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Sunday, 28 February 2016

Is it Possible to be Non-Religious and be a Conservative?

Author:Robert Finn @Robertfinn12

Somewhere, either on a YouTube video or in an article of his, the great Peter Hitchens states that, for him, it is impossible to be a non-religious conservative. Is it possible for someone as intelligent and wise as Peter Hitchens to be wrong on this point? Sadly yes- I say sadly, for I do respect the man.

Historically speaking, some of the greatest conservatives were nonreligious or atheists: the former includes Sir Winston Churchill, William Pitt the Younger, and Alexis de Tocqueville, the latter Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Edward Gibbon, Lord Macaulay, and Thomas Hobbes. Therefore, I believe it is historically ignorant to state that all conservatives are religious.

Likewise, ever since the Age of Enlightenment, and especially since Immanuel Kant’s damning destruction of any proofs for the existence of God in his 1781 Critique of Pure Reason, I think it foolish to defend one's political convictions on religious precepts.

The only reasonable way in which one can prove his or her political convictions is either in pure, objective facts or by the past. History has shown time and time again the anarchy, the tyranny, and the superfluous loss of life if a nation’s polity does not follow the norms and traditions which the centuries have passed down onto it. Essentially, take Burke, strip him of Christianity, and one finds arguments which have stood the test of time which do not need to rely on religion.

Hobbes, Stark, Marriage, and the Modern World in the State of Nature.

What is the State of Nature:


To Thomas Hobbes the state of nature was a real, descriptive condition, not a hypothetical and not an anthropological concept. The State of nature was not something that existed millenia in our past, but rather a state which humanity could regress to at any time. What Characterises the state of nature and sets it apart from living in a Commonwealth?


The "State of Nature" is one thing... Life in the absence of a sovereign. Once this is recognized one can see that, such a state is always nearby or one catastrophe away.


First the state of nature is as Hobbes described, "nasty, mean, brutish, and short," but their is more too it, why is it this way? It is this way because man has a natural equity, In the state of nature no one man is so strong as to have the capacity for complete dominion over their peers, and worse those peers can organize and kill even the strongest human being. In the state of nature every many has the right to that, which he can take....


As an extension of the natural equity principle, in a disordered universe, man is simply matter in motion, and by extension, words have no natural meaning; therefore we disagree about the nature of words, Words become an expression of our appetites and aversions not truths we can discover. We use words to describe the phantasms we have experienced as an individual. This disagreement about the nature and meaning of words leads to conflict, as everyone is "judge in their own cause."


From acting as judge in your own cause you reach the "Right of Nature" that you may go to any lengths "you choose" to preserve your own life. The Right of Nature is incompatible with Hobbes "Laws of Nature" which are primarily make contracts to seek peace in Hobbes "State of Nature." From here we form groups to protect our life and secure our appetites, but inside our groups we must persuade to take action, and this brings into question the meaning of words, from there we compete for eminence, vainglory, and power, and ultimately bring war not over the material means of life, but over the glory necessary to secure the right to make decisions and direct the group. In the state of nature, the covenants and contracts of the laws of nature will never hold because oaths are just words, and fear will lead us toward prematurely breaking them when it is favorable too us, thus an outside party is needed to force obedience, and remove the fear of the broken contract. Because like Niccolo Machiavelli, only the fear of violent death is binding on man. But how does the concept of the state of nature express itself in some modern examples?

Reason


To Hobbes reason became a question not of truths and teleology. The instrumental reason of Hobbes was understood to him as one thing "reckoning with consequences;" a material calculation. Instead, of a pursuit of eternal knowledge as Plato would have conceived it for example. To Hobbes reason is a cost benefit analysis built around the facilitation of our aversions and appetites, and unlike Plato, we do not do the good by knowing the good, the best Hobbes thinks we may hope for is foresight.


Conflict


In the state of nature arises not out of rapacious desire, but insecurity, we desire to preserve the little we have. The state of nature is existence in one giant exercise of the prisoners dilemma.


Marriage/Divorce


My favourite example, what could no fault divorce be, but marriage brought low and base into the state of nature? The sovereign used to oversea the institution and enforce the contract using punishment on the party guilty of the violation, leaving the marriage for unreasonable purposes. Now we have no binding sovereign. The marriage contract is between two equals and like Hobbes noted broken prematurely and predisposed to war because spouses are judges in their own cause, and they can't agree on words, they can't agree on what is marriage; or implicitly they can't define the obligations that they must adhere to because it becomes a question of their own aversions and appetites. If their is no love in the 21st century world then their is no marriage.


