A Scrutonian Manifesto

Covenant: The New Politics of Home, Neighbourhood and Nation, Danny Kruger

Covenant: The New Politics of Home, Neighbourhood and Nation, Danny Kruger, Forum, 2023, £20.

Before becoming MP for Devizes in 2019, Danny Kruger enjoyed a long and fruitful political apprenticeship as thinktank researcher, conservative policy adviser, Telegraph leader writer, and special adviser and speechwriter to David Cameron before he became prime minister. One of the results was the 2007 Civitas pamphlet On Fraternity, in which Kruger lamented the “social desertification” that had occurred under successive Conservative and Labour governments in the name of “the cult of individual freedom”. What ought to lie at the heart of conservatism, he argued, was the fostering of civil society, a sense of community and a culture of belonging – the true ground of freedom. It is a pity that Kruger left politics shortly after to work for various charities, because he might have lent Cameron’s admirable “Big Society” initiative some impetus and intellectual ballast. In fact, it fizzled out after only a few years in government, leaving nothing behind but the haze of “compassionate conservatism”.

Kruger’s new book develops the themes of his earlier pamphlet, but instead of the nebulous term “fraternity”, he employs the more appealing formula of a “social covenant” in which a common conception of the good is founded on the cultivation of the virtues. He explores in practical detail the social and political policy implications. And he writes throughout with style and verve.

For Kruger, the polluted rivers of his Wiltshire constituency are a metaphor for a society that has lost its bearings. We have lost our sense of the things that matter: “our sense of ourselves, our relationships with one another, and our place in nature”. Instead, we are prey to a shallow consumerism, an addiction to progress and growth. Meanwhile, the local associations and institutions that mediate these relationships, reinforcing our local loyalties and attachments, are crowded out by an all-powerful state that ministers to our every need.

Kruger blames Enlightenment rationalism, the forerunner of today’s Cultural Marxism, which seeks to free us from all social attachments and inherited norms so that we can “fashion our own essence”. But compared to the liberalism of old, the new Marxism is like “a zombified monster”. The exclusive ideological identities it promotes, amplified by a culture of grievance and offence, turn us into “a society of shrieking ghosts, colourless harridans, and no less harmful for being ghostly”. But what is to be done?

The Human Rights Act of 1998 and the Equality Act of 2010 may have been well intentioned but have merely contributed to the entrenching of post-Marxist ideology via notions of group identities, protected characteristics, systemic bias, unconscious bias, and, ultimately, “thought crime”. They should go and be replaced by an older principle: “that the rights of the British people are protected by the ordinary laws of the land”.

The traditional covenant of relationships and reciprocal obligations, of “habits of right living”, centred on the institution of marriage has been shattered by the cult of personal liberty. In its place, we have recreational sex, pornography, transgender rights, and that “final fulfilment” of personal freedom, euthanasia. We therefore need to “get sex back where it belongs, behind closed doors”; and we need to regard the old and frail, again, as people whose lives are worth living. Kruger argues for a radical restructuring of society around married families with dependent children and elderly parents. We should tax households rather than individuals, as other countries do. We should promote the idea of a “family wage”, whereby “the household is supported on the earnings of a single full-time or two part-time workers”. And housing should be provided by Community Land Trusts, who acquire land and then sell or lease homes at affordable prices to local people.

We should also “break the grip of the large producers and retailers”, promoting local and sustainable models of farming instead; develop “a genuinely UK-based tech sector” that harnesses technology in the national interest; revive manufacturing to create jobs, skills and wealth beyond the City of London; and promote local finance sectors and regional banks. In a covenantal society, business must recognise “a wider set of obligations than returning profit to their owners”. Our duty of care to others must not all be outsourced to the state, but this requires radical changes to our economic model:  a family wage that creates the necessary time and space for family life and community service. Councils should open decision-making to their communities, and everyone should serve a year as a part-time local councillor.

How this could all be implemented is unclear. But in a political world desperately short on ideas, especially conservative ideas, Kruger’s work is brimming with them.

However, the central weakness in Kruger’s argument is all too familiar. He begins by arguing that if the social covenant is to be restored, there must be some common idea of the good life to bind people together. There is no point in trying to foster a civil society of local institutions and voluntary associations, Burke’s “little platoons”, if these have no shared loyalties. And this requires “a deference to the past”, an acknowledgement of “the primary authority of the historic culture of these islands”.. But almost immediately Kruger sounds the retreat:  , but also a culture “with full tolerance and respect for the many different cultures represented in our population”. Yes, the values and the culture of “our country as a whole”, but also allowing for “the fullest expression of cultural diversity that any country has developed”. What we need, is a stronger and more confident civic nationalism.

But civic nationalism is neither a common culture nor a common idea of the good life. It is, as Eric Kaufmann writes in Whiteshift, an inclusive and inoffensive conception of nationhood defined in terms of universal liberal values that cannot confer the identity of a shared culture. Kruger’s vacuous civic nationalism is, of course, a fudge, an evasion of the inherent contradictions of multiculturalism. To question the dogmas of multiculturalism and diversity immediately invites the racism charge, and subsequent cancellation. But so long as conservatives remain silent on these crucial cultural issues, their chances of defeating Cultural Marxism are slim.

Nevertheless, Kruger’s socially conservative Scrutonian manifesto is preferable to the desiccated liberalism currently on offer from the official Conservative party.


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