The Prospect of Palaeoliberalism

Palaeoliberalism takes different forms in different countries, because alongside the free market it wants expression of the cultural roots of a nation-state. In essence then it is a combination of a very small State, a large Nation and economic liberalism or a 'propertarian' society'.

The problem with Hayekian (Friedrich August von Hayek) socal-economics (Monetarism with the assertion that liberty is preserved through the dispertion of property rights) is what cultural values will help bind society. This means society as it is, from now to what is proposed - although I have no wish to indulge in floccinaucinihilipilification (a word used by Jacob Rees-Mogg, see below).

Liberalism comes in many forms. Manchester Liberalism is what we call Economic Liberalism, and was championed by the likes of Enoch Powell, Keith Joseph and slowly introduced by Margaret Thatcher.

The question is how far this goes: an army and a police force, but there may also be private versions. Another issue is compulsion of one currency, or perhaps currencies could compete.

Social Liberalism was developed by the radicals of the Whigs and Liberal Party where the basic liberal dispersal of power argument is accepted, but where redistribution and a safety net is needed to stop power concentrating into the hands of the few and generate liberty's benefits as far and wide as possible. As the social side develops, a Welfare State as a net and ladder up is seen as necessary, along with free education and health. Thus social liberalism touches upon instruments of socialism.

Conservatism as a political movement was thus 'captured' by economic liberals from the 1970s on, whereas it had been predominantly a politic movement of national identity and apparent responsibility by elites. This was evident in the Conservative governments in the 1950s and into the 1960s, where the basic socialist agenda of 1945 and onwards was adopted as a national process. The breakdown of economic progress in the 1970s led to the change to economic liberalism.

In 2010 the Liberal Democrats became more 'Orange Book' in its leadership and thus towards economic liberalism, and thus was able (despite its previous left wing liberalism and appeal to the electorate) to run a coalition with a 'modernising' Conservative Party, framed by yet another crisis of capitalism in its critical finance industry.

However, the gamble of a referendum by the Conservative victors in 2015 and the vote to leave the EU (52%) has led to a return by the Conservative Party to a more interventionist direction, at least by talk and apparent intention if not by much policy. The model is said to be Joseph Chamberlain, the one-time Liberal Unionist who joined the Conservative Party. In local government he was interventionist for housing, infrastructure and basic welfare and related this to his nationalism and Empire Unionism. This is or would be even to the left of modernising New Labour. The Conservative Party tack to the left is alongside Labour's re-embracing of socialism.

However, palaeoliberals have always regarded the Conservative Party as left wing and insufficiently libertarian even at its most desirous of burning regulations and freeing markets. Plus, its modernism was abandoning cultural glues that would be important in any economic liberal setting - it prettifies the trees of the jungle.

In Britain, especially England, this approach would involve restoring the link between land and titular rights to decision making, which have been effectively dismantled over the decades (witness changes to the House of Lords). As the State shrank, the nation would restore through ancient and more recent property holdings - not just vast areas of land ownership, but also ownership over the likes of industrial plant, business premises and shopping centres.

In such land ownership is a history of values that stretches back into the past. It stretches back to the Restoration in 1660 and to 1215 and all that. In other words, for this country, palaeoliberalism is feudal.

One person advocating this is John Kersey, who also promotes private education and dispersed Apostolic Churches. People who philosophise or politicise this suggestion include Roger Vernon Scruton and Jacob Rees-Mogg. rees-Mogg is a possible leader of the Conservative Party, and he would presumably move towards a nationist (nationalist), libertarianism based on English values from past centuries - deliberately. Another home for palaeoliberals is the United Kingdom Independence Party, although at times it presents an appeal to working class nationalism. Palaeoliberalism is essentially middle and upper class in outlook. The working class would be disenfranchised beyond market power and the underclass would not have any market power. In any case, the idea is that power would be replaced by responsibility and obligation.

It is a fantasist political-economy because, in essence, it is anti-democratic. Democracy and elected representatives are blamed for the national crisis. Because people would lose power and have no obvious direct representation, trapped within responsibility/ obligation, determined by the powerful, they would have to resort to violence, and the State would find itself becoming larger in that respect.

As well as being fantasist, even moves in its direction are destructive. It matters not to the palaeoliberals  - indeed they may welcome it - that leaving the European Union could leave Britain with no option but to be a sweatshop of low wages off the continent, in order to compete. The idea of limiting cultural nationalism from its jingoism, or sharing sovereignty, of making economic and cultural interests cross-border, is rejected. In the United States, Trump and the alt-right leads to nothing but privilege, diminishment, social and racial conflict, and guns. The slow, careful, building of relationships is thrown out for nothing but the contract and charity. Here in Britain the charity equivalent is the tossed bones from the landed and propertied. We have now, instead of Keynesian redistribution and economic input, a wealth economy and a poverty economy, and a monetary policy that is ineffective when a fiscal-spending policy could make so much difference. Automation that needs a safety net would just go ahead and leave many destitute.