International Affairs


"For Warre, consisteth not in Battell onely, or the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the Will to contend by Battell is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of Time, is to be considered in the nature of Warre; as it is in the nature of Weather."


The world is a complex place. Hobbes knew that sovereignty must be absolute in order to be effective; for example, he was adverse to an elected sovereign because the sovereign power would always reside in the elected body not the nominal ruler. Or you would have a shared sovereignty, which can only lead to war. Equity in power leads to insecurity. This is what we see on the international stage all the time, the existence, despite our best efforts to the contrary of the State of Nature in the world. Large scale war always exists in the international sphere, this is in part because no high power exists beyond the state, but also because any international body with unclear sovereignty is bound to collapse Eg) the EU. What was the Pax Romana, Pax Mongolia, Pax Britannic, or the Pax Americana, but a brief episode of de facto sovereignty and by extension peace in international affairs. Nations must constantly be semi alert, and must constantly monitor their covenants because at the international level covenants are just words.


Failed States


" I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of Power after power, that ceaseth only in Death."

The failed state, the Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia, to use currrent examples are simply the state of nature at play in the contemporary world. Anarchy. War of all against all in the absence of a sovereign. Hobbes tells us this is the most deplorable state, and we know it is because we see its fallout daily across the globe in the great flood of people. Were men fight in such states along Hobbesian lines ever striving to secure their emminence and therefore their own security against their peers predisposed to take it.


Dictatorship


"The state of man can never be without some incommodity or other, and that the greatest [harm] that in any form of government can possibly happen to the people in general is scarce sensible, in respect of the miseries and horrible calamities that accompany a civil war."


History furnishes countless examples of the misery accompanying a idealistic and ambitious challenge to the sovereign. We saw it in Syria,, in Russia, in the United States (where the confederate states challenged the sovereign), and China (the Taiping Rebellion and the Chinese Civil War) are just a handful of examples of some of the precursors to the bloodies civil wars in human history. From these various challenges to the power of the, assumed unbearable, sovereign an approximate 33 million lives were expunged from the earth.


No dictatorship, except the one that wages a death campaign against its own citizens, to the Hobbesian can justify the rejection of the soveriegn, or world has failed to heed such a warning. Stability and security are the genesis of all political life. In the state of nature no political life may exist.


Parenting


Perhaps a lighter example is fitting, what are children but an example of the transition from sovereignty tot he state of nature? This occurs as children mature. The child fights with siblings as it seeks to understand the origin of names and by extension rights and wrongs. When understandings cannot be reached the child appeals to the parents (the Sovereign) who hold the authority to name names and define the objects occupying the world of the child. However, commonly the child will reject the sovereignty of the parent because the parent is not absolute. Hobbes warns us against the separation of powers, and the power is separated by default as a child matures. They rebel because they experience a world where the parental definitions are no longer absolute, security is in question and a new sovereignty must be found.


Game of Thrones/Ned Stark


I liked Eddard Stark in the Song of Ice and Fire novels because he appeals to the best of us,... He appeals to honour more than reason. Despite, the fact that he knows the rational thing to do is act against his enemies, the Lannisters first, and by extension exercise the right of nature and preemptively act to preserve his life he doesn't instead he adheres to a contract in an absence of a soveriegn (Robert Baratheon). In turn he is betrayed. His words were "Wind." Or in Hobbes's terms "Covenants, without the sword, are but words and of no strength to secure a man at all.” What quickly results in the absence of a soveriegn and the exercise of preemptive war to secure the Lannister inheritance is war of all against all, Hobbes's nightmare.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The Conservative Standpoint 13: Liberalism and Conservatism in Relation



This is Part 13/2 of the Conservative Standpoint by Cole Dutton

It seems to me that in order for the conservative to understand his relationships with the political world it is necessary to understand the chief political framework through which the modern world is understood: liberalism, an idea that has taken over the popular consciousness and sub-consciousness to such a level that all modern thought is tinctured with its substance.

Liberalism is inimical to the conservative. I contend that as a perspective the ideology of liberalism, in fact the faith, is indeed the most erroneous of the conceivable political understandings; I say this not because its aims are misguided, though they are, but because the values are misplaced, a focus on autonomy and an abandonment of moral and ethical interpretation cannot equal a cogent and practical interpretation of governance and the state. I do not propose that all elements of the liberal idea are incorrect or injurious, and I wish to take time to highlight the few points were the liberal concept intersects with the conservative concept, however, by necessity such connections will be tangential and limited not broad and thick.


