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Why did Boris Johnson survive? The legend of the Prime Minister vs the Virus could shape the way we do politics

Boris Johnson, hero? Credit : Pippa Fowles - Handout / Getty Images

Boris Johnson, hero? Credit : Pippa Fowles - Handout / Getty Images


April 15, 2020   6 mins

The story of Boris Johnson’s coronavirus ordeal will surely become a moment of national memory, one of those legends that echoes down the years and comes to stand for much more than itself.

Mr Johnson will not be unhappy with that. He’s very interested in the “great man” theory of history — that way of understanding the world that attributes grand events and trends to the actions of a few heroic individuals. He loves the classics with their heaven-born heroes smiting each other hip and thigh in defiance of gods and fate. His hero is Pericles, the “first citizen of Athens”. He chose politics over journalism “because no one puts up statues of journalists”. He wrote a biography of Winston Churchill, the best-known great man of British imagination: he won the war, didn’t he?

Provided he isn’t seen to have screwed up dramatically over the crisis once he’s recovered, it’s quite easy to see how the story of the prime minister who led the response to a deadly disease and nearly died from it himself will weave its way into the British imagination.

But the tale of Boris and the Virus can be told in two different ways. The way Conservatives, in particular, remember it will help decide whether the story unites or divides.

It all flows from a very basic question: why did Boris survive? How people answer that question will say a lot about politics and determine how Britain changes — or does not change — when we finally put coronavirus behind us.

Some will describe a battle of personal heroism, of grit and determination. Even when the PM was in the ICU and his fate was, frankly, uncertain, many people were talking of his toughness, his vigour, how his strong character and boundless appetite for life would equip him to “fight” the virus and win.

I don’t much like that language, though I understand why people use it. I worry it overstates the role that character and personal choice play in medical outcomes. When I wrote elsewhere about this last week, I was slightly surprised by the vehemence and volume of responses. I know that Twitter isn’t Britain and all that but it’s still a bit striking to see people arguing that yes, some people die of various diseases because they just don’t want to live. That even life and death are ultimately a matter of choices made by individuals.

Others, though, will describe how he survived thanks to a huge infrastructure of medical support, provided and funded by many other people — as well as a bit of blind luck. To grossly over-simplify, some people will remember that Boris survived because he wanted to, because of things he did himself while others will say that it was because other people looked after him when he needed it.

The more weight you put on the first explanation, the more likely you are to be somewhere on the Right of the political spectrum. The idea that people choose their fate is popular among conservative-inclined voters. A very good study by the Bright Blue think tank in 2014 found that Tory voters were about twice as likely as Labour people to say that people in poverty are poor because of their own choices: they haven’t done enough to help themselves.

Similar evidence in the US suggests that people on the Right tend to believe that those who enjoy economic success do so largely or solely because of their own efforts.

As Bright Blue put it:

“One key conservative belief concerns the degree of power and responsibility individuals have over their own situation. Conservatives tend to see individuals as agents who can shape and determine their circumstances, and so see them as agents responsible for such circumstances.”

The other side of the old Left-Right binary is a familiar story, best articulated by Elizabeth Warren in 2012 talking about how people get rich:

“You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did.”

(This is the speech that led Barack Obama to attempt the same argument with disastrous consequences in his “You didn’t build that” comments. He was talking about the social infrastructure that supports business, but he botched his lines and created a meme that helped elect Donald Trump. Words matter, folks.)

Whether Covid-19 changes politics depends on how conservatives chose to explain Boris’ recovery. If they cling to the idea of people as rugged individuals deciding their own fate, politics will remain divided on its current left-right binary. If they look beyond heroic individualism and accept that individuals exist in a network of social bonds and obligations, we might just see a real realignment and the start of genuine post-liberal politics in the UK.

For the Left, the coronavirus crisis offers little in the way of intellectual challenge. A national crisis revolving around the NHS and requiring collective social effort is likely to feel like validation instead. Jeremy Corbyn’s claim that the crisis proves him right over public spending will be the foundation-stone of a myth built by his devotees that if only he’d become PM, none of the bad things would have happens.

The equivalent retreat to the comfort-zone for conservatives would be to use the Boris story as a validation of individualism. But more interesting, challenging and profitable would be to learn from the obvious fact that the PM did not win his “battle” against the coronavirus alone.

