Conservatism and the State

Peter Oborne is a must-read journalist and author.  His books on modern politics - "The Triumph of the Political Class" and "The Rise of Political Lying" - were compelling indictments of the modern polity from an erudite, informed and maverick observer, while his most recent book, "A Dangerous Delusion", bravely and honourably seeks to correct years of misinformation about the threat of a nuclear Iran.

But Oborne is first and foremost a conservative who understands conservatism better than most of its professional practitioners in parliament, and his recent Telegraph article is a masterly survey of what's right and what's wrong with the Cameron government.  Oborne understands the Conservative relationship with the state, when he writes:

"Conservatives understand that there is a great deal to be said for leaving things alone. They respect the wisdom of the past, the necessity to preserve inherited institutions, and the rule of law. 

This is the reason we Conservatives, contrary to popular opinion, value a strong state, so long as it is virtuous and not corrupt. We do not (as many believe) merely value a powerful state for purposes of national defence and to uphold law and order. All serious Conservative thinkers grasp that only the state can embody all those ideals which bind us together, and which count for so much more than mere self-interest."

In my recent attempt to call for a definition of One Nation, I suggested that what marks Conservatives apart from the New Right who now inhabit much of the party was a commitment to the role of the state.  What made One Nation Conservatives so enduring and effective was their understanding of how to use the state's mechanisms for the greater good, even when that meant using welfare and building mechanisms more effectively than rival socialists or liberals.  It is the commitment to what the state can do for society, but the wariness of its dangers, that should make conservatism such an unbeatable political brand, but until the party is led by people who really understand that, it will continue to flail around in shallow electoral waters.


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