So what is it that defines liberalism, that depends, for answers I will turn to conservative philosophers Roger Scruton and John Keke’s who both have written extensive critiques of the liberal project; Scruton in his The Meaning of Conservatism and Keke’s in Against Liberalism afterward the understanding can further be expanded through studying the fundamental synthetic ideas of the liberal philosophers; for this I will draw on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to provide a standard self-definition of liberalism.


Scruton defines the liberalism as either a “an attitude towards . . . the state and its functions; [or] . . . a moral outlook. . . . Its guiding principle being tolerance.” Scruton interprets the liberal idea as one, which aims to permit the largest conceivable gap between the individual and the social by limiting the extent by which the moral and political worlds may converge upon them. The liberal must make various presuppositions in order to maintain their world view: Firstly, that the individual’s freedom has an inherent and “unquestionable” value second, that such freedom is the only criteria through which it is ethical to judge the political and moral establishment. How does Keke’s interpretation align with that of Scruton? To Kekes Liberalism equates to a system of “political morality” intended to “create conditions in which people can make good lives for themselves. Its negative aim is to avoid the evils that jeopardize these conditions, and its positive aim is to identify and realize them.” The heart of this understanding is that “autonomy” is the specific condition necessary for the realization of this concept; the so called “basic values” that make these possible, as suggested by Kekes, are “freedom, equality, rights, pluralism, and distributive justice.” To Kekes liberalism becomes problematic due to its inconsistency, and to Scruton it is primarily problematic because of its over reliance upon reason as the sole arbiter of human conduct, but how do liberals ostensibly understand their political philosophy?

The Stanford Encyclopedia has this to say:

“By definition”, Maurice Cranston rightly points out, “a liberal is a man who believes in liberty” (1967: 459). In two different ways, liberals accord liberty primacy as a political value. (i) Liberals have typically maintained that humans are naturally in “a State of perfect Freedom to order their Actions…as they think fit…without asking leave, or depending on the Will of any other Man” (Locke, 1960 [1689]: 287). . . . Recent liberal thinkers such as as Joel Feinberg (1984: 9), Stanley Benn (1988: 87) and John Rawls (2001: 44, 112) agree. This might be called the Fundamental Liberal Principle (Gaus, 1996: 162-166)



So it seems that indeed the fundamental principle of liberalism is that autonomy, or alternatively liberty, is the sole end of which political affairs may be directed and both critics and liberals themselves agree on this understanding. The principle of liberty and autonomy therefore becoming a means by which each individual may realize their self-directed ends.

This recognized interpretation can be further broken down however, into what is often consider the classical or libertarian understanding, based upon a foundation of negative rights, and the more modern egalitarian strain of liberalism constructed upon theory of positive rights, and here there is much contention even among liberals themselves. Suffice to say that such arguments will not be elucidated in depth here and now, but a rudimentary exposition is necessary to place the current liberal dialogue in context as well as, I hope in so doing, further highlight just how thoroughly liberal preconceptions have infiltrated modernist thinking.


A first and brief explanation of negative liberty idea is one that conceives itself as freedom from: as in freedom from something; for example, free from arbitrary search and seizure or freedom of speech, as in speech may not be encroached upon by other people. These rights are substantive in the recognition that it is dependent upon the individual to actualize them and see exercise the pursuit of their own ends as founded on the framework provided by the limits stated. This in its perfect manifestation keeps the individual in a position of reciprocity with others, thought they may not be able to act in the freest fashion as they would in nature; as Thomas Hobbes said in the state of nature “everyone is governed by his own reason and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies . . . it followeth that every man has a right to everything, even to one another’s body.” Necessarily speaking such absolute freedom would in turn prove invasive to the counterparties of the contract and it is in such a fashion that negative liberty finds its basis.

Positive liberty on the other hand, is a concept deeply reliant on action, its impulsive and directed. It seeks to facilitate and ameliorate; positive liberty is described as “right to” or free to.” Positive liberty sees freedom as useless without the capacity to act. You may be free from having property taken from you, but is it really free if you cannot obtain property? Positive liberty says no. In the positive conception the state or the community must take affirmative steps to enable the liberty of others. Where positive liberty becomes problematic is in both its amoral nature, and the fact that it requires that the negative rights of others suffer infractions in order to realize the positive aims of the alternative conception. Therefore, these two strains of liberalist thought often occupy a space of contention.

The conservative however, does not suffer such dissonance, as the conservative necessarily acts with a natural prudence and plurality of values, and it is in this way that they can mix both positive and negative affirmations comfortably. Nevertheless, it is the negative concept, specifically in relation to the state, that is most appealing to the conservative. Independent bodies, associations, institutions, and the like are more than welcome to provide catalyst for the individual pursuit of freedom, but the power of the state monolith is just too coercive when operating in such a fashion.

