There is a rather misplaced smugness amongst certain young conservatives about the notion that, as they age, their leftie, libertine colleagues will all slowly become more and more right-wing. Granted, there is something comforting about the idea of our placard-wielding, pronoun-stating, vegan-dieting fellows coming to see sense once they blow out the candles of their fortieth birthday cake. Unfortunately, this misguided confidence in the inevitability of bluer politics accompanying greyer hair is more a coping mechanism than an accurate prediction.
Funnily enough, people tend to become more conservative when they feel that they’ve got something to conserve, more likely to support sober and stabilizing politics when the status quo is working for them. What’s to conserve for the young people of today? Certainly, as tax burdens start to and pension age looms, a few might lend their votes to the Blue Team on the basis of economic self-interest, but those expecting a rightward shift on questions of community, nation, or tradition are deluding themselves.
Today’s 18-25 demographic have none of the rootedness that allows conservatism to flourish in older generations, nor any sort of rose-tinted past to wish to return to. Our cohort came of age against the background of the 2008 financial crisis, educated under a curriculum which actively peddled social liberalism as gospel, and in communities left bare by the internationalist bandit capitalism of the Thatcher-Blair project. Long gone were the days of the bobby-on-the-beat, police officers seen only when trouble had already happened, consigned to menacing squad cars. Drug culture and pornography will have been, at very least, an inescapable part of the background noise of their upbringings. These things are no longer novel curiosities on the fringes, but now represent the status quo for a great many.
Most will be unable to get themselves on the housing ladder, and will be dissuaded from starting a family due to worryingly pervasive guilt-tripping about the environmental implications of raising a child. Many will work in a world of zero hours contracts, and the so-called “gig economy”, with none of the security of a life-long career, while the enterprising types will find that their small businesses are soon snuffed out by corporate chains. Their wages will continue to stagnate, while cost of living climbs higher, pricing locals out of their homes.
The institutional pillars that once propagated conservatism have also waned, or capitulated entirely. The once impartial media now takes for granted elements of libertine dogma, while the courts read it into Parliamentary legislation whether or not it was intended to be there. The church is a sorry shadow of what it once was. The monarchy’s “modernization” efforts have seen them undergo a slow-boil Kardashianization, increasingly a source of gossip, rather than a stoic and storied vanguard of tradition. Not even the nation-state itself seems settled, the Union under threat and the symbols of our shared identity skewered as outdated or bigoted.
And what of high art, and architecture, the touchstones for conservatives in the model of the late, great Roger Scruton? Neither our modern glass-and-chrome monstrosities, nor our flat-pack easy-build homes are built to last, and nor do they embody any aesthetic ideal. Indeed, many are ugly on purpose. Meanwhile, our theatres, cinemas, art galleries, and airwaves are packed to the gills with propaganda moonlighting as art, daring to take up the same space as the great works of old. Little here to inspire a respect for what came before.
With all of this in mind, why would somebody be conservative? What is left to conserve? To what do young people feel rooted, or anchored? What steady course are we following that one might be reluctant to deviate from? We are caught in an age of change, as the policies of the last fifty years are coming to roost, and manifesting themselves in the form of a society which seems unsure of itself, constantly in flux, never settling and allowing people to live, and build, and prosper.
Without regaining control of institutions, and offering an innovative way out of the problems of our age, genuine conservatism as we now know it will be lost to the ages, leaving dinosaurs like me to fly the flag for an ideology long since abandoned. Conservatives need to be thinking, sooner rather than later, about revitalizing communities, creating a healthier work culture, encouraging the development of more liveable spaces, and supporting research into the causes of the male infertility crisis. We have to be mindful of concerns around home ownership, environmental stewardship, and the effects of the internet on the culture of nation states. We have been far too focused on the policies that conservatism tends to engender, taking for granted that the conditions for conservatism will always be there. They no longer are. This is now as much about building as maintaining.
While I’m ever a believer in the notion that top-level government is where the real change happens, we can, ourselves, be responsible for this rethinking at the personal level. In our support for small businesses, our spearheading of community initiatives, our active involvement with local politics, our fundraising efforts for struggling local pubs, and our weekly church attendance, we can keep the door (ever-so-slightly) open for a conservative revival. We few, we happy few, can resist the unsettling inertia of libertine politics, and hold fast for something better.