Thinking For The Individual

Formerly known as 'Thinking For The People', this site offers some reflections on the state of British society and her people from the perspective of a libertarian Conservative with a passionate belief in the pillars of freedom and responsibility.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Social Conservatives State Their Case

Edward Leigh and a group of two dozen socially conservative Tory MPs have put together a pamphlet which urges a move towards a more strongly conservative platform which the Party, they feel, should stand on come the next general election. It is neatly encapsulated with the terms 'Faith, Flag and the Family'. It is based on bringing back a greater sense of morality to our society, as well as strengthening our patriotic instincts and cutting short the decline in the institution of marriage and the family.

As far as I am concerned, as an individual, it hits all the right notes. I feel marriage is the best basis for a couple to live happily. If I were being technocratic, I would have a mountain of statistics on my side too to prove it. I feel the rebirth of the traditional family would be a great thing for our society too.

However, there is one vital political difference that I have with the considerable number of MPs who would support Mr Leigh's prescriptions. He wants to legislate heavily in favour of marriage and the family. All I want to do is take away the disincentives to marriage, even tear away the apparatus of the State so that we no longer have a situation where people are subsidised by the government for pursuing any particular lifestyle, but where men and women as individuals are taxed a little for what they earn and what they buy, with very limited benefits and no more tax credits. In short, I fear that Mr Leigh wants to use the labyrinthine system that successive governments have set up in order to pursue their own brand of social engineering. His group wishes to use that system to engineer our society towards more traditional instincts. I, on the other hand, would want to tear down that system and instead allow people - which they usually would - to marry and start a traditional family without any constraints against it or compulsion for it. And, alongside that, my way would ensure that anybody who pursued an alternative lifestyle would not become a victim of the government or society.

I have a lot of time for the social conservatives. I believe in faith, flag and the family as a great goal for our society. But to use the apparatus of the State to compel its citizens to follow their line goes against the root value of all conservatives - freedom. What's more, if we were to use the apparatus of the State to press the case for faith, flag and the family, there would be nothing to stop a succeeding Labour or - heaven forefend - Liberal Democrat government using the same structures to push the case for something markedly different.

If people were free to pursue their own lifestyle, with no incentives or disincentives either way, I am convinced the vast majority would opt for the traditional lifestyle. However, our people are not free to pursue their own lifestyle. Marriage and childbearing in the traditional way have been penalised financially - and socially, perhaps - over the years. Mr Leigh wants to counter this trend by potentially making the State even more powerful. "The Conservative Party should not be afraid to stand up for the traditional family," he writes. Yet the Conservative Party is a political organisation. The only ones who can stand up for the traditional family, are me and you, by marrying and raising children. All that the Conservative Party can do - and should do - is take away all the disincentives that make it such an arduous task. I do fear that Mr Leigh would seek to go much further than that. Whilst my personal philosophy is greatly in tune with that of the social conservatives, my political philosophy is far too libertarian for me to commit to their cause.

Now it's time to see what the Notting Hill set can come up with...


At 3:20 pm, Blogger Serf said...

Good Comment

My thoughts are with you entirely on this. I believe much of what the Social Conservatives believe to be true, but m against using the state to get it.

Remove the bizarre incentives that exist against Families and watch people change their way of life, Voluntarily.

At 10:05 pm, Blogger Derek said...

In the past women did not go out to work, but stayed at home to look after the children. I doubt if that will happen today, as young people have a high expectation of what they want materially. Also even married couples are ready to split up much more easily than in the past.

Therefore even though I agree that the traditional family was an ideal arrangement i do not think it will be likely to return in the way it used to be.

At 10:40 pm, Blogger Mark O'Brien said...

I think it's very interesting how nobody ever really knows what governments of all brands expect from women in particular.

There's still disagreement today over whether the Nazis wanted women to go out and work, or look after the children at home. The raw truth is probably that we all expect too much from women. We expect them to be good, traditional stay-at-home mums and to be out-at-work modern women too!

What is the solution to this predicament? Simple: end the farcical situation we have now where it has become the role of government to decide how people live their lives. Whether or not women stay at home with the children or go out to work should not be a question for a Cabinet minister, but for a family itself. This is yet another striking example of how the encroachment of the State has destroyed the capacity of individuals, families and communities to lead their own lives and chart their own destiny.

At 4:16 pm, Blogger Blimpish said...

Mark, you say that 'freedom' is the root value of conservatism - but surely that's liberalism?

At 4:31 pm, Blogger Mark O'Brien said...

Blimpish, I think that in terms of the State's role over people's lives, conservatism is the true bastion of freedom.

I'm in danger of venturing into the realms of political theory; what I prefer is fact, so here are some: Conservatives believe in lower taxes because lower taxes give people more freedom over their finances. Conservatives believe in the value of saving money because that does the same. In our modern era, Conservatives are better placed than liberals or socialists to attack the foundations of the Welfare State because - rightly or wrongly - they take away people's freedom.

We know in the modern context that people who call themselves liberal and mean it have a tendency to be rather authoritarian about the State's role: they want the State to fund people for living particular lifestyles; they want the State to supply our services; they want the State to be king. However, if we look at this matter from a different angle, much of Conservative thinking in the modern era has been based on economic liberalism, and I - backed up by all the clever men in the world - believe that it is the best way for our society to run.

Therefore perhaps my laissez-faire attitude to society should be defined, as you say, as belonging more to liberalism than to conservatism. But that doesn't mean I belong with the 'social liberals'. I don't know what they believe in, but I know it wil probably involve propping up bad lifestyle choices with government money!

If, as you say, conservatives must give up the mantle as the defenders and preservers of freedom to the liberals, I'm starting to wonder what it is that conservatives stand for.

But rather than worry about whether to call ourselves liberals or conservatives, now is the time to think about what kind of policies a future Conservative government can press on with for the betterment of our society. And then let the historians whether about this generation of Conservatives were really conservative!


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