In turn the conservative in a position of prudence and deference keen to recognize the necessity of obligation, is not satisfied with the principle of free from, as the only justifiable explanation of state action or coercion on behalf of outside force. To limit the individual accountability only the pursuit of autonomy or to place it in the place of highest value is where the liberal proposition becomes a disastrous notion. Yet, when we encounter the modern world we do so in a position where the majority of the population can only conceive of “their rights,” not their obligations; we routinely here talk of what is owed, my right to something, how I deserve something, or how I should have something, because its only fair. This is a necessary extension of the egalitarian world view, one that leads to power concepts as the only justifiable limits to be placed upon mankind, and sees the expression of all non-contractual relations as such. In the liberal world we are so equal as to only have equal freedoms. As Hobbes said “we each act in judgment of our own cause,” and indeed this is what is happening, and continues to happen as the cultural, philosophical, and moral norms break down. This leads to the perennial questions of the modern day, “who gets to decide,” or “why do they get to judge” these presuppositions are all encompassing.

These questions are the direct conclusion of a world view which sees itself as incapable of making moral judgments and acting in a just fashion, instead of doing so it seeks to re-conceive justice in a different fashion all together. This is the heart of Keke’s argument against liberalism and one that I find most intelligible and persuasive. The argument finds its broadest expression in the idea that liberalism cannot reconcile itself to human evil. If evil is a natural element of the human condition, as conservatives contend it is, then the liberal does not recognize this, rather the liberal asserts that evil, if they are to remain true to their presuppositions about reason, originates in the exterior conditions compelling the individual. The liberal denies that prejudice, hatred, fury, envy, decadence, avarice, etc. . . . originate within the person and may be motivating factors in the determination of our subjective ends. Kekes asserts that if the empirical reality of human evil is indisputable then the liberal must articulate an argument for why “they suppose that by increasing autonomy they will succeed in making evil . . . less prevalent.” He states. “If evil and wickedness were autonomous, then increasing autonomy would increase evil and wickedness. . . . If, on the other hand, evil and wickedness were non-autonomous, then liberals must still explain why increasing autonomy would diminish them.” Finally, if the do not hold faith in the intrinsic goodness of mankind and the innate compulsion of reason toward the good, then they must concede that increasing autonomy, as the axiomatic principal of liberalism will only lead to the proliferation of evil in the world. The only reasonable choice then becomes, that it is necessary to curtail autonomy in order to curtail evil.

But, if human evil is not innate, the liberal still must find an effective means to prevent its existence, and this becomes problematic primarily because the majority of liberals recognize the empirical existence of evil actions despite the common refusal to assign accountability to the individual when they exhibit such behaviors. Keke’s follows this reasoning into what he calls “the problem of responsibility.” This he suggests derives from the fact that liberals may agree to the existence of observable evil of human actions, but may still deny the fact that human evil exists within the soul as a substantial and defining element of the human being in question. However, in stating that evil may arise non-autonomously, circumstantially, then the liberal polity must concern itself with the circumscription of non-autonomous factors, they must by nature act in a way to adjust the variables of the political order beyond the reach of enhancing autonomy and in turn no longer act as liberals. They must bring themselves into active contact with manipulation of the political order toward a non-pluralistic good, something irreconcilable to goals of absolute autonomy.


Keke’s offers other accounts of what constitutes the flaws of liberalism, but key flaw of any liberal political order, as the conservative conceives it is the absence of moral judgment, in this case as applied through the instruments of justice. The liberal conceiving justice as equality and distributive, as opposed to a moral claim about the nature of the individual and the assignment of his due. The liberal conceives of justice as a method through which the inequalities of society may be remedied (as an expression of the positive liberty or right principle). The intension being that the those who receive and adequate portion of the distribution of society, because they are worst off, will therefore have an increased potential to exercise the liberty available too them in a useful and beneficial fashion; such a notion necessarily fails to ask, what exactly, was the original cause of the hardship that the individual experiences, what is it that brought them to a position of impotence? This only raises further questions as Keke’s notes: “what is the guarantee that if resources are redistributed without regard to moral merit, then wicked people will not use the resources given to them in evil ways? What is the justification for depriving people with moral merit of resources they have acquired legitimately? Why would reasonable people produce the resources necessary for redistribution. . . . [etc] How could a system that is designed to ignore what people deserve be a system of justice?”

This necessitates thinking of evils as symptomatic of injustice and only the reconciliation of injustice can conceivably rectify the actions of the evil to society. This brings us back to the fundamental error of “liberal faith” that, “[t]he assumption is that people are naturally good, and if they are not subject to unjust social arrangements, then they will live good rather than evil lives.”

