We are in a civilizational moment. This is one of the big messages that the attendees at the inaugural meeting of the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship (ARC) heard over and over. It is hard to disagree.
We in the West are facing crises on all fronts. It feels as though most Western nations are being undermined from within. We are being economically bankrupted, destroyed by poisonous ideology, and threatened by unprecedented people movement. The most basic institutions of our society are being undermined.
Some 1500 people, from 73 nations, gathered in London this week to face down these issues and begin to move towards solutions. The tone was one of hope and optimism. Baroness Phillipa Stroud, John Anderson, Sir Paul Marshall and Jordan Peterson were just some of the key figures who featured across the conference.
The streams of the conference covered the ground of narrative, citizenship, family and social fabric, energy and environment, and free markets and governance. These are key areas of a healthy, flourishing society, and they are sites of civilsational struggle at this time.
The ARC conference aimed to be a forum for positing solutions to the challenges we face, and to provide an alternative to the vision currently enacted by the Davos and World Economic Forum elites. This was, in a sense, a conservative Davos meeting.
One risk of any conference of this kind and size is that it can descend into a talkfest. Another is that conservatives simply regress to a repristinated Reaganism, and look back to the last time we were ascendant. Both of these risks were existential at this gathering.
Liberty and freedom were common tropes across the first day. And that’s not a bad thing. Freedom matters. But as we have been learning over the past few decades, liberal visions of freedom are not the pathway to societal cohesion or personal fulfillment. Some speakers, including John Anderson and Andrew Hastie, clipped the wings of this tendency by pointing to the goods government can bring. Freedom within structure, ordered liberty, is the foundation of a truly conservative vision for a healthy society.
What the ARC conference drew out were the dangers of technocratic, efficiency-obsessed, safety-driven civil government. Big government, which grasps at all aspects of social and political competency, is most stifling to human freedom. This kind of bad government has encroached on society in a dangerous way. So, too, the woke mind-virus, which denies basic, natural realities like man and woman, has infected some of the basic structures of social life, and works its poison within political institutions.
The ARC vision aims to push back against these. Attendees were encouraged to consider a better story, a clearer vision of the good society built around natural familial bonds, a richer understanding of free markets and a humane economy, and non-catastrophic solutions to the environmental challenges that we face.
At the core of this was a different vision of the human person. People are not cogs in the economic machine, nor are they tools in the toolkit of the elites. We are humans, spiritual beings who need community, fulfilment in work and family, and an education founded on truth and beauty. We will own things, and we will be happy.
The conference drifted into cliche, like the rendition of “Do You Hear the People Sing,” which is rousing in the midst of Les Miserable, but less so in this context. Jordan Peterson is an inspirational speaker, but came across as muddled as he fumbled to connect the dots between personal reform and political action.
And perhaps this is the danger with ARC. It was interesting, inspiring, and an incredible gathering of like-minded people. But the messaging was unclear and the next steps were absent. The gathering was probably the point, though. Getting lots of people in one room can have a catalytic result.
In the end, ARC was a gathering of conservative, right-wing elites who might otherwise have remained a disparate group of failing practitioners and theoreticians. And they may well remain that way. But this delegate left with connections to people across the fields of politics, publishing, filmmaking, activism, medicine, education, and media. All of them, generally speaking, share similar concerns and like goals.
Sebastian Milbank, writing for The Critic, wonders if ARC will be an anti-woke Davos group. Indeed, it might end up being that. But this is not a bad thing. At worst, ARC has brought people together who may go out and start new initiatives, birth new institutions, and form fresh alliances.
Baroness Stroud began the conference by saying “Welcome aboard the ARC.” The conference attendees left with Storm Ciarán bearing down on southern England. The future could be bright. Or we could be riding through a catastrophic, apocalyptic flood. I, for one, hope this conference signals a turning point away from civilisational decline and towards a brighter future.
Simon Kennedy is Associate Editor of Quadrant. He is also a Research Fellow at the University of Queensland and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Danube Institute in Budapest.