Tuesday, 22 May 2012

My place - the essence of conservatism


The other day I tried to explain my understanding – obviously vicarious – of David Cameron’s conservatism. At the heart of this was the idea of ‘putting something back’ – noblesse oblige – and the importance that we place on administration by the established institutions of society (and do note that it is society’s institutions we are concerned with not merely the institutions that are of the state). In doing this I pointed out that David Cameron’s conservatism was not my conservatism, that my idea of being a conservative was:

...founded on the idea of place, the principle of responsibility and the imperative of freedom

So I felt obliged and slightly urged to describe that conservatism a little further. So here goes – starting with the idea of ‘place’. I see an understanding of rootedness, of belonging, as the crucial distinction between liberalism and conservatism – liberalism’s essence is captured best for me in the words of Thomas Paine:

The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.

These are noble sentiments – my heart rejoices that men believe in the goodness of mankind and that all are equal. But the World is not my country. England is my country and this I cannot change however much other men may pretend differently, however boundaries are drawn. And more that this, the glorious South Pennines is where I live and love – Bradford is my place. I am not a Yorkshireman but I still feel the place – some while ago I wrote:

I look across Yorkshire’s green hills, listen to the birds singing and look at those things seeming timeless – the beer, the food, the walls and trees, the rounded vowels and, above all, that view that this land is ours to cherish. To understand what it means to be conservative, you have to grasp that this is everyone’s.

You will have your place – it may be some corner of a great city, it is perhaps a hill above the woods or even an old mining town fallen on hard times. But it is your place, where your life is lived, where your love is played out. Or rather you will have that place if you are a conservative. As ever, Kipling – the greatest of conservative poets – captured this in speaking of his place, Sussex:

God gave all men all earth to love,
    But since our hearts are small,
Ordained for each one spot should prove
    Belovèd over all;
That, as He watched Creation’s birth,
    So we, in godlike mood,
May of our love create our earth
    And see that it is good.
So one shall Baltic pines content,
    As one some Surrey glade,
Or one the palm-grove’s droned lament
    Before Levuka’s Trade.
Each to his choice, and I rejoice
    The lot has fallen to me
In a fair ground—in a fair ground—
    Yea, Sussex by the sea!

So find your place, live there, care for it, love and cherish it. Leave it as you would wish another to find it – not unchanged but better. Better for being your place. That is the essence of my conservatism.


1 comment:

Mike Chitty said...

I cant commend Wendell Berry enough when it comes for a compelling case for place, and his descriptions of boomers and stickers.

Cameron's conservatism seems to have much more to do with the support of boomers and leaves stickers pretty much high and dry.