the people try to fix the problems which have emerged in the system which was built in the post-war period — which, given that it’s already gotten broken, is suggestive that it might not ever be entirely stable in the long term? Do they return to previously enduring structures and philosophies, such as Old Toryism, with its promise of stability and durability seemingly able to hold the property-owning elite into a noblesse oblige quid pro quo — but at a price of a rigid and often unfair or capricious class hierarchy?

Or is there something completely new being formed?

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  1. John A

    Excellent analysis. For non-British readers, I would like to expand the understanding of the concept of Tory property ownership that it also embraces all possessions passed down from father to first son (with nothing to any other siblings). Such ownership includes clothes such as tweed jackets, hunting outfits, boots etc. And equally so, furniture.
    One of the most damning put downs of ‘arriviste’ Heseltine, a one-time would be successor to Thatcher who made his money in magazine publishing, by Alan Clark, son of Lork Clark and inheritor of a castle in south east England, and a minor minister in Thatcher’s government, was that Heseltine was ‘the kind of person who buys his own furniture…”.
    As with property, education at a certain public (ie private fee paying) school and Oxford University, is passed down likewise.

    1. Clive

      Yes, that’s a point which I could only allude to due to limitations of space, but is essential. It’s not just the property which is inherited, but the other chattels and, probably equally important, the position in society.

      Getting into the right schools, knowing the right people, being appointed to the right jobs — and much more besides — depended on (depend on still?) having the right background.

      I never had the right background myself, of course. But equally well, somewhere in my upbringing and cultural acclimatisation and conditioning, I also, up to a point, also accepted that as the “natural order of things”. That era well and truly ended in the 1980’s but as I attempted to draw out in the above post, I’m not entirely convinced that what replaced it — background became less important, you could simply now buy your way in — was some hugely stunning improvement. The nouveau riche like Heseltine never had my interests at heart and they never will.

      1. vlade

        That brings out something else you touch on – ” the rulers are selected by the property-owning upper class on the basis of their fitness and expertise in ruling. The fitness and expertise in ruling is demonstrated and identified by how well the owner of property maintains and expands their property”

        That implies at least some long-term thinking (including about the place in society), which implies _some_ care about the ‘property’. It has both negative and positive impacts (cf slavery in the US as the extreme form of property ownership, where the southern plantation class very much conforms to the “Tory” worldview), but compare and contrast with “me first and devil take the hindmost”.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          In 18th to late 19th Century Ireland it was noticeable that the worst landlords were the absentee landlords. Those who lived on their lands usually had some sort of connection with their local communities so didn’t indulge in the worst excesses. Those who only visited for the summer or managed from afar were almost always known as the most callous.

          1. Fkorning

            We are good friends with a number of them. At a dinner not long ago, I asked a friend how he came to have an Irish title, despite being English, or rather Anglo-Norman. Viscounts, Etonians, Horse Guards , surname in the domesday book, the whole lot. His answer started with, “well you see, when land was made available…”. he had the grace to blush as he realised the faux-pas. We laughed and laughed… bring out the Pitchforks. that privilege is not based on meritocracy. That came later to legitimise the plunder. It’s based on an ancestor having a big horse and a big sword stealing from peasants.

            1. LifelongLib

              Did your friend’s ancestor actually steal the land from the peasants? Or did he get it from some Irish lord who got it from some Celtic lord who got it from some Pictish lord who got it from…sorry, I’m very fuzzy on Irish history. I agree that’s not meritocracy, but your friend’s ancestor probably wasn’t the first guy with a big horse and sword to come along either…

              1. FKorning

                Land made available refers to the cromwellian conquest. That’s when the land and titles came into the family banner.

      2. The Rev Kev

        I read a great story about the “exclusiveness” of this class in action from a long time ago in a book about the old Empire. Back before WW1, a young American found himself in an amorous relationship with an English lady in her cabin on a trans-Atlantic liner. After docking in England he came across her at a social party but was hurt when she totally ignored him. Confronting her, he demanded to know why she ignored him, especially since they had recently slept together. The Lady icily informed the young American that since when did that constitute a formal introduction.

        1. ambrit

          Couple that, no pun intended, with the career of Frank Harris and we have an encapsulated description of the ‘ancien regime’ qua Tory Liberalism. That ‘model’ has evidently made a roaring comeback.
          Frank Harris: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Harris
          Does this character remind you, dear reader, of anyone on the ‘moderne’ scene?

    2. Carolinian

      Thank goodness the US doesn’t have Britain’s crazy class fixation. Oh wait.

      In nearby Asheville, NC the Biltmore House–itself an ersatz Vanderbilt recreation of a French chateau–is hosting a tribute to Downton Abbey the TV show. It could be that those really old Tories from the Revolutionary War never quite deserted the land where “all men are created equal.” Many Americans love them some Royals and fantasize about English country houses and a much more relaxing time when everyone knew their place.

      1. Clive

        Just down the road from me is the country house where Downtown Abbey’s location shots are filmed, so it is interesting to be able to compare the various facts and fictions which go along with the British upper class.

        Certainly the owners of Highclere, as the mansion is named, have a long and reasonably laudable history of being genuinely compassionate for the working people, as demonstrated by turning the house over to use as a wartime hospital. But even in the face of this apparent altruism, it’s not exactly clear-cut because, as befell so many great English country estates at the time, the house was merely a white elephant (it was so pretty much from the time it was built, designed as it was for an age which was rapidly being overtaken by labour shortages for domestic servants and, forgive the pun, monumental running costs) so the opportunity to have a contribution for this superficially generosity of purpose was probably as a minimum welcome and may well have been a fairly strong motivator for the family which owned it.

        But it would be churlish to not concede that the aristocratic residents of Highclere did not feel some sense, possibly a very strong sense, of civic duty to ameliorate the condition of the wartime wounded and acted out of an ideal, as they saw it being at the time, of responsibility to do the right thing for the country and its masses.

        However, at the end of WWI, society was expected by the ruling class to simply snap back right into its old know-your-place corsetry. Which it largely did. Attempts by the aristocratic elite to foist this same old settlement on the U.K. and its people at the end of WWII, though, were given short shrift.

        1. Peter

          One can do little better in my opinion to form a picture of the political landscape of the Victorian play between Liberalism and Toryism than reading Trollope.
          Having read most of his oeuvre, I think one can get a good grasp of the levels of this society and how they interacted and wielded power and what role the Parliament played.

        2. Carolinian

          Our PBS did a show about Highclere as the setting of their most popular program. But before that I had heard of it due to the Carnarvon/King Tut connection. Even better than an English country castle is a haunted English country castle?

        3. RBHoughton

          I should like to mention the other side of the coin – noblesse oblige – and the grudging compliance with its demands by the ruling class. For example, it was imo noblesse oblige that brought an end to the slave trade in UK and was somewhat involved in the Reform Bills of 19th century. The demise of a responsive ruling class that knows when its beaten has been one of the tragedies of western society in the last half century.

