Why I am a conservative: a symposium.
"To be a conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss." --Michael Oakeshott, "On being Conservative"
EDITOR'S NOTE: On the occasion marking the fiftieth anniversary of Modern Age, coming as it also does at a critical point of the American Republic and of the American soul, it is altogether appropriate to feature a symposium on "Why I Am a Conservative," in the context of affirmation rather than of interrogation. The essays that follow convey a variety of responses in the form of discourse, criticism, autobiography, opinion, reflection. One who peruses these essays will appreciate the candor and the conviction that impel and deepen the symposiasts' exposition. Indeed, one can say that here each essayist speaks not only as one who strives to give witness to truth as he or she perceives and expresses it but also as one who, ultimately and honestly, bravely defends traditional conservative values and principles. Especially at a time when the very meaning of conservatism is devolving as it is being emptied of its integrity and it basic beliefs by opportunists and apostates, this symposium helps to provide correctives. Foremost among these is the belief that conservatism is in substance an idea, temper, sensibility, attitude, disposition. In sum, it is not a movement per se, a science, or a doctrine. The symposiasts are also in substantive agreement that restoring the true meaning of conservatism is absolutely required to safeguard it from the evangels of ideology, and to rescue the idea of conservatism from the ever-tightening jaws of ideologues allegiant to the demands of the nominalist and the relativist, and to the spirit of modernism and postmodernism. Indeed, the task of retrieving the fixed signification and the authenticity of conservatism from aggressive and arrogant usurpers is seen by the symposiasts as the major task confronting conservatives in the twenty-first century. The abuse of the word conservative, and its conflation to what is a purely political or a temporal commodity, to be bought and sold as conditions and circumstances exponentially change, are matters that deeply concern the symposiasts. Stripping conservatism of essentials and, in effect, of its moral character constitutes for them a phenomenon that conduces what vexed Richard M. Weaver, "the flight toward periphery," and in short the erosion of its metaphysical foundations and the consequential adulteration of timeless truths and of conservative transcendentals. The random musings in this editorial note, however, need not detain us any longer than necessary and are tendered simply as a way of encouraging a reader to interpret and judge this symposium in its specificity and plea for the task of restoration that is required if conservatism is to mean more than that which imperious and sneering publicists and sophists promote in the print industry and journals, as in the electronic media, in the academy, in the halls of government, with neo-Jacobin zealotry.
Richard J. Bishirjian
IN 1977 I INVITED ERIC VOEGELIN to write an original paper for a symposium that I was organizing with William Corrington on the topic "Gnosticism and Modernity." Voegelin replied by letter dated July 20, 1977: "As a matter of principle, I write papers only on problems in science, not on topics." Voegelin did not write a paper for that conference held at Vanderbilt University, but he did attend the conference and he gave a moving ad hoc commentary on an event he called "one of the best conferences I have attended." (1) Apparently Voegelin's admonition that I write on problems in science not topics was lost on me because here I am accepting the editor's appeal for essays on the topic "Why I am a conservative." I write on this topic out of respect for Modern Age and my fellow conservatives.
What is this conservatism with which I have been identified since attending my first ISI summer school forty-six years ago?
Ask that question of a British Tory and you'll get a reply that is different from one given by an American--even if the Tory you query is a Thatcherite Conservative. And the same will be the case of Spanish, Italian, German and French conservatives. These differences tell us that conservatism is an attitude--not an "ism"--and a disposition of mind toward government, politics, and tradition, not a philosophy of government or a systematic political theory. If not an ideology, a philosophy nor a political theory, then there is no universal conservatism about which to write. What we are discussing is an artifact, a cultural development, that in the case of those participating in this symposium began in America in response to the growth of the administrative state and which we can address by reflection on its history and the problems it addresses.
For that reason, this discussion reflects my training as a political theorist by Stanley Parry, Gerhart Niemeyer, Eric Voegelin and requires that I reflect upon my experience of things political, cultural, and moral in America today. Sometimes my professional judgments and my personal attitudes point me in the same direction, but the conservative part of me deals with practical matters, things more immediate and relevant to my "little platoon" of family and local community and touches also upon my social existence as a citizen of the United States. I can reflect upon and interpret my experience as a conservative while acting as a political theorist, but that critical role is analytical whereas being a conservative engages me "in my hips" to use Willmoore Kendall's phrase, i.e., my practical life.
While an undergraduate seeking to understand America's drift toward collectivism, I was able to meet and become friends with Frank Meyer. The encounter with Meyer occurred at a time when he was developing his theory of conservative "fusionism." I later realized that fusionism is theoretically deficient, and more an ideological construct rather than a philosophic one, yet it resonated then--and today--with many American conservatives who want conservatism to become a force in American society and politics much like the ideology of liberalism with which they have contended. That construction of conservatism by Frank Meyer is an ideology, a making of abstractions that are imposed on reality rather than a reflection of our conservative folkways. That is not to say that my kind of conservative does not value freedom. I do.
We conservatives believe that community in all its efflorescence takes precedence over the abstract "individual," and that our commonly shared experience of the common good is the basis of social order, not the individual in the abstract. We do not think that maximizing the freedom of the abstract individual is the goal of society. Freedom of individuals is an abstract value, admirable in the abstract, but necessarily limited by other considerations, such as the freedom of American citizens. Mario Pei, one of the great linguists of the last century, thought that Frank Meyer's fusionist construction was solipsistic. (2) By that he meant the only reality that Frank Meyer brought to his speculations was his own willful making of that reality.
Understanding reality requires that we discuss our experience of reality in all its aspects, which includes the material aspects of life, the Presocratics' insight into the process of the genesis, growth, and death of "existent things" (ta onta), and the discovery that the arche of all this is transcendent reality (to on) which they understood was divine (to theion). This radical break with previous mythic formulations that shaped the culture of ancient Greece shaped the West and contributes even to this day to the uniqueness of how we understand the world and our place in it. The discovery of the soul (psyche) as the locus where transcendence is experienced unleashed the experiential differentiation that separates us from other cultures--and makes the civilization of the West superior.
When I wear my conservative hat here is what I see: we conservatives and our allies the libertarians are threatened by one main adversary to our social order and the precious freedom of American citizens--the administrative state--and we share a sense that the public spaces of our beloved America are being closed, constricted, and our lives deprived of opportunity and of freedoms that previous generations enjoyed.
Let me focus on that by reference to the growth of the administrative state--my experience of the decline of public order today even as the state grows in power--by way of a visit to Robert Nisbet's The Quest for Community. (3) Nisbet wrote The Quest for Community in 1953 and there he reflects upon the growth of the function and reach of the centralized administrative state. "The centralization and bureaucratic regimentation which have always been native to organized warfare are, in the twentieth century, extended to widening areas of social and cultural life. War symbolism and the practical techniques of war administration have come to penetrate more and more of the minor areas of social function and allegiance." (4) Beginning with the Civil War that is now construed as a Second Founding that overcame the inequalities of the original Founding, followed by America's ideologically-driven entry into World War I, then World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the War in Vietnam, Desert Storm, and the invasion of Afghanistan and of Iraq and what is called the War on Terror the centralized bureaucratic state by which America is administered is in its primacy. (5)
World War II shaped a generation by giving it a reason to be patriotic, organizing isolated men and women into a cohesive military force, infused them with esprit, and demonstrated how collective action could achieve great deeds. Not only did they return to civilian life accepting what the state can do for them, they lived longer than previous generations and dominated American politics until the defeat of George Herbert Walker Bush by William Jefferson Clinton. This generation has not yet passed from the scene, and they constitute an important cheering section for another war, the wholesale invasion of personal communications, limitations placed on opening new bank accounts, talk of renewal of universal conscription, creation of a national police force that arrogantly protects us from terrorists when we travel, additional passport requirements, and the constant war chants emanating from the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, mass media Talk Radio, and jingoistic essays in supposedly "conservative" publications.
All this suggests that not only is the legal apparatus of the bureaucratic state in very good health but also the spirit that drives its appetite for new freedoms to devour is very much alive.
Nisbet, writing in 1953, could say that "The contemporary State, with all its apparatus of bureaucracy, has become more powerful, more cohesive, and is endowed with more functions than at any time in history." (6) Today we deal not only with pre-World War II statist bureaucracies founded during the Progressive era, the New Deal and World War II. We even cripple private enterprise and make ourselves subservient to the task of feeding the state by withholding income to pay state and federal taxes and contributions to Ponzi schemes for "retirement." On a daily basis, we must deal with entities created by the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Clinton, and Bush Administrations.
One lone political figure in the seventy-five years from 1932 to 2007 stands out as having opposed his own generation by making jokes of bureaucrats: "I'm from Washington, D.C., and I'm here to help you."
Nisbet writes, "... the whole tendency of modern political development has been to enhance the role of the political State as a direct relationship among individuals, and to bring both its powers and its services ever more intimately into the lives of human beings." (7)
Conservatives oppose this growth of state power because it subtly transfers our allegiances from home and hearth to a power far removed from where we live our daily lives. "We are forced to the conclusion," Nisbet writes, "that a great deal of the peculiar character of contemporary social action comes from the efforts of men to find in large-scale organizations the values of status and security which were formally gained in the primary associations of family, neighborhood, and church." (8) As conservatives we fear the invasive entry of the state into our private lives. "Feelings of moral estrangement," Nisbet writes, "of the hostility of the world, the fear of freedom, of irrational aggressiveness, and of helplessness before the simplest of problems have to do ... with the individual's sense of the inaccessibility of this area of relationship." (9)
Reflect, for example, on the disengagement of young people from voting in elections, from loyalty to their employers, and estrangement from their churches and synagogues. Living in the face of an omnipotent state they feel that the system is rigged, that their voices and complaints are not heard, and that they are asked to support a generation of elder citizens who gave them institutions that will drain every cent they earn, deny them the ability to save for their own retirement, and indenture them to new schemes that add to the glory of the state such as the exploration of Mars!
As "religion, personal authority, and customary obligation" conflict with "reason, impersonal law, and individual rights" the functions performed by church and family become detached from "functional relevance" to the larger economy and civil society. (10) Nisbet observes that this overall trend is what takes place in native cultures when impacted by Western civilization. Consider, for example, your own experience with the many Indians from India living in the West that you have encountered. After hundreds of years of British colonial rule Western rationalism replaced Hindu religion and left them with what? Jobs as computer programmers? De-Hinduized Indians occupy Western cities and become absorbed in modern secular culture that even we in the West are uncomfortable living in.
Perhaps that is what modern American living today consists of--being uncomfortable--with the symbols of Imperial order, the bureaucratization of daily life, the emptiness of our culture, the selfish interests served by our politicians, leading us to grasp for spiritual nourishment in secular religions (often endorsed by the state), political parties and movements, religious cults, "having fun," playing hard, and, of course, sexual promiscuity, recreational drugs, and alcoholic binge-drinking. Many of these pursuits commence at institutions of higher learning and we continue them throughout our empty lives.
That is the central cultural, moral, spiritual, and political concern of American conservatives today and which holds those of us who are conservative together not as participants in a "movement" but as pilgrims whose souls respond to the presence of the good in human existence, and our search for ways to live lives as good citizens and good men. To the extent that it is still possible to be a good American citizen and a good person living in the United States something of moral value remains in our public lives. Conserving that is of central concern to conservatives, and everything else pales in comparison to this central concern.
How, then, do we successfully save a public space for ordered living? First, of course, we must educate ourselves in the wonderful literature of the West and in the recovery of philosophy that emigre conservative scholars from Western Europe brought to this nation when they were exiled from West, East, and Central Europe. And once having educated ourselves, we can commence the work that is necessary to preserve and grow private institutions--including private colleges and universities--voluntary associations, privately held businesses that employ family members, and other forms of community--including churches and synagogues--that traditionally act as buffers between our private lives and the centralized administrative state. And we must break up the monopoly of public education!
We must also aspire to enlarge and enrich civil society by reducing the scope of governmental agencies, programs, corps, and their intrusive oversight of our private lives. Can we not have a flat tax? And what about privatization of Social Security and the FAA's air traffic control? A consistent policy of outsourcing of government services that can best be performed by the private sector must become basic policy of the American government. And the Republican Party, if there is one
left after the election of 2008, must take tax reform seriously, including capital gains tax reform. At the margins of this effort to reduce the state, we must ask if there is any reason why our national historical parks should not be turned over to private entities committed to the preservation of history? When I visit King's Dominion, Busch Gardens, or Six Flags I see what private enterprise can do to entertain thousands of persons daily. But visit Bunker Hill, Appomattox, or Yorktown Battlefield, and you see 1950s technology and the mentality of government wardens.
And how much longer must I endure the many Presidential Libraries that archive the papers of the Imperial Presidency when new technologies enable entire libraries to be stored on one computer chip and made available for public access in cyberspace? My bank gives me access to facsimiles of my checks; why can not presidential papers be converted to electronic files? Indeed, why allow the building of these monuments to the Imperial Presidency? And, really, must we continue Woodrow Wilson's practice of Presidents giving "State of the Union" messages in person to the combined Houses of Congress? Just send us an e-mail message! We will get back to you.
In searching for mentors to lead us in this recovery of the private sector we must look to authentic conservatives such as Robert Nisbet, Gerhart Niemeyer, Eric Voegelin, Stanley Parry and others known to the readers of Modern Age. Nisbet writes in The Quest for Community, for example, "I plead ... for a new laissez faire, one concerned, not with imaginary economic atoms in a supposed legal void, but with the groups and associations that we are given in experience...." (11)
1. Discussion with Eric Voegelin in Nashville, Tennessee, at conclusion of Vanderbilt Symposium on Gnosticism and Modernity. Correspondence of Eric Voegelin with Richard Bishirjian, July 20, 1977, in possession of Dr. Bishirjian and at the Hoover Institution. 2. Discussion with Mario Pei at the University of Pittsburgh in 1963. 3. Originally published by Oxford University Press in 1953, The Quest for Community has been reprinted by ICS Press (1990). (Hereinafter referred to as Quest.) 4. Quest, 41. 5. "The centralization and bureaucratic regimentation which have always been native to organized warfare are, in the twentieth century, extended to widening areas of social and cultural life. War symbolism and the practical techniques of war administration have come to penetrate more and more of the minor areas of social function and allegiance." Ibid., 41. 6. Ibid., 48. 7. Ibid., 49. 8. Ibid., 49. 9. Ibid., 51. 10. Ibid., 54. 11. Ibid., xix.
RICHARD J. BISHIRJIAN, Ph.D., is President of Yorktown University in Denver, Colorado.
Christopher Olaf Blum
FEW WOULD CONTEST THAT to be a conservative is to defend some body of ideas and convictions handed down from the past. From Edmund Burke's protests against the barbarity of the French Revolution through Russell Kirk's Conservative Mind, the most celebrated conservative affirmations have sought to make intelligible and attractive the virtue of piety and the fundamental stance of gratitude towards our forefathers. Indeed, should the conservative movement stand in need of a motto, it might do well to choose St. Paul's admonition Depositum custodi, "guard what has been entrusted to you." (I Timothy 6:20) It is, however, also true that to be a conservative today is a more difficult task than it was two centuries ago. Burke and his contemporaries, after all, were able to defend a civilization that they knew from personal experience and had received, at least partially intact, from their own fathers. Like them, a conservative today seeks to protect and to hand on a store of wisdom from the past, but unlike them, he must choose between two very different legacies. The reason is that in the intervening two centuries the Enlightenment has effectively displaced traditional culture and has itself become the soil in which our minds grow. As in any age, we have inherited our customs, laws, and institutions, but ours were born of the Enlightenment and the eighteenth-century revolutions. One may today, therefore, be a conservative in one of two very different ways: by defending as traditional the legacy of a century that rebelled against tradition, or by criticizing our inherited culture from the standpoint of an older tradition. Both kinds of conservative must face the charge of being self-contradictory in their very principle, and so the choice is not an enviable one. I believe, however, that the choice must be made, and that the more true conservative is the one who takes his stand against the Century of Lights and in defense of the wisdom of the ancients.
Why are so few conservatives convinced that we must choose between two opposing inheritances from the past? I think in large part it is because we are not often enough moved to think about the past, because the love of novelty has a stronger hold upon us than we are ready to admit. Our culture is the product of the Enlightenment's quest for autonomy. The philosophes sought and planned for a world in which individuals could exercise their choices as broadly and freely as possible. That world has to a great extent been created. We are now free to seek the delight of our senses, to fulfill the desires of our passions, to be always seeing and tasting something new. It is this temptation to love the new that threatens the very identity of a conservative. How can one cultivate a love for the permanent things and at the same time be eager to keep abreast of the latest posting on a favorite blog? A candid assessment of the changing voice of the conservative movement will certainly bear out that we conservatives are today younger, more conscious of passing fashions, more apt to be cynical, less grave, less learned, and less immersed in the past than we were a generation ago, when Kirk's living voice was heard. The fault must not, however, be laid at the door of our public figures alone; we ourselves have accepted them as leaders and are little different from them in our personal lives. Indeed, the fault lies deep in human nature: our wounded souls seek new things as distractions and are easily content with mere shadows if they be in some small way gratifying to us.
Curiosity, moreover, is not the only vice inculcated by our media culture. T.S. Eliot warned over seventy years ago that "paganism holds all the most valuable advertising space." Since then, the grip of Madison Avenue and of Hollywood upon our souls has tightened all the more. A few taps of the index finger are all that stand between us and the immediate gratification of our desires, however base or banal. But the more unrestrained our passions, the less free our choices really are. And when our very habits incline to excess we are no longer able to perceive where the mean of virtue actually lies. Here are the fetters with which we have been bound by the Enlightenment's version of freedom. Are we doomed to be forever satisfying our shallow desires and distracting ourselves from what really matters? Not if we begin the quest for wisdom with a salutary fear of the Lord.
To identify fear as the origin of right conservative thinking may seem paradoxical or perverse. Yet there is a salutary kind of fear that begins with the realization that through our own choices we have come to deserve punishment. It so often happens that we incur the punishment before we realize that we have deserved it. Perhaps a conservative is, at first, merely one who has suffered some punishment and has then come to recognize his own guilty choice as its source: an erring word of disrespect towards a father, spoken in anger, that creates coldness where there should be love; a quarrel giving rise to hatred and bitterness where once there was friendly affection; an act of lust that pollutes the waters of a budding relationship and replaces innocence with shame; a lie, told from spite, then spread abroad by malice, that begets harm. Deeds such as these are the causes of our suffering. If, at first, we fear them only for their consequences, it is enough. For to own that we deserve the suffering we have brought upon ourselves is the first step towards redirecting our choices towards the good. We have been badly damaged by our own choices, but we are kept from acknowledging the wounds they have caused by the distractions with which we choose to surround ourselves. The first step towards health, plainly, is to admit that we are not well and that we fear to become worse.
From the fear of rightly-deserved punishment grows in time the fear that a child feels towards his Father, the fear of displeasing the Author of our being. As the first painful steps of self-command are taken, and the distractions of the world set aside in favor of the sweet teachings of wisdom, the soul begins to question its own choices. It is as if we were reading a letter written by an all-knowing spectator that lays bare our motives for acting. "Until that moment," the soul says, "I never knew myself." We have been beguiled and tricked by our common culture into thinking that our enemies are outside ourselves. There is always another warring people to pacify, another kind of animal to save, another disease to cure, another prejudice to overturn. The conservative, however, has learned to confess with Racine: "My God, what a cruel war. / I find two men within me." The real battlefield does not lie outside us. Every single act of our will belongs to one or to the other city, to the heavenly or to the earthly, to "the love of God even unto the contempt of self," or to "the love of self even unto the contempt of God." Lying behind every single choice we make is a choice between ourselves and God, and we should be possessed by a holy fear of choosing aright.
It is precisely this filial fear of displeasing our Father and Lord that leads us to seek counsel from the wisdom of the ages, for this healthy fear teaches us that we tend to deceive ourselves and that ruling ourselves is a dangerous game. One truly becomes a conservative, then, when he learns that in order to purify the mind and to strengthen the will, he needs to look to the wise for guidance: To Socrates, who admonished us always to seek the higher things, to seek what would bring peace and goodness to our souls, and who testified in his final discourses to the truth that the soul outlives the body. To Solomon, who, amidst all the splendor of the East, affirmed that "a dry crust with peace" was better than "a house full of feasting with strife," and that a "good name is more desirable than great riches." To Christ, who asked what it would profit us should we gain the whole world but lose our soul.
The young conservative whose fear of the Lord has led him to take the first steps along the path to wisdom soon confronts the problem that his living teachers disagree with one another. Many commend to him the writers of the eighteenth century as sources of wisdom. We are bid to follow not the Radical Enlightenment, but the Moderate, not the French, but the English, not Voltaire and Rousseau, but Smith and Hume. The case is a plausible one, for the age of Haydn and Dr. Johnson was indeed more civilized than our own. And it must be admitted that the Enlightenment has kept its promise to deliver widespread earthly prosperity, at least in certain parts of the world. But when we open the pages of the eighteenth-century writers, we find that they employ reason chiefly to criticize. Reason is a tool for freeing man from the dead hand of custom, the iron chains of tyranny, and, especially, the "pestilent distemper" of superstition and false religion. Living at the outer limits of autonomy, a younger generation of conservatives is aware that it is anarchic diversity and not order that arises and must arise from the pursuit of self-rule as an end. The social disorders that press urgently upon us--the disappearance of the family, sexually-transmitted diseases, drug addiction, gang violence, mass murder, and crushing ignorance, to name only the most distressing--cannot be solved by criticism and by further tolerance of individual differences. What we need is fortitude and moral imagination, strengthened by the teaching and example of the past.
The men of the eighteenth century championed liberty against the social forms they had inherited. But we do not today need to imitate the Boston Tea Party or the plundering of chateaux. What we need to imitate are those courageous attempts at creating healthy community life that come down to us from the ages that the men of the eighteenth century called dark. We need the example of the Dominicans at Prouille who helped to restore the dignity and stability of women who had been abused by the sect of the Manichees. We need to learn from the guilds how it was possible to create communities of work that took human flourishing, and not mere profitability, as their end. We need to learn from the medieval Italian city-states how civic identity and solidarity were informed and strengthened by public religious festivity. We need to learn from the monastic orders how self-renunciation, conversion, and prayer lead to peace in the soul and with one's neighbors.
If, however, we take David Hume and his generation for our teachers and exemplars, we will inevitably foreshorten and truncate our search for wisdom. They did not themselves recommend piety towards their forebears, whom they consigned to an age of tyranny and superstition, accident and force. And Hume, for one, is not the best guide to the good life. He told us that "reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions." His own passions, it is true, were so very undemanding that his account is almost an attractive one. A comfortable home, a glass of sherry, a painting to consider, a lively well-informed conversation: these are the goods that accorded with his "sociable disposition and taste for pleasure." The ugly world of folly and vice could be curbed and channeled by the emulation of our betters and the aspiration to live as they do. For what Hume did, as MacIntyre has argued, was to domesticate acquisitiveness, and to turn it from a vice into a virtue. "It is an infallible consequence of all industrious professions," Hume taught, "to beget frugality, and make the love of gain prevail over the love of pleasure." But when considered against the bitter experiences of the last two centuries and in the fetid airs of our prevailing moral climate, Hume's belief that our passions are able to sort themselves out into a liveable order is unconvincing, to say the least. When we add to it his frank confession that he holds "the life of man" to be "of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster," we are led to conclude that the path of wisdom lies away from his door.
It is not the example of the self-satisfied Hume, but of the pious Pythagoras that our generation needs to follow. The great numerologist thought his predecessors to have been presumptuous in their arrogation of the name Sophist to themselves, and instead coined "lover of wisdom" to describe his school, because the lover may declare his love prior to actually possessing his beloved, and Pythagoras had sensed that wisdom was divine and belonged fully only to the gods. I believe that to be a conservative today necessitates a similar attitude. For the members of the rising generation of conservatives are not often born and raised with their conservative convictions, and those few who are often need to rediscover them after a period in which they have been set aside. To discover anew that our duty is to cultivate and to conserve the wisdom that is of old presents an evident difficulty. How can we embrace as new that which is old and avoid not only the appearance of inconsistency, but also the real danger of a partial and idiosyncratic recovery of tradition? Our generation is therefore called to a sifting and a judging of a vast inheritance. We cannot afford to neglect what Newman once called being "deep in history." The task is a daunting one. Yet from our tradition come words of hope: "if any of you is wanting in wisdom, let him ask it of God, who gives abundantly to all men, and does not reproach; and it will be given to him." (James 1:5) It is in prayer that we find the courage we need to move forward in our creative re-appropriation of the wisdom of the ages. And we need not only courage, but also humility. For in our consideration of the wisdom of the ancients, we lay hold of an inheritance against which we ought to measure ourselves. When, for instance, we read Augustine's Confessions, the text lays bare our own souls and teaches us how better to live. Just as a player is improved by submitting to the correction of his coach, or a child learns to walk by reaching out to the hands of his parents, so also are we made more free, and not less, by submitting to the counsel of those more wise than ourselves, and by imitating examples that come down to us from happier ages than our own.
