Skip to comments.Why I Became a Conservative: A British liberal discovers England's greatest philosopher.
Posted on 02/04/2003 10:13:26 PM PST by JohnHuang2
click here to read article
Thanks for posting it.
And thanks so much for all you do around here. It's the handful of people like you, searching out the best in writing, like this, that make FR the constant delight it is.
The wisest person I know suggested this book to me and I still haven't read it...
A few years back in a used book store I found an old paperback that combined Burkes' "Reflections" and Thomas Paines' "Rights of Man". The contrast is stark.
It is more a testament to Mann and Dewey and the great wave of immigration that overwhelmed the nation's indigenous Constitutional culture with a European worldview that we have slid so far, much to the delight of European investors who meant us no good will by virtue of its instigation through abetting the Civil War.
I am delighted with the author's observation of the importance of respect for tradition and posterity. He fails, however, to recognize that one who would truly live for one-self enriches that daily life by extending the horizon of one's goals and aspirations beyond that life's own span. No need for kings or riches, as the heavenly one will do.
Ah well, he is young and yet still has time to learn.
And there I thought it was the rest of us peons, sigh. Yea, The King of Ping and I. ;-)
The problem is, as I see it, that people will not remain vigilant. They will turn from God. Even in good times only a small minority of God centered people exist; in bad times, only a few. Obedience to social heirarchy need not violate justice unduly, and can make bad times survivable. If your community consists of serious Christians now, there is no guarantee about future generations. And those serious Christians will certainly sort themselves out into a heirarchy, and try to pass on social position to their offspring.
Three other arguments of Burkes made a comparable impression. The first was the defense of authority and obedience. Far from being the evil and obnoxious thing that my contemporaries held it to be, authority was, for Burke, the root of political order. Society, he argued, is not held together by the abstract rights of the citizen, as the French Revolutionaries supposed. It is held together by authorityby which is meant the right to obedience, rather than the mere power to compel it. And obedience, in its turn, is the prime virtue of political beings, the disposition which makes it possible to govern them, and without which societies crumble into the dust and powder of individuality. Those thoughts seemed as obvious to me as they were shocking to my contemporaries. In effect Burke was upholding the old view of man in society, as subject of a sovereign, against the new view of him, as citizen of a state. And what struck me vividly was that, in defending this old view, Burke demonstrated that it was a far more effective guarantee of the liberties of the individual than the new idea, which was founded in the promise of those very liberties, only abstractly, universally, and therefore unreally defined. Real freedom, concrete freedom, the freedom that can actually be defined, claimed, and granted, was not the opposite of obedience but its other side. The abstract, unreal freedom of the liberal intellect was really nothing more than childish disobedience, amplified into anarchy. Those ideas exhilarated me, since they made sense of what I had seen in 1968. But when I expressed them, in a book published in 1979 as The Meaning of Conservatism, I blighted what remained of my academic career.
I am uncomfortable with his assertion that hierarchical obedience in service to an established hereditary order is necessity to a free society. I think he misses the true message offered by de Toqueville, that people whose obedience is to God and country as the source of their own freedom, will, as long as they remain vigilant, meet every requirement for both vision and continuity he rightly cites as essential to continued liberty.I think that when you describe an obedience to God and country, he would say that is a hierarchial obedience in service to an established hereditary order. In other words, de Toqueville is offering a reaffirmation and specification of the very idea you are saying the author missed.
It is more a testament to Mann and Dewey and the great wave of immigration that overwhelmed the nation's indigenous Constitutional culture with a European worldview that we have slid so far, much to the delight of European investors who meant us no good will by virtue of its instigation through abetting the Civil War.I think these two concepts are tied together. Over generations, in nations throughout the world, there has generally been a distrust or prejudice against foreigners. The enlightened push to remove this prejudice has had adverse consequences that Burke would easily have foreseen, such as the erosion of culture and the degredation of national security. The fear of any single foreigner is irrational; the consequence of a nation losing all suspicion of outsiders, however, is just as severe as the breakdown in sexual morals the author describes. Hatred of foreigners is morally indefensible, but accepting them as one of our own when they are not is a recipie for disaster. It is a tough balancing act on which the western world has been too often on the side of liberalism, and the results have not been good. We should all agree that bigotry, including the hate and including the degradation and including the infringements on dignity and liberty, is wrong and should not be tolerated by a civilized society. But we should all recognize that protecting national interests, including culture, is not bigotry.
I am delighted with the author's observation of the importance of respect for tradition and posterity.
The modern world is much smaller than the old world, and as such immigration and intermingling of cultures would have out of necessity expanded and evolved. But to try to force the issue in some striving for brotherhood may have a romantic appeal but likely has practical consequences of a devastating nature. 9/11 demonstrated this.
The distinction is one of substance, not of form. Obedience to God is hierarchical, but it is a totally flat management structure with an infinitely benevolent and omniscient despot. The choice to obey is totally without apparent coercion; one is free to reject the very idea of hell. To choose to obey God is an act in the pursuit of freedom. The hierarchy in this article to which I objected was hereditary monarchy> nobility> commoner, for which the author's conservatism has an apparent predisposition.
Not me. I've had just about enough of its financial analog here in America, with their destructive influence buying through tax-exempt "charitable" foundations. Give me the Silicon Valley hierarchy of productivity, invention, and drive, over the Rockefeller/Pew/Ford/MacArthur/Chase/Morgan/Phillips/Walker... hierarchy any day, although the former is morphing into looking like its Eastern model as we speak (the Packard Foundation is an abomination to liberty).
