HIGH AND DRY, EAST AND WEST
G. M. Tamds explains
why Toryism is what Eastern Europe needs
The author is one of the leaders of the opposition movement in Hungary.
'THIS is a whorehouse, sir', said the red-haired police officer.
It was late in the evening. I was quite famished, and bored with sitting there with my bleeding and bruised friends after our demonstration in the centre of Budapest. 'What do you mean?' I asked wearily.
'You'll be the next Prime Minister, you see', he replied, 'and your Home Secretary will ask me why my lads beat you up. Do you think I'll be able to show him a written order? It's all done over the 'phone. Do you know, by any chance, who the hell I'm responsible to? Who is the state in this bleeding country?'
I'm afraid nobody you've met', I said. `Go home, sir, and leave me alone in this brothel. See you soon, damn you.'
Who is the state, indeed? It seems that the secret of political authority is that people think there is more to it than meets the eye. If really cornered, the body politic can put up for a while with that rare occurrence, 'naked power', but this is no servitude volontaire. People have reasons. to fulfil political obligation that are not political. Their reasons are usually moral and religious, and most of the time con- comitantly both. They actually coincide when they meet within what I shall call a canon.
The mistake of one brand of contempor- ary conservatism is that it holds that legitimacy of political authority resides in mere tradition. Its proponents forget that when we think of some corpus of wisdom bequeathed to us as a tradition we cannot but be aware of its being a tradition among others. Traditional people's view of their tradition is not that it is a historical accident but, on the contrary, that it is the Truth. To believe in tradition just because it happens to be our legacy is a very poor substitute for believing in it because it is inherently good and true. Tradition for tradition's sake is what makes continental conservatism so unconvincing and ulti- mately unsuccessful.
Tradition as canon is an altogether different matter. It is not only something that happens — luckily or not — to be our inheritance but something that (while it is inherited and cannot be circumvented) is binding because it appears to be true. Others may be prevented by space and time from being acquainted with it, so it can be distinctively characteristic of our culture, but this is not why we trust it. We cannot but trust it. Consider Christianity. Only unbelievers think that faith for the Christian is a mere emotional attitude shaped somewhat by a loose collection of elusive assertions. In reality Christian faith is a quest for truth. Methods and proofs are of course different from those encountered in science or philosophy. Neverthdess, there are scholarly procedures which ascer- tain the meaning of Revelation, and tell heresy and orthodoxy apart.
Likewise, for somebody raised in the European tradition, there is a canon which should tell him what is legitimate power, and since we are dealing with a canon, only certain opinions can qualify. When Hooker in his Lawes of Ecclesiastical! Politie en- quired by what right did Christian kings hold dominion, he answered, by 'such as though men give, God does ratify'. However different our formulations may be, our idea is similar, the fundamental criteria being consent and conformity with what Luther called the freedom of a Christian man. What is important here is that consent on its own is not enough. If people were to endorse a tyranny, we would not regard tyranny as legitimate for this reason and we would fight it, because we think tyranny is wrong. It is not ratified by God. Here is the difference between the avant-garde libertarian Left and libertarian neo-conservatism. The left-wing liberta- rian is a relativist who thinks that people — especially foreigners — have the 'right' to choose tyranny, while his opponent will think that liberty is a good in itself, and there is no unfreedom he can side with, whatever its origins and however strong its popular appeal. Freedom for such a Con- servative is dogma; for the leftist fiber- - tarian, it is only a method to attain .whatever people may possibly want, in- cluding servitude. As I read in Owen Chadwick's admirable Victorian Church, we 'must not lay (ourselves) open to the charge which Disraeli is said to have addressed to Arthur Stanley, who told him that the Athanasian Creed should be omit- ted from the Prayer Book — "Mr Dean, no dogma, no deans." 'For a Tory anarchist, freedom is not the handmaid of political passion, but its only lawful mistress.