CHRISTOPHER OLAF BLUM is Professor of Humanities at Thomas More College in Merrimack, New Hampshire.
William F. Campbell
F.A. HAYEK'S POSTSCRIPT to The Constitution of Liberty is titled, "Why I Am Not a Conservative." We were asked to explain, "Why I am a Conservative." A major part of my answer revolves around, "Why I am not a Libertarian." I am a conservative for a variety of reasons, but chiefly because I have a lively sense of sin and human corruption, including my own. Libertarians have a healthy sense of sin and corruption, but mainly that of others.
I share the belief of libertarians that people are generally not to be trusted, particularly with power. Moreover, I have seen time and again that utopian expectations tend to infuse this sense of power with a self-righteousness that often leads to oppression and murder on a massive scale. These convictions about the human condition--pessimistic as they may seem to some--grow stronger the older I get, and I am convinced that they are an accurate description of the world in which we live.
The most powerful reinforcement of my conservative tendencies has come from the extraordinary people with whom I have interacted over the course of my personal and professional life. Sorting out the influence of both conservatives and classical liberals has resulted in a position of two cheers for the classical liberals and two and three quarters' cheers for conservatives. The present essay dwells on these personalities as a way of making my own conservatism more intelligible. I recall those teachers, friends, and family whose ideas and actions helped shape my own personality because I believe that conservatism itself, properly understood, is an unavoidably particular phenomenon. Meaning, for the conservative, is found not in arid philosophical abstraction or (worse) dogmatic ideology but in particular families, particular communities, particular churches, and particular locales.
Let me begin with my family. My parents, Albert and Virginia Campbell, were free-market Christian conservatives. Born in Indianapolis, I was raised a Hoosier and Methodist. (1) My father was a law partner of Pierre Goodrich. Pierre greatly influenced my father's appreciation of free-market ideas. My high school graduation present from Pierre was a copy of Ludwig von Mises's Human Action. Mises inculcated in me a love of economics, rational thought, and clear expression. I learned to cherish the fundamental economic principles of the market economy, private property, voluntary exchange, and freedom of contract. These are the institutions that create wealth and have effectively eliminated grinding poverty for almost all in the United States. Our family library also contained pamphlets, magazines, and books of a more conservative nature. A first edition of Russell Kirk's Conservative Mind was an important item on our library shelf. Kirk nurtured in me a respect for beauty, rhetoric, and the mystery of life.
After surviving many religious crises as a teenager--I was saved several times--I majored in philosophy and religion at DePauw University thinking that I would become a preacher, but I soon decided that philosophy was the better fit. With this in mind I attended graduate school at the University of Minnesota, where I was confronted with the virulent scientism of May Brodbeck and the entire philosophy department. She reluctantly allowed me to write a master's thesis on the methodology of Ludwig von Mises, but at the last minute refused to let me defend my thesis. This was an important lesson for me about the hostility of liberals and "scientists" toward conservative ideas, as well as about the lengths to which they would go in suppressing them.
During my stay in Minnesota, I became increasingly immersed in the economics of Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek, and Milton Friedman. I was drawn to these men by their clear rational approach that defended individual freedom by destroying the humbugs of most state interventionism. Unfortunately, I was also attracted to the lingering positivist-relativist aspect of their positions. If value judgments are subjective to the individual, and human liberty consists in the defense of individual autonomy, then my own individual will could remain at the center of the universe. For most economists, individual choice is the trump card for judging all human institutions. This suited me quite well because as a young man I did not want anyone else, not even God, interfering with my own self-chosen path.
Throughout this period of the late 1950s and early 1960s, my conservative intellectual life was greatly affected by my affiliation with ISI, the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, later to become the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. My father served on the Board of Trustees of ISI and worked closely with Don Lipsett who was their Midwest director. (2) The personal authority of lecturers like Gerhart Niemeyer and Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn at ISI Summer Schools was life-changing. The contrast to the tepid university professoriate caught my attention.
After Minnesota, I went to Italy, where I had the good fortune to study under Professor Bruno Leoni at the University of Pavia for a year. He provided me with the model of the cultured classical liberal who knew his economics but also European culture. During my time in Europe I had begun to read C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and Hilaire Belloc. This was the beginning of the renewal of my faith on more rational and liturgical grounds and culminated in my joining the Episcopal Church after I later settled in Baton Rouge.
In 1963, I returned to the U.S. for my Ph.D. in economics at the University of Virginia. These were the glory days for economics at the University. Public choice was in full bloom with Jim Buchanan and Gordon Tullock. Hard-core anti-communists like Warren Nutter knew the weaknesses of Soviet statistics from a scholarly standpoint, and there were excellent teachers like Leland Yeager for monetary theory. During my time at Virginia, I studied with the delightful Ronald Coase for two semesters of the history of economic thought--one semester devoted to Adam Smith and the second semester devoted to Alfred Marshall. I continued to nourish my growing anti-positivist position by reading Eric Voegelin and Leo Strauss. Gordon Tullock one time caught me reading Eric Voegelin and had me pegged from that moment on as a Voegelinian. My increasing conservative predilections got me into trouble since they made me skeptical of the public choice movement as a normative enterprise.
I had no quarrel with public choice as positive economics with testable propositions. It was, and is, a good corrective to utopian assumptions that the state is benevolent and knows what it is doing. But there was an individualistic foundation to the enterprise that bothered me. It started from the sanctity of individual preferences and tastes. Public choice theory, however, with its focus on individual preferences and tastes, seems unable to move toward the more substantive moral questions about what human beings ought to desire and pursue. The very title of Buchanan and Tullock's book, The Calculus of Consent, makes it very easy to understand the hostility toward conservatism. Even though Buchanan and Tullock are more interested in consent than mathematics, the core question of the defense of liberty as individual autonomy is the fundamental issue.
When it came time for writing my dissertation on the relationship between Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations, Ronald Coase had left for the University of Chicago. I was fortunate enough to find an exceptional advisor in Bill Breit. Bill had come to Virginia from Louisiana State University where he brilliantly and wittily taught the history of economic thought. Since LSU had not filled his position, I left blizzard conditions in Virginia to interview at LSU in February of 1966. Since the flowers were in full bloom, the weather was balmy, and the people were pleasant, I accepted a full-time teaching position that lasted for 32 years.
The main focus of my teaching in the history of economic thought was to take morality seriously and not dismiss it with a methodological reductionism of the fact/value distinction. It is useful to make distinctions between is and ought statements. This is the positive/normative distinction. But it does not follow that ought or normative statements are subjective or simply relative to the individual. Economists had used this confusion to proclaim a practical relativism that enshrined subjective tastes and preferences. Given my sense of human sin, it became painfully obvious that I could not just accept people's tastes and preferences as given and worthy to be satisfied.
My reading of Platonic dialogues and Greek myth further convinced me that there is no "economic problem of scarcity." This sounds extreme. However, the usual formulation of the economic problem as trying to match infinite wants with scarce resources, implies a mathematical approach built on individualistic premises. "Infinite wants" is what the ancients would have called pleonexia. This is a spiritual disease not a condition to be celebrated.
Although my work was leading me into a radically conservative position, I did not repudiate the classical liberal part of my family heritage. In 1974 I became a member of the Mont Pelerin Society, which had been founded in 1947 by F.A. Hayek to provide a safe haven for the discussion of ideas relevant to a free society. The Society had always suffered tensions between the pure economists and those economic liberals who stressed the importance to liberty of a Christian and moral understanding of the human person. On the one side was a solid phalanx of Mises, Hayek, Knight, Stigler, and Friedman who represented pure economics; on the other side were Christian liberals like Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn and Wilhelm Roepke, both of whom resigned from the Society.
My attempt to create a conservative economics led me to read carefully everything written in English by Roepke. Russell Kirk induced me to write the introductions to the reprinting of The Social Crisis of Our Time and The Moral Foundations of Civil Society (previously titled Civitas Humana). Ironically, I still believe that this German economist, the thinker behind Ludwig Erhard and the German economic miracle, provides the clearest expression of what it means to be an American conservative. He combined the sharp analytical understanding of the Austrian economists with the respect for morality and religion of a Russell Kirk. Roepke was an American conservative through and through.
In 1976, the year of the Bicentennial, my attention was drawn to specifically American institutions and political realities. Still desiring a rapprochement between my economic liberalism and my moral and religious conservatism, I discovered that the American political tradition of federalism achieved just that. After the Civil War, the substantive due-process-tradition lived in a healthy tension with the police powers of state and local governments. The first satisfied my love of economic liberty when not taken as an all-encompassing ideological or methodological construct. The second satisfied my common sense concern that political order had something to do with the morals and manners necessary for the formation of character.
The American constitution was devised as a check on federal power, leaving large unspecified residuals for the state and local governments to decide on the grounds of prudence. There was no wall of separation between church and state--there was only a wall of separation between the federal government and an established religion.
My devotion to the American constitutional order was reinforced when I taught an adult Christian education class for St. James Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge. I discovered that the Anglican Church saved the American Revolution and the American Revolution saved the Episcopal Church. After the French and Indian Wars eliminated the political influence of France and Catholicism on the thirteen colonies, the Anglican church's arrogance and the desire to establish bishops in the colonies became the focal point of opposition to the British tyranny. The arrogance of Britain's bureaucrats, their parliament, and their soldiers ignited a puritanical backlash that provided the moral background to the American Revolution. It would have been disastrous for both the Anglican Church and the American colonies had there been an established Anglican Church. Fortunately the Episcopal Church was spared the trial of establishment. Christian churches have flourished in the United States because of the de facto tolerance guaranteed by the First Amendment.
For the Episcopal Church, this spirit of tolerance is built into its very fiber. It stemmed from the tradition of the indifferent things, or adiaphora, on which men can reasonably disagree--color of vestments, hymn music, and the order of service. But, by definition, if there are "indifferent things" there are also the essentials of orthodoxy that C.S. Lewis would call Mere Christianity. The clearest formulation which affirms both the truths of the Gospel and the occasional need for change can be found in the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer written in Philadelphia, October 1789, under the watchful eye of Bishop William White. It is a formulation worthy of Edmund Burke.
After teaching for thirty-two years at LSU, I retired and took a full-time position as Secretary of The Philadelphia Society. I am often asked about the nature and purpose of The Philadelphia Society, and it is worth saying a few words about it by way of explanation. Founded in 1964 by Don Lipsett, The Philadelphia Society was conceived as a strictly academic and social society--the American counterpart to the Mont Pelerin Society. The Philadelphia Society focuses on principles by inviting speakers to present papers that provoke conversation and, often, spirited debate. The Society does not take party positions nor does it promote specific policies. The policy implications are left through a wise division of labor to organizations like The Heritage Foundation, run by Don's close friend, Ed Feulner. And the battle in the colleges was left to ISI.
Don Lipsett was so crucial to the formation of The Philadelphia Society because he personally knew and was trusted by Milton Friedman, Bill Buckley, and Russell Kirk. Libertarians and traditional conservatives could all fit within the rubric of "ordered liberty" which has been the hallmark of the Society. Although the Society was broader in scope than the Mont Pelerin Society, Don modeled it as the American counterpart to Mont Pelerin.
When Don was dying in the summer of 1995, I was approached about the possibility of becoming Secretary. Don was the "permanent Secretary" from its founding in 1964 until the fall of 1995--thirty-one years of devoted service. Although his unique personality and abilities could not be replaced, I shared with him his Hoosier roots and devotion to midwestern conservatism. Perhaps my best quality to serve as Secretary of this important Society was the fact that I continued to hold in tension the balance between freedom and virtue.
The privilege of working with a wide variety of Presidents of The Philadelphia Society has been something that I would not change for a minute. Each President has contributed to my understanding of the conservative movement. Space prevents me from listing the names and unique insights of each of them, but I think that they would agree that the man who most steadfastly preserves the essence of American conservatism is M. Stanton Evans. I had known Stan from my Hoosier days when he was editor of The Indianapolis News. He not only played ping-pong with my father, but he also roomed with Don Lipsett in Indianapolis. In addition to his irrepressible humor, I would challenge anyone to find a statement or policy position of Stan Evans that has been wrong.
Let me conclude by returning to family and to its importance in forming my conservative disposition. I take great pride in the fact that my family is the only three-generation family in The Philadelphia Society. My father, Al Campbell, was both a charter member in 1964 and a Distinguished Member. I was also a Charter Member of The Philadelphia Society and was fortunate enough--through the good auspices and guided democracy of Don Lipsett--to serve as President from 1986-1987. My daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband, David Corey, have continued the family tradition by becoming members of The Philadelphia Society, and I have high hopes that my grandchildren, Anna Katherine and John, will follow in their parents' footsteps.
It is a cliche to say that your wife is your better half. In my case, Helen is my better two-thirds. The other third is Julie Flick, the steadfast secretary of The Philadelphia Society since the early 1990s. Helen, like my mother, is more reliably conservative than I am. In the grand scheme of things, men are too often similar to the America that appears in the quote beloved by Albert J. Nock, "American society is the only one which has passed from barbarism to decadence without once knowing civilization." Helen has been my civilizing influence.
While men may be good at dealing with abstract ideas (which can too easily become strict ideologies or second realities), women do the important work of the world as they manage all those "little platoons" of Edmund Burke's fervent imagination. Their basic instincts are conservative--preserving, nurturing, and cherishing the permanent things without qualification or equivocation.
As I have emphasized throughout this essay, family, friends, and teachers have all been instrumental in forming my conservatism--both explicitly, by instruction, and implicitly, by example. Conservatism is not exhausted in abstract principles. The true conservative experience of the world is one rooted in particularity: in people and places that are meaningful to an individual and unique to that individual. As such, they cannot be reproduced but only documented for others to observe. Indeed, such an understanding has long stood at the center of the conservative intellectual movement in America, and so it has in my own experience as a conservative.
1. I have described the importance of my father and my conservative family upbringing at greater length in "An Economist's Tribute to Russell Kirk," in The Intercollegiate Review, Fall 1994; it can be found online at the ISI website, http://www.mmisi.org/ir/30_01/campbell.pdf or at The Philadelphia Society website, http://phillysoc.org/russell.htm. 2. For my relationship with Don and Norma Lipsett, http://phillvsoc.org/lipsroom.htm. I expanded on this relationship in my "Tribute to Don Lipsett, Founder of The Philadelphia Society," in the Program for the Fortieth Anniversary Gala, 1964-2004.
WILLIAM F. CAMPBELL is Professor Emeritus of Economics at Louisiana State University and Secretary of the Philadelphia Society.
CONSERVATISM, FOR ME, began with a revelation about the self in the world. It is not a position I would ever have thought myself into, nor did I come to it through a set of inherited and unquestioned assumptions.
But let me begin with something concrete. I grew up in the 1960s when the word "conservative" was used to denote backwardness or, worse still, racial prejudice. But the sixties brought in their own troubles. It was the decade of navel-gazing on one hand and "social consciousness" on the other: It was the decade, in any case, of enticement, particularly of the young by the young. How easy, if one were a "baby boomer," to be swept up in the currents of "the new"--new music, new clothing, a seemingly new rhetoric that lured unwary teenagers to every television channel, magazine rack, and record album in the country. New, Young, Revolutionary: those were the catch words, the great rallying cries of the times. And like many another of my day, I was sucked into the vortex.
Luckily for me, that wasn't the whole story. When one is young, life should be beautiful. It is a time when, in Joyce's phrase, "brightness falls from the air." From memories of youth comes the strength that makes much of the rest of life endurable. Whatever happens to us afterwards, we can always draw on the riches we should have accumulated then--riches not of intellect but of the soul. Now, I don't know how it is with those who came of age in the cities or suburbs. But if you come from the country, as I did, and have loving parents, and good neighbors, and do some of the work of the countryside--haying and cutting corn and digging postholes and stringing barbed wire--you have the beginnings of a good heart, even if you are a standard knockoff of the Original Sinner. This was the counterbalance in my being to all the hype about newness. It was not enough, of course, but it was at least some light in the darkness.
Not, mind you, that I was an altogether naive consumer of counterculture values. When someone spoke glowingly of the workers in China or the cane fields of Cuba, I had doubts about the reality behind this unbridled language of the demi-paradise. When another told of the promise of communes, I suspected that one could not begin a new life by harnessing it to an old self. When one or the other praised a rock group or songwriter as if these were godlings, I thought of all the hours I had spent listening to Beethoven and Schubert, and wondered what music these unquestioning fans had been listening to. Not that I was not interested in the stories or did not listen to and enjoy the music. But the belief in the untrammeled goodness of all these things was lacking. Some of my friends called such qualms cynicism. To me, it was the action of prudence, though I would not have used that word.
Nonetheless, prudence does not offer an escape from the human condition. As St. Paul famously tells us in Romans, "the wages of sin is death." During the sixties I learned about sin and a little, too, about death. The sixties promised to teach me about liberation from my culturally induced "hang-ups," to expand my consciousness, to show me a new way to live in the world that did not involve the constant chasing after money. It left me wallowing in the dark invitations of the hour--drugs, illicit sex, communal living; and for a while these things seemed desirable. Yet, in the end, all of them, and especially drugs, eventually showed me how naked I was, how alone I could be in the world--how separate from God.
The first inward sign of sin is loss, the loss of parts of oneself that previously might have gone unnoticed--loss of inner integrity, loss of self-respect, loss of a positive attitude toward self and others, loss of meaning. Every sin brings its own shade of darkness, and spiritually one dies a little with each sin committed. There are, too, sins of such magnitude that they deal the spirit a near-fatal thrust, plunging one immediately into a spiritual night wherein the soul wanders in agony. I daresay I have committed the latter and know its pains.
Loss, consequently, brings about the deepest kind of reflection and reevaluating of one's life as well as the ways of the world. If it is possible to lose so much that one values, it is also imperative to look again--or perhaps, for the first time--at values themselves and consider which of them can still be claimed and even reclaimed. History, we know, is full of stories of men who have found themselves emerging from ordeals--prison, terrible natural events, terrible man-made ones--with new values or the revival of forgotten values learned in childhood and put away in the unlighted attic of the mind. "After loss, what can be saved and valued?" I think that question occurs to every future conservative as he begins to struggle with his condition and the condition of everything around him.
From the spiritual prospective, I started off on the wrong foot. In my search for guidance, I read a great many books. A number of these were works on the new therapies that had begun to emerge in the sixties in the wake of the drug curse: everything from the existentialist approach of R.D. Laing to Arthur Janov's Primal Therapy. I looked at religion, too, mostly Buddhism--the approved belief system of many in the counterculture--and made my weary way through ancient texts like The Dhammapada, and new ones like those by the Zen apologist, Allan Watts. It was not until the mid-seventies that I turned to the faith of my parents, Christianity, and found there the answers I had been seeking.
I found in books, too, that Left politics, which had dominated the thinking of so many in the sixties, was a tragic sham. The first two books I read were powerful indictments of a world view that I had never accepted but also could not, until this time, have thrown off completely. Those books were the first volume of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago and Whittaker Chambers's Witness. From the first I learned how a system under the leadership of evil men can crush even the strongest of opponents; and I learned how this system itself was devised to bring to leadership just those kinds of men. From the second I saw how the ideology of the Left can warp the mind of a sensitive and intelligent man, can lead him into moral dilemmas that he had never foreseen, and can hold him even when he sees that what he is doing is wrong. These books were instrumental in helping me throw off whatever illusions I still might have had left about the Left, and about its apologists, many of whom were quite close to power.
As I read further in literature by conservative writers, I found that capitalism, too, had its problems. Capitalism worked best in an open society, and presented no problems to such basic values as the freedom of association and freedom of peaceful dissent. Moreover, unlike the Left, it did not have an eschatological view of history from which a "new man" was to evolve so perfect in his moral being that government itself could simply vanish. Thus, it didn't try to impose laws that would lead in such a direction. But capitalism was wrapped up in materialism; it encouraged the kind of thinking that would adopt a slogan much heard some years ago: "He who has the most things at the end [of life], wins." Furthermore, capitalism, if it was to be successful, needed to keep expanding the number of goods and services it provided; otherwise, it became stagnant. This constant expansion could not help but unsettle traditional ways of life, one of the mainstays of conservative values.
By the 1960s traditional conservative values--thrift, hard work, religious belief and observance, local customs, a love of order, participation in community life, respect for law and for the Constitution as framed by the Founding Fathers--were little in evidence. Liberalism had seemingly triumphed, but that triumph was soon disrupted by terrible events: the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the quagmire of the Vietnam War. At the 1968 Democratic convention, liberalism seemed to fall apart, never to be resurrected as a coherent whole. Thereafter, the Democrats moved further and further to the left--the direction the politicized counterculture had been urging all along, and largely into interest groups.
The counterculture faced its own dilemmas, and they were not small. The famous Haight-Asbury intersection in San Francisco turned into a pit of drug overdoses and prostitution even as the "Summer of Love" (1967) was being celebrated. Woodstock, the meeting of the tribes of the young, led to other mammoth concerts, one of which--the Altamont festival in California--ended in murder. The Manson family slaughtered over half-a-dozen people in a misguided attempt to start a race war. By the end of the decade, Hippie had been officially pronounced dead; and the hippies themselves turned inward, resulting in Tom Wolfe's "me decade" of the 1970s. Many came out of the sixties as walking mental cases. Some of them became Flying Saucer enthusiasts, others devotees of new and weird religions, others still turned into "Jesus Freaks," for whom the figure of Jesus could mean everything from radical political revolutionary to divine peacenik. The counterculture had not lasted long, but it had produced enormous damage.
Indeed, madness seemed to have engulfed the country, and the only way to push back against it was to discover all over again--if we of my generation had ever really known it in the first place--how the country had started out, what were its basic principles. From that starting point, some in my generation found their way to conservatism and became newly-minted enemies of their former pals on the Left.
All of this might seem a long way from my earlier discussion of sin, but it was the destructive power of the forces unleashed by the sixties that taught me what sin was, and how far the country had drifted from its origins toward an unrighteous path. A society is a reflection of the individuals in it, so goes the old saw, and the society of that time reflected chaos. Little wonder that many of us began to see the country and the world itself in apocalyptic terms.
What I discovered in the early seventies is that every man is obliged to confront the assumptions of his generation, especially when that generation has so little, or such distorted, knowledge of what went before it. The young people of the sixties became, to a great degree, what they could not help becoming--experiential, anti-intellectual, easy to exploit, often fantastical in their dress and their ideas of what made for the good life. But the young do grow up, although that growth can be hindered. Most, gladly, found themselves beyond the dreaded age of thirty and involved suddenly in the bath of life: marriage, childbirth, responsibilities--not necessarily in that order. For many, in the end, their lives as hippies began to look a little silly. Others maintain a nostalgia for the time, though it is really a nostalgia for youth rather than the sixties. The mood is much like the one expressed by the conservative Wordsworth looking back at his own youth during the French Revolution: "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,/But to be young was very heaven!" Those who did not find the sixties "heaven," however, were the ones who emerged with reason to question and to doubt--and to find a truer vision elsewhere
I also found that every man is obliged to confront what he is in himself and that that confrontation determines how he relates to the world. My confrontation led me to conservatism. I became a conservative because I could not see in the alternatives to conservatism any sensible approach to the condition of man, much less to the governance of man. Having experienced evil, I could not take seriously any philosophy that begins by asserting the innate goodness of human beings. Man is a creature capable of producing the beautiful and acting in ways that are morally sublime, but alongside those qualities he has within him the power to do evil--the drive to do it if he is not checked by the voice of conscience. No political or social position that I know of takes into account the existence of this second quality other than conservatism. I became a conservative, too, because, having seen chaos all around me, I came to have a healthy respect for order and the well-ordered life. I have held to my conservative values since the seventies, and I will be clinging to them to the end, as I cling--even in that fateful hour--to Christ and the beauty of His promises.
ROBERT CHAMP earned his doctorate in English literature from the University of Maryland.
Jude P. Dougherty
WE PROBABLY USE THE WORD "conservative" more as an adjective than as a noun. We speak of her conservative wardrobe, his conservative fiscal policy, or Smith's conservative voting pattern. Strictly speaking, just as there is no officially recognized "progressive" party in the United States today, there is no officially designated "conservative" party, although the Republican party is often thought to be so. In the realm of politics, the designation is ambiguous. It may or may not resonate with something much deeper, a spiritual or intellectual outlook, or a cultural commitment that drives the political. I am a conservative in two senses, politically conservative by contemporary American notions of what it means to be a conservative and culturally conservative by time-transcending standards.