Roger Scruton engages in a much more esoteric, yet still useful, critique of the liberal concept, he does this not through a critique in of the liberal presuppositions about human nature in relation to good and evil, but rather he critiques the very existence of pure autonomy as propelled by reason as any form of reasonable criteria for decision making in a political and social world. Scruton presents, an in some ways more detailed version, of Aristotle’s contention that the community precedes the individual.

Starting with the position that in order for freedom to be absolute as an end it requires a Kantian understanding of humans as complex value driven creatures who rationalize and prioritize value based on reason, not appetite and hunger; we are autonomous with such autonomy originating as an element of the “self.” This necessitates an understanding of man, a philosophical anthropology, that understands man as a rational and reasoning animal. To liberals then, the exercise of autonomy is elemental to man, and to impede upon his rights is an existential act denying the very existence of a being. To Scruton the “liberal view” consistent of a network of justifications for why the actor should consent and act in conformity with the mandates of society, and this “first-person view is sovereign.”

Scruton argues that the liberal must focus on the first person viewpoint and in so doing ignores the impetuous for his. He fails to consider the things that are responsible for the existence of his first person viewpoint and therefore engages in a contradiction. To be truly rational, thought must be divorced from circumstance, and therefore can have no impetuous beyond the abstract and hypothetical, and to live an political and social world Scruton suggests we must pay our respects dutifully to the order that proceeds us and our existence as individual beings. If we fail to do so and follow the reasoning of liberalism to its logical conclusions we are left without motivation, we become nihilistic and divorced for the causes of our actions. If we ask why one should act into infinity, we preclude any action at all. We become, in terms I have chosen, engaged in an exercise of narcissistic nihilism.

The dependence on human reason cannot, in essence existence in a vacuum, and considerations are necessary and obligatory, because each individual finds their sub-conscious reason governed by unconscious impulsions originating in the considerations and implications of the community which gave birth to their identity. To consider our decisions as exercises in untainted reason leaves only abstraction and the breakdown of communal and social order.

Key to liberalism is the neutrality of the state in what is conceived of as good, or what is understood as a value in relation to others. The liberal effectively contends that no normative judgment beyond liberty should be advocated and that any affirmation of values is beyond that of the state; instead they conceive of a structure that shelters the individual or group without affecting or dictating the actions which take place in such a structure so long as all are free to the same prerogatives within it: liberalism does not presuppose an ethical, metaphysical, or value based judgment as worthy of advocacy from the state.

This is assumed to be a guarantor of peace because it does not place the values of one group, in a pluralistic society, above or beyond another; we can see not only is such a position illogical, but also fails to concede two powerful reality’s of the human condition, firstly, that human evil exits and must be reckoned with; secondly, that political life must make moral considerations and value determinations in order to be just and therefore legitimate; thirdly, that there is no functional pure reason in human conduct to suggest there is, is a denial of formation of human identity as an extension of heritable group experience, or in the absence of an ideal term culture. Therefore, as one can see, liberalism cannot reconcile itself to the conservative view of the world, and in its absence of moral consideration and communal sentiment by extension it fails to see a need to preserve to maintain the community that itself was the antecedent of liberal polity, and in this way it is self-defeating.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

A Second Reading List from Robert Finn

A conservative Reading list courtesy of Robert Finn @RobertFinn12. More great conservative books may be found here: Part 1 and Part 2 and more articles by Finn here: Remembering John A Macdonald, Remembering Edmund Burke, A Conservative Reading List 1


  1. Lady Elizabeth Longford’s Wellington: Pillar of State

The second volume of Lady Longford’s elegant biography of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, recounts the legendary soldier’s career as a politician. He became a two-time prime minister and became essentially the first reform-minded premier with the passing of the Catholic Relief Act of 1829- though he’d hate to think of himself as such. Wellington nearly destroyed the Tory party by his opposition to the extension of the franchise; he, however, with Peel, reconstructed the Tory party into the modern Conservative party. Wellington later led the House of Lords to repeal the Corn Laws. All in all, Wellington was not only a benign politician, but  a man who, after becoming a hero as Britain’s greatest general since Marlborough, died a hero. A great conservative! A great man!

  1. Sir Winston Churchill’s My Early Life

Churchill’s small autobiography is a pure delight for a historian. Of course, it is a delight for many reasons: it’s by Churchill, so you know off-the-bat it is going to be a great read. But it is delightful because it describes an era which we wrongfully frown upon as backwards and old fashioned. He describes a time of material improvement and imperialism. He describes a time when education was a privilege and not a right; when actually reading Gibbon and Macaulay, Plato and Aristotle, was taken upon by many and not by those in university. But this books is important, for it describes the immortal man's upbringing, his growth, his intellectual development, and his many early books and adventures.

