William Collins, £20 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician, Prophet, By Jesse Norman

The Tory collapse into extremism is a national tragedy. Can a brave MP and thinker stop the rot?

Conservatism is in deep crisis. The Euro referendum battles ricocheting through Westminster are a side-show. The crisis is of a wholly different order; profound, indeed existential. Margaret Thatcher quite brilliantly held together the tensions between the liberal economic energies of the new right and the traditional, patriotic disposition of both her party and our country. Now the long march of the liberals appears almost complete; they have won out over the "one nation" Tory story.

Identifying tensions across the republican right, the US commentator David Brooks wrote that "economic conservatives have taken control. Traditional conservatism has gone into eclipse." This weekend, Roger Scruton dissected changes in the essential character of the party that have "jeopardised the allegiance of its core constituents, those who willingly describe themselves as conservatives and live according to the unspoken norms of a shared way of life".

It is a rapacious economic liberalism that threatens the Conservative Party. A free-market logic that, way back in the 1870s, removed economics from a satisfactory social location and into the arena of abstract calculus now dominates the texture of the party. It is a national tragedy played out in real time. A once-great party is being deracinated, in the sense that it values and desires to conserve the essential institutions and traditions of a country. This is a sadness that even political opponents can share.

The neo-classicists are in charge; the notion of a shared common life becomes anathema. Institutions and public services – in health, transport, public broadcasting and the like - are seen as rigidities that crowd out efficient transactions. Individuals are reduced to base units of economic calculation, blind to cultural form and tradition. National boundaries are barely acknowledged. Interventions are driven by a desire to dismantle and withdraw; the state is seen singularly as a malign force. Welfare and safety-nets are deemed to lead to patterns of personal disutility. Planning is replaced by chaos. Our families, relationships and children are relentlessly commodified. If you want evidence, read Britannia Unchained by a group of hard-line Tory liberals.

What happened to "Compassionate Conservatism"? The Cameron modernising agenda has sunk. He promised so much more. The "Big Society" suggested a deeper story of personal duty, obligation and national renewal built around not just a market but a common life. Cameron is now captive and follower; getting through the day by party management is the only currency. The liberal armlock on the party is near-total – the equivalent to Labour's 1980s Militant Tendency.

Well, at last someone has the guts to challenge this. Jesse Norman – Conservative MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire – has decided to step up and fight. It should come as no surprise. He is a scholar of Michael Oakeshott. His earlier book Compassionate Conservatism was defined as the "guidebook for Cameronism". His later Compassionate Economics was a brilliant attack on the neo-classicists, with an appreciation of an altogether deeper, Aristotelian sense of the human condition and the role of politics. His previous work, Big Society, was in effect a reflection of what might have been, had Cameron stayed the course.

His new book on Edmund Burke seeks to contest the very nature of today's Tory Party. All power to his elbow. This rediscovery of Burke is a distinct political act to retrieve a dying party. Aristotle is again centre-stage in a battle against the economic scientists. Here, at times quite brilliantly, Norman – through Burke – builds a "deep philosophical critique of political rationalism and revolutionary ideology".

Burke (1729-1797) is celebrated as "both the greatest and most underrated political thinker of the past 300 years". A hybrid of Protestant, Irish and Quaker ideals led him to fight against both Catholic and American oppression, and later in England against corporate power and an over-mighty state, while remaining a fierce opponent of the French Revolution and tyranny.

Burke, according to Norman, is the "hinge or pivot of political modernity"; the earliest post-modern political thinker, a critic of liberal individualism and a counterpoint to Rousseau. As an active politician – like Norman himself, a "philosopher in action" - he mined both Hobbes's and Locke's idea of social contract, where man does not exist outside society. Here, institutions are anchored in feeling and emotion, and bound by affection, identity and interest.

Universal principles are too imprecise in that they tend to ignore context. Individualism gives authority figures an unwarranted sense of arrogance. Subjecting institutions to a single universal rational benchmark can ruin them. Emotions endow cultural objects with meaning; they forge attachment and build "social capital".

In the separation of his life and thought, Burke is oppressed by debt and constrained by passion. Technically a political "failure", he held office for two (1782-83) of 30 years as an MP. Yet the cornerstone is an "indomitable belief in ordered liberty" – the right of a person to live a good life through membership of an ordered society. He builds a political method rooted in time and place; in history and circumstance rather than theoretical absolutism.

Burke is the first "conservative". He is the "first modern philosopher to treat the idea of society as a basic category within politics". The whole project is, in short, a truly devastating critique of liberal individualism in the modern era and within Norman's own party.

Norman's lessons from Burke are the building-blocks for a different type of Tory party. There is the rebuilding of trust and "social capital"; the renewal of our national and institutional character; the preservation of social order and representative government in the national interest; a critique of cronyism and excessive power; a return to issues of duty and obligation. Above all, there is a critique of market fundamentalism. History and memory, not economic science, are key. It is a different world-view to the cold economic rationalism of Britannia Unchained. Politics is about the nurturing of virtue: honour, loyalty, duty and wisdom. It is not about atomised exchange.

It is an immense critique of the present: a political contribution by Norman - refracted through Burke - driven by a deep sense of personal obligation. It is a patriotic tract and an act of great leadership. This is a very significant book.

Jon Cruddas MP is leading the Labour Party's policy review

Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week