I first encountered the political use of the word "conservative" when a printer whom I was about to engage as the publisher of my doctoral dissertation (a requirement in those days) handed me as an example of his work, a copy of Barry Goldwater's book, Conscience of a Conservative (1960). I had just emerged from years of graduate work and was politically naive, to say the least. My research had focused on the Enlightenment sources of the philosophy of John Dewey and his school. After spending months going though the so-called little magazines of the New York literary set, the Conscience of a Conservative came as a breath of fresh air. I found no fault with Goldwater's view for it was the view of my late grandmother and seemed to reflect the outlook of the community in which I was reared. My grandmother was politically astute. Three principles that I learned under her tutelage remain with me today. First, get all the education you can. Second, everything you do, do for the honor and glory of God. And third, never believe anything you read in the newspapers. All three principles are relevant today as one takes the measure of our anti-Christian cosmopolitan, multicultural landscape.
For to know who one is, is to understand one's intellectual and cultural heritage, and that demands a literacy that comes only with effort. For a citizen of the West, that heritage is bound to Christendom, to the faith that gave us Mont Saint Michel and Chartres and, I might add, Shakespeare and Milton and Bach and Handel.
To be a conservative is to commit oneself to the principles that undergird Western civilization and to their preservation in our collective memory. To master those principles requires honest and at times laborious effort for it often takes considerable learning to defend the obvious. About seventy-five years ago, philosophers and literary intellectuals as diverse as Edmund Husserl, George Santayana, and Paul Valery, aware of the declining influence of Christianity, spoke of "the crisis of Western civilization." (1) All three pinned their hopes not so much on the revival of a divided Christendom but on the revival of an interest in the classical sources of Western culture, with Valery insisting, in addition, on an acknowledgment of a debt to Roman law and Roman Catholicism. We know that the proposed European Constitution had failed to acknowledge either. Even in their prescience, Husserl and Santayana could not have imagined the multicultural diversity that today confronts a secularized Europe, a Europe unable to control its borders or to assimilate the flood of immigrants from the Middle East and Africa.
Above all, what needs to be conserved is a literary tradition that puts one in touch with the wisdom of the past. To understand the conservative mind, it is necessary to begin with Aristotle and the Stoics, to read Augustine, Aquinas, and Dante, or, put in another way, to master a literary canon that includes the classics of ancient Greece and Rome, the Bible, the Fathers of the Church and their medieval commentators as well as the early treatises that gave us modern science. These are the great books of the Western world. It is through them that we learn about the necessity of virtue in a people, about the rule of law, about the importance of family for a stable society, about the nature of things divine and the difference between the things that belong to Caesar and the things that belong to God. It is in these texts that we learn about the separation of powers, we learn the meaning of religion and the nature of science, and we acquire a vantage point from which to judge the Enlightenment and modernity. Unfortunately these components of a liberal education have been marginalized, if not eclipsed, by an emphasis on technical education to the exclusion of all others and, it may be added, by a curriculum dictated by the politically correct.
In spite of the left's assault, the conservative outlook is in no danger of disappearance. The conservative mind is firmly anchored in a common-sense understanding of nature and human nature. Its defense in the halls of the academy may require uncommon learning, but it remains the outlook of common people who in troubled times draw upon it as a natural response. That said, one must acknowledge a gap between the conservative mind and its ability to marshal those of like mind. It is not merely a question of leadership. To succeed, a conservative leader must somehow overcome the leftward bias of the media, the university elites, and a self-serving political class. In the ancient world, rhetoric was the indispensable tool of leadership, and that remains true today. Opinion is shaped by speech, oral and written. With the organs of communication controlled by a left-leaning and all but monolithic media, a conservative voice has difficulty being heard. Those who succeed in talking over the heads of the media have a receptive audience. Reagan provides an example here. So, too, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
If I were to propose a patron saint for the conservative cause, it would be Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (480-524 A.D.), consul under Theodoric. And this for several reasons. Boethius, we know from subsequent events, stood at a watershed in the history of the West. He was aware that the world in which he had grown to manhood was doomed and that the world coming into being was not his own. He was not alone in that judgment. The Imperium Romanum had come to an end with Alaric's conquest of the city of Rome in 410. In the aftermath of the barbarian invasions of the western part of the Roman Empire in the late fifth and early sixth centuries, cultural life had declined, and the future of the empire was unclear. Rome was no longer the symbol of world order. The Greek literary tradition had all but died, and the Hellenism that well served the Fathers of the Church was losing its hold.
Boethius was one of a few in the upper classes who saw the importance of preserving an inherited literary culture, and he set about transmitting the texts of ancient philosophy to posterity. It was his ambition not only to make available to his countrymen the works of Plato and Aristotle but to show the compatibility of the two and, as well, one may note, by often interpreting Aristotle through the eyes of Plato. Cassiodorus (ca. 490-585), a younger contemporary and author of the oldest biography of Boethius, also understood the value of Greek learning and, upon founding a Benedictine monastery on his family's property at Squillace, far from a decadent Rome on the Adriatic in southern Italy, set about having his monks copy ancient texts. That many literary and philosophical classics remain is due to the activity of those early Benedictines.
Without doubt, our present somewhat resembles that ancient past. In our own country and in much of Europe, education at all levels has lost contact with the classics that heretofore provided the core of a liberal education. The value of classical learning was never contested by leading philosophers of the twentieth century, yet our universities have all but abandoned the Western literary canon. To read Husserl, Heidegger, and Gadamer, for example, is to appreciate their indebtedness to the Greeks. George Santayana, the Spanish-born American philosopher, eschewing the pragmatism of his mentor William James, thought of his own work as a restatement of Aristotle's metaphysics.
As a resurgent and self-confident Islam confronts a Europe where an intellectual elite has all but renounced the Hellenic and Christian sources of Western culture in the interest of multiculturalism, conservative minds on both sides of the Atlantic have begun to recognize that Western civilization itself is threatened. Need I mention books by Serge Trifkovic, (2) Bat Ye'or, (3) and Oriana Fallaci. (4) Nicholas Sarkozy, when still Interior Minister of France and as a presidential aspirant, called for a Ministry of Immigration and National Identity. Even the Socialist candidate, Signolene Royal, took up the theme and began to speak about French national identity. One may hope that Charles Murray's assessment, "Europe's run is over," (5) and Bat Ye'or's prediction of a Eurarabia before the end of this century are wrong. Most historically conscious observers accept the fact that a secular anti-Christian mentality has transformed a basically Christian civilization, with important post-Enlightenment secular elements, into a post-Christian civilization that consequently lacks a moral compass. Whereas Hilaire Belloc could proclaim with some truth, "Europe is the Faith, the Faith is Europe," today there is no longer any geographic or cultural space that can be identified as "Christendom." With no distinctively Christian culture or borders to defend, the West is peculiarly vulnerable to an Islam confident that it will one day rule the world.
It is becoming clear to many in the West that Islam is much more than "just a religion." To pretend that Islam is a religion of peace, as many political and ecclesiastical authorities do, is to ignore its origin, basic tenets, and implications for the rest of us. F.A. Hayek begins his The Road to Serfdom with a warning. "When the course of civilization takes an unexpected turn--when instead of continued progress which we have come to expect, we find ourselves threatened by evils associated with past ages of barbarism--we naturally blame anything but ourselves." (6) Europe today is confronted with a civilization it thought it had long ago vanquished, and lacking the spiritual resources it once possessed, it is by no means assured of victory in what many are beginning to recognize as a clash of civilizations.
If there were ever a need for the conservative mind to assert itself, it is today, for what has transpired in Europe is gradually taking place in North America. It is time we began to ask, who are we? Do we as Americans have a national identity, and does it matter? Apparently it matters to hosts of immigrants who seek to retain not only their inherited customs but even their native language in their adopted country. It matters because traditions, the components of what we call a culture, are specific. One cannot be a citizen of the world. Identity is local: it is the characteristic of a people who have inhabited a land over a period of time, who have developed certain collective habits, evident in their manners, their dress, the feasts they collectively enjoy, their religious bonds, the premium they put on education, and their attention to detail and precision. These are not universal traits but are rooted in centuries past and depend on a historical consciousness, an attention to deeds of ancestors past.
Bernard Lewis, in his 2007 Irving Kristol Lecture, (7) points to a difference between assimilation and acceptance of the immigrant and to a difference between European and American situations. "For an immigrant to become an American means a change of political allegiance. For an immigrant to become a Frenchman or German means a change of ethnic identity. Changing political allegiance is certainly very much easier and more practical than changing ethnic identity in one's feeling or in one's measure of acceptance." One must take issue with Bernard Lewis. In spite of a blurring of regional differences that once distinguished a Southerner from a New Englander, a Hoosier from a Southern Californian, and in spite of the ascendancy of a certain rootless class, there remains an American identity and it is not merely a political one.
Certainly America is enriched by a kind of ethnic diversity. We value our "Little Italys" our "Chinatowns," our French culture, our kosher foods, and our Slavic festivals, but this identity exists as a cultural variety grafted to a much sturdier identity. A generation ago, noted American writers such as John Courtney Murray, Will Herberg, and Walter Lippmann, grappled with the question of identity. For the sociologist Herberg, to be an American is to be religious, and to be religious means to be religious in one of three ways, as a Protestant, as a Catholic, or as a Jew. Herberg acknowledged that there were Muslims among us, but given their numbers, they did not alter his basic contention. The Jesuit theologian, Murray, sought to identify for his co-religionist the truths we hold as Americans, as Catholics, and as American Catholics. Lippmann found American identity in the rule of law to which the nation was committed by reasons of its founding documents. More recently Samuel P. Huntington has pointedly addressed the question of identity in his book, Who Are We? (8)
Starting from the premise that the United States once possessed a common ethnic core--one may say, an Anglo-Protestant core--Huntington believes that sometime between 1920 and 1970 it lost that soul, succumbing to a liberal virus that sapped its strength. Seventy-five years earlier, George Santayana employed the same metaphor in speaking of Christianity in the West when he wrote: "Our society has lost its soul. The landscape of Christianity is covered with lava; a great eruption and inundation of brute humanity threatens to overwhelm all the treasures that artful humanity has created." (9) Huntington is convinced that the United States remains an overwhelmingly Christian nation, yet he is not oblivious to the moral and cultural decline that he believes has weakened the fabric of the nation. He attributes the erosion not to gains made by non-Christian religions but to the increased influence of a small but influential number of intellectuals and "publicists," atheists and materialists, who in the name of multiculturalism attack the identification of the United States with Western civilization.
America's multiculturalists, Huntington believes, not only reject their country's religious tradition but its cultural heritage as well. In repudiating the inherited, they wish to create a country that does not belong to any civilization, one devoid of a cultural core. They substitute for the rights of individuals the rights of groups, defined largely in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual preference. The implications are enormous. Absent a common core of convictions, he asks, can a nation maintain a rule of law? In the United States there may yet exist a common political creed, but Huntington is convinced that creed is not enough. Political principles, he argues, are a fickle base on which to secure a lasting community. Shared belief in the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, and free trade all presuppose something more fundamental. These ideas are European, Huntington insists, not Asian or Middle Eastern, except by adoption. They make Western civilization unique.
Other political commentators recognize as much. Eric P. Kaufmann, covering much the same ground as Huntington, agrees that America has lost its Protestant soul, but he believes that loss to be a good thing, preferring instead the cosmopolitan multiculturalism that eradicates all religious and ethnic differences. He is convinced, contrary to Huntington's profile of contemporary America, that we have already adopted multiculturalism as the official ideology of the American nation. He finds overwhelming manifestations of the multicultural spirit in school and university curricula, in the social sciences, and in humanistic discourse as well as in our political and legal systems. Kaufmann is pleased that the older America has passed away and that its memory is almost beyond recall. "Those of us who consider ourselves liberal find it very difficult to accept that any group has the right to impose its hegemony over a nation-state's realms of political, economic, and cultural activity." (10) But, one may ask, what of the current liberal hegemony?
Given the deep ideological divide that separates Americans of conservative disposition from those of a liberal bent, absent a common core of convictions, absent a common set of moral principles, the fragility of democracy is all too evident. Addressing a European audience as Cardinal Ratzinger, shortly before he became Benedict XVI, the future pontiff commented, "Not only are we no longer Christian, we are anti-Christian, so we don't know who we are." Ratzinger was, of course, speaking of a secularized Europe, not his own spiritual and intellectual inheritance.
Leon R. Kass, long-time University of Chicago professor and former chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, is one of the more prominent voices in North America to address these issues. Like Huntington, he is concerned with our loss of national identity and its moral and social consequence, but he prefers to speak, not of a loss of our "Protestant soul" but of the loss of Biblical religion. "Western civilization," he writes, "would not be Western civilization were it not for Biblical religion, which reveres and trusts in the one God Who has made known what He wants of human beings through what is called His revelation--that is, through Scripture." (11) Kass is particularly concerned with unbridled stem cell research and with the "scientism" that would reduce the human being to a purely material organism or even something less. Biblical religion, Kass cannot help but notice, is intellectually on the defensive in the face of assaults from an aggressive intellectual elite eager to embarrass it. "Make no mistake," he warns, "the stakes are high. At issue are the moral and spiritual health of our nation, the continued vitality of science, and our own self-understanding as human beings and as children of the West." (12) One can hardly make the case for conservative initiative more forcefully.
Education, of course, is the key, education that begins in classical antiquity with Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics, education that includes Sacred Scripture and commentaries thereon, from the Fathers of the Church through the High Middle Ages into modernity. These sources are formative of the conservative mind. Indeed, they represent the sources of Western civilization.
1. See particularly Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and the Transcendental Phenomenology, trans. David Carr (Evanston, Ill., 1870), 299 If. 2. Serge Trifkovic, The Sword of the Prophet (Boston, 2002). 3. Bat Ye'or, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis (Cranbury, N.J., 2005). 4. Oriana Fallaci, The Rage and the Pride (New York, 2002); La forza della ragione [The Force of Reason] (New York, 2006). 5. Charles Murray, "Measuring Achievement: The West and the Rest," American Enterprise Institute, News & Commentary, posted August 6, 2003, p. 12. 6. F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, 50th Anniversary Edition (Chicago, 1994). 7. Posted on American Enterprise Institute website, March 20, 2007. 8. Samuel P. Huntington, Who Are We?: The Challenges to America's National Identity (New York, 2004). 9. George Santayana, Dominations and Powers: Reflections on Liberty, Society and Government (New Brunswick, N.J., 1950; reprinted 1995), 208. 10. Eric P. Kaufmann, The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America (Cambridge, Mass., 2004), 284. 11. Leon R. Kass, "Science, Religion and the Human Future," Commentary (April 5, 2007), 36. 12. Ibid.
JUDE P. DOUGHERTY is Dean Emeritus of the School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and editor of The Revew of Metaphysics.
GEORGE W. BUSH makes me more conservative by the hour as he finds ever new ways to be driven by ideology rather than by realistic analysis. Bush's comprehensive failures have made us revise upward our opinion of many of his predecessors. Our problem, of course, is that Bush has called himself a conservative, and the media call him conservative. I want to focus first here on Bush foreign policy, and then, with reference to the useful core of Burke's analytical realism, discuss where Bushism violates that at every point. In 1991 when he was Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney made the following commonsense observation:
Once you get to Baghdad, it's not clear what you do with it. It's not clear what government you put in place of the one that's there now. Is it to be a Shia regime, a Sunni regime, a Kurdish regime? Or one that tilts toward the Baathists, or one that tilts toward the Islamic fundamentalists? How much credibility is that going to have if it's set up by the American military? How long does the American military have to stay there to protect the people who sign on for that government, and what happens when we leave?
Those were serious questions, practical questions. Neither Julius Caesar nor Eisenhower would have allowed an army to get bogged down in a Mesopotamian sectarian civil war. Like Cheney, they would not need political philosophy to teach them that. The question becomes, what happened between 1991 and January 2001 when the Bush administration came to power determined to invade Iraq that made Cheney a principal architect of that disaster? (1) One answer is the Project for the New American Century founded in 1997 by Robert Kagan and William Kristol. Along with The Weekly Standard, founded by Kristol in 1995, the Project for the New American Century had its offices--where else?--in the Washington, D.C. American Enterprise Institute building at 1150 17th Street NW, Washington, D.C.
An important mutation had taken place between the older generation of neoconservatives represented by The Public Interest, founded by Irving Kristol and Daniel Bell in 1965. These neoconservatives, that is, former liberals, advocated a fact-based politics concerned about the hubristic faith of Great Society liberalism in the ability of government to solve entrenched social problems, and included such people as Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Nathan Glazer, James Q. Wilson, Glen Loury, and Charles Murray. As Moynihan memorably said, culture matters more than politics, and he was excoriated for calling attention to the pathologies of the Negro family. James Q. Wilson argued that it was illusory to believe that social policy could cure the "root causes" of crime and recommended that crime itself be attacked wherever it appeared. In foreign policy such neoconservatives as Jeane Kirkpatrick, Francis Fukuyama, and Norman Podhoretz rejected what Fukuyama called "utopian social engineering." Resisting Communist takeovers did not mean supporting only democracies. An authoritarian regime was preferable to a totalitarian one.
This fact-based neoconservatism changed to something different as symbolized by the career of William Kristol, son of Irving, and by a drastic change by Podhoretz, who now advocated a theory-based imposition of democracy where it had never existed. Max Boot called this "hard Wilsonianism," others "Wilsonianism on steroids."
These neo-neoconservatives were inspired by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the accompanying disappearance of Communism in its satellites. It also looked to a period of American military and economic supremacy to help democracy spread around the world. As George W. Bush said in his first inaugural address, "Eventually the call of freedom comes to every mind and soul." After 9-11, Bush made democracy in the Middle East the answer to Islamic terrorism.
In its 1997 "Statement of Principles" the Project for the New American Century set forth an ambitious agenda for foreign policy and military action that Kristol and Kagan called "neo-Reaganite" in that it would be based on military might and moral clarity. This neglected Reagan's experience in a Lebanon civil war, 242 marines killed when their barracks were blown up. Reagan prudentially withdrew. The goal set forth in the PNAC "Statement of Principles" was American global leadership:
As the twentieth century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world's preeminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolves to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?
The PNAC had in mind global American hegemony, aka empire.
In February 1998 a group of foreign policy intellectuals who would be the core of the Project for the New American Century sent an open letter to the Clinton White House advocating a comprehensive military strategy for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. This was about four years before 9-11. It was also long before any bogus claims were made about Weapons of Mass Destruction. Among the signers of this letter were some familiar names: Richard Cheney, Douglas Feith, I. Lewis Libby, Elliott Abrams, Richard Armitage, John R. Bolton, Zalmay Khalilzad, Richard Perle, Peter Rodman, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, David Wurmser and Dov Zakheim. All of these held important positions in the Bush administration when it came to power in 2001. Also among the 39 signatories were Michael Ledeen, Bernard Lewis, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Joshua Muravchick and Martin Peretz, editor of The New Republic. In the Project for the New American Century they were joined by Francis Fukuyama, Donald Kagan, Norman Podhoretz and his wife Midge Decter, and Jeb Bush. It is surprising that Thucydides scholar Donald Kagan joined in this project for imperial hubris. Evidently he forgot the Athenian disaster in their Syracuse expedition.
In an October 2004 New York Times "Magazine" Ron Suskind recalled a conversation with a "senior Bush aide" that perfectly epitomizes this imperial hubris. The Bush aide dismissed all criticism from what he called "the reality based community," and went on to say,
That's not the way the world works anymore.... We are an empire now, and when we act we create a new reality. And while you're studying that reality--judiciously as you will--we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to study what we do.
Those must have been heady days in the Bush White House. Today Iraq, tomorrow Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia ... clean up the whole Middle East. It must have been pleasant also sitting around at the Project for a New American Century dreaming about a new American empire, China, Japan, India, the European Union falling into line. By 2005 the New American Century had become lost somewhere in the neighborhood of the Tigris river and in 2006 there were no longer any postings on the website of the PNAC.
Neoconservative democratizing theory was a largely secular version of Woodrow Wilson's "make the world safe for democracy." But in one of his three speeches on democratizing Iraq, Bush added God, and there is evidence that Bush believes God called him to be president. (2) All three of these speeches are disconnected from reality. Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, that neoconservative bastion, on February 26, 2003, less than a month before "shock and awe" prepared for the invasion of Iraq, Bush said:
Human cultures can be vastly different, yet the human heart desires The same good things everywhere on earth ... freedom and democracy will always have greater appeal than the slogans of hatred and the tactics of terror.
Tell it to Mohammed Atta. Tell it to bin Laden. People have sought holiness, conquest, glory, gold, jihad.... Bush might really have believed that after the fall of Saddam democracy would emerge in Iraq. That is suggested by what he said at Whitehall on November 19, 2003, about nine months into the war:
The establishment of a free Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global expansion of democracy ... as the alternative to hatred and terror. [italics added]
That hasn't happened in Iraq. And the history of Iraq makes it unlikely that it will happen anytime soon.
In a speech at Irvine, California, on April 24, 2006, three years into the Iraq war, Bush brought in God:
I based a lot of my foreign policy on some things I think are true. One, I believe there's an Almighty, and secondly, I believe one of the great gifts of the Almighty is the desire in everybody's soul regardless of what you look like or where you live to be free. And I believe liberty is universal [sic]. I believe people want to be free. And I know that the best way to defeat the enemy, the best way to defeat their ability to exploit their hopelessness and despair, is the ability to give people a chance to live in a free society.
Clearly, much of that is false. In the world today, democracy is rare. Over the long course of history the incidence of liberty has been infinitesimal. The Almighty (Allah) has told billions of people to obey the laws set forth in the Koran. And as it has turned out, the Iraqis want no part of Bush's plans for them.
For conservatives the question now becomes whether the secular plans of the neoconservatives and the religiously inspired ideas of Bush are merely another example of human folly or whether they are generic, that is a recurrent pathology in human thought and thus a subject for political philosophy. Here the place to go is Edmund Burke, both in his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) and his Thoughts on French Affairs (1791). Our Burke is not Russell Kirk's Burke, which I find nostalgic and sentimental, indeed perhaps influenced by Southern Agrarianism, but the core of Burke's analytical realism as he stood on the threshold of modernity. Burke, after all, was a reformist (Rockingham) Whig who, Adam Smith said, was one of the few men in England who understood his economic theory. And the American Constitution with its deliberate sense theory should be understood as Burkean.
To reach the core of Burke's thought we must cut away such familiar passages as his operatic lament over Marie Antoinette:
It is now sixteen of seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness at Versailles, and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision.... Little did I dream that when she added titles of veneration to those Of enthusiastic distant respect and love that she would carry the Sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in her bosom.... But the age of chivalry is gone.... And the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.
Sarah Siddons would have been very fine playing Marie in such scenes at the Drury Lane theater, especially that part about the dagger. Such passages justify Tom Paine's remark that Burke pities the plumage but neglects the dying bird; and, indeed, Burke's friend Philip Francis advised Burke to omit them. But the Burke valuable to us was the founder of modern political philosophy. As he said, he had been "alarmed into reflection" by the events in France. He knew that, in the past, countless governments had been overthrown, rulers assassinated, but what alarmed him was something altogether new. Burke was the first political philosopher to base his political thought on empiricism. Machiavelli had reflected on Livy, but derived no general philosophy. Rousseau had come close to Burke in his recommendations for a Polish constitution. But Burke stood alone in the completeness of his thought.
The term "empiricism" is central here. In his Leviathan (1651) Hobbes expressed a dark view of human nature, positing a state of nature in which life was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short, a war of all against all. Therefore, strong government is a necessity. In Locke's Treatise on Government (1690) we find a more benign view, since man there is endowed with reason. Disputes will arise, but government functions as a sort of umpire that resolves them. The state of nature in both was suppositious. The empiricism represented by Hobbes and Locke, however, represented a new and systematic way of seeing the world. The opening pages of Locke's Essay on Human Understanding (1690) read like a vast and indeed innocent dawn, as Locke brushes aside much of Western philosophy and asks us to focus on this world. He judges much speculation to have been merely a distraction from the serious work of improving this world. Open the first English novel, Robinson Crusoe (1719), and on any page you will find prose that embodies Locke's empiricism:
The sixth day of our being at sea we came into Yarmouth Roads: the wind having been contrary, and the weather calm, we had made but little way since the Storm. Here we were obliged to come to an Anchor, and here we lay, the Wind continuing contrary, viz. at Southwest, for seven or eight Days, during which time a great many Ships from Newcastle came into the same Roads, as the common Harbour where ships might wait for a wind from the river.
This prose locates us in a world of fact, and like Locke's empiricism it possesses a kind of innocence as of the world seen freshly and for the first time. As a result of the new empiricism the eighteenth century gives us the novel, modern historiography (Gibbon, Hume), biography (Boswell), never before biography possessing the detail of The Life of Samuel Johnson. And we have Burke. He does not begin with a suppositious state of nature but with experience, observation of the actual behavior of people in society, and the known facts of recent history.
