Constructive Conservatism, #4

A view of life, a statement of fundamental principles, can only be met by the presentation of a truer view and of principles more fundamental. If Conservatives are not to fight with one hand tied behind their backs, the active principles of Conservatism must be felt anew. The whole intellectual content of Conservatism, its moral and intellectual foundations, its practical applications, must, whatever “the mental strife” involved, be made plain to educated democracy. Conservatism must expound its “view of life.”

Clearly this implies an extension of the functions of the Conservative politician, a new meaning so far as he is concerned, of the word “politics.” Conservatism believes in a restricted field for the action of the State, and most emphatically the view of life, the ideal of advance, it must present to the nation, cannot be exhaustively embodied in Acts of Parliament. In the new era we must step outside the old limits and depart from the view that politics mean only public affairs, and that public affairs mean only public business. No doubt this makes politics more difficult, for it is easier to explain the provisions of a Bill than to present a “view of life.”

But the older, narrower view is a caretaker’s only: it confuses the function of the politician with that of the policeman. Historically, it is the survival into the era of educated democracy of methods which were successfully practiced in the period of the triumphant bourgeoisie. But in the new era it will not serve: for it is to abandon the intellectual and moral leadership of the community: it is to withdraw from the duty of moulding and shaping public opinion. It may look like ruling: it is really abdicating.

One further word must be added. The prosperous, peach-fed classes do not readily understand the angle from which the mass of the people approach political life. To the former, politics is not a medium of education, of general culture. That side of life, they have an infinite number of other means of enjoying—fastidious living, beautiful homes, the enjoyment of literature, art, travel, the closeness and variety of their points of contact with human culture and civilisation. Because their general interests are wider, the intellectual area they allot to politics is correspondingly narrower. And for those who are the heirs of “the governing classes” of the past, politics naturally means, above all, administration.

To the mass of the people the opposite is the case. Politics is their main point of contact with general ideas; the paramount expression of the life of the community; the chief, if not the only means of satisfying their goût des grandes choses. But their attitude towards politics it is which makes true the definition of man as “a political animal”; for the mass of the people feel the reality, the life, the organic, as opposed to the mechanical, quality of politics. To them political deliberation is a high function, as the gravity and sincerity of a “popular audience” testify. If the British people do not now take their pleasures sadly, they certainly take their politics seriously.

Such, then, is the situation. A people at the dawn of a new era, equipped with full political power, educated, and still more, highly sensitive to educative influences, presented by a powerful and devoted Socialist Party with a view of politics which is really a comprehensive “view of life,” and yet instinctively trusting to their natural Conservative instincts: a Conservative Party, inclined, perhaps, in common with other parties in the past, to regard politics with only a caretaker’s eye, and yet, obviously, from the wider point of view, charged with the duty of expounding the Conservative “view of life,” since in it lies embedded the true solution of the fundamental problem the new era presents.

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