          1. FKorning

            Sure, some were reformist elements of the nobility, and some were from the ranks of the newly budding educated middle-class: clerks, traders, barristers. Most of them products of enlightenement thinking, masonic lodges, and good olde quaker spiritual humanity. But I would bet a historians would find those gentlemen who did push for change tended to be whigs, and then liberals, rather than tories…

    3. PlutoniumKun

      Indeed, it was always implicit in traditional Toryism that inherited wealth was somehow superior to earned wealth. To a certain extent you can find this reflected in poorer communities too ‘we’ve always been here, we have more rights than those newcomers’. I frequently heard the argument in my city that some people have more of a ‘right’ to public housing when their mother and grandmother were in public housing – implicitly, someone from ‘somewhere else’ doesn’t have the same rights. So I’d agree with Clive that there is something of a High Tory in all of us.

      Traditional High Toryism of course did have one redeeming feature – a sense of duty to go with the benefits of wealth. The death rate of upper class officers in the trenches in WWI was staggeringly high, mostly because the sons of the aristocracy genuinely felt they should be more visible and to the front. It was only when they realised there would be none left within a year that they thought better of this. And of course the old style High Tories did have some sort of belief in one-nationism and so on. The later generation high on notions of meritocracy had no such sense of duty or solidarity, as the modern Tory Party (and many other equivalents around the world) have shown.

      1. larry

        PK, let us not forget the claim that the English general corps was considered to be deeply incompetent: lions led by donkeys, attributed to General Erich Ludendorff, though others also used the phrase the way he did.

        1. David

          It’s not clear that this was ever actually said by anyone, as opposed to just being a persistent story. And historians have been pretty unkind to the “donkey” myth in recent years. But the point is that for many sons of the aristocracy, the military was one of the few acceptable professions, and the junior officer ranks of the BEF were full of them. They died in huge numbers, and their brothers and cousins soon joined up to die as well: the fact that you think you own the country, and are its natural rulers, imposes certain obligations, after all.

          1. shtove

            A phrase used by Alan Clark (mentioned in comments above) for the title of one of his early books.

            I just watched Civilisation for the first time – his father’s TV series. Very popular in the US in the late ’60s, with its emphasis on popular education and rejection of the amorality of abstractions. And yet that horrible hierarchy as a frame for the monkeys to clamber about.

          2. NotReallyHere

            For many (younger) sons … the military was one of the few acceptable professions. Wellington was a prime example of this. The point of England’s aristo rules was strict primogeniture. The eldest boy gets everything and the rest get nothing -except a name and social connections. That eldest boy was/is duty bound to hold onto every silver spoon to pass down to his eldest boy. Politics was just an extension of this system

            Having said all of that, the old Tories were in power when some. of the main “progressive” 19th century reforms occurred. Catholic suffrage (1832) -Tory, Repeal of the corn laws 1846 – Tory …

            They are very good at the art of survival.

            1. flora

              I wouldn’t be surprised if the French Revolution and the reign of terror aftermath in the late 1790s had a profound effect on the thinking of English aristocracy. The early-mid 1800’s reform laws passed with a mind to what could happen if the broad public was too much repressed ? If peasants in France could do that to France’s aristocracy what could stop English peasants from doing the same. Maybe listening to petitions for reforms were a good idea after all.

              Noblesse oblige is sometimes called enlightened self-interest.

              Current neoliberals and global capital apparently see no danger to their ruling arrangements. Maybe that’s the problem. Their self-interest sees no reason to fear, or change.

      2. Adam1

        I’ve lived in my current suburban community for over 15 years now and I still have to stop myself from considering myself “new”. Heck I’ve lived in my current neighborhood longer than probably almost half of the families that currently live there.

        Where I grew up my family had been some of the first white settlers shortly after the American Revolution. My best friend in high school had lived there his whole life, but because his parents and grandparents hadn’t been born there they were newcomers.

        I was never taught to treat “newcomers” differently as a kid thankfully. It wasn’t even a taught concept, but when you’re growing up and you mention where someone lives the parent/grandparent response was usually something like, “oh, you mean the old so and so’s farm” you just subconsciously begin to think being a local means you and your family have been her for a REALLY long time. Everyone else is a newcomer, whether they’ve been there 2 weeks or 20 years. So I can completely understand how such things can readily become the social norm.

    4. Gordon

      Alan Clark’s put down of Heseltine as “the kind of person who buys his own furniture” was supposedly made in the House of Lords where it was overheard by a noble lord of much longer lineage (Clark’s father, Kenneth, had only been ennobled in the mid-1960s) who, according to legend, sniffly remarked, “Some people had to buy their own castles”.

      1. Off The Street

        We clever Americans ape those British aspirations and manners, then adapt to our system. Why bother having ancestors that went to Harvard, or elsewhere, when one might simply write a check to gain admission? The examples are numerous, from the fairly benign with millions sprayed around to ensure landing somewhere, to the more malignant Kushnerian example. Elite colleges each have a number, meaning that amount needed to secure admission.

        Inflation hits everywhere, even in aspirational categories, so don’t be surprised when that number seems kinda crass. What, you want $6,500,000 dollars for little scion or scionette go grace your hallowed halls? Oh, well, petty cash, just another factor of production to manufacture the right kind of life with entree to Elaine’s, Studio 54, Sardi’s, oh wait, wrong audience, entree to those Hampton’s parties or whatevs.

        Proper English might well have been abashed at such behaviour, although less delicate American sensibilities at present tend to overlook minor matters that will fade in importance by the next news cycle. Failure to maintain or even acknowledge some cultural memory, even the ability to be abashed, is bound to cause all manner of subsequent deviations. That is a type of Old Toryism that might be recognizable to all.

        1. HotFlash

          The examples are numerous, from the fairly benign with millions sprayed around to ensure landing somewhere, to the more malignant Kushnerian example.

          Heh, read that as Kardashian.

  2. notabanktoadie

    What, then, is the ideological basis of the Old Toryism? Put simply, it is the right to govern – to rule – based on the ownership of property and the membership of class.

    The first aspect – ownership of property – generates the second aspect. Drawing this out in a little more detail, the rulers are selected by the property-owning upper class on the basis of their fitness and expertise in ruling. The fitness and expertise in ruling is demonstrated and identified by how well the owner of property maintains and expands their property. For the Old Tory, there is inevitably property ownership. There is inevitably class division. Clive [emphasis mine]

    Isn’t it odd then that in ancient Israel, all Hebrews were roughly equal property owners and with provisions in the Law (e.g. Leviticus 25) to keep it that way?

    So it seems that class division is not so inevitable, at least in countries that have some respect for the Bible, including the Old Testament.

    Also please note that although the OT is not timid about calling out sexual sin, its much greater emphasis is on economic injustice – which ultimately led to the Babylonian Captivity for ancient Judah (cf. Jeremiah 34:8-22).

  3. Lee

    I am no fan of Niall Ferguson but in a recent interview he raised a point that piqued my interest that perhaps you could clarify. He maintained that the UK offered better terms of employment and social benefits to foreign workers than do other EU countries, thus attracting more of them, particularly following the integration of eastern Europe, which accounts for much the anti-immigrant feeling among the native UK working class.

