Dan Pitt is a PhD Candidate in Human Resource Management at Bath University and the Deputy Chairman for Bath Conservative Association.
What is the philosophy of conservatism or a conservative mind-set all about? Is it about competition, success, working hard, private possessions, free markets, equality of opportunity or all of the above and more? Or is it, when conservatism is boiled down to its marrow, about love?
Yes, love! And I don’t mean being affirmative to one’s partner. Russell Kirk, the late American conservative theorist, argued that conservatives believed that the object of life is fundamentally about love and we ought to aspire toward the triumph of love. I, for one, agree with him. Let me show you why. Conservatism as a body of thought can be interpreted as the embracement of concrete traditions, institutions and practices that we love. Be that the tradition of taking in a sporting match and a pint of ale at the local pub or gathering for Sunday lunch. If we don’t love them, why embrace or conserve them?
Let’s take the family, for example. Conservatism embraces and values the institution of the family. As do Conservatives. As David Cameron put it during his speech to Party Conference in 2009, families are the most important part of life to him, and the most important for the country. Furthermore, a “Family Test” for policy at Iain Duncan Smith’s Department of Work and Pensions is to test all government initiatives to certify that they are family-friendly in essence, and to assess their impact upon the family.
Yes, the family is a way of passing on traditions, folklore, ways of doing things, teaching the value of self-discipline, and can place checks and balances on the individual or, in Burke’s words, place “a sufficient restraint upon their passions”. And at the very core of family life is love. Exactly the same argument can be applied to marriage. For the nub of marriage is love between spouses, is it not?
Moreover, love is especially vital to the conservative environmental movement. Roger Scruton argues that the foundation of this movement is the love of beauty. This love is manifested in the ideal British agrarian lifestyle, and picturing the rolling countryside or a beautiful valley with a Victorian viaduct running through it. Scruton, in Green Philosophy: How to Think Seriously about the Planet, coined the term Oikophilia or “the love of home” and argued that settlement and stewardship is at the heart of conservative philosophy – and so, one can argue, is love.
Let’s pick up on the love of home. As we know, an Englishman’s home is his castle (or some such thing). Scruton, when utilising the term “home”, put it into action to denote customs and habits, language, and the landscapes that we reside in, among other elements. I would like to focus on the place where we like to rest our head – the place we refer to when we say “Home Sweet Home”. An important element of conservative thought is home ownership. This can be seen in this Government’s policies around affordable home ownership schemes. A few examples, Help to Buy in its multiple permutations of equity loans, NewBuy, mortgage guarantees and shared ownership. Add to this list the Right to Buy scheme. This illustrates that conservatism supports the idea of the love of home in any conceptualisation.
Love can be found in other areas of the body of thought that is called Conservatism. Let’s take public affections. (No, I don’t mean heavy petting in the public square.) Burke, the father of modern conservatism, in Reflections on the Revolution in France, also referred to love:
“To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed toward a love to our country and to mankind.”
I don’t believe that Burke was referencing to Captain Mainwaring’s Home Guard platoon! (Even though his platoon is easy to love.) In line with Burke’s body of thought, Scruton argues that the binding principle of society, “is not contract but something more akin to love”. Again, there you have it; conservatism’s underlying notion of society is love. The same can be said of the love of one’s country, its history, its traditions, our memories. I see a pattern or a theme, if you will, emerging here.
I conclude on this note. Conservatives, or at least this one and perhaps Randolph Churchill, love facial furniture or pogonotrophy. (Well, alright – perhaps not that one.) These are the reasons why I concur with the late Russell Kirk. Love is at the heart of conservatism, and it is rather easy being a conservative in Britain – because there is a lot to love.