I recently read a claim by someone who claimed to be a conservative (Michael van der Galien) that conservatism is focused on individuals. It’s quite possible that that’s how many people see it these days but I really don’t agree.
Neoconservatives definitely would like us to believe that there is a spectrum and at one end of the spectrum you have individualism (which they equate to freedom) and at the other end you have collectivism or statism.
Is this really true? It’s certainly true that individualism and collectivism are opposed but is it a simple spectrum?
It seems to me that traditional society was focused on groups rather than individuals but that did not make such a society collectivist. There were some major differences. For one thing the groups that comprise traditional western European society (the family, neighbourhoods, the village, churches, etc) were to a large extent voluntary. You were not forced to marry. If you really disliked your village you could leave and move elsewhere. If you were tired of being a Methodist you could switch to the Anglican Church. For another, these groups were organic rather than artificial. They were not created and maintained by government edict.
In this respect any kind of traditionalist conservatism is quite distinct from individualist ideologies but is just as opposed to statism.
There is in fact a name for a philosophy that focuses on individuals rather than groups. That philosophy is called liberalism. Anyone who espouses such an ideology is a liberal, not a conservative. Almost all of those within the Anglosphere today who claim the label conservative are in fact liberals. This is especially true in the United States where actual conservatism, as a political philosophy, scarcely exists (and never did exist to any significant degree).
It’s extremely amusing to see the attacks launched by self-described conservatives against Donald Trump. They claim he is not a true conservative. They are of course correct. He is a liberal. The amusing part though is that these self-described conservatives are, almost without exception, much more thoroughgoing liberals than Trump. Trump is a liberal with a few mild conservative leanings. They are liberals with no conservative leanings at all.
At least in Australia our Liberal Party is honest enough to label itself correctly. It is not by any stretch of the imagination a conservative party.
So where does this leave people who actually do have conservative beliefs? If we call ourselves conservatives we will be misunderstood. We will be confused with the neoconservatives (who are in fact the extreme wing of liberalism). For some years now the word conservative has been becoming less and less useful. It is now not only not useful but dangerously misleading.
Other potentially useful words, such as reactionary, have been claimed by small splinter groups (in this case the neo-reactionaries). This is annoying to me since reactionary is a much more accurate epithet in my case than conservative. I have no desire to conserve the status quo. I wish to restore a much earlier version of the status quo. Restorationist has been proposed but it suggests an exclusive focus on a desire to restore the powers of monarchy. Personally I would like to see a dramatic increase in the powers of the monarchy but only as part of a wider programme.
Perhaps I could call myself a paleo-reactionary!