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The Real Meaning of Conservatism

The Real Meaning of
Andrew 8e/sey

After the Affluent Fifties, the Swinging Sixties and
the Doubting Seventies, what – the Authoritarian
Eighties? Events around the world – in the Soviet
Union, in the United States, in Thatcherite Britain,
in South America, in Iran, Korea, Turkey and plenty of
other places – suggest that aggressive, repressive,
militaristic, nationalistic authoritarianism is
increasing everywhere. Roger Scruton* has spotted
this trend and has decided to write a satire warning
us against it, in some of its manifestations, at
least. Perhaps the biggest joke was to call this
semi-fascism ‘conservatism’, for the True Conservative, as I shall call Scruton’s anti-hero, has little
sympathy for the British Conservative Party or its
present government. In spite of their undoubted
authoritarian tendencies which Scruton does right to
warn us against they are still far too liberal for
the True Conservative.

Scruton has indeed conceived an excellent political
joke, though the delivery of it could have done with
the services of a more skilled midwife. He has
imagined a nation called ‘England’, whose citizens are
entirely men – male people. By crystallising the more
fascist elements of Plato and Hegel, and adding
touches of Machiavelli, Nietzsche and minor nineteenth
century fascists where necessary, he has invented for
this imaginary state a constitution and a set of
institutions of a suitably repellent kind. In the
true spirit of satire he has presented his obnoxious
content with an equivalent style, at once haughty,
ugly and violent in its paratactic authoritarianism.

Indeed, so successful is he in aping the disgusting
crudities of the semi-intellectual fascist that it is
difficult to sustain the realisation that the whole
thing is an elaborate joke. A clever idea, but perhaps too paradoxically convoluted for the average

Nevertheless, the wants and beliefs of the True
Conservative come across clearly. He (we have to get
used to the idea that the True Conservative is always
a ‘he’) is a patriot, believing in the history,
culture, traditions, customs, ceremonies and rituals
of his own nation, and relying on the prejudices that
go with them. He also relies heavily on such terms as
‘respect’, ‘loyalty’ and ‘discipline’. His world can
in fact be seen as constructed solely from trad-ition,
authority and allegiance [27]. The True Conservative
is a relativist, believing that there are many conservatisms within these abstract limits, each with

Roger Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism. Penguin Books, 1980. Pp. 205. £1.95.

ISBN 0 1402.2193 X. All page references in this article are to this book.

its own ‘national focus’ [36].

His aversions too are just as clear. His
‘principle enemy’ is ‘the philosophy of liberalism,
with all its attendant trappings of individual autonomy and the “natural” rights of man’ [16]. Freedom
is an abstraction [16], democracy a contagion [53],
as is egalitarianism [59]. Even equality of opportunity leaves him cold [156]. And such ideas as
social justice [86] and progress [191] are just
pathetic in their idiocy.

The True Conservative shows his colours most
spectacularly in his attitude to the state. As we
have just seen, the greatest threat to True Conservatism is not, as you might think, Com~unism (that is,
the statist regimes of Eastern Europe), for any
totalitarian system receives the natural sympathy of
the True Conservative, but liberalism. Liberalism
believes in the reality of individual autonomy, and
therefore in the possibility and desirability of
individual freedom in the political sense. The
liberal – and this will include many who call themselves Liberals, Conservatives, Social Democrats,
Socialists, Marxists, while the Anarchist merely
takes liberalism to its logical conclusion – makes a
strong separation in both theory and practice between
civil society and the state, and approves of social
links while deprecating and attempting to decrease
the power and influence of the state.

