September 10, 2004


How the Right has won in the US: the Republicans, unlike the Tories, believe in the future, not in the past (John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, The Spectator)

Why have the American Republicans been so much more successful at holding on to power than Britain’s Conservatives? The most basic reason is that they have ruthlessly sided with the future over the past: with growth over stagnation and the creative disruption of capitalism over the comforts of the status quo. Here the prime example is the Republicans’ ruling dynasty: the Bushes forsook the Preppie Toryism of the north-east, typified by Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut, for the more southern-fried sunbelt conservatism of Texas. The current President Bush loathed his time at Prescott’s alma mater, Yale University, swapped his family’s Episcopalianism for heart-on-your-sleeve Methodism and campaigned for governor in 1996 surrounded by country-and-western singers (Prescott had used Yale’s Whiffenpoof Quartet).

The Tories never made the transition; despite a spell of ‘bourgeois triumphalism’ under Margaret Thatcher, they are still identified with Olde England. The Republican party is now at its strongest in the areas of the country that are growing fastest — in the suburbs and exurbs that are marching across America’s wide open spaces and in the rapidly growing south. If George W. Bush simply repeats his performance in the 2000 election, he will win the election handily, because the states that he won have been adding population (and hence electoral votes) since 2000 whereas the Democratic states have been losing people. [...]

The problem for Britain’s Tories is that they are operating in a country that prides itself on both its cynicism and its scepticism. Right-wing parties flourish best when they can temper their support for business with morality; otherwise they merely look greedy. But the Tories have consistently failed to win the values debate. Remember Mrs Thatcher’s brief flirtation with Victorian values? Or John Major’s catastrophic Back to Basics campaign? The Tories’ problem is not just that any attempt to import American-style religious conservatism is bound to fail; it is that attempts to revive indigenous British cultural conservatism are easily caricatured as Colonel Blimpism. In Britain the Left long ago won the cultural wars.

But if British Tories would be on a hiding to nothing were they to try to import American cultural conservatism, they should at least try to import the Republican party’s enthusiasm for setting the agenda. The Republicans have not just contented themselves with exploiting their cultural advantages. They have outfought, outthought and out-organised their opponents.

Consider the battle for ideas. Back in the 1970s London was a ferment of conservative ideas, a co-founder of the Reagan-Thatcher revolution; now it is an also-ran. One building in Washington DC — which contains the American Enterprise Institute and the (Rupert Murdoch-funded) Weekly Standard — probably houses more conservative brainpower than all the British think-tanks put together.

Over the past half-century or so, American conservatism has laboriously constructed an intellectual counter-establishment to balance the liberal establishment that dominates the universities. This counter-establishment now stretches from sea to shining sea: from the mighty Hoover Institution in Stanford, California, to the Manhattan Institute in the liberal Big Apple to a veritable Panzer division of think-tanks in Washington, DC, including Heritage, Cato, the AEI and Hudson. According to one survey, more than $1 billion was pumped into right-wing think-tanks in the 1990s.

Imagine if Britain had an entire battalion of well-funded Roger Scrutons and you begin to get a sense of how different things are in America.

They seem to miss the point of the Republican revival. Had he been British, Ronald Reagan would have, rightly, embraced being called a Colonel Blimp just as, being American, he enjoyed being portrayed as a cowboy, though critics meant it to be derogatory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 10, 2004 11:33 PM


Point taken in your comment. Nonetheless, I think this the most perceptive excerpt you have posted from the European press (unless you have excerpted DeToqueville and I have forgotten).

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at September 10, 2004 11:49 PM

A surprising bit from the Spectator, a magazine I never read except for the ads for French summer rentals.

Reagan was never a 'Colonel Blimp,' a pompous ass musing about the glories of the 19th century version of the Evil Empire. Colonel Blimps dream of the past, Reagan's vision was of a future with America as 'the shining city on the hill.' They could not be more different.

Posted by: Bart at September 11, 2004 7:50 AM

Yeah, that shining city line was so fresh and new and modern.

Posted by: oj at September 11, 2004 8:10 AM

Evil Empire? We're talking about the folks who spent the 19th century defeating Napoleon, stamping out the slave trade, and building churches and schools and railroads across a quarter of the globe, right? Queen Victoria, Evil Empress? C'mon.

Posted by: Random Lawyer at September 11, 2004 9:15 AM

Napoleon was one of the great heroes of all time. If you go to Paris, you will see that his tomb is a major shrine. He ended the feudal structure and the patterns of discrimination. Wherever the Tricolor was raised, the ghettos were opened up, the disabilities were ended, for the most part never to return. He exported the Code Civil and the metric system to the rest of Europe, setting the stage for its economic expansion.

The Brits did stamp out the slave trade,but they were no slouches when it came to creative means of exploiting the colonies. Have you ever heard of the Opium War? Building churches doesn't impress people who don't go to churches, and was a classic imperialist manuever to destroy local culture, local traditions in order for the imperial power to impose its own order. The Brits mastered the art of divide and conquer running an empire on the cheap, unlike the French who actually did civilize people, and there isn't a spot on the globe where the foul hand of Britain did not stretch that is not a civil war-ridden manure pile today, with the exceptions of a few spots where the natives were virtually non-existent or were easily exterminated. Seen any Tasmanians lately?

Britain's great last gasp at Empire preservation, WWI, pushed America into a war which it had no business and which has fouled up our politics ever since. (Why do you think the North Central States have such a strong 'pacifist' tradition?)The Lusitania was a munitions ship and should have been sunk and the Zimmerman telegram was a forgery.

Posted by: Bart at September 11, 2004 9:43 AM


It was an old line but a new vision. It was a dream of something to occur in the future not the brain-dead preservation of a past that never was.

Posted by: Bart at September 11, 2004 10:15 AM

Bart -- I agree with you about WWI, though I blame Wilson more than Britain.

On the broader point, look at the list of business-friendly nations OJ posted the other day. There's a reason for the predominance of British colonies. The Empire had its problems, but which native culture wasn't better off being subjugated to British culture?

Posted by: David Cohen at September 11, 2004 10:22 AM

Foul hand?


Posted by: M Ali Choudhury at September 11, 2004 10:24 AM


There is the Anglosphere, made up of nations whose populations are mostly of European ancestry and where the Protestant middle-class ideals of hard work, entrepreneurialism, etc were permitted to take root. N.B. Holland is on the list.

Hong Kong is there but Cantonese are as entrepreneurial and as respectful of education as Jews are, if not more so. Its culture is the result of it being Cantonese, not from 150 years of English rule. Think for a second about what Cantonese do all over East Asia.

Botswana is an interesting case. Its post-independence leader, Sir Seretse Khama, is one of the unsung heroes of the last half-century. First , he managed to go through Oxbridge without drinking the Fabian Kool-Aid, in a manner similar to my favorite world leader, Harry Lee of Singapore, and singularly unlike the brain-damaged Nehru. He saw the failures of statist economic systems including the grotesquely corrupt fascists of Apartheid South Africa, and created a multi-racial(I think the Supreme Court Chief Justice is still a Jewish guy from Cape Town) free enterprise country. It has the fastest growth rates in Africa, and is probably the safest destination on the continent.

Taiwan, Thailand and South Korea didn't have British colonialism and seem to be doing OK. Certainly Japan is. The French centralized statist model isn't perfect by any means, but until the last decade, French colonies had managed to avoid the kind of religious and tribal warfare that plague English colonies. India/Pakistan, Biafra,and Sierra Leone would never happen in a French colony.

Posted by: Bart at September 11, 2004 10:40 AM

"French colonies had managed to avoid the kind of religious and tribal warfare that plague English colonies."


Posted by: Robert Duquette at September 11, 2004 10:50 AM


Old line, old vision, new world.

Posted by: oj at September 11, 2004 10:56 AM

Vietnam was a war against the French Empire not among Indochinese tribes. The later struggles between the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese were the result of PRC v. Soviet rivalry. The Montagnards were perceived as having betrayed the Vietnamese people by supporting the US. Nothing remotely approximating the tribal conflicts of British Africa which continue unabated to this day.

The British kept the various tribal groupings at odds with each other. The French took them and put their kids in the same schools with those textbooks about 'Our ancestors the Gauls...'

Posted by: Bart at September 11, 2004 10:59 AM


Those Asian nations were basically American colonies.

Posted by: oj at September 11, 2004 10:59 AM

The metric system? It's totalitarian.

Posted by: oj at September 11, 2004 11:01 AM

America is not Britain, unless something happened while I was out last night. If Thailand was anyone's colony in the 20th century, it was France's.

Posted by: Bart at September 11, 2004 11:01 AM

Until we took over for the French after Dien Ben Phu.

Posted by: oj at September 11, 2004 11:13 AM


Vietnam was a war of Anglo-American ideals vs. French ideals.

Posted by: oj at September 11, 2004 11:40 AM


Vietnam wasn't about anyone's ideals. It was about power blocs. The jokers we supported weren't any more interested in Anglo-American concepts of liberal democracy than was Ho.

The problem really began at Versailles, when Wilson rebuffed the young Ho Chi Minh when he petitioned for support for an end to French empire in Indochina. Had Wilson not been such an insufferable racist, maybe the whole war could have been avoided.

Ho got encouragement from the Soviet Union and became its loyal stooge till he died. He was no Communist at heart, he just wanted to be in charge in an independent Vietnam. Had things turned out differently he would have been content to be our stooge.

The people we supported were themselves little better than gangsters. In fact, Ky is supposedly the titular head of the Vietnamese Mafia in the US. They stole hundreds of millions of dollars from us and from Vietnam. American boys paid with their lives for Wilsonian hubris.

Posted by: Bart at September 11, 2004 12:07 PM

Too short-sighted. The problem began in the Garden--the choice between freedom or security. Its modern iteration though began in the respective American and French revolutions. Folks who wish to blame us for Ho are no different than those who think we deserved 9-11.

Posted by: oj at September 11, 2004 12:17 PM

If you want to call Communism the bastard child of the French Revolution, I'll agree with you so long as you agree to the proposition that Nazism is the bastard child of the Roman Catholic Church.

Posted by: Bart at September 11, 2004 12:28 PM

Nazism is just applied Darwinism. But that's what I mean by Jews being anti-Christian.

Posted by: oj at September 11, 2004 12:34 PM