In the modern history of ideas on the Right, some of the most prominent explanations of individual agency lead to an atomised view of society and a minimal state. Think of Ayn Rand (“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being”) or Friedrich Hayek, who said that “after creating formal equality of the rules applying in the same manner to all, we can leave each individual to find his own level.”

But more recent and more interesting thinkers have begun to test that heroic individualism. Think of John Gray’s Post-Liberalism. Gray, in turn, has paved the way for post-liberal political practitioners such as Nick Timothy, who has recently published his own book, Remaking One Nation: The Future of Conservatism.

What makes Timothy intriguing and original is that he is a Conservative (and a conservative) who enthusiastically embraces the state — and rejects the idea of heroic individual success:

“Nobody, however successful they might be, has succeeded alone. They might have relied on their families to give them love and security. They might have a school, college or university to thank. They might have benefited from the kindness or wisdom of a mentor or employer. They might have been supported by the state, through the welfare system or 
 a Sure Start centre. Precisely because nobody has succeeded alone, we all have a debt to others. “

Which brings us, circuitously, back to Boris Johnson and how he — and by extension his party — will remember his recovery. It is notable that his short message briefed to the Sunday papers is all about the NHS and the debt that he incurred in illness. “I owe them my life,” Johnson said simply.

That is an acknowledgment that even the most heroic individual does not rise — or fall — alone. But will that acknowledgement carry through into a wider revision of Conservative thinking around public services and collective provision? That would be no surprise: Tories have been trying to embrace the NHS since David Cameron became leader in 2005. A post-crisis settlement where the Tories seek to define themselves as the party of the NHS would be a logical, if extremely difficult, aim now.

Most contemporary Tories would have little trouble embracing the NHS: the number of ideologues who actually want to break it up or sell it off is vanishingly small. More novel and challenging would be a Tory rethink about welfare.

Even though some Tories have recently tried a new approach to welfare — think of Iain Duncan Smith and Universal Credit — they have stuck with the idea of rational, autonomous individuals deciding their own path. Universal Credit was premised on the idea that claimants were deciding not to work more because the financial return wasn’t there. Even Tory welfare reformers thought welfare was a question of choice.

We may well be about to see unemployment temporarily pass the three million mark, with hundreds of thousands of people now needing benefits to get by. And all through no fault or choice of their own: can you really hold people personally responsible for being sacked by employers whose business has been shut down by a pandemic? Those Conservative attitudes to claimants will surely be tested in the months ahead.

So far, post-liberalism is a fringe element on the British Right, so politics remains broadly familiar. The 2019 election opened up the possibility for these things to change, but then the virus hit and all the emergent thinking about “levelling up” and the Tory embrace of the state was thrown into the crucible.

Are we heroic individuals who decide our own fate, or social animals whose outcomes are inextricably bound up with — and partly dependent on — the actions of others? Boris will likely get his statues one day. And how the story of his illness and its happy ending are told by his friends might just determine the history of Britain after the virus.


James Kirkup is Director of the London-based Social Market Foundation

jameskirkup

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Peter Kriens
Peter Kriens
4 years ago

A bit of a straw man argument. Conservatism includes a charity component to help the unlucky. The resistance is mostly that the state is bad in executing those actions, tends to grow without bounds, and will be captured by rent seekers that hide behind noble goals. And even though people can be unlucky in life, almost all still can use the push to make something of the remaining options.

And I’m not even a conservative…

Floyd Shelton
Floyd Shelton
4 years ago
Reply to  Peter Kriens

Good post.

Rafael Aguilo
Rafael Aguilo
4 years ago

I would suggest that, instead of focusing on a political debate, why not have those who were directly involved in the PM’s treatment tell WHAT medical protocol was used to save his life. What kind of drugs, and dosage, etc.. What most of the Left doesn’t understand, is that there are MILLIONS of people that won’t accept the type of “you HAVE to THINK they way we do, or else” approach that they want to impose on everyone. I have Conservative values, yet, I believe in the common good. What I don’t accept is that you have to screw everyone to achieve it. I believe in equality of OPPORTUNITY. How each individual takes (or not) advantage of it will determine the outcome. I don’t believe in giving all power to the government to dictate how to live all aspects of your life. Are you getting used to police knocking at your door for what is now considered “offensive language”?

uztazo
uztazo
4 years ago

“Others, though, will describe how he survived thanks to a huge infrastructure of medical support, provided and funded by many other people”

James are you suggesting Boris has never paid his taxes or contributed to our public services?

roslynross3
roslynross3
4 years ago

He survived because most people do survive. Some 82% who test positive recover without medical intervention. Barely 1% of mortality is in people without co-moribidities. In other words if you have a serious illness you are more likely to die of it but then you are more likely to die of any new disease. Clearly Johnson had no major co-morbidities. He also received optimal medical attention because he was the Prime Minister.

