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Recipe for Conservatives

ISSUE:  Summer 1937

The world is full, at the moment, of all sorts of odd things and of all sorts of extraordinary achievements. Even in that generally backward and anachronistic field of human activity, politics, we have enough novelties and enough political miracles to make us all as happy as kings (if the palpable absurdity of the term of comparison can be pardoned). In the United States, a series of political disasters have first defeated and then threatened to annihilate one of the oldest and, until recently, one of the most respected and powerful political groupings in the world, the Republican party. We have seen a King of England, a descendant of the House of Hanover, deposed because he wanted to marry the woman he loved—a double novelty which would be normally enough to keep attention for a generation. We have seen a village schoolmaster and a house painter exalted by their countrymen to a height unequalled since the days of Louis XIV. Indeed, if the great king could say like Messrs. Hitler and Mussolini that he was the state, he could not on the one hand persuade the French (as Herr Hitler has persuaded the Germans) to stop greeting each other in the name of God or of the weather in order to call on his sacred name, or, like the Duce, get accepted the doctrine that he was always right. The old kings by divine right had the right to govern wrong, but they did not expect and did not receive the further flattery of the attribution of impeccability. And we have seen a great revolution not only eat its children in the traditional fashion, but show them to the world begging to be eaten and asserting that such a fate was far too good for them. Dan-ton and Robespierre before the Revolutionary Tribunal or the Convention are ages away from the old Bolsheviks lamenting their sins; showing God at work in the straw-pen, under another name indeed, but with the old Methodist trade-marks sticking out all the same.

But more astonishing and revelatory of far more political talent is an apparently less dramatic achievement which can be briefly summed up in a sentence. Great Britain has been ruled for all but three years since the end of the war by a conservative party. In a world whose novelty is daily brought home to the slowest-minded inhabitant of the right little tight little island by warnings that doom will come on him from the skies, or by still more alarming reassurances that the doom will not be quite so bad as he fears, the British people has turned and remained turned towards a party that not only is conservative but dares to call itself Conservative. In an age in which the main sales-point of most political panaceas is modernity, dynamism, revolutionary fervour, one great power is content to be ruled by professional politicians who are not merely neither modern, dynamic, nor revolutionary, but who do not pretend to be anything of the kind. Fascism and Nazism (and the Trotskyites will tell you Stalinism) may be only revolutionary trade-marks painted on reactionary machines to deceive the workers, but the deception is necessary; to giving it verisimilitude the manipulators of these highly successful con games devote an inordinate amount of their time. The equally successful Conservative leaders in England frankly threaten or promise to change as little as possible and, far from being or employing first-class barkers, openly boast of keeping their lips sealed. If by any chance a positive truth or even assertion of any kind escapes the barrier of their teeth, it is presented to the public as a novelty and almost explained away.

At a moment when American political conservatism has suffered a disastrous defeat, a defeat from which its recovery though inevitable is not likely to be easy or complete, the success of British conservatism, in a task of at least equal difficulty, deserves some attention, and that attention should come from more Americans than those defeated last November. For in a modern democratic state, the character of the conservative political organization is a matter of acute concern to their liberal or even socialist rivals. If you doubt this, ask any German or Italian political exile. It is desirable for those who do not wish America to go fascist to consider how American conservatives can be preserved from the temptation to throw themselves into the arms of a Hitler, a Mussolini, or a Franco. It is equally to the advantage of the persons, sections, and interests that supported Mr. Lan-don that the temptation to try stronger remedies for what they may sincerely think a disease should be resisted, that the Baldwin remedy should be tried rather than the Hitler or Mussolini remedy. The Baldwin remedy is comparatively cheap and safe; if not so effervescent as the fascist remedies, it is far less likely to produce either a hangover or to be taken in a fatal dose. A conservative party, or the sections in any country which hope to create or to rejuvenate a conservative party, will do well, then, to look at England and admire and, as far as they can, imitate the masterpiece of contemporary politics, the English Conservative party.

