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So. Farewell then conservatism The last train of the old life has finally departed

(Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty)


July 5, 2024   7 mins

Conservatism has died, not from an assassin’s bullet, or even from old age or because it was run over by a bus. It has died because there is no call for it anymore. This isn’t to say that nobody wants it, but that nobody cares that we want it. The same thing has happened to most of the things I like, from the forgotten Aztec chocolate bar to railway restaurant cars, from woodland peace to proper funerals.

In fact, conservatism — not to be mistaken for its loud, overdressed cousin, the Conservative Party, which somehow lives on — will probably not even get a proper funeral. Its passing will not be marked by sonorous gloom and penitence, and stern dark poetry borne away on the wind at the muddy edge of a deep, sad grave. Nobody can stand that sort of thing now. It will get a cheerful informal send-off with jokes and applause. After all, it won’t be there to hate it. I shan’t be there either. There will be no call for me.

The past few weeks have totally liberated me from a last and lingering temporal duty. I thought I had it, but it turns out to have been illusory. I thought that there were still quite a few people who actually wanted and liked conservatism. But in fact, there are hardly any. The other day I was asked to define the word, on Twitter, and came up with something like “Love of God, love of country, love of family, love of beauty, love of liberty and the rule of law, suspicion of needless change”. Given more room I’d have added all kinds of preferences for poetry and sylvan beauty over noise and concrete, for twilight over noonday, for autumn over summer and wind over calm, for the deep gleam of iron polished in use over the flashy sparkle of precious metal.

But you probably know what I mean. And all my life these things have been slipping away from me. I am using them as metaphors for conservatism in politics, in education, literature and music as well. My problems arise from the fact that I missed the last train of the old life. But I saw it go. I arrived, out of breath, on the station platform just in time to see it depart.

I saw official London when it was still black and battered, a great imperial capital. I saw the Church of England when it still possessed majesty, dominion and power. I saw, on a sultry August day in 1960, the final astonishing relic of British global naval might, the Royal Navy’s last battleship, towed to the breakers, a modern version of Turner’s Fighting Temeraire. The scene was made more melancholy when the colossal vessel, reluctant to die, grounded on the Portsmouth mud. A great lump rose to my throat, and I still feel a sense of deep half-understood loss when I recall it.

But the nation swiftly got over it, as it had got over the Suez failure in 1956 and our (still unrepaid) default on our First World War debt to the USA in 1934. I felt and heard and lived amid a completely different set of rules from the ones which now exist. British people of that time had been formed by a completely different set of morals, manners and standards. I remember how they spoke and carried themselves, how they expressed disapproval, how even in their hours of relaxation they filled each moment with purposeful activity.

And for many years I thought I might persuade others that it was a pity this rather admirable society had gone and that it might be worth rescuing, and even restoring. But life without these old restraints was much more fun, especially if you were reasonably well off, than it had been before. It would take many years before the social costs of our weakened morals would begin to show. It is fascinating that the Conservative Party never made any serious attempt to reverse or even moderate the social revolution of the Sixties. It turned out that easier divorce, feebler criminal justice, devalued examinations and the rest were actually quite popular.

“The Conservative Party never made any serious attempt to reverse or even moderate the social revolution of the Sixties.”

The most successful song in the music charts in 1967, the supposed Summer of Love, was the appalling dirge “Please Release Me” by Engelbert Humperdinck. It kept the Beatles’ release of “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” (on the same disc) off the number one slot. It was inescapable. It was an anthem to divorce, which everyone knew was about to become vastly easier the following year. In a similar betrayal of the rules that had created it, the British middle class positively loved comprehensive schools, or thought they did, because they no longer had to worry about their children failing to win places at the much better grammar schools. Again, they found out later that many of the new schools were really not very good. A softer, more absent police force was also welcome in a world where illegal drugs were increasingly common in the schools and homes of the well-off. Easy abortion, likewise, was welcome if the alternative was a shotgun marriage. It was around this point that official Christianity, much like the Tory Party, began to make more and more compromises with the modern world — leaving first the Roman Catholic Church and then only its more determined core to defend principles which had been non-negotiable throughout Christian Britain 50 years before.

Until quite recently, this country boasted a kind of half-timbered theme-park nostalgia for some aspects of itself, but this was pretty shallow. Nobody really misses all those horse-brasses and toby jugs that used to clutter our pubs, and the hunting enthusiasts — when it came to it — could find little support when the Blairites spitefully banned their picturesque if bloody gallops across the countryside. Great aristocratic houses are all very well for a day out, and I still share Evelyn Waugh’s melancholy over their wanton destruction. But they are slipping out of the national consciousness, their original purpose a mystery, like most of our history.

It is almost funny that conservative media protests against the political correcting of the National Trust and the destruction of statues for dogmatic reasons. Alas, most people under 30 have no idea what the fuss is about, as nobody has told them any history. The parish churches of England are an unmatched storehouse of beauty and I fear for their future as their congregations wither. For what does any young person make of them? They are written in a language as unreadable as Assyrian, and the stories they tell are of long ages of which most of us know nothing and, I fear, care less. Thus, the English countryside is a beautiful effigy of its former self, preserved by the last generation which understood it, but not at all guaranteed to survive much longer.