The True Conservative, however, does not believe
in any ultimate separability of state and society
[27], and indeed prefers a term like ‘nation’ which
neatly obscures the issue. The True Conservative
believes that the state is an organism or even a
person – it has will and personality to which the
individual is ‘subject’, bound not by choice or consent but by a ‘transcendent bond’ which represents
his determined acquiescence in the existing order
[33]. The True Conservative is therefore totalitarian in two senses. First, in believing that the real
political unit is not the individual of liberal
humanism but the total, the state. Second, in giving
to the state absolute power. The individual, according to the True Conservative, does not even exist,
but in so far as he comes into existence at all, is
created by the state, within limits imposed by the
state. It is only through allegiance to the greater
whole that individuality and self-identity exist
[34, 38]. The state thus precedes the individual
both ontologically and morally, and the idea of the
individual asserting his ‘rights’ against the state
is absurd. The state may grant privileges, but
rights there are none.


a society too has a will, and … a rational
man must be open to its persuasion. This will
lies, for the conservative, enshrined ~n history,
tradition, culture artd prejudice. Enp,land, far
from being a savage society that would justify
the imposition of overarching decrees, is founded
in the maturest of national cultures, and contains
within itself all the principles of social life.

The true conservative has his ear attuned to those
principles, and tries to live, as a result, in
friendship with the nation to which he owes his
being. His own will to live, and the nation’s
will to live, are simply one and the same.’ [24]
Therefore the power of the state is, and must be,
restricted. The ‘minimal state’ is no part of conservative thinking [33], and the ‘liberal’ contortions of a Friedman or a Joseph in the dismal science
of economics will be laughed out of court [97]. The
True Conservative will support capitalism mainly for
pragmatic reasons [Ill], but knows the necessity of
state discipline for both capital and labour [113].

The True Conservative will believe in ‘man’s absolute
and ineradicable need of private property’ [99], but
does not suppose that the free market is the obvious
method of meeting this need. Indeed, the True
Conservative would obviously regard the captflre by
capital, a dynamic and progressive force (at least
for a while), of conservatism as one of the more
ironic triumphs of history. He prefers to quote
Disraeli’s remark that it is not feudalism that the
conservative will advocate, but merely its ‘main
principle – that the tenure of property should be the
fulfilment of duty’ [115] – though with his tongue in
cheek, no doubt. The True Conservative’s ideal could
well be called modern feudalism – a rigidly hierarchical society with an overwhelming state firmly
in control at all levels.

There literally cannot be anything to restrict the
state. The True Conservative, however, will recognise the need to dress this up a bit:

‘ … his desire is to see power standing not naked
in the forum of politics, but clothed in constitution, operated always through an adequate system
of law, so that its movement seems [sic] never
barbarous or oppressive, but always controlled and
inevitable, an expression of the civilized vital~
ity through which allegiance is inspired. The
constitution, therefore, and the institutions
which sustain it, will always lie at the heart of
conservative thinking.’ [33]
Here we can see Scruton begin to twist his satirical
knife, but delicately, just through the use of the
word ‘seems’. However, let us follow the True
Conservative’s line of thought on the constitution,
this being defined as ‘what guides, limits and authorises power, and thus manifests itself primarily
through law, through the I1style” of law, and through
the position of the citizen as defined by law” [52].

The True Conservative thus puts much emphasis on law.

Indeed, seeing the state as defined by its laws, he
would sweep away any idea of the sovereignty of
parliament and replace it with the sovereignty of
law [63]. The True Conservative has little time for
democratic parliament, especially the House of
Commons [59]. The True Conservative is that rare
figure, the unicameralist, though it is to the House
of Lords, and especially the Law Lords, that he would
entrust guidance of the ship of state [571.

So, in shaking his fist at democratic government,
the True Conservative’s delight in the law turns out
to be somewhat hypocritical. Though he approves of
the law, he has to find some reason to rule out much
recently enacted law that he doesn’t like; what he
prefers is common law, equity and long-established
statute. Though he cannot find a reason, he does
find that the law comes to his, and its own, aid, and
will manage to stymie the politician with the

temerity to enact reform. Here the True Conservative
makes a valuable point which radicals and reformers
should certainly take note of.

The average politician, being a hot-headed careerist, does not understand the real nature of law.

He enacts a statute, and sees it as self-contained,
written down in black and white, its meaning clear to
all. He forgets that before it can have any effect
it has to be inserted into the English legal system,
where it is subjected to the due processes of that
system, to interpretation by tradition, to judicial
precedent and death by a thousand qualifications.

