A hundred years ago it would have seemed an absurd political division. The Church of England was the Conservative Party at prayer. In recent times there are constant clashes between the Bishops and leading Conservatives. Currently the news is not only focused on the letter from the Anglican Bishops to the Government on welfare policy, but criticism from that even more conservative institution, the Roman Catholic Church, in the form of comments in a newspaper interview by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster. Why has Conservatism, the guardian of our institutions, fallen out so badly so often with our culturally most important institution over the last millennium, the Church?
This is not an irrelevant matter. Anyone who believes in a Burkean form of Conservatism or gives some credence to the idea of the Big Society, must surely recognise the Church as part of our social fabric, independent of the bureaucratic state. The criticism of Government policy on welfare has not so much come from an ideological standpoint, based upon obscure theological doctrine, as from an empirical reaction to the facts on the ground, in the parishes.
Anglicanism is often dismissed by those on the Liberal Right as a sort of soft-Socialism led by pink Bishops. When the blogger worked at Church House however he discovered a far more sincere conservatism on issues like Lords reform and same-sex marriage than that put forward by some ostensibly Right wing politicians.
It is the contention of this blog that since Durkheim, the Left has annexed the concept of organic society from the Right and twisted it to forward its own ends. The Right has meekly accepted this annexation and has been left on the paltry soil of the reductionist doctrine of liberal individualism. And yet it is very difficult to articulate a conservative position from a liberal individualist perspective. So we end up in the absurd position of a Conservative Prime Minister leading an attack on marriage to further a concept of individualism and freedom of choice through same-sex marriage legislation.
Of course the idea of a conservative and organic society that emphasises the importance of the church, the monarchy and the family can be traced back to the French conservative thinker Louis Gabriele Ambroise, Vicomte de Bonald. For de Bonald liberal individualism was the error behind the French Revolution. Our social institutions are of divine origin and precede the individual. It was his outlook that Durkheim relied on for his own Left wing agenda. Surely the Right needs to start emphasising again the importance of institutions and abandon some of its socially Darwinist attitudes. In that way, we can answer the Left’s accusations of heartlessness towards the poor in a way that gives a greater role to the institution and not the bureaucratic approach of targets and means testing. When our spiritual leaders are speaking out against our morally-driven policies then there needs to be reflection. Surely respect for the wisdom of an institution should come naturally to the Right.