It must be admitted, of course, that the possibilities of direct imitation are limited. The temper of the English people; its reverence for its betters; its deep snobbery; its dislike of awkward truth (some would say of mere truth of any kind); its dislike of irony; its concomitant excessive kindliness to politicians and other dumb animals: these are assets of a conservative party that cannot be acquired by mere wishing. And rare as these assets are in most countries, in none are they rarer than in the United States. The American people is not reverent; it is not conditioned to react with distaste to truth, pleasant and unpleasant; its sense of humour is far less kindly than that of the English; it asks more of a politician than good intentions and a kind heart. The reader of Punch, the spectator at the average British film “comedy,” will easily appreciate what I mean. A country in which these phenomena are welcomed and admired, not as interesting social survivals, but as intrinsically funny and entertaining, is a country whose politicians can count on an acceptance of very stodgy speech and very tortoise-like action.

Nevertheless, all the conservative assets are not in Britain. For one thing, the British politician, no matter how dormouse-like his temper, has to deal quickly with emergencies forced on him by foreigners whose existence may be deplored but cannot be ignored. That Frenchmen and Germans should exist (except as backgrounds to Aix-les-Bains or Aachen) may be regrettable. But it is a fact which has to be accepted by the rulers of a people which has come to realize that, by a most unsporting disregard of the laws of nature, French guns can now command the Channel which foiled Napoleon and German aircraft may soon make uninhabitable that great city which, a century ago, Marshal Blucher noted was ripe for plunder but which then was safe from it. A wise conservative government will always prefer the appearance to the reality of action, but an English conservative government has action forced on it by the fact that Britain is unfortunately a part of Europe.

Another disadvantage that limits the freedom of manoeuvre of the British Conservative leaders is the dangerous economic situation of Britain: a small though fairly fertile archipelago off the northwest coast of Europe with only two major natural assets, a well-placed coal supply and an excellent natural harbour system. But coal is a less and less important natural asset; and the advantages of the geographical position of the island that projected it into the front rank in the sixteenth century, make it hard to keep it in that position in a world where the Pacific has tended to replace the Atlantic as a centre of power and of power politics and where the Panama and Suez Canals have distorted the “natural” geography of the world. The British government must, that is to say, make adjustments that are in fact retreats. These retreats need not be disastrous and may not be prolonged indefinitely. The complacent American opinion that Britain is “done” seems to me as shallow as the corresponding conviction held so widely after the war that France was “done.” Both countries have survived a good many storms and remained afloat after dreadful batterings. Nevertheless, the situation necessitates skill, prudence, and foresight; and all of these virtues have to be exercised at a time when their practical fruits may look very like disgraceful exhibitions of fear highly offensive to the pride of a nation whose religion is patriotism and for whom (in all serious matters) “English” is the upper limit in praise and “un-English” in itself a damning adjective. And when it is remembered that all conservative parties, in some degree, depend on national pride for their sustenance, the skill with which the English Conservatives have persuaded both themselves and the majority of the nation that such humiliating defeats as the surrender to Mussolini are of little or no importance, is little short of miraculous.

American conservatives will not have to perform such miracles. All of the recent developments that have weakened the British position have, relatively at least, strengthened the American position. The Panama Canal is an American asset as it is a British liability. The drift of the world away from international trade may be bad for everybody, but the system of closed economies to which we seem to be moving is at least practicable for the United States. For Britain it is possible only at the cost of sacrifices which would put the country back into the position it held before the discovery of America. The assets of the British Conservatives are mainly psychological; they result from a long historical process and from an understanding of the spiritual results of that process by the rulers of England. The assets of the American conservatives are real; they cannot be dissipated save by determined folly. To them the conservative who knows his business may add psychological assets. Natural and historical development have given good cards to the defenders of the old order in America, if those defenders can learn a few new rules and realize that even the best cards need playing—if, in fact, they can take stock objectively of their position. If—but there’s the rub. Yet the English example suggests that such lessons can be learned, for there are few follies of which American conservatives have been guilty in recent years which cannot be paralleled in comparatively modern English history.