Andrew Chapple
Andrew Chapple
4 years ago

Is it okay for me to say that prayer was a big factor in his recovery. Or will people dismiss this with scorn?
Even 10 Downing Street, according to the Mail On Sunday, turned to prayer as the seriousness of the illness became apparent when he went to hospital

Paul T
Paul T
4 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Chapple

Scorn I’m afraid. Ten kids under five died across the globe for every minute that Mr Johnson was being cared for by medical professionals in hospital. By the time he left, around 115,000 or so will have died, many after enduring many months of pain, hunger and suffering.
I’d be a lot less scornful if you could explain to me why their creator intervened to save the PM, but not them.

Floyd Shelton
Floyd Shelton
4 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Chapple

Ofcourse its fine to say it.?!!!!

P C
P C
4 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Chapple

Nobody, approaching death, should scorn the opportunity of avoiding it by any means possible; the hope afforded by asking the garden gnome to help may be a small one, but it’s there.

Go Away Please
Go Away Please
4 years ago

James, I hope you aren’t planning a similar article for the Spectator because you will rightly be pilloried..
Now, where to begin?
” Some will describe a battle of personal heroism, of grit and determination…. many people were talking of his toughness, his vigour, how his strong character and boundless appetite for life would equip him to “fight” the virus and win”.
Cobblers. This does not describe Conservatism at all. Not sure what it describes. Mythology? Tall tales?
Who on earth thinks that if Boris had just gone to bed, he’d have miraculously come out of this cured by his grit and determination. Jeez (see what I dd there?)
What I really dislike about this article and what I think may well happen after this virus crisis is that our fetishisation of the NHS will continue and be strengthened. The ghastly bureaucratic monolith will be untouchable. I can’t think of any country that has this relationship with it’s health service. In France they have this same relationship with their short working hours, long holidays and overly generous pensions …. to their detriment. Oddly they score very high on their health service. Might there be a lesson there?

Baron Jackfield
Baron Jackfield
4 years ago

I’d guess that he survived because he’s under 65 years old and has an average immune system…

Laurence Copeland
Laurence Copeland
4 years ago

This is nonsense, based on a false dichotomy. There is no contradiction between saying that the PM survived in large part because of the efforts of the medical staff at St Thomas’s and saying that the NHS is a disaster. It wasn’t the NHS that saved his life, it was individual nurses and doctors. After all, would he (or anyone else) have been simply left to die if he had been in France or Germany, which don’t have an NHS? The idea is as silly as the stupid notion that he survived because of his will to live – which is damned insulting, implying as it does that those who succumb lack the willpower.

plynamno1
plynamno1
4 years ago

False opposites adopted when really it’s some combination of each.

Also go back to what Boris’s own post-hospital release comments referred to ” the individual (not just himself but a group of first-name individuals); the collective resources that have helped build the health service and saved him; and the nation’s coming together to get as many of us individuals through this ordeal as possible.

Quiet determination of the individual to survive helps no end, especially where weak-will is likely to pave the way for fatalism and early surrender. Quiet determination of something like a medical team that it will work together to best effect, meets the individual patient who’s also in it for the fight for life.

Patrick Cosgrove
Patrick Cosgrove
4 years ago

How he survived was not a choice between strength of character and medical skill. Strength of character may play a part if an individual completely gives up. Other than that, it’s a combination of medical skill plus genetic and physiological factors that we don’t yet understand. As far as statues are concerned, let’s wait and see what the post mortem of the government’s handling of this crisis has to say – if it’s ever fully published.

David George
David George
4 years ago

By resorting to “the Right” you’re tangling up conservatism (small c) with libertarianism or capitalism. They’re all quite different.
As the quoted Nick Timothy suggests, conservatism is grounded first in the inter-generational contract, the familial, the local then the national and the institutions and traditions that arise from them.

