18 October 2023

Kevin Spacey and the dangerous allure of cringe conservatism


This week, the 2023 Roger Scruton Memorial Lectures were introduced by Douglas Murray. The line up features a whole host of noted intellectuals, including a Lord Maurice Glasman, Jonathan Price and, err, Kevin Spacey.

Would Scruton have approved of the appearance of noted Hollywood Democrat Kevin Spacey, who was recently acquitted of nine sexual offences involving four men? It’s doubtful. He was contemptuous of the sexual revolution’s politicisation of people’s private lives, once writing:

My pleasures are mine, and if you are forbidding them you are also oppressing me. Hence sexual liberation is not just a release but a duty, and by letting it all hang out I am not just defying the bourgeois order but casting a blow for freedom everywhere. Self-gratification acquires the glamor and the moral kudos of a heroic struggle. For the “me” generation, no way of acquiring a moral cause can be more gratifying. You become totally virtuous by being totally selfish.

When you consider the almost mind-bending idiocy of the decision to headline a series of lectures dedicated to the greatest conservative philosopher of our lifetimes with a lifelong left-wing actor with an infamous private life he has been shunned for, it is little wonder that conservatives have lost every cultural argument since the millennium. 

But Spacey’s appearance is about more than not-a-good-lookism. It reflects a wider tendency in right-wing circles that, unless arrested, will ensure that conservatives keep losing those cultural arguments for the next millennium too – and that is the idea the right-wingers should embrace being déclassé.

I didn’t attend the lecture, but I doubt very much that Kevin Spacey added much intellectual heft to the Roger Scruton memorial lecture. In fact, prior to receiving the invite and nipping on Wikipedia I doubt he knew who Roger Scruton even was. So why invite him? It is because it is a shocking act – a transgressive acceptance that, since Spacey is no longer an acceptable face to the mainstream, he naturally belongs with conservatives, who sit similarly in fear of public censure. 

We’ve seen this play out before with Laurence Fox as starring actor. He, as one Twitter user put it, is ‘like a parody of what a Novara Employee (sic) thinks a right winger is: chippy, boorish, proudly stupid and divorced.’ Fox’s grift was based on the same lines of thought that led to Spacey’s invite; not just an embracing of being déclassé but a joyful wallowing in the gutter, a kind of nostalgie de la boue. As the same tweet put it, he never advanced ‘any policy position other than “Retvrn to Sickipedia Dead Baby Jokes”‘.

And here is the problem for conservatives who wish for a more conservative world, rather than simply to build a personal brand than capitalises on controversy; when figureheads (let us not forget Fox led one of two prominent right-wing alternative parties, had a regular slot on GBNews and earned over £5m in donations) adopt a position as ‘outsiders’, the things they believe are more easily categorised as outside of mainstream opinion – even if a majority of people agree. It’s far more difficult to convince others if you’re openly embracing the idea that being right-wing is low status and deploying nothing more effective than politically toothless gestures against cultural left-liberalism. This is something that has already taken place in the MAGA movement, as Gladden Pappin writes:

‘The conservative activists in this vein generally have no intellectual background or interest in policy, but are rather media figures seeking to monetize the political moment.’

Can we see that happening here? With so many out of work Conservative MPs on the horizon, absolutely – in fact, it’s arguable that we’re already seeing it with the number of Tory MPs currently presenting or featuring on GBNews. Will it advance the electability or intellectual cause of conservativism in Britain? Unlikely. Plus, in a fragile broadcast economy, it can lead to a race to the bottom as presenters seek to garner the most clicks by making sure they have the most controversial opinion. That is sure to make the right less respectable.

Those who put personal before political gain end up talking about things that the majority of the electorate don’t care about. They have to chase the news cycle in order to remain relevant – but a politics based purely on reaction is incapable of developing a narrative, which voters thrive on. The British ‘alternative right’ is already proceeding down these lines, regurgitating rehashed, unconnected talking points that have little public salience: the World Economic Forum, ‘common sense coal‘, taxing working from home and Fox’s flag burning.

As Scruton noted, ‘Conservatism is more an instinct than an idea’. But as another Roger (Stone) noted, ‘losers don’t legislate’. Conservatives have lost every cultural argument for a quarter century. As the institution-led socially liberal agenda combines with a Labour government more likely to legislate in favour of those beliefs, how long will we be able to console ourselves with the idea that instinct will triumph over the higher status of those beliefs? Or will we find ourselves like the Romans, so obsessed by the spectacle of the few Christians in the arena that we fail to notice that by the time the games have finished, they have taken over the Empire? 

Perhaps Kevin Spacey can give us an answer.

Click here to subscribe to our daily briefing – the best pieces from CapX and across the web.

CapX depends on the generosity of its readers. If you value what we do, please consider making a donation.

Tom Jones is writer and a Conservative councillor for Scotton & Lower Wensleydale

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.