Donald Creighton’s John A. Macdonald: The Young Politician and John A. Macdonald: The Old Chieftain

The greatest biography written in Canada written by Canada’s greatest historian on Canada’s greatest prime minister. Macdonald couldn’t have wished to have a biographer with greater literary prowess than Creighton. Creighton recreates not only the times of Macdonald’s era, yet also the figures who he had to deal with: Brown and Cartier, for example. At the end of each page I was filled with great sadness: what great prose! Yet, upon turning to the next, I was filled once again with resolution and joy: another page! Do not let yourself never read this biography!

Henry Adams’ History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison

Adams stands with Parkman and Prescott as America’s greatest historian. His nine volume history of America during the years 1801 till 1817 are one of the greatest historical epics in the English language. He chronicles a difficult period in American history: though the state's’ right’s school had triumphed against the Federalists, Jefferson and Madison found it malleable to adopt Federalist policies. Yet the vigour which they inspired in the electorate invigorated America: she emerged from those two great presidents tenures willing and ready to take on fresh hardships. The moral of this work for conservatives to discover is that conservative policies do in fact benefit a nation much more than liberal policies.

Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Gibbon is the first modern historian; he is also the greatest historian in the English language. His historical epic concerns the fall of the greatest civilization that has ever existed on our barren and redundant earth. His irreligion is evident, and some of his sympathies some will not be able to condone. Yet do not dismiss Gibbon! He has lessons to share with us, not to mention beautiful prose filled with wit and irony. There were reasons why Carlyle and Churchill loved Gibbon. Read him, for he transports us forward in the centuries which were filled with misery and depression: we may heed his warnings, so that we do not fall into such a deplorable state again.

The Conservative Standpoint 13: Communism, Socialism, and Conservatism in Relation


This is Part 13/1 of the Conservative Standpoint by Cole Dutton

Now it is time to turn to an examination of the relationship between conservatism and three political philosophical paradigms: Socialism/Communism, Liberalism, and Anarchism. It is my goal to expose some of the contradictions within these perspectives as well as paint a picture of what elements of their thinking harmonize with the conservative position and why. For despite criticisms to the contrary all three in some way touch of valid precepts, which may further illuminate the conservative position both as antithesis and similitude. 

For the Communists and socialists, the first thing to be said is like all the highlighted political movements they are based in fundamentally modern thought. This is doubly true for socialism, for though it has ancient antecedents, it was only the burgeoning industrialization that enabled socialisms investment in the consciousness of millions.

We can refer back to Plato for the first expression of some communistic, totalitarian, and utopian paradigm by referring to his Republic. I am aware modern scholars differ in the interpretation of the book, some consider it invested in its utopianism like Sean Sayers and others such as Allan Bloom considered it largely a speculative and rhetorical work devoted to allegory, not one espousing a realistic political position. However, if we propose to take Plato seriously as a political philosopher then we cannot ignore his ideas about holding property in common or his notion that the family impinges upon civic loyalty. 

Plato creates his Guardian class, representing the thymos or honour loving part of the soul, and as a necessary precondition to the existence of the just city and the just soul emphasizes their subordination to the political and internal order; this subordination comes at a totalitarian cost, a mastery of nature, and a crushing equality. Key to Plato’s vision, hierarchical as it remained, was construction of the Republic upon an absence of property ownership of the Guardian class, sexual equality, and the assignment or the acceptance of work which was ‘fitting’ to the nature of the producer (appetitive) class. This all to be presided over by the Philosopher King, who though charged with the supervision of breeding and the maintenance of order, remained capable of error. 

But how does this Platonic vision correlate with the modern Socialist and Communist interpretations?  Seemingly Plato’s lessons for the modern reformer, were that one can bring to fruition, if read in a specific fashion, a society composed of a conscious order and not an unconscious one, and that inequities between people need not be abided simply due to their prior existence. This sympathy with the egalitarian polis and the rule of right reason on behalf of the philosopher is key to the constructivist thought of socialism/communism.

Jesus may have been a socialist, by modern definition, after all the new testament proffered many seemingly socialist statements: “44. And all that believed were together, and had all things in common; 45. And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.”  Acts 2: 44, 45 The gospels continue, “32. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. 33. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. 34. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold. 35. And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.” Acts 4: 32-35. Now it may come within a hair's breadth of modern socialist rhetoric, but whether or not the church itself exhibited such doctrine is irrelevant, what is relevant is that this particular understanding of the world, based around egalitarianism as an end, existed prior to the modern world and pressures of industrialization. 