It should be remembered that the easy dominance of the English political scene by the Conservatives is a post-war phenomenon; that before the war the party which defended the old order had made almost every error that any party could make and in addition had made mistakes of a kind that no conservative party should ever make. In 1906 the Conservative party, under the lead of that extremely intelligent and unwise man, Arthur Balfour, went down in what was, up to that time, the greatest electoral defeat in English history. Yet that defeat, staggering in its completeness even to the victors, taught the leaders of the party little. They were convinced that they were the natural leaders of the country and that such an electoral catastrophe could be disregarded. In short, they reasoned about 1906 as the average Republican reasoned about 1932. The Liberal majority was to have its programme hamstrung. Where that was impossible or too dangerous, as in the case of granting self-government to the conquered Boer republics of South Africa, lamentations and dire prophecies were thought to be in order, though the election of 1906 was as decidedly a repudiation of the naive imperialism of the Boer War as that of 1932 was of the complacency of the Coolidge-Hoover era. Where it seemed prudent, the permanent Tory ally, the House of Lords, was called on to hamstring the Liberal policy. It was calculated that the spectacle of the immense Liberal majority failing to do anything would irritate the electorate; it was not foreseen that the irritation might cut both ways. Nevertheless, this policy of attrition might have succeeded—but for Mr. Lloyd George. He, by his financial legislation of 1909, which produced at least as much violent resentment as any New Deal project, induced the Conservative party to get the House of Lords to reject the Budget. The constitutional problem, “Had the Peers any right to reject the Budget?” was comparatively unimportant. What was important was the forcing of the Conservatives to open a great constitutional question in order (or so it appeared) to save the class they represented from taxation. There may have been good reasons for the rejection of the Budget; Mr. Lloyd George’s calculations and promises may have been dishonest; but what the nation noticed was the use of a reserved and important political right or claim openly to defend class interests. Mr. Lloyd George doubtless foresaw this, and the Conservative party was defeated and again defeated—and its constitutional barrier, the unlimited veto of the House of Lords, taken away.

The Conservative attack failed, and the Conservatives, instead of taking stock of their position, plunged further and further into the swamp until on the eve of the Great War, the party of authority and law was encouraging rebellion and what looked to the man in the street like mutiny. If army officers were not to be coerced into shooting political dissentients whom they liked, how soon, the syndicalists asked, would it be before that right would be extended to enlisted men? It ought not to have been necessary to point out to a conservative party the necessity of being conservative: above all, conservative of the old and convenient habit of political obedience. But an eminent politician, Mr. Walter Long, proudly declared that he “was never standing by while a revolution was going on,” a declaration which provoked from a poet (poets being practical people) the reminder that revolutions were no joke for those with much to lose, for said Mr. Chesterton to Mr. Long:

If over private fields and wastes as wide As a Greek city for which heroes died, I owned the houses and the men inside— If all this hung on one thin thread of habit I would not revolutionize a rabbit.

Yet Walter Longs were and are not uncommon in America. The possessing classes, who have so much to lose once the idea spreads that order and respect for political authority is an open question, have, in many of their members, been dangerously vehement and rebellious. Mr. Bishop (who, as is probably already forgotten, announced his intention of quitting his native land for Canada should Mr. Roosevelt be re-elected and, as an earnest of good faith, offered his quail shooting at a sacrifice price) was only an exceptionally stupid sample of a common enough type. He proposed to be an open emigre, but there were thousands of silent emigres. While it is natural that disgruntled citizens should feel that their country no longer merits their patronage, it is a mistake for a conservative party to give the impression that any part of its programme is designed to meet the wants of sections or persons who may quit if the game goes against them. The Americans, like the English, are a very patriotic people and they can easily distinguish between criticism of the President of the United States based on an objection to his policy and criticism that seems to imply that a country that can have and re-elect such a chief magistrate is unworthy of the loyalty and obedience of wise men. It may be true, but no conservative party can afford to say it. And the English Conservatives have learned that lesson. They do not pretend that if they are defeated England will cease to be England, for that would be to doubt the good sense of the English people “who can always be trusted to do the right thing” even if they have momentary aberrations. American conservatives would do well to imitate this and not sell America short.

