In the last few years we have all witnessed the odd trend whereby it has become almost ‘cool’ to be a conservative.
Johnny Rotten (from the Sex Pistols!) backing Trump. Conservatives, including Trump himself, repeatedly banned by the corporate giants of Big Tech. The fact that the left ‘can’t meme’, etc.
And yet, can a conservative really be a rebel?
I have found myself pondering this apparent paradox due to the almost comically perfect contrast between me — a right wing nutcase off the telly — and a friend of mine, a good person but pretty much the poster boy for the metropolitan liberal elite.
My friend works for one of our most august institutions. It would perhaps be ungallant to mention which one, but I can say that their purpose and usefulness has been under question a lot of late, and that they hate Boris Johnson. Luckily that does not narrow it down at all.
He has worked at this same institution ever since graduating from university. He has three children (which is the new two children, signalling you have slightly more money than your parents did). He was head boy at school, and captain of the football team. He has never suffered mental health problems beyond mild road rage. He also likes Mumford & Sons (except, presumably, the wayward Winston, who recently had to leave the band for reading a book).
In other words, he is normal to a fault. Normal McNormington, king of the Normies.
He also happens to be radically left wing.
Now, he would deny that, which itself is a textbook characteristic of what we might call ‘The New Normie’.
While the hardcore Owen Jones type is proud of being an absolutely massive lefty, the New Normie would maintain that they are simply a reasonable and sensible chap. Competence is their watchword. A belief in any set of ideas — Christianity, Marxism, classical liberalism — is dismissed as the stuff of ‘space cadets’.
Yet get them talking on the subject of Black Lives Matter, or even violent clandestine dweebs Antifa, and they will suddenly become irrationally defensive and angry. For now you have trespassed into their own belief system, which doesn’t even recognise itself as such, because what you are witnessing is simply unthinking conformity. It’s just that this conformity now happens to be pretty ruddy left wing (or at least exceedingly woke, and we won’t go down the rabbit hole of that distinction here).
The Normie has somehow gradually shifted to the far left, at least on certain social and cultural issues, while maintaining a veneer of civility around things like the economy.
The same people who, for example, after 9/11 were strongly suggesting we stop and search anyone of vaguely Muslim appearance (because that was the current thing) now support the burning down of cities because of the unfortunate death of American criminal George Floyd.
Where these people would have once had disdain for the far left, as well as the ‘Tories’, their beliefs are now a bizarre concoction of neoliberalism and revolutionary communism. They believe in the single market and also in torching small businesses in places like Seattle, where they will never go.
If you find yourself opposed to this lot on virtually every issue, congratulations, you are now what I am calling a conservative rebel. A despised figure who has sympathy with the Brexit vote, doesn’t think GB News is inherently evil, and finds Donald Trump to be at the very least ‘quite funny’.
(Whether Brexit, GB News, or Trump are actually conservative goes beyond the scope of this piece, but broadly the answers are ‘Probably’, ‘No’, and ‘It depends’).
The rebel part of the equation is simple enough — you like all the naughty things that the mainstream culture tells you are bad. But when you pair it with conservative, things start to get weird.
As a conservative rebel, one arrives at the truly bizarre predicament of attempting to defend western culture on behalf of its most upstanding, and most privileged, beneficiaries. Most of whom are getting a lot more than you out of the very tradition that they are intent on trashing.
Much like my friend, who makes good money, has a decent-sized house in London, drinks approved ales in moderation, and speaks to people in the clipped, slightly impatient tone of one who is responsible for important things that you couldn’t possibly understand.
I on the other hand drifted most of my early life, then pursued stand-up comedy for 10 years, before making a living giving my opinion on various alternative media platforms. I have an extensive knowledge of alt-country music, have seen many harrowing art films with subtitles, and have read an extraordinary amount of postmodernist fiction. I have no children, and could probably not keep a dog alive more than a week (my ex-girlfriend gave me a bonsai tree once, apparently the most easy to maintain plant of all — it perished in what felt like minutes).
In other words, my friend should be the conservative. In many ways is the conservative. Yet he has a rainbow flag as his profile pic, wouldn’t be caught dead in a church except for his middle class conventional wedding day, and his only conception of the Devil is some dastardly combination of Trump, Boris Johnson, and backbench MP Steve Baker.
While here I am, living in a small flat by myself with no real social ties — a textbook dispossessed loner, who is for some reason hellbent on preserving classical English liberalism and the family against the ravages of… English liberals with families.
As a frequently unemployed, melancholy misfit, I don’t feel I especially reap the benefits of our great culture, at least not to the degree of the professional class Normatons, and I have no genetic legacy to concern myself with. Yet I am terrified of my nephews and niece being brainwashed into woke garbage (possibly even befuddled into thinking they are trans) while their Normie parents walk obliviously into this leftist carnage, rainbow flags aloft.
My sister-in-law recently told me she didn’t want her kids to receive any Christian teaching as part of their education, in case they become indoctrinated against their will. I pointed out (very politely and conservatively) that at a secular state school they will certainly be indoctrinated, but it will be in the latest woke drivel, and that it seemed rather a risk to deny them the Christian basics we learnt as children, as, aside from, for example, the beauty of hymns and the nativity story, we simply have no idea what happens when all that good stuff is briskly removed.
This is the paradox of being the conservative rebel, the cautious outsider.
What I’m not certain about is whether this is a new phenomenon, or in fact the standard fate of the conservative. Roger Scruton talks about being effectively hounded out of the leftist-ridden universities, and how ‘conservative intellectual’ has long been considered an oxymoron.
Perhaps to be a true conservative was always an oddity. Conservatism comes as the result of thought and observation — two qualities that are rather rare. My assumption, observing the gradual radicalisation of my friend and his ilk over time, is that when the structures of society itself were more conservative, one may have been a natural conservative without any effort, just as now one is a natural BLM enthusiast.
Or it may simply be that the past, by its nature, always appears more conservative (except where revolutionary movements have temporarily sprung up and suddenly disappeared — we may even be in one of the latter at present). Yet maybe within those seemingly conservative societies there were always people of a purer than average conservative temperament, equally disgusted by what they saw as the knee-jerk liberal decadence of the times.
It is very hard for me to know any of this for sure, because I have not received a proper education. Which may also be the nature of the new conservative rebel. I heard it said somewhere recently that conservatism has moved from the upper class, to the middle class, and now finally, in the post Brexit world, to the working class. I am perhaps more accurately located in the lower middle, but the point still stands.
At any rate, whether it is class, temperament, or just the historical fate of the conservative, I am clearly not the same as the north London middle class woke types I happen to live amongst.
And yet, dear reader, I will keep trying to save them from themselves. A thankless task, but one which the God they definitely don’t believe in, but which I most certainly do, seems to have bestowed upon me.
Nick Dixon is a regular panellist on GB News. He will shortly be hosting the Weekly Sceptic, our new podcast.