The answer against palaeoliberalism is to oppose it with the democratic will and the power of the State - the power of the State to check and modify the power of property and wealth. Wealth inequality leads to every other kind of inequality, as well as a low equilibrium economy. It takes State intervention to lower property prices, through mass housing, and it takes State intervention to secure agricultural security. And the most useful level for State intervention in the era of multinational business and the need to share is through institutions like the European Union, where nations remain sovereign but can take decisions together in formal councils and have a Parliament to give voice to the people.

Is there any likelihood of paleaoliberalism in Britain. Actually, yes. If a politician like Jacob Rees-Mogg, dubbed Member of Parliament for the Eighteenth Century, ever became Conservative leader and Prime Minister, then some aspects of it would come into play. He is both an economic liberal and a drawer down of English identity history into public values. People would be left to the economic jungle, while at the same time he would introduce traditionalisms into various aspects of common institutions, assuming we keep them. He once told the journalist Jon Snow that criticising political life in 2017 as a "shambles" was too extreme, because a shambles is a slaughterhouse. The Shambles in York, for example, is where meat was processed and sold. We'd be back to the ancient meaning of words and a culture only he and his likes can recall.

However, one should not think people would not vote for him. Just as people voted for the business and media tycoon Donald Trump, or to come out of the European Union, think these were desirable when the consequences are harmful, so a Downton Abbey effect may well kick in for voting behaviour. It is known that some people vote Conservative against their interests on the view that Conservatives (like David Cameron, because he went to Eton) are born to rule, and therefore capable of ruling and therefore should rule. Some will think that of Jacob Rees-Mogg and similar. The failure of the Conservatives to get a majority in the House of Commons in 2017 was not because it achieved a lower vote - it did not. It failed because the vote went binary and progress in attracing back UKIP votes was checked by Labour resurgence and Labour receiving many Liberal Democrat votes.

So although this is fantasy politics and government, it is not incredible.

A further question is what role for religion. In the past Emile Durkheim identified the role of religion in the conscious collective, the binding of values. In the United States Rober Bellah identified a generalised civic religion, the dispersion of the sacred ideology into civic values. On the basis of land-owning and national inherited civil forms, one would expect a role for Anglicanism in Anglian values.

But, again, who is going to roll back time? For such values to be effective, in the nations of Britain Troeltsch's concept of the Church would have to operate. Yet in England the role of the Church is minimal regarding the State beyond some ceremonies and increasingly marginal to values.

One fantasy approach to religion that would match this fantasy approach to power would be that of Radical Orthodoxy, the postmodern approach to Platonist pure religion and the pure Church. In other words, inside the postmodern bubble is premodern organising. The religionist John Kersey above is pretty much opposed to postmodernism, and yet this is a perspective that demands everything else fall into line with its own purist social theology.

Such a move would confirm English Anglo-Catholicism as the container for 'Merrie England' religion, at which point it is relevant that the whole palaeoliberalism project has no place for vibrant multi-cultural identity that exists now throughout the United Kingdom. Religion should not be used for nationalistic purposes: witness the the revivial of Russian Orthodoxy and its participation in Russia of centralised corruption and power.

The actual move to sectarianism across the Churches is indicative of Christianity's increasing distance from social values. The groups that relate to Troeltsch's Mysticism, that is liberal structures and Enlightenment values in religion, are themselves tiny and ineffectual. The religionist John Kersey above is himself a mover through the episcopi vagantes of very tiny establishments. His ex-colleague from The Liberal Rite set up the Open Free Church, a creedless non-Apostolic high Protestant group. Of Apostolic groups, So much is little beyond a paper trail of bishops and Church names and photographs of ordinations and titles. In any case it isn't clear (regarding Kersey in particular) whether the traditionalism to be transmitted is pre-Chalcedon, pre-Nicene, later Western Orthodoxy, esoteric forms or some mixture of all of these. You pays your money (literally, in economic liberalism) and takes your choice. Such is rarely understood, never mind small in effect. Of course the Church of England is a huge land and property owner, and so in a propertarian nation it presumably would acquire influence and be part of a responsibility-obligation set of institutions. Perhaps people would be required to contribute tithes again.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful