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Is capitalism conservative any more?
Ian Fletcher says that conservatives have given big business a blank cheque for too long

Reprinted with permission from the Dec 03/Jan 04 issue of Right Now!

Although mention is made of the Conservative Party in the following article,
Sovereignty points out that we do not support any political party.

In this age of politically correct idiocy, things that 'everyone knows' are often wrong. One of the most destructive illusions in British politics today is that capitalism is still conservative.

Many Britons who wish to conserve their country so it will still be here for their children and grandchildren support capitalist policies because they believe this. This delusion is deliberately promoted by the Right, to hold on to its supporters, the Left, to seem moderate, and the capitalists, to hide their socially destructive effects. As this delusion is currently crippling the Conservative Party it must be debunked forthwith.

What people don't realize is that the alliance between capitalism and conservatism that everyone takes as a permanent fact of political life was based upon changeable historical facts, not permanent ones, and that history has moved on.

The key is this: the only thing capitalists intrinsically wish to conserve is their own property and insofar as they are interested in conserving anything else, it is because they see conserving these things as a means to conserve that property. In different historical periods, various conservative policies have been useful to capitalists, but their fundamental priority is profit and they are uninterested in conservatism for its own sake.

For example: during the Cold War, capitalists were threatened by world communism. Because Marxism was atheistic, this caused them to support conservation of the traditional Christian religious identity of the West to rally electorates against 'godless communism'. This appeal was more explicit in America than in Britain, but it was part of the Tory worldview, of Christian Democrat parties in Germany, Italy and elsewhere, and of anti-communist forces in nations like Poland and South Korea with significant Christian populations.

But remove the communist threat, and Christianity no longer has this usefulness. In fact, it is an inconvenience to capitalists in many ways. It interferes with the profitable marketing of sexual licentiousness. It encourages expensive charity towards the poor. It encourages Christian societies to reject non-Christian immigrants. Worst, it teaches that there are higher purposes in life than making money, and the arrogance of capitalists today is such that they resent any competing ideal. And the ethos of contemporary capitalism is a superficial pagan raucousness that is anti-Christian.

The Cold War made capitalists wish to conserve nationalism, too, because:
(a) Marxism was (with tactical exceptions) internationalist. The workers have no fatherland, et cetera.
(b) Nationalism produced support for strong militaries in the advanced Western nations.
(c) Nationalism was an effective counter-ideology against Marxist attempts to penetrate the Third World. This was true in Turkey, Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Indonesia, Iran, Taiwan, Malaya and elsewhere. Nations where Marxists got their hand on the nationalist card, like Vietnam, were disasters for the West.

Today, capitalists no longer have these reasons to support nationalism. They'd rather have globalism, the liquidation of nation-states in favor of a border-less global market.

Furthermore, the increasing affluence of modern Western society has undermined the capitalist affinity for nationalism because it has given capitalists a huge economic incentive to covet cheap foreign labour. They do this either abroad, by exporting jobs and importing products, or domestically, by importing foreign workers.

In 1900, the average European working-class laborer was so cheap that there was little point in trying to replace him with a Chinaman. Transportation costs were also higher, communications more primitive, and foreign populations less technically skilled than today, so there was much less profit in outsourcing work to foreign nations. It simply wouldn't have been practical to shift huge sections of British industry to the Far East.

Western affluence has also eliminated the old capitalist fear of a general revolt against property, an unstated spectre that used to lie behind the whole of politics. In 1850 or 1900, there was a wide enough gap between the bulk of the population and the capitalists that class-based confiscation was a real threat. The pre-modern world was so poor, compared with today, that it could not afford to bribe people to behave and had to resort to strong social conventions of order and subordination. Capitalists supported anything that promised to keep rebelliousness in check. This made anything cultural that smacked of disorder suspect, and made capitalists support a general mentality of 'do not disturb existing arrangements', which anyone will recognize as the classic conservative mindset.

Furthermore, until about 1900, British capitalists were partly dependent on the pre-capitalist aristocracy to run the political order that protected their property. A landed aristocracy is by definition a conservative class, because the essence of its life is privilege and its privileges are inherited things that must be conserved to be enjoyed. Even after the aristocracy passed from the political scene, its influence lingered because it had been in charge when many of Britain's key institutions and practices were established. But this is 100 years ago now, and the relentless accumulation of gradual historical and institutional change has gradually effaced most relics of aristocratic conservatism. As late as 1950, this wasn't true.

To some extent, capitalists used to be conservative simply because society as a whole was conservative, for many reasons including pre-Darwinist religion, the limited franchise, and the limits of technology and capitalists are fundamentally opportunists who will play along with whatever regime is in charge so long as they can make money.