Therefore, although all are essential for the survival of civilisation, only a certain manner of obedience and obligation, com- mand and authority, harmony and con- tinuity will do. The portion of freedom surrendered by the citizenry ought to be subject to genuine choice, each and every citizen ought to be directly represented, granted access to the judge — no one should stay between him and the state. Everything else is illegitimate, a latroci- nium, a rule of thieves in St Augustine's sense.
And here lies the historical task of contemporary conservatism — a response to the the emergence of the Parallel State. Modern political attitudes are easily de- fined in relation to this phenomenon, so central is it, but it curiously lacks defini- tion. The suffusion of Toryism with Old Whiggism in the 1970s is one of its con- sequences (and, by the way, the trans- formation of the meaning of the word 'Liberal' into its historical opposite). Pro- fessor von Hayek predicted in his famous Road to Serfdom that war economy and planning would make the victorious West- ern allies prisoners of the ideas of the Axis. What he feared was the increased power of the central executive. This is not exactly what has happened. Instead a growth of not always kindred institutions has sup- plemented the state as we knew it. These institutions have one thing in common: they have coercive power over social groups and sometimes over the whole body politic, but they do not enjoy the usual sort of legitimacy of the democratic state. Trade unions, quangos, Coal Boards, Arts Councils, Something-or-other Authorities, industrial confederations, autonomous state companies, minority interest groups and lobbies — rather like pre-modern guilds and corporations — have the author- ity to impose their intentions on the citizens, although they have not been tested by those two means through which the free will (or voluntary consent) of modern man can express itself: elections or the marketplace.
All these institutions are state-like be- cause they can coerce not only their own members or employees or constituents, but other people as well. But however dis- graceful the Willkiir (arbitrary discretion- ary power), these institutions did not con- stitute a menace until their beneficiaries and ideologues discovered their common interest, shaped a common ('adversary') culture and rhetoric sometimes mas- querading as Liberalism (fraudulently), sometimes as Socialism (inaccurately), kid- napping the flag of equality and compas- sion (piratically) and made us believe that they are the state. Well, in a way they are — the Parallel State.
People cannot understand how Mrs Thatcher's, Lord Joseph's and Professor Friedman's 'revolution' can be libertarian — reducing state interference — and au- thoritarian — reinforcing the authority of parliamentary government — at the same time. They are attacked from both sides, but equally misunderstood. Neo- Conservatives, New Old Whigs, or whatev- er they are labelled, try to fight the Parallel State and try to re-establish the authority of the legitimate constitutional state and the unencumbered freedom of the market — both based on choice, that is, free will and on the ensuing responsibility which attaches to choice. The apparent contradic- tion here is no contradiction at all. The legitimate state is getting rid of these near-state institutions it cannot control and Which control the citizen — the unelected parallel government.
Since the institutions of the parallel State, however coercive, do not have overall legitimacy, their members, benefi- ciaries and supporters see themselves as informal groups of citizens, corporate con- stituents in the body politic — and cla- mouring for collective, corporate 'rights'. Their main aim is, of course, to blur the boundaries of the state proper — legiti- mised by choice, consent and spiritual 'ratification' — and to infect it with the interventionist, paternalistic ethic and hyperactive style of the Parallel State. (This state of affairs is criticised by Messrs Bernard Levin and Auberon Waugh as the Nanny State. The Nanny State is the state proper emulating the Parallel State.) I think that the main political divide is to be found between friends (mostly, but not exclusively on the Left) and enemies (mostly, but not exclusively on the Right) of the Parallel State. All the same, today's Tories are not simply Old Whigs, although today's Old Whigs are in the conservative parties. Western Conservatism has a pecul- iar vision about law, legitimacy and history which has made it the Parallel State's natural enemy. The men who were 'high and dry' during the Oxford Movement, would probably be high and dry today. It is not shameful that conservatism is a reac- tion. It was born to eliminate what was felt to have been the anomaly of the French Revolution and it was reborn to annihilate the anomaly of socialism. Conservatism is more recent than either liberalism or socialism, however remote its antecedents. It was and it still is a backlash to passion, a sobering, cooling process, a desire for continuity. Professor Oakeshott writes in his celebrated essay. 'On Being A Con- servative':
The disposition to be conservative is . . . warm and positive in respect of enjoy- ment, and correspondingly cool and critical in respect of change and innovation . , . The man of conservative temperament believes that a known good is not lightly to be surrendered for an unknown better. He is not in love with what is dangerous and difficult; he is unadventurous; has no im- pulse to sail uncharted seas; for him is no magic in being lost, bewildered or shipwreck- ed.
What, then, is someone in sympathy with Western conservatism to do under a communist dictatorship in Eastern Europe? Can he be a defender of continui- ty? Obviously not. Since the Gorbachevite 'reforms' aim at nothing else than at setting up a Parallel State as irresponsible as the undivided tyranny had previously been, while leaving the weakened illegitimate central power intact in its character if not in its strength, those in the East who are conservatives in the Western sense, will have to favour revolutionary change, even if preferably of a non-violent nature. In short, Tories in Eastern Europe will have to be Whigs, that is, to be keener on liberties and free trade than on king and country. Their — conservative — values are stored in the West, kept in trust for us by you. Our own Right in this century (unlike its genteel predecessors, not ances- tors, the Hungarian Conservative party founded in 1846 by Count Dessewffy, a `It's terrifying! He stops in the middle and eats an egg sandwich!' friend of Sir Robert Peel) was the synonym of stupid brutality, statist fervour, collec- tivism, boorish chauvinism, contempt for law and a propensity for looting and killing. Conservative movements like the late Istvan Barankovics's Christian Demo- crats or the anti-fascist monarchists sport- ing the Patriarchal Cross were seen as liberals — because they were European and sincerely Christian. Autochthonous East European and Third World 'conser- vatism' propounds a Messianic national tyranny generating and imposing the faith on which it will have to be built. (Inciden- tally, if you want to understand Eastern Europe, don't read Sovietologists, but V. S. Naipaul and Nirad Chaudhuri.) But Western-style Whiggish neo-conservatism is now being created in Poland and Hun- gary. It has to be Whiggish because we have lost our canon, although — like everybody — we have our traditions, whatever they are worth. To be true to our European past which is or was our canon, we have to reject some of our own tradi- tions which contradict it. Our conservatism will never be as natural as the British (as a matter of fact, no other conservatism is). We have to be too selective for comfort. Still, if one wants to resist the mirage of an imaginary democratic socialism or of a romantic 'Third Way' or the Black Hun- dreds, the re-adaptation of High Toryism is the only possibility. But we will appear to be and will be to a certain extent, liberals. Because we will have to sail unchartered seas. No one has ever seen a post- communist society. We will be the first generation to see it (perhaps, like Moses, only from afar) and we will have to borrow legitimacy from the Western canon. This is but a learning process and has been seen before.
But for this we need the defeat of the Parallel State in the West. It can be defeated only if the Tories do not forget that they are the heirs of the Old Whigs as well. Legitimacy is tricky and it would be beneficial if the vestigical pre-modern un- accountable institutions (like the Church and the Crown) did not join the Parallel State, robbing modern democracy of its past. Their short-term interests may, alas, be quite similar.
The disintegration of the Bolshevik regimes has already created autonomous corporations and institutions, a sort of feudal anarchy. They are sometimes consi- dered as islets of freedom, while they are but the rudiments of a Parallel State which will restrict freedom as effectively as the crumbling communist apparatus. But we are facing both. Many will suggest that the cure to our ills is what has stifled the élan of the West for decades. But we do not want the proliferation of unaccountable inde- pendent institutions, but a servant state, dependent on our will, faithful to our canon of liberty. Perhaps Burkean Conser- vatism can do for Europe what it did for it in 1815: bury utopia and pause for thought.