As a result it often turns aut to have little or no
effect at all, to the naive surprise of the politician, and to the delight of the True Conservative
[63]. In such a way does he look to the law to protect himself and his position from the madnesses
involved in assaulting the constitution with new laws
on equal opportunities, devolution, the Common
Market, immigration and nationality. The politician
may think of these as laws but the True Conservative
knows them to be ‘inapplicaThle, perhaps even
illegitimate’ [69].

The cracks in the True Conservative’s edifice are
now becoming apparent, subtly exposed by Scruton’s
careful probing. By declaring parliament’s enactments ‘perhaps illegitimate’ the True Conservative
is devouring himself, flying in the face of the
constitution he claims to uphold, and in doing so
proclaiming himself a social renegade.

‘In England,’

the True Conservative points out, ‘there is a law
which forbids the production and distribution of subversive material – the law of sedition’ [Ii]. So
the True Conservative now finds himself in the same
position as the Soviet dissident, whom he professes
to despise!

Actually, the True Conservative’s attitude to the
Soviet dissident is well worth examination, bringing
out as it does the full extent of his disgraceful and
disgusting hypocrisy. Rejecting as fantasy any
notion of universal human rights, the True Conservative has no sympathy for the ‘seditious utterance’ of
the dissenter [49]. Not surprisingly, the True
Conservative has a Stalinist notion of freedom: it is
‘comprehensible as a social goal only when subordinate to something else, to an organisation or arrangement which defines the individual aim’ [19]. The
ci tizen is ‘subj ect’ to the state [40], ‘belongs’ to
it [47], whatever that state may be – provided only
that it is true to its traditions, as the Soviet
Union is. ‘There can be no international charter for
dissidents, and only one respectable [I] reason for
one state to lend support to seditious utterance in
another, which is the pursuit of power’ [49]. The
full view of the True Conservative on this matter is
worth quoting at some length:

‘In every legal system … there must be provision
against sedition, laws which enable the power of
state to reassert itself against antagonists, and
these laws may stand wholly outside the rule of
natural justice, being determined by the principle
of necessity alone. This truth is so evident that
no political dogma can dispense with some soothing
rhetoric that will serve to make it palatable.

It is unquestionable that, if the power of the
state is threatened, so too is its authority, and
with it the structure of civil society. To sacrifice power for the sake of justice, is to make the
exercise of justice impossible. It cannot, therefore, be an insuperable defect in a law of seditior
that it provides for imprisonment without trial,
a reduced judicial process, or summary execution.

What matters is the extent to which such laws must
be invoked. If this invocation constituted – as
in Russia – a major portion of the judicial process, then clearly the power of state transcends
the allegiance of the citizen. The whole

arrangement stands on the brink of illegitimacy.’

[91 ]
Note the ‘brink’. The True Conservative must regard
the dissidents of the Soviet Union – or Argentina or
South Africa – as rebels and traitors, deserving all
they get. 1Vha t they fail to real ise is that dissent
from the state is not merely a political inconvenience for the rulers, but a cosmic folly, the ultimate
in idiotic hubris. All that is wrong is Russia is
that the power of the state has outrun the allegiance
of some of the citizens. The remedy, therefore, is
not to reduce state power, but to increase it, and to
obtain allegiance either through stronger repression,
or through subtler ideological conditioning. This,
then, is the reality behind the True Conservative’s
obeisance before ‘order’ [27].

The hypocrisy of the True Conservative can be
further brought out by examining his views on power
and authority. For the True Conservative power is
all, yet paradoxically he knows the weakness of relying entirely on power. For since people (for reasons
the True Conservative cannot explain) dislike bowing
down before power, the True Conservative has the
alchemic task of transforming power into authority,
through legitimisation. But the True Conservative
is honest enough to recognise that there is no such
thing as authority; or rather, that authority is only
accepted pOwer. The True Conservative’s aim is
‘power to command and coerce those who would
otherwise reform or destroy, and its justification
must be found within itself, in an idea of legitimacy or established right.

