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This review is taken from PN Review 19, Volume 7 Number 5, May - June 1981.

THAT FOUR-LETTER WORD Anthony Quinton, The Politics of Imperfection: The Religious and Secular Traditions of Conservative Thought in England from Hooker to Oakeshott
(Faber) £5.95

'Tory', as C. H. Sisson reminded us a while ago, is a four-letter word and one which has the power to shock some folk whose threshold of toleration is in other particulars rather high. After all, to take another political example, no one actually admits to being a Nazi so that particular tetragram has, like the dragons of a lost past, been drained of some of its power to shock those for whom Tory is a woolly-thinking fascist and every fascist a crypto-Nazi. Yet people do call themselves Tories and very awkward too that their number includes so many of the high priests of cultural modernism. But what about 'Conservatism'? Give it a capital letter and it describes a political party which in Mr Sisson's pardonable exaggeration has 'no conception at all' of the meaning of the word 'Tory'. Decapitalize the 'C' and conservatism describes rather well what the country rejected when it dismissed Mr Callaghan's shop floor patriciate. Truly politics provides unequalled opportunities for the corruption of language as of men. This we know, and adherents of what Professor Quinton calls 'the politics of imperfection' best of all. But our reaction must not be to withdraw from a struggle where few fight clean, nor to shed more than a regretful tear for the vicissitudes of noble words in an ignoble world. Such words remain the ciphers of great and compelling causes and even, I dare say, of a number of hard won truths about the nature of man ...


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