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Robert McIlveen

Hmm - not too sure about this one!

While I agree with you about the problems of the American left-liberalism I can not recognise your characterisation of British Conservative liberals as "liberals because we are Christian." Some may be, but there is no inherent link between liberality and Christianity - the same argument could be made for just about any political outlook.

Conservative liberalism's attitude towards religion should be pretty much what the Conservative Party's has been - pragmatism. Religious groups can be very effective in society, but if national interest and religious principle differ I would be horrified by someone putting religion first.

Liberalism isn't a product of religion, it is an attitude which allow religion a place in political debate without according it excessive influence.

Angelo Basu

"Thus, if we say that we believe policy should facilitate social justice because of Christ’s command to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, invite the stranger into our home, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner, "

I think this is weak. Surely the aim of the policy of a Party that seeks to represent the whole country and all its people, even those who don't vote for it (as any good Government should) needs to be able to justify its policies on the basis of them being good for all, independent of religious belief? I agree that Christianity does (or did) provide at least the language for talking about morality in this country (and indeed a lot of the modern English language generally) but to use the language does not mean that you have to take the further step of explicitly grounding policies in the religious beliefs of Christians. While the Party may still have a majority of observant Christians in it, the country certainly does not, even though the vast majority WILL be people whose morality and the language they use to think about what is right will be heavily based on Christianity.

You don't have to believe in the divinity of Christ or that that gives his teachings a special value to agree with many or most of those teachings. Our policies can be good AND Christian, but it would be a mistake to say that they are good BECAUSE they are Christian or to take the Christian position as the starting point.

Andrew Lilico


I'm not quite clear what you are saying. Are you denying that British liberalism evolved explicitly out of the religious and politico-religious conflicts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? That would seem a bold claim to me - what would be your alternative account of the rise of British liberalism?

Next, are you denying that the liberal tradition in the Conservative Party is rooted in its Anglican tradition?

Finally a remark: I find extraordinary your claim that if national interest and religious principle conflict that you would be "horrified" by someone putting religion first. I don't know of any theistic religion that would accept this - God comes before everything: family, country, Party, friends, everything. Without this commitment to religion we would not have freedom of speech or thought or most of the other liberties we hold dear - the struggle for religious freedom against the needs of the State has been the main driver of liberal advance over the millenia. I really find it extraordinary that you consider this "horrific"!

Andrew Lilico


Set aside the Christian point for now. Let's consider a Conservative spokesman, who himself is a Muslim (and hence qualified to comment), arguing in favour of a Conservative Party policy on Muslim grounds. (The same policy might be argued for by a Sikh Conservative on Sikh grounds another time, and by a Christian Conservative on Christian grounds a third - there doesn't have to be only one argument for each policy position.)

Now of course it presumably is the case that Socialist Muslims also find their political beliefs moulded by their religious beliefs. So they are entitled to disagree, on Muslim grounds, with the Conservative Muslim's argument. So then they have the politico-religious debate and either come to an agreement or not.

What is the problem? Why shouldn't religious grounds of these sorts be used to defend policies? Why must all policy defence be based on the religions of atheism or agnosticism? For be in no doubt, from the religious perspective to argue as if there is no God is often not to take a "neutral" position - it is to take a position in conflict with religion.

Tony Makara

Politics and religion don't blend too well. Even Christians felt uncomfortable about the thought of Tony Blair and George Bush praying together before agreeing to drop bombs on Iraqi children.

Nontheless that does not mean that we can't present a moral non-religious front. An issue like abortion for example goes beyond faith. The problem is that politics interwoven with religion does not sell too well to the non-believer.

It doesn't help that the bible is riddled with contradictions and can be interpreted 1001 ways. The minefield of sexual relations being an example. The question of money being another. Our own Queen, the head of our national church, stands at the head of a great fortune yet Jesus Christ says it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Yet we are also told by Jesus Christ that monarchs are allowed to rule by God!

Robert McIlveen

Andrew - I'm not denying that liberalism evolved in the context of our religious history, but that could be said of almost any ideology - it's often said the the Labour Party owes more to Methodism than Marx.

Claiming that freedom of speech is a product of religion is frankly daft - down the ages freedom of speech has been fought for to free society from the restrictive nature of religious power (especially expressed through monarchies founded on divine right). Have you heard of Galileo or da Vinci?

I would also argue that while the Conservative Party has Anglican and liberal strands they are not necessarily all that closely connected - in some cases they do blend well together, but British Liberalism evolved far more out of the non-conformist struggles against Anglican dominance than from the Anglican influence in Conservatism.

"God comes before everything: family, country, Party, friends, everything." This could have been said by the Taliban, or Ayatollah Khomeini! It expresses exactly why respect for religion does not equate to putting it at the heart of government. The struggle for freedom from the state more often involved restricting the power of the church rather than opposing the two.