Implicitly Burke asks, do people behave according to reason? The answer is: If you had to tie your shoes every morning by reasoning you would never get out of the house. Burke does not use the word "habit," but he does employ synonyms: "following nature, which is wisdom without reflection and above it," "our passions instruct our reason," "the moral constitution of the heart," all in contrast to "the feeble and fallible contrivances of our reason." The Age of Reason was over! The example of tying your shoes can be extended to social institutions. Even getting your morning newspaper to you on time, from writing through printing and delivery is an extraordinarily complex operation. If it had to be done by reasoning every day, the newspaper would never get there. Social institutions are the habits of society and make society possible. And social institutions form a structure of great weight which has developed over time and reforming social institutions is a practical matter requiring experience and certainly is not to be based on abstract theory. (The hero of Burke's Reflections is Lord Somers, the Statesman and man of experience, who knew that King James II had to go in 1688.)
What Burke faced in the radical intellectuals (philosophes) across the Channel in France was something radically new: an existing society, all its existing institutions under attack by abstract theory--republican theory, the "rights of man," "liberty, equality, fraternity." He saw such an attack as something entirely new in history, and that is what "alarmed him into reflection." Since in fact it was new, he searched for a vocabulary to describe it: "abstract theory," "metaphysic rights," "theories about the rights of man." Burke was discovering and describing belief-systems disconnected from fact and experience and impervious to argument. For this I use the term ideology--though it is often used in a more general sense. Burke foresaw chaos in France and even the Terror, and indeed beyond that to the emergence of a Strongman to restore order.
As Burke wrote in a passage central to the Reflections:
The science of constructing a commonwealth, or renovating it, or reforming it is, like every other experimental science, not to be taught a priori. Nor is it a short experience that can instruct us in that practical science, because the real effects of moral causes are not always immediate, but that which in the first instance is prejudicial ... excellent in its remoter operation and its excellence may arise even from the ill effects it produces in the beginning. The reverse also happens, and very plausible schemes, with very pleasing commencements, have often shameful and lamentable conclusions. In states, there are often some obscure and almost latent causes, things which appear of little moment, on which a very great part of its prosperity or adversity may most essentially depend. The science of government, therefore, so practical in itself and intended for such practical purposes, a matter which requires more experience than any person can gain in his whole life, however sagacious and observing he may be, it is with infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pulling down an edifice which has answered in any tolerable degree for ages the common purposes of society or on building it up again without having models of approved utility before his eyes.
Burke's sense of the complexity of society and the importance of culture is central to his political thought. Democratizing ideology, in France, in England, or now in the Middle East, ignores that complexity and that history. As the modern Burkean, Michael Oakeshott, understood, ideology represents an abbreviation of actuality, a "cookbook" version of political thought. Oakeshott called ideology "rationalism." Ideology, he argued, is politics for the inexperienced.
In his 1790 Reflections on the Revolution in France Burke explored the complexities of social structure. In Thoughts on French Affairs (1791) he grasped the equal complexity of social process. He did so without for a moment abandoning his rejection of ideology. Indeed, he reinforced it. Now he recognized that accumulating social and economic forces in France had made the Revolution inevitable. He notes that the French Revolution has preoccupied him for two years, and that he now understands that:
If a great change is to be made in human affairs, the minds of men Will be fitted to it; the general opinions and feelings will grow that way. Every fear, every hope will forward it; and they who persist in opposing this mighty current in human affairs will appear rather to resist the decrees of Providence itself than the mere designs of men. They will not be resolute and firm, but perverse and obstinate.
In his great essay "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time" (1865) Matthew Arnold rightly describes this passage as one of the great moments in modern thought. It should be repeated here: without abandoning his criticism of abstract ideology Burke now understood the irresistible character of social forces when they move toward institutional and cultural change.
In his democratizing plans for Iraq and for the entire Middle East, Bush and his colleagues were world-class destructive ideologues, their abstract neoconservative theories disconnected from reality. Bush smashed the Iraqi state. His invasion dismantled the bureaucracy and internal security, wrecked the economy and sent the army home with its guns. Bush, not surprisingly, could not put Iraq back together. Inevitably Iraqis turned to their sects and local militia for community and protection. The result has been sectarian civil war. Iraq is now a predictable catastrophe. Bush was not conservative. Very far from it. He belongs among Burke's revolutionary philosophes, joining the party of Robespierre and Antoine St. Just. In the near future, Iraq will remain Iraq, and, as Burke foresaw a Strongman arising out of the chaos the ideologues caused, a Strongman will probably emerge in Iraq to restore order. To be sure, Robespierre and St. Just went to the guillotine. Bush will merely retire to Crawford, to be judged by history.
Today in the West we are living with the results of two profound revolutions. One has been the women's revolution, its goal equality, and gathering force since the early nineteenth century. Today, women are found throughout the universities and the professions, even the military. We have also had the biomedical revolution, and like the women's revolution this is having profound consequences. (3) As William Buckley said many years ago, conservatism is the politics of reality.
1. For the early decision to invade Iraq see David Frum, The Right Man, 26; also Michael Isikoff and David Corn, Hubris, 1-3. 2. Deborah Caldwell, "An Evolving Faith: Does the President Believe he has a Divine Mandate?" Christian Ethics Today, Spring 2005, cited in Geoffrey Perret, Commander in Chief (2007), 325: During his second term as governor of Texas, Bush attended church with his mother at the Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas. In his sermon the preacher lamented the way America was going, cited the Clinton scandals and said that the nation was crying out for ethical leadership. Barbara Bush turned to her son and said, "He was talking to you." A year later he told a friend, "I believe God wants me to be president." During the third televised Republican debate in 2000, the candidates were asked what political philosopher most influenced them. Bush replied, "Jesus Christ." 3. In Cell of Cells (2007), science reporter Cynthia Fox reports on the laboratories that are working on embryonic stem cells in Israel, Singapore, South Korea, and in Australia, and also that China is cooperating with the European Union. Also, California began supporting such work and more recently other states have followed the California model, including Massachusetts and New York. Private universities such as Harvard have been working on stem cells without federal support. Realism requires that even those who oppose this should be aware that it is happening and with widespread support.
JEFFREY HART is Professor Emeritus of English at Dartmouth College and author of The Making of the American Conservative Mind (2005)
WHEN ARISTOTLE OBSERVED that "all men by nature desire to know" he pointed to the basic attitude of mind that characterizes what I mean by conservatism. That all human beings by their very nature desire knowledge is indisputable, but since knowledge necessarily means the grasp of reality as it actually is and since "humankind cannot bear very much reality" it is easy for dreams, illusions, and desires to draw our minds away from the clear-eyed recognition of the truth. Conservatism then means dedication to the constant struggle to eradicate the illusions and to regain the reality that is constantly lost and forgotten.
Whether the attitude of mind that animates this dedication is innate or acquired or can be both I am not certain. I do know that, like the man who had been speaking in prose all of his life without realizing it, I seem to have been born with conservative instincts that guided my intellectual development even though I did not understand this until much later. From the time my conscious sense of thauma, of wonder in Aristotle's sense, was awakened I was drawn by an eros for knowledge that, in my case at least, eventually led to philosophy and to a conservative world view. The thinkers to whom I instinctively responded were those who opened my mind to a broader and deeper vision of reality.
Although I would not have understood it this way when I was young, my enthusiasm for learning meant that I was caught up in the quintessentially human search for truth and wisdom in engagement with reality. My parochial and Catholic high school education gave me a solid grounding in principles and Christianity that probably helped to predispose me to develop a conservative mind, but it seldom deeply stirred me. That was left for the books and subjects that I explored on my own. Whether my interests made me conservative or my instinctive conservatism determined my interests is difficult to say, since I do not recall any conscious, deliberate choices in developing a Weltanschauung. I simply searched for whatever awakened a thirst for knowledge and evoked a deep response in my soul.
Science was the form of investigating reality that first caught my interest. Although science is now often used as the basis of futuristic expectations of conquering nature and bringing about paradise on earth, it is actually solidly grounded in concrete reality, something no conservative would or could ignore. Indeed, science has been so successful precisely to the extent to which it has respected the reality discernible within the limits of its method. Because spiritual reality does not fall within the purview of the scientific method, a science or scientist that attempts to say anything about God or the soul is no longer respecting reality. Just as a deaf person who attended a symphonic performance could study the appearance, the attire, the movements, the behavior, and the attention to the conductor on the part of the orchestra members, but could not critique the actual musical performance, so science can investigate the real material world as it appears to our senses, but it cannot make declarations about what it cannot observe.
However, science must attend to reality, and when a venerable theory is found not to fit reality then it must defer to one that fits better, and that theory must in turn be constantly referred to the reality it describes to ascertain how accurate it is. Although I am not a scientist I have the impression that science is a very humbling profession because the scientist must always be willing to submit to the nature of what he or she is studying. Nature can simply refuse to conform to the most impressive and cherished theories, as anyone who studies the history of science quickly discovers.
While science taught me the reality of the physical universe, literature led me into the exploration of the human soul. In high school I picked up Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, and was immediately hooked because of the intensity of suffering in Raskolnikov's struggle with the evil in his own soul. I went on to read, and re-read, Dostoevsky's other major novels as well as the works of writers such as Joseph Conrad, Henry James, George Eliot, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Jane Austen, Herman Melville and many others who gave me a sense of the richness of the past and the profundity of human nature, morality, and thought. I was drawn from author to author and back again to the same authors by the recognition that their works always contained more truth to be searched out.
Then there was the inescapable fact that I belonged to the generation that grew up in the shadow of Communism and the Cold War. Like everyone else in my generation I remember living under the constant, if usually mercifully distant, threat of annihilation through nuclear war, a threat that became all too vivid during the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. I had become interested in all things Russian after beginning to study the Russian language in my freshman year of high school, an interest that within about ten years led me to the writings of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Nadezhda Mandelstam, and other "dissidents" who gave me a thorough education in the human capacity for evil unleashed by Communism and the Soviet system, as well as in the inner resources of courage, spirituality, and the love of truth that animated those whose resistance to the Soviet "Leviathan" often resulted in their being banished to the Gulag or incarcerated in mental hospitals where they were drugged into stupefaction. I came to the study of the Soviet Union after substantial reading about Nazi Germany, so I had no difficulty perceiving that they were variations on a theme in their contempt for real human beings and their willingness and even eagerness to inflict any amount of misery on real people in the name of some oneiric abstraction. (One might have thought that the twentieth century was enough to turn anyone into a conservative.) Eventually I came to understand that the evil of these ideologies was rooted in their refusal to accept reality as it is and their insistence on replacing it with an imaginary "second reality."
Another manifestation of my innately conservative nature was the love of classical music that I began to develop at the age of fourteen. I was a member of the sixties generation chronologically, but somehow I escaped its attitude of cultural destruction. While many of my contemporaries were screaming for rock stars I was buying recordings of symphonies and piano concertos. As my tastes matured I discovered the musical beauties of the past all the way back to the Middle Ages, beauty that many of my generation would have been happy to throw away. Furthermore, I also studied and became minimally proficient for public performance on the piano, the French horn, and, much later, the violin. As anyone who has seriously taken music lessons knows, to "master" an instrument you have to submit to its requirements. The violin, for example, yields its tonal beauty only to those who have assiduously transformed their bodies and minds to acquire precisely the right touch with both fingers and bow.
Finally, at the end of this stage of the ascent of my soul, I arrived at philosophy. I started college as a biology major but before my freshman year was over I was aware that although science was familiar--I had been reading it since I was seven years old--it did not satisfy me. Philosophy was terra incognita, but I was mysteriously drawn to it, not unlike the prisoner pulled out of Plato's cave. I transferred to philosophy in my junior year, and although it was a long time before I really began to understand it, philosophy did immediately open up to me worlds that I had known nothing about. I never saw philosophy as an intellectual game, as someone once characterized it to me, but as the human mind's most serious questioning and searching to learn who we really are.
All of this reading, experience, and increasing awareness of Western civilization turned out to be a preparation for meeting Gerhart Niemeyer in 1970, in my second semester at Notre Dame, a meeting that was in many ways the central event in my life. I did not seek him out specifically because he was a conservative (I have no recollection of even having heard of him before I arrived at Notre Dame and at that time I would not have chosen him simply because he was a conservative) but because I had been told that he taught the kind of political philosophy courses that I was looking for. And, as I realized as soon as he began to introduce his course in the philosophy of history in the spring of 1970, he was exactly the teacher, the guide, the hermeneus of philosophy I had been looking for. While I am quite sure that I would be a conservative even if I had never met Niemeyer, the four years that I spent studying with him, as well as reading his books and essays, gave me a solid grounding in the reasons for being a conservative.
First of all, Niemeyer would have rejected any phrase like "conservative ideology" as a contradiction in terms because he understood conservatism as the philosophical position that was precisely the rejection of all ideologies. There was nothing rigid or doctrinaire about conservatism in his view because it means simply, to use one of his characteristic phrases, "deference for being," that is, the acceptance of reality as it is rather than the willful insistence on imagining or remaking it as we wish it to be. Therefore he always emphasized the fundamental reality of concrete particulars, of human individuality, of the specific, the local, the unique. This meant that political theory is the effort to understand what actually is rather than an attempt to speculate about abstract and imaginary realities. He saw this as the difference between "real possibilities" and "possible realities," which are, of course, possible realities only in the mind of the dreamer. In his essay "Conservatism and the New Political Theory" Niemeyer says that conservatives reject political irrationality in all of its forms, from revolutionary ideologies to liberal welfarism, because conservatives say "yes" to common sense, something that he found wanting in contemporary intellectual life, dominated as it is by a distorted sense of reality. "Common sense is political sobriety that is fully aware of human limits inherent in the human condition." It does not seek to arrive at perfection in this world.
Accordingly, because of his emphasis on knowing reality as it is, Niemeyer always insisted that students read a text with a careful consideration for what is actually there rather than with any preconceived expectations about what they would find. It was important to get inside the mind of the writer to grasp what he thought about his experience and why before we could begin to critique his ideas. He wanted students to learn how to sift a particular text to analyze it into its smallest details of meaning. We could not understand anything if we simply categorized a particular writer as a "socialist" or a "libertarian" or an "atheist" and proceeded accordingly. It was essential to grapple with the specific individual writer's mind, his world view, his questions, his identity.
Second, Niemeyer's conservatism was rooted in a deep religious faith that he seldom spoke of explicitly (in the classroom) but that was at the root of what he meant by common sense and that colored everything that he said. He believed that human beings have an essential transcendent dimension to their existence and that theories that deny this in the name of human power only end up destroying or seriously damaging humanity. There was certainly abundant evidence for this in the twentieth century.
Third, Niemeyer had a profound respect for the reality of human existence known as tradition. In one of his last essays he sums up conservatism in his praise of tradition as "not merely a remembrance of ancestors, but an openness to God as well." It is the basis of freedom of choice and authority and community. It is "public memory--the stuff that Aristotle describes as 'civic friendship,'" and it is the basis of education, for it is tradition that allows for an ordered human life. As Niemeyer wrote in "The Glory and Misery of Education," "He who believes he can cut himself off from tradition is not a free man but rather a naked and isolated 'self,' drifting in icy solitude, debarred from any signpost of direction or hints of possibilities." Conservatives do not wish to preserve the past like some stuffed museum relic but to be in living relation with it.
Recently I came across a quotation from the Eastern Orthodox theologian Georges Florovsky that aptly sums up much of this outlook: "Tradition is not a principle striving to restore the past, using the past as a criterion for the present.... Tradition is the constant abiding of the Spirit and not only the memory of words." That is, tradition is the living past as it abides in the present, the fleeting instant between the known past and the unknown future. T.S. Eliot's essay on "Tradition and the Individual Talent" also describes a vision of the past as an organic whole that is constantly evolving through the absorption of the thoughts of each generation, thoughts that deepen, vary, intensify, and develop the wisdom and insights of past generations. His basic point is that anything that claims to be radically original and that seeks to construct a new world on the corpse of the past cannot have anything worthwhile to say.
Given all of this I naturally find myself in agreement with Russell Kirk's "six canons of conservative thought" and I would probably list them in the same order. I would certainly put belief in a transcendent order first because this emerges as the fundamental truth in every profound meditation on human experience. A purely immanent and secular world view entirely misses, or denies, the most important element of humanity, namely our ineradicable sense of belonging somewhere other than this world. The evils of ideologies derive from their attempts to close the material world against transcendence and attribute all reality and importance to the transitory affairs and concerns of earthly life. This conviction, which I acquired early in life thanks to my parochial and Catholic high school education, was only reinforced by periods of questioning, doubting, and searching. One of the strongest reinforcements I found in reading the works of Eric Voegelin.
The older I become the more I understand Kirk's second canon, "affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence," which also for Niemeyer constituted grounds for rejecting ideologies. Human beings simply cannot be regimented or reduced to abstractions because we are all concrete and unique individuals, each of whom exists in solitude with God. Much of the evil of power-seeking ideologies lies in their refusal to accept this uncontrollable reality, as is apparent, for example, in the darkly comic dystopian novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which describes a completely regimented and dehumanized society walled off against nature and transcendence, a society in which individuals have numbers rather than names and all live in exactly the same way in a kind of humanoid ant colony. Ideologies that claim to be "science" cannot permit individuals to be who they really are because the ideologies seek power over reality.
I also do not see any way to avoid the conclusion that "civilized society requires order and classes" because real human beings come in a wide variety of interests and abilities, finding happiness and fulfillment in many different ways. This enriches society and everyone in it, since we all benefit from the proliferation of talents and activities found in actual individuals. Attempting to create a classless society ends up depriving everyone of the contributions of those who would be productive members of society if they were free to be who they are.
Similarly, I agree both that "freedom and property are closely linked" because the freedom essential for human flourishing requires the resources that in turn require private property, and that "change may not be salutary reform." In the modern world, dominated by the mindset of evolution and technological advances, there is a widespread abstract notion that change, any change, equals progress rather than a careful consideration of the requisites of the actual circumstances in which change is contemplated.
Kirk's fifth canon is one that I particularly appreciate, the distrust of intellectuals who wish to remake society according to some Procrustean abstract formula that denies the concrete reality of human individuality and spontaneous social organization. Marxism, for example, subordinates the human person to the collective, which is, of course, an abstraction that would have to be imposed by force, because human beings do not naturally organize their existence together into a collective that becomes the source of all meaning. Human consciousness simply is not oriented toward happiness in collective existence.
To Kirk's six canons I would add a seventh, the recognition of the reality of evil, not abstractly in the world but, as Solzhenitsyn observed, concretely in every human heart. I have the distinct impression that only conservatives are the best equipped to recognize evil where it exists. Liberals often seem unable to come to grips with this reality and often dislike even the use of the word "evil." The acceptance of the reality of evil goes hand in hand with the acceptance of human free will, something that ideological social planners seem unwilling to make allowances for, because the free wills of actual human beings can thwart the plans for the perfect society.
I would also add an eighth, the recognition of the constancy of human nature and experience. Superficial aspects of human life change from one historical time period to another; as technology changes, the material conditions of human existence can also be significantly altered. But the essential human experiences of seeking truth and meaning, of living with mortality and uncertainty, of yearning for the infinite and for love and friendship are universal. Although our comprehension of them can deepen there is already profound wisdom in ancient sources, and our intellectual efforts are most often the anamnetic struggle to find again and again what keeps being forgotten.
I would explain conservatism as, to borrow Niemeyer's term, "ontophilia," the love of Being, the love of what is, with the recognition that the reality that is given to us is, with both its essential goodness and its ineluctable imperfection, the raw material with which we must work out our identities, destinies, and salvation. No other world view seems to me to be sustainable.
MICHAEL HENRY is Professor of Philosophy at St. John's University in New York City.
T. John Jamieson
IN 1968, DURING THE unruly Democratic Convention at Chicago, the forty-two-year-old National Review editor William F. Buckley, Jr., punched novelist Gore Vidal in the face--on network television. A twenty-seven-year-old George Will, Ph.D., held his first job at Michigan State University, after keeping out of the draft and completing a Princeton dissertation on "Closed Questions in the Open Society." Irving Kristol, the forty-eight-year-old anti-communist cold-war liberal, was giving two cheers for decadent democracy and state capitalism and calling for censorship of pornography, while his son William was in private school in New York City. In Detroit, I was a twelve-year-old guinea pig of liberal social engineering, one year after the great riot. Wondering about notional causes of things, I had a vague awareness that the impeccable Sir Thomas More's Utopia was a socialist state, as was Plato's Republic, and I faintly recall touching on these intellectual perversities in an address at my public school's Flag Day assembly. I also talked my grandfather out of voting for George C. Wallace for president.
To explain how one becomes critical one must explain how one becomes a human knower and tell a personal history embedded in larger histories. Crisis makes the critic.
I must have read about Plato in the Encyclopedia Britannica. My unlearned Balkan grandfather knew only as much about Socrates as he had read as an adult in The Book of Knowledge, wearing out an English dictionary in the process. But that little went far in conversation and he took some pride in belonging to the same [epsilon][theta]v[omicro][DIGAMMA] as Aristotle and Alexander. Plato's Socrates, I knew, had imagined a communist system that placed its rulers above considerations of wealth. Why did it matter? It showed me that political theory and political practice were distinct spheres, that the sphere of political speculation existed outside of time, was as timeless as human nature itself. I had read the Declaration and the Constitution, and I believe I grasped how the Founding Fathers, in their practical wisdom, had rejected Plato's scheme as the path to a workable North American republic. In any event, there were no John Birch Society tracts in my house that would implicate Plato in an Illuminist conspiracy to enslave the world to intellectuals.
See my generational cohort Jeffrey Eugenides' novel Middlesex for further evocations of 1960s' Detroit. My grandfather was an honest mechanic and did not leave burning Smyrna to become a bodega bootlegger like the grandfather of Eugenides's hero/heroine. Perhaps my grandfather liked discussing theoretical politics and alternative regimes because his father had been the mayor of a village that paid tribute to the Pasha till the 1912 revolution and subsequent expropriation by the Greeks. He was obliged to belong to the United Auto Workers and I imagine that unionist politics occasioned much thinking and talking. I always thought that, as a type, he resembled autodidact author Eric Hoffer, the "longshoreman philosopher" who wrote The True Believer. But I did not see the great riot of 1967 firsthand. I was on vacation with my parents in Washington, D.C., where we viewed the colonial mutineers' round robin of 1776 behind bullet-proof glass, with its Whig phraseology solemnly cribbed from Locke, and where we wandered freely through Capitol Hill and observed Everett Dirksen, Barry Goldwater, and the extant Kennedy brothers on the Senate floor.
What did we talk about back then? In the social crisis of Lyndon Johnson's welfare state, it seemed morally obvious that people would not take responsibility for what they did not own, that they did not value what they had not earned, that socialism was a rhetoric of envy and revenge, that trade-unionism tended towards thuggery in the name of justice, using a societal blackmail device called a strike. A teleplay of Orwell's 1984 showed how a regime might set out to destroy the human person as a knower of moral truth. That was historically obvious: my father had fought in World War II to defeat such a regime. But I want to make room in this memoir for less obvious influences. The Shakespeare history plays on television showed that sovereignty naturally collects upon one head, that power is necessary but pride corrupts.
Alas, I knew little about the Man For All Seasons, and jumped to the conclusion that the Catholic Church had canonized him for his socialism. Why not? Detroit's archbishop was, to me, only a spokesman for the interests of his trade-unionist flock and many Catholic priests were vociferous radicals. I knew nothing yet of papist religion. I only knew that students of the local parish school, unlike those of my public school, were juvenile delinquents and bullies, and one had to sneak past them on the way home. I knew also that a liberal would blame their deportment on the strictness of their school, while a conservative suspected that their behavior could only be worse with less control.
Such a grasp of politics as I possessed at age twelve, had it never developed further, would have served me well enough today as a writer of newspaper editorials or politicians' speeches, a radio talk-show host, a social scientist, or an author of books on modern history--as a mediocrity in any of these fields. To the extent that my grasp has developed since then, it has only rendered me unfit for a paying job in the industry of professional political discourse. Unfit, and uninterested. Power and worldly success do not matter. The truth matters. Survival matters--inasmuch as to survive means to have the freedom to know the truth. The best I can hope for, in this secular pluralist civilization, is to own, to know as fully as I can, the traditions, doctrines, concepts, texts, images that I have loved, that have embodied for me the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, and to find some way of passing them on to other individuals who will live after me. Someday these things could be the basis of another political and social order, as they have been in the past, though they are not the basis of any external order in this secular pluralist civilization, this "organized chaos." At least they can form the basis of order in one's soul, and where else but there would political order begin?
"Conservatism" sounds like one of those modest bourgeois virtues, a carefulness about saving and investing, an aversion to all risk (and thus all heroism), a practice not of sacrifice but of delayed gratification, an avoidance of ostentation. Little to do with spiritual order. A banker should be "conservative." Wouldn't a political conservative be someone who merely resists, who guards what is left of the status quo, and perhaps negotiates terms of surrender or bare survival with the forces of inevitable change? Certainly not a leader. At the time, Republican politicians were little more. Nevertheless the harpsichord-playing Buckley, with his friends, especially the T. S. Eliot-spouting Russell Kirk, tried to make the term "conservative" into something else that appealed strongly to me, something anti-bourgeois. Their conservatism was an order of the soul, something ultimately apolitical, intellectual, and--one must use the word--aristocratic. It was the pose of a dispossessed noble, the willed identity of an aristocrat who is his own ancestor, an alien amidst democracy, a refugee of high culture, an "intellectual aristocrat." How completely un-American, or at least un-Yankee, definitely un-Detroit.