The man who strove hardest to preserve conservatism was the late Sir Roger Scruton. His experience is instructive, especially the way the Conservative Party turned savagely on him when he was falsely accused of some Wrongthink or other by a Left-wing magazine. This was typical of that party, happy to wear Sir Roger in its lapel as a trophy, but terrified that he might actually do something dangerous.

Sir Roger’s life perhaps provides us with a clue as to what will happen in the end to conservatism. For his greatest achievement was to go to the aid of Czechoslovak dissenters under icy Communist rule in the Eighties. He and a band of equally brave men and women travelled dangerously to Prague and other Czechoslovak cities, smuggling unobtainable books, giving tutorials in philosophy, and otherwise aiding the survival of free thought in those sad regions.

Nobody knew then that this great castle of lies would fall so soon. Oddly when it did, conservatism did not really prosper much. One of the successes of Communism was (with few exceptions) its systematic blocking and poisoning of the wells of Christianity from which true conservatism springs. The peoples of the USSR and Eastern Europe did not want to be free in the old-fashioned English way espoused by Roger Scruton. They wanted to be free in an American Way. So, we had a double paradox. The collapse of the USSR freed the Western Left, which in Western Europe and North America could no longer be accused of sympathy with the enemy. But it did not liberate conservatism in the former Soviet Empire, a conservatism which now barely exists.

The nearest thing to it, and it is not very near, is the populist nationalism now so strong in Poland and Hungary. And perhaps it will not be long before these countries are sending us civilising missions of philosophers, and parcels of books, to see if they can revive or sustain the sinking fires of Christian conservatism in England. I doubt it. For we too, in the form of Noisy Nigel and his raucous followers, have decided to prefer the populist and nationalist path to the conservative one.

Why wouldn’t we? Surely the foundation of our world, in the unchosen but indispensable alliance of the free world with Stalin in 1941, was the end of all serious hope of conservatism or of any kind of true principle. Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy is the only serious work to have dealt with this, and even Waugh recoiled from taking it to its conclusion.

Its first volume, Men at Arms, begins with Guy Crouchback, last of a long line of Roman Catholic squires, deserted by his flighty, pleasure-seeking wife, exiled in Italy, too old for normal military service — but greatly moved to righteousness by the Stalin-Hitler pact of August 1939. Here at last, he feels, is the modern world in arms. He can honourably take up his sword against it. There is a touching scene in the church of the Italian town where he has been living, where he visits the tomb of an English knight, killed in some forgotten act of chivalry while on his way to the crusades. He never imagines, during his training and early service, that by the end of the war he will be Stalin’s ally.

Towards the end of the trilogy, in Unconditional Surrender, a Jewish refugee — who Guy is unsuccessfully trying to protect — reproaches him with his early illusions. She says to him that there had been a general will to war in 1939, a sort of death wish.  “Even good men thought their private honour would be satisfied by war,” she says.  Guy, by this time utterly without illusions, replies: “God forgive me. I was one of them.”

I have always thought that the book should have ended there. But it plods on into a sort of happy ending with English middle-class life seemingly restored. So it seemed to be. But there was, as we now see, no substance to it. There was no call for it.


Peter Hitchens is a journalist, author, commentator and columnist for The Mail on Sunday.

ClarkeMicah

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Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
6 days ago

Recently I have felt as though we stand on the threshold of some tremendous transformation of our society, that the great currents of the deeps are coming into synchronization, that the present order cannot endure much longer. There is a profound sense of exhaustion running through our civilization, through all the civilizations of this world. The building blocks of the modern are tumbling, one by one: science, Christianity, democracy, capitalism. Science has been corrupted by politics, Christianity has proven itself too timorous to stand against the culture of hedonism, democracy is degenerating into mob rule at one end and oligarchical bureaucracy at the other, capitalism has been co-opted by the state. Even art is falling into decrepitude: the prevailing ethos seems to be that originality is impossible, so therefore it’s okay to copy, to repeat, to rehash–witness the overwhelming dominance of sequels and franchise pieces in the cinemas, the frequent “reboots” and “reimaginings” on television, the collapse of serious literature in favor of “woke” books that do not innovate but instead tick a series of predetermined, politically determined, boxes. We are heading into the winter of our civilization.
Spring will come, but who can say when, and in what form? What can be said is a sterile and arid culture, a shallow and hedonistic one, one which values above all else frivolousness and a lack of consequences, is a culture that cannot long survive. A new culture, a new civilization, is about to be born, and like most births, I suspect it will be traumatic.

T Bone
T Bone
6 days ago

I agree with most of this. I don’t think Christianity has been weakened though. I think it’s been strengthened. There will always be peaks and valleys in civil society. It’s a wild time to be alive!! USA!!!

Martin M
Martin M
6 days ago
Reply to  T Bone

You are clearly in the US. You might want to see how Christianity is going in Britain and Western Europe.