The right and the wrong way to stir the patriotic spirit of the people is illustrated by the different handling of the Bolshevik menace in the two countries. There are plenty of persons in England who are just as frightened of Moscow as is Mr. Hearst or any Daughter of the American Revolution. The space below the national bed is always full of people taking refuge from Bolshevism or, if of stouter heart, calling in a firm voice on the ruffian to come out and surrender. But this exercise is seldom indulged in by leading politicians. From time to time the Red Menace is used, as in 1924, and at the time when the British engineers were on trial. There are moments when the British public is afraid of Bolshevism; there are times when it is afraid of Germany; there are times when it is not afraid at all. The prudent British politician remembers this. Whatever the morbid individual may do, he does not try to panic the audience with the wrong alarm cry. The British Paul Revere is always ready to jump into the saddle, but his chiefs know better that send him off shouting “the British are coming” after Yorktown. But prominent Americans tend to forget this. Was there anything done by Mr. Roosevelt that was not denounced as Bolshevism? Was there any change that was not denounced as un-American? One obvious result of these blanket denunciations was to fill the American people with gratified surprise when they woke up in the morning with their wives unnationalized and their goods more or less intact. The American conservatives may spend the next four years regretting not that they called “Wolf! Wolf!” when there was no wolf, but that, having been so busy describing a roving domestic cat as a raging Royal Bengal Tiger, they are now debarred from the humbler but still useful task of pointing out that nice pussy doesn’t seem to be completely house-broken.

Another lesson re-learned by the English Conservatives, in their painful process of self-education, was one that had been taught them by their greatest leader, Sir Robert Peel, in the early nineteenth century. He realized and in the famous Tamworth Manifesto of 1834 announced the truth that a conservative party cannot be a reactionary party. This at first sight seems paradoxical, but is really platitudinous. For a conservative party exists to make the best of the status quo, to change it as little as possible. A reactionary party exists to undo the status quo—and that is a radical and may be a revolutionary measure. The French conservative groups are really reactionary and revolutionary, as the French people realize. That accounts for the steady refusal of the French people to trust its so-called conservatives, who have more brains and less sense than any political group in the civilized world. Sir Robert Peel preached to his party, sore over its defeat in the fight against parliamentary reform and despairing over its future in the new political world, the necessity of taking the situation as it was and making the best of it. That best turned out to be, from the party point of view, quite tolerable, but Peel’s conservative doctrine infuriated the party zealots. But it was the true doctrine; and all successful English conservative leaders have acted on the principle that legislation which was opposed up to the last moment and last ditch, would yet have to be accepted and worked once it became law. And it is not only definite statutes, but attitudes to state policies, that have to be accepted and developed. Before the war, the Conservative party fought Mr. Lloyd George’s national insurance schemes vehemently though not very skillfully. But once they had passed into law, they were facts to be dealt with, not mere projects to be opposed. It was with horror, then, that Sir Austen Chamberlain heard the new leader of the Opposition, Mr. Bonar Law, falling into a Liberal trap in the House of Commons and when asked what he would do about the system when he was in office reply, “I’ll abolish it.” Sir Austen knew politics and England too well to say anything so rash . . ., but then Sir Austen was an Englishman and Mr. Law a Scotch-Canadian and, like his fellow-countryman Lord Beaverbrook, never quite at home in England. It is not necessary again to do more than remind Americans that English conservatives have accepted the system they had denounced.

