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Harsh Gupta
A Critique of Red Toryism
This article originally appeared in CRI content has now been subsumed in The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of

Philip Blond postulated a provocative intellectual strand of British Conservatism called “Red Toryism” that attacked ideological orthodoxy of those  advocating welfare state and the market state. Suprisingly this strand has remarkable similarity with Gurumurthy type thinking which rejects both state and market absolutism. Philip Blond has been mentioned as a major influence on the thinking of David Cameron. He positions civic state as the ideal, where the common good of society is valued and solutions essentially emerge from local communities.

CRI editorial team invited Harsh Gupta, a well-wisher and dear friend of CRI to critique this attempted fusion between social conservatism and market sceptisim. Here is what he has to say 

I had read this piece on Red Toryism earlier, and have briefly gone through this again. A few remarks:

I think this piece has enough straw men to scare all the crows in Bengal (and thats a lot of crows). Free markets arent incompatible with a communitarian ethic. And indeed the real source of hyper-individualization today is the left’s welfare state. Why have kids when you have social security etc and so on? Why stay in a joint family when the NREGA gives work per house in every Indian village (irrespective of whether a joint family or nuclear family lives there)

In so far as “Red Toryism” calls for a “Big Society” based on not just markets but decentralization and families too, this piece has a lot of legs.Indeed, the atomization complaint can seem to have some street cred what with Mrs. Thatcher having infamously said (quoting from memory) “There is no such thing as society”.

Although of course the context of Thatcher’s remarks was that the constant invoking of society as this abstract entity that should help and redistribute took away from individual responsibility because this invoking happened not on NGOs and church, temple etc platforms but in the sphere of politics where any redistribution is perforce by force, and not voluntary.

When communitarian-ism is voluntary and not forced, then the benefits of a big society start to pour in. Maybe I should not provoke that Hindu dude by deliberately killing cows in the open if most many charitable non-denominational schools are funded by a lot of Hindu (if agnostic) billionaires, and not by the state? Maybe I should not burn the Quran in my locality if the local genuinely decentralized school’s PTA has a higher-than-national-average of Muslim parents? Now, of course buring books and eating animals will remain my “right”. But my incentives will now change.

But guarantee welfare benefits along with liberal individual rights and indeed you have the fraying of society. The sexual revolution need not be subtle anymore, it can now indeed be about summers of love. Why should it be? The state guarantees my healthcare and education till I am 26 say and then there are employment benefits anyway! No restraints in the name of (a very predictable, monotonous and conforming) individualism.

A better way to understand how terribly misguided this critique is regarding the present center-right dispensations is to not look at British conservatism (which was never about center right philosophy historically, but about hierarchies) but the writings of two individuals – the American Paine and the Frenchman Tocqueville.

Paine categorically differentiated between state and society. The French dude noticed that the grassroots and non-redistributive democracy of America actually contributed to voluntary associations unheard of in even then statist France.

Gurumurthy or anybody from the BJP/RSS when they say they reject the absolutism of both the market and state are simply repeating a canard. It is a false choice for anybody at this level of intellectual discussion.

Markets need a very strong state to function. But a very limited state too. The difference is very important.

We need many police officers internally and many army officers externally. Pakistan is not getting a lot of FDI despite having less business regulations than India according to some reports – for obvious reasons.

Then we need that brilliant statist creation – quick and fair courts. A certain business family prefers business deals only within the members of fellow  community not because we dislike other communities but what if that ‘outsider’ dude reneges on our verbal or indeed written contract? Within our community, we can name and shame. What do I do about a dude in Chennai or Ludhiana?

A good legal system supports accretion of social capital and free market efficiency.

Finally, to talk about class monopolies and inequalities is neither here or not. Yes a static snapshot will reveal great stratification, but what is infinitely more important is a dynamic observation where class mobility and opportunity is real. That the state more than provides for.

And even if normatively we agree on the same level of state benefits, much better to give them through choice competition and decentralization. Red Tories or their equivalent (Christian socialists on the right, or Hindu swadeshis) may not object to this in principle, but in practice their instinctive aversion to markets can lead them to oppose say privatizing the social security system in India through the NPS (Yashwant Sinha’s call for guaranteeing returns recently in NPS) and similar opposition in the West etc.

Indeed, I would highly recommend books by Theodore Dalrymple – especially “Life at the Bottom” to understand why Britain and other countries need less communitarianism of the statist variety. The book is sharp, sad and funny. Hands down one of my best reads.

For a more 101 overview of the issue in the British context – more data-intensive, but less inspiring – read “The Welfare state we are in”.

(Image Courtesy -Prospect Magazine)