    For many of us with little or no private property, our citizenship in one or another nation state is the only possession over which we might exercise some degree of a territorial imperative. And if, as I suspect, the combination of scarcity, already present in the developing world, combined with the likelihood of increased austerity in the developed nations will lead to…..I’d just as soon leave it there.

    1. Clive

      I wouldn’t describe the UK’s social security as being generous, nor the employment conditions being anything much that is already guaranteed over and above the EU-mandated standards (they are a little better in some regards, but if you’re on a zero hours contract, then that’s not applicable anyway).

      What the UK would be in a position to offer migrant labour was good quality healthcare with absolutely zero costs. Other EU healthcare systems are good, but they tend to require co-pays of some sort which, while modest sounding to a typical US resident for whom a $1,000 out-of-pocket expense would scarcely raise an eyebrow, for a low income family, having nothing whatsoever to cover from your income is a good deal.

      But I don’t think that is a pivotal factor. Far more I would say is that you and your children get to acquire native-standard English language skills. These are a truly globally-marketable commodity because English is the world’s second language, no matter where you live. Plus, many migrants will already have some basic grasp of English before seeking work in the UK, so that makes it a whole lot easier than, say, trying to maintain employment in Germany or Italy when you can’t speak a word.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      Ferguson, not for the first time, is talking nonsense. The rights of EU nationals to equal treatment in employment and welfare rights is enshrined in EU legislation. The UK in the 1990’s voluntarily did not adopt transitional rules that would have allowed for visas for new entrant countries. What the UK did offer is a highly flexible (i.e. abusive) labour system which meant far more casual jobs for incomers. And of course for many there were language advantages.

      It’s also worth noting that the immigrant population in the UK is not particularly high as a proportion of population by European standards. Countries like Austria, Ireland and Sweden absorbed significantly more in the last 2 decades or so.

      1. Harry


        A historian who spends way too much of his time brown nosing with hedge funder friends from Oxford. Who pay him consultancy fees.

      2. RBHoughton

        For a reliable review of British history I depend on David Starkey. He is often rude and objectionable but he is not submissive to the state historians who have kept so much detail away from the people.

  4. Albus Umbra

    The way I see it conservatism and liberalism is a zero sum game. Either market and business interests run unchecked and gradually consolidate into a cabal, or it is drawn into a political arena that grows in proportion, and in an ill-fated attempt to control said interests becomes a new breeding ground for them, taking on a character very similar to the right-to-rule of property owners of old.

    It is the tragic irony of humanity that those most unfit to rule are the best suited to become rules. My fiance is part of the managerial corporate class and the overriding quality of good leadership is manipulating people to work hard for you. I wonder if there will ever be a day when the power of free association will trump that of coercion and force. I am not holding my breath.

    1. Albus Umbra

      Correction: not force and coercion, all one needs is to offer pleasantries and a piece of the pie. Force and coercion come later for the more stubborn.


    You definition of conservatism lines up pretty well with Corey Robin’s, a project to secure a formal place in a market society for a traditional social order/hierarchy. The hierarchy in question to be protected and given the preferred status has shifted with the times, but the fundamental idea is always there. So the ideological core of Old Toryism has always been nestled deep within conservatism.

    As far as how Old Toryism could function in a current society, I’m reminded of the “From the archives” post a few months back about the pseudo-interview with an anaracho-captialist espousing the philosophy of Hans-Herman Hoppe. That if you take anarcho-capitialism to its logical conclusion, you end up with neofeudalism. So the more Old Toryism guts the welfare state, regulatory systems, makes the central government less and less capable of carrying out an agenda, the more the populace becomes dependent on the new aristocratic class. The lack of a landed gentry isn’t so much of a concern, because modern user agreements, NDAs, binding arbitration clauses, and the insurmountable maze of fees, charges, and other skimmings from the top effectively create a decentralized manorialism. A chunk of your productivity is always extracted by the aristocratic class, even if you don’t work for them, and the byzantine contracts mean you are de facto bound to their private legal system. You don’t have to live on the manor anymore to be bound to manorialism.

    1. Mike

      I may be mirroring some thoughts already posted here, but the idea needs some repetition.

      The current status of Toryism seems to have changed. Not in the sense of property being the basis of citizenry and noblesse oblige, but rather on WHERE that property resides, and the ability of the landed gentry to make decisions not based upon domestically-owned property, but rather their global commitments (and the freedom FROM domestic unrest/chaos that global spread of wealth allows).

      Take, for example, dear Boris (I feel like writing Natasha after that)- his ties to the US and his total disregard for those elements of the Conservatives tied most to the UK seems to suggest that he represents another line of property and class. Are there indications of this struggle? And, more to the point, where does this leave the UK working class in its future?

  6. a different chris

    This is really interesting because I, a few days back, snapped at a commenter that I felt* said that the problem is that people actually expected recompense for fracking on their property. Rentiers, we were.

    So I guess I, who wakes up sometimes to the left of Castro, was taking the Tory position. We all contain multitudes!

    *I need to look back and make sure, if he answered, that I understood them correctly

    1. Clive

      Indeed, I wonder how many of us have shown similar ideological shifts, then shifting back again, without really thinking too much about it.

      I first became aware of this when I campaigned for an approval for a piece of development to be granted permission by building control here — it was what we term infill development whereby a small lot was created by splitting an awkwardly placed section of land off from a main (existing) house. Normally I’m against this (usually called “garden grabbing” in the U.K.) but the plan was for a six bedroom three and a half bath family home which would, due to its small footprint given the accommodation be an effective use of land and allow a type of accommodation suitable for a larger family. In my town, such accommodation is almost unobtainable — and that which is sits on one acre lots and is north of £1M.

      During the GFC, the house was in foreclosure as the original owner suffered in the downturn. A new owner got the property for a song but rather than occupy it as the planning department (and I) intended, they (the buyer was a professional investor landlord) applied for new building control permits to turn it into a “house in multiple occupation”. There were six letting rooms, some with their own bath but some shared and two shared kitchens between the six rooms. The rooms rented for £400-500 per month, so you can see the, frankly, greed of the landlord who got the asset (that’s what it was to them, a cash flow instrument, not a home) and the yield they got for their (as it was) £440k purchase price.

      The rooms were taken by predominantly east Europeans and Indian or Philippine migrants who on occasion (so I’m told by acquaintances who live nearer the property than I) use the rooms in “shifts” — one person who works during the day sleeps there during the night and another person who works nights is then sleeping there in the same room in the daytime.

      That what I had supported as neighbourhood development should be so denigrated into what was by some measure almost Dickensian slumlord conditions certainly brought out my incipient Old Tory tendencies. Property ownership gives you rights, but it should also give you responsibilities — not just a responsibility to yourself to make a quick buck.

      But what about the migrant tenants? Didn’t I owe them the right to try to make a better life for themselves? And to access accommodation that, if it wasn’t exactly ideal, was at least safe, modern and affordable? And what right do I have to get all uppity and opinionated simply because it’s my neighbourhood and the multi tenant unit conflicts with my particular notion of what is suitable or not suitable? Or, if I’m allowed to control, to a degree, that particular allocation of capital, what is to stop someone else — legitimately — usurping my rights to deploy my capital as I wish?

