T Nation

Conservatism & the Virtue of Hope

I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking about what it means to be a Conservative, particularly given the current political realities we face, and especially the problem - the sin, really - of despair.

I started looking around for general principles and came upon Rep. Thaddeus McCotter’s platform and thought it was decent, as far as it went:

[quote]Today, Republicans continue to embrace our enduring duty to:

  1. Expand human liberty and self-government;
  2. Conserve our cherished way of life and its foundations of faith, family, community and country;
  3. Empower Americans to achieve constructive, necessary change; and
  4. Defend America’s national security

And we act upon five permanent principles:

  1. Our liberty is from God not the government;
  2. Our sovereignty is in our souls not the soil;
  3. Our security is from strength not surrender;
  4. Our prosperity is from the private sector not the public sector; and
  5. Our truths are self-evident not relative [/quote]

Then I decided to draw up my own list of Conservative principles.

[quote]

  1. Human beings are fallen, imperfect creatures. No education or even propaganda can change this. Our political order needs to reflect this. There will be no Jerusalem on earth. Trying to bring this about will only lead to a kind of hell on earth.

  2. Absent a God, humans are liable to project Godlike status upon the state, or money, or whatever.

  3. Therefore: Rule of law + Separation of limited, enumerated powers -> Constitution. Enumerated powers are not suggestions; commerce clause is not an escape clause.

  4. There is an objective, meaningful reality which can be described via language, an organ of perception that is NOT endlessly perspectival.

  5. Liberty is individual and conceived in the negative; not collective and conceived in the positive. Liberty is the power of a thing to be itself.

  6. From language to markets, spontaneously-ordered things are more beautiful, more efficient, and wiser than centrally planned things.

  7. The importance of the past - having knowledge of it, perceiving wisdom in it, and being guided it, what Chesterton called the “democracy of the dead.” In many ways, to be steeped in the past is to be conservative. “The [insert any institution here] that marries the spirit of the age will find itself a widow in the next.” ~G.K. Chesterton

  8. Truth - and principles derived therein - is not relative.

  9. Only when we are rooted in a time, a place, and in a transcendent order, are we fully human; and are we truly a community.

  10. Education and culture are conversations through time about what it means to be human. More often than not we are lost in the nightmare that we are mortal; however, in our greatest cultural moments throughout history, we wake - briefly - to dream that we are more than dust: that man has a destiny in the transcendent order. That we are homo viator, man on his way.

  11. Always practice the virtues of Hope, Faith, and Charity. Everywhere. Charity cannot be done by proxy. Charity must be lived by each and every one of us. That is the basis of genuine love and community.

  12. “The essence of Toryism is joy.” ~Bagehot “The men signed with the Cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.” ~G.K. Chesterton [/quote]

Nevertheless, given everything that’s happening in America, I have been falling for the temptation of despair. Like all sin, despair is merely a dead end masquerading as something else (wisdom, excitement, etc.)

Tiribulus pointed out that we ought to be careful about “tying our well-being to human institutions.”

He is absolutely correct in this. And I began to think more about this more.

We cannot solve our predicament (the accretion of extra-constitutional, unchecked powers at the expense of liberty) via our own merely human contrivances: indeed, that is what is luring us into this “fallen city” in the first place.

Hope is not lost if we see into the nature of the problem - our fallen & deeply flawed human nature - and come to see that the solution cannot be one of our own making.

What we face isn’t really fundamentally a political problem but a spiritual one. And only by having a one foot in the City of God can we even hope to help redeem the perpetually falling City of Man. Only action that embodies the truth animated by the author of all values can save us.

That, of course, means reorienting ourselves to Christ. Which means changing ourselves - first and foremost.

Two related quotes I came across in my reading this morning:

[quote]“I believe the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world. I further believe that the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced at another level.” ~WFB

“His indignation at the wrong ways of men was not savage like that of Jonathan Swift, for it was well-tempered and confident of victory. He fit Newman’s definition of a gentleman as one who is ‘merciful towards the absurd.’…Our friend knew that Communism was worse than a social tyranny because it was a theological heresy. His categories were not right and left, but right and wrong. What graces he had to change a century came by his belief in Christ who changes all centuries.” ~Fr. Rutler’s homily at WFB’s funeral, St. Patrick’s Cathedral [/quote]

So we not only need to return to founding principles, we need to vow to a fidelity to the truth: discerning it, holding on to it, expressing it, not betraying it.