One might inherit a similar alien identity, be raised to it, if one grew up in a family of White Russians or Sons of the Confederacy. With anyone else it was artificially constructed. Paradoxically, the self-made alien sounds like Nietzsche's Superman or Camus's rebel, though such modern prophets of the abysmal realm of nonbeing were precisely what one was rebelling against in the name of classical [omicro][upsilon][sigma][iota][alpha] and [pi][epsilon][rho][alpha][DIGAMMA]. A dead and forgotten American writer who adopted this existentialist alien stance was Paul Elmer More, who wrote a half-century earlier that "submission to the philosophy of change is the real effeminacy; it is the virile part to react." In college, he became my best professor when living teachers of wisdom were not at hand, but I get ahead of my story. In 1968, when Buckley struck the fool Vidal to show him what manliness was, it seemed an admirable lapse, like Phileas Fogg striking Detective Fix in Around the World in Eighty Days. It did not mean adopting Georges Sorel's myth of violence. I did not see Buckley's gesture "live," but read about it. Usually he had ways of engaging the world without being sullied by it, as though handling it with gloves, genially, not bitterly.
Were I a Sartrean, I'd say that watching the Chicago Convention's climax--the televised Youth Independent Party or Yippie riot--was my "moment of lucidity," the existentialist's conversion experience based on perceived absurdity. It was a clear manifestation of what hippies were about. One didn't need a knowledge of Rousseau to understand what a hippie was. It is because one encountered hippies that one could understand Rousseau, and know what one was rejecting.
One knew about riots. As the schools were integrated, a riot or rumble or scrum could erupt any minute in a hallway or on the street. Later, when I read of the riotous sea in the Aeneid's opening, the memory of a particular fracas ending in a car's destruction enabled me to feel Virgil's heroic metaphor. The integration experiment destroyed Detroit as a livable city; but because I did, and do, believe in the inherent equality of human beings, having lived among all sorts and conditions of them, I can say today that perhaps this destruction was not wholly in vain if we have achieved something approaching legal equality for racial minorities. Inherent equality means that human persons are equally capable of good and evil, industry and crime, peace and war, salvation and damnation: nothing more, nothing less. To the utopian liberals, whose concept of "democracy" included the kind of judicial tyranny that devastated the city, "equality" meant a condition in which all energies of social strife have been dissipated in absolute social homogenization.
Amongst Yippiedom, the black radicals and the white noble savages (spawn of rich white liberals) had obviously distinct identities and agendas. The clarifying moment came after the riot, when rich white liberal pundits eulogized it as a children's crusade. But the Yippie riot was not the Prague Spring; it was not even the Sorbonne revolt. It was the culmination of the American liberalism taught in the public schools, as American in spirit as the nauseous song I had to sing in school which turned John Donne into a sentimental communitarian, "No Man Is an Island." And one had to ask, what was it in American culture that caused hippies?
The Chicago Seven, Gore Vidal, and Hugh Hefner believed that they lived under a regime as insidiously repressive as we now know Argentina to have been during its "Dirty War." Were that true, the Young Americans for Freedom would have read Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera instead of Ayn Rand, and carried black jacks and revolvers inside their sack coats, like the camelots du roi of Charles Maurras's Action Francaise. I have always wanted to read a historical study that would contrast the American and Argentine responses to their respective youth revolts, what the bourgeoisie of each country thought and how it sympathized and collaborated with police efforts to suppress these revolts. My grandfather would have supported a dictator. We joked about how my grandfather would govern, were he the dictator. I should have learned Spanish and written that parallel study and dedicated it to him.
At the time, though, my great historical study was the Great Depression, the formative event of my parents' childhood. I wanted to know how it had led to one-party rule by Democrats and the welfare state. I studied the career of Herbert Hoover as though his administration had been the ancien regime. (I was not George Nash, so no one encouraged me to become his official biographer.)
Such were my elementary political judgments and inferences and my curiosity to look beneath the phenomena of the day, beneath utterances of family members, beneath my school's practice of patriotism and propaganda. My efforts rested on something far more elemental and elementally human, far deeper and earlier, the experience of reason itself. To probe this, I should need to follow the example of Eric Voegelin's "anamnetic experiments" a la Proust, his inquiry into the earliest experiences of curiosity and wonder by which an individual mind becomes a center of knowing. Voegelin wanted to prove that human consciousness was not fundamentally a contentless act of mere existing, like the blank carrier signal of a radio station when the transmitter has just been switched on and no one has yet broken silence by playing The Star-Spangled Banner. He also wanted to show how consciousness was fundamentally the possession of an individual human knower, not the passive instrument of some group mind or Geist which is only the speculation of a megalomaniac theorist ascribing the absolute perspective of the divine [lambda][omicro][gamma][omicro][DIGAMMA] to himself. By remembering his earliest conceptualizations of time-space-matter and his attempts to relate the images of fairy tales to concrete things, Voegelin demonstrated that an individual consciousness is always consciousness of something, that it is a vector directed towards apprehending Being at all levels of Being's hierarchy, the microcosm probing the macrocosm. But my childhood was not as charming as Voegelin's or Proust's; and the reader must trust that Detroit offered the infantile mind stimuli analogous to those of the Rhineland and Combray.
Voegelin's experiments show how your naive conceptions matter. The childish experiences are intrinsically valid; and although you reconceive childish concepts into better ones as you grow, your understanding of a later experience still rests on the truth of an earlier one, unless you deny the experienced fact and become an ideologist; only thus does common sense pass into common delusion. On the basis of confidence in your own reason, then, you might become a "conservative," in the sense of one who grows skeptical of political utterances and rejects the alleged "spirit" of his generation, in my case the generation's ideal of hippie rock nirvana, and ultimately the democratic pantheist mindset that must have been rooted in the national culture. For what is the "Puritan work ethic" but the grim mentality of exiles from Eden? As the liberal cult of reason passes into a cult of feeling and thence into a cult of unreason, how long can you stave off the return to Eden?
A conservator of cultural traditions will be the possessor and discriminator of those traditions, and he must assimilate them through education (even self-education) before he can judge them. But what are the rudiments that make this assimilation possible? I believe that, for the complete man, wisdom comes through the eye in the form of images as well as texts, and through the ear in the form of music as well as the spoken word. The image in a line of poetry began as a thing perceived by a poet, and the earnest reader of unillustrated texts is a still better reader for having a cultivated eye. An image can be icon or idol, an object worthy of meditation or a vehicle for demonic influence. Images have made the West as much as words. Every year since Louis Daguerre, and at ever greater volume, we have been inundated by images that inspire, divert, distract, confuse, inflame, or contaminate the soul. Images are also mental hooks for concepts, in a benign or accidental way and not simply as propaganda. I am saying here that the rudiments of my development as a conservative, if I am a conservative, include pictures which were such hooks as well as nuclei for the formation of taste.
My childish mind was stained by the mildly baroque images of a children's picture Bible and the Alma-Tadema neo-classicism of William Wyler's Ben Hur which I viewed at age four. When even younger, on a trip through Detroit's great museum, I saw knightly armor and marble torsos in a replica Renaissance palazzo. My house contained a few odd books: The Divine Comedy with Dore's engravings, and four strange volumes full of arch British critics' opinions called People, Places, Things, Ideas which showed me Raphael's School of Athens, Canaletto's Bucintoro, David's equestrian Bonaparte, the emblematic title page of Hobbes' Leviathan with the sovereign state as an Archimboldian amalgam of puny subjects, and that of Thomas More's Utopia with its ideal island. There was Jeremy Bentham's embalmed head for UTILITARIANISM; a Crivelli Saint Sebastian for BOW AND ARROW; Poussin paintings to represent ARCADIANISM, ACADEMIC ART, and CLASSICISM; and Gustave Moreau's Salome and Beardsley's Messalina for DECADENCE. Far better than anything in a schoolbook, these images must have prepared me to read Mario Praz as well as Irving Babbitt in coming years, and thence to understand the low in terms of the high, the peep-show mass media culture with its confusions of sex (now called gender) in terms of the repressions and spiritual closure of Symbolism. These images were all deeply embedded in me before Kenneth Clark arrived through the television (that very same machine which has debilitated millions of minds) with his series Civilisation, to serve as my first and perhaps only teacher of the skill of reading images for meaning.
And there was the tormented-looking T. S. Eliot, appearing in his own right as one of the great People. When I was sixteen, an English teacher read "Prufrock" to our class, warning us in advance that such imbeciles as we would never get it. (A pedagogical ruse?) A thumbnail biography in our text mentioned how in 1928 the strange, unhappy man declared himself "classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and Anglo-Catholic in religion." Was this Eliot wisely defiant or simply mad? If he could do it, why not I? How I repeated Eliot's experiences in the tripartite pose would make an instructive chronicle of an adulthood not altogether wasted, seeking an order that is an alternative to the "organized chaos." In literature, Babbitt and Paul Elmer More enabled me to relive a later version of la querelle des anciens et des modernes. In religion, much less time would have been wasted had the Catholic Church not decided in 1968 to suppress the liturgy of Pope Saint Gregory or had I been raised in the Orthodox faith of my grandfather's people.
That phrase "organized chaos" comes from Maurras, whom I do not respect. "Order" can mean mere arbitrary social subordination. Tradition, however, means an order of succession over time, an order analogous to the apostolic order of the Church--which, in turn, is not simply an order of hierarchical obedience but the order by which a message is transmitted, with its accompanying body of wisdom and its power, through time and space. Society is not a church, but it is a spiritual corporation, a system of duty and obligation and "unbought grace" through inherited relationships.
Ancestors of mine had fought for, or paid tribute to, the Sultan, the Tsar, the Bourbons, the Stewarts, and the British Guelfs now called Windsors; some had fought Indians and owned slaves in New France and the crown colony of Virginia. My family's immigrant ascendancy story was as valid as anyone's; by virtue of my grandfather's decision to make himself an honorary Anglo-Saxon, my American identity was an inherited fact, as was my right to discover and define my own relationship to the land and nation, not bound by Jefferson's derivative parchment platitudes. The first principle of political science, I eventually learned, is sovereignty, not liberty; the second might be subsidiarity. The American constitution is only a procedure, not history's final regime, and it might not be everlasting. The procedure, culturally embedded, is a transformation of the eighteenth-century British King and Parliament into an elective constitutional monarchy. I was compelled by logic to be a speculative monarchist, a metaphysical Tory. There was no reason to leave the country.
How will anyone end up "intellectually conservative" ever again? A grid of antinomies--whose axes could be listed as classicist-modernist in culture, libertarian-totalitarian in politics, capitalist-collectivist in economics--which gave rise to the tensions of the twentieth century and obliged serious people to choose sides--seems quite gone; the Communists lost, but the Deconstructionists won. The historical reference points of the Depression, Nazism, and the Cold War fade. For example, a survey of literary products from the "Holocaust industry" will show, I believe, that non-religious liberal Jewish writers have no greater insight to offer into the Nazi pathology as a subset of the general modern pathology than any other non-religious liberals; so that, though we have Holocaust museums, the lessons of one of the twentieth century's darkest episodes will go on being washed away. In the post-9/11 period, the Muslim-Western antinomy is one of "fundamentalist fanaticism" vs. nihilism: a liberal such as the late Oriana Fallaci who calls for militant resistance to Europe's Islamization simply wants to be a libertine atheist amidst the splendor of Catholicism's cultural residue rather than a repressed atheist forced to wear a chodor and to undergo female circumcision. I therefore predict the analogous rise of nihilistic traditionalists of the right, following Maurras and Alain de Benoist, a school that might allow a benign indulgence in myth as cultural therapy, following Jung.
Who will be the last conservative intellectuals to matter, cohering in any significant block? Perhaps a few Straussians and some Opus Dei members? I'd side with the latter.
T. JOHN JAMIESON is a senior member of the oldest literary society in the state of Michigan.
THE SHORT ANSWER is that I am a conservative because conservatism provides the most accurate, the truest outlook on life. It renders the best picture of the condition humaine and is hence most helpful in answering the eternal question how to live and how to live together. Obviously, this answer is not very enlightening, since it remains abstract. It says hardly anything at all. To make myself clear I must go into what the conservative notions of life and the human condition signify. This, I am afraid, will make the answer substantially longer. But that cannot be changed. Our need of lengthy expositions on life and the human condition is itself an important feature of the human condition. Unlike the animals, we cannot do without them. So here it is, the long answer.
Conservatism aims to conserve. But what? Some believe that conservatism vindicates custom and tradition per se, whatever they may prescribe, because the fact that they have become customs and tradition proves that they work, that they are useful. Conservatism thus becomes a kind of down-to-earth, skeptical anti-utopianism, favoring muddling through, piecemeal reform, and decentralized trial and error. This view, which we find for instance in Michael Oakeshott, goes back to David Hume. (1) I have no quarrel with the wisdom of what is being argued here, but it seems to me that this cautious attitude, resulting from a Socratic self-awareness of ignorance and fallibility, is merely one aspect of conservatism, and not the most important one.
But does not Burke, whose Reflections on the Revolution in France turned him into the informal patron-saint of conservatism, stand squarely in this skeptical, anti-utopian line of thought? Aren't the Reflections one long panegyric on custom and tradition? Yes, they are, but of certain specific customs and traditions, not of custom and tradition in general. What specific customs and traditions? The ancient constitution? The rights of Englishmen? The Church of England? The peerage? In a sense, yes. But to Burke these things were not estimable in themselves. They were estimable as particular expressions of two spiritual traditions, which were not so much English or British, as European.
Nothing is more certain than that our manners, our civilization, and all the good things which are connected with manners and with civilization have, in this European world of ours, depended for ages upon two principles; and were indeed the result of both combined; I mean the spirit of the gentleman and the spirit of religion. (2)
The spirit of the gentleman and the spirit of religion; these European traditions and the customs that originated in them are what Burke defends, in the face of an all-out attack on both of them by the French revolutionaries. It seems to me that that is precisely what constitutes conservatism. Conservatism is the vindication of the spirit of the gentleman and the spirit of religion [upsilon]is-a-[upsilon]is another, modern spirit that has arisen in the last centuries, the spirit of the Enlightenment and of Romanticism.
The spirit of the gentleman refers to certain convictions as to what a man should and should not say and do, what qualities he should and should not have. It was an aristocratic ethos, which essentially goes back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, especially to Plato and Aristotle. (3) Ever since antiquity, this ethos of the gentleman has been the predominant ideal of personal behavior in the aristocratic upper layer of European society, and also to some extent in the classes moyennes, who were liable to imitate their betters in the hope of some day "arriving there." The coloring of this ethos kept changing somewhat over the centuries, as different times emphasized different aspects of it, and at some times it was more elaborate than at others, but it always remained recognizably the same ethos. Only in our own times it seems to have finally disappeared completely. In Burke's days the spirit of the gentleman was still very much alive everywhere in Europe and even in nominally anti-aristocratic America, although it no longer reigned unopposed. As Burke unerringly sensed the French revolutionaries, practicing what the philosophes had preached, wanted to replace it with a different ethos.
The list of virtues discussed by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics--probably the most influential philosophical treatise on ethics ever (4)--renders a fairly accurate picture of the spirit of the gentleman. Reasonableness, fairness, courage, temperance with regard to both the pleasures and anger, generosity, truthfulness, wittiness, affability, and a sense of shame all became part and parcel of the spirit of the gentleman. But he is most of all characterized by what Aristotle calls greatness of soul (megalopsychia): "honor is the object with which the great-souled are concerned, since it is honor above all else which great men claim and deserve." (5) A gentleman is, in short, a man of honor. He most of all wants and deserves to be honored. Honored for what? For his money? His power? His noble birth? No. The true man of honor wants and deserves to be honored for his virtue: "honor is the prize of virtue," its "crowning ornament." (6)
It is undoubtedly true that the idea of the gentleman was of old associated with money, power, and high birth. But no gentleman ever believed that these in themselves suffice to make a gentleman. It is, as Aristotle has it, a typically plebeian misunderstanding to believe that,
the gifts of fortune also conduce to the greatness of soul; for the high born and those who are powerful or wealthy are esteemed worthy of honor.... But in reality only the good man ought to be honored ... whereas those who possess the goods of fortune without virtue are not justified in claiming high worth, and cannot correctly be styled great-souled, since true worth and greatness of soul cannot exist without complete virtue. (7)
Not that money, power and high birth are unimportant. On the contrary, they are definitely an asset for a gentleman. Money makes him "a man of independent means," giving him a great measure of spiritual freedom to speak his mind and do whatever he thinks fit and good. Moreover, money makes him "a man of leisure," allowing him the time to study and think, and to take part in the government of the country. Power is important, because taking part in the government, holding a position of power, is considered the task par excellence of gentlemen. Only in such a position can a gentleman really show what he is worth. And society needs gentlemen to rule. For power is a dangerous thing. It had therefore better be in the hands of gentlemen. High birth, finally, is important because children with such a background tend to get a good education, directed at making a gentleman, a man of honor and virtue. Thus, money, power, and high birth are distinct advantages. But in themselves they do not make a gentleman. One can also be a gentleman without them. All it takes is virtue.
When speaking of the spirit of religion Burke meant Christianity. This is the second pillar of civilization. Besides and in combination with the spirit of the gentleman, Christianity is the foundation not only of European civilization, but of higher civilization tout court. This, it appears, is Burke's view. And he is right. There have been and still are many other civilizations, but none has ever been as civilized, as humane, as enlightened--yes, enlightened--as the Christian civilization that Europe once was.
What Christianity, one might ask, in view of the proliferation of Christian churches and sects since the Reformation? The answer must be that it is a Christianity that can be found in manifold churches, and various ways of worship. Much more important than what divides the different Christian traditions is what unites them: the belief in the Bible as God's word and in the New Testament as the definitive and full statement of God's word, the belief that the New Testament commands us, above all else, to love God with all one's heart, soul, and mind, and one's neighbor like oneself, and to regard all other human beings, regardless of their religion, convictions, background, or whatever, even when they are enemies, as one's neighbor. (8) Since this principle of love (agape), unequivocal as it is, like all principles does not render concrete answers to practical questions, either in daily life or with regard to the institutions of social and political life, such as the family, the church, and the state, the history of Christianity is in a sense a continuous discussion about the right way of applying the principle of love in personal, social, and political life.
There is no equivalent to the principle of love in the pagan thought of Antiquity, including Plato and Aristotle. It is quintessentially Christian, albeit with Jewish roots. Leviticus 19:18 also says "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But the meaning of the notion of neighbor in the Old Testament is much narrower than in the New Testament. It is only with the latter that that notion is extended to include every human being and thus becomes a truly humanist principle. (9) Ancient pagan thought therefore differs fundamentally from Christianity with regard to the principle of love.
That has time and again led Christian thinkers--from Tertullian, to Luther, to Karl Barth--to argue that Christianity and Antiquity are foreign to each other and have little in common. (10) This, however, always remained a minority viewpoint among Christian thinkers, both Catholic and Protestant. Most of them agree that the two exhibit a strong family resemblance and in many ways see things in much the same light. Classical thought--particularly that of Plato and Aristotle--is commonly understood as a proto-revelation, analogous to the Old Testament: it might not have judged everything correctly, but it nevertheless contained much truth. (11) (The word "revelation" seems out of place, when speaking of classical thought, but it is not. If, as Christianity sees it, human reason participates in Divine Reason, it is God who reveals His Ideas through human reason, whenever we reason correctly. Accordingly, the distinction sometimes drawn between reason and revelation needs to be qualified.)
As a result of this, classical thought was incorporated into Christianity and became an integrated part of it. Hence, St. Augustine, for instance, is as much in the Platonic as he is in the Biblical tradition. St. Thomas Aquinas is both Christian and Aristotelian. Something similar can be said of most Christian thinkers up until our own time. In their work, the spirit of ancient pagan thought--the spirit of the gentleman--and Christianity--the spirit of religion--became one and the same. This combination became the European--later the Western--spirit. It is the spirit of the Christian gentleman. That is the historical truth Burke wanted to remind his readers of. It is this spirit, it seems to me, that the true conservative wants to conserve. Conservatism is--or should be--a defense of the ideal of the Christian gentleman (including its female counterpart, the Christian lady), against the newfangled ideals of man that came to the fore in the Enlightenment and Romanticism and dominate the world of today.
What were these new ideals? What are the spiritual adversaries of conservatism? First of all, there is the Enlightenment view of man, going back to Hobbes and today influentially set forth in quasi-sophisticated mathematical formulae by economists. It sees man as an animal governed by its desires, whose felicity wholly consists in running after and acquiring whatever it desires. (12) The self as something beyond the desires disappears. Reason becomes "the slave of the passions," i.e., the desires. (13)
It cannot be sufficiently stressed what a turnabout this was in comparison with the traditional view. Whereas the ideal of the Christian gentleman was based on the belief that a man could temper and, if necessary, kill his desires, and that letting oneself be ruled by one's desires was the height of dishonorableness, the Enlightenment argued that chasing after one's desires was not only "no sin," but also the very purpose of life. (14) Thus, the traditional ethos of self-denial and self-transcendence was replaced with the opposite ethos of self-assertion and indulgence in the desires.
The implications of this new ethos are manifold and weighty. And as the Enlightenment view, which was initially shared by only a few radicals, gradually began to take the place of the older tradition of the Christian gentleman, the implications have more and more materialized and have changed the face of the earth. The most important of these implications is the idea that the world should be improved, i.e., brought more in harmony with man's desires. (From the point of view of the tradition this constitutes a rebellion against the nature of things. It is not the world that is the problem, but man's desires.) This spirit of improvement, as we might call it, is behind both modern technology and the introduction of market-forces in all segments of society. Technology and the market are so much in demand and so highly regarded, because they, especially when combined, are the most effective means yet found of catering to man's desires. (15)
A second implication of the emancipation of the desires, also very momentous, was that most of the traditional virtues gradually came to be regarded as oppressive and stultifying. The cause of this is evident. The ethos of self-assertion and indulgence in the desires brought with it the adage that everyone should do as he likes, whatever it is. This clearly does not go together with the substantive view of good and bad, implicit in the traditional catalogue of virtues. Honor of course, survives--albeit often under a pseudonym such as status or respect--but is now no longer attached to the virtues. It is the prize of the degree a man is judged to be successful in fulfilling his desires.
The Romantics come up with an ideal of man very different from the one the Enlightenment put forward. (16) There are some structural similarities between the Romantic and the traditional view, which have led some to believe that Romanticism and conservatism are overlapping or even identical entities. That, however, is not true. They have opposite ideas about the fundamental issues.
Most significant, for our purposes, is the rejection of the ideal of the Christian gentleman by the Romantics. Not because it is incompatible with the free pursuit of one's desires, as the Enlightenment has it, but because it is irreconcilable with what Mill named the individuality of man, i.e. a person's uniqueness. (17) It is, from a Romantic perspective, a moral straight-jacket. Everyone, being completely different from everyone else, should go his own way, and find out for himself what suits his unique personality and what does not. One should not follow the example of anyone. Neither heroes, nor saints, let alone the crowd, for what is good for others may be bad for oneself, and the other way round.
Instead of looking outward, taking proven standards of excellence as a guideline, as the Christian tradition advises, the Romantics believe that one should look inward and try to find one's true, unique self. Knowledge of oneself, in a new non-Delphic sense, is crucial, because without it one cannot be authentic, one cannot be oneself, one will remain estranged from oneself and as a consequence torn and unhappy.
Acquiring knowledge of one's unique self is far from easy, since it is different from the empirical self, which is a mixed bag made up of wishes, opinions, and feeling planted there by society--the other within the breast--and wishes, opinions, and feelings that are truly one's own. Sorting these out is obviously quite a challenge. And the fact that society will not like it if a person, in the name of authenticity, turns his back on its ways, and will try to discipline and punish him for it, makes it only more painful. But it must be done.
It is at this point that we find the structural similarity between Romanticism and the Christian tradition: both think of life in terms of a choice between a hard path and an easy path. The easy path is more attractive, but should be avoided nevertheless, because it brings ruin. The hard path on the other hand leads to our salvation. But whereas Romanticism sees the choice as one between being oneself and conforming to the wishes and ideas of society, the tradition maintains that it is a choice between virtue and vice, i.e., sin. A very different choice indeed! (18)
One more thing: how does one get to know one's true self? The Romantics are convinced that reasoning, thinking, is of no use. Reason is superficial, if only because it is universal and must obey the same logical rules in everyone. Thus, reason will never give us a clear insight into our unique self. For that we must depend on our emotions, our feelings. These, at least when they are truly spontaneous and unmediated by reason, are a sure token of who we really are. One's emotions are therefore the best guide in life. One should learn to listen to them and let them determine one's decisions.