Roger Scruton:
“As I try to show, conservative thinking has never been devoted to freedom alone. Nor has the agenda been about economic freedom, important though that was during the debates and upheavals of the twentieth century. It has been about our whole way of being, as heirs to a great civilisation and a many-layered bequest of laws, institutions and high culture. For conservatives our law-governed society came into being because we have known who we are, and defined our identity not by our religion, our tribe or our race but by our country, the sovereign territory in which we have built the free form of life that we share. And if there is another way of staying together in the world as it is today, I should be interested to hear of it.”

“For the conservative, human beings come into this world burdened by obligations, and subject to institutions and traditions that contain within them a precious inheritance of wisdom, without which the exercise of freedom is as likely to destroy human rights and entitlements as to enhance them.”
“‱ Roger Scruton, Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition

Howard Medwell
Howard Medwell
4 years ago

Getting a bit to carried away here, I’m afraid. The current crisis is not all about Johnson, or about the Conservative Party.
A visitation of this kind has been predictable since the 1990’s. It has to do with the conjunction, in China, of “wet markets” and a globalised economy. The apparently less than adequate response of the British state machine – in assuring supplies of equipment to front-line staff, in organising support for the economically vulnerable, in having a central plane rather than making policy up as they go along, has its causes not in Johnson, or Brexit, or post-2008 austerity, but in the direction of British politics, whichever party happened to be in power since the 1970’s.
The British state’s passivity in the face of the patchy response of private enterprise to this crisis needs to be compared, not with Corbyn’s fantasies, or Communist Russia, or Venezuela, but with the incomparably more energetic response of its predecessors to the crises of 1914-18 and 1939-45.

Al Jahom
Al Jahom
4 years ago

The whole nub of this crisis is that we are not terrified of COVID, we are terrified of the NHS, however hard working and ‘heroic’ the medics might be.

It must be not just broken up or sold off but killed with hammers.

Penny Gallagher
Penny Gallagher
4 years ago

Boris survived because he is the PM. The rest of us are told to stay home and keep quiet until we ‘are having difficulty breathing’, when we are probably too ill to obtain assistance, if living alone, and have to face the fear of dying unpleasantly, alone in our homes, or even more likely, in Care Homes. I hope he appreciated how lucky he is to have had such early intervention which undoubtedly saved his life.

Floyd Shelton
Floyd Shelton
4 years ago

So why bother with ICU beds??

Anakei greencloudnz
Anakei greencloudnz
4 years ago

I don’t think he had early intervention. In fact he put of going to hospital until it was nearly too late.

ray.wacks
ray.wacks
4 years ago

Surely it’s both.

Jon Bosart
Jon Bosart
4 years ago

Too much analysis maybe, for for the questioning title.
The answer in practical medical terms, more about the professionalism of the medical team looking after Boris and others in their collective care.
But they, as indeed perhaps all of us, influenced to an almost War footing degree too, as a Nation’s response to their figurehead, their Prime Minister, who fronted the initial response to this pandemic in what can only be described as the most admirable manner.
Indeed, who could imagine another, regardless of Political party, who could have steadily managed our Nation’s response as well. Think on that.
To successfully agree the social distancing idea and subsequent lock-down with the entire country, by simple and logical persuasion, is an admirable feat.
His ‘bounce back’ could well be seen as the mental & physical Saviour of all of us – and no doubts, it just had to happen. And moreover, he needs to be back amongst us – soon.

Peter Mott
Peter Mott
4 years ago

Don’t many on the (far) left now believe that you can choose your gender? Surely that is an extreme form of individualism.

Simon Newman
Simon Newman
4 years ago

“Are we heroic individuals who decide our own fate, or social animals whose outcomes are inextricably bound up with ” and partly dependent on ” the actions of others?”

Why not both?

Andrew Sweeney
Andrew Sweeney
4 years ago

Prayer. Rev Sweeney

Paul T
Paul T
4 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Sweeney

I assume that you and your flock are taking no other precautions and will use the same explanation ‘prayer’ when defending yourself in court as to why not. Correct? My modelling predicts a 99.99% chance of you either succumbing to disease or being arrested and found guilty, but I’d love it if you would put your faith to the test and let us know how you got on.