It was that very wise hereditary Whig, with the English political attitude in his blood, Sir George Trevelyan, who said that the fable of the Sibylline books showed that the Romans were a constitutional people. All sound English conservatives would agree; the acceptance of the fait accompli and its implications is the first duty of the statesman. He must have the sense of what is possible that Ca-vour ranked as the highest gift of the statesman. And what is possible is conditioned by what has happened. No amount of wishing can undo the work (or if you like the damage) done by Mr. Roosevelt. The British Conservatives who overthrew Mr. Lloyd George in 1922, largely because he had “surrendered to Irish rebels” in 1921, accepted the mess he had made. They did not try to abolish the Irish Free State; they even tried to adjust themselves to it. An American conservative party will have to accept the fact that many things that were “unthinkable” in 1932 are commonplace today. This may be very sad but it is a truth that politicians must accept. There is no sadder thing than thinking of past happiness in present misery, said Dante— and had he been as good a politician as he was a poet he might have added, nor is there anything in politics more profitless. It was a very wise Virginian who advised his fellow-citizens in 1865 to accept the present and to look to the future, and American conservatives might well take the advice of General Lee. Back to Coolidge in this year is as foolish a programme as back to Franklin Pierce in 1865.


It would be not at all unreasonable if a reader interrupted at this moment to ask: “When and why did the English conservatives reform?” It might be answered that their conduct before the war was an aberration from their usual wisdom, that under a part Scot (Balfour), a part Frenchman (Lansdowne), and a part German (Mikier), skillfully provoked by a Welshman, they saw red and disregarded such sagacious English leaders as Michael Hicks-Beach. But however that may be, the war was a lesson. It produced millions of men disabused as to the wisdom of their leaders and masters, It made such controversies as that over Welsh disestablishment seem fantastically remote; the Russian Revolution was a menace to the old order far more formidable than any represented by that converted demagogue, Mr. Lloyd George, in his fiery prime. The lesson that the preservation of the status quo was going to be very difficult was early learned and few risks have been taken since. The party zealots, for instance, every year demand the restoration of the House of Lords to its old powers, but the party leaders know that a sacred and anomalous institution such as a non-democratic body exercising an effective veto on legislation may like a bold peasantry be a country’s pride, but once destroyed can never be supplied. Such eminently conservative measures as relieving the rich from the taxation imposed in the interests (real or imaginary) of the poor have been carried out slowly, tactfully, silently —and to a very limited degree. The bonds of empire, once the chief rallying cry of the party, have been relaxed again and again. All this has produced violent protests from consistent party men, but the English Conservative party knows that it cannot afford the luxury of consistent party men. Most of the principles and many of the prejudices of the pre-war Conservative party have been ruthlessly sacrificed by a series of Conservative governments—and that is why they have been Conservative governments and not more or less bitter and impotent oppositions.

What the war was to English, the depression was to American, conservatism. Certain attitudes possible before 1929 are politically impossible today. Certain emotional assets of the conservatives in both American national parties are either dead or terribly weakened. When I read in the autobiography (in the current Congressional Directory) of a senator who may well be the Republican candidate in 1940 that he was “chairman of the Michigan commission that put Zachariah Chandler’s statue in the Washington capitol,” I cannot help reflecting how unlike Mr. Baldwin Senator Vandenberg’s career has been, for to the leader of the English conservatives, the contemporaries of Zachariah Chandler are almost as irrelevant as King Arthur. Senator Vandenberg may now realize this, but if he does not the American conservative should look elsewhere for a leader. Senator Chandler is as dead as Senator Douglas, and in that famous canned debate between the voice of President Roosevelt and the voice of Senator Vandenberg, both speakers were, in a sense, fakes. The voice of the President came from a victrola; the words of Senator Vandenberg came from the grave, the grave that holds the remains of the Little Giant who fought so well and so vainly against the tides of history.