      1. Titus

        Clive, really, there is a larger question in play here, that anyone has a right to ask, which is – is this how you want the world to be? In my case, I’m asking in this case, is this good? My answer would be no, and I can tell you, one way or other, that house would go. Either restore to its purpose or take it down. Yes poor people have a right to good affordable housing and I’d see those living there got that too. This isn’t wishful thinking because, I’ve done such things, may times. I’m not out to save the world, only my part of it and I do. If the ‘rules’ suit my purpose then the rules are followed if not the ‘rules’ get changed’. If not the people get changed. But failure is not an option. Get it done or be be found dead trying. I do like the Post as an explanation. But have what it explains is a sorry state of affairs.

        1. HotFlash

          A quasi-relative of mine (spouse of a sibling-in-law) fled from Brazil to NYC back in the 50’s, or maybe 60’s. He and two friends rented a room there. They slept in turns, he had his job washing dishes, plus his flute lessons, and later, flute gigs. He ended up being Principal Flute of the New York City Opera and a founder of the New York City Flute Club, which commissioned and recorded many new works for flute, both solo and ensemble. What would you say about him/them? I am reminded of the (possibly apocryphal) story of Jascha Heifitz‘s father, who, being asked years later about his discouraging young Jascha from a violin career, “How was I to know he would be Jascha Heifitz?”.

          I am also completely boggled at how folks from the Land of the Free ™ buckle under to HOA’s. Dudes and dudesses, *WHY*?

  7. Susan the other`

    I was going to make a silly comparison between human wealth and monkey wealth but it isn’t comparable really. Wealth is actually a stable dynamic. Monkeys, and some of us, just ravage our environment and blissfully move on. So if there is something coming that is “new” it is probably conservatism in a dedicated sense, dedicated to the environment and our precious habitat for the benefit of us humans and the entire planet. I get the feeling from his antics that Bojo wants to go back to Monkeytown. Maybe he is enlightened, but hides it; who knows? (I think little George Bush is a closet environmentalist.) The “Tory” push for Brexit was so ill-defined I just don’t know how anyone understands it. But if human wealth actually creates human politics, then politics will be forced to return to the well; to use our evolving technology and knowledge to stabilize our own existence. Which, I think, is a very conservative idea. Downright Tory.

  8. Ahab

    Wonderful essay; thanks so much for this Clive.
    As an irony deficient North American, it has been a stretch for me to truly understand Brexit – this is wonderfully clarifying. I have been motivated by the fact that I have 2 children resident in the UK (both US/Dutch dual nationals; both with pre-Brexit indefinite right to remain). On a recent visit to Holyrood, we inadvertently sat behind the Tory members. It was immediately apparent by dress and body language where we had located ourselves!

  9. New Wafer Army

    I see fascism as a reaction to modernity and, in some ways, seeking to reimpose a feudalistic society. (Mussolini’s corporations were modeled on medieval guilds, not modern businesses.) The state/volk/soil (and its social order) became the highest spiritual ideal. Baron Julius Avola, who wanted a return to traditional aristocratic society, was a great fan of the Nazis.

    It is also interesting that social mobility has virtually stagnated in the UK but in the early modern period there was a rate of about 10% of people moving up/down the social hierarchy. (I don’t have access to the book now, I believe it was called something like “17th Century English Society”.) If you were a yeoman farmer or merchant’s son, you had a shot at joining the aristocracy. A profligate or badly marrying aristo could drop down to the lower league.

    I am not suggesting that the UK is about to turn fascist (the British are way too individualistic) but I would bet that 10% of the population would vote for an openly fascist party with another 20-30% voting for a strongly authoritarian party if the right conditions arise.

    1. shtove

      The upwardly mobile of 17thC England were keen to become baronets, for which station they paid lots of money. Then all that was swept away in the revolution – for a while. Prior to that, Elizabeth I had been deeply conservative, complaining when one of her generals in the Irish wars abused his licence to bring his cronies – “rag tag and bob-tail” – into the Order of the Garter. And prior to her, her father made many family fortunes by the revolutionary act of transferring mortmain property from the church. Funny old place, England.

  10. David

    I think the easiest way to understand this is through different concepts of the ownership of land, because land (even more than property) is the basis of the Tory tradition. Some civilisations, in areas of low population density, had no traditions of land ownership at all. Others, such as in certain parts of Africa, believed that the land « belonged » to those who lived there and the dead who were buried there, but this was not property in the sense of possessing value, and in general ownership of the land could not be transferred.
    The case of Britain (England really) is different, insofar as it was an example of a feudal society, in which the Ruler grants land, and the income from it, in return for military service, and, by extension, political loyalty. If you consider that the King in those days was believed to be appointed by God, and that the coronation was the literal embodiment of that, then the lands owned by the King were effectively given to him by God, and so on down to the smallest landholder. This, of course was the era when wars were fought between rulers for possession of territory, not between states over frontiers. Indeed, this model endured at least as far as the Franco-Prussian War, which was between two empires.
    So the idea that the country « belonged » to those who « owned » it was not just a metaphor. This produced a natural ruling (landowning) class, and land was not only the major source of wealth for a long time, but also a kind of substitute currency for reckoning wealth, marriage contracts etc. and awarding prizes for supporting the right side after a war. That’s the foundation of the traditional Tory attitude, and of the belief in a natural right to rule. You have that right because you have been given land by someone who was given it by God. Mixed with this, however uncertainly, was the sense of holding the land in trust for future generations, and so looking after it. In turn, because the landowning class were considered to be literally « better » and « superior » to everyone else (nearer to the King, thus nearer to God), they were expected to behave in certain distinct ways. Britain (again England) really is an exception to the way this system generally faded away elsewhere in Europe and in places like Japan. The English aristocracy held on for much longer, but began to lose ground as the sources of wealth moved away from just land. In sum, the Tory Party has now become simply a party for the well-off, without the social conscience of the European Christian Democrats or the old Liberals, who represented the new moneyed classes.

  11. Darius

    Hierarchy is a feature of the state. Hierarchy will seek to preserve and enhance itself, which in a nutshell is the origin of reaction. The unsolved problem is how to create a just society in which hierarchy is controlled or checked. Unfortunately, even with the best intentions, we always seem to replace one unjust hierarchy with another.

  12. Synoia

    Well said, Clive.

    Nothing can express the contempt the Tories, the upper class, exhibit to the, lower classes, “Trade” and “working” classes.

    And the resulting hatred of the Tories by the “lower classes,” some who nevertheless try to climb the slippery class ladder.

  13. Synoia

    I’m reading John Julius Norwich’s book on Byzantium, and there hidden in the book is an answer to the growing wealth inequality.

    Police the property market such that buyers of property must be neighbors, and not absentee landlords.

    The law changed, came and went, based on the preferences of the current Byzantine Emperor.

    It is interesting to me, that wealth inequality is not an ancient concept, and there are examples of historical solutions.

    Tories like absentee property ownership.

  14. Ignacio

    Thank you Clive for this nice essay on Toryism that made me feel like revisiting Brideshead. I admire Evelyn Vaugh’s narrative and have the idea that he was the last writer truly depicting the Old Order.