Floyd Shelton
Floyd Shelton
4 years ago

Well written and researched article but rather a simplistic premise. Success in treatment requires a meaure of effort from both patient and their support. Without either one the chance of success diminishes. With both the chances are helped but never guaranteed.
The author takes a similar stance with likely progress of Party. They could recogise reality and accept there are strong individuals and we need a healthy NHS. Neither situations are a binary choice, which is how people like to see them. Both are actually far more complicated.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
4 years ago

Most people don’t see things in such binary terms. Conservatism perhaps favours the individual over the state and lower taxation but it still acknowledges the importance of the state and its role. Labour favours the state and public spending through more taxation but recognises that a strong functioning economy that encourages innovation and entrepreneurialism of individuals funds that spending. The balance between the two is where we should focus our efforts not on the ideological extremes of Tory bad/Labour good or vice versa.

Jacquie
Jacquie
4 years ago

We may well be about to see unemployment temporarily pass the three million mark, with hundreds of thousands of people now needing benefits to get by. And all through no fault or choice of their own: can you really hold people personally responsible for being sacked by employers whose business has been shut down by a pandemic?

And that is precisely what the welfare state is supposed to be about. Helping those who are temporarily down on their luck. It is not meant to be a way of life!

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
4 years ago

You misrepresent the ‘right’ I believe, an individual cannot avoid dying from an illness by character strength alone but any medic would surely confirm that the individual has a great deal to contribute if he is to survive an attack on his being, a will to live and to fight the invader being paramount.
As for the NHS … well it’s clear to many that it is an over centralised bureaucracy and suffers accordingly from shortage of beds & supplies despite a humongous sized procurement facility.
I doubt many, excepting the ideologically driven, will dispute after this covid19 crisis is over the NHS must indeed decentralise and work more closely with the private health sector as they do in Germany, France & Sweden … hardly bastions of right wing ideology!

icyield
icyield
4 years ago

Nobody gets rich on their own, but plenty of sons and daughters of the rich can loses those riches on their own.

Russell Wright
Russell Wright
4 years ago

Why did he survive? Looking at his reasonably rapid recovery, my guess would be hydroxychloroquine ++.

Russell Wright
Russell Wright
4 years ago

Because he received something in hospital recommended by someone important.

Matt Sutcliffe
Matt Sutcliffe
4 years ago

Boris is a totemic figure who towers over the political landscape. He has an incredible ability to connect with people outside of the Westminster and this will have been enhanced by his brush with the ICU. It is easier to weather hard times if the perception is that everyone is pulling together in the same direction.

Michael Baldwin
Michael Baldwin
4 years ago

I’m afraid I don’t quite see the resemblance to Winston Churchill here.

For as we know, Mr Churchill is famous for his defiant speech – you know:

“We shall fight them on the beaches, we shall fight them on the streets, etc… we shall never surrender….”

But in this case, if I might precis Mr Johnson’s speeches so far regarding covid-19, my feeling is they go something like this:

“We shall foam with mass panic
We shall cower in our rooms
We shall quake in our beds in fear of this terrifying disease…
We shall fear to see our friends and children
Fear to touch our loved ones, even our husbands and wives,
We shall fear our neighbour and keep safe distance from him upon the street
We shall close down our businesses
We shall terrify the old and lock them within their homes
We shall not even tell them if they have it by failing to test them
So we shall give them no means of escape…
We shall close down our churches
We shall close down our football and sporting stadiums
We shall destroy the future of our young
And cast an everlasting blight upon their educations
We shall trample all over free speech and human rights
In our quest to defeat the invisible and indefatigable demon
We shall report our neighbours and threaten them with imprisonment
For daring to breach our terror regime
We shall tear doctors and nurses out of retirement
Even though this cause their deaths, and fail to give them protective equipment
We shall demonise the Chinese, even those amongst us
Who have fed us all for generations
For no hiding place for this virus can be left free…
And above all…we shall finally surrender
For a day shall come when we shall merely count the dead and admit defeat…”

Please forgive me, if I don’t see any heroism or Churchillian qualities in all that.

To quote Oliver Cromwell (in respect of this lockdown):

“I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

Chris Hossack
Chris Hossack
4 years ago

Often in these things there is no one reason for success or failure, life or death. In this case I am sure the PM applied his usual grit and determination to get himself through but he could not have done it without the care of the NHS staff and the use of tax payer funded medicine and tech. Upon emerging the ICU, the PM seems to have struck the right balance and given credit where it was due.
I am sure many, successful, physically strong and mentally determined people have succumbed to this disease, they are no less a person than the PM for not surviving.
Between extremes of opinion, reality is usually the central path. Boris could not have done this alone and to be fair to him, he knows that all too well.