Much more could be said about all this, but I have to round up and come to a conclusion. The main question is who is right, who provides us with the best, the richest, the deepest vision of that peculiar being called man? Which of the three views renders the best picture of the human condition? The knowledge of these things is of the greatest importance to us, because without it we are bound to give a wrong answer to the most important question there is--how to live?--and will consequently make a mess of life, individually and collectively.
Both the Enlightenment and Romanticism have been with us for a long time now, but until quite recently these ideas were limited to a small elite. Until far into the twentieth century the overwhelming majority of the people in the West stood securely within the Christian tradition. Even those who were not Christians were molded by the combined spirit of religion and the gentleman, simply because of its predominant presence in Western culture. All that changed drastically in the second half of the twentieth century, particularly in the sixties and seventies. It was then that the Enlightenment and Romanticism took a hold on the imagination of the mass of the people, and threw Christianity off its pedestal as a civil religion, degrading it to what the Enlightenment and Romanticism had been up to that point in time: the conviction of a few. Today the Enlightenment and Romanticism are our civil religions, the first primarily in our public life and the second in our private life.
Does this constitute progress? Or is it rather a decline? Clearly the latter. The Enlightenment and Romanticism have effected a closing of the Western mind to the truth about man. If we don't succeed in turning the tide, they will eventually throw us back to the level of the cavemen. And it already shows, both in public and in private life.
1. Michael Oakeshott, "On being Conservative," in Rationalism in Politics (Indianapolis, 1991 ), 407-436. Jerry Muller promotes this conception of conservatism in his Conservatism: An Anthology of Social and Political Thought from David Hume to the Present (Princeton, 1997). 2. Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (Indianapolis, 1999), 172-173. Italics added. 3. With one exception: the politeness and even reverence demanded of men towards women. That became part of the spirit of the gentleman only with the cult of courtly love, which originated in late eleventh-century France. See Philip Mason, The English Gentleman (London, 1982); Harold Nicholson, Good Behaviour (London, 1955). 4. Though its influence was often indirect, via writers like Aquinas in the Catholic, and Melanchthon in the Protestant part of Europe. 5. See Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1123b 22-24 (Rackam translation). Aristotle discusses megalopsychia in 1123a35-1125a35. Cicero translates this into magnitudo animi. 6. Nicomachean Ethics, 1123b35-1124a1. 7. Ibid., 1124a21-29. 8. Matthew 22: 37-39 and 5: 44. 9. In this, as in many other respects, Islam is much closer in spirit to the Old than to the New Testament. 10. Tertullian, Apologeticum, 46.18; Luther, An Open Letter to The Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate, part III: Aristotle's Ethics according to Luther "is the worst of all books. It flatly opposes divine grace and all Christian virtues, and yet it is considered one of his best works. Away with such books! Keep them away from all Christians!"; Karl Barth's dislike of natural theology, and hence of the ancients, is everywhere in his works. See esp. Church Dogmatics, III/4 (London, 2004 ). 11. Edwin Hatch, The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity (Gloucester, Mass., 1970 ). This volume is old, but not superseded. 12. Hobbes, Leviathan, ch. 6. 13. Both doctrines are of course famously expressed in Hume's Treatise of Human Nature, but they are already present in Hobbes. 14. Nicomachean Ethics, ch.13. 15. There is an old quip about those who are under its influence: they want to improve everything, except themselves. 16. One of the finest books in English on Romanticism is H. G. Schenk, The Mind of the European Romantics (Oxford, 1979). 17. Mill, On Liberty, ch. 3. 18. Matthew 7: 13-14; Hesiod, Works and Days, 287-298; Plato, Republic, 364d; Xenophon, Memorabilia, II.i.23-24.
ANDREAS KINNEGING is Professor of Law at the University of Leiden Law School in Leiden, The Netherlands.
E. Victor Milione
WHEN I FIRST BECAME associated with ISI, in 1953, it was called the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists. ISI had only a handful of members so I began visiting college campuses in an effort to bolster membership. It was amazing how many students gleefully informed me, of what I already knew, that an Intercollegiate Society of Individualists was an oxymoron. The name also posed some problems for fund raising since many potential contributors had to first be convinced that ISI was not a group of student radicals. Consequently, the name was changed to the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. That name does not carry any baggage and is more descriptive of ISI's focus on college students and their education within the matrix of knowledge and values that form our heritage of Western Culture and our American patrimony.
However, many people are enamored of the term individualist, especially in times of bloated government, and we are now and then chided even at this late date for having surrendered the term. I must confess that I was not in agreement with its philosophical roots from the outset. Alexis de Tocqueville held that egotism and individualism were related. "Egotism," he wrote in Democracy in America, "blights the germ of all virtue: individualism, at first, only saps the virtues of public life: but, in the long run, it attacks and destroys all others, and is at length absorbed in downright egotism." In Ideas Have Consequences, Richard M. Weaver noted that "individuality signifies a cutting-off or separation.... A more accurate designation would be personality, for this recognizes the irreducible character in every person ... that little private area of selfhood in which the person is at once conscious of his relationship to the transcendental and the living community. He is a particular vessel, but carries some part of the universal mind."
I have been asked to write an essay on "Why I am a Conservative." In mulling over this question I wondered if I wanted to confess publicly to being a Conservative. If that meant subscribing to Russell Kirk's six canons of conservative thought in The Conservative Mind it would be easy. But conservatism is so hyphenated at present that no one has any idea of what one is signing on to. The reason I believe this to be the case is that conservatism has been overly politicized. Kirk alluded to this in his Foreword to the seventh edition of The Conservative Mind when he wrote:
Being no leader of the crowd, the author was surprised to find that he had contributed through the power of the word to a large political movement in America--to a movement which, within a few years, would supplant in power America's latter-day liberalism.
These words were written in the mid-eighties when Ronald Reagan was president whom I greatly esteemed for his wisdom and his actions concerning the panoply of issues, events, and crises he dealt with in his eight years in office. However, Kirk also writes that "The Conservative Mind describes a cast of intellect or a type of character, an inclination to cherish the permanent things in human existence ... to join in resistance to the destruction of old patterns of life [and] damage to the footings of the civil social order...." I believe that would be a fair description of Ronald Reagan, and, if I may be bold, of me. We were both formed in a different era, a time when parents, and even public schools, taught spiritual norms and the historic beginnings of our nation. The fact remains, however, that one administration, no matter how great, does not constitute a rout of latter-day liberalism. Time and events since then tell a different tale.
However, in his first chapter "The Idea of Conservatism," Kirk writes:
In the following chapters, the conservative is described as statesman, as critic, as metaphysician, as man of letters. Men of imagination, rather than party leaders, determine the ultimate course of things,... and I have chosen my ... conservatives accordingly.... If a conservative order is indeed to return, we ought to know the tradition which is attached to it....
That suggests to me that the real work of conservatism is in the realm of ideas and with youth. In the first decade of ISI, when Frank Chodorov and I were the only staff, I would drive Kirk to a college lecture when I was in Michigan. The importance of conservatism to the student community was frequently a part of our conversation. We spoke about politics, but he knew that it was not the principal concern of my existence.
Consequently, though I may be critical of the idea that a political movement will vanquish liberalism and lead us to the promised land, I have no doubt regarding the inestimable worth of Russell Kirk and his writings in teaching new generations of youth the constituent elements of our cultural heritage and tradition. Most important is the influence his writings have had on scholars, on the scholarship of his generation, and on the young scholars, and teachers, in generations since. And that is precisely where conservative attention, it seems to me, will produce the most good.
Nevertheless, I must register my concern with the currently ubiquitous use of the term "conservatism" in the political arena. Government, federal or state, when it has been under the aegis of professed conservatives, has done little if anything to secure a better balance of funding, through vouchers or some form of tax forgiveness, and between private and public education. Government has claimed a virtual monopoly on the power to educate youth, and on all of the funds necessary to expedite that claim. Under the blanket of the separation of church and state, it has done its utmost to separate the most basic element of western culture, our Judeo-Christian tradition, from the primary and secondary educational curricula. The historian, Christopher Dawson, wrote:
... the fact that secular education is universal and compulsory, while religious education is partial and voluntary, inevitably favors the former and places the church at a very great disadvantage in educational matters. This is not merely due to the disproportion of wealth and power of a religious minority as compared with the modern state. Even more important is the all-pervading influence of secular standards and values which affects the whole educational system and makes the idea of an integrated religious culture seem antiquated and absurd to the politicians and the publicists and the technical experts who are the makers of public opinion. Moreover we must remember that modern secularism, in education as in politics, is not a purely negative force ... it has its own ideals and its dogmas--we may almost say that it has its own religion.
Those "ideals" and "dogmas" as they concern education give primary, almost total, emphasis to the needs of the state, democracy, and community as though the only end of the person is citizenship. "The modern mind," Jacob Burckhardt wrote in Force and Freedom, "aims at a solution of the supreme enigma of life independent of Christianity."
There was some talk of reining in or abolishing the Department of Education during the Reagan administration, but neither happened. And vouchers have not made significant headway either. If the former had occurred, perhaps, control of primary and secondary education would have returned to the states. And this is precisely where political effort in the form of an educational campaign might produce a favorable result. Perhaps there was not enough public or parental concern for the matter or too much apathy to energize the issue. Thinking about it, I was reminded of the farmer who bought a horse at auction. After he paid his bill he mounted the horse to return to his farm. The horse promptly rode into a tree. The farmer confronted the auctioneer with what had happened, saying "this horse is blind." The auctioneer responded, "naw he ain't blind he jes don't give a damn." There may be a majority of conservatives in America, but if so, they are so silent on the matter of secular education that they appear not to give a damn.
Such things do happen, as William Buckley's sister, Aloise Heath, recounted in her essay, "I Raised Money for the Ivy League," in the first issue, November 19, 1955, of National Review. Heath, an alumna of Smith College, wrote to other alumnae of Smith that five faculty members had been cited for past or present association with organizations cited as Communist or Communist-front by the Attorney General of the United States. The letter elicited a sizable number of letters of condemnation of Heath, "confidence" in Smith College and gifts of just a shade under two-hundred-eighty-five thousand dollars. Only two alumnae requested further clarification of the charges. The majority of the alumnae were mute. The essay appeared two years after I joined ISI and was an eye-opener not so much in terms of the response as it was in the non-response of the majority of the 28,000 alumnae. The answer, later, was in Buckley's "Publishers Statement," where he wrote:
The inroads that relativism has made on the American soul are not so easily evident. One must recently have lived on or close to a college campus to have a vivid intimation of what has happened. It is there that we see how a number of energetic social innovators, plugging their grand designs, succeeded over the years in capturing the liberal intellectual imagination. And since ideas rule the world, the ideologues, having won over the intellectual class, simply walked in and started to run things.
They could have read Buckley's God and Man at Yale, but with relativism in the saddle, many were (and are) incapable of making intelligent judgments in such matters. "It is," wrote Richard Weaver in Ideas Have Consequences, "the appalling problem, when one comes to actual cases, of getting men to distinguish between better and worse. Are people today provided with a sufficiently rational set of values to attach these predicates with value?" If the current refrain of youth, "whatever," is a reflection of the present mindset, one would have to say No!
T.S. Eliot wrote that, "as individuals, we find that our development depends upon the people whom we meet in the course of our lives. (These people include the authors whose books we read, and characters in works of fiction and history.) The benefit of these meetings is due as much to the differences as to the resemblances; to the conflict, as well as the sympathy between persons." That seems to me to be an aspect of the formation of "personality" which, Weaver holds, constitutes the real uniqueness of each person. Eliot also wrote, "fortunate the man who at the right moment meets the right friend." In my case the friend was my father whom I loved and with whom I had a warm friendship. We had many long conversations; I mostly listened and asked questions, on the historic founding of our nation and the founders. My father was a sculptor and had done two six-feet-by-thirty-inch bas-reliefs on the signing and reading of the Declaration of Independence for, if I recall correctly, the Sesquicentennial Celebration of the Declaration of Independence. I received the benefit of his research and readings on the project.
My father gave me an edition of The Federalist published in 1888 with an introduction titled "The Authorship of the Federalist" by Henry Cabot Lodge detailing the research done to identify the author of each essay. I found the introduction as well as the essays as fascinating and enlightening then as I do now. Re-reading them today, I believe they represent the crystallization of years of the best thought and experience in the governance of men along with the unique contribution of the founders. Years ago, after I read an excerpt from The Federalist, my father would point out a certain passage related to a then current event. For instance, my father did not admire FDR and believed his attempt to pack the Supreme Court if successful would have signified the end of strict adherence to the Constitution and constitutional limitations. He also believed that the 16th Amendment was contrary to the spirit of the Constitution in that it set no limit to the power of the federal government to tax income. I would later in life find that same thought in The Reconciliation of Government With Liberty, by John W. Burgess. My father taught me that the liberty we cherish in America was a result of a system of law that is intended to limit all power, even that of a majority.
My father was an avid gardener and our conversations frequently took place while he was tending his rose beds or other plants. He taught me that arrogance was not an attribute of wisdom. "Your mind," he said, "will be fallow if is not seeded with the knowledge and experience of those who were here before you." My father did not write books, but he was great at modeling in clay or carving figures or groups out of limestone or marble. Yet he was multifaceted and "modeled" me and my character by passing on that wide-ranging knowledge and the wisdom he had gleaned in his lifetime. With that help, "I did not have to reinvent the wheel," as my old friend Lem Boulware would say. It was also my parents who led me to my faith, or made me receptive to the gift of faith. My studies and readings since then in St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Cardinal Newman, St. Paul, Chesterton, and others have confirmed that faith. However, the family in the first instance transmitted the tradition and culture.
"Culture," Jose Ortega y Gasset wrote in Mission of the University,
is either received, or else it is invented. He who exposes himself to the labor of inventing it for himself, accomplishing alone what thirty centuries of humanity have already accomplished, is the only man who has the right to deny the proposition that the university must undertake to impart culture. But the unfortunate truth is that this lone person, who could oppose my thesis would have to be a madman!
Think for a moment. If the original settlers had come to America from a nearby island wilderness with no knowledge of England, its government, laws, or traditions would they have been able to fashion a constitution and government such as the Founding Fathers did? I doubt it. And an America which is unable or unwilling to transmit the vital essence of that knowledge and that tradition to new generations will make it difficult for those new generations to retain any of the good institutions, wisdom, and experience we have received from the past. That is why I seek to conserve the best thought and experience of the past to enable the new generations to improve their lot--to let them know that "they don't have to reinvent the wheel," so to speak.
The problem with our concentration on politics is that it takes our minds off other matters of importance. For example, in The Crisis of Our Age (1940) Pitirim A. Sorokin writes about the change that came about several centuries ago in man's conception of reality, when
modern sensate culture emerged with a major belief that true reality and true value were mainly or exclusively sensory. Anything that was supersensory ... from conception of God to the mind of man, anything that was nonmaterial,... was either doubtful as a reality or fictitious as a value. It either did not exist or, being unperceivable by the senses, amounted to the nonexistent.
Richard Weaver also notes this change and cites "William of Occam who propounded the fateful doctrine of nominalism which denies that universals have a real existence ... as the best representative of this change in man's conception of reality.... The issue ultimately involved is whether there is a source of truth higher than, and independent of, man; and the question is decisive for one's view of the nature and destiny of humankind."
What sensate culture says about man is that he is not a created being in the image of God. "His reality and value" are "reduced," Sorokin writes, "to his biological organism. Certainly there is nothing sacred in an imperfect human organism." In short, humankind has no destiny beyond the present and no allegiance beyond the state. Jacob Burckhart, defining a great crisis of civilization, put forth the following general phenomenon:
In that extraordinarily complex condition of life in which the state, religion, and culture in extremely derivative forms are intimately associated, and in which most things, as they exist, have forfeited the link with their origin which justified their existence, one of the three will long since have attained an undue expansion of power and, after the fashion of all earthly things, will abuse it, while the other powers must suffer undue restriction.
The state in our day, it seems to me, has "attained an undue expansion" of power and religion and culture have suffered as a consequence. Fortunately the sensate culture, which has predominated over the centuries, has, in the process, increased the power of the state, has almost totally decimated the metaphysical and theological truth of the ideational culture which preceeded it.
Weaver's Ideas Have Consequences was not only a trenchant analysis of the ills besetting our culture but also a remedy. He was for the "restoration of values," but made it clear that it was not a turning back of the clock. "The believer in truth," Weaver wrote,
... is bound to maintain that the things of the highest value are not affected by the passage of time; otherwise the very concept of truth becomes impossible. In declaring that we wish to recover lost ideals and values, we are looking toward an ontological realm which is timeless. Now the return which the idealists propose is ... a return to center, which must be conceived metaphysically or theologically. They are seeking the one which endures and not the many which change and pass, and this search can be only described as looking for the truth.
This task was once performed by the university, but as Walter Lippmann noted, in an address, "Education vs. Western Civilization," given at Irvine Auditorium, University of Pennsylvania, December 29, 1940, that task had been forfeited:
The men who wrote the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights were educated in schools and colleges in which the classic works of this culture were the substance of the curriculum. In these schools the transmission of this culture was held to be the end and aim of education. Modern education, however, is based on a denial that it is necessary or useful or desirable for the schools and colleges to continue to transmit from generation to generation the religious and classical culture of the Western world. Thus there is an enormous vacuum where until a few decades ago there was the substance of education. And that vacuum is filled with the elective, the specialized, the accidental and incidental improvisations and spontaneous curiosities of teachers and students. There is no common faith, no common body of principle, no common body of knowledge, no common moral and intellectual discipline. Yet the graduates of modern schools are expected to form a civilized community.
Over the years ISI has made an heroic effort to fill that vacuum with an educational program that, in its formative years, gained its sense of direction. and organizational culture from The Idea of a University by Cardinal Newman, Liberal Education by Mark Van Doren, and from thinkers such as Richard Weaver, Russell Kirk, Will Herberg. Our aim was to give attention to a variety of disciplines which would convey the truth in constituent elements of our Western culture and our American patrimony. Lecturers and essayists were chosen who had excellent reputations for sound scholarship and an equally important regard for the "concept of truth." ISI was interested in bright students who were troubled by the lack of concern for or hostility to Western civilization and our American Patrimony in course content.
The quality of ISI's membership ultimately enabled it to grant over 500 Weaver Fellowships for graduate study. You cannot transmit a cultural heritage without the right teachers. Unfortunately, it is difficult to raise funds for fellowships. In Cold Friday, Buckley makes reference to a letter from Whittaker Chambers on the future of Western civilization in which he wrote, "no youth, no future." It is well and good to revere a heritage, but a more serious concern for posterity will insure its continuance.
E. VICTOR MILIONE is President Emeritus of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
Mark T. Mitchell
LIKE MANY AMERICANS, I was raised with what might be called an instinctive conservative ethos. The conservatism with which I was raised was largely unreflective and habitual (good conservative traits these!) and it was tied, I suspect, to a variety of factors including grandparents who were economically independent (one a small business owner and the other a cattle rancher); parents who were generally suspicious of big government (although my father worked for the government his entire career); and regular involvement, at least for the majority of my childhood, in the church. Add to this plenty of guns in the house and an affection for John Wayne and, well, looking back it seems that the die was cast early on.
Instinctive conservatism is a good and necessary part of the ideals of conservatism, but for those of us called to a life of teaching and writing, reflection on those things that many take for granted is part of the territory. Thus, in what follows, I want to explore some of the reasons I am still a conservative after spending time reflecting on exactly what that means.
At the outset, though, I need to clarify a point: the word "conservative" has fallen on hard times of late. Ironically this has been, at least in part, due to the success of the word and that which it represents. "Conservative" has come to serve as a sort of shorthand way of identifying those ideas that generally comport with the Republican party in America. This is unfortunate for two reasons. First, the views of a party can, and invariably do, change. Thus, to the extent that the Republican party has changed it has dragged the term "conservative" with it, to the detriment of any clear meaning of the word. Second, the term "conservative" is surely one that suggests political positions and perhaps even specific policies, but to reduce the term merely to its political components is to rob it of its vital core. Thus, right at the beginning of this attempt to explain why I am a conservative, I must insist that "conservative" is not identical with the Republican party and in many ways the two are today not even playing from the same sheet of music. While political prescriptions are certainly a part of conservatism, I want to focus my attention on elements that are prior to public policy, for the policy is merely an outworking of the soul of the idea, and to grasp the essence of conservatism it is necessary, for the time being, to set policy aside. Finally, the subsequent ingredients constitute at least a part of a reflective conservative ethos, but they are not individually the exclusive property of conservatism. They do, I will maintain, represent the core of conservatism and, while people who refuse to call themselves conservatives will embrace various elements, it is my contention that conservatism rightly conceived will best accommodate the totality of these aspects in a coherent and meaningful whole. With these qualifications in place, let us proceed.
One important aspect of conservatism is the recognition that there is something worth conserving and this must be transmitted through human conduits. In other words, teachers are necessary. For academics, our teachers are often books written long ago by authors long dead. These marvels of communication, where visual symbols embody ideas that can move the reader to action or laughter or tears, are central to civilization, and it is, after all, civilization, in large part, that we are speaking of when we speak of conservation. But just as we required a teacher to show us how to decipher the language symbols, so too it is good to have a teacher who, by example, shows us how to approach a text, and ultimately, how to approach the life of the mind. During my time at Georgetown University, I was fortunate enough to have that sort of teacher in George W. Carey. A generous mentor is a good gift not to be taken for granted, and I am grateful for his kindness, patience, and wisdom.
The need for teachers points out another important aspect of conservatism, for in acknowledging our need for others we come to acknowledge our own limitations and the various ways we are dependent. We can best begin to grasp this point when we recall that a central premise underlying the modern project is the belief that humanity, as a whole, is progressing--perhaps haltingly, but nevertheless inevitably--toward a state of perfection. This view, of course, denies any notion of fundamental imperfection or (gasp) original sin, and marches onward with an optimism born of the scientific age but, one would think, severely chastened by the moral and political fallout of that same age. But mental habits die hard, and even in our own day where the optimism has, in some quarters, cooled and is now seasoned with a heavy sprinkling of cynicism and even some nihilism, many still dream of a perfect world, a world that is the product of human beings finally rising above their pettiness and strife to forge a world of peace and plenty. Fine notions these. But a political vision that ignores or denies a fundamental fact about human nature will invariably tend not toward perfection but disarray.
The human race is bounded by limitations inherent in human nature, but we are continually faced with the temptation to deny this fundamental reality. It is, though, essential that we admit our various dependencies. This notion rubs hard against those who revel in the myth of the self-made man standing alone and triumphant, master of himself and beholden to no person. But dependence is a necessary part of human existence, and to acknowledge this is an important step on the road to wisdom. Our dependence is most obvious in our infancy and childhood where we would quite simply die without the care of others. The same kind of dependence finds us on the far side of life as our strength wanes. But there are other kinds of dependence. From time immemorial humans have grasped the simple truth that it is not good for man to be alone. It is not, we might say, possible for humans to approximate in solitude the good that is proper to them. We need others if we are to be what we are supposed to be. Humans are, for example, creatures of language. We desire to speak and to be spoken to. The exchange that language makes possible requires others to both speak and listen. Even the so-called self-made man, who has prospered in the economic realm must admit that markets are cooperative ventures that require both buyer and sellers. The seller of goods must appeal to the prospective buyer and, in that appeal, he exhibits his dependency on others.
Most profoundly, we should acknowledge our ontological contingency. On this score, there are really only two alternatives. That is, on a rather grand scale, if humans are merely the result of a naturalistic evolutionary march, then we are not the product of any intelligent will and as a result we can take credit for what we are individually and as a species, for it makes little sense to share the credit with chance and time. If naturalism is true, and humanity is marching upward out of the benighted past toward a bright and happy future, there is precious little need or incentive to be grateful to those who have preceded us. At best our ancestors were mere stepping-stones, necessary for getting us where we are now but certainly not our equals much less our superiors. We can appreciate them as instruments necessary for our present condition not as intrinsically good or wise or noble, for these concepts, themselves, are developing steadily and the present is the fullest realization of these ideals even as the future promises to make our own efforts obsolete.
But, on the other hand, perhaps human beings are the products of a divine intelligence who created humans with a specific nature and implanted in us the desire to know and a capacity to grasp reality and an awareness of certain binding moral truths. In such a scheme, we also see the debt we owe to our ancestors who, in the ways that matter, were our equals, and some were clearly our superiors. In this latter scenario, we find ourselves beholden both to a God who created and sustains us and to our predecessors who have bequeathed to us the gift of civilization with all its many-faceted elements. This realization should move us to gratitude.
Jose Ortega y Gasset has pointed out that modern man lacks a sense of gratitude, for he has no sense of the giftedness of that which he enjoys. The benefits of civilization, so long in their development, bought at such a high price, are taken for granted by those who have no concern for or interest in the past. If we ignore the past, if we fail to grasp the invaluable and delicate gift we have received, then civilization itself is in jeopardy. In short, our sense of indebtedness should induce in us a sense of gratitude and our gratitude should give birth to love and our love will manifest itself in responsible action.