This natural equality found expression through the writings of Rousseau, who held, that man, in the state of nature, existed in a natural equality with his peers. He elucidated this position extensively in his Discourses on Inequality. To him the man who introduced property was also the one who introduced tyranny. But this was not all that bound Rousseau unknowingly to the Socialist cause; rather Rousseau exhibited key elements of utopian thinking that are necessary preludes to the Communist and Socialist worldview. The capacity to return to an equality is emblematic of this process. Though he did not advocate revolution, of which he said, “if they attempt to shake off the yoke, they move all the farther away because, as they mistake unbridled licence for freedom . . . their revolutions almost always deliver them . . . to seducers who only increase their chains.” Here Rousseau seems like an advocate of freedom however, one must ask does his logic naturally lead there?

The answer it seems is plainly “no” because as is evident later in the discourse Rousseau openly believes in the mastery of reason and perfectibility of man. This belief in perfectibility would naturally guide one to the conclusions that the political order of which one is a part is flawed and mendable. This capacity for remediation would naturally find expression at some point discontent outrage and revolution, for despite the fact the he himself did not advocate revolution, the human belief in its capacity to act rightly and its need to act on impulsion would provide the impetus to the manufacture of fetters. 

Another critical commonality between Rousseau and the Socialists is his materialist conception of freedom. Firstly, he views the accumulation of commodities as the “first yoke” as it arouses envy and unnatural need, and secondly because he sees the reciprocal obligations between peoples as an expression of power not mutual interest. Rousseau catches himself in a contradiction of sorts “no temporal good can compensate for life or freedom,” and yet he continues to emphasize the economic nature of inequality as something needing remediation and is not willing to interpret a freedom beyond a limited concept. 

Finally, Rousseau’s state of nature is dependent upon presuppositions that are erroneous. He is correct that the civilizational structure enhances the basic, natural differences between men, but he errs when he makes the suggestion that man’s cunning, aesthetic sense, wit, reason, and love had no natural cause to exist or be place into practice; he assumes that these characteristics if not following the introduction of civilization were at least only inchoate before the arrival of civilized life. Likewise, he suggests that an appetitive man, would not necessarily be violent and create Hobbes's war among men. He turns to anecdote to explain that man without possessions would be impossible to enslave, and in so doing makes the assumption that man can only be actuated or imprisoned by material things. When in fact we know reciprocal obligations are intrinsic to community flourishing, start in families, and that the best method of coercion among men is the ability to persuade and in turn muster a great number to a cause, something that requires nothing beyond the state of nature.

Therefore, the egalitarian errors primarily exist around the supremacy of man and reason, the materialist notions of economic determinism, and a concept of man’s nature which is both inconclusive and largely unknowable. But what do the Communist and Socialist get right? How if at all can they endear themselves to the Conservative’s understanding of society? For this we have to interpret the Egalitarian vision in the light of the modern world and the devolution of the Conservative identity within it. 

To answer these questions, we must turn to the more contemporary work of Marx: the man is a fantastic exemplar of both the truths and falsehoods of communist doctrine; in this case Karl Marx, or perhaps Friedrich Engels, displayed brilliant intuition in identifying the problematic nature of capitalism something that would be wise for conservatives to heed. 

When the Communists, Marx and Engels, identify problems as they do in The Communist Manifesto there are statements in abundance of which the conservative may find no general disagreement. For example, to Marx the bourgeoisie has done nothing but destroy the network of obligations and ties between the elements of the preceding feudal society. Their rise above the former feudal lordship has eliminated all binding distinction and replaced it with “naked self-interest” sustained by “callous cash payment.” Conservatives may not search for a return to a feudal hierarchy, but certainly the wise conservative does search for institutional authority and thick, non-economic, relationships.  

The changing nature of work too changed the nature of the individual and the family. As Marx correctly notes the honour attributable to the expertise honed in craft over many years could be swept aside by the onslaught of the new and modern. Meanwhile, men found themselves, not only disconnected from the labour force, but also disconnected from their identity as wage earners and providers as women entered the workforce in great numbers. This mass entry of women into the workforce not only alienated the mothers of society from their children but also cost them their youth and fertility under the churning of industrial machinery; now however it is the hum of electric lights that saps the vigour and femininity from the women of the western world.  