Jonathan Story
Jonathan Story
6 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

Its not represented, notably in the Church of England.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
5 days ago
Reply to  Jonathan Story

Is the Church of England Christian?

Martin M
Martin M
4 days ago

Opinions vary. They certainly claim to be, but their claim is unconvincing.

General Store
General Store
5 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

I converted Catholic, and I’m coming back to the UK. My sister has started going to church. It will happen

T Bone
T Bone
4 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

Understand and don’t disagree

Ex Nihilo
Ex Nihilo
5 days ago
Reply to  T Bone

There are salient differences between European and American current manifestations of “Christianity” but what remains of it in the U.S. is not necessarily a cause to celebrate. Overall the number of Americans who profess Christianity is in steep generational decline: https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/

Were it not for massive immigration from predominantly Catholic Latin American countries, the decline would be even steeper. If you subtract the liberal Protestant churches who have been subverted by progressive elements in order to use the trappings of the church to validate lifestyles radically different from biblical precepts the picture darkens more.

Finally, if one penetrates beneath the surface of the most animated conservative Protestant churches, a version of faith emerges so diluted by modernity as to be Christian in name only. By that I refer to the quite popular “prosperity Gospel”, which teaches that instead of a life of sacrifice and discipline, God’s will is only to shower material blessings on his children in this life as well as the next. In these churches the imperatives to righteousness are elided and the metric for assessing how much one has pleased God is one’s net worth. Humility, contrition, and repentance are missing from their vocabulary. Traditional liturgical styles have been tossed in favor of media-driven entertainment extravaganzas complete with live rock bands. It is a Christianity that demands little of its adherents and bears no resemblance to the original Christian traditions articulated by Jesus of Nazareth.

T Bone
T Bone
4 days ago
Reply to  Ex Nihilo

Totally fair. You’re critiquing adherence.

Dave Canuck
Dave Canuck
5 days ago
Reply to  T Bone

Under the good and moral Christian Trump, everything will be fine. Oh I forgot, he was chosen by God for a purpose

Robbie K
Robbie K
6 days ago

There is a profound sense of exhaustion running through our civilization

Yet this morning you will find the majority of society energised and excited for the future, and no doubt celebrating the demise of crusty old men in grey suits grumbling about a vision that they can’t even find the right words for.
“Love of God, love of country, love of family, love of beauty, love of liberty and the rule of law, suspicion of needless change”.
These things are not ‘conservative’, they are ubiquitous. One does not need a political persuasion to hold such ideologies.
One does not need to be religious either to appreciate wisdom from Buddha.
Change is never painful, only resistance to change is painful.”

Martin M
Martin M
6 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Yet this morning you will find the majority of society energised and excited for the future, and no doubt celebrating the demise of crusty old men in grey suits grumbling about a vision that they can’t even find the right words for”.
I look forward to hearing the dull thud as their aspirations crash to earth when the knowledge that different crusty old men (and women) in different (and somewhat less well tailored) grey suits (some of whom have decidedly working class accents), are going to be adopting a “business as usual” approach hits them.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
6 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

I must be in the minority then. Can I claim protected status?

Jeremy Daw
Jeremy Daw
6 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Anecdotal evidence and impression are not worth much, but…

I work in a very unionised secondary. Not a shred of enthusiasm for the incoming government in the staff room. Corbyn galvanised my colleagues to a much greater degree than Starmer.

I wonder. I think we’ve stopped caring. I think we’ve realised that solutions are not possible. I think we’re waiting for things to play out.

Anthony Roe
Anthony Roe
5 days ago
Reply to  Jeremy Daw

We are waiting for the barbarians, meekly awaiting slaughter with all our treasure gone.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
5 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Energised and excited? Perhaps, much as my father was in 1966 after Wilson’s ‘white heat of the technological revolution’, much as I was in 1977 when ‘things could only get better’. Yes, History is cyclical, but there are also spirals, first down, and then down a little bit more. One day the direction will change, but now? I doubt it.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
6 days ago

Most successful innovation is “creative imitation”. Yes, we are in a 4th turning and a complete societal renegotiation relative to our churning environment, but the future is grounded in the past. Some of that ballast will go with us. Our job is to ensure it is the best of us, not the worst. As someone in the “generational cycles” space often says: at these moments your outcome can be Mao not RDR. .

Dave Canuck
Dave Canuck
5 days ago

What are the 2 things conservatives hate the most? The way things are and change.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
3 days ago
Reply to  Dave Canuck

You’ve got a point.

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
4 days ago

Peter Hitchens is nostalgic for a kind of quiet, rural England that existed between around 1850 and 1950.
As a student of history, however, he should realise that this was the aberration, not the norm. Consider the loud, squalid, violent and greedy eighteenth century, which did so much to shape our culture. Consider the Restoration, the decadence and cynicism of which makes modern Britain look positively Victorian.
Britain is a savage, turbulent land, and it always has been. Any contemporary of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne or Hogarth could have told you that.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
6 days ago

This reads like lyric poetry. Curiously enough, I feel my soul more at rest after then before. I do feel that the passing of one era brings on something more excellent, that the same wind that blows one door shut often blows another door open. My thanks to the author, and let us not be bewildered by changing times, but seize opportunities when they arise, with boldness and not with trepidation, for surely the courageous will inherit the Earth.

