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The Tory Soul

In a recent discussion, a chum mentioned that Toryism was rooted deep in the English soul. The comment interested me. I recalled the words of Margaret Thatcher back in 1981; Economics are the method; the object is to change the soul.

 Dealing with terminology first, I do not know if by 'soul' we mean the spiritual essence of an individual,or the national consciousness or an amalgam of the two, so this entry begins with vaguaries and is probably bound to be plagued by them. Thatcher's background was methodist, and part of that background entailed the acceptance of certain virtues denoted as Christian but never endorsed by Christ; prudence, caution, hard work, temperance, aspiration, accumulation.  All eminently sensible even useful traits, but not specifically Christian canon.

It would appear that she thought these virtues were lost or had never been part of the soul she endeavoured to change. Her idea of a changed soul was one that did not rely or even recognise itself as part of society. As she said to Women's Own magazine in 1987;

'I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it [...]They're casting their problem on society. And you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people,and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour.'

Whether one agrees or disagrees with this philosophy, it cannot be defined as Christian. Christ's instructions include these: '..To him that would go to law with thee and take thy tunic, give up thy cloak also.And whosover compelleth thee to go one mile go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee; and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away.' (Matthew 5:40-42) This is not a denigration, not an opinion, it is a direct comparison of texts. The two viewpoints are antithetical to one another. If Thatcher's tenet holds as a core value of English* society, then it becomes impossible to maintain the claim that Conservatism is based on traditional Christian values. This may be good, bad or neutral, it may cause some rejoicing or some dismay. I am not commenting on the qualities per se, only on clarity of definition.

The soul of Conservatism is much older than Thatcher's influence. She may have been part of its evolution, may have stripped it of sentiment or incorporated 17th century  ideas of God rewarding good work with good fortune. She may have shaped, she did not make.

Margaret Thatcher was born in 1925, the daughter of a methodist lay preacher; Jane Austen was born in 1775,  the daughter of an anglican clergyman. Jane Austen's work was very much a Christian Tory vision, the green and pleasant land under threat from Napoleon, the jumped-upness of trade wealth encroaching on old money and traditional 'good' values -  kindness, politeness, honesty, integrity, bravery, stoicism. In Pride and Prejudice, despite the delightfulness of Mr Bingley himself, his wealth - and the snobbery of his sister in particular -  is gently deprecated by  the narrator, who points out that their money comes from trade. In Emma, much is made of the vulgarities and colloquialisms of the appalling Mrs Elton, all of whose fortune comes from mercantile success somewhere in Bristol. True understated traditional  English manners,  including appropriately discreet generosity, are shown by the local landowner, Mr Knightley - by his very name,we know what he represents. It is no accident that his first name is George.

And yet Jane also understood the financial underpinnings of her society; Breeding empty of sense, quality, or wealth, was  a joke as epitomised by Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion. Without money, life was hard beyond our imagining. In Emma (whose eponymous heroine is one of the few Austen ladies free of worries re cash or independence) those gentlefolk who have fallen on hard times are very much to be pitied; Emma at the height of youth,wealth and beauty mocks the once well off Miss Bates, and it is Mr Knightley who sets her right on her behaviour;

It was badly done, indeed! You, whom she had known from an infant, whom she had seen grow up from a period when her notice was an honour, to have you now, in thoughtless spirits, and the pride of the moment, laugh at her, humble her–and before her niece, too–and before others, many of whom (certainly some,) would be entirely guided by your treatment of her.–This is not pleasant to you, Emma–and it is very far from pleasant to me; but I must, I will,–I will tell you truths while I can.”

Emma, volume 3, chapter 7


How can Emma get away with treating Miss Bates, her equal of birth, so rudely? Because she has money and Miss Bates has not.  Austen never lost sight of that truth, nor have tories since. Whatever the values, they must be paid for. Money is the key to everything.

Today's tories generally understand this last, though they rise from the very class at which Austen was wrinkling her nose. Extraordinarily few would have links to  Darcy, Bertram, Woodhouse, or Knightley stock; the very fortunate may have had connections to the Bingleys, Bennets and Eltons. In the main, the people of England were silent extras in all that Merchant Ivory glory; descendents of those driven off the land into towns, mills and factories, exploited and abused drudges at best. Those left in the agricultural counties fared no better. Some got out of the mess - the 19th century saw a great expansion of the ever aspiring middle classes. But the horrors of early 20th century poverty collided with 2 world wars, and the revelation of an unavoidable truth; If you want people to die for your country, they had better be able to live in it.

The soldier Harry Leslie Smith said this about pre-NHS living conditions in Britain http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/10/hunger-filth-fear-and-death-remembering-life-nhs

These are the true ancestors of most of Britain's population; no tea at Downton, no friends with Mr Darcy, no house in Midsomer.  I do not know much about the Conservative contribution to the creation of the welfare state; the names I associate with it are the usual suspects, Attlee, Bevin, Beveridge. It has been mentioned to me that  England never was a socialist country. It certainly wanted to be in 1945, ready to set aside the national hero Churchill for a new idea, something different from the miseries Harry describes above.

Then came the nation's babies... and they grew up with some wants, but nothing like the memories of privation their parents had endured.

These were the ones protected by the Welfare State.

These are the ones voting to dismantle it today.  Margaret Thatcher's changed souls.**

And this is where I must stop for now. Fortunately, this is no blog, or I would force myself to be tight and clearly focused, to bring this entry  to a clear conclusion, and edit properly. But writing for myself here, I let discipline grow lax, and perhaps will return to this subject later. In the meantime, the stomach ache has not gone. The gym will have to wait.

*I say England rather than Great Britain, because each of the kingdoms has a different story, a different 'soul'.

**Though I do not mean to imply that only such 'changed souls' vote Tory, or that those who vote Tory are inevitably the people described above.

Comments

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smokingboot
Apr. 11th, 2016 08:25 pm (UTC)
You are the one to be thanked, John, yours was the spark.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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