They are quite content to make their peace with the liberal state so long as it doesn't take too large a cut. In fact, many capitalists, like those selling to the government, make more money under a liberal regime, and it is not necessary for the government to please all capitalists, only enough to secure a sufficient base of support. The liberal regulatory state also provides certain benefits to capitalists, like increasing barriers to entry in the industries into which they have sunk their capital, that limit competition and protect entrenched capitalist interests.

Colonialism also used to make capitalists nationalist, as they wanted expansionist nationalism in European states to open up the rest of the world to trade and feared losing markets and investments without it. But with no colonial empires today nationalism no longer serves this purpose. Capitalists used to endorse racism as a buttress of colonialism, but now it has no such use, and in fact interferes with the importation of racially foreign cheap labor.

Capitalists today who are interested in economically penetrating the Third World know that soldiers in pith helmets provoke indigenous resistance now that nationalism has spread to the Third World. They prefer to exercise control by means of international institutions that weren't available in 1900, like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization.

These globalist impulses also lead capitalists into the arms of a class that is the natural enemy of real conservatives: transnational 'progressives', the deracinated international do-gooder class who staff these institutions. Big business has a lot in common with the contemporary Left, as big business and big government both partake of the same bureaucratic administrative spirit that dissolves individual responsibility in favor of anonymous organisations. Like transnational progressives, big companies openly brag about how they have no particular loyalty to any one nation in which they do business. They both flatter themselves that nationalism is 'primitive' and 'parochial' while they are 'advanced' and cosmopolitan'.

One could say that when capitalism was young, and the world as a whole poor, capitalism had to make friends with other political forces to get what it wanted. Now that capitalism has matured, and the world is much richer, capitalism can afford just to buy what it needs without anyone's help.

It cannot be emphasized enough that international markets and international corporations have no particular loyalty to Britain, even if they happen to have their headquarters here. International capital views Britain as just another production platform, with certain pluses and minuses, in which its objective is to pay as little as possible for its labor and get as much as it can for its products.

Big Business today is on the Left on every important issue that does not directly affect its profits. Its emerging ideology is to tack to the Left on noneconomic issues it does not really care about in order to be able to tack to the Right on the economic issues it does. It promotes racial diversity in order to normalize the importation of cheap labor. It adopts a veneer of faddish hipness to satisfy consumerism's need for continual novelty. It promotes feminism to suck more women into the profit-producing workforce. It favors liquidation of the traditional family in order to force internal family activities, from cooking to child-care, into the profitable outside economy. It spouts a cloud of 'anti-hierarchical' and 'empowerment' rhetoric to draw an egalitarian veil over increasing income inequality.

Since, of course, capitalists tend to be rich enough to avoid paying any personal price for the consequences of liberal idiocy in the police, the schools, and elsewhere, because they can buy their way into safe neighborhoods and private schools, their tacit pact with liberalism is a cost-free bargain for them.

The conflict between conservatism and capitalism tends to come as a shock to contemporary ears, but 100 or 200 years ago, when the world was wiser about many fundamental questions, it was a commonplace. None of this would surprise Burke, Metternich, or de Maistre. Glib wine-bar Tories who think conservatism began with Milton Friedman would do well to remember this.

Does this all mean conservatives should reject capitalism? No, since capitalism, or more precisely the mostly-capitalist mixed economy that all prosperous nations actually have, is still the most effective known economic system, despite obvious problems and needed reforms. But conservatives must abandon the delusion that capitalism's political interests are identical with their own. They must fight for conservative political values themselves, and not rely on capitalists doing it. They must get over their current squeamishness about attacking capitalist interests and face the fact that sometimes capitalism is -- believe it or not and hold onto your double-breasted suit -- the enemy of conservatism.

What is needed is not to do away with capitalism, but constrain it within nation-conserving rules like a ban on the importation of foreign labor. Capitalists won't like it, but as noted above, they are fundamentally opportunists and will cave in if confronted with sufficient political power.

This all explains, by the way the most astonishing political fact of the Blair era: the strange death of Tory England. As long as the Tory party clings to the outdated 1980s assumption that the key issue in Britain is socialism vs capitalism and thus takes capitalism to be its ideological heart, it is inevitable that it will follow the capitalists down the garden path of social liberalism -- which is of course exactly what it has done, under the pathetic illusion that this constitutes 'modernization'.

But as we have seen, it is precisely because the Tory party has not modernized, and is stuck with outdated assumptions about capitalism, that it does this! Real modernization for Tories would consist in grasping the changed relation of capitalism to conservatism and restoring the latter as their ideological core principle. It's either that, or sell off the country piece-by-piece under the delusion that this is conservative so long as the cheques clear.

Right Now! Dec 2003

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