Sam Wilson
Sam Wilson
6 days ago

And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
There’ll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres.

Most things are never meant.
This won’t be, most likely; but greeds
And garbage are too thick-strewn
To be swept up now, or invent
Excuses that make them all needs.
I just think it will happen, soon.
— Larkin

Edwin Blake
Edwin Blake
6 days ago
Reply to  Sam Wilson

So garbage are plural. That’s appropriate.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
6 days ago
Reply to  Edwin Blake

It’s “greeds and garbage”, so it’s a compound subject and takes a plural verb.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
6 days ago
Reply to  Sam Wilson

Lovely, it reads like a lament ….

Sue Sims
Sue Sims
6 days ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

It is a lament, by a writer who himself believed in nothing but almost regretted the loss of belief – or at least some of the things that accompanied that belief. You can find the whole poem at https://www.thepoetryhour.com/poems/church-going

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
6 days ago

Another thing that is dying is the ability to write beautiful prose like this. Do u c what I mean?

Martin M
Martin M
6 days ago

Mos def.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
6 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

Wozzat?

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
4 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

*obvs
YW

Or should it be “Your welcome” or, better even, “yore welcome”?

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
6 days ago

What a marvelous essay – perhaps the best piece of writing I’ve ever read on UnHerd. Captures that ineffable something that conservatives can never quite put their finger on, but know has gone missing. Three cheers, Mr. Hitchens!

Claire D
Claire D
6 days ago

I like Peter Hitchens and often agree with him, and he writes beautifully, but this elegy harks too far back for me. For one thing I would’nt want the filthy with soot old London (+ everywhere else) from the 1960s and 70s that I remember, fond as I am of the memories.

It looks as if the C of E is facing a schism over gay marriage, which may be for the best. There’s a battle to save the Latin Mass in the Catholic Church, I think the traditionalists will win.
It is up to us to keep small c conservatism ticking along if that is what we want. Keep writing, keep teaching, look after books, art and music, pass on knowledge, but never give in to despair, never.

John Riordan
John Riordan
5 days ago
Reply to  Claire D

I agree about London. In fact, even as recently as the early 1990s, most building owners hadn’t worked out the thing about soot removal. The thing that changed it, I am guessing, was the discovery that uplighting buildings at night made everything much nicer, and suddenly buildings had to look good on the outside.

And more generally, London was mostly terrible apart from Mayfair, St James and Kensington before the 90s. Even Victoria and Pimlico were a bit dodgy, Chelsea was affordable, and Fulham was where you could buy something on the cheap. Most of what’s now stratospherically expensive inside the North Circular was dismissed as “inner city” and anyone who could afford the relatively expensive suburbs did that instead.

Andrew Armitage
Andrew Armitage
6 days ago

Isn’t it the case that as people get older they always lament what seems to have been lost.
Though much is taken, much abides.
A pet gripe is the devaluation of facts by feelings. My truth seems to be an accepted concept without irony. Infantilism, being treated like a goldfish with no memory.
Surely if you have a Christian faith you should have more confidence. You might think it sometimes, but God doesn’t die or give up. The magic is still there, you can see it around you every day if you look for it.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
6 days ago

Interesting that England welcomes back Labor that much of the rest of Europe is fleeing the left. The pendulum does like to stay active. Bedeveling conservatives is the growing insistence among people across the spectrum that every issue, problem, or question be addressed with some sort of govt action, even when it is not necessary. Even when one would be counterproductive.
It took most of my lifetime for that mindset to set in; it will take about as long for it to be replaced by something else. Some of the most successful societies in world history are being undermined. From within. People are so accustomed to govt springing into action at the slightest provocation that it will be a monstrous shock to the system the first time some PM or Cabinet minister says no, this is not an area in which govt belongs.

Graff von Frankenheim
Graff von Frankenheim
6 days ago

Conservatism in the English way is/was much like Conservatism Inc in the US. Tied to upper crust civility, it was never much use as a fighting faith in political battles against the Left. They were “beautiful losers” and their platforms became nearly indistinguishable from the center-left and even the anti-Western left. Much like the demise of Conservatism Inc in 2016, the death of English Conservatism doesn’t come as a surprise at all. I couldn’t wait for these decrepit trains to leave the railway platform. Radical conservatism, paleoconservatism and national populism are ascendant in the West….time for thinkers like mr Hitchens to align himself with genuine orthodox conservatism not the mid-20th century drivel masquarading as conservatism.

General Store
General Store
5 days ago

Amen to that

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
5 days ago

Wonderful article, but painful. The seeds of decay were very much there already.