    I have usually assimilated the Tories to the traditional spanish conservatives. Not neolibs, traditional conservatives that one can trace to Benito Perez Galdós (writer, journalist and politician in the XIXth century in Spain) and according to your essay I can hold this assimilation with our cultural differences of course.

    There is a phrase that I liked very much in your essay, that basically says there is a potential Old Tory in all of us. In fact, I believe that by default we tend to manifest our Old Tory mind unless we actively pursue other ideas. That’s why the older one gets, the higher the probability to become full-bore Old Tory with an angry expression in one’s face. You throw the towel, Old Tory you are!

    1. David

      The key difference is that the traditional Right in England dominated the Church, rather than having to treat it as a separate power centre. There was therefore no equivalent of the Aristocracy/Church/Army triad that was so powerful in politics in Catholic countries in Europe (and in Latin America).

      1. Ignacio

        When I was younger I believed that spanish conservatives where unique by how strongly were they associated with the church. I believe that also the conservatives in Bavaria have historically been very much associated with the catholic church (a german reader migth chime in). In fact, Franco was more a kind of Old Tory rather than a fascist and, as soon ad he could, he divorced from those pesky fascists and married with the church to gain support from traditional conservatives. During the civil war the leftist republicans went as far as to burn churches, so tigthly was seen the church in bed with the landowners.

        1. FKorning

          Not unique but it perdured longer in Spain. That pattern is repeated all over Western Europe like France, England. The church has always been a system of control, and the second sons and daughters of noble families have long been instated in senior clerical positions. it’s not by accident nor piety that in every english village with a big family seat sits a chapel or church built by the grace of the local lord.

  15. Adam1

    “Do they return to previously enduring structures and philosophies, such as Old Toryism…”

    The one thing I’ve slowly learned over my life is that any institution, no matter how well intentioned and carefully constructed, can become corrupted by greed and self-interest. If these corruptions are not kept in check and not rooted out they invariable lead to ruinous rot.

    All the great working class advances made post WWII have basically been lost because we got complacent and allowed supposedly good leaders run everything amuck for their own benefit. Hopefully we’ll eventually learn and do a better job minding the store – assuming we can get the store back.

  16. Tom Bradford

    Although mentioned in the article and alluded to in several of the responses above, the concept of nobless oblige is central to this topic.

    To quote Wikipedia, “(Nobless oblige) translates as “nobility obliges” and denotes the concept that nobility extends beyond mere entitlements and requires the person who holds such a status to fulfill social responsibilities.” This, of course, is the highly romanticised heart of ‘Downton Abbey’, but acceptance of the idea that ‘entitlement’ carried an ‘obligation’ is, I would say, at the heart of Old Toryism.

    Yes, it’s gone now. But its gone largely because it has been rejected by the ‘lower orders’. No longer seen as a bargain of service for care, service is now seen to be rewardable purely in terms of cash to enable one to care for one’s self. This, of course, is why Old Tories despise socialism, which is the opposite of nobless oblige, and why those who never have to buy their own furniture cannot comprehend why anyone would prefer to have that as an option.

    Downton Abbey’s appeal as entertainment derives, I would suggest, as a recognition that when properly exercised, nobless oblige has its attractions, and those of the ‘establishment’ who still hanker for it do not do so, as is so often suggested, out of a sense of natural superiority over the ‘lower orders’ or a desire for power over them, but as a social system that works as well as any other, and better than some.

  17. Brian Davey

    I am not a historian but it seems to me that what is completely missing in Clive’s account of the old Tory attitude to property, power and political influence in England is the history of the commons and their enclosure. With the commons a community of people, commoners, jointly manage a community of plant and animal species, in the interests of the community including future generations. That idea and the idea of rights to the commons was embodied in the great charters – the magna carta and the charter of the forest – and were protected for generations.

    With that in mind what was the origin of the wealth and property in which Clive roots his concept of a wish for influence ased on property that we supposedly all share in “old toryism”?- In 1516 Thomas More’s “Utopia” contains a discussion of how coming back from war soldiers found that the land was no longer growing grain for them to eat as bread, and whose price was high, but grazing sheep so that the merchants and rich landlords could cash in on the wool trade – and it was impossible to find work. The vets turned to theft and many ended up on the gallows. Meanwhile the rich, who were well connected in the state used legislation to land grab on the justification that they would improve the land. The justification of “improvement” became the doctrine of political economy overriding the older idea that the poor had rights in the common and that social justice and a community were protections for the poor. Instead ideas like comparative advantage justified the extension of land grabs overseas in imperial adventures, the specialisation not only of labour but of land – leading ultimately to monocultures and biodiversity collapse.

    Where is this in Clive’s story? It assumes private property rights in place but if you want to understand English history indeed world history then one had to understand how a transition occurred from a situation where most people belonged to places, understood those places and had loyalty to them and to their communities collectively. And how all this changed to a society where places belonged to people, not the other way round. That in turn came about because of invasions, war, conquest, enclosure and the theft of places by violence. By definitions people do not belong to places when they invade like the Normans did and subsequent colonialists. So you can start to think about Toryism where places belonging to people and that idea had been stabilised in private property that had become a taken for granted fact of life. The older tradition – embodied in the Charter of the Forest – meanwhile was suppressed…..and needs to be brought back for collective management of land and places in through an ecological crisis as we hit the limits to growth. 

    A good description of English history seen through the perspective of the people’s rights to the commons, and the theft of the commons, is that by Peter Linebaugh, The Magna Carta Manifesto.

    1. icancho

      Yes, I too was surprised by the absence of any mention of ‘the commons’, enclosure, etc., for it surely does complicate matters. The accumulation of land means the accumulation of material and social power, which eventually translates into the arrogation of political power, lending the development of political, philosophical, and legal structures congenial to those who, rather naturally, came to see themselves as “the natural rulers” of everything and everyone else; in short, a self-enabling inequality system. John Locke gave it all a patina of intellectual polish in his disquisitions on property rights. It seems to me that it is this inequality system (political and social powers, ultimately based in exclusive possession of lands, etc.) that is the cardinal attribute of Tories and of the Tory mentality.
      The origins and consequences of the great lands grabs in UK history are well described in Kevin Cahill’s Who Owns Britain(2001; Canongate), further examined by Brett Christophers in his The New Enclosure: The Appropriation of Public Land in Neoliberal Britain, and by Guy Shrubsole in his Who Owns England? and related materials to be found at https://whoownsengland.org/.

  18. flora

    Thanks very much for this post. The next to last para, beginning “Where did it all go wrong”, is as fine a distillation of our modern political/economic times as any I’ve read.

    In Dickens’ book ‘Bleak House’ Lord Dedlock relied on his lawyer – Mr. Tulkinghorn – to effect what he wanted done. In ‘David Copperfield’, respectable old Mr. Wickfield is exploited by his clerk Uriah Heep. (Our modern age might be the golden age of Uriah Heeps.) Tulkinghorn and Heep were both men of merit… in financial and legal and managerial abilities only; they were meritorious technicians with a sharp eye for personal enrichment at the expense of their employers.

