Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Liberal Mind of a Conservative - what may not be known - Must be known

Hyphenated books - hyphenated Americans - A House Divided
I just watched a panel discussion following a talk on books that should be read in college, and where despite many fine and good things were said (as well as a couple doozies - here's a low and a high from the same panelist, Benjamin Wiker, admiringly quoting Leo Strauss that "Locke was just Hobbes sugar coated" which illustrates why I dislike Strauss, and have reservations about Wiker's mostly good book "Ten books that screwed up the world", followed at the end by a gem from him "Read the 'Lord of the Rings', it's all about the Shire, and the Orc's are in the Shire now!"), and several fine recommendations for oft neglected material to be read (including one you rarely hear mentioned at all, excerpt below), towards the end of the panel, when it came to the Q&A, they referred to 'conservative-books' that should be read in order to promote 'conservative-thought'.

That's a problem, I think.

One of the speakers, Wiker again [?], did make the point, a good one, that his goal of his fighting is to be able to sit on his porch having coffee with his wife and with his kids playing in the yard - all else is done in order to preserve the ability to do that.

That is true - down to a particular level - that is true. But there is more depth to be considered, and if neglected... that scene may be compromised.

Books should be read for the pleasure and enjoyment of being read - and that is far, far, from a light thing to say, the process of reading and being drawn into participating in what Matthew Arnold called "Sweetness and Light" (full volume here) or the Good, the Beautiful and the True, no matter the overt subject matter, that experience is inherently a conservative matter.

But that hints at a meaning or purpose of Conservative that is in danger of not being conserved.

Being a conservative is a fine thing, if you know what your are conserving, and why - and of course if what you think you know is true. If not, on any of those points, you are potentially a danger in any land in which you choose to be a conservative. And if that country is the nation of the United States of America, a nation founded upon an Idea and the full history which gave rise to it, and you don't know that, and perhaps seek to conserve notions at odds with that vital central idea, then your conservation may be nearly as poisonous to the republic as the leftist vitriol you see yourself battling against.

To be an American, is to understand and love, fiercely, an ideal, and at the same time, to recognize that others who may be unlike you in numerous ways, perhaps even at odds with you on numerous points, are nonetheless your natural allies - allies which are needed in order to defend the nation you love. If you mistake your incidental differences for fundamentals, you will be at war with your fellow Americans, and as Lincoln restated - "A house divided against itself cannot stand".

The confusion is that many of these incidentals which divide us often seem to be fundamentals, because they are fundamental to your life and your values... but that does not necessarily make them fundamental principles of Americanism. Some examples are:

Religion - whether between religions, their denominations or vs atheism
Education - degree'd or not degreed
Socio-economic - 'class' Business owner, manager or worker
Political affiliation - Republican, Libertarian, Independent or Democrat
Age or generation - 'greatest generation', boomer, Gen x, 00's, etc.

None of these, in and of themselves, are fundamentals which necessarily divide an American from an anti-American - if you think that any of them are, then I challenge you to re-examine your premises. Not even that which Conservatives often consider a defining watermark, whether or not you are Religious (if not Christian), or that which Libertarians consider the deal breaker, use of govt force, or Democrats concern over whether or not the underdog is being protected.

They may well often be visible traits of those who are anti-American, but they are not what defines them as being such, in statistician speak, they may be correlative, but they are not causal factors.

What is?

Oh... should I go for the easy answer?... whether to toss it out there to be glanced at and dismissed with a nod or a shake... no, not gonna do it yet, the easy answer is also the non-longwinded answer, and that sure ain't me! But the answer is at the heart of this series of posts I've been doing on Justice, and we are getting closer to the heart. And it is something around which the fundamentalist, the libertarian, the bleeding heart, can, and must, unite. That doesn't mean that we should "all just get along" - in fact such a thing might be a more troubling sign of disease, rather than civil health - but we must understand that as violently in opposition our preferences might seem to be, as were Madison's & Hamilton's, Jefferson's & Adams's, we still can be in agreement on our core principles, and recognizing that, remain, or regain, respect and friendship and polity, as did Adams and Jefferson in later years after their political strife's had passed.

CHAP. IX.: Two Causes which destroyed Rome. - Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, Complete Works, vol. 3 (Grandeur and Declension of the Roman Empire) [1721]

"Authors enlarge very copiously on the divisions which proved the destruction of Rome; but their readers seldom discover those divisions to have been always necessary and inevitable. The grandeur of the republic was the only source of that calamity, and exasperated popular tumults into civil wars. Dissentions were not to be prevented, and those martial spirits, which were so fierce and formidable abroad, could not be habituated to any considerable moderation at home. Those who expect in a free state, to see the people undaunted in war and pusillanimous in peace, are certainly desirous of impossibilities; and it may be advanced as a general rule, that whenever a perfect calm is visible, in a state that calls itself a republic, the spirit of liberty no longer subsists.

Union, in a body politic, is a very equivocal term: true union is such a harmony as makes all the particular parts, as opposite as they may seem to us, concur to the general welfare of the society, in the same manner as discords in music contribute to the general melody of sound. Union may prevail in a state full of seeming commotions; or, in other words, there may be an harmony from whence results prosperity, which alone is true peace, and may be considered in the same view, as the various parts of this universe, which are eternally connected by the action of some and the reaction of others.

In a despotic state indeed, which is every government where the power is immoderately exerted, a real division is perpetually kindled. The peasant, the soldier, the merchant, the magistrate, and the grandee have no other conjunction than what arises from the ability of the one to oppress the other, without resistance; and if at any time a union happens to be introduced, citizens are not then united, but dead bodies are laid in the grave contiguous to each other.

It must be acknowledged that the Roman laws were too weak to govern the republic: but experience has proved it to be an invariable fact, that good laws, which raise the reputation and power of a small republic, become incommodious to it, when once its grandeur is established, because it was their natural effect to make a great people, but not to govern them.

The difference is very considerable between good laws, and those which may be called convenient; between such laws as give a people dominion over others, and such as continue them in the possession of power, when they have once acquired it."
There is a lot to that passage from Montesquieu, and it points towards our goal, which I'll pursue next time with Sophocles, Aristotle and Cicero.

1 comment:

lance said...

"Religion - whether between religions, their denominations or vs atheism
Education - degree'd or not degreed
Socio-economic - 'class' Business owner, manager or worker
Political affiliation - Republican, Libertarian, Independent or Democrat
Age or generation - 'greatest generation', boomer, Gen x, 00's, etc."

You neglected to mention where a person lives. I for example live in the heart of Gods Promised land the Pacific Northwest and by definition this makes me better then everyone else.