Steve Crowther
Steve Crowther
5 days ago

There is a popular bar in central Prague called Scruton.
The fallacy at the heart of your elegy for conservatism and contempt for Farage’s ‘noisy’ cadre is that uncomplaining genteel cultural surrender is one of the cardinal characteristics of the conservatism you mourn. You don’t get it back without vulgar, noisy, hard-edged struggle of the type that first created it, via the feudalism of post-Conquest land magnates. If you put in that brutal, uncompromising effort, your descendants can celebrate by gently strolling through sylvan glades for a few generations, until their insouciance allows carpet-baggers to whittle the idyll away, and you need to call for Harry Percy, or Nigel Farage, again.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
5 days ago
Reply to  Steve Crowther

uncomplaining genteel cultural surrender is one of the cardinal characteristics of the conservatism you mourn.
That right there. It applies to American conservatives as well who too often self-righteously say “that’s not who we are” and pretend to be above the fray. How’s that working out? One does not have to like the new rules to understand that they are, in fact, the new rules. In the US, the left is in full freakout over any potential retribution that Trump may pursue, as if 4-8 years of being relentlessly attacked and hounded has not provided him with ample justification for doing unto to others what was done to him.

lancelotlamar1
lancelotlamar1
5 days ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Sadly, as an “above the fray” kind of conservative, who has always despised Trump as a shallow scoundrel, I think there is something to this argument. Genteel conservatism of the “Conservatives, Inc.” variety has only cemented the rule of the left over every part of American life–media, education, business, and even the military. I secretly hope that Trump will do what the left fears he will do–tax university endowments, build the wall and deport illegals, reduce the federal government by 75%, do away with all aspects of the federal managerial and regulatory state, end all racial preferences, stop wokeness.
But the first time Trump was just a conventional tax-cutting Republican, giving us soft-on-crime “justice reform,” and, worst of all, Fauci and the insane federal response to Covid, lockdowns, masks, vaccines, all things that not only did not help with Covid, but made things much, much worse. He was like Boris Johnson, another buffoon who totally squandered his majority through similar Covid insanity and shallow theatrics.
Maybe the second time, with his worthless son-in-law exiled, Trump will actually be this rough and ready, put-it-to-them kind of guy. But I doubt it. Shallowness always shows out, as it did with Bozo BoJo.

Grahame Wells
Grahame Wells
5 days ago

Peter, tho hugely admirable, has a touch of the Prophet Elijah’s meloncholia ‘I, only I, am left’. Whereas God said that ‘7000 had not bowed the knee to Baal’. Christianity has been destroyed then resurrected many times – Roman Britannia, Spain, Eastern Europe Russia. I see stirrings in the intelligentsia and among social commentators. Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Russell Brand for example. Iran, once a powerhouse of Eastern Syriac and Nestorian Christianity all but completely erased in the 14thC by Muslim Mongols and warlords – and again as late as the 20thC. Now it seems it’s rising again there despite persecution. Things aren’t always how they appear. China probably has the largest no. of believers ever seen.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
6 days ago

It sounds like misses the influence of the Church rather than anything about English culture itself. 90% of the essay is lamenting the fact Christianity isn’t the force it was 100 years ago, although I’m not sure it was particularly strong amongst the hoi pilloi even then. None of mine or my friend’s grandparents (born between the 1920’s-1940’s) ever went to church on a Sunday

Martin M
Martin M
6 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Good point. The Church of England was barely a religion anyway. It was more of a social club for the Middle Class. As Sir Humphrey Appleby famously said (if my memory serves me) “People don’t go to church, but they feel better because they know it’s there”.

Edwin Blake
Edwin Blake
6 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

So *that* is why Richard Dawkins likes it.

Arthur King
Arthur King
4 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

Ha. My church shut down due to lack of interest. The building is owned by a cult. Lol. I think that is ironic.

T Bone
T Bone
6 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

That’s true brother. But in the 1940s, you called the mostly Christian Americans for help and they had your back.

Martin M
Martin M
6 days ago
Reply to  T Bone

If we’re doing some hankering, I hanker for the days when the US was the “World’s Policeman”.

Martin M
Martin M
6 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

The other thing I hanker for is the days when you could guarantee that Americans would hate Russians.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
6 days ago
Reply to  T Bone

To fight the mostly Christian Germans and Italians it must be said

T Bone
T Bone
4 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

The Germans were not mostly Christian. They were Theosophic.

Edward Hamer
Edward Hamer
6 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Well conservatism always has to be specific, and one can certainly argue that English conservatism has been primarily about the Church of England. “Traditional” Britain as a man like Hitchens would see it can be described as a winding together of the different strands of belief within the Reformation settlement, and the cultures of the people who belonged to those different strands.

El Uro
El Uro
6 days ago

‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.’ ©

Arthur King
Arthur King
6 days ago

Without conservatism to ground the right look forward to a further March to the far right.

William Shaw
William Shaw
6 days ago

The Conservative Party abandoned conservatism a couple of decades ago.
A strange move made for a short term gain at the ballot box at the expense of any long term future.
We’ll, now the future has arrived.

