Christopher Rath, a Young Liberal branch president, makes the following, quite remarkable confession in his Menzies House essay, “In Defense of the Establishment”:
My critics in the Young Liberals may call me an “establicon” or establishment conservative as a pejorative, but I wear it as a badge of honour. Being an “establicon” means being “dry”, it means supporting the Premier and Prime Minister, campaigning, raising money, supporting branches to grow, pre-selecting talented men and women, and fostering our best future leaders. It means loving the Liberal Party and our greatest living Australian, John Howard.
What Mr. Rath makes abundantly clear, if unintentionally so, is that he entirely misunderstands the accusation of “establiconservatism”. An establicon isn’t one who campaigns for one’s party despite personal disagreements with the ruling philosophy of its leader. Basically, and not to mince words, being an establicon means excusing oneself from the struggle for authentic conservative government on the grounds that blind support for the party is the greater good.
For instance, a true conservative could support the Turnbull-led Liberal Party while still advocating a return to conservative leadership, if not by ousting Turnbull then by pressuring him to abide by the principles of the party’s centre-right rank-and-file. On the other hand, we would expect an establicon to say that, since Turnbull and his cabinet have so far governed in accordance with broadly free-market principles, matters of cultural and social importance can be set aside and overlooked.
Let’s be clear: the true conservative is a conservative first, and a party loyalist second. He or she never sacrifices the core convictions of Anglo-Australian conservatism—civil institutions such as marriage, the Constitution, the monarchy; the sanctity of life; the preservation of Australia’s cultural identity, and so on—as a matter of convenience. He never shies from criticising those who would use the Liberal Party, ostensibly the principle vehicle for conservatism in Australia, to advance fundamentally un-conservative ends. He needn’t openly revolt against the Party’s leadership, but he ought not be cowed by the leadership either.
Let’s be clearer still: free-market economics are not the be-all and end-all of either John Howard’s Liberal Party or Anglosphere conservatism. Mr. Rath writes, “Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher understood [and] turned their parties into ‘dry’ pragmatic parties built in their own image.” That’s complete misinformation. Ronald Reagan wasn’t merely a free-marketeer. He was a social conservative, a cultural traditionalist, a Constitutionalist, and a stalwart of human liberty and national sovereignty.
And if Reagan was the figurehead of the conservative movement in the 1980s, he was only that: a figurehead. He had no interest in remaking the party “in his own image”, let alone a purely “dry” image. He was a true conservative, devoted to the conservative worldview as a whole. He suffered repeated defeats at the hands of his party establishment for it… and yet he persevered. Which is why he’s the exemplar of conservative statesmanship as we know him today.
Had Reagan been a careerist establicon, a mindless party loyalist, he would’ve simply been another bump in the road, a sorry footnote in the history of the meteoric resurgence of the American conservative movement. We would have found another figurehead, one worthy of the high office afforded him by the American people. Likewise, Thatcher wasn’t “a dry” in any metaphysical sense. She wasn’t interested in implementing a grand experiment in Austrian School economics. True, she held deep conviction in human enterprise; but this belief was inextricably bound to a faith in, and defence of, Britain’s traditional social mores and guiding institutions. Her battle with the Soviet Union wasn’t solely, or even primarily, economic: it was moral and cultural. This is why Thatcher was decidedly one of us, the conservatives. She was just as decidedly not a “dry” “establicon”.
One would hope that Mr. Rath, former leader of the Sydney University Conservative Club and a man whose purported raison d’être is the advancement of authentic conservatism in the Liberal Party, wouldn’t pride himself in being an establicon. There’s a world of difference between authentic conservatism and establiconservatism.
Given this position, Mr. Rath would, in theory, have been a supporter of Tony Abbott in the recent leadership spill. But do note the photograph accompanying the Menzies House article in question. It captures the author with Arthur Sinodinos, the architect of Turnbull’s coup. Need anything more be said.