In 2022, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group financed the publication of the book “Tradition and Change. Scruton’s Philosophy and its Meaning for Contemporary Europe”. The presentation of such book in the European Parliament was commented in a previous article.
MEP Prof. Zdzisław Krasnodębski is the author of two articles in the book, namely, the introduction (entitled “Conservatism for Europe, against Radicalism), and “Is God a Conservative?”
In the introduction, Dr. Krasnodębski reminds us of a very interesting political fact. The term “social democrat” means mainly an ex-communist in Central and Eastern Europe. This should be used further on the continent and beyond to recall that social democrats, or socialists, are technically ex-communists. This is true not only for historical reasons, but also from an intellectual point of view. Both social democrats and communists share a common root, that of Marxism; though to be considered a “social democrat” brings a certain aura of decency in comparison to communists, whose failure and destruction is more obvious.
Further on, our author explains that in Anglo-Saxon countries, “conservatism” became synonymous with neo-liberalism and boiled down to demands such as low taxes, plus a minimal and a worldview-neutral state. If one thinks of the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, this reflects as very true. But because of the great influence of Anglo-Saxon country all over the world, such meaning can well be extended to many other countries. For this reason, Prof. Alasdair MacIntyre has distinguished between “conservative” and “traditional”.
The case of Germany reads rather funny in the words of Prof. Krasnodębski. He writes that within the German nation, the past is something that must be “overcome”, not continued. The sense of guilt coming from the Nazi times taints Europe with guilt. As a consequence, many Germans warn and demand a break with tradition as of their defeat after World War II. According to the scholar from Poland, their neighbouring country can be thus considered the pioneer of the “cancel culture”, a lot earlier than the United States. This implies a certain criticism of the German cancel attitude.
On the other hand, “one can hardly expect Germany to cultivate its national tradition or heroic virtues in an unrestrained way”; as if Germany’s national tradition were violence, its “heroic virtues” amounting to pure force and revenge which need to be restrained. In any case, regardless of whether such restrain is to be expected in Germany, it does not follow that it should be the general pattern of behaviour. Other countries do not need to break with their tradition, neither to cultivate their own heroic virtues in a restrained way, as it would not pose the risks of catastrophy entailed in the sad example of the German nation.
Be that as it may, the Polish politician quite rightly asserts that both fascism and National Socialism, in actual fact, were not part of a tradition, but instead revolutionary movements, an ideological transformation of Marxism and socialism, and anti-conservative. Probably one should not speak of “transformation” of socialism, but rather a version of same. If socialism is fundamentally the appropriation by the state of many natural institutions that should belong to intermediary bodies of society, such practice was performed by the Nazis with regards to political power and representation, not just via a single political party, but also through the woman’s organisation, the youth organisation, the trade union, and so forth – all in the name of the German people, as commonplace Marxists would have done.
As to the term anti-conservative, this seems more controversial, since the Nazis did not really disturb conservative elites, whether intellectual (e.g. Carl Schmitt), economic (German konzerns), or cultural (Wagner, Strauss). Nor the other way around: the heirs to the Prussian romantic unification collaborated with the Third Reich as a natural evolution of affairs. Perhaps the distinction between conservation and tradition is once more of use, for one could hardly defend that there is no rupture between National Socialism and the classical tradition embodied in Christendom.
Prof. Krasnodębski considers “illusory” and even “impossible” to believe in an economic system other than the one called capitalism. Such position is clearly conservative and goes back to his previous description of Anglo-saxon neoliberalism: a minimal state leaves all the ground to the liberal market to act within its economic system, capitalism. However, before the Reformation broke and expanded there was an alternative, a third system in place, different from both capitalism and socialism, which proved to be rather successful and rather fair, at the same time. Quite probably a third difference between tradition and conservation can be found here.
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