Martin M
Martin M
6 days ago
Reply to  William Shaw

Probably about the same time the Labour Party abandoned the Working Class.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
6 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

Thatcher and Blair completely hollowed out the two great parties of British politics, her the conservatism of the Tories and him the socialism of Labour. Now we’re left with an indistinguishable blob whereby an election is won by the party that promises to be a little bit less s**t

Martin M
Martin M
6 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Hang on a second! Thatcher was great!

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
5 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

But she was not Conservative, and Blair was very able but no socialist.

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
4 days ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

She was a radical liberal, and all the better for it. Traditional (c)onservatives were useless at reversing national decline. She, for a while, made it seem possible.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
6 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

One of the most frustrating thing about democracies is how political parties keep modifying their policies in a never-ended effort to attract voters, instead of sticking to their principles like we UnHerd posters wish they would. Those pesky voters…!
Perhaps there are institutions better-suited to the formation of political consciousness than political parties, which are designed for (and reasonably good at) winning elections.

Martin M
Martin M
6 days ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

Maybe we should form the UnHerd Party….

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
5 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

Wouldn’t it be Unheard?

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
6 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

The world in which the original Tory and Labour parties formed had started to change. They were ripe for reform.

Something similar is happening again, perhaps on an even greater scale. The short-term thinking (or what passes for it) of the electoral cycle presents politicians with a problem; this appears to be a weakness of democracies – huge numbers of people will vote for what their 5-minute attention span suggests will put bread on the table tomorrow.

How we change that.mindset, without resorting to authoritarianism, is the challenge.

Simon Adams
Simon Adams
5 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

The see-saw of the democratic cycle, which currently encourages short term thinking, image protecting sound-bytes and no long term accountability. It’s this latter which is entirely hidden by the 24hr news cycle. If a government increases structural spending to unsustainable levels at a time when the global economic sun is shining, rather than using the extra cash to upgrade the legacy infrastructure (sewers, railways, roads etc), or to invest in new technologies and global opportunities, you leave behind problems that last decades. However anyone speaking about these still just 10 years later on the 24hr news cycles, weekly Question Time cycles etc end up being torn apart.

Not only have governments been strongly encouraged by the ~4 year election cycle not to think about the long term, the media and the public have been convinced that no effects last more than one further election cycle. I voted against PR as it seems to negate accountability, but perhaps short term accountability drives this long term blindness to some extent. Nonetheless, I’m not convinced that PR is the answer. Maybe we need something more dramatic. Monarchy is always prone to the corruption of power – or even just a bad monarch – but maybe giving the monarch some more power could help to instil more thought about long term sustainability and direction?

Otherwise maybe something more like Plato suggested. Perhaps a blend of a new upper house compromised of perennial philosophers and theologians, with no public accountability for anything short term, but where all laws and executive actions must be signed off in terms of their alignment with long term cohesive direction. Instead of course we’re likely to get Labour enforcing a new “more representative” house, which is exactly the cause of the problems that are getting worse…

Jos Haynes
Jos Haynes
5 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

What!? I must have missed that. Starmer actually promised something???

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
5 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

My impression was that Thatcher restored conservatism to the Conservative Party after the one nation BS of Macmillan and co which was itself a makeover intended accommodate the disaster that was the Attlee government

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 days ago

She was a turbo charged economic liberal. She conserved nothing

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
4 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

The Britain of 1979 was such a foul mess that there was little worth conserving.
She took a wrecking ball to the dying, dysfunctional, deluded and useless Britain of the 1970s?
Good.

Jonathan Story
Jonathan Story
6 days ago
Reply to  William Shaw

It was betrayed by Heath and Howe in the European Communities Act 1972 Sections 1-5, deploying UK sovereignty to underline the supremacy of EU law. This was the deadly act.

Martin M
Martin M
6 days ago

I think the world the author hankers for still exists in some 1950s Middle Class parallel universe somewhere. Not sure if the trains run there though.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
6 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

It does read more like an Enid Blyton book rather than anything experienced by the bulk of England’s citizens

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
6 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Frogs in hot water. The UK is a mess. I know a mess when I see one.

Claire D
Claire D
6 days ago

Not quite such a mess as America though, which is something.

Robbie K
Robbie K
6 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

He seems to be stuck in an episode of The Good Life. Now that has a certain appeal if you happen to be married to Barbara. The irony is that the deeply conservative Thatcher era killed that vision through modernisation and capitalism.

Archibald Tennyson
Archibald Tennyson
6 days ago

Peter Hitchens, an Anglican, is a progressive radical. He supports the break with the Roman Catholic Church, and by subscribing to Western theology, tacitly supports the schism of 1054. He is no conservative, merely someone who wants the revolution frozen at an earlier stage of development. Sorry, Peter, that’s not how it works. The genie has been out of the bottle since at least 1789, if not much earlier. There’s no halting the march of ‘progress’ now, not without unlearning the Western (that is, Catholic-inspired) mindset at a much more fundamental level.
He thinks the mistake was the Pill. I think the mistake was the coronation of Charlemagne. Come on Peter, follow through and be a proper conservative!