The power which the statesman seeks must be, in
other words, a power that is accepted. It must be
regarded by the people as not just power, but
authority.’ [25-26]
The True Conservative is thus a phenomenologist; he
knows that it is how people see things [29], how
power seems to them [33], that it is appearances
that’matter [36] – and all these can be manipulated.

Of course, the True Conservative will say that
‘People have the idea of legitimacy, and see the
world as coloured in its terms; and it is how they
see the world which determines how they act on it’

[36] – as if these ideas and visions were natural
and hence unquestionable, when in fact he knows that
the individual subject is cultural rather than
natural, and created in the state’s own image. So
authority, or legitimate power, is for the True
Conservative simply power that can exercise a hegemony sufficient to prevent any challenge from the
powerless. In other words, the passage from power to
authority is guaranteed by nothing other than
ideology, and it is a guarantee which turns out to
be decided!’y insubstantial. The True Conservative
will refer to the necessity of myth [169], or will
appeal to the ‘natural charm of military ceremony,
where power, through its transformation into symbol,
acquires the aspect [sic] of authority’ [167], or
will be reduced to mouthing empty slogans such as
that tradition ‘makes history into reason’ [40J, but
having nothing more compelling with which to justify
power can hardly expect to be taken seriously.

So authority is nothing more than power having put
on the symbolic order of rhetoric or ritual, with
sufficient show of plausibility to pull the wool over
the eyes of the subjected citizens. The True
Conservative will go on (and on and on) about ‘tradition’, ‘history’, ‘culture’, etc., in an effort to
dress naked power in the robes of legitimacy, but it
is a case of the Emperor’s new clothes. But so confident, or cocksure, is he 0f the clothes’ visibility
that he will unabashedly produce the demolition of
his own rickety structure in an unconscious homage to
his Marxist opponent:

‘Now the Marxist would see the dispute in quite
other terms, seeking to demystify the ideal of
“authority” and replace it with the realities of
power. “Authority”, for the ~~arxist, is merely
the ideological representation of power – power
imbued with the false aura of legitimacy, made
absolute and unchangeable, translated from a
historical reality into a sempiternal ideal.’

‘ … For the Harxist, “authority”, and the concept
of “legitimacy” through which it dignifies itself,
are merely parts of the ideology of class rule,
concepts belonging to and inculcated by a ruling
“hegemony”.’ [28]
And the funny thing is that in his heart-of-hearts,
the True Conservative knows that the Marxist is

But the True Conservative is a hypocrite and a
liar. He knows that the myths that pretend to legitimate class rule are merely modern versions of the
Platonic ‘noble lie’ [139-40]’ and he will have no
hesitation in murdering the history of a nation to
produce them. The True Conservative believes in an
inegalitarian, hierarchical society, recognises that
the stability of such a society requires acceptance
by the unprivileged of their position, hut reckons
that such acceptance can he ‘induced’ 1140]. This
again can be arranged via ideology, esp~cially ‘the
attempt to represent the unpleasant fact of inequality as a form of natural order and legitimate bond’

[141]. So once again it will he the (rhetorical)
‘representation’ that veils ruling rower and

So the foundation of the True Conservative’s appeal
to authority is nothing hut a colourful display of
flatulence, and Scruton hrings this out nicely. But
the fun gets even greater if we attempt to probe
deeper into the hasis of True Conservatism. For the
True Conservative claims to be producing a work not of
political philosophy hut of dogmatics [9, 11]. But it
is this gap between philosophy and dogma that makes
the hole through which True Conservatism finally
swallows itself. The testament of the True
Conservative becomes the ultimate self-consuming
text, marvellous in its self-contradiction, hollow in
its abysmal emptiness, full of lies and hypocrisies,
and in the end unable to prevent itself from revealing itself truthfully to the world.

The dogmatics of the True Conservative is ‘systematic and reasonahle’; yet it cannot be presented as
such because ‘the essence’ of conservatism ‘is
inarticulate’ [11]. To this contradiction is
immediately added another: that in spite of its inarticulateness it is ‘capable of expression’ [11].

