Tag Archives: conservatism

‘The Conservative Mind,’ by Russell Kirk

The assault on institutional religion, on old-fashioned economic methods, on family authority, and on small political communities has set the individual free from nearly everything, truly; but that freedom is a terrifying thing, the freedom of a baby deserted by his parents to do as he pleases.

I have done it. I have successfully read Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind all the way through. I rate this accomplishment just a bit behind getting my master’s degree.

The essence of conservatism is aristocracy – at least that’s what this book seems to be saying. Which is not optically optimal, in my mind. And I may be misreading Kirk’s intentions – he may simply be accurately transcribing the arguments of the historical conservatives he’s surveying, from Edmund Burke to T. S. Eliot.

Most English and American conservatives, up until recently, have defended some kind of aristocracy. Not because they believe aristocrats to be superior by blood, but for prudential reasons. Your alternatives in governance, they argue, are either some kind of autocracy – where a monarch or a dictator rules by personal caprice – or pure democracy, where the public, which knows only what it wants, uses its votes to allocate all the wealth to itself. You can’t get any kind of real justice from either alternative.

The aristocracy, they have argued, is some kind of class of men (or people) who’ve been schooled in the ancient truths and the lessons of history. They preserve the institutions that guarantee rights and freedom, which dictators and the masses alike would take away.

Since the 20th Century, though, the cause of aristocracy has mostly been lost, and we’ve been trying to find a way to raise an aristocracy out of the general public through education. Kirk saw hope for the future at the time of writing, feeling that conservatives were producing good art and analysis and positively influencing culture.

It seems to me, however, that prospects look less sunny since the 1980s when the book was last updated. We now have an educational system expressly committed to erasing the Anglo-American tradition. And our immigration policies are focused on bringing in large numbers of people who are either indifferent or actively hostile to that tradition.

Kirk’s original title for the book was The Conservative Rout. He meant it to be a story of a long retreat, but with hope in the end. For the conservative reader in the early 21st Century, I fear the outlook is less encouraging.

And that was before the epidemic…

Kirk on Scott (not Star Trek)

Sir Walter Scott.

The public library has always been a boon to the impecunious reader. The utility that permits me to download e-books from my library is a particular blessing (not least in these days when Pestilence stalks the land). My library’s system is a little cumbersome, but less cumbersome than driving to the physical building, so I’ve got no gripe coming.

My main problem with my library’s e-book collection is selection. Mostly I read mysteries for light reading, and when I pull up “mystery” on the library site I always get the very same list of books. I don’t know if they’re arranged by popularity or date of acquisition, or some other criterion. But I have to page through screens and screens of listings before I find one that a) interests me, and b) isn’t being read by somebody else.

Last week I tried a new approach. Instead of looking for mysteries, I thought, why don’t I try one of those “important” books I’ve always heard I should read, but have never gotten around to? I’ll bet nobody’s waiting in line for those.

So, on a whim, I searched for Russell Kirk. Several books were available, and I selected The Conservative Mind.

Brilliant. Masterfully written. Illuminating.

And long. Dear, sweet jasmine tea, it’s a long book. I started it last week, and I’m not half way through yet. I complained a while back about the length of Walter Scott’s The Pirate, but that was an Amazon review compared to this.

The nice part is that my book-buying expenses have plummeted for the duration.

So… of what shall I blog until I finish this thing?

I think I shall discuss the reading as I go.

The first thing that struck me as potential blogging material was Mr. Kirk’s assessment of Sir Walter Scott, mentioned above.

In the Waverly novels, Scott makes the conservatism of Burke a living and a tender thing—in Edie Ochiltree, showing how the benefits and dignity of hierarchical society extend even to the beggar; in Balfour of Burley, illustrating the destructive spirit of reforming fanaticism; in Montrose among the clans, “the unbought grace of life”; in Monkbarns or the Baron of Bradwardine, the hamely goodness of the old-fashioned laird…. Delighting in variety like all the Romantics, repelled by the coarsening pleasure-and-pain principle of conduct, Scott clearly saw in Utilitarianism a system which would efface nationality, individuality, and all the beauty of the past. Utilitarianism was the surly apology for a hideous and rapacious industrialism.

(More after jump)

Of conservatives, progressives, and Christians

My Close Personal Friend Gene Edward Veith posts an interesting meditation today on the differences between the ways conservatives and progressives think — and how Christians are (or should be) distinct from both.