Some do, some don't. That's just how things are. It is incumbent upon those who lead to incorporate that vision for posterity and to teach. Too often, whether it is business, government, or religion, fathers spend so much time on their work that they forget their first responsibility to both home and community, relying upon distracted institutions to pass the baton. It's the tyranny of the urgent in the pursuit of status and wealth.
Even in good times only a small minority of God centered people exist; in bad times, only a few.
That is not my observation. It would seem that in bad times people tend to remember the Lord. Consider the behavior of the children of Israel in both sets of Kings and Chronicles.
Obedience to social heirarchy need not violate justice unduly, and can make bad times survivable.
Or it can make them worse. It depends too much upon the despot. I prefer the Republic to hereditary nobility. Without the hope of the individual for a leap out of their current status, the entire society loses hope, much as we see in socialist dictatorships, where the hierarchy is to government or a rather less than benevolent despot.
If your community consists of serious Christians now, there is no guarantee about future generations. And those serious Christians will certainly sort themselves out into a heirarchy, and try to pass on social position to their offspring.
I don't worry about passing on hierarchy or social status to my children, I focus upon their education, both temporal and spiritual. I homeschool both my kids and incorporate them into my business life as much as possible, not as a way to pass on an advantage over others, but because I think it will improve their education.
I believe I agree with your point of view except (and I am no Calvinist) I believe mankind too fallen, too sinful and half witted - certainly including myself in times past - to live in peace without a respect for authority. A good father (I pray for the grace to be one) will raise children that respect him and themselves. Such children will render Caesar what is Caesar's, without illusions, without guile, and without servility.
Couldn't agree more completely.
The effect of the contemporary Rousseauist ideas of social contract was to place the present members of society in a position of dictatorial dominance over those who went before and those who came after them . In Burkes eyes the self-righteous contempt for ancestors which characterized the Revolutionaries was also a disinheriting of the unborn. Rightly understood, he argued, society is a partnership among the dead, the living, and the unborn, and without what he called the hereditary principle, according to which rights could be inherited as well as acquired, both the dead and the unborn would be disenfranchized. Indeed, respect for the dead was, in Burkes view, the only real safeguard that the unborn could obtain, in a world that gave all its privileges to the living. His preferred vision of society was not as a contract, in fact, but as a trust, with the living members as trustees of an inheritance that they must strive to enhance and pass on.
but I had not grasped the deep negative thesis, the glimpse into Hell, contained in [Burkes] vision of the Revolution .
Perhaps the most fascinating and terrifying aspect of Communism was its ability to banish truth from human affairs, and to force whole populations to live within the lie, as President Havel put it . To me it was the greatest revelation, when first I travelled to Czechoslovakia in 1979, to come face to face with a situation in which people could, at any moment, be removed from the book of history, in which truth could not be uttered, and in which the Party could decide from day to day not only what would happen tomorrow, but also what had happened today, what had happened yesterday, and what had happened before its leaders had been born. This, I realized, was the situation that Burke was describing, to a largely incredulous readership, in 1790. And two hundred years later the situation still existed, and the incredulity along with it.
These are, indeed, exhilarating ideas, beckett. The unscrupulous modernist (rationalist) belief in progress and the future has perverted more than just modern politics it has arguably perverted science, philosophy, and art as well.
What an outstanding essay, beckett! Thank you so much for pinging it to me.
p.s.: Looks like I need to make another trip to amazon.com, for Scruton's From Descartes to Wittgenstein.
She replied with a book: Foucaults Les mots et les choses, the bible of the soixante-huitards, the text which seemed to justify every form of transgression, by showing that obedience is merely defeat. It is an artful book, composed with a satanic mendacity, selectively appropriating facts in order to show that culture and knowledge are nothing but the discourses of power. The book is not a work of philosophy but an exercise in rhetoric. Its goal is subversion, not truth, and it is careful to argueby the old nominalist sleight of hand that was surely invented by the Father of Liesthat truth requires inverted commas, that it changes from epoch to epoch, and is tied to the form of consciousness, the episteme, imposed by the class which profits from its propagation. The revolutionary spirit, which searches the world for things to hate, has found in Foucault a new literary formula. Look everywhere for power, he tells his readers, and you will find it. Where there is power there is oppression. And where there is oppression there is the right to destroy. In the street below my window was the translation of that message into deeds.
You have to realize that when Burke wrote Reflections that the revolution in France had not yet entered its Terror phase, and that much of what he wrote that appears to us as a sad chronicle was, in fact, a stunning prediction. So accurate it's spooky, so accurate I wouldn't have believed it if it hadn't already been published by the time the heads started appearing in the baskets.
I, like "feller" above, read it and its reply by Paine, The Rights of Man, in sequence. The one serves as a corrective to the other, Paine's passionate defense of liberty contrasted against Burke's grim prediction of just how that would be abused, Burke's equally passionate defense of the existing social order punctured by Paine's description of how that had been abused. Both men were foreigners (Burke, Irish, and Paine, English) working in their respective venues (Britain and France), and hence had a view of their subject unclouded by simple parochialism. Both wrote beautifully and convincingly about their points of view.
I find it a bit disturbing that American colleges are lauded as presenting more of a corrective to Marxism than their European counterparts, inasmuch as the former seem the last bastion of true belief in such intellectual manipulators as Michael Foucault. That fellow is mandatory reading for anyone who really wants to get inside the motivations of today's left - to Foucault life is politics and politics is (literally) a struggle for power between groups pursuing dominance over other groups. What seems odd to me is the emotional attachment many of his followers have to this essentially sterile view of society, but they are as passionate about it as Burke and Paine were, without the redeeming element of rational analysis (that being - surprise! - merely a tool of power in Foucault's view, like everything else). Political discourse between left and right has been cheapened and made superficial, and that's one reason.