Finally, Marx despite his odious proclamations about the need to abolish the church and the family, and his rhetorical flourishes professing theoretical dogmata such as “[T]he theory of the Communists may be summed up in a single sentence: Abolition of private property.” Or “[w]orking men of all countries unite!” Marx identifies much of the illness, but fails in the cure, he even notes the endless churning of capitalism, the rapid race for efficiency, holding no promise of stability for the worker, the dominance of the market, and the expectation that alienated labour may adapt to new circumstances just like prices reach equilibrium. These are as insidious to the conservative as they are to the socialist. 

Insofar as generalities may be drawn perhaps the answer is this: the conservative, being an astute conservator of things with implicit but vague utility and meaning, know that these institutions, structures, and social realities (often ancient) do not endear themselves to the unflinching money making paradigm of the capitalist order. Therefore, the conservative cannot be a strict capitalist. Not limited to this thought however, is that if the conservative truly believes in values beyond liberalism and commodious living then he must abolish the supremacy of economic dominance in political affairs. Perhaps Irving Kristol best summed up the epistemological break conservatives may work to remedy in the essay “Socialism an Obituary for an Idea” Kristol contends that early liberal theorists and classical economists did not concern themselves with the nature of the good life because they had an implicit assumption that the religious order would remain immutable and eternal. Men could “figure out the good” if given the scripture and the institutions to accompany it. Nonetheless it is apparent that we no longer can conceive of a “good” a “natural” a “right” or a “wrong” instead we are left with outrage, fear, and disgust with no accompanying salvation. 


Friday, 5 February 2016

A Conservative Reading List Courtesy of Robert Finn

A conservative Reading list courtesy of Robert Finn @RobertFinn12. More great conservative books may be found here: Part 1 and Part 2 and more articles by Finn here: Remembering John A Macdonald, Remembering Edmund Burke,




Sir Winston Churchill’s Marlborough: His Life and Times



A rare moment in history! A historical titan writing a life of another historical titan! What’s more- the four volume biography Sir Winston Churchill wrote of his greatest ancestor, the great statesman, diplomat, and never defeated soldier John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough is not only a supreme work in biography, yet is also a classic of English literature. Marlborough: His Life and Times retells the tale of the rise of England’s greatest prime minister before Sir Winston himself; it tells of Marlborough’s times, and all the foibles and follies, virtues and triumphs of his era. More than that, however: it shows us that Marlborough was not selfish or superfluously ambitious; rather, it displays to us a portrait of a man farseeing, tolerant, compassionate, who refused to forfeit his and his nation’s religion to the ambitions of an arbitrary potentate. Marlborough was truly one of the English-Speaking Peoples greatest conservatives!

  1. Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America


Tocqueville’s magnum opus, Democracy in America, made me a conservative. His profound analysis of liberty and equality in the American polity profoundly affected my views of liberty and equality. Likewise, his detailed discussion as to how history forms a nation's politics drifted my thinking away from abstract theories to more real historical realities. Truly a book of political science that all conservatives should be well acquainted with.

  1. Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France


The book that begun a movement! And what prose! Such profound analysis of the effects of ideas! Never has ever such an elegant writer ever used his pen to such effect to denounce idealism and tyranny. Burke poses timeless conservative themes which, as history has proven time and time again, are as true as gravity. Burke does away with all social contracts or any other innate redundancies. Instead, Burke believes that we are the inheritors of a grand order, one of which if we deviate from brings chaos, ruin, and catastrophe. Sadly for some, he’s right, as most of the time he is.

  1. Thomas Hobbes Leviathan

We do not have to agree with Hobbes in that humanity is essentially selfish and at war with one another. Neither do we have to believe that the relationship between mankind and their governments is one based on a contract. Yet we must acknowledge that mankind does need a government to not only govern itself rightly and calmly, yet also to enjoy our lives. We cannot enjoy the company we naturally do enjoy with our friends, or spend our evenings either reading a beloved book or in the warmth of a fireplace seated with our family upon a couch watching a movie if we do fear invasion from foreign powers or harm from within. Hobbes’ analysis of the purpose of government is, I believe, both the most right and the most rational; and surely all conservatives should satiate their palates with Hobbes once in awhile.

  1. Lord Macaulay’s History of England


The much maligned Macaulay. Yes he was a literary rogue; and yes he does have Whiggish prejudices. But Macaulay followed in the footsteps of Burke, for they are in the essentials in agreement: the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was a restoration of the rights of Englishmen. What Macaulay meant by “progress” is essentially Burkean: a slow reform from a state of barbarism to civility, staying within the boundaries of the polity. Besides, like Gibbon or Adams, Parkman or Creighton, Macaulay is actually a pleasure to read: his style, I’d say, is the greatest in our tongue, a rich combination of Homer and Bunyan, Dante and Virgil, Milton and Burke.