That noted political philosopher Malcolm Turnbull has baldly stated that ‘we are not conservatives’. Mini Me, aka the Member for Goldstein, chipped in on cue with a relevant quote from RG Menzies. When in doubt, quote something from Ming to seal the argument. We only now need Hayek’s ghost telling us “why I am not a conservative” to achieve the trifecta.
Just about any political party or, indeed, any formal political organisation needs to be an amalgam of policy positions and shades of ideology, in order to attain and hold power. Perhaps only single-issue parties are the exception, though even they have to have positions on a range of often complex issues.
The Liberal Party has always been, of course, such an amalgam – of old-style Tories, landed toffs, libertarians sometimes bordering on the libertine, social conservatives, traditionalists, big government conservatives, compassionate conservatives, and so on. Likewise US Republicans, with their country club types like Nelson Rockefeller to libertarians like Barry Goldwater (then) and Rand Paul (now). Paleos, neocons, constitutional conservatives, and even “crunchy” conservatives. Isolationists and global warriors. Now even populist conservatives are running the joint, cheered on by the Breitbart alt-righters.
At the height of the conservative, post-World War II conservative revival in the US, during the reign of William F Buckley Junior and the early years of National Review, there emerged a serious attempt to marry social conservatism, economic liberalism and Cold War anti-communism. The project was called “fusionism” and its chief protagonist was Frank Meyer, who, along with Buckley and James Burnham, Russell Kirk and Brent Bozell, fashioned a movement that birthed Goldwater and eventually delivered Reagan.
Meyer’s project was not merely to create a coalition of the willing that would bury differences between conservatism and (classical) liberalism, but to achieve something of a philosophical “fusion” that amounted to much more than a marriage of convenience. This was a noble if doomed enterprise. A little book by George Carey, Freedom and Virtue, chronicles both Meyer’s efforts and the often vitriolic-though-entertaining exchanges between libertarians, who value freedom above all and for its own sake, and conservatives, who value freedom underpinned by tradition and leading to virtue. Another book, not so little and co-edited by that same member for Goldstein and me (Turning Left or Right) – oh and some lefty or other – explored the same issues in a contemporary setting, inviting liberals and conservatives to articulate policy positions on a range of matters.
Do conservatives and liberals have that much in common anymore – if they ever did – and is it worth fighting to maintain a coalition of the anti-socialists, just to keep the other mob out?
Liberals (following Mill) worship the Enlightenment – why has always been beyond me – and sense progress away from a dodgy, theocratic past towards a nirvana of individualism freed from the influence of Church and State. Conservatives (following Burke then and Russell Kirk or Oakeshott more recently) lament what they see as decline, the overturning of sensible traditions, a traducing of family and faith in a naked public square, and relativism gone seriously mad at the altar of tolerance.
What has changed since the 1980s when the Liberal Party was similarly riven by ideological strife and a bitter war for the leadership, with its wets and dries and good old nothings-in-between time-servers, is that now we have a new and fundamentally different world in which agreement over common cores is all but impossible.
What has emerged is the full blossoming of the god of tolerance, the embrace of climate change ideology, the abandonment of nationalism and certainly of patriotism, the rejection of tradition as a guiding force for action, the utter worship of Davos globalism and free borders, and cultural relativism as a driver of society. The embrace of the rainbow tick is de rigeur.
Liberals are actively hostile to the bedrock beliefs of conservatives. Now, liberals and conservatives are not merely not on the same page, they aren’t even in the same book. They might agree on a few things, but not many. And the things they disagree on, vehemently, are matters of core business to each, not things that can easily be parked.
I fear Frank Meyer would be laughed out at the goings-on in the Liberal Party room these days. I am not sure that he would even want to make the case for fusion.
As for the man who says “we are not conservatives”, he will surprise no one in saying this. After all, he is the Mal-churian candidate, the Macron- and Trudeau-loving globalist, the warmist and the embracer of Islam, the ABC and Gillian Triggs. He calls his philosophy centrism. I am pretty sure it isn’t liberalism.