    Milton imagined Hell was a meritocracy, one without hope.

    How do countries take back their finances and politics from the financial and legal and managerial Uriah Heeps that have imposed themselves in modern times ? What does it mean to be a Tory or a Conservative in a country that is owned or badly managed by foreign entities or indifferent billionaires?

  19. laughingsong

    “you’ll probably have views on zoning changes . . . You might like certain environmental constraints to be imposed, or lessened. You will have opinions on transportation . . . None of these spheres of influence are inherently yours. You have merely anointed yourself as a rightful instigator”

    I differ a bit on this, Clive. Although I own a home, and I indeed do have opinions about how things are and should be in my neighborhood, and I will even go to a council meeting sometimes to express that opinion. But that’s where the resemblance ends. I haven’t “anointed” myself as the arbiter of the decisions, that is, I don’t feel like I am especially endowed to rule over the other neighborhood denizens, rather I would seek consensus. I think many if not most here would do that rather than feel especially entitled to have their say be the final word.

    And that’s the difference, I think. Owners, renters, guests . . . all whose lives are tied to said polity (neighborhood, town, country . . . ) should have a say right? It’s always seemed dumb to me to say that someone’s opinion doesn’t count simply because she has dirt under her fingernails instead of a fine manicure.

    1. Adam2

      While I intellectually & spiritually agree with you (& I suspect Clive does too), that’s not the default position for most people. Many easily can get here, but again it’s not the default knee jerk starting point.
      By Adam1 (fat fingered it)

  20. skippy

    Always find the Idpol – progressive issue reminicent of a conversation I had with an old NC commenter downsouth. Basically these non traditional or non nuclear family, to use the old parlance, utilized their purchasing power via the dollar in the market place to forward their agenda E.g. Gays in Hollywood affixing red ink stamps to bills to show their flows of funds and it worked.

    This was not unnoticed and replicated by all and sundry seeking remedy outside the intransigent political system of the day. Seems the umbrage of the traditional managerial class stems from having its key A-political tool usurped – Predatory capitalism and Evangelical fundamentalism E.g. market fundamentalism wedded to religion fundamentalism.

    This makes for some interesting rhetorical word play about Totalitarian Globalist Corporatist Progressives, not that previously the same construct sans the progressive nomenclature was the de jour marketing PR used to spread freedom and liberty across the globe.

    Qld’er beacons ….

  21. Scotty on Denman

    It’s remarkable that while traditional conservatism has been usurped by neoliberal globalization and mostly exterminated we Homo stultus really do harbour “Old Toryism” in our cultural DNA, just like we do storytelling and communitarianism—along with the less-kind supremacism and violent intolerance of anything that impedes our drive to subdue the earth, master it and all the others who live on it. The instinct to conserve our kith and kin around the ancestral hearth, and to instil loyal obedience with cleverly gripping stories of “The Other” or any other kind of bogeyman that lurks outside one’s nation, race, class, family or self is probably the oldest polity of all, a story told for perhaps two hundred-thousand years, maybe longer—maybe even cryptically reminiscent of our species’ very beginning. Certainly the usurpers have spun a plausible narrative of conservative tropes to distract from the obscenity of stateless corporatism and its consumption of everything truly conservative—including the environment.

    The question is not how or why conservatism was extirpated from Anthropocenic —or “Sixth-Extinction” —politics but, rather, why we believe it still exists as a viable polity, almost as whimsically as we’re comforted by totally fantastic prospects of space colonization. The answer is our concept of frontierism, as old as conservatism itself but also challenged by the growing dearth of it, an inevitability of the invention of marine globalization six centuries ago when “Old High Toryism” finally had to accept the ignoble joint-stock companies of the burgher class. From this point on classes proliferated— factory workers, mariners, financiers, academics and scientists—and more added to those of simpler times— lords, clergy, peasants, guilds—to the point when old Tories wondered exactly what was the point of having so many? Land-rich but now cash poor, they retained the symbols of previous privilege to which the narratologically inured paid deference, nonetheless: peerage, patronage appointments and heritable officer ranking.

    Toryism is ingrained Anglo-Saxmania which endures as a figment of the past. It’s basis, land-holding, founded the Common Law which still sits atop an eight-hundred year-old mountain of precedent everywhere in Greater Anglo-Saxony and even further afield. American rebels simply replaced the monarch with the state after a century and a half of colonialism proved British Toryism could not be transplanted where land was free for the taking for any Indian Fighter, the iconic, classless (in the literal sense), feral freeman. Indeed, the rebels called the “United Empire Loyalists” who took refuge in Britain’s recently conquered New France, Acadia, and Upper Canada “Tories”. Try as they might, these Tories also could not transplant British Toryism, not old or new, in their new colonial lands because the seemingly endless territory could not be occupied, never mind monopolized, the basic feature of European and British Toryism. Nevertheless, notions of feudal tenure, class and privilege endure from legend. Only New France attempted to enforce quasi-feudal tenure, the Canadien landscape still bearing the ancient boundaries and civil law code British conquerors thought prudent to allow les Habitants (who outnumbered “Canadian” Brits four-to-one at the time). But the appointed equivalent of the House of Lords was as unworkable as overly generous Anglican Church grants (one to every three land-grants). Governors usually returned to England at the end of their terms, not much noticed by a new culture of land-grabbers and merchants that formed the real basis of North American conservatism.

    Another example of Toryism persisting in the minds of New World, Greater Anglo-Saxon societies is the persistent, if fantastic, idea of frontier which has always underpinned conservatism in the huge territories of Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand, always the hope of city pauper and entrepreneur, the centuries-old grist of playwrights and screenwriters—and the paradise of science fiction writers who assuage the nagging feeling even the most remote indigenous village experiences these days: not only are we running out of new frontiers to despoil, we are burning the resource from both ends now. The final thrust has been neoliberal globalization with its attendant environmental degradation—an inevitability real Tories could not have imagined. It’s the Old Tory in all of us which cannot fully imagine it, either, one of the reasons neoliberal usurpers still reign despite the nearly total discrediting of “trickle-down” theory, undeniable catastrophic climate-change and growing wealth disparity.

    The neo-rightists (I can’t bring myself to call them “neo-conservatives” because they aren’t conservative at all) have reaped obscene profits over the last four decades of Reaganism and Thatcherism (here in Canada we sometimes call it “Mulroneyism” after our contemporaneous Prime Minister) and remain powerful. Yet opprobrium is gathering about them. Typically their defence once again deploys certain Tory tropes they hope will continue to dupe-tickle the Old Tory in even the most radical Marxist or progressive liberal. That is, the neo-right’s basic dishonesty is beginning to show. Certain distractions are needed to forestall rebellions like the “Occupy Movements” of a decade ago only hinted at. Thus the ancient tropes of “The Other” are now overtly written into political rhetoric —or spewed off-the-cuff by the likes of tRump and other neo-right politicians.