And how will this responsibility, born of love, manifest itself? A love of God will create in us a desire to obey the moral law instilled in us. We will seek to obey His commands, summarized quite simply as this: Love God and love others. But this love for others is not limited simply to loving those who happen to be alive. We can and should love those who have come before us. We can love them for the example they have set (both good and bad); we can love them as fellow travelers on this road of beauty and pain; and we can love them even as we love ourselves, for, as T. S. Eliot notes, we are what we are because they were what they were.
A proper love of the past induces both a love for the present as well as a sense of duty to the future. In truth, both the conservative and the progressive are mindful of the future (and rightly so), but because the progressive scorns the past, he rejects that which would both inform and temper his view of the future. He purports to march boldly into the future armed only with the blinding light of pure reason and the belief that he, being the most modern, is the most advanced, and being the most advanced is fully equipped to conquer the future. The conservative, on the other hand, feels a great degree of affection for the past and recognizes the debt he owes to those he can never thank. He recognizes that many of the best human things have been cultivated gently and passed down through many generations.
It is, the conservative recognizes, his sacred duty to tend the gifts of civilization as best he can and transmit them to his posterity with the hope that generations hence will enjoy the benefits of this gift even as they, in turn, feel the burden of its responsibility. In short, a proper love for the future requires a proper love for the past, and to love the future but disdain the past is to destroy the future with carelessness, ineptitude, and pride. Furthermore, ostensibly loving the future while despising the past is, in reality, only an exercise in loving the present, for such a love is without historical context and therefore is only a facile love of the self with a vague hope that the self will survive to witness that perfect future that haunts the progressive imagination.
That we owe something to future generations because of our inheritance from the past creates a certain disposition toward the institutions of marriage and family. A life characterized by a self-absorbed love will find plenty of reasons to avoid matrimony, for such a commitment hampers freedom, and children represent perhaps the single largest reduction in one's freedom. Children require that one sacrifice time, energy, and resources. Children are not economically rational unless one operates a labor-intensive farm, which most do not. On the other hand, marrying and having children is a natural and altogether fitting way to answer the call of responsibility that the past makes on us. If, in fact, we have inherited something of value from our forebears, and if that inheritance must be passed on in order to be preserved, then raising children and inculcating in them the values, the stories, the habits and practices, the traditions of our inheritance is precisely the best way to act responsibly toward the future. It is also an act of hope, for as we muddle through our particular historic moment, things do not always look good.
At times the candle of civilization flickers and threatens to be snuffed out by the ravages of the barbarians who are always at the gates or, more recently, in the very seats of cultural power and influence. A conservative, though, can and should be hopeful, for he acknowledges that the future is not merely the product of chance and human will. That a divine providence superintends the world gives the conservative confidence that goodness will eventually prevail despite the obvious setbacks that history reveals. Having children is an act of hope. And to act in that hope is the calling of the conservative. It is to cast one's lot with our ancestors who, in hope, often desperate hope, embraced the future believing that all was not lost.
Human beings are embodied souls. This means we are both eternal yet spatially confined. We cannot simultaneously be in more than one place. We share the same space with other embodied souls as we make our way through time. This means that we cannot have the same sort of relationship with all humans. It is natural to have special affection for some persons over others. There are natural prejudices that arise out of our finitude. For instance, it is natural to love one's father more than a stranger. Aristotle notes that the best kind of friendship requires living in close proximity, for the kind of intimacy that such a friendship requires can only develop through daily personal contact. Thus, one can have only a few intimate friends in a lifetime. Or to put it another way, one's neighbor is properly the object of one's love, and one's neighbor is that person with whom one shares space. It is properly human to love the particular person one daily encounters rather than profess an abstract love for the idea of humanity. This latter love sounds noble because of its all-encompassing nature, but in reality it is a shallow, bloodless love, a cheap imitation that costs little. As Ivan Karamazov puts it, it is much easier to imagine loving strangers in a distant land than to love the particular neighbor one can see, hear, and touch.
The conservative recognizes that particularities are dear, and they are only grasped and understood in their particular locations. The conservative loves the diversity of reality and celebrates the marvelously differentiated creation, which bears witness to a Creator who lovingly, and perhaps even whimsically, populates the levels of being with strange and wonderful things. This is opposed to the modern rationalist who attempts to reduce all to a monotonous uniformity, which can thereby be more easily understood and ultimately controlled, or alternatively, who insists that all reality is merely the product of blind chance and therefore must be controlled if order is to ensue.
In the same way that true love is only possible when directed at particular people, so too love of a place must be local. One does not love properly when one seeks to love an abstraction such as the whole world. Yet, the rootless modern, shunning the commitment that true love requires, embraces his freedom and mobility and in so doing cuts himself off from the possibility of truly loving a particular place. The irony is great, for in attempting to love the whole, he loves no place truly or well. Particular places require the love born of wisdom that comes only from intimate knowledge. That kind of knowledge comes neither quickly nor on the cheap. It requires commitment and attentiveness and the humility to submit one's self to learn what a local place and its people have to teach. Here we see a connection that should be obvious: conservatism is intimately related to conservation.
Conservatives recognize that in civilization they have inherited something precious. It is a gift not to be taken for granted. So, too, is the natural world. The giftedness of creation itself calls us to gratitude. And while civilization and the natural world can be conceptualized individually, they are intimately connected. Civilization cannot exist in a disembodied state separated from a physical place. That is, towns, schools, churches, and markets all must be situated some place and, if these good things are to thrive, the places they inhabit must be healthy. The riches of civilization, so fragile and delicately wrought, cannot be fully realized or enjoyed in a wasteland. There is a relationship between culture and the natural world that must never be ignored. With Burke the conservative can say "I do not like to see any thing destroyed; any void produced in society; any ruin on the face of the land."
Because the conservative is motivated by love and gratitude and a hope born of faith, he can attend to the particular people and places to which he has been called and trust that the hand that guides history will bless his efforts even if the effects are not apparent. This is the conservative's hope. This is why I am a conservative.
MARK T. MITCHELL teaches political science at Patrick Henry College.
T. H. Pickett
"He was increasingly interested in the background of knowledge and theory behind the lives of men, and the astounding clumsiness of world behavior compared with the powers of the planning mind."-James Hilton, Random Harvest (1941).
WHY AM I A CONSERVATIVE? An odd question for one of conservative bent, very much like asking why I am an American or why I am a man? What does one answer to such a question? A conservative has little choice in being what he is. Yet, if one cannot choose one's fundamental position, I do believe one should, nevertheless, have some choice in the company one keeps. In this connection I have always found a good many reasons during at least some of my life not to profess conservatism in order to avoid associations that I not only loathe but to which I would have seemed to lend my support. It has even made me devious at times since I hope to persuade without first alienating. This may not seem an auspicious beginning but let me explain.
In my early years in Georgia being a conservative meant, so far as virtually everyone was concerned, being devoted to segregation while publicly advocating states' rights. Though I am a particularist and believe that states' rights is essential to our system of government, I could not openly support the position at that time without automatically lending the weight of my opinion to those determined to preserve segregation. After conservatism gradually extricated itself in the South from its association with racist policies, achieving intellectual legitimacy in the eighties and nineties, we had only to wait until the present century to see it associated once again in the popular mind with a politics of folly.
Not long after the turn of the new century a militant and globalist interventionism masquerading as conservatism has once again distorted the public view. Conservatives are, so far as millions of Americans have been told and many have come to believe, those men and women who harp incessantly on the threat of international terrorism and urge us into preemptive wars with a shadowy but somehow omnipresent evil. Conservatives presumably support and encourage policies that would and do engage us in ambiguous conflicts abroad while ignoring the most urgent problems at home, i.e., the debacle of open, illegal immigration on our borders, soaring budget deficit spending, the continuing growth of an already swollen bureaucracy, and a failed system of elementary and secondary education.
No honest conservative can support a program pledged to the usurpation of established order, even when that established order happens, as in the present case, to be foreign. It is not so much because we must respect the sanctity of the Muslim, or, for that matter, any non-American world. Rather it is a matter of common sense and prudence. Mobilizing our people and our resources to transform foreign societies exceeds our means and violates the tenets of our government. Finally, massive projection of our power into other geopolitical spheres is not necessary in order to guarantee our security.
The United States is uniquely secure in its borders today. It shares the continent with two weaker powers, neither of which could threaten us, so long as we keep our wits about us and exercise due vigilance. South America shares our hemisphere but is home to no state remotely equivalent to our own and is instead inhabited by sundry powers hobbled by corruption. The great land masses of Eurasia and Africa are separated from us by enormous oceans. Even where Asia nearly touches us in the far northwest, the waters are ferocious and the climate is forbidding. Those areas are remote and relatively uninhabited, as well. In sum, who should we fear since we enjoy a truly impregnable isolation unlike that of any other great state or nation in history?
Breaching the distances between us and other states with weapons sufficiently lethal to worry us is an unlikely prospect if we take precautions. Since the real conditions of our nation are such that we have been secured by geography from any threat sufficient to justify massive projection of our power to distant places, there is no reason for a single American youth to die in uniform on foreign soil. Pundits and politicians who argue to the contrary should be regarded with profound skepticism. Our prolific resources, our benevolent climate, and our native political genius have worked to provide us with abundance and peace that have made us the envy of the world. We even enjoy a geology that has plagued us with few natural catastrophes.
There exists in no real sense any threat to our security so long as we manage our destiny with an active respect for common sense, cautious in our dealings with other states, wary of sentimentalizing talk of friendship or alliances with foreign powers. As for the specter of international terrorism: its novelty has been greatly exaggerated. The civilized world has often been harried on the margins by the irregular troops of chaos, whether they believe themselves to be fighting for a coherent ideology or whether they are simply brigands and misfits. There will always be some men who prefer mischief to constructive living and who take pleasure in the pain of others. We need only remain cautious and watchful, recognizing in them the pathology, rather than being lured into pathologies of our own by their real but limited menace.
I use the term "common sense," by which I mean a plain, everyday acknowledgement of the conditions we experience in the objective world. Some may call it analytical realism; it hardly matters, so long as it is practiced, for it is this habit of mind that is fundamental to any honest conservatism. It requires a sober perspective dictated by the facts on the ground. We must reject all temptation to vainglorious schemes of international dominance just as it is our first duty to deny the validity of elaborate imperial myths about our superiority and the unworthiness of other peoples. We are first and last a very fortunate people and certainly not a chosen race.
Common sense easily recognizes "international terrorism," for instance, as a bugaboo. It can disrupt life in other places but never our own homeland, so long as we guard our borders, regulate our commerce at home, and supervise the aliens in our midst. If Americans choose to venture out as tourists, businessmen, or scholars to other parts of the world, on the other hand, they go at their own risk. Everyone must understand that our safety cannot be assured outside our own frontiers. There will also be places in the world where we are unwanted. No individual or any people can be loved by everyone all the time. If we mind our own business and stop trying to mind the business of other people, however, it is less likely that others will mind us.
Concerning all presumptive projects to transform the world, whether they be Wilsonian or neoconservative in flavor and conception, honest conservatism recognizes not only their futility but their conceit. There is simply nothing in either common sense or Christian ethics that urges any secular government to engage in schemes conceived as redemptive crusades abroad. The most casual perusal of history reminds us how littered the centuries are with the debris of other states lured into chasing grand projects outside their borders. The shining knight in armor is a figment of the chivalric imagination and not a model for sober politics. Our greatest statesmen, beginning with George Washington, have warned us against foreign entanglements, emphasizing that they are both unnecessary and detrimental to the purposes of our government. When modernists view this sage advice with undisguised contempt and condescension, they betray their foolish arrogance.
There are other distortions of the meaning of conservative that I have been surprised to discover since moving to teach in a college of Baptist tradition seven years ago. A moderate Baptist looks askance at anybody professing conservatism, for he associates that with being a fundamentalist. Since a fundamentalist is a person inclined to unwanted judgmental intervention in the lives of others, this puts a considerable burden upon an honest and realistic conservative to explain his position. Fundamentalists co-opted the appellation decades ago in Baptist regions, and its use is deeply ingrained in the popular understanding.
There is a third group of counterfeit conservative whose antics mar the reputation of conservatism which they invoke and apply to themselves. These bogus conservatives are generally statists or big government partisans who promote the aggrandizement of a central, executive authority against other rival authority centers. They consider themselves hyper-patriots, and they work as pundits, journalists, and political careerists making a good living on the national speaker circuit, writing syndicated columns, lobbying and serving sporadically in appointive office. Controversy is their bread and butter because it sells books, attracts television viewers, and can be used to mobilize voters. Generating controversy is, therefore, an essential part of their job, and it requires dichotomizing the world. In order to invent convincing dichotomies they create an ideology.
A conservative cannot by nature identify with an ideology for one basic reason: All ideologies privilege time over space, depicting the unfolding of meaning as a consequence of time's revelatory movement forward and upward to ever higher plains of enlightenment and humanity. Place is usually the inhibitor, the obstacle to the revelatory process and, therefore, no good thing. The conservative is, on the other hand, certain that even a cursory acquaintance with the objective world can disabuse a person of faith in the progressive paradigm so central to every ideology. Life is just more complicated than that. A conservative also highly values place, emphasizing continuity rather than change; he is, furthermore, convinced that dichotomies are oversimplifications or falsifications of the facts in the objective world.
The business of the ideologue never varies, though ideologies bear different names and purport to explain life in different ways; it has, nevertheless, to do with overcoming some representative obstruction to progress and change and promises to turn disorder into order, discord into harmony. Every variety of socialism fixes on the "evil" of private property as the culprit in this imaginary drama. Nationalists see the obstruction to an ideal national purity in the polluted enemy-neighbor. Capitalists despise anything that would obstruct the free flow of capital and labor. Neo-conservative ideologues hate the un-American disorder of the world and long to impose upon it an American peace through the establishment of what they call "democracy." Their special demon lies in places where people hie to tradition or commit the unpardonable sin of theocracy.
Since every perceived evil is a manifestation of an existing order, the ideologue is driven to hate the world as he finds it and to long for a world that is not, which is to say that it is a fantasy or pipe dream. Driven by his devotion to a hypothetical future, the ideologue is morally committed to promote time's revelatory unfolding by destroying the existing world of place in which established human relations currently prevail. The fervent ideologue is joined in his crusade by a host of opportunists determined to use ideology to camouflage a calumnious grab for power; it should therefore be no surprise to see most ideologues resorting to every trick devised by scoundrels to empower and enrich themselves. Conservatives can only be alert to the sheer greed of their effrontery. The strangest irony lies in the confidence many ideologues have in their own integrity.
The problem for the conservative is an old one and has to do with the difference between canny prudence and the melodrama of demagoguery or the siren song of empire. Napoleon was the first modern tyrant to exploit a public appetite for glory in a nationalistic crusade to transform Europe. Nothing much has changed since. In the past century Germany was duped into following a burlesquing but homicidal demagogue down the predictable and lethal path to destruction. Now the United States appears to be vying for its turn at national suicide. Honest conservatives may indeed be the last hope for calling Americans back down to earth, but we need first to reclaim conservatism from the pretenders and charlatans.
Today there are literally movements of people who call themselves conservative, yet who seek change and look to progress to endue their lives with meaning. They join hands with liberals and other ideologues in order to chase after novelty and defame the existing order of the world. At home they celebrate a hypothetical time when the current constituency known traditionally as "the American people" will have been replaced by sundry newcomers. They support wars without defined political objectives, urging upon us a vague but pervasive fear of the unknown.
The latest version of modern ideology further demonstrates its adaptability and opportunism, for it has successfully survived the death of each of its successive manifestations and has now assumed the moniker of conservatism itself. Only a scant four to five decades ago, while posing as the defenders of civil liberties, ideologists managed to eradicate the last bastion of liberty invested in states' rights. In the meantime, the same ideological poseurs have launched a very successful campaign in the name of civil rights and diversity to displace the American people with foreigners and pseudo-minorities. The dirty work has been done by imputing to white Americans an incurable racism and cultural intolerance, thereby justifying their eradication. How often have I sat through government or college-sponsored harangues in which professed "multiculturalists" declared the moral bankruptcy of white, Christian America and gloated over their vision of their displacement by other peoples. (1)
There is in every brand of ideology a single purpose underlying the superstructure of justifying explanation. All ideology, from early Saint-Simonism to modern, American-style liberalism, is impelled to aggrandize the central authority of the state. Even when the ideologue does not recognize it himself, he is a statist working to destroy every rival authority center in society. After the successful revolutions of the eighteenth century when the estates were removed as barriers to arbitrary power, only local and state government, the church, and a distinct constituency confident of its rights and identity as a people remained to obstruct the propagation of unrestrained and arbitrary power.
The twentieth century saw the destruction of state and local authority. The last half of the century also witnessed a rising assault upon the authority of religion and church which actually began a century earlier. In our new century a ferocious attack upon the integrity of the people has been launched in the name of two apparently different new ideologies that actually work in tandem. There is, on the one hand, the ideology of multiculturalism and, on the other, the ideology of globalism.
Multiculturalism draws upon Primitivism to vilify the American people who are purported hindrances to history's progress towards what Herder called Humanitaet, viz., humanitarianism. We--the American people--are portrayed as irredeemably corrupt and thus ripe for displacement as interlopers guilty of obstructing the destiny of humankind. The multiculturalist proposes to effect our removal by importing less corrupt peoples and cultures from elsewhere, first disenfranchising us within and then crowding us out as hordes of newcomers are welcomed and settled.
Globalism insists that it is the legitimate heir to a dysfunctional nationalism that was built, in the first place, on a spurious notion that any single constituency has a right to its own government and homeland, to the exclusion of everybody else. The globalist sees national frontiers and the concomitant claim to specific territories as intolerable obstructions to the free flow of capital, goods, services, and populations necessary to the general improvement of the human race. The globalist takes for granted that we live in a post-national world. The nation-state is in his view an anachronism that must be discarded in order to remove authority to international bodies.
Only a staunch conservative can resist these ideological forces today with any assurance, for it is the essence of conservatism to oppose at every opportunity any aggregation of authority or power. A conservative is the natural ally of rival authority centers such as state and local government or the church. He also understands the vital importance of maintaining a citizenry with a distinct sense of its own identity, shared interests and common experience, culture and language, a citizenry determined to defend its right to self-government within its own distinct homeland.
Ideologues have found in multiculturalism and globalism an impregnable disguise through which they can work to subvert liberty while appearing to crusade for justice. Their success has achieved such momentum that many are convinced it is an irresistible expression of the Zeitgeist. Opposition is perceived as futile, and only the most stubborn form a small remnant of genuine conservative resistance. In the compartmentalized urban landscape of present-day America, the conditions and environment necessary for breeding an appreciation for the objective world and actual human relations have been eliminated. Any understanding of, much less respect for, cultural continuity has been lost in the atomized cacophony of the fragmented urban landscapes of America.
Conservatism is a natural infusion that occurs when human beings live in community, tied to a multilayered neighborhood that in all its attachments has endured over time, producing a profound commitment to real people to whom one is bound in mutual bonds often informed by real affection. The most secure community is anchored in the ethical vision of Christian theism, in which the notion of self-realization, or the claim of one's right to oneself, is associated with sin. The true disposition of sin is not about immorality or wrongdoing, but the strong prejudice that every human being entertains for his own advantage. It is a predilection encouraged in the context of what we have come to call "modernity" and which modern America associates with individualism.
The roots of my own conservatism were set in the world of my childhood and adolescence in rural Georgia where my generation was almost surely the last to participate in an intense memorialization of the Confederate past and the idea of the singularity of Southern history and culture. We were engaged already as little children in perennial symbolic rituals commemorating the Confederate dead and expounding the historical defeat and humiliation our ancestors endured. As a result, we were shaped by a sense of our identity as a unique people and governed by a reverence and respect for the adult world past and present.
The deep affection I and all my peers felt for our native state, county and town never left me, though I discovered fairly early that it was not an unmitigated good. In fact, I was hardly past nine when I became gradually aware of disturbing incongruities between our Christian profession and our corporate behavior. Influenced in my early teen years by reading Will Durant's Story of Philosophy and his multi-volume The Story of Civilization, this latter series achieving wide distribution as a Reader's Digest selection, I took a critical stance. The incessant celebration of our nobility seemed to me a sometimes nearly hysterical attempt to exorcise the pathologies that had infected us not only since our catastrophic capitulation in 1865 but throughout our history in our relations with the people living among us first as slaves and then in a system of enforced peonage.
It was clear to me fairly early in life that evil and corruption reside not only in an external foe like the storied Yankees but also discolor the structures of our community and corrupt our own behavior. Ideologues believe that the knowledge of internal corruption in a society justifies waging war against the status quo. Conservatives respect and reverence the living people who constitute a society far too much to demonize them or to seek to destroy them. Essential to the conservative is his commitment to the society and the people as they live and breathe. His recognition of human fallibility, weakness, and error can never turn him to the revolutionary projects of destruction and murder, particularly while he is keenly aware that he is himself fallible and subject to both unintentional error and purposeful mischief.
In spite of the terrible blight of juristic racism that colored our relations as I was growing up, there was never a time in which I hated my people and my community. During the summer of my ninth year, for instance, I was on my way to the back door when my mother stopped me, placed a firm though gentle hand upon my shoulder and forbade me to go out and play with my colored friends, saying only that I was now "too old." My astonishment at her prohibition is still palpable. From that moment a new awareness began to illuminate my understanding. I realized with horror that, for the first time in my life and in this one command, I resented my mother's authority as unjust and wrong.
In the weeks that followed I schemed to circumvent her and continued to meet my friends until somehow they became worried and finally asked me not to come any more for fear of getting them into trouble. Our separation was hard, for they were good comrades, honest and fun. My happiness was marred, and my confidence in the adult world was shaken. Though I did not articulate it at the time, I nevertheless understood that any order that necessitates clandestine arrangements so that a person can pursue natural and decent relations with other people cannot be right. There was, nevertheless, so much more in the world I knew that redeemed it for me. Knowing my mother was not merely wrong but terribly wrong was mitigated by an awareness that I, too, was capable of doing wrong.
My fall from grace began with a new slingshot. In trying it out I managed to knock off Mr. Cecil's cap while he was chatting with other school bus drivers at a distance of about twenty yards. Gaping in shock at a success I had not expected, I waited around just long enough for Mr. Cecil to catch my eye. When he finally tracked me down, I was clinging to the skirts of my second grade teacher, Mrs. Kaye. In answer to his accusation, I cowered behind her swearing that I had had nothing to do with the deed.
Mrs. Kaye returned me to my classroom, and I spent the rest of the lunch hour and the afternoon recess pretending to drink from the water fountain just outside the door while hecklers stood at a safe distance taunting me with "Liar, liar, house on fire." A day or two later Mrs. Kaye took me aside to tell me she knew I had not told the truth. Humiliation was not all I suffered. I lived in fear of Mr. Cecil for months, diving into the floorboard of my parents' car whenever I saw him on the sidewalk in town. I had failed miserably to be like either George Washington or Robert E. Lee, for neither of them would have lied, and they were certainly no cowards. I had failed my grandfather, whom I adored, and I had failed myself.
Henceforth it would be impossible for me to adopt the self-righteous intolerance necessary to become an ideologue. I was at least as weak and sinful as the next person, and subverting the status quo for the sake of some hypothetical utopia was too ludicrous to be credible. Whatever human beings settled upon when ordering themselves in groups, they would never be anything but men and women; that was a constant and as such they would transport every human weakness into any new order, bringing with it all the maladies and vices to which human nature is subject. The only alternative is to abrogate human nature, thus editing ourselves out of the picture for good, and that is a truly bad idea.
My earliest memory is of the terrifying roar of an approaching steam engine with the endless, rumbling cars, then the shrieking whistle as it approached the railroad crossing just up the road. I was myself firmly ensconced against my grandfather as I held on to the saddle horn while his favorite Tennessee Walker, Queenie, galloped towards the barn. The scene became in my mind emblematic of the juxtaposition of the terror and violence of the train and the silken movement with which Queenie carried her burden across a green terrain.
Queenie and my grandfather both represent for me the same moral and aesthetic lesson: that energy, intelligence, and high spirits can be transmuted into beauty and grace through discipline and restraint. My grandfather was a reticent man whose probing intensity belied an unsentimental lucidity. Like most of his generation born just after the Civil War, he was girded round in a cordial, even a gracious formality that combined self-control with kindness in a manner now vanished from a world marred by careless familiarity and feigned sincerity.
His father had fought, along with virtually every male in his generation, in the Civil War, enduring four years of ferocious combat, first in Virginia and then, returning home debilitated and wrecked, among Johnston's ranks in defense of Georgia against Sherman's invasion. By the end of the war those who survived must have been shells of their former selves. My great-grandfather's brother had fallen at Chickamauga, almost within sight of Atlanta and hardly more than a few miles from his home. The scope of the lethality they endured defies the limits that modern psychology has prescribed as humanly possible, and it is no surprise that they were a broken generation.