Ah, but the contradictions resolve themselves at a
higher level. Reading the True Conservative’s
testament we find that he expresses himself mostly
through allusions, images and examples, which allows
a good deal of vagueness and imprecision into his
discourse. Though ‘it is of the nature of conservatism to avoid abstractions’ [17], in fact it rarely
descends from them, not even when offering an
example, as it does not show how the example relates
to the ahstractions. We look for reason, we look
for justification. All we find is a tottering tower

of rhetoric, which collapses at the first gentle
impact of the critical probe. Conservative dogmatics
is a fine example of what can be called ‘the higher
mystification’ .

It is certainly not reasonable. Intuition, that
eternal ~nemy of human rationality, is all the True
Conservative has to fall back on:

‘Like any political being, a conservative is “for”
certain things: he is for them, not because he has
arguments in their favour, but because he knows
them, lives with them, and finds his identity
threatened (often he knows not how) by the attempt
to interfere with their operation.’ [12-13]
But this is wool-pulling again. The True Conservative
knows that it is not his identity but his power and
his privilege that are threatened. But he cannot say
this. Conservatism is literally unspeakable. And
yet so ridiculous, almost pathetically so, is the
True Conservative that he cannot stop himself giving
the game away. He knows that the cupboard of justification is bare, but finds himself compelled (he
knows not why) to open its door wide to the outside

‘A political creed, in so far as it is formulated,
is partly an’exercise in rhetoric, to be revised
and restated whenever the times demand that the
ruling intuition be given its new dressing of
necessity.’ [20]
Yet since the creed ‘provides no answers’ to the
abstract questions of political philosophy [11], we
can remove the superfluous word ‘partly’, and reveal
the True Conservative naked and exposed, flashing his
meagre endowments in a laughable attempt to appear
the stormtrooping superman. But admitting that
‘the pursuit of truth leads one to doubt the myths’

[190], he knows that the myths of authority and
allegiance are merely lies. So what next? Well, the
‘reflective conservative’ (a rare breed, no doubt)
can only perform the ultimate act of self-im~olation:

, . .. the reasons he observes for sustaining the
myths of society are reasons which he cannot
propagate; to propagate his reasons is to instil
the world with doubt. Having struggled for
articulacy, he ~ust recommend silence.’ [191]
Now of course the testament of the True Conservative is here shown to be ridiculous. The True
Conservative cannot give a true account of conservatism; this would be to give the game away, exposing it
as a sham. Yet in admitting this, this is precisely
what he has done! So the ridiculousness is for two
reasons. The first is the obvious absurdity of
gabbling through 190 pages of text to a conclusion
recommending silence. But the second reason is even
deeper. The 190 pages of text a~e silence; they say
nothing; their value as any form or combination of
speech-acts is non-existent. The text, representing
the final testament of the True Conservative, has
devoured itself. As a ‘systematic and reasonable’

account of conservatism it might just as well be
replaced by 190 blank pages.


After this, anything further must be anti-climax.

Yet the consummating act of self-abuse ripples throughout the text, so that we find similar contradictions
everywhere. Take another of the True Conservative’s
attempts to provide some sort of reasoned support for
conservatism. He will appeal to ‘human nature’ [66],
‘natural prejudice’ [68], ‘normal feel ings’ [92],
‘common intuition’ [119J, and will even pretend that
the arrangements he recommends arise out of ‘natural

necessity’ [31]. But at the same time he knoVls that
this is all fake; there are indeed prejudices, but
that these are not normal, natural, common or instinctive but are constructed by the very society that
they are supposed to justify. As the True Conservative says quite clearly:

‘It is basic to the conservative view of things
… that the individual should seek and find his
completion in society, and that he should find
himself as part of an order that is greater than
himself, in the sense of transcending anything
that could have been broup,ht about through his own
enactment. He must see hi~self as the inheritor,
not the creator, of the order in which he participates, so that he may derive from it (from the
picture of its “objectivity”) the conceptions and
values which determine self-identity. He will see
his extension in time from birth to death as
taking on significance from civil stability: his
world was not born with him, nor does he die when
he departs from it.’ [66]
Again the True Conservative has to expose himself.

