Whatever Happened To Tradition?
History, Belonging and the Future of the West
Tim Stanley, Bloomsbury Continuum, October 2021, 272 pages, £20
KEN BELL finds that banished traditions can come back in new ways
The central theme of Tim Stanley’s Whatever Happened to Tradition is that tradition in the West has been demolished by its great enemies of liberalism and enlightenment. That is not to say that enlightened men cannot also be conservative and traditionalist – and Stanley doesn’t claim that – rather that liberal, enlightened values are so dominant that they have taken over for the present their conservative opponents. Thus, writes Stanley, “Conservatives, most already economically liberal, have become more socially liberal; the left, most already socially liberal have become more economically liberal.”
So what we have in the West is not a debate between liberals and conservatives, but rather a managerial dispute as to which faction can increase the size of the state to better meet the demands of the populace. This is made worse by the fact that the elites “keep cocking things up,” which they do time and time again as we may be reminded in the winter of 2023 when we undergo power cuts.
Time was when the growing and increasingly authoritarian state would have been opposed by Tories who drew their inspiration from the ideals of the ‘freeborn Englishman’, with his pot of beer and his plate of roast beef. However, today’s Tories are just as much opposed to those notions of responsible individualism in an ordered society as any liberal New-Labourite. One can make a good, Tory position out of support for the miners during the Great Strike of 1984/85. Stanley reminds us that the miners were men who were not fighting to overthrow the established order. Instead what they wanted was to defend their position within that order; a position that involved decent pay and conditions backed up by a strong union. An old-style Conservative could hardly argue against the mines on the basis of economics, especially when the foundations of his beliefs are the monarchy, the Anglican Church, and the legitimacy of the established order. Few of those will bear close scrutiny from an accountant with a balance sheet.
Yet, the Tories are a pragmatic bunch as evidenced by their wholehearted acceptance of what used to be called the Gay Liberation Movement. When I was a young man, the homosexualists allied themselves with the broader Labour movement. We tolerated their predilections, and they took on board our view of how the economy should be run. It was the perfect alliance, with both sides getting something out of the deal. But by the end of the last century, the radical gay pride events had run their course and were attracting fewer and fewer supporters each year. This was especially true in London where the Pride Festival organisers found themselves at the door to the poorhouse. Corporate capitalism came to the rescue and transformed “a protest into a party endorsed by Tesco and Lloyds Bank… nowadays there are probably more middle-class heterosexuals at Pride than gays or lesbians.” Given that the Tories were only recently the party that introduced legislation that banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools, their transformation is a sight to behold.
It is also a very traditional Tory path to take. The party’s aim is the maintenance of the socio-economic status quo: everything else is just tactics. So, the Tories can ditch the anti-homosexualism and a few voters amongst the lower-middle-class in places like Nuneaton, and become pro-homosexual and get votes in Putney. Furthermore, a liberal line on gays does not cost money, unlike, say, levelling-up.
Tim Stanley does give traditionalists some glimmers of hope for a radical future, one coming from a very unexpected quarter. Fox hunting was a pastime of the old established order and was on its deathbed until New Labour gave it a boost by banning it. Hunts began to set their hounds to chase scents laid on the ground, which sounds rather desperate at first glance. However, the hunts became a focus of rural opposition to everything that rural people felt was wrong with the society at large. So thousands began to turn out to support their local hunt, with numbers increasing as urban people decided to go and support this traditional event.
The end result was the metamorphosis of the hunt from a minority interest to a mass event with an overtly political character. Hunt masters became the staunchest of Brexiteers and often provided the leadership for the Brexit campaign in their areas. Tim Stanley is surely correct when he speculates that all traditional values need is a little bit of state repression to give them a new lease on life.
KEN BELL is a Mancunian who fetched up in Mexico, and who now lives in shabby retirement in Edinburgh. He writes as a hobby in his twilight years; a fuller biography can be found at his Amazon author page