Monday, June 11, 2007

Born Too Soon

All this time I thought I was an autocrat - or maybe an authoritarian fascist, according to various former relatives - and here it turns out I really am a conservative after all. Who’da thunk? Obviously not certain of my friends, who will never wring the truth out of me with their lily-white liberal hands.

Read Russell Kirk’s Ten Signs You Might Be a Conservative. Moses knew what he was doing: all good lists need ten items. Thus, Kirk’s decalogue.

I won’t quote all of them. Instead I chose my foremost principle from his list. Your own most singularly important directive may be different, but for me it is number Six:

conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability

This one inspires such hope. Was it Peter Cook who so memorably wrote/sang “We are all miserable sinners, filthy f**kers, a***holes”? That man obviously knew his Calvin. [The video link sometimes takes a moment to come up - WARNING: this is an R-rated video, NSFW just for the audio].

However, I am more interested in the idea of imperfectability when you juxtapose it with the progressive notion that we can somehow reach a utopian place - or rather, the even more dangerous idea that the state can somehow provide this fantasyland for us if we just grant it a bit more leeway in our lives, a slightly larger dip into our pocket. Then we will sit by the river banks and sing Kumbayah to one another…in perfect harmony, too. All the French will be kind; all the English will have good teeth to match their rosy skin; all the Americans will be shy and prepossessing.

Mother Theresa and ChildDream on, oh you-who-claim-to-do-this-all-for-the-sake-of-the-children on the one hand, while stiff-arming with your other hand any question of reconsidering a needful ban on partial birth abortions. America is the only country in the world that has made this barbarism lawful.

You are the people who are so knee-jerk certain there are no differences between men and women that you will destroy the career of any colleague who disagrees. You also refuse to see that men and women by their very natures (yes different natures) can never be other than the flawed people we are right now. We can strive for Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, but we can only apprehend limited views of any of them. It is this longing itself for virtue that makes us deeply human, and the ability to live with the tension of ambiguity that makes us wise.

Kirk said of conservatism:
- - - - - - - - - -
Perhaps it would be well, most of the time, to use this word “conservative” as an adjective chiefly. For there exists no Model Conservative, and conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order.

The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata. It is almost true that a conservative may be defined as a person who thinks himself such. The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects, there being no Test Act or Thirty-Nine Articles of the conservative creed.

In essence, the conservative person is simply one who finds the permanent things more pleasing than Chaos and Old Night. (Yet conservatives know, with Burke, that healthy “change is the means of our preservation.”) A people’s historic continuity of experience, says the conservative, offers a guide to policy far better than the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers [or the Imperial Senate - D]. But of course there is more to the conservative persuasion than this general attitude.

It is not possible to draw up a neat catalogue of conservatives’ convictions; nevertheless, I offer you, summarily, ten general principles; it seems safe to say that most conservatives would subscribe to most of these maxims.

And then he goes on to list the “sentiments” of a conservative mind.

I came to conservatism via applied economics lessons (e.g., listening to Laffer) but I stayed for the socializing, which is the exact opposite of socialism, I hasten to add. Conservatives know they are curmudgeons and that all human beings are flawed.

Liberals, meanwhile, are condemned to pretend they love everyone…except for conservatives that is, whom they are happy to loathe whenever given the least opportunity. Some of my favorite “criticism” of our blog has come from liberals who refer to particular body parts when speaking of Gates of Vienna. It is then that we know we’re on the right track. Poor James Wolcott is reduced to school yard taunts whenever he happens upon us; we don’t mind at all - the traffic is great and his friends flit through, seldom dropping a comment on their way back to tell James how absolutely exquisite is his assessment of our modest efforts. Vive le Wolcott!

As I said, my preference is for the turn of mind Russell Kirk lists as number the sixth:

[C]onservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability. Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. Because of human restlessness, mankind would grow rebellious under any utopian domination, and would break out once more in violent discontent—or else expire of boredom. To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things. All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk. By proper attention to prudent reform, we may preserve and improve this tolerable order. But if the old institutional and moral safeguards of a nation are neglected, then the anarchic impulse in humankind breaks loose: “the ceremony of innocence is drowned.” The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell.

They have also perverted a deep human longing, one not capable of fulfillment this side of the grave.

As you can tell, Kirk was a philosophical descendant of Edmund Burke. However, his basic ideas about human nature have been since borne out by neonatology and infant studies. We are too much even for ourselves. We are forced to exit the womb too soon, and we do so because of our huge forebrain, which will grow in the next two years until the organism is most recognizably human: walking, talking, and applying the lessons he learns along the way.

I suggest you look at the other nine qualities and decide which, if any, fit you best.