Kevin Dee
Kevin Dee
6 days ago

While I’m sympathetic with the author I’m also struck by the story of the last battle ship. Isn’t building the most powerful navy in the world to maintain a giant empire very much not “conservative”. How much of this is just wanting to go back in time, when actually a vision for the future is needed.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
6 days ago
Reply to  Kevin Dee

The power of the navy and its strength long predates the empire. Henry VII started the mercantile navy. Talking of battleships, anyone remember Hilaire Belloc in I think ‘ The.Cruise of the Nona’, when he sees on a misty morning, the great ships putting out to sea, and realises Britain was at war.

peter lucey
peter lucey
6 days ago

The Sword of Honour trilogy has a happy ending?
Guy Crouchback has an arranged marriage, with a son by another man (Trimmer).

He’s OK, that’s all. For Waugh the only refuge was the Church (and that was to betray him, too)

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
6 days ago

Peter, I remember when you panned The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society. But only now do I realise why: it cut too close to the bone; the Village Green Preservation Society is you.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
6 days ago

I’m never sure what conservativism is, other than in the general sense of accepting change slowly. But what is the Conservative Party? Mrs Thatcher tried to take it to the only place it could thrive, as a small government low tax private enterprise pro-choice (in every aspect of citizens needs and desires) old fashioned liberal party. But with a conserative edge – that change should be careful, cautious, and properly considered.

But Major and Cameron, and as it turned out remarkably, Boris, did not understand that this was the only place that this party could prosper. Now we, citizens of the UK, pay the price, but there is a chance to get back to where we were in 1990. Otherwise we are looking at inevitable decline, whichever party is in power.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
6 days ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

I think conservative is largely to continue doing what works and is known to work rather than being distracted by the next shiny object. It is also an understanding that every issue that afflicts some corner of society is not necessarily for govt to address. Society has shifted to where large numbers believe govt should be everywhere, even in areas where it has no expertise whatsoever and demonstrates its inexperience by getting involved anyway.

William Amos
William Amos
6 days ago

As Her late Majesty of blessed memory put it so well – ‘Grief is the price we pay for love’.
‘Shantih, Shantih, Shantih’.
Loyalty and obedience to the powers that be is the fundamental spiritual rubric of the Church of England. It is easy to pray for those we trust and admire. To pray for those who hate, curse and despitefully use us and everything we cherish? For a patriot and a father that is indeed a painful commandment to bear – and yet it is commanded.
Blessedly, though, therein lies the true balm and deliverance from temporal unease.
“All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.”
Was it Spinoza or Schopenhauer (no friends to the deity) who once said ‘all spiritual unhealthiness comes from inordinate love of things that are subject to change and decay’?
Well that would also pass as a fair working definition of ‘conservatism’. However Mr Hitchens must know that in the scriptures we are granted the free and easy grace to know better.
“My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight”
Or as the old hymn goes –
“And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace”

Andrew Morbey
Andrew Morbey
6 days ago

Tendebantque manus ripae ulterioris amore

Sue Sims
Sue Sims
6 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Morbey

Yes, Vergil says it best. And today, sunt lacrimæ rerum

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
6 days ago

I prefer Scruton’s definition (simplified): conserving what works.

Simon Adams
Simon Adams
5 days ago

This is true. Much of what we reject now was developed over millennia rather than just centuries. The Reformation and subsequent “enlightenment” started the trend, rejecting as “superstition” anything that could not be fully understood. However there is much to be said for valuing things just because they work. Often it’s only after the full richness of the tradition is lost that we at least partially rediscover their value. In the middle ages people would sit in silence before the Host, now we have mindfulness and meditation as “Eastern” practices. People would fast, now it’s apparently a science-based practice with evidence that it makes you healthier and live longer. We no longer believe anything unless it has very short term evidence – even when not at all understood – and yet we reject things that worked for thousands of years at the drop of a hat.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
6 days ago

The death of Conservatism is a bit like a prolonged case of dementia; the spirit had long departed but the body lingered on, losing more and more capacity, until finally fading away in delirium and confusion.

Citizen Diversity
Citizen Diversity
5 days ago

The train has left the station. Yet if your heart is on it, it still lives. Where your heart is, there will your treasure be. 

Phil Rees
Phil Rees
5 days ago

This must be the most boring thing Peter has ever written. I presume its intended to be some kind of elegy for the passing of a way of life and of living, but it ends up more of an elegy for the passing of an old man’s personal opinion of what conservatism is. But he overlooks that ‘conservatism’ is not a fixed set of ideas. It’s plasticity in the light of so much social change is what has kept it alive these past two centuries.
And conservatism is not the exclusive property of the Conservative Party – parties become old and rusty and lose their energy, but the best ideas remain and are taken up by newer parties.
it would be good if Peter could assist the transition rather than endlessly grumble from the sidelines.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
5 days ago
Reply to  Phil Rees

As a take down of Hitchen’s article, i think you’re being conservative. It made me cringe.

