Politics, Cambridge changes, and Orwell’s England
Carl R. Trueman | The issues, not my convictions, have changed
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Have I changed my mind? That is a question I have been asked repeatedly over the last few years. The reason? Many years ago, I published a small book, Republocrat, that criticized attempts by Christians to press voting for one party or another as a hallmark of Christian fidelity.
At the time, many on the right read it as a liberal-left leaning tract that showed, in the words of one correspondent, that I simply “didn’t get it”—whatever “it” might have been. Since that time, I have come to write almost exclusively for organizations associated with strongly conservative policies. So, the recent inquiries make sense.
So have I changed my mind? Yes, but only in the sense of a Cambridge change—perhaps oddly appropriate for a Cambridge graduate.
To clarify: “Cambridge change” is a term given to a trick played by language. Take, for example, a man sitting on a bench to the left of a tree. We can say “The tree is on the man’s right.” If he now stands up and walks to the right of the tree, we can say “The tree is now on the man’s left.” The sentence seems to imply the tree has moved but it has not. It is the man who has changed sides.
That has been my experience of politics in the decade since I first published Republocrat. Where once I considered myself on the left of the pressing issues of the day, now I find myself on the right. Yet it is the issues, not my convictions, that have changed.
The single most important book I ever read in terms of my basic political instincts was by George Orwell, which I read when I was aged 14. It was not, however, one of his great works—Animal Farm, 1984, or even A Homage to Catalonia. Rather, it was his account of traveling through the north of England during the 1930s, The Road to Wigan Pier. The descriptions of the poverty of working-class Britain were powerful and, given Orwell’s ability to describe smells, pungent and memorable even 40 years on. And I challenge anyone to read the chapter on his day working down a mine and not be deeply moved at the harshness of life and the brutality of working conditions therein described.
While at college in the 1980s, I myself spent a summer working on factory production line. Some years after that I was driving past at clocking off time and saw the same faces that I had worked with exiting the factory. Orwell’s account of the north of England came back to my mind as I realized that what had been a temporary drudge for me was daily life for them. My grandfather had been a factory worker all his life, from age 14, a lifelong socialist, and a union man. His mantra, “A fair-day’s pay for an honest-day’s work” made sense to me then as it still does now.
And yet my grandfather ended his days voting Conservative—for the party of Mrs. Thatcher, no less. He did so reluctantly but he did so by conviction: the conviction being that the Labour Party had abandoned the poor and the vulnerable in favor of middle-class identity politics and special interests. That was where the money and the votes were to be found. And that was the 1980s. How much more so is that the case today.
That is why I now appear to be on the right. I care for children and the vulnerable. Hence I cannot support any party that is ideologically committed to abortion and to trans issues. Advocating for infanticide and the genital mutilation of children too young to decide to have a tattoo, let alone whether they wish to have children 20 years hence, is simply not acceptable to anyone who wishes to make a credible case for being compassionate. And as a man whose instincts lie with the old pre-1960s left-of-center politics, it would be a pathetic betrayal of principle to claim otherwise.
And that brings me back to The Road to Wigan Pier. In the second part of that work Orwell expressed concern about middle class intellectuals allowing their ideological commitments to Marxist theory to eclipse their concern for the real poor and thereby betraying the weakest and the most vulnerable in society. Classical Marxism may not be the Left’s schtick today. The working class has after all, proved perennially disappointing to them at election time. But its postmodern progeny—gender theory, queer theory, critical race theory—now preoccupies their minds. And yes, I am way to the right of these ideologues. But I have not moved.
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