Magazine article The Spectator

The US Has Been in the Right for Much of the Past 50 Years. That Does Not Mean That She Is Right Now

Magazine article The Spectator

The US Has Been in the Right for Much of the Past 50 Years. That Does Not Mean That She Is Right Now

Article excerpt

Edward Smith is a professional cricketer who plays for Kent, writes occasionally for intelligent newspapers such as the Sunday Telegraph, and has spent time in the United States not least in the study of their game of baseball. `In answer to your question "Why America for the British Right?" ' he writes, 'I suggest the following. . '.

The first of the three good reasons he suggests for a British Conservative to admire and support the United States is proposed wryly but makes a serious underlying point. `Given the decline of manners and civility and the undermining of the concept of gentility on this side of the Atlantic,' he writes, `it has been increasingly difficult for the Conservative Right to think it still has lessons to teach the Republican Wasp. On the contrary, the Wasps are among the last gentlemen left (outside India) and the only ones with power.'

Secondly, he suggests, the European view that the Cold War crudely overdramatised the Communist threat has now been discredited. Ronald Reagan's `Evil Empire' was closer to the mark. The Americans have a habit of choosing the right side in history, and the verdict of any intelligent conservative must be that - despite the setback of Vietnam - Washington has tended to pick the right guns, and stick to them. Mr Smith cites the Gulf, Serbia and now Afghanistan.

Thirdly, Britain is recovering from her colonial hangover. She can now accept a subservient foreign policy more readily. `If we must be "yapping dogs" (your phrase),' says Mr Smith, `let's at least pick a half-- decent master.' There is nothing ignoble, he suggests, in supporting a superpower with whose aims one happens to agree. To align ourselves with a great power fighting on the side of right is its own justification.

Edward Smith concludes by asking me, `just out of curiosity', on which major issues I think America is substantially wrong.

None of his arguments is trivial, and I shall take them in turn.

It is quite possibly true that modern English Conservatives are now discovering in themselves a snooty motivation for rather admiring the American upper classes. Across the Atlantic the privileged have held on to their class values and self-respect rather better than their English counterparts, and it has in fact been true for the better part of a century that a real American gent or a true American lady could make what passes for the British upper crust look pretty provincial. A smart New England dinner party has always outclassed its Home Counties equivalent; and for style, money, education, culture, sophistication and sheer good manners, Park Avenue leaves Belgravia standing. As Mary McCarthy once remarked, `When an American heiress wants to buy a man, she at once crosses the Atlantic. The only really materialistic people I have ever met are the Europeans.'

But Edward will not be surprised that, just as I would never have thought that snobbishness was a good reason for recoiling from an Anglo-American political alliance, so I cannot now accept that, because a certain sort of Spectator reader (or writer) feels flattered by the patronage of classy Americans and would like to go deer-shooting with the men of a good New England family, serious British Conservatives should imagine that the war aims of the Republican party should become an object of reverence here.

And there is a graver reason not to crave too keenly the patronage of well-born Wasps. …

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