There are no natural instincts in such a constructed
creature. There is only ideology; a ‘picture’, and
its objectivity is only ‘objective’, a simulacrum
determined by myth, and true only to its own lying

And as if this were not enough, the True Conservative has the gall to ground not only conservatism in
human nature, but also dissent from the authoritarian
diktats of the True Conservative [91]. The True
Conservative’s model of human nature is thus not the
real essence but a plastic imitation, infinite in its
possibilities, able to accommodate even contradictions, nugatory in its explanatory function. Then
take the True Conservative’s attempted demolition of
the central idea of liberalism: that power becomes
legitimate authority only through contract, deliberation, choice; in other words, consent by autonomous
agents. The True Conservative has the-cheek to call
this a myth [29]. But what is his real strategy?

The True Conservative despises liberal consent: the
free and genuine consent by responsible beings. Yet
he is willing, nay, eager, to devote the power of the
state to engineering its own acceptance through the
creation of myths of authority and allegiance. Real
consent is thus rejected, while manipulated consent
replaces it. The True Conservative is thus in the
pathetically absurd and contradictory position of
scorning the genuine article while embracing and
valuing the fake. Hardly a recipe for a successful
journey through life, one might think.

Then there is the question of natural justice.

The True Conservative is at first concerned lest he
appear forced to support whatever power is established, however arbitrarily [84]. Is there an
independent criterion by which the exercise of power
can be judged? Natural justice first presents
itself as the answer [89], but natural justice standing isolated is ineffective. It must be incorporated
by the very power it is supposed to judge:

”’Natural justice” is the slave of a ruling class.

Where there is no such class (as in matters
arising between nation states), then there is no
natural just ice to enact.’ [90]
Natural justice, then, is simply another myth, and
far from being an independent judge of state power,
is but state power under a smiling mask. Of course,
such a contradictory conclusion was to be expected,
for the True Conservative must at all costs support
his central contention that state power is incontestable. The idea of natural justice as an independent
criterion is for the True Conservative a conceptual
nonsense, and so power stands supreme and beyond
criticism, whether it be Thatcher-power, Soviet
power, Ayatollah-nower, or Junta-power in South

The unreality of anything except power, and the
be treated in the high-handed way that is
emptiness of the True Conservative’s rhetoric, is
calculated to make them become so. On the
again shown up in his remarks on devolution. Given
contrary, they are sentiments which seem to arise
his emphasis on the national focus of conservatism
inevitably from social consciousness: they involve
[36], and his remark that ‘it is only an unfortunate
natural prejudice, and a desire for the company of
society that cannot lay claim to nationhood’ [186],
one’s kind. That is hardly sufficient ground to
it might appear that the True Conservative would be a
condemn them as “racist” …. ‘ [68]
‘What form … should this “i 11 iberal” system of
(‘natural’) supporter of devolution – of the claims
of the Welsh, Scottish and Irish peoples for their
punishment take? Are we to take our example from
own nations. For why should they, with their differthe cruel and emphatic law of Islam, and institute
ent traditions, be subject to the ‘English’ constituflogging and maiming as expressions of civic
tion? But no.

virtue? The answer cannot be determined abstract’A nation must necessarily have a centre and a
ly …. Now the natural conclusion from these
periphery, and unless the periphery is governed
reflections is not always drawn, for fear of the
with the same strength and resolution as the
barbarous and the primitive in men. But unfortuncentre, the nation falls apart.’ [67]
ately, the barbarous and the primitive are
So if you happen to be one of the marginal people of
there …. ‘ [84]
the periphery, hard luck. You must defer to the True
‘The true civil servant is a servant. He may see
Conservative’s instinct that devotion to English
himself, if the state allows, as a private
imperialism comes before truth to the consequences of
employee, with private and contractual rights.

his own professed principles.

