Alexander Pannett 10.30am
At the conference there were a variety of interesting fringe events but one that particularly caught my eye was a panel debate run by Respublica exploring post-liberalism.
The panel discussed whether “Broken Britain”, characterised by the recent 2008 financial crisis and 2011 riots, is suffering from a malaise brought on by the damaging consequences of social and economic liberalism.
As old traditions and social mores were challenged in the later half of the twentieth century, the social cohesion forged during the Second World War was torn apart by the rise of individualism.
Advances in society, such as improved gender and race relations, coupled with the economic unraveling of the post-war economic consensus initiated a revolutionary change as both society and economy were re-ordered around the individual. This led to deep divisions between liberalism and conservatism that has had un-intended consequences.
Phillip Blond, director of the think tank Respublica, made the case that liberalism has destroyed the traditions of both Left and Right. Liberalism has caused the elite to become self-serving, absent of virtue. As an ideology, it does not engage with the values that matter to communities.
Certainly political parties have adopted contradictory policies as they have tilted their axis towards the individual. The Tories adopted economic liberalism but social conservatism whilst Labour favoured economic conservatism and social liberalism. Both sides failed to foresee the true revolutionary impact of liberalism on existing British communities and how it contrasted with conservative concepts of society.
For Jesse Norman, MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire, freedom is the absence of fetter to the individual will. Liberalism therefore focuses on the present and the person.
Conservatism focuses not on the individual. The individual is subordinate to society. The social construct comes first. It is not for individuals or a particular generation to undermine society for their own gain.
Norman proposes a post-liberalist revival of conservatism through markets that are based on trust, custom and internal rules. The fusion of social capitalism and market theory is the future of conservatism.
David Goodhart, director of the think tank Demos, suggested that post-liberalism focuses socially on a return to strong morale intuition and patriotism, with skepticism towards large-scale immigration, integration and globalisation.
I agree with Goodhart that political parties have been dominated by a post-secular, mobile elite, which have interests that diverge from the rest of society. An example being when New Labour neglected the education of the lower half of the population due to their obsession with increasing the numbers attending higher education. A large part of the population is immobile and the cosmopolitan elite does not serve their needs.
But how should political parties tackle the ravages of liberalism, which has left the British feeling alienated and disconnected from each other?
Phillip Blond contends that a post-liberalist response should mean further economic support for the family to buffet against the radical challenge that liberalism poses. He sees the family as one of society’s most progressive social units, teaching humans the importance of social bonds and unconditional support at an early age. He also advocates the increased use of mutuals and other economic structures that promote a wider participation in the equity of community assets by the disadvantaged.
However, Goodhart does not believe that post-liberalism has a credible economic policy yet. In this Goodhart is unfortunately correct.
The insidious force behind liberalism is the unfettered movement of global capital. The ebb and flow of jobs and capital to the cheapest global locations of production has destabilised existing social and economic structures. It will take more than a hardening of divorce laws and a John Lewis economic model to roll back the malign effects of globalisation.
Whilst post-liberalism does identify causes of “Broken Britain”, a remedy will take more than post-liberal promises of “One Nation” politics from the leading parties. The turbulence and banality of liberalism is too pathologically fixating to be addressed by such empty noblesse oblige.
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