I don’t think I’ll ever be a conservative. It’s just that these days I usually find that it’s conservatives who tend to say things that I agree with.
And what are conservatives? I suppose they are people who have no utopian ambitions for the complete reform of society, but who instead simply wish to conserve what is best in existing society. The revolutionaries want to chop down the whole tree: the conservatives simply want to prune it a little.
Anyway, I was interested last night to listen two conservatives in conversation: James Delingpole interviewing Peter Hitchens.
They started off talking about drugs and alcohol. But they soon (7 minutes and 20 seconds in) got onto smoking, and there followed the following exchange:
JD: I know that you feel the same about smoking – I think with more justification. You’re pissed off with it for killing your brother, and the whole culture that was indulging this vice which was so obviously destructive. And that’s changed with things like vaping, which was not introduced by the government, it was a cultural thing…
PH: Who knows? I can’t argue about that because we know so little about it at the moment. What I would say again is that If tobacco were being introduced newly into our society but we knew about it what we know now, we would not allow its widespread sale, distribution, advertising.
PH: We would probably try to ban it. And because it had not been introduced, we could probably successfully do so, but we can’t now. The interesting thing is that the law has been very cleverly used to reduce the amount of smoking. Where we are sitting now in a cafe in Kensington, you can’t smoke. And in almost any work place you can’t smoke. And in lots of other places. The fundamental penalty which falls on people if they do is a legal penalty, but it falls on the person who allows it, interestingly enough. There was once a law like that about marijuana, but it was overturned by the courts
JD: I can see why you believe in tough laws. You think that if something is wrong then the government has a duty to eradicate it by any means.
PH: I don’t believe in eradication. I’m not a utopian.
And with this interchange my opinion of both these conservatives dwindled significantly.
I had thought of James Delingpole as a smoker, if only because his podcast features an image of him with a pipe planted firmly in his mouth. But here he was, referring to smoking as a “vice” that was “obviously destructive”, and had indeed “killed” Peter Hitchens’ brother Christopher. So I can only think that James Delingpole doesn’t actually smoke a pipe, but only pretends to smoke one.
As for Peter Hitchens, his argument that, if tobacco was being introduced now, we would prohibit it, given “what we know now” about it, rests on the supposition that we actually know something about tobacco that we used once not to know. In this Hitchens is simply regurgitating the conventional wisdom about tobacco (a trait that he is at pains later on in the interview to deny that he ever does, claiming that all his views are carefully thought out).
Also Hitchens approves of the “clever” use of the law to reduce smoking, including in the Kensington cafe in which they are talking. And its principal cleverness was that was that the penalties that it exacted fell not so much on the smokers, but on the proprietors who allowed smoking to take place. For Hitchens, the law was a tool for social reform. While for me any such use of the law is an abuse of the law – which should be concerned primarily with equity, and with equitably resolving disputes between people (an idea embodied in the scales held by the blindfolded figure of justice).
But this wasn’t perhaps too surprising, given that Hitchens used to be a Trotskyite. He’s a reformed leftist, and later on in the interview he explains why – the gist of it being that he’d eventually realised that the left’s revolutionary goals were for an unattanable utopia.
And I don’t think that Delingpole has ever been any sort of revolutionary or Trotskyite or Maoist or Leninist. He’s much more like me: a pot-smoking hippie. And in fact, later on in the interview, Hitchens says that this was the real difference between them: Delingpole had smoked pot, and he had not.
It’s probably one of the most interesting interviews that Delingpole has ever conducted, and it’s well worth listening to in its entirety, mostly for Hitchens’ opinions on Blair, Brown (“communists”), Thatcher and Reagan (“not conservatives”) Throughout the interview Delingpole is alternating between admiration for Hitchens, and fury at him for not being a reliable “team player” for the right: “At Bastoigne you would have deserted us.”
But, at the end of it, as I say, I ended up disappointed with both of them. Delingpole, I felt, was a wishy-washy conservative who wasn’t really quite certain what he believed. And Hitchens wasn’t really a conservative at all: he actually remained as much a utopian revolutionary as he had always been, with the slight difference that he no longer believed that the utopia was attainable.
And I suspect I will end up disappointed with all conservatives. I spend a lot of time listening to US conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones and Michael Savage, and I’m gradually coming round to the view that they’re not conservative either. For I more and more believe that antismoking is anti-American in ways it could never be anti-British or anti-French or anti-German, because tobacco has been one of America’s greatest gifts to the world, and is something they should be as proud of as us Brits should be proud of William Shakespeare or Isaac Newton. So all these US “conservatives” (perhaps with the exception of Rush Limbaugh?) seem to me to be betraying their own heritage when they don’t speak up for tobacco, the war on which is primarily a war on America.
Unfortunately, I have bad news about Nisakiman. Two or three days ago he relayed to me what he now knew, and I can only think that he did that because he wanted me to tell my readers how matters now lay.
He has been diagnosed with “an inoperable tumor in the liver, lung, and bones.” He has been pumped full of drugs, and subjected to a battery of tests. That the tumor is inoperable suggests that the only options will be radiotherapy or chemotherapy or maybe just painkillers. I await further news.
But I’m hoping to see him soon. He’s in hospital in Swindon, only 70 km or so from where I live, and it won’t be too much trouble for me to drive down to see him when they let him out, and meet him in the flesh for the very first time.