Dominic Harvey

Generally a good article, although it makes the some tired points about the influence of Christianity on many liberal conservatives. The fact that many liberal conservatives need religion to point them in the right moral direction merely highlights their intellectual weakness, not their political leanings.

Andrew Lilico


British Liberalism may well have a non-Conformist tradition. And indeed so might British Christian Socialism. Neither of these is the same thing as British liberalism, let alone British liberal Conservatism (or British Conservative liberalism, if we prefer to call it that).

Any why shouldn't these different traditions argue from their roots? Why shouldn't the Christian Socialist argue that his views derive from the communitarian ideal of the church of the Acts of the Apostles, and that a Christian should be a Socialist? I can disagree with him. This only seems fruitless if you assume (as Christians do not - and neither do the believers of most religions) that there is no *answer*, that it isn't the case that one of us is really *right* and the other *wrong*, that religion cannot possibly contain any Truth. I believe that I am right, and I also believe that that is not simply because I could not be wrong - it isn't just my preferences I am expressing. I could be wrong; the Christian Socialist could be correct, and if he can persuade me then I will change my mind. That, to me, is the key virtue of a liberal society - that by engaging and disagreeing and being confronted with lifestyles and views and practices of which I do not approve, I might be shown that I was wrong, and so come just a little nearer to the Truth.

John Ionides

Leaving aside the religious aspects, I think that the analysis of these two branches of liberalism is good and constructive. In particular, it provides an interesting approach to understanding why the Lib Dems (who mostly fit into Andrew American-Left subclass) are going to struggle to represent the views of the large number of people who consider themselves liberal (many of whom would fit into Andrew's British Conservative subclass).

To my mind, it is also why we should not let the Lib Dems try to hog the "liberal" tag (which, frankly, is going to be tough given their name!).

Robin Millar

Secular society is ill-equipped to engage with a theistic world view. This is a real and pressing concern for local government, grappling with issues like community cohesion. I wrote a lighter piece a few days ago - noting that at times, there may be greater cohesion between different religious groups within society, than with the secular society that hosts them.


i think this is a great article. as a Christian i have always wondered how liberalism and Christianity can fit together, especially with the seemingly anti-christian ideas of many modern liberals, yet this has helped me understand more, so thanks.



Thank you for this, it has challenged a few recent thoughts of mine.

I can accept your premise that left-liberals are ultimately pessimists and right-liberals optimists, indeed I describe leftists as pessimistic optimists, i.e. they believe that utopia can be achieved if only the public would behave in the way they want, and Conservatives as optimistic pessimists, i.e. the world will always contain challenges and imbalance but the public only needs the tools and freedoms to overcome these.

I am not so sure that religion, or more specifically the creation of the CoE, can take the credit for British Liberalism. Britain (or more specifically England I suppose in the time period you are talking about) has always has a few oddities in its development that have allowed it to follow a different path from its neighbours and the creation of a state church was one of these, but the outcomes of that development, I believe, are perhaps more important including the coming to the fore of new gentry and mercantile classes and a reaffirmation of law, leading to a change in a sense of place for all people. This reassessment of an individual’s worth (similar I suppose to that following the black death) would ultimately lead to more liberal views by the elite.

As for direct influence on policy, I would have to agree with Robert that non-conformists have had a greater influence, probably because Anglicanism is often just a gut feeling of what is “right” rather than following specific theological teachings in a similar way that many Conservatives reject political ideology.


In the wake of an auto-da-fé, His Grace is biting his tongue on this one.

Robert McIlveen

Andrew @ 12:06

It's not so much that British liberal Conservatives can not be Christian, but I don't really see the connection. I suspect it all comes down to what you mean by liberal Conservatism - to me it means a combination of free markets, negative individual freedom (freedom from the state and other potentially oppressive forces) and respect for the rule of law and institutions of the state (such as religious tolerance).

Christianity may or may not fit into each liberal Conservative's viewpoint, but my real point is that the two do not necessarily have any real connection.

This isn't an anti-religious, aggressively secular point - many MPs and political organisations use their religious convictions to do fantastic work, the Centre for Social Justice being a prime example. Religion has a place in public life, but I just don't think liberal Conservatism is necessarily it.

David Sergeant

First can I express my appreciation for this article. Now Brown's GE farce is over I hope we can have more in depth articles like this.

The various comments above seem to demonstrate an important delemma within a society such as Britain. At any rate since the reformation Christianity has a broad acceptance of individual freedom. It has even been claimed that this is the basis of Western economic progress. On the other hand we have that comment that "it is easier for a rich man to go through an eye of a needle" etc. It is this latter thought which seems to dominate Christian thought, and actions, to-day. Leaving aside the fact that no one has defined a "rich man" this approach seems to me to be an attempt to utilise Christianity to limit peoples individual freedom. On the other hand, provided this view is kept personal and not used to justify state taxation, it could be just one way of providing a "road map" for individuals exercising their freedom which, still, remains individual.

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