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Constructive Conservatism

This is an excellent work. A series of 4 short articles written by Noel Skelton in 1923/1924.

This shows a living conservatism that evolved with the times, making improvements upon standard traditional conservatism while retaining its traditional values. First and foremost, Skelter embraced universal suffrage and democracy, making him a partisan of modern liberal democracy. Traditional conservatives did not tend to be too fond of democracy, remaining either neutral or skeptical of democracy. Skelter fully embraced republicanism as a conservative.

He goes on to argue that modern liberal democracy needs widespread distribution of private ownership in order to be stable. He does not use the term "distributism," for he was writing before that term came into usage, but his views on economics and distributive justice align closely with those of Hilaire Belloc. Skelter argues that a "property-owning democracy," where most people have some wealth or capital or share of ownership in some enterprise is logically the only conservative alternative to socialism (public-ownership of industry). Skelton's "property-owning democracy" is liberal democracy plus distributism.

He refers to his new conservatism as "constructive conservatism," "progressive conservatism," and 'democratic conservatism.' He defends what he calls a "democratic constructive progressive conservatism."

Skelter coined the term "property-owning democracy." This concept was already present in civic republican theory (e.g. Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson) but it had no formal label. Later, John Rawls would take up the subject and espouse "property-owning democracy" as a key aspect of his political liberalism.

Constructive Conservatism

"But stability is not stagnation. Stability is as much the condition of steady progress for a society as it is for a ship. Stagnation, since life is movement, means necessarily that atrophy is at work; that tissues are dying which should be living; that dead matter is accumulating which must, by more or less violent means, be cast out. To confuse stability with stagnation is, however, from the nature of things, a special danger for Conservatism, for it is the natural defect of its virtue. And just because Conservatism is the real guardian of stability in the community—the school of thought which alone gives stable conditions their just valuation—it has a special duty constantly to search out the means by which stability threatened can be saved, stability lost can be recovered."—Noel Skelton ("Constructive Conservatism")

"For the mass of the people—those who mainly live by the wages of industry—political status and educational status have outstripped economic status. The structure has become lopsided. It is therefore unstable. Until our educated and politically minded democracy has become predominantly a property-owning democracy, neither the national equilibrium nor the balance of the life of the individual will be restored."—Noel Skelton (Constructive Conservatism")

"To the mass of the people the opposite is the case. Polities is their main point of contact with general ideas; the paramount expression of the life of the community: the chief, if not the only means of satisfying their goal des grandes choses. But. their attitude towards politics it is which makes true the definition of man as “a political animal”; for the mass of the people feel the reality, the life, the organic, as opposed to the mechanical, quality of politics. To them political deliberation is a high function, as the gravity and sincerity of a “popular audience” testify. If the British people do not now take their pleasures sadly, they certainly take their politics seriously."—Noel Skelter ("Constructive Conservatism")

"Every practical man knows, of course, that between the pure political principle which lies at the core of any living Party and the expression of it in legislation or otherwise by a Government there must be some loss of quality. The wine cannot be poured from the golden to the silver cup without parting with some of its fragrance. That is one of the inevitable features of the translation of thought into action, and only a pedant would deny that if compromise has any legitimate place in men’s affairs it is there. But the compromise of thought, the hybridization of underlying principles, is in quite another category. It produces sterility of action; it turns the organic into the mechanical."—Noel Skelter ("Constructive Conservatism")

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