It would follow that Christians, while tending towards conservatism, would also be sensitive to some of the evils that bother progressives.  But they would see them as violations of God’s design, rather than as an excuse to violate that design further.  Christians would have at best modest hopes for what human governments and “nation-states” can accomplish, avoiding all utopian thinking–whether of the conservative or the progressive variety–in a spirit of realism and skepticism, even while they do what they can to advance the common good.  The Christian’s hope is fixed not so much on this world, which will soon pass away, but on the world to come–on Christ who has atoned for the sins of the world and who will reign as King over the New Heaven and the New Earth.

From this perspective, Christians must sometimes be progressive, sometimes conservative, in relation to changing conditions.

I’m sure (because they keep saying it) that my progressive friends truly believe that we are on the brink of a fascist takeover. That we must all run to the port side of the boat right away, lest we tip over to starboard.

I can’t see that. We have an (imperfectly) conservative president, and one house of Congress that’s sort of conservative on a good day. Our educational system, our government bureaucracies, our news media and our entertainment media are uniformly progressive — and at the moment they’re competing with one another to prove who can be the most like Mao.

I’ll continue to sit over here on the starboard side, thanks. Wake me up when the president closes down a newspaper.

Is Publishing Too Liberal?

Publishers Weekly asks, “Is Book Publishing Too Liberal?” They talk to several anonymous industry people about it–anonymous people. Doesn’t that strongly allege the answer to their answer is yes?

“Politics is a dangerous thing to be candid about,” said one agent, who has worked with conservative authors. “It’s now acceptable to ban speech on college campuses; this is the world we live in.”

Marji Ross of Regnery Publishing says many conservative authors are dismissed by mainstream publishers or treated contemptuously. An unnamed literary agent said you can tell the industry is too liberal by the mere fact that you have a few “conservative” imprints and no “liberal” imprints. Liberal ideas are treated as normal and published through the majority channels. (via Trevin Wax)

I Trust Tantaros, Carlson

Our blog doesn’t have a narrow topic list. We do want you to find our posts interesting, but I think Lars and I usually allow our own interests to guide the subjects of our posts and only occasionally rule something out as off-topic. This post is probably in off-topic territory. It may even be gossip, but I hope you’ll find it worthwhile.

Several weeks ago, long-time Fox News host Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against network chairman Roger Ailes, who has since resigned. She called him a serial harasser, claimed he said many outrageous things over the years, and hindered her career because she refused him.

Granted, I don’t know Carlson personally, but I have heard her many times on the radio, occasionally on TV, and have complete faith in her. She seems to be an intelligent person who does not toe a party line but perseveres in independent thinking. She never impressed me as someone trivial or petty. When I heard of her lawsuit, I believed it on its face, because she has credibility with me. Though I’ve seen some defense of Ailes and discrediting of Carlson by other Fox News hosts, several women have also told their stories to Carlson’s lawyer.

Now we learn Andrea Tantaros is also suing Fox News executives for condoning, if not contributing to, sexual harassment, and I believe her, not because of any suspicion I have of Ailes or the people she names, but because I trust her. She impresses me as a strong, intelligent, capable woman. In the suit, she describes  at least some of the process she walked through to get grievances like this addressed within the system. Her accusations were dismissed, so as not to rock the boat.  Continue reading I Trust Tantaros, Carlson

Optimistic Dignity

In an earlier book, Who Really Cares, [Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute] compiled an impressive array of data to show that contrary to the conventional wisdom conservatives tend to give more to charity than do those on the left. In his new book, The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous Americahe goes further, arguing that not only is the conservative heart a caring heart but that the conservative head has produced public policies that are truly compassionate because they are capable of generating jobs and opportunity that–in turning the economy around–would infuse the lives of substantial numbers of poor and struggling people with dignity by providing them the opportunity to earn success.

Make Moral, not Materialistic, Arguments

Americans are not materialists. Most find materialism noxious and ugly, as they should. They are uneasy at its presence in their own lives and they rebel against it in public life. So when conservatives present the policies America needs with materialistic language, we are placing our ideas in a box so ­unattractive that people simply don’t want to look inside. They instinctively side with moral over materialistic rhetoric, and often vote for progressive politicians as a result. But many of the policies they subsequently get are materialistic to the core. The people are left dissatisfied and convinced that both sides are awful.

Arthur Brooks explains how conservatives lose arguments, even with good ideas. He says conservative Republicans, energized by the Reagan revolution, began to view themselves as primarily economic advocates. If we can just explain how money and taxes work in the real world, people will listen to us. But that’s the way we lose. Instead, Brooks recommends leading with our hearts.