Several times this column has wished for a sharp decline in global population, which with the advent of superior robotics could lead all of us to live like 18th Century Whig lords, in lavish parklands manned by robot servitors. Yet I have now learned that the original Whig Supremacy of 1714-60 led to a half century of pause in the burgeoning Industrial Revolution, and today economic and intellectual progress is similarly slowed by wokery generated by a Whig-like elite class. I therefore propose a new and better Utopia for 2200: we should live like Whigs yet think like Tories!
The Whig-lords dream would be feasible in a world with two things. First, the population should be reduced to around 1 billion, the level in 1800, before industrialization’s population increases cluttered the planet. This is not a dream of renewed European hegemony; in 1800 as today the two countries with the largest populations were India and China, and that would presumably still be the case in a future 2200 of greatly reduced population.
Second, the dream of robot capability must come to fruition, enabling the 1 billion people to be “rich” simultaneously, in other words with no significant number of them waiting on other people. The dream of Whig lordship in a country house with rolling parklands is a wonderful one; the position of even butler or head gamekeeper to such a Whig lord is much less idyllic. In the world I envisage, the butlers and head gamekeepers, as well as the builders of the country houses and the landscapers of the rolling parklands would all be robots.
I had envisaged this world as an ideal in which humanity could reach its full potential, untroubled by the stress of ensuring a bare existence. The problem, however, is that as it stands it would be a sterile dream. The Whig aristocracy of the 18th Century lived in beautiful houses, even palaces, but intellectually they were sterile, a combination of feudal and woke. Today’s elite combine feudality and wokery in similar proportions and are equally intellectually sterile.
The Whigs had a thorough contempt for their social inferiors, and indeed during their position of absolute power, under the first two Georges, arranged society so that its less affluent and socially elevated members were kept thoroughly in their place, harassed by the 1723 “Black Acts” which added 100 new crimes for which hanging was prescribed as the punishment. The 18th Century Whigs also invented the “workhouse” although it was their 19th Century successors who made the workhouses compulsory, ending the relatively benign system of “outdoor relief” that had existed under the 1601 Poor Law and subjecting the poor to the dreaded Benthamite principle of “less eligibility” under which workhouses were to be both compulsory and deliberately unpleasant.
At the same time, the 18th Century Whig aristocracy were thoroughly “woke,” prone to fashionable leftist philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and, after 1789, to sympathy with the very unpleasant French Revolution. How Charles Grey, later Earl Grey, could combine admiration for the Terror with a snobbery so extreme that he said of George Canning “the son of an actress is, ipso facto, disqualified from becoming Prime Minister” is explained by the pure blood of Whiggery that ran through his veins.
Since in our Nirvana of 2200 we want neither the feudal nor the woke and we want a society that continues to allow humanity to achieve its full potential, there is only one possibility: while living like 18th Century Whigs in their beautiful country houses with robot servants, our descendants must think like 18th Century Tories.
Historians have told you that the main difference between 18th Century Tories and Whigs was the Tories’ support for Church and King and the Whigs’ opposition to them, but there were many more differences. However even this difference, at first sight of modest relevance to the world of 2200, is meaningful and significant to that world, when interpreted properly.
The Whig aristocrats were irreligious, even sacrilegious; they also paid little attention to the normal rules of restraint, gambling away their gigantic family fortunes in several cases. The working class of that era also, shut out from political and economic power by the Whigs’ repressive legislation, took to hard liquor – William Hogarth’s “Gin Lane” dates from the Whig Supremacy period, during which nearly a dozen futile attempts were made to control working-class drunkenness and none to control drunkenness and drug use among the Whigs themselves. Today’s leftist rich, similarly, have weaknesses for drugs and sexual wokery. One can easily imagine 2200’s Nirvana being ruined by debauchery and leftist social collapse.
A proper Toryism, upholding the standards of decent life and the established social order, protects against this; for many people, it is an important bulwark to their daily existence. The decline of religion in our daily lives has led to a myriad of social evils, and the rise of warring millenarist cults will do nothing to solve them, any more than it did among the more extreme Puritans of the 17th Century. Only a well-accepted religion, supported by a state that includes, in Walter Bagehot’s terms both “efficient” and “dignified” elements – the latter to instill respect among simpler folk – will ensure that 2200’s Nirvana does not collapse in drug-crazed squalor.
Economically, the most important Tory value, without which civilized life is impossible even in a 2200 Nirvana, is the respect for private property. While the 18th Century Whigs were reasonably sound on this at least in relation to their own property, it is disgracefully violated by modern governments, for example by the Biden administration’s pathetic “moratorium” on rental property evictions. No kind of market economy is possible if property rights are so atrociously violated and that will still be true in 2200, even in Nirvana.
Another Tory value, almost as important, is that of sound money, fiscal prudence and respect for savers (the three go inextricably together). The Whig governments of the 1690s and around 1720 had endless schemes for enriching themselves at the expense of the saving community, and modern governments have notoriously got even worse in this area, with their perpetual “quantitative easing” and tolerance of inflation. Tory governments were responsible for the Savings Bank of 1817, the return to the Gold Standard and the fiscal austerity of William Pitt and Lord Liverpool; even in 2200 their eternal verities will be essential.
In terms of pursuing further human advance in 2200, the most important Tory value is localism, and support for small-scale enterprise. The Whigs were London-based, and entrenched in behemoths like the East India Company, and their spiritual successors dominate institutions like the World Economic Forum and the big tech companies – ESG investment is a prototypically Whig endeavor. The Tories of the 18th Century, on the other hand, were quintessentially local; their strongholds were the country banks and the network of small industrialists, merchants and attorneys that produced the Industrial Revolution. They also believed in deregulation, sweeping away the guild restrictions and other feudal and statist regulations left over from the Middle Ages.
The same approach will be needed in 2200. If the Nirvana of lower population and higher wealth is dominated by global institutions and large companies, it will be utterly sterile, devoted to fashionable crusades that destroy wealth and shackle creativity. A bottom-up approach, allowing intellectual and entrepreneurial flowers to bloom wherever they can, is the only way mankind will continue to advance. Regulation will be damaging, because it will inevitably protect vested interests and established patterns, quelling the small-scale, disruptive and novel.
Finally, the Tory aesthetic is one of beauty and elegance, by all means with an admixture of romance and imagination. Think of Regency architecture, the paintings of J.W. Martin and the novels of Jane Austen, as well as the poetry of Alexander Pope, and you have encompassed the Tory aesthetic. It does not include Brutalism, atonal or Rock music, the wallowing in squalor of Charles Dickens or the self-indulgent “poetry” of the 20th Century state-funded left.
If global population declines and robotization works as one can hope it may, the world of 2200 will indeed be a Nirvana of “Whig aristocracy” physical comfort and, one hopes, elegance. To remain so, and to contribute further to humanity’s further advance rather than its decline into decadence, it will need Tory values and ideas.
(The Bear’s Lair is a weekly column that is intended to appear each Monday, an appropriately gloomy day of the week. Its rationale is that the proportion of “sell” recommendations put out by Wall Street houses remains far below that of “buy” recommendations. Accordingly, investors have an excess of positive information and very little negative information. The column thus takes the ursine view of life and the market, in the hope that it may be usefully different from what investors see elsewhere.)