Rev. Costello, you see, is having a crack at conservatives in the Liberal Party who are still (still!) bitter about losing control of the Coalition’s ideological nerve centre. It’s a bit rich, given that, as the good reverend observes, it was only during the Howard years that conservatives started peeing in the LNP’s gene pool. Howard said the Liberal Party brings together two esteemed traditions: social conservatism and economic liberalism; ‘Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?’ Costo the Elder observes astutely.
What’s truly wearying is that these aren’t even the civilized variety of conservative: ‘… they are reactionary rather than philosophical conservatives in the Burkean mould,’ he laments. Oh, Tim-Tim, what exotic tongues you speak! Please, do tell us more about this ‘Burkean’.
Rev. Costello is one of the most common anti-conservative stock characters: the leftie who’s nostalgic for that age when conservatives stood for something respectable. ‘Oh, for the days when conservatives actually read old Edmund Burke!’ they wail: ‘When conservatives believed in slow, sensible change – but change nonetheless!’
Yes, it was a magical time indeed. Progressives could be confident that, simply by waiting patiently, the ‘Right’ would capitulate to its every demand. Resistance to détente with the USSR simply collapsed. Resistance to the Sexual Revolution simply collapsed. Resistance to Elvis Presley simply collapsed. It was those dear, doughty conservatives who – though a bit slow, yes – could be counted on to come to the proper conclusion eventually.
‘Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views,’ quoth William F. Buckley, Jr. Indeed, they had good reason to be shocked when men like Bill appeared on the scene. It could once be counted on that the so-called conservative didn’t disagree with their views any more than the dull-witted boy disagreed with his teacher’s answer to a sum: he wasn’t getting it wrong per se, it just took him a bit longer to work out the solution. Burke was, in the byzantine imagination of Costello et al., not a devil, but a dunce. The true, respectable conservatism is therefore nothing but a harmless idiocy.
It’s the modern conservatives who are the devils – the Reagans, the Thatchers, the Howards and the Bernardis – who insist that conservatism isn’t merely the long way to progressivism. They’re the ones who, shockingly and rather offensively, seem to subscribe to principles and convictions that disagree with those of the liberals’. It’s been more than half a century since Roosevelt ushered in the New Deal, and yet there are still those who prefer free markets to an interventionist state. Andrew Sullivan first pitched same-sex marriage in the mid-‘90s, yet some haven’t come around to the idea yet. ‘This is beyond sluggishness!’ the incensed Leftist bellows: ‘This is unwillingness, plain and simple!’ What would Burke make of such men who claim his mantle yet spurn his Gospel of Retardation, replacing it with their own Book of Defiance? Their sin isn’t the natural, inevitable sin of stupidity: it’s a premeditated evil.
Alas, I can’t answer for Burke. I’m sorry to admit my lot is decidedly cast among the defiant. If I may be so radical, I might even suggest that Burke wasn’t simply urging us to take the road more travelled, either. When he wrote in support of the monarchy, I get the impression that he wouldn’t have been a republican had he the opportunity to participate in the 1999 referendum. When he defended the Established Church, I don’t think it was simply out of dread for papism. His enthusiasm for the American colonies’ independence probably wouldn’t have wavered had he been introduced to the United Nations.
But, then, who am I to judge? I’m only one man, who (yes) has read and been convinced by Burke. Bill Buckley had another wicked idea in his time: that conservatives shouldn’t allow liberals to set the parameters of ‘acceptable conservative opinion’ for us. ‘How is it, I’d like to know,’ Buckley asked, ‘that so many of us heed and even solicit the counsel of our sworn enemies, the collectivists? To begin with, what reason have we to believe that they are acting in good faith when they spell out to us a program which, they insist, might woo the American people away from their demigods, the Democrats?’ (Substitute ‘Democrats’ for either ‘the Labor Party’ or ‘the small-‘L’ liberal faction’ and you’ve got the gist.)
It’s a question we might put to Rev. Costello. Only, please, dear reader, don’t hold your breath waiting for his reply.