How to Be a Non-Liberal, Anti-Socialist Conservative
by Roger Scruton
Post-war intellectuals have inherited two major systems of political thought with which to satisfy their lust for doctrine: liberalism and socialism. It is testimony to the persistence of the dichotomizing frame of mind that, even in Eastern Europe, the “world conflict” that endured for seventy years was frequently seen in terms of the opposition between these systems. And because they are systems, it is often supposed that they are organically unified—that you cannot embrace any part of one of them without embracing the whole of it. But let it be said at the outset, that, from the standpoint of our present predicament, nothing is more obvious about these systems than the fact that they are, in their presuppositions, substantially the same. Each of them proposes a description of our condition, and an ideal solution to it, in terms which are secular, abstract, universal, and egalitarian. Each sees the world in “desacralized” terms, in terms which, in truth, correspond to no lasting common human experience, but only to the cold skeletal paradigms that haunt the brains of intellectuals. Each is abstract, even when it pretends to a view of human history. Its history, like its philosophy, is detached from the concrete circumstance of human agency, and, indeed, in the case of Marxism, goes so far as to deny the efficacy of human agency, preferring to see the world asa confluence of impersonal forces. The ideas whereby men live and find their local identity—ideas of allegiance, of country or nation, of religion and obligation—all these are, for the socialist, mere ideology, and for the liberal, matters of “private” choice, to be respected by the state only because they cannot truly matter to the state.Only in a few places in Europe and America can a person call himself a conservative and expect to be taken seriously. The first task of conservatism, therefore, is to create a language in which “conservative” is no longer a term of abuse. This task is part of another, and larger, enterprise: that of the purification of language from the insidious sloganizing which has taken hold of it. This is not a simple enterprise. Indeed, it is, in one sense, the whole of politics. As the communists realized from the beginning, to control language is to control thought—not actual thought, but the possibilities of thought. It is partly through the successful efforts of the communists—aided, of course, by a world war which they did not a little to precipitate—that our parents thought in terms of elementary dichotomies. Left-Right, Communist-fascist, socialist-capitalist, and so on. Such were the “terms of debate” that we inherited. To the extent that you are not “on the Left,” they implied, then to that extent are you “on the Right”; if not a Communist, then so much nearer fascism; if not a socialist, then an advocate of “capitalism,” as an economic and political system.
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