For my libertarian friends, surely you can find one or two? If not exactly so related as to be kissing cousins, we certainly have some habits of thought, or sentiments, in common. For sure, we both distrust the government to look out for individual interests. In fact, we know government cannot do so; beyond a certain modest size it is of necessity a malignancy.

I long ago turned in my ACLU card and my membership in the NAACP. By then, both marriages had gone bad. As an ex-member of each, I consider myself the lucky one. Meanwhile, they continue to morph into ever more avaricious parodies of their original selves. I left because they changed, but in the process of leaving I was changed, too.

I’ll be darned. Of all the things I could have possibly become, I find myself a Conservative. No doubt The Cosmos is ROTFLHAO.



A Jacksonian said...

One of the hard things that conservatism must address is that it is part of the Right. The Left has subsumed liberalism to the point where it is moribund in outlook, with State based ruling structure one that it cannot like and posits Elitist structure to apportion rights and freedom.

Conservatives have had their outlook on what man and mankind is twisted into a pretzel by the Right, and we now get ideas that no longer support the rights of man but, instead, the rights of corporations as economic units above the Nation. I am trying to address that and find a way to have conservatives recognize that Elitism via corporation is as bad as that of the intellectual Elitism of the Left. The Left can no longer make that argument now being fully encumbered by their ethos of Transnational Progressivism: they have wandered so far from personal liberty and the fact that government is made amongst men, that it is no longer conceivable that individuals should have government amongst themselves.

The Right is not only not immune, but promoting that, to the detriment of society in common and accountability of government. As the last really intellectually vibrant part of Western culture, conservatism has the tools to actually address these constructs made by man we call government, law and corporations, and put forth that *all* are to be held accountable to individuals, and are *not* things that divvy up rights and freedom to individuals. That is not a message that sits well with the Left or Right, which look to empower Elitist rule and divide up things by groups and remove individualism as an ideal for mankind.

Because the most basic of rights is that of individuals to gather together for commonness and protection and form these things called Nations with government instituted by the to represent them. If that cannot be upheld, then tyranny is the result...

If conservatives cannot break with the Right, then that is our future.

OMMAG said...

Lutheran and Calvinist by heritage I came to the conclusion that God never wanted me to be perfect. Just to make a good effort and to apologize for screwing up!
I'm thinking that there are a lot of people in this world who have a lot of apologizing to do..... but that's the conservative side of me ;)

David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 06/11/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

Dymphna said...

pgp-- Luther AND Calvin?? Sheesh. Are you allowed to smile? ;}


We're having connectivity problems so I can't expound on this theme, though it is important. Maybe I can do a follow up post when the problems clear.

Meanwhile, I suggest you look at The Acton Institute. Just google the name. They're addressing just this issue, and with rigor and energy.

The things President Bush says of late are good examples of the Right gone Wrong.

james said...

Wrt Utopias, from A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller (1959):


children of Merlin, chasing a gleam. Children, too, of Eve, forever building Edens--and kicking them apart in berserk fury because somehow it isn't the same.


The closer men came to perfecting themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle's eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn.

Always something missing...

Dymphna said...


Haven't thought about that book in years... no, not quite right. Haven't read it in years, and often wonder if it has dated or turned out to wear well. So many of those "after-the-bomb" books didn't make it, but I'll bet Canticle is still fresh.

Exile said...

Nice post.

BTW, It was Dudley Moore doing the singing. That brought back a few memories!

Gary Rosen said...

I'm not sure if this falls into any of Kirk's "Ten Signs", but a quote I saw recently helped to crystallize for me why I have been gravitating more to the right. Irony of ironies, it is from Mao Tse-Tung: "I like dealing with rightists. They tell you what they really think, unlike leftists who say one thing and mean another".

Dymphna said...

That is true about conservatives, but see above, in Ajack's comment about diff between Big Business right and conservatism. Also see Amy Ridenhour's report on the conservative move against Caterpillar Corp...



yes, 'twas Moore singing, but I think Cook wrote it.

Jaime Raúl Molina said...

Oh, not too long ago I thought I was a Libertarian. But something in me has always told me that freedom and peace are not natural in Man. Misery and constant conflict are natural in Man. It is only thanks to the civilizing process, taking many generations' time, to gradually overcome misery, conflict and dependency.

Freedom, prosperity, peace, order, are artificial products of this civilizing process, and whenever people interfere abruptly with what has been bequeathed as traditions held from time immemorial, that are the result of much trial and error and therefore constitute accumulated knowledge... When Man interferes with that, I was saying, pretending to create a new system from scratch, then a whole myriad of problems and unforeseen consequences arise.

And so I have, in a long process of self-encounter, come to the conclusion that I am really a conservative.