In May 1912, at the height of the Irish Home Rule crisis, the Ballymoney Free Press expressed in particular circumstances a universal truth of traditional Toryism. ‘The statement of Unionist Ulster’, it announced, ‘is that it merely wants to be let alone.’ Unfortunately, it continued, ‘since Satan entered the Garden of Eden good people will not be let alone’.1 The desire at the heart of traditional Toryism has been this same desire to be let alone in order to enjoy whatever vocation or customary pursuits may be freely chosen. It is explicit in Lord Hugh Cecil’s preference for the known, which is safe, to the unknown, which is likely to be dangerous. ‘Why not let it alone? Why be weary instead of at rest? Why rush into danger instead of staying in safety?’2 It is implied in Lord Hailsham’s celebrated passage where he argued, like most other conservative writers, that meddling in politics is very much a second order activity. For the Tory, life is elsewhere and, in a phrase that now conveys the assumptions of a lost world, the ‘simplest among them prefer fox-hunting — the wisest, religion’. Indeed, for Hailsham the person who would put politics first ‘is not fit to be called a civilised being’.3 There is an innocence, an authenticity, a piety in those non-political preferences and this attribution of value has consequences for conservatism itself.


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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arthur Aughey

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