The anecdotes of my great-grandfather are legion. Such eccentricity was widespread among Confederate veterans and has, in spite of a pious censorship, sifted down to us in anecdotes. My great-grandmother moved her children to a new house on North Highland in Atlanta, leaving her husband behind in an older part of town. It was said that he visited once a week by streetcar. The arrangement was supposedly amicable. There were many other reminders of the cost of defeat and humiliation. There was the dilapidated big house on my grandfather's Greene County land that had been spared the torch because Sherman's officers had requisitioned it briefly as a headquarters. That was, at least, hearsay.
The Civil War remained the war despite the fact that we were just emerging from the great conflagration of World War II. In that terrible event we learned that we as a people had endured an impudent and unforgivable invasion by our fellow Americans, who were not satisfied merely to conquer us, but had to leave behind them a pilfered and wrecked society. A college history professor confirmed what we already knew by explaining that Sherman's invasion signaled a first in the history of modern warfare when a government took the decision to inflict a civilian population with wartime destruction in order to break its will.
Long before we got to college, we were marched on Confederate Memorial Day each year class by class to the cemetery to stand amongst the Confederate dead while various teachers, students, and local prominences expounded upon the futile nobility of our soldiers and the glory of our Lost Cause. There were also annual essay contests when we were exhorted to scribble industriously on some aspect of the war. Though the topics varied from year to year, they generally had to do with sketching the exalted character of some Confederate general. I also recall composing an extensive treatise on the types and uses of a multitude of Confederate and state flags.
None of these commemorations are practiced today, so far as I know, and my students never betray more than a miniscule notion of the Civil War. If they know of it at all, it is usually an embarrassment to them which they associate with what they are convinced was a justly obliterated racist movement to perpetuate slavery. Any suggestion to the contrary alerts them to the possibility that I may be a subversive or, worse yet, a redneck, this latter persona being their imaginative characterization of anybody unfortunate enough to have escaped the vapid discipline of suburbia.
The impoverishment of these young American minds is not only a regrettable loss to our culture but also a cogent explanation for the ascendancy of ideology and the disappearance of a responsible conservatism in our national life. The ideologue has achieved a dominance that no previous amount of violence had managed before, in spite of the rabid columns of militant firebrands, fascist sadists, Leninist murderers, and Marxist fanatics. They have achieved ascendancy while refraining from their usual unspeakable savagery, managing in broad daylight to subvert American government and emasculate the national populace within a remarkably short time and with very little resistance.
Our sheltered ignorance has been their secret ally, for Americans have known little of true ideology until now, though a number of Central Europeans began to import it to our shores when they fled Nazism. I was myself unfit to understand its menace until I met an American communist from Chicago on a ship filled with Fulbright awardees headed for Germany. The year was 1966. The voyage took six days, much of which we passed in debate and discussion. Failing to convert me, he assured me as we were leaving the ship to embark on our separate journeys that, when the revolution succeeded, I would be among the first to be exterminated.
My education in ideology continued after I arrived, for there was seething student unrest throughout West Germany that was fueled by discontent with United States engagement in Vietnam as well as disenchantment with what the students perceived as the smug affluence being enjoyed by their families in a renascent German state. On my arrival I had still considered myself a Georgian first. Soon I realized that in the larger world I was an American and as such a target of anger, indignation, curiosity. I was viewed as a representative of the United States and expected to be able to account for the policies of my government. Inability to respond to aggressive and even hostile queries was simply not acceptable. That year I became fully aware of my civic responsibilities as an American.
My encounters with ideologues continued during the next three decades as my research took me back again and again for longer periods in Poland, as well as East and West Germany. My confidence in my good fortune at being an American deepened. There were many briefer sojourns in other Eastern European places as well. When the Soviet empire collapsed in 1989-90 my wife and I were in Germany on a senior Fulbright. It gave us a chance to observe how, after the initial excitement, Europeans eventually resorted to the same old socialist mantras. West Germans were, on the whole, very reluctant to welcome their East brothers into the circle of their affluence and freedom. Today there continues to be a rigorously enforced collective amnesia that applies to the decades of communist tyranny, while anti-Americanism colors public discourse just as it did when I was a student.
Until I was casually invited to attend a symposium on the works of Marion Montgomery at Christendom College, I had not known another intellectual who was both admittedly conservative and a committed Christian. The conservative academics I knew of my generation were almost always of both Southern and Protestant derivation with little appreciation for the church. It was at the symposium that I met other academics, like Gerhard Niemeyer and the Hittinger brothers, who shared my fundamental viewpoint and coupled their conservatism with a profound grasp of Christian theism. After that I became a faithful reader of Modern Age and other ISI publications, serving as a faculty liaison on the campus at the University of Alabama. The comfort I had in knowing there were others like me can hardly be overstated, particularly since the din from the ideologues on campus at the University of Alabama was growing louder each day.
Finally, though life's dynamics exceed the compass of our imagination, there is, nevertheless, a continuity in human affairs worth preserving. Change is, in other words, a constant and inevitable part of life, but it is not the most important thing. What we need more of is an active respect for the richness of accumulated human experience over time. Without it the task of interpretation so essential to moral coherence is impossible. Conservative passion is seated in our personal knowledge and experience of a joyful present and the hope of a future as deep and good as the past.
1. A typical session in multicultural indoctrination took place at a required pre-semester faculty workshop in August 2004 at my present institution, Samford University. A speaker presented unrestrained immigration as an inexorable fact of nature that not only should be affirmed but celebrated because it promotes diversity and promises to replace the morally bankrupt white American majority. The speaker threw in the gratuitous justification that American "Business" has an insatiable appetite for cheap labor that will be met. In the process he ridiculed his own (white) Lutheran heritage, praising himself for having overcome it, emerging in his middle years as an enlightened liberal. He saved the most vehement segment of his tirade to launch against "aging Anglos" whose antiquarian prejudice about their own superiority can only be remedied by their collective death. Finally, he based his presentation on spurious statistical projections in which the ethnic balance by the fifth or sixth decade of the century will weigh heavily in favor of a Hispanic majority, leading him to sum up with a menacing threat: We should face up to our imminent demise as a dominant group and vigorously promote ethnic diversity on campus and elsewhere; otherwise, there will come a time when "Governor Gonzales" demands an accounting, just as a Hispanic-dominated legislature will award support on the basis of how much each institution has advanced the cause of multiculturalism. The menace was diminished because the speaker failed to note that Samford is a private university with no state governmental support.
T. H. PICKETT is Professor of German and Director of the Critical Languages and German Program at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.
THE POSTMODERN CULTURE in which we live is a niche culture, where definitions of words are niche definitions. What passes for conservative in my neck of the woods may not be your definition of conservative. My notion of being a conservative excludes any permanent attachment to a political party or a public policy. In my view, "conservative" is a philosophical term, and it designates an attitude grounded in philosophical and existential premises.
I can offer an existential and a philosophical reason for why I choose to be identified with things conservative rather than things "progressive" (leftist) or liberal. The philosophical reason has to do with language and the difficulties in understanding our ability to use it. Briefly, explanations offered by the philosophical Right concerning the mystery of language seem more convincing to me than those offered by the philosophical Left. Unless one accepts a priori some kind of logocentric order underlying this most essential human tool, a sustainable philosophy of life is hard to conceive. I have written on this subject numerous times, as have others. The existential reason for my conservatism is described below.
My parents were Polish Catholics born and raised in Lithuania before the Second World War. In 1945, Lithuania's substantial minority of Polonized citizens, together with 1.5 million other Polish Catholics, were expelled from what was to become an enlarged Soviet Union. The Baltic republics, together with portions of Belarus and Ukraine that belonged to Poland before the Second World War, were annexed by the Soviets after the war. The U.S.S.R. government became the owner of the Polish properties left behind. By the agreement of the Four Powers, chunks of prewar Poland were attached to the Lithuanian, Ukrainian, and Belarusan "union republics." This was part of the great migration of nations decided on in Yalta in 1945 and Teheran in 1943. The expellees were resettled in formerly German territories, from which Germans were expelled by a fiat of the Four Powers. When I hear German expellees complain about the hardships that they endured in 1945 while escaping from Czechoslovakia and Poland to the parts of Germany occupied by the United States, Great Britain, and France, I do not know whether to laugh or cry. I once heard one such former German expellee complain that he did not have a plentiful dinner until 1950. Well, I did not have a plentiful dinner until I came to the United States in 1963--and by plentiful I mean the kind of cuisine that university students enjoy. Many of my countrymen had to wait longer than that for a decent dinner.
My family was sent to Danzig. It took my mother and her two underage daughters a year to reach Danzig. My father was detained by the Soviets. We traveled in cattle cars that were occasionally left somewhere on side tracks to languish for weeks. There were no toilet facilities and little food. We spent over six months in the little Polish border town of Suwalki. It was years later that I learned that, three months before we arrived in Suwalki, the Soviet NKVD had organized there a pogrom of Catholics in which between 600 and 800 persons were tortured and then taken away, never to be heard of again. The Russian authorities have not supplied information about them to the present day. In the summer of 1946 we reached the ruins of Danzig, now called Gdansk.
By 1946 my father had obtained permission to join us in Poland. During the German occupation of Lithuania from 1941 to 1944, my parents hid a Jewish female physician in their home, in a little cellar under the housekeeper's room. I vaguely remember that little room: the only entrance to it was from the kitchen, and it was large enough to contain a bed, a nightstand, and a trunk where clothes and other personal items were kept. It was off-limits to us children except by invitation, and therefore a place of mystery. In front of the bed was a piece of carpet, and under it was a secret door to the cellar. When the Soviets came, the lady physician became an important person in the city administration. My father managed to obtain an appointment with her in the city offices. As he recounted later, he said something to the effect of: "I helped you when you were in need; please help me obtain a permit to leave." The lady physician did help him, and my father made his way to Gdansk in 1946.
Other Polish expellees had settled there several months earlier. They moved into the few houses and apartments that were still standing. When I hear that after the Second World War Poles somehow appropriated someone else's property in Poland, I laugh. Two out of three Poles living today, or their parents or grandparents, lost their homes in the Second World War, and had to seek substitute dwellings in the ruins of cities and villages (Rzeczpospolita, August 3, 2002). They did not have the leisure to inquire to whom the ruins in which they sought shelter had belonged before the German or Soviet armies swept through. The Reds' appetite for destruction was unbelievable. Plumbing equipment was torn out of kitchens and bathrooms and taken away. In Valentin Rasputin's short story "Live and Remember" , a Russian family in the Siberian village of Atamanovka enjoys receiving parcels from the front throughout 1945. Allowing for the time necessary for parcel delivery to Siberia, one can easily calculate that the loot came from Poland.
The Soviet soldiers and their generals did not have time to loot or break everything on the upper floors of the few buildings that had been only partially destroyed, but they thoroughly devastated the ground floors. The expellees and the homeless moved with stray cats into uninhabited cellars and basements if there was no other choice. Condemned public housing in the United States would have seemed luxuriant to the thousands of educated but homeless Polish families who were kicked out of cattle wagons coming from the East and told to find shelter somewhere in the city. The Soviet-controlled local administration was only too eager to register people at any semi-habitable addresses. There was no Marshall Plan as there was in Germany to rebuild ruined cities and industries. The cities that had been exposed to the hostile and consecutive occupations of Germans and Russians were stripped of whatever valuable real estate they once possessed. Everything had to be rebuilt from scratch.
My father contacted a university colleague of his who had arrived before us. He told my father that there was an empty ground floor apartment in the building in which he, his wife, mother, and two children were occupying the attic. There were some minor inconveniences involved: the apartment's windows were broken, and the door was so shattered that it looked like a sieve. Still, we moved in gratefully. There was no lumber to be purchased, so holes in the door were filled with rags and grass and whatever putty could be manufactured in conditions of total destitution. The toilet was broken, but there was running water and, soon afterward, heat. Each room had an electrical socket in the ceiling where one bulb could be screwed in. Electricity was rationed, so there was no possibility of having a reading lamp even if such an item could be found. The buildings surrounding ours were in total ruin. A few burned-out walls remained, and there were dark and dangerous basements where unexploded shells could be found, homeless cats had their kittens, and we children played hide-and-seek.
Soon both my parents, as well as other expellees, were engaged in full-time jobs, often two jobs per person. My mother taught school; my father became an accountant in two different state-owned enterprises. He was not at home except on Sundays. There were no weekends; Saturday was a working day. What followed was the hardship of life in Soviet-occupied Poland in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. Poles born in that period are noticeably shorter than their younger or older countrymen--witness the Polish President Lech Kaczynski. All too often, rationing was a cover-up for shortages. Coupons did not guarantee a purchase; if the shelves were bare there was no rain check. There were shortages of everything except bread, so there was no starvation but pervasive malnutrition. By "shortages," I mean that such items as shoes or toothpaste were unavailable for months and sometimes years. "Shopping" in the contemporary sense of the word did not exist. Bartering existed--if one-had some extra butter for sale, one could buy a piece of fabric from a coworker who had obtained it illegally from a cousin who worked in a store catering to the communist party officials and offer it for butter.
As a ten- or eleven-year-old girl and an A student, I was once asked to tutor a girl whose parents were party dignitaries, sent to Poland by the Soviets. Somehow it was conveyed to me that it was an offer I could not refuse. I was supposed to go to that girl's home and help her master the Polish language. The first time I visited her home, I was dazzled by what seemed to me unbelievable luxury. I now know that it was one of those dwellings with cathedral ceilings and open living rooms often featured in American suburbia today. In postwar Poland such architecture was unheard of, and only the truly privileged could have had such quarters built for them. My experience with that girl, whose parents never paid me for the tutoring, makes me certain that Jan Tomasz Gross was incorrect in suggesting in his book Fear that in postwar Poland, Jews were afraid of Catholic Poles. On the contrary, Catholic Poles were afraid of Jews who were party dignitaries, as my tutoring experience proved to me incontrovertibly.
Shortages were not the worst thing. The worst was that an entire population of under 30 million, with the exception of the privileged class who occupied leading positions in the party and administration, were not given proper wages but only tiny allowances, the kind one gives to children. Salaries in postwar Poland were in the range of 600-2000 Polish zloties. On the black market one dollar was worth 100 zloties. Thus monthly salaries were worth from six to twenty dollars. My mother made nine dollars per month; because of his two jobs my father made about forty dollars. Yes, bread and city transportation cost pennies, but virtually all items of daily use cost real money. Shoes and winter coats were the hardest to come by. A pair of Western-made shoes cost 1000-2000 zloties on the black market, or three times the monthly salary of a beginning teacher. I recall that my parents traveled to southern Poland to buy felt boots made by mountain folk and sold on the black market. In Poland, people lived like this for decades, for two generations. Little has been written about this communist crime; it is about to fade into oblivion. It should not.
It was this tendency to seek to humiliate the population that refused to be obedient and instead stuck to their Catholic faith that I find to be the most objectionable feature of the Soviet-manufactured political system that overtook half of Europe all the way to the Elbe River. The desire to put down the weak reached monstrous proportions under communism.
I earned my doctorate four years after I arrived in the United States. In 19681 was a freshly-minted assistant professor of Slavic Languages and Comparative Literature at Indiana University. The Tet offensive was on and Richard Nixon was elected to the presidency. The Vietnam War protests were at their peak. I could not understand it: weren't we fighting the most evil political force on earth? Communism maimed the lives of my peers and destroyed many heroes of Polish resistance, such as General Emil Fieldorf. Fieldorf fought the Nazis during the war but fell into the communists' hands afterward and was sentenced to death, together with tens of thousands (this is not an exaggeration) of other Polish patriots. Communism thwarted the intellectual development of two generations in Central Europe by limiting access to what could be read and discussed. It subjected my fellow citizens in Poland to communism-induced poverty that required bartering skills and a certain kind of alertness unknown in capitalism to procure household goods. It required them to live on monthly allowances of $10 or $15. It further injured them by making it virtually impossible to advance in many professions without joining the communist party.
American students did not know about this, and my liberal professors (now colleagues) did not want to know. They psyched themselves into believing that communism represented a new era in the development of humanity, and interference with it was highly inappropriate. They taught their students accordingly. I could not convey that absent knowledge to them because I was hired to teach literature and literary criticism rather than politics. One day a student rally protesting the Vietnam War blocked entrances to all office buildings at Indiana University. I remember the protesters chanting that Nixon was worse than Hitler. This was the last straw. To me, Nixon was a hero for trying to stop communism in Vietnam. Americans had no economic or political interests in that country--I considered American intervention to be a truly noble action, one of the few disinterested actions by a great power that would survive in historical memory as proof that not all politics is generated by greed, hatred, or self-interest. I was so upset over the students' refusal to let me into Ballantine Hall, home to Indiana University's literature and language departments, that I decided to get to my office no matter what. With the help of my husband, an assistant professor of mathematics, I climbed in through a window onto the second floor. Once inside, it was a breeze to get to my office. I won against the pro-communist rally.
The brainwashing performed by Soviet sympathizers on American campuses was universal in those days, and only persons on the Right dared to say that the pro-Soviet indulgence was based on wishful thinking rather than fact. The liberals were like sleepwalkers in a fog. How did it happen that in a free country like the United States the entire academic community had fallen under the spell of the discreet charm of the Gulagoisie? Mild criticism of the Soviet Union was pervasive, but my fellow professors of Russian history and literature treated Soviet culture and politics as if it were genuine, and not a cover for one of the worst periods of barbarism in history. How was it possible that they did not wish to understand that communist practice was grounded in a deep contempt for humankind? Even in a free country it is apparently possible to fool most of the people most of the time.
The indifference toward the criminality of the Soviet enterprise made me take a second look at other idees recues of liberal thinkers. I noted that they generally praised the French Revolution, just as it had been in the school textbooks I endured in Soviet-occupied Poland. I noted that in the American academic establishment, just as in Soviet-occupied Poland, the Spanish Civil War was described in black and white terms, Franco being all black and the republicans all white. I noted that the rise of communism in Hungary and Germany after the First World War was gently smoothed away in books, as if the German or Hungarian communists were the good guys opposing the all-bad "fascist" establishments. I noted that the Polish-Soviet war of 1920, in which the newly reconstituted Poland miraculously defeated the Soviet Union (somewhat like Finland in 1940), thus stopping the march of communism westward, was erased from America's historical memory. I noted that the lighthearted commentary on the Soviet Union supplied by American Sovietologists (Richard Pipes being a rare exception) falsified the relationship between Soviet Russia and the subjugated nations of Central and Eastern Europe. I noted that no one on the Left really cared that, were it not for Stalin's friendship with Hitler expressed in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23 August 1939, there would have been no Second World War. In those days no respectable publisher would accept U.S. Ambassador Arthur Bliss Lane's book I Saw Poland Betrayed. I also noted that in order to advance in American academia, one had to accept a great deal of the idees recues that I knew were wrong, and profess disinterest in any kind of historical inquiry that did not correspond to an agenda friendly to the Left. In these circumstances, the additional factor of "the amazing power of money" (to borrow from Great Expectations) made brilliant writers side with the Left and keep inventing reasons to do so. With skills and talents worthy of a better cause, liberal writers and professors drummed into their students' heads a version of twentieth-century European history that I knew was inaccurate.
The only people who proclaimed that the evil empire was indeed evil were on the conservative Right. I had no choice but to join them. As years went by and my philosophical horizons broadened, I also realized that the most persuasive arguments about the meaning of language and reality also came from the Right. Thus I became a conservative.
EWA THOMPSON is Research Professor of Slavic Studies at Rice University.
Stephen J. Tonsor
OF COURSE WE ARE ALL BORN "little Liberals" or "little Conservatives" as others have observed, but the road to such identity is often complex and complicated.
My political awareness began at age four. My father, an early student of radio, had a set with earphones. When Al Smith was nominated for the presidency in 1927, my father placed the earphones on my head and let me hear the cheering at the nominating convention.
In 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt ran against Herbert Hoover, my father fetched my brother and me from St. Bernard's School and drove us to Alton, Illinois, where, close on the observation car at the rear of the Roosevelt train, we saw the future president who--important to us--introduced us to his sons.
These early encounters with the Democratic Party did not mean the family was "Liberal" and, indeed, as the increasing world crisis and the sputtering economy developed, my family turned increasingly away from "Democratic" politics. Although my father maintained his Democratic Party loyalty, my mother made crepe paper sunflowers and met with women's groups supporting Alf Landon as presidential candidate.
In the autumn of 1941 I went off to Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois. I was seventeen years old. I had rejected Antioch College because the dean who interviewed us had a pedicure. Black-burn's president, "Prexy" Hudson, was a black-hearted Republican and a member of the Union League in Chicago.
At Blackburn College I met and romanced Rose Epstein, who was the secretary to the professor of German. Her father, Fritz Epstein, was a major figure in the Conservative movement yet to be born, and served at the Harvard Library, the Library of Congress, and, later, the Hoover Institution. The son, Klaus Epstein, was an early contributor to Modern Age.
After the war, in 1947, I visited the Epsteins at Harvard, and, although the romance was abandoned, I remained in contact with Rose and the family.
In 19431 had begun service in the army, eventually becoming a cryptographer in New Guinea, Leyte, and Luzon, where I participated in the initial landings which eventually reclaimed the Island and prepared for the invasion of Japan.
At war's end I came home, returning to Illinois to complete my undergraduate degree, meanwhile working summers for the Forest Service in California. In 1948 I went to Switzerland where I enrolled as a student at the University of Zurich, as no German University was open at that time. My politics were still Democratic and I was a supporter of Harry Truman. At Zurich I lived in the same house as the great German poet, Werner Bergengruen. Bergengruen had been in the pre-Hitlerite resistance to Communism in the Baltics and then in the resistance to National Socialism. He and his wife were very friendly. While in Zurich I debated a Communist-American after the Soviet seizure of Czechoslovakia. A girl friend in Zurich, Marika Rado, was a refugee from the seizure by the Soviets of Hungary.
My Democratic politics had by the Spring of 1949 worn quite thin. I returned to Illinois in August 1949 and proposed to and married Caroline Maddox, and continued work at the University of Illinois toward a Ph.D. in History. Through my Forest Service connections we spent the next three summers atop a ten-thousand-foot peak in the Sawtooth in Idaho as fire lookouts. (If a marriage can survive that--and it did, as we are now in our fifty-eighth year--it can survive anything.) During one of those summers in that remote place someone from the ranger station climbed the nine-mile trail to the lookout with a bundle of mail from home which contained a review of Russell Kirk's Conservative Mind.
My politics had grown increasingly conservative, and through circumstance I began writing for National Review. My mentor at National Review was Frank Meyer, who became a dear friend and visited us here in Ann Arbor, and eventually became a convert to Catholicism. Russell Kirk also visited us, as did Henry Regnery, the Chicago publisher and author with whom a close association developed and endured through the lifetimes of Henry and his wife, Eleanor.
But before all that developed, we came down from the mountain at the end of the third summer, and with our first two children, spent a Fulbright year in Germany near Munich within sight of the Alps. As a refugee camp was located nearby, we had a first-hand experience of what expatriation meant. That year was the first of many trips to Germany to observe, teach, and take pleasure in the homeland of my ancestors.
Writing for National Review put me in contact with increasing numbers of Conservatives through participation in conferences and invitations to lecture. All of this had a profound influence on the development of my own conservative thought, especially in the area of free-market economics.
In 1969 Richard Ware, Secretary of Relm-Earhart Foundation, became an undersecretary in the Department of Defense, and I was appointed to the Foundation to take his place. James Kennedy, son-in-law of the Earhart Founder, was Director. With the arrival of summer Mr. Kennedy died quite suddenly, and I was left as both Secretary and Director. The Foundation was undergoing a profound reorganization and consolidation of its assets, all of which fell to my responsibility. In later years Mr. Kennedy's son, David, attributed the survival of the Foundation to my direction.
Relm-Earhart had been instrumental in the financing of many of the early Conservative and free-market groups and activities. At Earhart Foundation I learned the essential Conservative positions, market economics, and the organizational network. These brief years, 1969-1971, were of profound importance in my conservative development. Here I developed my connections to The American Enterprise Institute, The Hoover Institution, and as a consultant to the Council of Economic Advisors.
Meanwhile, I was father of a family of four children (we lost a fifth), and grandchildren began to arrive. The experience of rearing children and participating in the lives of grandchildren in these changing and troubled years added immensely to the consolidation of my conservative philosophy and its practical implications.
Theory is always only a halfway house to fully developed commitment. Commitment always means practical implementation. It is always "learning by doing."
In all these years I was a candidate for university presidencies, distinguished professorships, and other positions which would have taken me away from Michigan and the teaching I loved. I directed over twenty dissertations and influenced countless students.
Now, as I step into my garden, the creation of over fifty years of life in this house, I realize what a profoundly conservative activity gardening is, and how much pulling a weed and thrusting a trowel into the soil affirm the conservative order.
STEPHEN J. TONSOR is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Michigan and author of Equality, Decadence, and Modernity (2005).
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|Date:||Jun 22, 2007|
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