Moroever, we need to expect the same of people around us, especially the people for whom we cast votes and those who hold positions of power - and hold them accountable if they fail to live up to those expectations.

[quote]
"The danger to America is not Barack Obama but a citizenry capable of entrusting a man like him with the presidency.

It will be easier to limit and undo the follies of an Obama presidency than to restore the necessary common sense and good judgment to a depraved electorate willing to have such a man for their president.

The problem is much deeper and far more serious than Mr. Obama, who is a mere symptom of what ails us. Blaming the prince of the fools should not blind anyone to the vast confederacy of fools that made him their prince.

The republic can survive a Barack Obama, who is, after all, merely a fool. It is less likely to survive a multitude of fools such as those who made him their president."

~some Czech newpaper, apparently…lol[/quote]

I like this thought.

While I don’t subscribe to the idea that human nature is fallen – I am not a Catholic or a WFB disciple or even really a conservative – we could use a little virtue. And I have definitely seen it in people who subscribe to your philosophy. Real compassion, real intellectual honesty. I like the idea that you are more likely to win, in a practical, political sense, by making yourself better. You win by being so much better that even your enemies are forced to respect you. Even if you lose today, you win later.

[quote]katzenjammer wrote:
I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking about what it means to be a Conservative, particularly given the current political realities we face, and especially the problem - the sin, really - of despair.

[/quote]

Sounds more like religious conservatism than political conservatism… which I guess is actually classical liberalism.

At some point the gods of the English language need to hash out the meanings of these terms for the 21sst century.

Phrases that should disappear from Conservative political rhetoric:

“Phase out”

“Starve the beast”

“Tax Cuts”

I’m not despairing. I’m content in my pessimism.

Katzenjammer, I like your thinking. More people need to wake up, and realize it is not republican and democrat anymore. It is progressives and REAL AMERICANS. The progressives are ruining the country little by little. Let me give you a quote from Thomas Jefferson… “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for men of good concience to remain silent.” That is one of my favorites from him, so speak up, but speak the truth, and we will win.

[quote]Spartiates wrote:

[quote]katzenjammer wrote:
I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking about what it means to be a Conservative, particularly given the current political realities we face, and especially the problem - the sin, really - of despair.

[/quote]

Sounds more like religious conservatism than political conservatism… which I guess is actually classical liberalism.

At some point the gods of the English language need to hash out the meanings of these terms for the 21sst century.[/quote]

That’s why I like Latin, it doesn’t change.

“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there is without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

-Edmund Burke, on the inseperable connection between virtue and liberty

[quote]thunderbolt23 wrote:
“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there is without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

-Edmund Burke, on the inseperable connection between virtue and liberty
[/quote]

Why can’t I write like that?

[quote]Sloth wrote:

[quote]thunderbolt23 wrote:
“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there is without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

-Edmund Burke, on the inseperable connection between virtue and liberty
[/quote]

Why can’t I write like that?[/quote]

I second that. I also want to highight this bit right in the middle:

Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, [b]and the less of it there is within, the more there is without.[/b]

Burke was prescient in his warnings against libertinism-and-license-posing-as-liberty.

[quote]Sloth wrote:

[quote]thunderbolt23 wrote:
“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there is without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

-Edmund Burke, on the inseperable connection between virtue and liberty
[/quote]

Why can’t I write like that?[/quote]

Because no one would understand you.

You guys are killin me with these great threads lately. I haven’t even had time to respond in the other one yet, but this has been my cry since I’ve been around here. If men will not govern themselves there will be plenty of volunteers to do it for them and hedonistic libertinism is a fleeting and in the end illusory and bastardized freedom as well as the very absence of actual self governance.

If people fail to maintain responsible private families, somebody will erect a “village” that is happy to absorb the wreckage. Until that collapses too.

So many good responses!

We must start with the truth; more specifically, we must start with looking at ourselves honestly: what kind of person am I? What do I stand for? What does my word mean? Do I truly act charitably to everyone around me (however hateful)? Can I be trusted?

I like what Beck had to say last night:

“No peace without hope. No hope without liberty. Not liberity without integrity. No integrity without virtue. No virtue without enlightenment. No enlightenment wtihout truth.”

Which reminds me somewhat of what philosopher Peter Kreeft so often repeats:

“Sow a thought, reap an act;
Sow an act, reap a habit;
Sow a habit, reap a character;
Sow a character, reap a destiny.”