For the American conservatives, like the conservatives of all countries, must adjust themselves to the truth that in all modern states the taxing power will be used to redistribute wealth. The question is only one of degree. They must realize, too, that the naive view that the employer has a right “to do as he likes with his own,” however natural, defensible, and constitutional, is a view that can be only academically interesting in the future. And any business man who thinks that fascism is a way out from this necessity of tolerating some degree of outside interference in the terms of the labor contract, had better talk to a German or Italian brother. A conservative party must realize this and propose to limit, within the possible minimimi, such interferences with “sound economics and natural rights.” It must realize that, in the not very long run, mere constitutional and legal guarantees are not going to be much more helpful than was the veto power of the House of Lords. When a nation has made up its mind to go places and do things, its reaction when confronted with a “No Thoroughfare” notice is not to turn back, but to remove the notice. And when that is done conservative sections of the population may regret that they put their trust in lawyers, for the law is a game whose rules may be altered, and when that is done the game may be over. Then the education of the public in the rights and wrongs of legislation, prudentially not absolutely speaking, may turn out to have been too long delayed. If all that you have had to say in opposing dangerous legislation has been, “But that’s unconstitutional,” what are you going to say when it has been made constitutional? You may begin, “In addition . . .” but who will guarantee you an audience?

In the controversy over the judiciary bill, there is a danger that this truth may be forgotten. The passing of the bill will not, in fact, mean the end of all things if the American conservatives play their game wisely. After all, they can be ruined, exploited, robbed (to use terms with which they are familiar) by a powerful administration despite alT that Justice McReynolds may say or do. And should the bill fail, they are not out of the wood, for the President may then throw the blame for any untoward event on the “obscurantists,” “reactionaries,” “royalists” who denied him the necessary powers to promote the general welfare. A conservative party merely resting on its successful defense of the sacred nine may be a nuisance. It may impede the growth of a more realistic party that knows how frail are mere parchment barriers.

For it should always be remembered that in no country are lawyers really liked: they are necessary; they are occasionally dignified by their association with some great cause, but however sacred the abstract idea of law may be, it is not often identifiable with the concrete instance of lawyers. A defeat of Mr. Roosevelt’s bill would restore conservative morale for a time, but it might and there are signs that it would induce a false sense of security. Mr. Capone, it may be remembered, was equally confident in his impregnable legal position, but the American people got him all the same. A victory in the court issue will be useful to the American conservative only if he uses it as a breathing space in which to prepare more permanent defences of his position, and chief of these is a more attractive public manner.

Since it is certain that politics will increasingly be involved in general questions of the distribution and responsibilities of wealth, the hitherto ruling classes will have to acquire some of that decent regard for the opinions of mankind in which they have been a little lacking. It will not be possible to imitate the English system of keeping scandals down to a minimum by insisting on a high standard of honour in public and business life and, when that is not reached, pretending that it has been. It will probably be more often necessary than it is in England to make an example of the offending member of the possessing class who has let the class down by his conduct. For the English conservatives, adept as they are in getting skeletons into cupboards, never forget that if the skeleton gets out all the same, it must be drastically dealt with. It is only necessary to remind the reader that in one year a cabinet minister and a king learned the inexorable character of this rule. Hypocrisy? Of course, but surely hypocrisy is one of the most necessary political virtues? Nor is it only politicians who must be taught to play the game; not only the Secretary Falls who must be ruthlessly sacrificed the moment they commit the sin of being caught. Businessmen must learn the lesson taught by the sacrifice of Lord Kylsant, of Clarence Hatry, of others, that the way to preserve the interests and prestige of their class is not to rally round the fatally compromised person or institution but to cut off the offending member. When John D. Rockefeller, Jr., campaigned to get Colonel Stewart out of the Standard Oil of Indiana when the smell of Teapot Dome was too rank, his motives may have been simple, but he showed a far greater sense of the necessities of business dominance than the hard-boiled and short-sighted persons who laughed at him. It is too often forgotten that the phrase “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion” was first used by a very capable Roman politician giving a good political reason for divorcing his wife. American conservative interests, in politics and in business, have been far too tolerant of erring spouses whose guilt, if not certain, was at any rate an open question. Once a question of that type has become open the party and the class must behave like the most rigid moralist or like a Pharisee. Either method will serve, but the second is easier and it is that practised by the English Conservative party and by any other conservative party that knows its business.

