All books have a story. This book began in 2005 when Elizabeth (now Baroness) Berridge, then Executive Director of the Conservative Christian Fellowship in the UK asked me to write a series of articles for the worldview section of Conservativism magazine on various broad political themes. The subsequent articles explored biblical perspectives on issues such as social justice, the environment, international development and so forth.
Both my own political involvement and the course of writing these articles focused my attention on a number of misapprehensions that Christians have about politics in general and about Conservativism in particular. These can broadly be described as assuming that whilst Conservatives are generally closer to biblical ideals on ethical issues relating to the family and human life, the liberal-left are closer on issues related to social justice. This is often accompanied by a range of other assumptions, such as a tendency if not wholly towards pacifism, then certainly a lean in that direction and an assumption that it is somehow ‘wrong’ for businesses to make more than relatively small amounts of money. Yet the reality is that in all of these and many other areas, a great many Christians need to be gently challenged as to whether such assumptions owe more to liberal-left political thought than to biblical thinking. Why for example, is it that so many Christians seem instinctively to assume that the command to love our neighbour must mean that they should always support greater government spending on welfare? They have perhaps never considered the fact that governments do not have money of their own, merely having the authority to require each of their neighbours to surrender a portion of their income in tax. It is perhaps stretching Jesus’ words somewhat, not to mention something of a ‘cop out’ to assume that he meant us to be generous with other people’s money, rather than our own! This book is therefore an attempt to explain Conservativism in a manner that is meaningful to Christians.
In writing it, my aim has been to produce a book that would be accessible to the non-specialist, to an intelligent person who reads a quality newspaper, but has themselves no academic background either in Theology, History or Politics. For those who wish for further academic rigour, a number of topics are addressed in more detail in the endnotes. The book therefore seeks to bridge the traditional, though not always helpful, divide between academic writing and that which is accessible to a wider serious readership. Indeed, for academic research to be genuinely able to inform wider debates in society, it must bridge this gap one way or another.
However, all writing and research projects evolve and this is certainly no exception! In the course of writing it has developed in two important ways. First, it has become clear to me how much of our society that we take for granted has evolved as an expression of the values derived from the Judaeo-Christian worldview. These values developed over the centuries among what are now the English speaking peoples and can clearly be seen from Anglo Saxon times, though perhaps were most clearly expressed in the life of Alfred the Great. The great statements of English liberties such as the Magna Carta are based on these values, which they affirm as the ‘ancient rights of Englishmen’. These values inspired the great institutions of the English speaking peoples – the common law, parliament, the king being accountable to God and the law. The outworking of often explicitly Christian values through these institutions led to our historic national values such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, equal treatment of all before the law and so forth.
Although no political philosophy can claim to be wholly Christian or even uniquely to express Christian values, I would suggest that Conservativism is unique in the extent to which it parallels Christian values. The reason for this is not hard to find. Whereas socialism and liberalism have from their outset been overtly secular philosophies, that, at least in the case of socialism, subsequently received significant Christian influence which has ameliorated some of its worst aspects, Conservatism is different. The essence of Conservativism is ‘conserving the best of the past’ – and so much of the best of the past has been strongly influenced by the outworking of values derived from the Judaeo-Christian worldview. There are therefore not only enormously significant parallels between Christian and Conservative values, but also an underlying assumption that these values are ‘good for society’. Whilst Christians will hold these values as an outworking of their faith and believe that they represent the best ideals for society, Conservatives will hold similar values because time over many generations has shown them to work well and produce good results for society. For Conservatives such values are a trust they have received from previous generations and which they must in turn pass on. The form in which these values are expressed may change over time, but the values themselves are a trust to be passed on. That in a nutshell I would argue is the essence of Conservativism. It is almost the exact opposite of liberalism, which aims to do away with the past and start again from a supposedly blank sheet of paper and create an ‘ideal’ society supposedly focused on individual liberty in which the only thing that is accepted to be ‘good for society’ is liberalism itself, which as we will see is becoming increasingly intolerant of anyone who challenges it.
There is also a second direction in which this book has developed. Just as it has become clearer and clearer how much of the society that we love and cherish has been derived from the values of the Judaeo-Christian worldview, so it has also become clear that those values are under threat, both from liberalism, but also more specifically from Islamism. Whilst the various nations of the English speaking peoples have so far engaged in a number of military encounters with radical Islamists with varying degrees of success, by and large they have struggled to come up with a convincing counter narrative that presents and explains as a positive alternative why our society is a superior way of life. Liberalism has no hope of providing that convincing counter narrative. Not only does it promote diversity rather than a coherent vision of society, but recent changes in its nature have begun to undermine significant aspects of our historic national values. While at the same time liberalism’s naïve approach to Islamism is part of the problem, rather than the solution.
In the ninth century the British Isles faced a similar threat, both military and ideological from the pagan Viking invasions. The military response was led by King Alfred, yet there was also an ideological response. Central to the latter was the publication of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle demonstrating that England’s history was predominantly Christian. At the same time, Asser’s Life of Alfred similarly sought to unite the Welsh behind Alfred, in what centuries later Winston Churchill, when facing a similar threat during the Second World War, would call the battle for Christian civilisation.
In his monumental three volume Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England published between 1980 and 2001 Maurice Cowling set out how the Christian foundations of our society were increasingly being undermined by a new liberal consensus. In doing so he both established this as a field of academic study and the need for a persuasive counter narrative which he anticipated would be based on ‘Christian Conservativism’. It is abundantly clear that counter narrative now additionally needs to address the threat to our national identity and values posed by Islamism. Indeed, Cowling’s third volume was published just months before the events of 11 September 2001, which caused a paradigmatic shift in political awareness of Islamism, although the threat that ideology posed to our institutions and values had clearly been present for at least a generation,
This book seeks to provide at least a contribution towards re-establishing that counter narrative. It argues that the national identity and values of the English speaking peoples have historically been rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. The neglect of this has led to a loss of confidence and uncertainty in respect of national identity and values. The main chapters of this book therefore each have a threefold structure, they begin with an examination of the Judaeo-Christian worldview and the values derived from it; a middle section examines the significance and outworking of these values over the course of our history; while the final section examines Conservative approaches to the subject.
I hope that writing about the development of the values that have historically emerged among the English speaking peoples, may help us learn to cherish them more. At the moment these central values are under threat as much from a failure to transmit them and our national story they are embedded in, as they are from being undermined or usurped by liberalism which has its own rather shallow values and from the more direct challenge of Islamism.
Yet these values are precious. Australian author Markus Zusak’s novel The Book Thief which has recently been made into a film depicts life for ordinary people in pre-war Germany under the Nazis where such values gradually disappear. People are afraid to speak about certain subjects for fear that they will lose business or jobs or worse, while books that are not deemed to be politically correct are publicly burnt. Watching it my mind went back to visiting a friend in Pakistan some years after shari’a had been formally introduced there. This included the ‘blasphemy laws’ which effectively pronounce a death sentence on any non Muslim accused of criticising Islam. My friend, who was a senior Christian leader in that country, quietly said to me ‘we’ve told our children not say anything if they are asked about their faith on the bus or train – it’s too dangerous’.
In the countries of the English speaking world we have historically developed national values such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press. Over the last two centuries these have arguably been the English speaking people’s greatest gift to the world. Yet today these values are under threat. As I write this, news comes from Iraq that the radical group calling itself Islamic State appears to be trying to eradicate anyone from its territory who does not publicly follow its own brutal version of Islam, murdering, raping and enslaving members of the area’s ancient Christian and Yezidi communities who refuse to convert. They are also confiscating and burning any books which they disapprove of, including a 900 page encyclopaedia of the history of Christians in Iraq as they appear intent on ‘cleansing’ the area’s history of all references to any who hold different beliefs including the region’s ancient Shi’a, Christian and Yezidi minorities. Yet extreme though this is, it is not an isolated instance, but indicative of a broader trend. For five years I published an annual summary on the ConservativeHome website of the way that shari’a enforcement had spread both in terms of its geographical extent and its intensity around the world. This is of course a threat that we also face at home, not simply from violent Islamism or jihadism as it has increasingly become known, but also from non-violent Islamists. The latter share the same broad aims as jihadists, the spread of Islamic government and enforcement of shari’a around the world, though they seek to use the political process to achieve those aims. Liberalism also presents a significant threat to our historic freedoms, both from its own naïve approach to Islamism, but also through recent changes that have taken place in Liberalism itself. These, essentially represent a new form of intolerance in which what is misleadingly termed ‘toleration’ is ‘enforced’ on wider society. It is not genuine toleration, which is normally understood as tolerating views that one disagrees with, but quite the reverse, for what is not tolerated is any challenge or alternative to Liberalism itself. The result is that there are now certain topics, certain ethical views including some which for centuries have been mainstream historic Christian beliefs, which it is now difficult to express in public without risking public approbation or in some instances risking one’s career prospects or worse. Such a philosophy can never form the basis of a free society. In fact it positively undermines it.
In setting out the challenge of Islamism I am very aware that I am setting out with the reader on contested territory. The manner in which it is contested is worth briefly commenting on, for I suspect that few radical Islamists will disagree with my description of Islamist aims and strategies. However, it is contested by many on the liberal-left who refuse to accept that Islamism has anything to do with Islam and regard its violent expressions as somehow explicable in terms of socio-economic disadvantage. They are joined by many non-violent Islamists who are happy to shelter under the shade offered by Liberals in forms such as political correctness, while at least in public keeping their longer term agenda less visible. In order to negotiate this contested territory I have included some quite lengthy endnotes from original sources in chapter four so that readers who choose to can view them for themselves.
At this point it also needs to be emphasised that the majority of Muslims in the English speaking world are not radicalised. By and large they are like the rest of us and just want to get on with their normal family lives without either their fellow citizens eyeing them suspiciously or Islamists seeking to enforce greater ‘Islamisation’ on their local school or neighbourhood. For the majority of Muslims in the English speaking world Islam is primarily a devotional faith that follows a centuries old path. Their faith does not have an overt political agenda and certainly not one to be enforced on others. In order to emphasise this point, alongside the discussion of Islamism in chapter four I have also drawn attention to an alternative that was first articulated by Muslims during Victorian times, that of Anglophile Islam – a devotional faith that embraces the historic values of the English speaking peoples such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press and so forth. By its very definition this form of Islam is compatible with our society and presents no tangible threats to our historic values. Indeed, many Muslims who consciously or otherwise follow Anglophile Islam contribute more to the traditional values of our society than liberals who are intent on undermining them.
However, this is also a book about Conservativism. Conservativism is one of the great ideas of the English speaking peoples. The idea that we could learn from the past, that we could develop learning, social organisations such as marriage and the family and ways of doing things that meant that we did not have to reinvent the wheel every generation with all its frustrations, disappointments and pain. But Conservativism cannot work on its own. At least throughout almost the entire history of the English speaking peoples it has not done so on its own. It has required values drawn from the Judaeo-Christian worldview as its foundation.
We can date the emergence of modern Conservativism to an extraordinary period in history towards the end of the eighteenth and the start of the nineteenth centuries. This period lay between the formal Act of Union between England and Scotland in 1707 leading to the creation of Great Britain and the 1801 Act of Union by which the latter was also united to Ireland becoming the United Kingdom. This period witnessed an extraordinary flourishing of a whole host of new subjects as England’s trade was united with the then vastly superior education system of Scotland and the Irish were brought into the London parliament. Three figures will suffice for us to reflect on here. First, Adam Smith (1723-90), widely regarded as the father of modern Economics, born at Kirkcaldy in Scotland who argued against the excessive government interference in trade known as Mercantilism and whose ideas when implemented led to the flowering of Victorian trade and national prosperity; Secondly, Edmund Burke (1729-97) the Dublin born MP who supported American independence. His Reflections of the Revolution in France not only showed the dangers of utopian schemes that aim to ignore history and start all over again from a blank sheet of paper, but also positively set out a counter narrative against the threat of revolutionary France that has lasted to this day as the single most important argument for Conservativism ever written; Thirdly, William Wilberforce (1759-1833), the son of wealthy merchant from Kinston upon Hull in Yorkshire, and close friend of Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger. Wilberforce’s place in history was sealed by his leadership of the campaign to abolish the slave trade and through his membership of numerous societies and championing of countless causes that aimed to make the world a better place. However, he is also largely responsible for almost single handedly placing social concern on the agenda of what was in a generation’s time to become officially named as the Conservative Party. Significantly, Wilberforce and a small group of Tories around him did so almost a century before either Liberals gave serious consideration to such issues or Socialism even emerged.
What is striking about each of these figures is the importance of Christianity in their lives. Adam Smith not only wrote his famous An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in 1776, but had also earlier written The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith believed that there had to be an underpinning moral ethic for free markets to work properly and it was Christianity which provided that ethic. For Edmund Burke, Christianity provided the very basis of our civilisation which was then under attack from the French revolutionaries, who rejecting what had been learnt in the past, even went so far as to espouse Atheism. William Wilberforce needs little introduction, suffice to say that the primary motivating energy behind his great life was the outworking of Christian principles which he passionately believed were good for society.
However, while Conservativism is about conserving the best of the past, this in itself raises one seemingly awkward question. What should we conserve? For Burke, the answer was simple, it is the principle that must be preserved, not the particular form that it takes. But what exactly are those principles? From this two broad schools of Conservativism have emerged: one tended to view Conservativism as a set of principles to be held, the other has more often tended to see it as a process of slow change, preserving as much as possible for as long as possible. I hope that I shall provide at least a ray of enlightenment on that subject by the end of this book!
My focus is not simply on the economic aspects of Conservativism, which, important as those are, have tended to predominate in recent years. Rather my concern is with a broader sweep of history, our identity, specifically our national identity, who we are as a nation and as a family of nations who have sprung from a common tree among the English speaking peoples. What are our common values that have developed over the course of our long and often shared history?
However, it will be evident from the above that Conservativism developed in the UK some years after the USA’s 1776 declaration of independence. Consequently, whilst drawing on common antecedents, US and British Conservativism have significant differences as well as similarities. The focus of this book is primarily on British Conservatism. Nonetheless, during the twentieth century there have been significant occasions when the two have interacted significantly, particularly during the Thatcher and Reagan eras. Then there was not only a close connection in economic policy, but also a common understanding of the Judaeo-Christian foundations of their respective countries and the threat posed by Soviet Communism. I would hope that readers in the USA will, despite the differences, nonetheless find much in this book to profit from as a fruitful interaction between two streams of Conservativism. This book also on occasion refers to Conservatism in the other countries of the English speaking world such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand. I have included these examples not simply because of the importance of British Conservativism to the historical emergence of Conservativism in those countries, but because in a globalised world, the distinctive forms in which Conservativism has developed there similarly represents a fruitful interaction. I have also included those references to Conservativism in the wider English speaking world for another reason. Since the end of the Second World War questions have increasingly been asked as to what the UK’s role in the world now is. The answer I would suggest lies in closer ties of friendship and partnership with those who most closely share our values, the other members of the English speaking world. It is they after all, who in two world wars have quite literally crossed the oceans to stand alongside us in defending those values when others had forsaken them.
In his epic trilogy the Lord of the Rings published between 1954 and 1956 Oxford academic J.R.R. Tolkien tells the story of a hobbit Frodo Baggins, who has never previously ventured beyond the Shire where he was born. When not only the Shire, but also the whole world is threatened by the rise of an evil empire intent on world domination, most people simply carry on their lives oblivious to the encroaching danger. Yet, Frodo with growing and ultimately extraordinary resourcefulness and resilience, leaves the Shire along with his three hobbit friends Sam, Merry and Pippin, all equally unacquainted with the world beyond. At great personal cost, banded together with other members of Middle Earth who share the same values, they help bring about the defeat of the enemy and salvation of not only the Shire, but the whole of Middle Earth. Significantly, it is only when they begin to perceive what the Dark Lord intends to do to the whole of Middle Earth including the Shire, that they really begin to appreciate the values that have underpinned their life in the Shire and believe they are really worth fighting and, if necessary, dying for.
In a twist which will have resonated deeply with many who returned home from the battlefields of the Second World War, Tolkien’s narration makes clear that those back in the Shire have no real cognisance of the part played by those who now return having saved the Shire. Nor have they any real understanding of how much the life they value and in many respects take for granted has been threatened. That is in many respects a picture of the English speaking peoples. Towards the end of the story as Frodo says farewell to Sam he sums up what has been his mission ‘I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved’ and encourages Sam to ‘keep alive the memory of the age that is gone, so that people will remember the Great Danger and so love their beloved land all the more.’ Tolkien’s words here written in the decade after the Second World War show extraordinary prescience and are perhaps as profound in their prophetic as their literary sense.
In this book I have not saved the Shire, would that it were that simple! But I hope that it will inspire others to do just that, to learn to value and cherish our national identity, our national story and the historic values of the English speaking peoples which have developed throughout the course of that story and not take them for granted, but do whatever is necessary to defend them.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it and learning from it.
 Maurice Cowling Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England Volume 1 (Cambridge:CUP,1980); Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England Volume 2 Assaults (Cambridge:CUP,1985); Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England Volume 3 Accommodations (Cambridge:CUP,2001). He stated that ‘the purpose of this volume is to establish the existence and importance of a field of study’ and although preferring the term ‘counter revolution’ explicitly anticipated this being based on ‘Christian Conservativism’ (2:453-54).
 Markus Zusak The Book Thief (London:Transworld,2007). The film adaptation directed by Brian Perceval was released in 2013.
 J.R.R. Tolkien The Fellowship of the Ring (1954,1966), The Two Towers (1954,1966) and The Return of the King (1955,1966) reprinted as The Lord of the Rings (London:Harper Collins,1994):1006.