Nick Faulks
Nick Faulks
4 years ago

“Can you really hold people personally responsible for being sacked by
employers whose business has been shut down by a pandemic”

Actually it’s worse than that, in most cases their business has been shut down by the Government.

Allan Berry
Allan Berry
4 years ago

Boris admits that he survived because of the care he had from the nurses and staff looking after him. Being in ITU is a surreal experience where you are taken care fo by machines monitors and people. You don’t have the time or the will to think of anything until you are in a recovery phase and even then in quiet moments thinking through what has happened to you can be overwhelming. All you really want to do is get better and get out into the real world and believe me the nurses and staff are there to ensure that happens as soon as is possible. When you come back down to earth and consider everything it the nurses and support staff including ITU consultants backed by the NHS that pull you though.

Russell Wright
Russell Wright
4 years ago

I would imagine, looking st his rapid recovery, because he was given a certain drug recommended by a certain President.
I previously posted this naming the certain drug but it was, bizarrely, thrown out!

Russell Wright
Russell Wright
4 years ago

3rd attempt to get this through for some reason.

Heavily disguised.

I would think that it’s because he received something recommended by a President.

zebedee440
zebedee440
4 years ago

I believe Boris was supposed to have gone into hospital on the Thursday. So rather than a heroic fight it is more a case of stubbornness.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
4 years ago
Reply to  zebedee440

Surely he should be applauded for remaining at his post regardless of the risk? After all, at 5’9″and 16st 8ozs, and rising, he is, as they say, clinically obese.
His hero Pericles would, and probably did do the same.

terencehilluk
terencehilluk
4 years ago

On the third day, he rose again………………………………..Over Easter too.

Robin Bury
Robin Bury
4 years ago

Well maybe he got such a strong attack because he has an underlying medical problem which we will never be told?

deathcrushed
deathcrushed
4 years ago

This is such a terribly written article, I feel embarrassed for whoever wrote it. I despise how people and news outlet keep creating hysteria like this which creates more division and hate. That title is atrocious. Shameful.

Jorge Toer
Jorge Toer
4 years ago

Thanks ,a picture of the reality,,,my humble opinion is ,the things that not give us when we are in our knees,we will stand to ask.

Pirate Roberts
Pirate Roberts
4 years ago

I have seen people who survived the virus, and Boris looked remarkably healthy for having just come from intensive care. ???ñ˜ 

Lindsay Gatward
Lindsay Gatward
4 years ago

Most likely he got stuff not readily available to lesser mortals, it would be the logical thing to do – But also if you are able to remain calm in difficult or frightening situations it must be an advantage particularly as regards breathing and he seems the type of person whith that advantage – His vehement appreciation of the NHS will be a huge political legacy – If the majority continue to believe the Lockdown is actually saving significant lives rather than mainly spacing out the deaths in an orderly way and do not associate it in the future with lives lost due to the likely economic depression his political future surely looks good?

perrywidhalm
perrywidhalm
4 years ago

Why did Boris Johnson survive …. this sounds like the first line of a joke.
Why did Boris Johnson survive?
I don’t know, why did Boris Johnson survive?
Because Boris Johnson is a survivalist!

Martyn Hole
Martyn Hole
4 years ago

I started reading this article without checking who the author was. After the first few paragraphs, I checked. Cockup. Sadly, I have to put up with his useless articles at the Spectator, can you please spare us here ?

