Headline: The Tories must mobilise soon in the culture wars, or they may find themselves outflanked
Mr. Colvile’s opening paragraphs is a tale of victimhood, once in the reactionay imagination the province of ‘The Left’.
Last week the journalist Suzanne Moore wrote a lengthy, powerful essay about leaving The Guardian. She described how 338 of her colleagues complained about the paper’s “pattern of transphobic content” — a reference to a column in which she supported the idea that sex is innate and biological. She wrote of receiving “death and rape threats for me and my children”, after being judged by “an invisible committee on social media”.
The Moore saga is the latest episode in Britain’s culture war, which had already turned JK Rowling into an online pariah for expressing similar sentiments. Yet for something so central to our politics, the culture war is surprisingly ill-defined.
The evolution of Colvile’s argument reads as shopworn, as it has been endlessly repeated, the reader need only look to the eminence grise of Alan Bloom, and his ‘The Closing of The American Mind’ and its successors in the 1980’s and 1990’s. This in an American context, yet Bloom acolytes are the expression of his less than ardent cosmopolitanism, allied to his self-assigned status of Platonic Guardian. Which leads to a kind of political intoxication. Look to the rise of the moralizing charlatan Jorden Peterson and Andrew Sullivan as the legatees of Bloom’s Anti-Student polemic.
Much of the discussion of the culture war, especially on the left, starts with Brexit. Yet for Tories this conflict had a much longer gestation. What started as “political correctness” has mutated into an ideology that has captured not just the left but much of the ruling elite.
At the heart of this world of “safe spaces”, “cancel culture”, “no-platforming”, “cultural appropriation” and “critical race theory” is a world-view built on grievance, which argues not just that western societies were founded on slavery, imperialism and discrimination, but that they remain defined by them.
This American reader can’t shake his feeling of deja vu , of having read this before, authored by Ross Douthat, Rod Dreher or any number of New York Times scribblers, who act the role of generic apologists for the political present. I think what Colvile misses, in the above paragraphs, is what so many have found to be a politically potent target , which is Critical Theory itself, and it’s sorcerer , in the Conservative Imagination, Theodor W. Adorno. A book recommendation for Mr. Colvile:
Theodor W. Adorno: One Last Genius
Mr. Colvile presents the Tory position on the ‘Cultural Apostates‘:
Hostility to “woke” ideology — so called because its adherents believe only they have awoken to the dark truths of our society — has duly become one of the binding agents of the Tory coalition. Not least because it is viewed as an existential threat, with the left waging a long-term and alarmingly successful campaign to render Toryism illegitimate. There is particular vitriol aimed at perceived traitors such as Priti Patel and Sajid Javid, for combining brown skin with blue rosettes.
Mr. Colvile turns to the descriptive and then to the prescriptive. His political admixtures are rife with political malapropisms, bordering on caricature, or something like mendacity?
Many Tories feel that if the government leads the charge in the war on woke, it will take the majority with it — and force Labour to ally itself with the defunders of the police and topplers of statues.
There is also the problem of finding convincing messengers, given that the people most likely to fulminate online about critical race theory also tend to refer to masks as “muzzles” and tweet about “Adolf Johnson” plotting to end British liberty.
Mr. Colvile’s political propinquity with Johnson is demonstrated in the last two paragraphs of his essay:
This plan reflects the prime minister’s character. For Johnson there is no contradiction between backing gay marriage and backing Brexit. He is instinctively liberal, in the old-fashioned British sense: he believes everyone should be free to live as they wish, but that this should include not getting death and rape threats for saying things others disagree with.
Johnson’s government is fighting on many fronts, but this is arguably one of the most important for his party. For if the prime minister cannot articulate and defend a liberal vision of Britain, it will become that much harder to defend a Conservative one.