“The king and the people against the barons and the capitalists.” That is the motto of the Tories, according to Henry Fairlie; or at least what he claimed Toryism used to represent for centuries until the Thatcher era. In this formula, the king was seen as representing the entire country and population, not merely one sector such as the ruling and economic elite. The monarchy was perceived, if a romantic conceit, as above petty and corrupt realpolitik. This goes hand in hand with the ideals of noblesse oblige, that with power comes responsibility; having informed early modern ideals of an enlightened ruling elite. Such an image of the monarchy was taken seriously by the recently deceased Queen Elizabeth II who strove to maintain a clear divide between the Crown and all else, signifying that which is morally superior and lasting. Though an obvious myth in practice, it stands in for an ancient impulse toward a good society maintained by a righteous leadership (e.g., King Arthur, as the good ruler who brings healing to the land).
Fairlie was a respected, if not respectable, British journalist and essayist who ended up in the United States; most famous for having coined ‘the Establishment’ (sadly, later reappropriated by Margaret Thatcher, someone he despised). He might be considered ‘conservative’-like by bent, but decried modern conservatives, particularly in his adoptive home; which is precisely why he was an advocate, albeit cautious, of liberal reform. This is partly clarified by High Toryism, as traditional communitarianism, that resists the modernizing force of conservatism, while upholding certain Country Party positions (e.g., opposition to a standing army); a similar distinction Corey Robin makes in describing conservatives as anti-traditional reactionaries. Fairlie pointed out that the Tory tradition was lacking in America, and that so-called conservatives were a sorry replacement.
He hated Ronald Regan, of course, without any quibbling: “the Reaganites on the floor were exactly those who in Germany gave the Nazis their main strength and who in France collaborated with them and sustained Vichy” (‘Mencken’s Booboisie in Control of the GOP’, Bite the Hand That Feeds You). But it was far from limited to Reagan Republicans. Describing American conservatism as “narrow-minded and selfish and mean-spirited,” he explained that, “This is one reason, although it is by no means the only one, why the English Tory feels at home with the Democratic Party, while the Republican party fills him with a puzzlement that gives way to desperation and at last to contempt” (‘In Defense of Big Government’, Bite the Hand That Fees You). That was written in 1976, years before Reagan remade the Grand Old Party into a capitalist whorehouse, although likely Fairlie’s mood was shadowed by the fall of Richard Nixon and Saigon; a low point for Republican pride. Imagine what Fairlie would’ve thought of Donald Trump’s presidency, likely saddened but not surprised.
He wasn’t merely attacking American pseudo-conservatism, for he had his own ideals rooted in British conservatism or rather traditionalism, as he may have felt the word ‘conservative’ had lost its value or else never had any value. “The characteristics of the Tory, which separate him from the conservative,” he wrote in that same essay, “may briefly be summarized: 1) his almost passionate belief in strong central government, which has of course always been the symbolic importance to him of the monarchy; 2) his detestation of ‘capitalism,’ of what Cardinal Newman and T.S. Eliot called ‘ursury,’ of what he himself calls ‘trade’; and 3) his trust in the ultimate good sense of the People, whom he capitalizes in this way, because the People are a real entity to him, beyond social and economic divisions, and whom he believes can be appealed to and relied on, as the final repository of decency in a free nation.” It is because of these defining traits that it’s “not unnatural that he [the Tory] often feels inclined, and in the past 150 years has often shown his inclination, to seek his allies among the Socialists.” Timothy Noah, who knew him, said that, this “description puts Tories well to the left of today’s Democratic Party, particularly when it comes to health reform” (Henry Fairlie, Health Maven).
Indeed, there have been numerous examples of Tory socialists without contradiction (related to the Red Tories that have influenced the Canadian Conservative Party to accept social reform and the welfare state, which makes one think of Abraham Lincoln’s Red Republicans that included Marxists). One might argue that socialism, specifically democratic socialism, is the inevitable or likely culmination of Toryism; if by Toryism we mean holding the public good, the commonweal above all else. According to Fairlie, the problem with American politics is not the threat of left-wing radicalism like socialism but, rather, the wrong kind of socialism. Noting the pervasive power of big government, including in protecting and subsidizing big business, he shared the argument that everyone is now a socialist. It’s just a matter of whether socialism serves the people or the plutocracy.
