Conservatism and Socialism

As people who read my blogs know, I take a keen interest in politics and am friends and engage with politicians from all parties. I do this because although I recognize the limitations as to what politicians and the political process can achieve, these do achieve something and this impacts on my concerns as a community activist. I have also stated on several occasions that I am politically neutral, as I remain unconvinced by any party to wholly deliver. But as things currently stand I have an inclination toward supporting Labour as opposed to Conservative, if I were pressed. I also encourage others to be involved politically, although urging them to do so based on following their convictions rather than advancing their careers. While I realize that siding with one or other party does not mean I have to stop opposing policies my party promotes and supporting the policies other parties promote, I have no inclination at this latter stage of my life to get over-involved politically. I do so because I have my work cut out already as a gospel preaching, community activist and I am getting old and show signs of slowing down. But I will work with politicians of any flavor to realize shared goals.

While there have been many variations during my lifetime, and this continues to be the case, the two main political philosophies I have come across in the UK are conservatism (a form of which is adopted by the Conservative party) and socialism (a form of which is adopted by the Labour party). But first some definitions:

Conservatism:

  1. The inclination, especially in politics, to maintain the existing or traditional order.
  2. A political philosophy or attitude that emphasizes respect for traditional institutions and opposes the attempt to achieve social change though legislation or publicly funded programs.
  3. Caution or moderation, as in behavior or outlook.

Socialism:

  1. Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy.
  2. The stage in Marxist-Leninist theory intermediate between capitalism and communism, in which the means of production are collectively owned but a completely classless society has not yet been achieved.

(Reference: the Free Dictionary and which was the first hit when I did a Google search)

I realize that some of my Conservative and Labour friends might take issue with these definitions and argue that things have moved on (and to the extent that distinctions are sometimes murky). The Conservative friend may well say: “we are the party of aspiration and fiscal responsibility and feel this is best achieved by minimal state control other than ensuring the books are balanced and security is maintained”. The Labour friend may well say: “while we recognize the need for sound governance, we also believe in the notion of justice and fairness and sometimes the State has to be involved to make sure this happens”. This brings me to what I thought was a brilliant cartoon (seen more from a socialist perspective), introduced as: “this brilliant comic strip on rich vs poor upbringing will humble you” and titled: “On a Plate”. But as is usually the case, there is an alternative perspective to be had…

My friend’s comment to my post: “I don’t totally agree with this. I was brought up in a small Welsh village, went to the local comprehensive school – my father was taken ill when I was 11 and was an invalid for the rest of his life. I passed 11 O levels at Grade 1 and three good A levels- whilst running home every lunchtime to take care of my sick father – while my mother was at work. I applied to University College London – passed my law degree – worked in the vacations – got a scholarship to a private law college to qualify as a barrister – my vacation wages also paid for my call to the bar at Gray’s Inn (dyeing my wedding dress black to comply with the dress coders I couldn’t afford to buy one!). I was lucky in that student grants were available in those days, although living in London was not cheap – but I managed with good budgeting taught by my remarkable mother. What is important is not the silver spoon in your mouth but the encouragement and confidence in your ability that is given to you by loving parents – and your own determination to succeed. I have tried to pass on these sentiments to the young adults who enrolled on to my law courses ‘as a second chance’. Many are now practising or teaching law with no privileged backgrounds or connections”.

I write this now as a warmer to a forthcoming post on the one person who has done more to influence the Labour Party than any other: Kier Hardie, but first I need to finish the book. It is personally pertinent as I see in the present Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, a lot of commonality with his party’s founder and in a strange way (for this middle of the road voter) there is a lot to attract. When I was teenage leftie, besides being influenced by Jesus’s message that sought to uplift the poor, I took inspiration from a number of quotes, like the one by Karl Marx: “the British capitalist system was built on the exploitation of the working class”. I responded to my friend: “You make some very good points. Like so much in life, there is a balance to be struck and when it comes to how life turns out the truth lies somewhere between this being as a result of one having been given support or not. I suspect many of those who make the most of life’s opportunities are those where things are NOT handed on the plate and many of those who whinge, think the world owes them a living and expects the state to bale them out are those who fail to make the most of life’s opportunities. These days, while slightly left leaning as a result of the social injustices I come across on a daily basis, I am still politically neutral for both socialism and conservatism are ideologically, philosophically and theologically thawed and the true answer is in the gospel. I will remember your comments though when I come to blog on a book I’m reading about Kier Hardie!

The theological reservation is important as far as I am concerned as it governs my response to so much in life, including politics. I get angry that groups of Christians, such as US fundamentalist types, base their favouring of right wing conservatism on the Old Testament theocratic model. My retort is that OT theocracy worked when those affected in the main feared God and it was balanced by concepts like showing hospitality to the foreigner, releasing of debts, the law on gleaning, the principle of tithing, the right of redemption etc. and, moreover, it was to do with a law based as opposed to grace covenant. As for groups like those who call themselves Christian socialists, who base their favouring of left wing socialism on the Bible’s call for social justice and the model of the early church, which “had all things in common”, I would say the Bible does not teach the State should control the lives of the people it governs any more than it needs to (for that is God’s prerogative), but rather it should focus on safeguarding principles of peace and order, and for people to get on with their lives, in order they might best fulfill God’s commands to love Him and their neighbor too.

There is a well known preacher, named David Pawson, who has more than once made the point that he does not go along with “isms” of any sort, other than Baptism and Evangelism. I am inclined to agree and thus disassociate myself from both conservatism and socialism, while there may be merits in both. And so folk are in doubt, I regard both Conservatism and Socialism as ideologically, philosophically and theologically flawed.

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One thought on “Conservatism and Socialism

  1. James says:

    I have often found that both the Left wing and the Right wing (definitions which I find not only unhelpful but inaccurate) have often been arguing:
    Person A ‘We must have food to live.”
    Person B ‘No, we must have water to live.”

    Yes social justice is vital and fundamental to our humanity but, without living within our means, social justice breaks down.

    In terms of Christianity and politics goes, I don’t believe that Jesus would advocate for the modern socialism because it allows people to be in the mould of Scrooge, “I have paid my taxes so they should be in this or that programme.”

    I think the nation should step away from social engineering and allow localism to pick up more; not just or even local government, but rather community and neighbours. – I have raised this with Green Party candidates, that doing more locally requires NO government initiative or involvement, and ultimately would revolutionise how we love and care for each other.

    I am also mindful of the feeding of the five thousand; the disciples were expected to do with what they had and what God provided. He didn’t send them to the nearest city to beg or call on taxation to pay to feed them.

    All government requires systems; all systems are impersonal and inhuman. It is the individuals within the system that adds the compassion – it cannot be adequately designed in, although it can be designed out.

    I would also add that government isn’t just the politicians but the officers and civil servants including judges. We get to vote out politicians so if we change our politicians and things go on as before then you have to ask if the politicians are the cause.

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