George Venning
George Venning
5 days ago

The England for which you seem to pine was the metropole of an empire that had coloured half the world pink and, in doing so, up-ended traditional ways of life for a substantial portion of the world’s population.
When that empire collapsed in the aftermath of a pair of world wars that exhausted it, and in the face of an ascendant America, the world (pink and non-pink) rushed in to up-end England in its turn.
Old England had its glories and its virtues of course. And it will be sad when they are preserved in vitrines and best known to antiquarians rather than facets of a living, breathing culture. But perhaps we will be consoled by the descendents of the Mughals, the Rajputs, the Imperial Chinese, of a hundred African cultures, of Australian aboriginal people and Polynesians.
I heard a good line once, attributed to a British mercenary fighting a grubby war in Africa in the early 60s. “When the British Empire finally sinks beneath the waves, it will leave only two lasting legacies: association football, and the phrase “f**k off”.” A shame it wasn’t cricket perhaps.
Time passes. The people of these Islands have always been adaptive mongrels.

General Store
General Store
5 days ago

Deeply stupid to think that the Conservative Party of David Cameron and Rishi Sunak was conservative

Dave Canuck
Dave Canuck
5 days ago

Conservatives can’t tell jokes, but they sure can elect them

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
5 days ago
Reply to  Dave Canuck

That wasn’t funny!

Dave Canuck
Dave Canuck
5 days ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

Sadly it was meant to be true as well, this article reveals what a sorry lot they are. Living in some glorious past that only existed for a few morally bankrupt aristocrats and landowners, exploiting workers, the poor, women, other races and cultures. Getting rich on slavery, child labor and inhumane working conditions. Let them eat cake, eh. Pathetic bunch with their self righteousness and hiding behind their Christian morality to justify themselves. I could go on .

Martin M
Martin M
4 days ago
Reply to  Dave Canuck

I dispute that! I’ve heard a lot of conservatives tell jokes!

Citizen Diversity
Citizen Diversity
5 days ago

Even stranger then is the defeat of a British prime minister on the beaches of Normandy by his own side. 
For the Britain of 1944, the country and people, would be vastly different from today in almost every way. The veterans who won glory on those beaches – if duty and sacrifice is glory – and their world would be incomprehensible, even faintly comical, and in some ways repellent – smoking, the colour bar – to the people of today. 
Nothing of their world is desired. It makes no commerce with today. Even so, a prime minister is chastised as if he had left mass in a cathedral without taking the blessed sacrament.  
A great unmentionable in these D-Day commemorations is that had this enterprise been unsuccessful the Red Army would have conquered/liberated most or all of Western Europe. 
The dedication on the fabulous Great War memorial in Worthing is Duty Nobly Done. The only physical presence the memorial’s 650 men have is in the life-size bronze figure of a British soldier atop the column, waving his helmet in a jaunty salute.  
The duty done is the honour of Britain that those interventionists in the July crisis of 1914 claimed would be permanently tarnished if Britain did not stand by her Entente partners, including unpopular Czarist Russia.  
Though the life that goes on around this haunted spot emphasises that it is already a memorial to a dead civilisation, that life can be as noisily, but much less thoughtfully, keen on war as those interventionists of 1914. Yet glory is not transferrable. It is the property of those who won it. 

John Riordan
John Riordan
5 days ago

I like Peter Hitchens, but his elegy to conservatism here suffers from a degree of ideological stick-in-the-muddery, specifically that he’s not allowing for the fact that the conservatism he identifies with his youth was of a particular time and place, and that conservatism as an animating principle can – and does – take different forms, adapted to the times and places in which it is needed.

The Britain of 70 years ago was poorer than it is now, and more culturally homogenous. The small-c conservatism that Peter describes above was partly a survival mechanism for people in the straitened circumstances of a post-war economy who had the intelligence to understand that improving their lives would not be best achieved by listening to the siren calls of the political Left, with its cynical appeals to envy and its empty promises of redistribution based on whack-a-mole tax and spend.

But though those times are no longer, that doesn’t mean there aren’t forces in the modern world that create pressure for conservative values. There are doubtless many examples but I’ll provide just one here: the apparently-surprising number of ethnic minority voters who dislike modern immigration policy. This is a good example of how conservative values are often innate, in this case simply a perception of unfairness on the part of someone who made the leap of emigrating many years ago when the UK was a harder place to get into and didn’t have the welfare incentives it has now, who nevertheless worked hard to build a life here, and now feels as if his or her own initiative and courage are somehow devalued.

So, Peter Hitchens, there’s an irony here. It’s that, for once, a political problem might really just be a matter of fashion. Bet you didn’t see that coming, did you?

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 days ago

This is the guy who, equally adamantly, thought an evil totalitarian ideology was the answer. Conservatism isn’t one particular thing (as favoured by Peter Hitchens). It only logically exists as a political reaction against liberalism, rationalism, secularism and, much later, socialism. Not as a direct offshoot of Christianity (which Christianity?). Noone now mourns the principal of the “Divine Right of Kings” – or do they?

Angela Thomas
Angela Thomas
2 minutes ago

Giorgia Meloni has named the philosopher Roger Scruton as one of her influences.