Modern government stands in for the role once played by the monarchy. So, is it the king and the people against the landed gentry or, instead, the king and the landed gentry against the people? In either case, it is ‘strong government’, as Fairlie put it. He concluded that, “it is time that it was acknowledged that there are now only two choices […] There is no longer a third way.” This is among the oldest of conflicts. Is the government legitimate and, if so, who does it serve? The determining factor, to his mind, was democracy. “It is time that we pointed out to the neo-conservatives that democracy has never been subverted from the left but always from the right. No democracy has fallen to communism, without an army; many democracies have fallen to fascism, from within” (‘Mencken’s Booboisie in Control of the GOP’, Bite the Hand That Feeds You).
To give an American example along the lines of ‘king and the people’, think about how Theodore Roosevelt styled his own presidency. With a genuine sense of noblesse oblige as part of old wealth, he saw his election as giving him the authority to paternalistically act on behalf of the American people and the public good. He not only broke up monopolistic trusts but ensured new ones wouldn’t form, in spite of knowing that it would destroy his political career, as doing right was more important; he aspired to be an enlightened aristocrat, achieving the natural aristocracy and disinterested aristocracy idealized by some in the revolutionary generation, the belief that the independently wealthy could resist the corruption of wealth and so rule fairly and wisely (a distorted version of this ideal was used by Donald Trump). When one robber baron sought Roosevelt’s help in building a transcontinental railroad where every aspect would be owned by him, he denied federal intervention to make it possible because that would give too much power to a single private corporation, potentially greater power than the government itself in being able to control transportation, trade, and hence entire markets across the entire country. In a democratic republic, nothing should be more powerful than the government that serves the people.
That first Roosevelt presidency comes close to Fairlie’s Toryism. The only other Republican president who may have approximated his ideological standards, as a ‘good king’, would’ve been Abraham Lincoln (The Social Importance of Morality Tales); although admittedly Lincoln was rather Whiggish in being in favor of laissez faire capitalism and in being rather corporate friendly. Fairlie wanted a Toryism for the country he came to admire in so many other ways. But is the Tory spirit really foreign to America? Does it need to be introduced by a well-meaning British immigrant? One might argue that we simply need to resurrect America’s own origins. After all, we were British colonies almost as long as we’ve been a separate country. Echoes of Elizabethan English (Queen Elizabeth I) is no longer heard in England and yet persists here in America (e.g., y’all from ye all). Maybe much else persists, if we simply dug a little deeper.
What Fairlie so highly praised might be found precisely where the elite rarely look, in public opinion (American Leftist Supermajority). Going by his definition, one could argue the majority of Americans are Fairlien Tories, with no small inclination toward democratic socialism or else social democracy — Americans haven’t lost faith in the need for good governance, as public polling shows, even as they’ve lost trust in a government that has been corrupted. Maybe this has always been present in the American people, but it was submerged below the bickering of the elite one-party state with two right wings. As Thomas Jefferson came to believe in his elderhood, though the constitutional experiment had failed right from the beginning, the spirit of democratic republicanism lived on in the people (“You’re the only people alive on the earth today.”). That is to suggest that likely more Americans agreed (and still agree) with Fairlie than he realized.
What is this spirit of the people? It is none other than the Spirit of ’76, the revolutionary impulse. To bring things back around, it’s telling that the first instinct many American colonists had, in being oppressed, was to appeal to the king in the hope he would intervene and defend the people against the arrogance of a power-mongering Parliament. Sadly, this was a misunderstanding of the times. Even if King George III wanted to help, which he didn’t, the position of the monarchy had been defanged during the Glorious Revolution. There was no powerful king to stand up to a self-dealing aristocracy and plutocracy, the two beginning to overlap since the establishment of the English East India Company in 1600; later to become the infamous British East India Company that was the greatest foe of the colonists. That is why early American laws placed such stringent restrictions on corporate charters; only to be given to organizations to serve the public interest (infrastructure building, hospital management, etc); and generally to not last beyond the project’s completion or within a single generation, as defined by twenty years. But let’s step back, many centuries.