    It happens wherever there are nominal Tory parties. In America it’s manifest in rugged frontier terms as the “redoubt” movement, reminiscent of the Mormon Trek to then-frontier Utah, a remote, defensible place to take refuge from perceived persecution, recuperate and prepare for a vengeful return to a heroic past supposedly unjustly stolen—by “The Other”, naturally. Contiguous to the Montana-Idaho “White Christian Homeland” in the USA is a similar movement in the Canadian province of Alberta which just elected a United Conservative Party which proclaims its intransigent defence of the Athabasca Tar Sands which now target of environmentalists and Canadian constitutional lawyers, but also akin to the new American “Redoubter Movement” which was preceded by the Mormon’s “Deseret” of the 1850s: the remote prairie foothills of Alberta has its UCP government which threatens separation from the Canadian federation for any attempt to impede bitumen smelting and export—but the western Prairies were also once the refuge of nomadic Aboriginal nations and Metis refugees of the Red River (1875) and Northwest (1885) Rebellions where they intended to form a Canadian province like Manitoba, the only place to recognize the Metis as a legitimate polity—and then only barely. In all cases, race, not class, distinguish the modern redoubt movement of the neo-right—or, more properly, the far-right or “alt-right”.

    This is what conservatism has become: a white Christian redoubt movement which everywhere blames immigrants—especially Muslims—for “stealing” an heroic age of white privilege; its UK equivalent is Brexit, the plainly anti-immigrant (anti-Muslim), anti-trading-bloc withdrawal from the EU. (I wonder if our resort to anti-Aboriginal bigotry will manifest in the UK as anti-Celtic sentiment as these regions agitate to remain in the EU).

    In any event, whatever one thinks Toryism has devolved into, it appears to deny climate change and condemn public enterprise. As the neo-right begins its throes, it is becoming more extreme, more racist, even more absurd (just look at The Donald and BoJo). Worst of all, it is wasting time in dealing with catastrophic climate-change.

    Too bad we aren’t sufficiently self-aware to regard our native Toryism as a vestigial meme that misinforms and harms. True Conservatives in Canada have come over to the socialist party because at least the socialists are communitarians—like traditional Toryism used to be. The neo-right has slid off its flat earth, way on the far right horizon.

    1. HotFlash

      Interesting. As a Canadian, I shall look for more corroboration of your thesis. FYI, a friend of mine, long-time conservative and from conservative family many generations, is now working for the Green Party in a major capacity. I had often wondered why ‘conservatives’ were not ‘conservationists’. Seems like some of them are concluding that, too.

      1. FKorning

        They often are, and usually for a place a the trough of pork-barrel subsidies. Rich shire farm holders are quick to line up for carbon offset credits, tree planting,rewilding, etc, while capitalising on the “green” label. see The Prince’s Trust, Duchy Originals /Organics for the most visible poster child.
        It remains to be seen how much of a benefit this conveys for the commons rather than the royal sporran.

    2. eg

      I would only add by way of suggestion that the “Family Compact” in Ontario was a manifestation of Old Toryism.

      Some might also characterize what are sometimes called the “Laurentian elite” as heirs to their legacy.

  22. Tom Pfotzer

    Clive, that was an excellent essay. Not just for content, but especially for the goodwill and fine spirit of the writer.

    So how to move forward?

    Self-government relies on the participation and good judgement of the citizen. Here in the U.S. we have everything we need for great government, except enough well-informed, emotionally developed and deeply committed citizens to (more) effectively operate our society.

    The price-tag for “self-governing competency” appears to be experience, effort, reading and the emotional armor of a well-developed identity. I think those things take some decades to develop, or some early brilliance…either will do, but the price tag isn’t low.

    I think if the smart, emotionally-developed people got better at self-identifying and working together, it might help. I also think the emotionally-developed need to learn to value themselves, and cast off the “power and wealth = value” notion. Smart, effective, well-meaning people are the crucial gyroscope that serves to keep the fallible human race from really swerving into the ditch…and we’re a-wobbling on the edge right now.

    For the past decade or so I’ve been hoping that the emergence of women’s political power would help this “gyroscopic effect” along. It’s too early to tell yet, but I am hoping.

    If the women-influence doesn’t sufficiently manifest, then we my have to select the Nuclear option, and start modifying human nature on a more direct basis. Socialization is OK, but it’s neither uniformly applied nor particularly well-directed, for ex: class awareness is “socialized-in”.

    1. HotFlash

      My dear Tom,

      I have been a woman all my life (well, I was a girl for part of it, but similar) and I tell you truly, that women do not have any lock on goodness. Examples: Lucretia Borgia, Hillary Clinton, Irma Ida Ilse Grese, Queen Isabella, Elizabeth Bathory, and our very own Karla Homolka (Canadian!!). Oh, and let us not forget Margaret Thatcher, Condoleeza Rice, Susan Power, and Madeline “It was worth it” nAlbright.

      Yours is a Victorian attitude that does not square with any reality that I have observed it. Wishful thinking, I would say. I do not think much of your ‘nuclear option’, but simply expecting ‘women’ (however you term us) to fix all? Na Ga Happen. We will *all* have to work on this. Good luck to us all!

      1. Tom Pfotzer

        Hotflash: I have lots of experience with the full range of character traits expressed by women. I could easily have named many of the names you mentioned. I’ve had many a disagreeable interaction with women – mostly in the business and political realm – and noted fully the veracity of your point above.

        But the reality of emergent women’s political power brings with it a chance for women to ask themselves “in what way are we different from men…how would we craft a different, better reality than the one the men have gifted us with?”

        You seem to be saying “they’re no different from men, therefore they can’t formulate and advance a position – as a coherent group – different from men”.

        If indeed that’s your position, then we are in disagreement. I think women actually are somewhat different from men. I also think that women here in the U.S. are moving toward a position to conduct a referendum on the world that men – more so than women to date – have crafted.

        For ex: do you equate E. Warren with H. Clinton? Clinton had to prove she was as tough as a man, and could readily bomb and assassinate. I don’t see Ms. Warren needing to do that in order to achieve credibility. I think her policies are more consonant with those of women in general. I see that as a sea-change in U.S. politics.

        Another data point. Back in the day, when I was up to my neck in environmental advocacy, I noted many more women involved than men. I do think women have (broadly generalizing, please) a different schedule of values than men. Not necessarily better in most cases, but certainly different.

        And onto the “nuclear option” you decry. If you re-read my post, you may notice that the “nuclear option” I advocate isn’t “depend on women to get us out of this”. If I may quote myself, I said we may need to “start modifying human nature on a more direct basis”.

        I also said that the precedent step to direct intervention is to do a thorough review on the methods, effects and utility of socialization.

        Please take a little more time to think about what gets (actually) said before resorting to simplistic pigeon-hole-sorting algorithms.

  23. gordon

    Brexit will provide an opportunity for wholesale repeal of many bits of human rights and consumer rights legislation which have made their way onto the UK statute book via the EEC/EU. The ruling class in the UK regards all such legislation as socialistic and hateful. In this they are in agreement with the US ruling class, and I see a sort of under-the-table handshake between the two in Johnson’s oily subservience to Trump. I think this could be traced back to the similarities in the neocon programmes of both Thatcher and Reagan – privatisation, deregulation, tax reductions for the rich, crushing the labour movement. After Brexit I suspect the NHS will also be on the chopping block, much to the delight of the big US pharmaceutical companies.