He may exert against the state his “right” to
So in addition to the ultimate self-consuming constrike. He (along with a million others) may
tradiction that produces silence, the True Conservatengage in activities which, while legally
ive contradicts himself on human nature, on consent,
sanctioned, are tantamount to rebellion. But
on natural justice and on devolution. In showing
when that is so the state is so weak to the
this Scruton has obviously benefitted from the recent
point of non-existence. IVhat po 1icy can restore
French delight in discursive deconstructions: this
its power? One answer suggests itself. Reward
has enabled him to construct the ultimate in deextravagantly those servants who are essential;
constructive texts, a testament which finally expires
but make them servants. As for the others, let
in a torrent of self-destruction. Scruton shows how
them strike, and permanently.’ [111-12]
the True Conservative, realising that people don’t
These are not exactly funny, but
want fascism, and that they can provide
are clearly too ghastly to be taken
good reasons why they don’t need it,
has to blot out human reason in a
seriously. It is this difficulty
welter of lies, which are then called
with the tone of the humour that is
the main problem in this book.

(‘natural’) prejudice or instinct, when
For a joke it is certainly humourthey are nothing but historicallydistorting myths produced to support
less for long stretches, but then
the True Conservative’s own social
there are one or two excellent and
dominance, his power and his privilege,
explicit gags. Ther~ is the refermyths hardly deserving to be dignified
ence to ‘soi-disant conservatives’

by the title ‘ideology’.

[16] – presumably something to do
Scruton’s success in constructing
with the alienation that the True
and deconstructing the testament of the
Conservative is concerned about
True Conservative, and showing it up as
later in the book. There is the
the pernicious rubbish it is, is conuse of a case from Scottish law to
siderable. Some might think that the construction is
illustrate a claim about English self-consciousness
just too successful: it is almost as if Scruton
[64]. There is a description of the ‘degree’ speech
really believes it. But this is a risk that a true
from Troilus and Cressida as one of Shakespeare’s
satirist must take. And there certainly is a risk
‘deepest reflections on the relation between public
when we read the forceful expression of some of the
and private life’ [179] – as if Shakespeare’s own
True Conservative’s more vicious visions:

beliefs can be simply read off from the text, ignor’This decline in the very idea of sedition has
ing the role of the constructed ‘Ulysses’ in an
artistic artefact. And then there are the women been brought about not by popular agitation, but
or rather the lack of them. In spite of his constant
by the politics of power. The fact is, not that
emphasis on ‘the family’, the only three women in the
our society believes in freedom of speech and
life of the True Conservative are his Queen [38], his
assembly, but rather that it is afraid to announce
mother [144, 156] and his mistress [81], while his
its disbelief. This disbelief is so entrenched in
fantasy life is fully occupied by a vision of a
English law – in the common law as much as in
‘willing’ or even ‘importunate schoolgirl’ [77].

statutory provisions – that it is impossible to
doubt that it could be eradicated without wholly
So much for the True Conservative’s contact with
overthrowing the social order which the law
reality – or rather his lack of it. He stands naked,
enshrines …. Hodern parliaments therefore consurrounded only by myths, not only bankrupt but, in
stantly enact new and selective laws against
the word of Paul Jennings, ‘bunkrapt’. Yet even
freedom of speech and assembly, each of which may
though he may know the myths for the lies they are,
reflect some serious view as to where evil lies,
he is a dedicated worshipper of power, and knows how
but none of which is so bold as to recognise that
important it is for his own privileged position that
a society really does have enemies, that those
the rabble absorbs the myths and accepts the power.

enemies seek to undermine it, and that it is the
He is utterly barren, but appallingly barren, standduty of the government, as it is the expectation
in~ with gun in one hand and whip in the other, an
of the citizen, that they should be prevented by
image cloning itself throughout the torture-chambers
every means to hand.’ [18]
of five continents.

‘But while it is a long-standing principle of
British law that the formation of hatred (and
hence of racial hatred) is a serious criminal
offence, it is not clear that illiberal sentiments
have to be forms of hatred, nor that they should



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