[quote]Tiribulus wrote:
You guys are killin me with these great threads lately. I haven’t even had time to respond in the other one yet, but this has been my cry since I’ve been around here. If men will not govern themselves there will be plenty of volunteers to do it for them and hedonistic libertinism is a fleeting and in the end illusory and bastardized freedom as well as the very absence of actual self governance.

If people fail to maintain responsible private families, somebody will erect a “village” that is happy to absorb the wreckage. Until that collapses too.[/quote]

Well said and I couldn’t agree more. Someone will govern your person and family - the choice is who.

Once that choice is clear, perhaps people might be startled into actually thinking about what is happening.

Then again, it appears that some people prefer to be ruled, than the discipline of self-rule.

Why anyone prefer anything but self-rule is totally beyond me. Well, actually, maybe not. The Grand Inquisitor anyone?

[quote]thunderbolt23 wrote:
“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there is without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

-Edmund Burke, on the inseperable connection between virtue and liberty
[/quote]

That is an exceedingly wise & beautiful passage - and articulates the theme so well, and in so few words, that it almost makes me wonder what else there is to say…LOL.

Any idea where it’s from? Mabye Reflections on the Revolution??

[quote]Spartiates wrote:

[quote]katzenjammer wrote:
I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking about what it means to be a Conservative, particularly given the current political realities we face, and especially the problem - the sin, really - of despair.

[/quote]

Sounds more like religious conservatism than political conservatism… which I guess is actually classical liberalism.

At some point the gods of the English language need to hash out the meanings of these terms for the 21sst century.[/quote]

I’m trying to think of a politically conservative idea that did not have its fundamental origin in - or continual nourishment by - Judeo-Christian principles, beliefs and traditions. Can’t think of any. Can you?

Words have histories. If we use them without awareness of their resonant histories, I’m afraid we’re liable to confusion.

[quote]SUPER-T wrote:
More people need to wake up, and realize it is not republican and democrat anymore. It is progressives and REAL AMERICANS. The progressives are ruining the country little by little. Let me give you a quote from Thomas Jefferson… “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for men of good concience to remain silent.” That is one of my favorites from him, so speak up, but speak the truth, and we will win.[/quote]

Yep. x2

[quote]AlisaV wrote:
I like this thought.

While I don’t subscribe to the idea that human nature is fallen – I am not a Catholic or a WFB disciple or even really a conservative – we could use a little virtue. And I have definitely seen it in people who subscribe to your philosophy. Real compassion, real intellectual honesty. I like the idea that you are more likely to win, in a practical, political sense, by making yourself better. You win by being so much better that even your enemies are forced to respect you. Even if you lose today, you win later.[/quote]

'zactly.

I grew up in Northeast liberal circles here in Boston - and among liberals who make a big show of their alleged compassion. When it really comes down to it, though - that’s all it was and is, a big show.

What they really mean, I think, is that they vote for (allegedly) “compassionate policies” - but to me, they example the Scrooge principle: because in their actual lives, and towards people around them, they are often incredibly self-absorbed and frankly uncompassionate. They give very little time and money to anything or anyone, excepting themselves and their own careers, of course, which they narcissistically obsess over.

And the Scrooge principle is this silent assumption: “are there no work houses?” Meaning, Scrooge absolves himself from helping others because someone else (the gubbymint) is already (again, allegedly) doing so. The result is a kind of hell.

Charity cannot be done by proxy. Charity must be lived by each and every one of us. That is the basis of genuine love and community.

And yet, among the Conservatives I have known, particularly Catholics, I have never seen less lip-service to compassion; and yet, they give enormous time and resources to the poor; and not only to the poor in material wealth, but the poor in spirit. Or just someone who needs a helping hand with something - being attentive to the needs of others. It’s the opposite of self-absorption, which is a chronic illness of our times (and a sin…haha)

A friend of mine tells a story about how hard it was to walk down the street with Mr. Buckley - because he would stop every few seconds to lend a hand, to give words of encouragement, to praise someone, etc. Once he approached a hung over looking man in a cafe, who looked sad, and a little unkempt. He went up, adjusted the man’s tie and suit, lent him his hankerchief, said a few words into his ear, and left. My friend looked back and saw a man beaming. Transformed. Nearly transfigured. That’s what I mean.