This week for the blogging challenge, we are talking about politics from an outsider’s perspective. Making a good use of the Atlantic divide between us, Rory and I are diving into the subject of politics in the UK and the US, but one talking about the one she sees from the outside.
At the time of choosing this topic, which was months before the challenge actually took place, we couldn’t have imagined this would go live in the aftermath of yet another shooting in the US, this time at the hands of a white antisemite, who appears to be a Trump supporter. It comes to no surprise to anyone that his presidency unleashed a wave of hatred of the other in the entrenching of positions on both sides into their more extreme versions. In this whole situation, the spirit of this post is encapsulated by the attitude of reconciliation of the rabbi of said synagogue. “My cup overflows with love. That’s how you defeat hate”.
People like him are why I think this post is still (if not all the more) relevant as it was when first planned. The United States of America were founded from the bosom of the Whig tradition, which is why freedom is the most contentious issue for the Right, and the social democracy of the Left seems so extreme as if they were intent on installing a Venezuela-style socialist regime, when it’s more Blair than Corbyn.
It is in this context that, aside for a few advocating something similar, there isn’t really much of a One Nation tradition in the US, or any sense that it is true conservatism. It is a specifically British phenomenon. It has often been the case that Britain took over what America does, but it’s perhaps one occasion in which I think America should learn something from Britain.
The key tenet of One Nation Conservatism is that members of a society have an obligation towards one another, and this obligation matters more than individualism. It is not, however, a collectivist philosophy: it’s not the philosophy of the overarching state, but the business owner and philanthropist. Freedom is mitigated by the recognition of not being the only human on the planet.
Once such a position is taken, more moderate positions on things like guns become not as un-conservative as they’re now painted. There is something more optimistic about human nature when you see your fellow men as something other than a threat, and you can treat those who are a genuine threat as such, because the centre of your politics is the common good. You want to protect the whole of society and not just your family, because the whole of society is your family.
This is where One Nation Conservatism goes beyond the Compassionate Conservatism of George W. Bush, with which it has most in common. There is still something of an other in Compassionate Conservatism that the One Nation tradition seeks to resolve. At a time of heightened divisions, the Right needs to move beyond paternalism about the poor towards a vision that has one country united, with individual responsibility at the core.
Plenty of column inches have been written since the 2016 elections about how Trump rallied the disaffected, and the key in One Nation Conservatism is a vision in which there is no disaffected to rally. You might say it’s arguing semantic with what Bush set out to do before 9/11 happened, but in a world where language is a powerful tool and rhetoric trumps facts in the hyper-fast war for attention that takes place on social media, I think the emphasis on unity that One Nation conveys is an important one.
This vision of unity also translates into a willingness to promote common goods politics instead of blindly approving or objecting to a policy based on the party that promoted it. It appeals to cross-party support. That’s why the Conservatives and especially the Liberals played a bigger part in creating the NHS than Labour would have us believe 70 years later. Beyond the commitment not to have two nations, one of the rich and one of the poor, One Nation Conservatism is pragmatic and not ideological: compromise isn’t the enemy, but a necessity of social stability.
Benjamin Disraeli, to whose novel the term has been credited (while not the first Conservative of that tradition, he was perhaps one of the fiercest defensor), predicted revolutions would come if the ruling class became indifferent to the suffering of the poor, and to an extent his predictions have come to pass. Our society seems more violent than it has been in a long time, especially in the US. The current administration seems to thrive on this violence.
As a Christian, I watch from afar and with deep unease the whole circumstances of the Trump presidency, the false rhetoric used by both sides to entrench their position on the right side, almost war-like and generally dehumanising. I feel like a bystander in Jesus’s time, watching the events of the Passion unfold, unable to comprehend why nobody sees what is clearly there. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
What I find the most puzzling is how this can happen in a nation that defines itself as a Christian one, where there is little concept of a secular Right. A nation so close to what Victorian Britain would have been like, with thriving evangelical communities and some remnants of suspicions against Catholics.
If the Right wants to survive beyond the current administration it needs a bold vision, whether coming from a truly religious (wo)man or otherwise, of how to heal the divisions and restore the sense of unity of a country. The only way to make America great again is to learn from history, not the self-aggrandising fantasies of a vainglorious man who confuses machismo and bullying with strength.