A new ConHome monthly series offering a very short introduction to some of those who are making or who have made an intellectual contribution to conservatism.
6) Phillip Blond
Education: Universities of Hull, Warwick, and Cambridge
Reading Red Tory straight after Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed, covered in the last installment, offers an interesting contrast. Phillip Blond’s views on the destructive hypertrophication of liberalism, and its direct contribution to the growth of an ever larger and more interventionist state, overlaps heavily with the former’s analysis. But where Deneen identifies himself with a post-liberal tradition, and directly attacks liberalism itself, Blond tries to cast himself as the keeper of the true liberal flame.
This might be an artefact of the book coming out in 2009. Blond’s appeals to an older definition of freedom overlap very heavily with Deneen’s, to such an extent that any disagreement between them on the subject might well boil down to whether or not a defender of a classically-ordered society should be called ‘liberal’ or not.
Where the books differ is that, unlike Deneen, Blond devotes the second half of the book to setting out a policy prospectus which could put his ideas into practice. The focus is overwhelmingly on reforming the structures through which both private commerce is conducted and public services are delivered, with a strong emphasis on shared ownership, regional variation, and taking a broader social, as opposed to narrowly profit- or target-based, approach to calculating any organisation’s proper purpose.
The other strand of thinking most in evidence is ‘distributism’, which he contrasts with redistribution. The former, in Blond’s definition, is about putting capital and assets directly in the hands of the less well-off (à la council house sales) to empower them to participate in the economy, whereas the latter amounts to handouts which salve the worst consequences of the current system without fundamentally challenging it.
Blond’s effort to try and formulate a practical programme is commendable, even though it does highlight more weaknesses in his case than would a more general treatment. In this reader’s opinion, the big one seemed to be a slightly utopian outlook which under-estimated the scale or the ferocity of the struggle implementing his ideas would require.
For example, Blond concedes near the end that the current welfare state affords “constant opportunities both for employment and career advancement” to those who run it, as well as sanctifying their moral code (not to mention handicapping the prospects other people’s children), but the tone in which he suggests overthrowing this state and moral order seems quite breezy. Deneen’s out-and-out post-liberalism seems like a truer intellectual reckoning with what a Blond-style reformation would really involve.
If it isn’t going too far outside the wheelhouse of a Conservative website, one might also suggest that the book might actually benefit from looking at more left-wing thinking – not the modern social stuff but old-fashioned class analysis. To this reader, the idea that the current order actually represents a very effective maximising of middle-class interests (see also: housing) at the expense of the “supplicant class” seems to haunt Red Tory, but doesn’t get an explicit treatment.
When first published, Red Tory was touted as a foundational text of Cameroon Conservatism, but with the possible exception of education (which the book barely touches on) the Big Society/state reform agenda rather stalled out. Boris Johnson’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda and new Red Wall electorate might yet provide more promising soil for this sort of Toryism, but as yet there is scant evidence of the sort of structural analysis and proposals Blond offered.
Where to start?
Red Tory, if you’re British. If you have not won first prize in the lottery of life, Radical Republic advances the same thesis in an American context.