Van Parkman
Van Parkman
4 years ago

It’s worth remembering that mainstream conservatives from Burke onwards have been emphatic about the need to reflect in policy and government the Aristotelian maxim that man is a social animal. The older supposedly mainstream conservatism caricatured above is actually libertarian, a minority view, presented in the article as a way of making the “new” approach sound more philosophically novel than it actually is. If there is novelty, it’s in specific policy, not in philosophical principle. In fact, the idea that man is an autonomous creature for whom particular and organic traditional social ties are readily exchangeable for an alternative theoretical makeover is a sentiment shared between libertarians and leftists alike. That sentiment has been the justification for revolutions the world over. Without the logical outworkings of Aristotle’s maxim in the intellectual tradition of British and American mainstream conservatism, it’s easy to assume that there are simple solutions to complex problems. Even if you accept that man is a social animal in theory but buy into the propaganda of modern liberal autonomy in practice, it’s the same as holding to the most simplistic understanding of human nature and human society that has so often resulted in the collapse of civilizations. Leftists focus on an autonomy that promises sexual and spiritual fulfillment completely on one’s own terms. Libertarians cannot object to that on any political grounds. They would only add an emphasis on material and physical autonomy as well. But even in the material/economic realm leftists and libertarians have more in common with each other in their understanding of human nature than with traditional conservatives. On conservatism, the nature of one’s interdependent social ties is highly organic, personal, and directly dependent upon one’s immediate and indirect relationships, mutual and public trust, and goodwill as well as sensitivity to the highly specific, organic, and irreplaceable structure of concentric rings of various highly interdependent institutions from the family and church level on up to local government, larger private organizations, and the divisions of national government. Conservatives are conservatives because they seek to conserve the effectual balance this political ecosystem has between prosperity, liberty, order, and kinsmanship. On the libertarian view, the state must conserve your autonomy from the state. On the leftist view, the state must support your ability to be autonomous from the intermediating institutions and your bothersome fellow citizens whose rights the conservatives defend. It’s true that leftists employ the language of togetherness. This however is a euphemism for the state forcing everyone to support national welfare systems in such a way that ensures no one has to seek help or permission, on moral or economic issues, from their fellow citizens either as individuals or as groups or private institutions. In other words, it’s a way of propping up atomistic individualism of one sort or another whilst eviscerating the legitimately meaningful organic social ties of a modern state all ironically in the name of love of neighbor. Even if libertarians say they are all about family and community, politically speaking, they siphon momentum from conservatives thus empowering leftists to destroy pro-family institutions and eventually the family itself. Philosophically speaking, libertarians have no strong positive arguments for why any particular social or institutional content or order is important. Without that, loyalty to those social or religious institutions is undermined and the state can more easily encroach upon what people increasingly see as roadblocks to progress. The left will certainly have a narrative path towards progress and in the absence of a strong cultural counter-narrative the momentum will be with the left. The conservatives are left to do all the work for the libertarians as usual. Socially speaking, the children of libertarians become leftists since most people, especially their own descendants, as has been the trend since the 18th century, will prioritize helping others over what appears on the surface to be libertarian selfishness regardless of what it purports to be in the abstract or long term. The libertarians tend to support legal defenses of non-state run institutions from leftist legal and political attack but that is just an extension of the logic that protects them as individuals, not from the logic of conserving traditional organic relationships amongst society’s citizens and various institutions as they happen to be found in this or that particular time and place. It’s true that conservative economic, and at times constitutional, theory has largely been contracted out to libertarian think tanks but those theories and principles see little in way of pure practice. And true conservatism has always been about the practical stuff. Besides, the libertarians have nothing else to focus on so I’d certainly hope they’d be competent in those areas.

Andrew Sweeney
Andrew Sweeney
4 years ago

Prayer! Thousands of people from various political and religious backgrounds prayed for the leader of our country.

Paul T
Paul T
4 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Sweeney

Let me see. Johnson was in hospital for around 8 days being cured via the miracle of prayer. Yet curiously, based on 2018 figures at least 115,000 children under five would have died during the same period (about ten a minute). They move in mysterious ways your gods do they not? Save a fat, fake conservative and slaughter all those kids.

Paul T
Paul T
4 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Sweeney

Let me see. Johnson was in hospital for around 8 days being cured via the miracle of prayer. Yet curiously, based on 2018 figures at least 115,000 children under five would have died during the same period (about ten a minute). They move in mysterious ways your gods do they not?

Sarah Lambert
Sarah Lambert
4 years ago
Reply to  Paul T

Johnson got the virus because he shook hands with hospital patients that had it and then boasted about to the world. A reckless man.

Johanna Louw
Johanna Louw
4 years ago

Toryism would be OK if they just weren’t such grubby Mammon-worshippers. It is often said that communism failed because it does not take human nature into account. Well, the same might be said of untrammelled free-market capitalism. Right-wing economics flies in the face of nature when it describes the poor as being primarily responsible for their own poverty. Tories say this in order to justify their own good fortune and salve their own consciences (the little conscience they have).

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
4 years ago
Reply to  Johanna Louw

Oh dear Rob Roy, yet another crypto commie rant.I suppose this is standard SNP philosophy?
I always thought it was the Scotch who were the ” grubby Mammon- worshippers”? All those jokes about how do get a three pence coin out of their hands etc?
As Dr Johnson said “much maybe of a Scotchman if he be caught young enough”.
Sadly, as I am sure you will agree, that never happened.