That said, I do now propose to do him a great disservice, and attempt to answer some of the points he raises (and not just because he was nice about me - if being described as a classic Conservative is nice). The first point is that Conservative and right-wing are not synonymous. This is absolutely right - especially as the term 'right-wing' has largely lost all meaning. It originates, incidentally, from the inter-war French Parliament as a physical description of where the deputies sat - Socialists and Communists on the left, Monarchists and Conservatives on the right, and moderates in the middle. It wasn't a conclusive definition then, one delegate saying that he 'was elected on the left, voted with the right, and sat in the middle', and it's no better now.
The second, linked point is that Conservatism is not the same as Republicanism - which Atlanticists on both sides of the pond often ignore. There was an excellent Flanders & Swann concert in New York where Michael Flanders introduced a song about British politics by saying "now, you must realise about British politics that, like you, we have two parties. We have the Labour Party or, as you would say, Socialist; and we have the Conservative Party or, as you would say, Socialist." That may be less true now, but it's worth remembering that Republicans are not Tories, and vice versa. For God's sake - even the name is anathema to Conservatives!
Unity then identifies a strain of political thought, particularly on the US right, that he thinks is making all the running on the right:
These people aren’t just dumb and ignorant, they’re dumb, ignorant and proud of it. In fact they revel in it to extent that what passes for debate in their circles tends to bear more of a resemblance to a shit-flinging contest at a chimp’s tea party than anything one might reasonably consider an argument.
There's a hefty element of truth in this, and the best place to find these people is in comment boxes all across the web. Realising that tu quoque is a pretty weak argument, I would point out that this phenomenon is hardly unique to any political viewpoint. Read Comment is Free and you'll see that the above is a pretty apt description of that too. But is the Right in terminal decline? Unity thinks so:
Intellectually its already in a state of near-terminal decline, more so for being blind to its own failings, which are perhaps best summed up in the all to common practice of its remaining adherents describing themselves as being:
…an economic liberal and a social conservative.
Well, if that’s how you like to describe yourself then congratulations. Bully for you. You’ve made an interesting lifestyle choice but in no sense can you call that a political philosophy.Well, for all that I do see myself as a Conservative, I have always (since a nauseatingly young age in fact) described myself as an economic Conservative and a social liberal. I'm a Conservative in the same way that PJ O'Rourke is a Republican - the blog title wasn't just a grab at lustre-by-association. Bluntly, I want a government that leaves both my wallet and my cock alone - but since I use my wallet more often, I'm a Conservative.
Part of the problem here is the woolly and unhelpful use of words like 'liberal'. Neo-liberal economics is essentially a classically free-market position, slightly tweaked. Being liberal on personal matters ought to mean leaving them the hell alone - but 'liberals' often seem to want to intervene everywhere. If the Conservatives want to legislate on encouraging marriage, does that make them more or less liberal than the Labour Party who want ID cards, or the Liberal Democrats who want to ban petrol-engined cars?
Unity identifies, as a fatal weakness, the fact that Conservatism, as a philosophy, is inherently contradictory and hollow. In a sense, though, that's less of a bug than feature. Strong and coherent ideas are quite often wholly wrong. Fascism (in its theoretical sense) is moderately coherent, Communism more so, Theocracy more so than either. None are desirable. When Benjamin Disraeli said that a Conservative Government was an organised hypocrisy, he wasn't being rude.
Conservatism holds, more or less, that Government is usually worse than the alternative - yet when in power, they have, obviously, to exercise Executive power. Often, they will have to extend it. It has always been hard to define Conservatism, as usually it genuinely doesn't stand for anything. There are no great texts that a Conservative can shake and say 'See! It's all in there!'
Unity, in my view correctly, identifies the libertarian right as the most influential (and funniest, best-written and prolific) part of the 'right-wing' British blogosphere. Have a look at my links on the right - Mr Eugenides, the Devil's Kitchen, Dizzy, Guido (though Unity won't like that one): all are from the libertarian side. Of classic Conservatives, probably only Matt Sinclair counts. Since I flirt with libertarianism myself, particularly on social policy, why don't I consider myself one?
PJ O'Rourke said that "A libertarian is a conservative with an acknowledged vice, like, say, a teenage girlfriend." I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that, but I would say that Conservatives are, essentially, sober libertarians. Get a few drinks in us and we support flat taxes, legalised drugs and, when my wife's not listening, probably teenaged girlfriends. But, in the grey mornings, Conservatives tend to think that these might be nice ideas, but they won't work. The inner civil-servant is an ever-present in most Conservative thinkers.
I've gone on a bit, and I'm not really sure whether or not I've addressed the question of what sort of Conservative I am, let alone what Conservatism means. Iain Macleod gave the pithiest summing-up of this view of Conservatism:
"The Socialists can scheme their schemes; The Liberals can dream their dreams: we have work to do."