This failure of the monarchy to live up to the Tory ideal of a united front, the king and the people, was nothing new. During the English Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, the peasants and their allies among the lower classes had, in seizing London, effectively taken hostage King Richard II. But they didn’t want to control the king, only to be heard by him. They thought the corrupt courtly advisers, not unlike J. R. R. Tolkien’s Gríma Wormtongue, were whispering lies into his ears; that if only he heard the truth, he would be won over to their cause. The king, under duress, agreed to their demands of justice and fairness but never honored them, after his troops regained control. The rebels were punished and killed for their efforts. Maybe in having learned this lesson, the next major populist revolt, the more successful English Civil War (AKA Wars of the Three Kingdoms), ended by beheading the king. From one revolt to the next, there was an emerging class consciousness amidst a worsening class war; with egalitarian rhetoric already heard in the 14th century and becoming proto-leftist leveling ideology by the 17th.
The political form this anti-corruption movement eventually took was the aforementioned Country Party, in opposition to the Court Party. The Country Party originated as “a coalition of Tories and disaffected Whigs,” more of a movement than an organized party, having “claimed to be a nonpartisan force fighting for the nation’s interest—the whole “country”—against the self-interested actions of the Court Party, that is the politicians in power in London” (Wikipedia, Country Party (Britain)). Interestingly, the opposition to a ruling elite didn’t form earlier because the aristocracy was still associated with feudal communalism, as distinct from royal officials. But such a distinction became moot over time, as later on the lords spent more of their time not at their estates near their feudal villages, but in the palace and the surroundings of London — a disruptive change detailed by Barbara Ehrenreich’s Dancing in the Streets. Yet the memory of the feudal intimacy between aristocracy and peasantry was still strong enough in the colonies that the two did unite in a common revolution, as they did in France as well. One might note, though, that there is a reason the main leaders of the American Revolution were country gentlemen from Virginia, still acting as paternalistic feudal lords, and not courtly gentlemen from South Carolina, the latter of which spent most of their time in Charleston when not in London.
The funny thing is how the monarchy became symbolic. When the American revolutionaries sought the king as an intercessor, following the example of the 14th century peasants, they were invoking the monarchy as representing English ethno-nationalism. What they were really demanding, at first, was the rights of Englishmen as citizens of England and subjects of the British Empire. The king as ruler of it all symbolized this sense of being part of the English populace, even as many American colonists had never set foot in England, along with many others not being of English ancestry at all. It was an imaginary identity and powerful at that. Likewise, the actual king himself was ultimately irrelevant for, if the king did not represent the people and the country, then he was no king of worth by definition of this Tory principle. This was seen in the English Civil War, “such was the popularity of the monarchy that this was the ground on which it was fought, even when they got to the point of trying and cutting off the head of the king, they really told everyone that they were fighting for monarchy” (The Jim Rutt Show, Transcript of EP 160 – Curtis Yarvin on Monarchy in the U.S.A.). The monarchy was a way of speaking about legitimate government as ultimate authority — actual monarchs be damned!
This is the background to Fairlie’s Toryism. He doesn’t mention a Country Party because, “The ideology of the party faded away in England but became a powerful force in the American colonies, where its tracts strongly motivated the Patriots to oppose what the Country Party had cast as British monarchical tyranny and to develop a powerful political philosophy of republicanism in the United States” (Wikipedia). So, of course, he didn’t find Toryism, per se, in America. British Toryism and the Anglo-American Country Party parted ways, but retained their shared origin in historical influence. It quickly gets confusing, though, since initially the Country Party in England was identified with Whigs, not Tories or rather only some of the latter: “Country party, which came ultimately to embrace radical Whigs and reconstructed ‘Tories'” (David McNally, “Scientific Whiggism”: Smith’s Political Philosophy, Political Economy and the Rise of Capitalism). The Toryism of that era (1670-80s) was for the divine right of kings, rather than a constitutional monarchy; and hence there was not necessarily Fairlie’s Tory alliance of king and the people; but it could be found in the Whig Party. The more respectable Whigs, however, dissociated themselves from these Country tendencies; and by the early 18th century the Whigs were now the Court Party; though the Whigs came back around to Country ideology later on.
It’s important to note, though, that in the Exclusion Crisis of the late 17th century the Tories and Whigs may not have indicated any coherent set of ideologies, still less consistent membership. The two sides were often using similar rhetoric, such as Tories likewise turning to populist appeals and fears. Jonathan Scott wrote: “there were no whig and tory ‘parties’ in 1678-83 partly because the ‘whig’ (anti-court) majority of 1678-80, and the ‘tory’ (loyalist) majority of 1681-1683 were mostly the same people. … From 1678 to 1683 people remained convinced of an imminent threat to the church and government; in 1681 they changed their minds about where the greatest threat was coming from” (quoted by Tim Harris in: Party Turns? Or, Whigs and Tories Get Off Scott Free; & Politics under the Later Stuarts: Party Conflict in a Divided Society 1660-1715). And: “What must be noted behind this consistency of rhetoric is the consistency of its constituency. In both cases we are dealing with a majority of the political nation. The rhetoric was the same partly because, in many cases, so were the people expressing it. To a large extent, and with the important exception of some hardliners on both sides, 1678’s ‘whigs’ were 1681’s ‘tories'” (quoted by the same).
Some of this might’ve been the case of the successful rhetoric of the early Whigs being emulated and co-opted by the early Tories, a common tactic of reactionaries as a way of neutralizing an opponent’s position. One distinction remained stable throughout this period, Whigs defended religious non-conformists and dissenters while Tories attacked them. There had been a growing religious divide, in the Western world, from the peasants revolts to the Protestant Reformation to the English Civil War to the American Revolution, where in each case heretical critics and leaders stood against church authority, hierarchy, and power; typically motivated by righteous denunciations of political corruption, concentrated wealth, and abusive power within organized religion — the American revolutionary Thomas Paine became an infamous pariah later on for having written Age of Reason, a deist diatribe and jeremiad against organized religion (Nature’s God and American Radicalism); very much a product of Country Party, with its anti-clericalism. It’s the same old conflict that has happened with every new religion or sect that challenged an entrenched theocracy or priestly class, such as with the original egalitarian Christians (Stephen J Patterson, The Forgotten Creed).
“In the same essay [‘Of the Political Parties of Great Britain] Hume points out that this basic difference [of two political temperaments] parallels a similar one over religion: partisans of the Establishment side naturally with the party of monarchy; those of the schismatic or heretical sects, with the ‘republican’ or ‘commonwealth’ party. This idea has also become a commonplace, and most modern writers on party have discerned the origins of the two historic parties in religious differences. [… Keith Feiling] traces the Whig and Tory parties back to the era of Reformation, pointing out that there were originally three parties: a Catholic ‘Right,’ an Anglican ‘Center,’ and a Puritan ‘Left.’ With the virtual disappearance of the sixteenth century there remained only two parties: that of the Church opposing that of the Sects. Ever since, the division between Whig and Tory (and between Liberal and Conservative) has reflected this division between Chapel and Church — Dissent and the Establishment” (Robert Walcott, The Idea of Party in the Writing of Later Stuart History).
It’s amusing that the author of that quote, writing in 1962, referred to Fairlie’s term ‘the Establishment’, coined in 1955; a 20th century idea being anachronistically projected as a frame onto the past. Anyway, by whatever language used to describe it, before the modern era, almost every uprising and revolt involved oppressed and silenced religions, religious factions, and religious cultures; and since the Axial Age, this has often been structured along the lines of authoritarianism (or social dominance) versus egalitarianism. So, about Country Party versus Court Party, all the British views on Crown and Parliament could be interpreted as secondary, as offshoots of religious structures and movements in competition and conflict in how groups sought the legitimacy of authority and authorization. Even today, a country like the United States remains highly religious, all across the political spectrum. How liberals and conservatives perceive politics has much to do with the historical development of religion, with the Roundhead dissenters of the English Civil War having settled in the northern colonies and the Cavalier Anglicans having established themselves to the south. Something to keep in mind.
Having gone into decline in England, the United States was more fully imprinted by the earlier form of the Country tradition, becoming what once was called Anti-Federalism but what today is no longer named at all, though remaining as an ideological undertow. “The writings of the country party were eagerly devoured by some American colonists who came to fear the corruption of the English court as the greatest threat to the colonies’ desired liberties. They formed a Patriot cause in the Thirteen Colonies and used the country party ideas to help form Republicanism in the United States. [James H.] Hutson identified country ideology as a major influence on the Antifederalists during the debate over the ratification of the United States Constitution. Similarly, Jeffersonianism inherited the country party attack on elitism, centralization, and distant government during the ascent of Alexander Hamilton and other Federalists” (Wikipedia). As a side note, it’s amusing that Thomas Jefferson, as a Cavalier aristocrat, narratized the revolutionary conflict as akin to the Anglo-Saxon tribes defense against the Norman invasion that would establish the Cavalier aristocracy; but such Country-like rhetoric appealed to him as a rural landowner, distant from Court power. We still require greater context to understand how Anti-Federalism formed, specifically what allied the likes of Jefferson and Thomas Paine; both, for example, having had advocated progressive land taxes to redistribute what they perceived as wealth and resources stolen from the former feudal commons.
Let’s go to the very beginning of Toryism. It is a word that comes out of old Irish, maybe related to the sense of being sought, pursued, chased, or hunted (from tóir). The dispossessed and displaced Irish Catholics were oppressed, early on under Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads; sadly, since both Irish Catholics and Cromwellian dissenters had been oppressed by the same Church of England. So, these Irish tories allied with the English and Scottish Cavalier’s on the side of the monarchy (similar to why many Native Americans allied with the British Empire during the American Revolution). The term ‘torie’ originally was associated with thieves and bandits, and so it came to refer to the political opposition. But it eventually was associated with the triune of ‘God, King, and Country.’ Right from the start, it had a mix of meanings; and one might sense hints of the odd usage by Fairlie. The Country Party has an even more mixed history, not always clearly associated with any single actual party but more often a term to indicate a coalition of interests. But it too had a meaning of opposition: “dissenters of all kinds will be of the Country party” (David Hume, Of the Parties of Great Britain).
Patriotism, as loyalty to country (ethno-nationalism, the land and the people), was early on synonymous with a Country ideology. One thing that sometimes brought Toryism and Country Party together was a republican idiom, even when not actually opposed to monarchy itself; which is odd since republicanism, by definition, means rule without monarchy. Once again, it’s what monarchy represented, not necessarily monarchy itself. It was, instead, “opposition to the government, the centre of which was the court,” such that the monarchy was seen as something separate and above, the ‘Court’ being what today we’d think of as the bureaucracy, the deep state, and the military-industrial complex (Max Skjönsberg, Patriots and the Country party tradition in the eighteenth century: the critics of Britain’s fiscal-military state from Robert Harley to Catharine Macaulay). In the 18th century, the radical Whig Catharine Macaulay wrote approvingly of the regicide during the English Civil War; and yet also hoped for “a patriot king and a patriot ministry co-operating with the body of the people to throw off the shackles of septennial parliaments” (History of England, Vol. 8) — that is the kind of attitude that likely so incensed Edmund Burke, not fear of regicide in distant France but the regicidal tradition right at home. To confuse things further, “the ‘libertarian’ Country party platform had an imperial dimension, which can be connected with the Tory blue-water foreign policy of the early eighteenth century” (Skjönsberg). That last part touches upon Fairlie’s Toryism, in which his having been far from an anti-imperialist or opposed to big government in general, including when it came to war.
In a more distorted form, one can think of those self-styled American ‘patriots’ who attack the ‘government’ all the while praising the police state and the military empire (what, in the past, would’ve been thought of as support for the king and the king’s army, in distinction from Parliament); or decrying authoritarianism while supporting theocracy, white supremacy, and an aspiring strongman. Such strange ideological tendencies can go off in many directions, some quite contradictory. Out of this emerges modern populism, sometimes right-wing but at other times left-wing, but often inconsistent. It’s dual form took shape early on. In the way the Cromwellian army operated, and in line with the earlier rhetoric of the peasants revolts, the Country Party had a genuine component of egalitarianism: “The Country Party began having regular meetings in London, calling itself the Green Ribbon Club. The Club was an open political and social organization that encouraged membership from all classes, and the members freely mixed to exchange ideas” (Elizabeth Breeden Townes , Contemporary reactions to the Popish Plot and the exclusion crisis). At the same time, many of its leaders found it convenient to incite xenophobia and paranoia. So, there would be simultaneous denouncement of both slavery and Catholicism, expressing fear of oppression and the demand to oppress others — sounds like the present reactionary right here in the United States.
In the century following the English Civil War, this raucous confusion took a particular form on this side of the pond, and with the same force of populist zeal. But when imported to the American colonies, the meanings of words morphed: “Like their British predecessors, the ‘Jeffersonian Republicans’ feared the growing power of the executive and its influence over the legislative power that risked upsetting the constitutional equilibrium. As avid readers of Bolingbroke and Catharine Macaulay, they were steeped in the Patriot and Country traditions. These traditions were called ‘Whig’ in America, but they had in fact been predominantly associated with Tories during the years of Whig oligarchy after the Hanoverian Succession, and they could occasionally unite Tories with opposition Whigs. Jeffersonian accusations against Hamilton of being ‘Tory’ illustrate how this could lead to confusion, as his financial system was modelled on Whig politics against which British Tories protested for decades” (Skjönsberg). Most members of Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party joined the Democratic Party, while a smaller portion turned to the Whig Party and National Republican Party (no association to present GOP); many of the Whigs later joining the present Republican Party. For this reason, outsiders assumed that the Democrats, in opposing the Whigs, must be Tories.
Indeed, the Democrats, in having grown beyond their Anti-Federalist roots (e.g., a strain of abolitionism), became more neo-traditionalist in some ways (e.g., actively defending neo-feudal slavery); where revolutionary liberty was whittled down to that of privilege, even as the political franchise began to expand to all white males. To further complicate, consider that supposed godfather of modern Anglo-American conservatism, Edmund Burke, was a member of the liberal and progressive Whigs. Yet like the Tory Fairlie, his demands for reform were simultaneously strong and moderate, depending on what he was responding to. Burke criticized the British East India Company and initially supported the American Revolution, but once war broke out his loyalty was ultimately to the British Empire. Despite claiming him to support their own legitimacy, the main thrust of American conservatism has been decidedly anti-Burkean, just as much as it has been anti-Tory — Reagan went so far as to quote from the optimistic vision of Thomas Paine, the ideological enemy of Burke. Meanwhile, British conservatism has for the past couple centuries been freely mixing the old elements of both Whigs and Tories. One might throw one’s hands up in despair of making sense of it all, but what is important are the steady and continuing undercurrents.
Of course, we must emphasize again the point that Tory and Whig haven’t had singular unchanging definitions across history. In the 1670s, the radical Whigs challenged the standing army, in favor of local militias, as the military represented the king’s power beholden to no one else; whereas a constitutional monarchy would limit the king’s authority. But over the following 18th century, fear of standing armies drifted over into Tory rhetoric (Lois G. Schwoerer, “No Standing Armies!”). In both cases, this opposition to excessive and oppressive military was a defining feature of the Country Party, a party of no specific party but always shifting. This view on a standing army came to be a major point of complaint among the American Anti-Federalists and other true Federalists. This suspicion of martial power could be seen with the moderate Federalist and reluctant revolutionary John Dickinson, draft author of the Articles of Confederation (revised by Anti-Federalists and so the single greatest Anti-Federalist document); such as with his related argument of Purse and Sword, positing that freedom was not possible if the same ruler, political body, or level of government controlled both taxation and military.
Of course, Fairlie was never against a standing army. But then again, almost no one today would be, not on consistent principle as could be the case many centuries ago. That goes to his argument that we now live in a world of strong governments and hence national militaries, it only being a matter of who is served by them. It’s largely become a moot issue and so a consensus has formed across the political spectrum, although the rhetoric of militias still rings potently, if only among a small reactionary fringe of militant extremists actually takes it seriously. A modern nation-state simply can’t operate without a standing army; and so to oppose it is to oppose modernity as we know it and all that goes with it; and even among the most reactionary, few actually want to return to feudalism, the last time standing armies were rare. On that point, the Court Party has won out, both in practical politics and public imagination.
Someone like Fairlie was very much a modern figure, generously borrowing from both the Country and Court traditions. He definitely drew upon that long established egalitarian populism of the Country Party, having formed before any peasants revolts — listen to the libertarian rhetoric of the ancient world, such as inspired the anti-authoritarian messages of prophets and teachers (e.g., Jesus) and numerous anti-authoritarian uprisings (e.g., the gladiator revolt led by Spartacus, his wife having been a Dionysian prophetess, a religion associated with liberty). On the other hand, as opposed to the Country worldview, Fairlie was firmly in the camp of an activist government; drawing upon a liberal progressive strain of the Court ideology, a strain that preceded the American Revolution by more than a century. As representing a Court platform at its best in terms of interventionist government, by the early 19th century when Country-minded egalitarianism had been mainstreamed, “the Whig political programme came to encompass not only the supremacy of parliament over the monarch and support for free trade, but Catholic emancipation, the abolition of slavery and expansion of the franchise (suffrage)” (The Politics of Britain Wiki, Whig (British political party)). As such, Fairlie’s Toryism inherits much from the old radical Whigs. Still, he is clearly a Tory through and through in his detesting laissez-faire capitalism, neoliberalism, corporatism, inverted totalitarianism, financialization, and regressive taxation; old issues that tightly bound earlier Toryism to certain Country inclinations.
Ultimately, he often seems to side with Court ideology, ignoring party labels, in lamenting American conservatives undermining of government and unwillingness to accept political responsibility; specifically in relation to consent of the governed, noblesse oblige, public good, culture of trust, and similar ideals representing a shared society as a moral community. But then again, Country criticisms of government tended to be selective, not sweeping; not necessarily, on principle, opposed to strong or large government, as long as it was good governance. Whereas Republicans dismiss out of hand the hard work necessary to run a modern government, preferring to merely attack and tear down, dismantling it and selling off the parts for short-term profit and self-interest, eating the seed corn so that there can be no next year’s crop; all part of strategy of Starve the Beast. That is the dark side of Country ideology, pushed to a reactionary extreme without any counterbalance of Country virtues. Though there was always a genuine populist impulse in speaking for certain segments of the lower classes, the Country Party too often in practice ended up being a cover for the interests of the capitalist class (merchants and large landowners) who wanted to cut government down to size, small enough that it could be drowned in a bath tub — not so that a more direct self-governance could fill the void but so that there would be no outside restrictions on their own oligarchic dominance, local and/or private.
Think of the original states rights argument of Southern aristocrats which, in opposing federal treaties, sought to steal Native American land; and then justified it with populist appeals of opening the land for white settlers. That is kind of the right-wing populism that so worried the likes of Richard Hofstadter when he wrote The Paranoid Style in American Politics. But that unfairly dismisses millennia of genuine populism, built on an emerging class consciousness that made all of modern leftism possible, no matter how the reactionary right has co-opted it. The merchants and large landowners wouldn’t have taken up such rhetoric, if they hadn’t been preceded by a centuries-long grassroots movement of working class revolt; not merely limited to agrarianism, if sometimes taking that form; much less identical to the extremes of reactionary politics such as anti-Catholicism, antisemitism, and McCarthyism. Hofstadter too came around to admitting he was wrong, that genuine populism was much more diverse and very often radically left-wing in its egalitarianism (Anton Jäger, The Myth of “Populism”).
One wonders if, in following in this ancient pedigree, Henry Fairlie recognized his debt not only to the Court Party but also to the Country Party. Did he understand its importance to the American founding and the potential it has continued to hold? Did he understand how the Country Party and Court Party had intertwined across Anglo-American history, each in its way influencing his vision of Toryism?
2 thoughts on “Henry Fairlie’s Toryism, the Good King, and the People”
To somewhat rhyme with your history of Court and Country parties, I was curious about why British people continue to support a monarchy, and found that Mallock showed the monarchy as costing a million pounds a year, and it’s abolition would , when weighted to every free English citizen save about the price of a (pint) to drink her health.
So out of what I imagine is a half-lazy, half cautious distaste for change in a direction that attacks their deep-rooted idea of social responsibility, for only a small savings every year, they keep up the monarchy at public expense. I could post more sources but then I’m also lazy and this is an internet comment, not homework.
What I’m now curious about is how farmers closer to our time would view things like state subsidy to grow corn (or not to grow, say hemp for most of the 20th century) , if those directives were from a state with Kingly authority or a distant government that they took no part in– since the South didn’t have a tradition of local agreement and participation in government like New Englanders, or for that matter the Swiss would have by long habit.
Thanks for commenting. Personally, as an American, we have no particular opinion about monarchy. And one might suspect the average British citizen likely has no strong position on the matter either. The monarchy, no doubt, continues more because of inertia than anything else. Things tend to stay the same, until something forces them to change. But if the monarchy ended, most people in the UK probably wouldn’t miss it.
Your second point is more personally relevant. We live in a farm state and big ag subsidies are the name of the game. Not only are farmers subsidized to grow such things as corn for ethanol but also, in many cases, paid to literally grow nothing at all. It doesn’t matter which party is in power, the interests of big ag will always be protected, and the succor of big gov will always be sought, at least for local profits.
As for the kind of government, is our political system really all that different from a monarchy? Sure, politicians change during elections. But the system itself, the interests served, and the policies enacted typically remain the same. The ruling elite, crony plutocracy, and deep state in the US is nearly as entrenched as any monarchy; maybe more entrenched in some ways. It’s easier to imagine the British monarchy ending.
Anyway, for argument’s sake, let’s consider your proposal. Most ‘farmers’ these days are big ag corporations, as part of a government that is either corporatist or inverted totalitarianism. So, your inquiry would be to imagine that either such big ag did not exist or that it had no control over the government (no legal bribery, lobbyists writing bills, regulatory capture, revolving door politics, etc).
Instead, just a king or emperor or dictator making decrees about agricultural policies. One might suppose that it would entirely depend on if it was a good or bad ruler; enlightened, intelligent, wise, paternalistic, and effective or not. But that is the thing about kings and equivalent rulers. It’s a crap shoot. All you have to do is look at British history to see that. Some monarchs were decent and others were horrific.
Now about the South. We spent part of our youth in South Carolina and North Carolina, and have traveled elsewhere in that region, from Florida to Kentucky. But we don’t have personal experience with Southern farming and whether it’s as dominated by big ag as is the Midwest. One thing that would be an issue is the South is used to being ruled by its own local aristocracy, plutocracy, and oligarchy. Plantations, in the past, were operated like fiefdoms. Much of that culture remains.