  24. Lambert Strether

    I’m thinking of the final scene of Götterdämmerung:

    The part of Brünnhilde is played by: Theresa May

    The Horse: The 100,000 or so members of the Tory Party

    Siegfried (dead): The Empire

    The Flames: Brexit

    The Rhine Overflowing Its Banks: Whatever is to come…

    UPDATE The Ring: Property

  25. Oregoncharles

    “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”

  26. Sound of the Suburbs

    “Why Nations Fail” is a good book on how those at the top hate progress.

    Even in the poorest countries those at the top are quite happy with the way thing are. You will find they still live in luxury and leisure and everything is working fine for them.

    Progress is always a struggle between those below and those at the top.

    The Magna Carta represents the triumph of those below, the Barons, over those at the top, the Absolute Monarch, who was quite happy with the way things were. Royalty spent centuries trying to get back the power they had lost with the Magna Carta.

    Those at the top like progress in the reverse direction back to when wealth and power were more concentrated.

    The Conservatives are conservative for a reason.

    It is never in the interests of the people at the top to allow progress, and being conservative means you are slowing down progress. Let’s keep things the way they are, we don’t want to progress.

    Wealth is becoming more concentrated; we seem to be progressing in the reverse direction.

    Inequality exists on two axes:

    Y-axis – top to bottom
    X-axis – Across genders, races, etc …..

    The march of progress has been traditionally been seen on the Y-axis of inequality.

    By getting liberals to focus solely on the X-axis, they can feel like they are making progress, whilst things go backwards on the Y-axis, concentrating wealth and power in ever fewer hands.

    A cunning plan indeed; those billionaires don’t miss a trick.

    1. FKorning

      With all due respect, the Barons were those in the middle. And the structures were flatter, many a baronial house could have been Contenders. The bottom were not represented until the abattoirs of WW1 and WW2 forced the hands of power to give a bit of slack on the reins.

      1. Sound of the Suburbs

        It’s a gradual process.

        The Barons were in a position where they could make progress at the expense of the Absolute Monarch. Only the level just below the Absolute Monarch had a chance of getting anywhere.

        Later you get the moves of the capitalists against the old landowning aristocracy.

        Collective action of factory workers then gives them the power to make moves on the capitalists.

  27. Sound of the Suburbs

    Things used to be clearer in the good old days.

    Ricardo was part of the new capitalist class and the old landowning class were a huge problem with their rents that had to be paid both directly and through wages.

    From Ricardo:

    The labourers had before 25
    The landlords 25
    And the capitalists 50
    ……….. 100

    Ricardo looked at how the pie got divided between the three groups.

    The UK political system of three parties represents the three groups.

    Tory – Landlords / landowners / rentiers / old money
    Liberal – Capitalists / employers/ new money
    Labour – Labourers / workers

    The wealthy are divided into two groups.

    One is for free trade, the capitalists.
    One is against free trade, the landlords / landowners.

    The capitalists want the Corn Laws repealed.
    The landlords / landowners don’t want the Corn Laws repealed.

    “The interest of the landlords is always opposed to the interest of every other class in the community” Ricardo 1815 / Classical Economist

    Disposable income = wages – (taxes + the cost of living)

    Employees get their money from wages and the employer pays via wages.

    Employees get less disposable income after the landlords rent has gone.
    Employers have to cover the landlord’s rents in wages reducing profit.

    Ricardo is just talking about housing costs, employees all rented in those days.

    Low housing costs and a low cost of living work best for employers and employees.

    The US rentiers are filling their boots, making the US less and less competitive in an open, globalised world.

    “Income inequality is not killing capitalism in the United States, but rent-seekers like the banking and the health-care sectors just might” Angus Deaton, Nobel prize winner

    The US’s high cost of living has to be covered by wages, causing off-shoring to where the capitalists can make a decent profit.

    You have the two groups that compromise the wealthy doing well, but this very bad for America itself.

    This is true throughout the West.

    We need to remember how capitalism and free trade really work.

    1. Tom Pfotzer


      I agree w/your points, and add:

      Walmart shoppers currently choose “low price” instead of “good job”. No one has a gun at their head demanding they buy stuff from China-Rentier Co.

      The really tough aspect of this problem isn’t that the rentiers are predators, it’s that the renters continue to be easy prey….and that the minute the renter (prey) gets into a a position to become a rentier (predator)…they become one, happily and with a party…to impress their friends.

      I think what’s different lately is the power that automation confers on the rentier class. It just makes the predator job so much easier, and so much more pervasive.

      Getting the not-1%-ers out of the trap this time around is going to take a massive jolt of adaptation-behaviors. The obstacle, as always, is that adaptation requires effort, thinking, emotional strength…the very same limiting factors that got the renters into their situation in the first place.

      1. Sound of the Suburbs

        Mariner Eccles, FED chair 1934 – 48, observed what happened when the reckless bankers and robber barons ran riot in the 1920s.

        “a giant suction pump had by 1929 to 1930 drawn into a few hands an increasing proportion of currently produced wealth. This served then as capital accumulations. But by taking purchasing power out of the hands of mass consumers, the savers denied themselves the kind of effective demand for their products which would justify reinvestment of the capital accumulation in new plants. In consequence as in a poker game where the chips were concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, the other fellows could stay in the game only by borrowing. When the credit ran out, the game stopped”

        The greed and short-termism of those at the top eventually collapses the system.

        The profits looked better and better as they cut back on labour costs, i.e. wages.

        All employees ≈ all consumers

        What has happened to the demand for our products?

        Let’s paper over the cracks with debt that should work for a time.

        That time is coming to an end, again.

        1. Tom Pfotzer


          Yes, that is exactly what happens.

          But the 1-pct have learned their lessons well, and I’m not sure the next “New Deal” is going to look like the last one. Why:

          Repression is a more viable option (the 1-pcter learning) , and

          The prospect of a world war to re-start demand is … not a great option. Too much firepower, and

          The environment doesn’t offer the natural resource stocks it once did.

          And of course, automation isn’t going away. It’s rapidly intensifying, and that means the leverage of the labor force isn’t what it once was. (2nd aspect of new 1-pct learning).

          This time will be different.

  28. Sound of the Suburbs

    Mariner Eccles, FED chair 1934 – 48, observed what happened when the reckless bankers and robber barons ran riot in the 1920s.

    “a giant suction pump had by 1929 to 1930 drawn into a few hands an increasing proportion of currently produced wealth. This served then as capital accumulations. But by taking purchasing power out of the hands of mass consumers, the savers denied themselves the kind of effective demand for their products which would justify reinvestment of the capital accumulation in new plants. In consequence as in a poker game where the chips were concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, the other fellows could stay in the game only by borrowing. When the credit ran out, the game stopped”

    The greed and short-termism of those at the top eventually collapses the system.

    The profits looked better and better as they cut back on labour costs, i.e. wages.

    All employees ≈ all consumers

    What has happened to the demand for our products?

    Let’s paper over the cracks with debt that should work for a time.
    That time is coming to an end, again.

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