Greenman's Occasional Organ

Ecosocialist. Syndicalist. Critical Techno-Progressive.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The British Zeitgeist: Conservative Anarchism

There has been a lot of talk recently of the ideology of the Tory Party leadership in Britain around David Cameron and how they are influenced by the "Red Toryism" of Philip Blond. With Cameron increasingly presented by the MSM as Prime Minister in waiting we might be forgiven for supposing that this "Red Toryism" was something of a popular current, a spirit of the age. In fact, Blond's ideology, (which despite the title and the eagerness of some politically illiterate journalists to describe it as some kind of reborn social democracy has some unnerving parallels with the far right reactionary currents of Traditionalism and Synarchism) is only embraced in a watered down and qualified form by Cameron and is hardly embraced at all by some of his camp who are still thinly disguised Thatcherite Monetarists. Any putative Cameronian government will most probably swing between a pragmatic centrism demanded by the economic mess it inherits and vicious Thatcherite attacks in selected areas of society to feed red meat to the backbenchers and finance capitalists to whom both major parties still feel they have no option but to bow to.

So if red Toryism (social traditionalism and crypto-corporatism)does not seem to have a real social base amongst those likely to put the Tories into power, what kind of ideological position can be said to characterise wide swathes of the now rightwardly inclined electorate? My guess is what I would call Conservative Anarchism akin, though not identical to the movement in America known as Paleolibertarianism. The poster boy of this tendency in Britain is Jeremy Clarkson. Its most extreme examples are found among the support bases of UKIP and the English Democrats, but I would suggest that the attitudes and views are common across wide sections of the population, including many, if not most of those about to vote Tory. We are talking about not so much an organised movement as a viral set of attitudes. The massive sales of Clarkson's books attest to the appeal of his stance. And what is this stance? - It is contrarian, individualist, aggressively self assertive and, well, not just anti-socialist, but anti-social. It is a stance that says I will do what I like, eat what I like, drive where I like, say what I like, buy what I like and treat others however I like and woe betide anyone who tries to stop me (and "trying to stop me" is the interpretation put on even the mildest criticism of anti-social and selfish behaviour.) In short it is the attitude of generations of teenagers writ large to people of all ages and classes. Teenagers used to grow out of this phase into responsibility and reasonableness in most cases. Now a whole media, advertising and cultural industry encourages people to behave like spoilt brats for the whole of their lives. Bureaucratic hamfisted attempts to impose civility from above become weapons of a culture war in the hands of conservative anarchists - where everywhere "free spirits" are fighting "PC gone mad".

The Conservative Anarchist is disdainful of everything that teenagers have always hated in large numbers - authority, often religion (of which more later), intellectuallism, high culture and complicated ideas. Hence no professional is safe - the bureaucratisation of professional careers in Britain has proceeded apace (every action of a professional must now be recorded, assessed, analysed, prescribed to death) at the same time as public contempt and lack of respect for professionals has grown. Every Conservative Anarchist feels that he or she knows better than those namby-pamby liberal teachers, doctors, clergy, climate scientists and criminologists. Every slip up of a professional or learned body is now elevated by a deeply anti-intellectual media as a condemnation of a whole body of workers and a whole library of thought.

Anti-intellectualism has easily grown to ridiculous proportions as it has long been a feature of British life compared to other parts of Europe. The "left" wing of conservative anarchism, (the ex-Living Marxists and the failed labourites, the ex-feminists and ex-punks, the O'Neills and Burchills of this world) dress their anti-intellectualism in class terms for added hate value, and of course the fetid British class system makes this easy for them. Thus sometimes Mockney and Estuary English accents attack anything demanding or requiring self control or reflection as "Booorjwah".

Religion is the ultimate hate target of many of the more consistent conservative anarchists found on comment pages as it stands in many cases on a claim of ultimate truth, reality and authority - things which the conservative anarchist sees as his or her sacred right to define personally. The "your politics/views/worldview is religious" or a "new religion" is the coup de grace of the conservative anarchist's armoury of argument. The existence of liberal religions and religious liberals is avoided as an inconvenience, or derided as weak liberal intellectualism - to the macho conservative anarchist all philosophical systems that are not purely centred on the individual and his or her desires are wicked and must be destroyed. To them, Humanism and Socialism, Christianity or Islam, Unitarianism or Agnosticism, Feminism and Animal Rights are all evil creeds not just because of their inevitable human failings but because they are social or universal - they appeal to and try to build a reality beyond the atomised individual and his or her prejudices and bigotries.

The rise of conservative anarchism in Britain has social roots in the vast destruction of community and social organisation that was commenced with a vengeance by the Thatcher government and has continued since. Remember "There is no such thing as society,just families and individuals"?

Additionally, the rise of conservative anarchism has material roots in the technological development of the last 20 years. The e-mail, the text, the social network, the blog comment section all both give a platform for the macho new breed to propagandise and smite his or her wet opponents, and facilitate a form of communication that is harsher, less nuanced and more aggressive than face to face discussion or the more regulated environment of the old newspaper letters pages. Ad Hominem, misrepresentation and casting aspersions about someone's underlying aims, objectives or trajectory are the preferred tools of online warfare. It is not surprising that many conservative anarchists seem to fall into a lazy conspiracist worldview. Non verbal communication, courtesy and even safety consciousness are lost in this world - things are written that might result in a physical fight if said face to face. But bit by bit this mode of communication has leaked into the offline world, into newspaper commentary and into real face to face transactions. I feel it likely that an incoming Tory government will find it gets as much flak from those trapped into this mindset as the beleaguered current Labour Government does. As an ecological, political and social campaigner I find the street and doorstep and street campaigning reaction you now get is in line with this coarsened and violently charged mindset on an alarmingly increasing number of occasions.

The time has come when this trend has to be faced by all those who seek a better world, or even to preserve and defend the social, political and environmental advances that have been made in this country. Because, make no mistake (and the evidence is there in the decline of the very voluntary, community and social clubs and initiatives that the so-called Red Tories would like to substitute for democratically run services - and in the impoverished and spirit-sapping content of what passes for debate on online newspaper comment pages invaded by the conservative anarchist hordes) from where I am sitting, conservative anarchism is corrosive of society, civility and even rational and non-violent debate.

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At 10:48 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An excellent article, is it OK to print it in New Interventions, a non-party socialist magazine?

At 6:54 pm, Blogger greenman said...

Yes, that would be OK, provided you acknowledge the author as Greenman and the first publication as being on this blog. Glad you appreciated it.


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