Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Aristocrats, not Liberalism Should Rule says Sir Perry
Peregrine Worsthorne has always rather intrigued me. An impeccably dressed camp voiced dandy who featured on chat shows in the sixties, I was amazed at his defence of the ministerial office given to the Duke of Devonshire, the Prime Minister's relation by marriage, as preferable to alternatives as, or so he claimed, the aristocracy's committment to serving the country was both pure and unrivalled [the duke later described his appointment as 'pure nepotism'] For an amused review of his recent defence of aristocracy see this. This half Belgian fan of the British upper classes and alleged conquest of George Melly(who has always denied the schoolboy seduction) today addresses the subject of 'liberalism' which he describes as 'the only ism backed by a world superpower'; I rather think Perry would find now the word associated by the ruling Republicans as synonymous with very UnAmerican ideas. The thrust of his piece is that in its 19th century incarnation liberalism used to express doubt about the state but now is endeavouring hugely to strenghten it.
If it had appeared in an undergraduate essay I would have underlined this section in red and added an exclamation mark. As most A level politics students know, there are at least three kinds of liberalism discernible in British political history: the 'basic values' liberalism of Locke amd Mill which encouraged the birth and then underpinned our democratic institutions and political culture; the classical 'Manchester' liberalism of Cobden and Bright which did indeed favour a minimal state at a distance from the economy; and the 'New' Liberalism of people like TH Green, Marshall, Hobhouse, Beveridge and Keynes which argued the state could help individuals become more genuinely free by redressing chronic inequality.
I note that his article is a version of something delivered to the Athenaeum Club, which reinforces the impression that this is a voice from a bygone age, mystically wistful for an age even more bygone. At least Sir Perry had the grace to admit that it is only The Guardian which seeks to give 'voters the necessary information on which to vote intelligently'. But it is warmly nostalgical and reassuring to note that there are still some old fashioned Tories still (just) breathing, who still believe in such arrant nonsense. As long as they continue the Labour Party retains a chance. Duke of Devonshire as your Shadow Chancellor Dave?
Links to this post: