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Conservatism is a strange animal. Lacking the programmatic expositions of both liberalism and socialism, its adherents represent it as a preference for the familiar, the traditional and gradual change. Critics of conservatism such as Ted Honderich have pointed out that this would make conservatism remarkably stupid, involving hatred of the new until it had become familiar, no matter the principle involved. Moreover, such a description fails to capture the breadth of conservatism, which encompasses everything from reactionary anti-capitalism to pro‑market liberalism. Robin’s elegant book, a history of conservative ideas from Hobbes onward, resolves this dilemma by treating conservatism as a counter-revolutionary doctrine.
Far from offering a knee-jerk defence of tradition, the reactionary impulse moves in two directions: ‘first, to a critique and reconfiguration of the old regime; second, to an absorption of the ideas and tactics of the very revolution or reform it opposes’.
This is a hallmark of conservatism from its inception. As much as Joseph de Maistre hated the democratic, republican tumult of the French revolution, he was forced to address his counter-revolutionary appeal to ‘citizens!’ And far from defending a static order, conservatives warn that egalitarianism will lead to stagnation. This is the basis of Nietzsche’s fears about the ‘Last Man’, and of Ayn Rand’s championing of the ‘demigod creator’ against the ‘unproductive elements in society’ who would constrain him. Lastly, far from being staid traditionalists, they mostly tend to be adventurists and lovers of the turmoil of war.
Above all, conservatism is opposed to the populace assuming the rights and authority of government. Whether it is Calhoun seeking to exclude African-Americans from the polity, or Burke barring labourers from a share in the management of the state, conservatism is profoundly anti-democratic. Yet in an era when the masses are mobile, conservatives must offer popular participation in the hierarchies they defend.
For Maistre, the lower orders could share in the majesty of monarchy. For later conservatives, the task was to enable the lower orders to boss others around – women, black people and those lower down the productive chain.
Such is the case brilliantly expounded in Robin’s latest book, an invaluable guide to the reactionaries of our time.
Grace Blakeley investigates the curious case of Carillion: how the company’s slow decline and abrupt liquidation reveals the nature of modern capitalism.
The collapse of Carillion could be a watershed moment. Let's seize it to end economically disastrous outsourcing schemes. By Cat Hobbs.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns