Nicholas’s post yesterday reminded us of some important truths about conservatism.In the end, politics is a second order activity. As the third Marquis of Salisbury once said: ‘God is love and the world is what it is. Explain that?’ The answer is that we are a fallen species. At best we can produce Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci and St. Francis; at worse, we produce Attila, Alexander Borgia and Hitler. We have the instincts of angels, and of demons. St Paul knew, as our faith knows, that left to ourselves we will verr off and like the dog return to its vomit. Original Sin is the one dogma that can be proven from our own experience of ourselves.
Politics can cure relatively few of our ills. At best there are some good people there who wish to make a difference to the lives of their fellows; the problem comes when they take the short cut of using the resources of others to fulfil that purpose. The intention is good, but the State is not a person and it is generally a mistake to allow its cold charity to replace the instincts of the human heart. It is best if politicians remember they are merely instruments in God’s hand and no not imagine they are that hand, or even God himself. In an era when faith in God is less, it was replaced by faith in politicians and the State; we are coming to the end of the short era in which that appeared to be a viable option to even the politicians.
This unthinking faith has been replaced for many of us with an equally unthinking scepticism. Politicians inflated the language of hope, and now that currency is devalued, we think it is worthless. How much better it would havce been had politicians tried to be more humble and more realitic about what politics can achieve. But they were not so, and now they pay the price.
People want to be told things are going to be all right in the end; children always want a good night story which ends well. That is not how life is. It is easy, tempting and inevitable that I should end by saying we need a Churchill. But we ought to recall that for the whole of the 1930s he was ignored and in the wilderness. The new democracy did not wish to be lectured or told that all was not going to be well. It wanted to believe that there would be ‘peace in our time’; it wanted to believe that Hitler was not evil in human form; it wanted, and got, its good night story. It also reaped the whirlwind.
‘Blood, toils, tears and sweat’, that was what Churchill promised us in 1940. That same democracy which had wanted pretty lies, woke up and took the truth on the chin. Our politicians are wrong to underestimate our capacity for hearing the truth spoken; as they are to underestimate our need for fairy stories. The values which infuse the Gospel message are as valid now as they have always been. In God alone lies real salvation, but in this vale of tears we are under an obligation to help those less fortunate than ourselves, as we are to conduct ourselves in a way which is worthy of a Christian. There is very little wrong that could not be cured by mankind following that message. But mankind rejected the prophets and they rejected the Lord when he came. The fruits of that rejection we see everywhere about us. It behoves our religious leaders to do what the prophets did to the cildren of Israel and speak truth unto power. Power will not like it, but so much the worse for power.