One last necessity of conservative politics in a modern state, that is, in a state like England since 1906 and America since 1929, where the conservative party must at least appear to be making substantial concessions to the demand for economic equality, is that the party should take long views, that it should not sacrifice the chance to make game to the chance to make tricks. An American conservative party in opposition here has to face a serious difficulty. In England, a Leader of the- Opposition is a real force in politics. In America the importance of the opposition candidate normally vanishes as soon as he is defeated. Consequently, the candidate goes all out to win, even if his chances are slight and if the means he adopts are likely to make success unlikely four years later. Four years later he won’t be the candidate and anyone bitten with the presidential bee knows enough to murmur, “Sic vos non vobis.” He will not lay up honey for another to eat. An English opposition leader can wait a long time (ten years, as did Camp-bell-Bannerman), make many enemies and offend many temporary passions, since he knows that, if what he stands for is sound, it will have its chance—and he will have his. It would have been asking too much of human nature to have asked Mr. Landon in 1936 to make the running for Mr. X in 1940, but such a policy would have been the wisest for the Republican party and for American conservatives in general in such a year as the last. In recent American history I can think of only one occasion in which the long view prevailed. Those Republicans who insisted in running Taft in 1912, rather than turn the party over to Theodore Roosevelt, showed foresight. In 1920 they had their reward, and though the election of Warren Harding was not in the general sense of the term a credit to the United States, it was a credit to the Republican Old Guard. Thanks to their prudence in 1912, they were able in 1920 to have their way.

It need hardly be argued that there is plenty of raw material for a conservative party of the kind I have described in America, though whether that party will be the Republican party is too long and difficult a question to answer in a line or two. But the success of a conservative party seems to me to depend on its acceptance of an unalterable though possibly deplorable change in American life. No “back to” anything movement will get anywhere. The party rulers will have to discipline themselves and their business allies in language and conduct. The story of the truck driver who was famous for his violent profanity and who was reduced, when sportive boys took off the tail board of his truck and scattered all its contents, to muttering a feeble “That beats me” has its moral for, shall we say, the Chicago Tribune? Old emotional assets like the saving of the Union (or the undoing of Reconstruction) are rapidly vanishing in an America in which more and more persons remember that Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, not to speak of Zachariah Chandler, are dead. No mere reliance on legal formula? or sacred texts from the political scriptures, from Jefferson or John Marshall, will do more than delay the inevitable changes, and they may well make them greater and more bitter. All these truths have been realized by the English Conservatives, and aided by luck (and an incompetent opposition) they have ruled their country (wisely or not is another matter) in a world given over to revolutions of one kind or another.

The greatest doctrinaire of English conservatism, at the end of his life, wondered whether a failure to understand the spirit of his age had not made all his efforts fruitless. For leaders of men who made that error he had condemnation. “They who persist in opposing this mighty current in human affairs, will appear rather to resist the decrees of Providence, than the designs of men. They will not be resolute and firm, but perverse and obstinate.” American conservatives who cling desperately to memories of a golden past, which asked little of them but enjoyment of the pleasant places in which their lines were fallen, will fully deserve the condemnation of Burke. They will be antiquated defenders of a lost cause that it will take some generations to gild with romance. For the cause of economic enterprise in private hands, once lost, is lost forever. If it is to be saved at all it will have to be saved in our time.


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