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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Is This Conservatism?

by Tony M.

Although the contributors here are by and large conservative, this site is not simply about conservatism, it is fundamentally about Christ Jesus. We profess Christ Jesus, and Him crucified. It is to Him that we commit ourselves without qualification, not to conservatism.

Still, we are more conservative than not. In this regard we perceive that conservatism bears a notable and vital relationship to our carrying out fully and wholly the Christian calling to embrace the Truth and live it in true freedom (i.e. freedom in the sense of John 8:32).

“Conservative” has taken on so many meanings to so many people that in usage it has begun to bear no more than a vague direction of an idea. However, not so long ago it did have a more determinate meaning, and it is still fair and honest to demand respect for that meaning as still recognizable, and demand recognition of the word as still capable of carrying that earlier meaning more truly than other meanings. I aim to set forth, again, what that is.

“Conservative” is not solely a political term: one can be politically conservative or religiously conservative or culturally conservative. Or, of course, all three. This is because it stands for a meaning that transcends the boundaries of each one of these areas of life.

I don’t propose to give a simple Aristotelian definition of genus and specific difference, and leave it at that. Instead, I propose to go at the project as a process of enumerating the sorts of things that are commonly or distinctively found in conservatives. And, after that, to speak to a more formal definition. As I work down the list, the items included are gradually less definitive in exhibiting conservatism.

(1) Conservatives respect the past’s contribution to today. We conserve what is, insofar as it is good. We also give that (good) which is now, the benefit of the doubt over that (good) which might be in the future, all other things being equal: Conservatives resist change except for good reason.

(2) Conservatives respect tradition and custom, which is an aspect of what the past contributes to today. Customs hold positive obligations over us, even when they are not encoded in positive law.

(3) The conservative is grateful for the goods he has received from others. This starts with what he has received from God, what is in Nature, and what human nature consist in, and extends to all the good built up over the centuries by his forbearers.

(4) The religious conservative holds fast to the religious truth that has been held out to him by his forbearers as a gift.

(5) Religiously, the Christian conservative believes what the Apostles believed. This implies a commitment to the preservation of the Church and her teachings from the Apostles. The Christian conservative, therefore, not only reflects deeply upon the Bible, but also listens attentively to the immemorial teachings about that Bible handed to us in the Church. True novelty of meaning and interpretation are, therefore, considered with hesitation or suspicion.

(6) Conservatives believe in human nature as something definite, and “given” by God in the sense of fixed in all men. I.E., this nature is not capable of substantial modification by such things as sentiment, preference, culture, or knowledge.

(7) Conservatives believe in natural law, which follows from God, Nature, and human nature. The conservative believes in moral principles and norms that oblige all men, that exist objectively even when embodied imperfectly in human cultures.

(8) Conservatives believe that political society is natural to men, that “the political order” is an expression of man’s social nature and for his good. Conservatives resist the notion that politics arises originally from a purely pragmatic admission that a constant state of war that otherwise holds between men is worse. (For simplicity, I will below speak of “the political order” as roughly the equivalent of “the state”, though I recognize distinctions.)

(9) Conservatives recognize that though the state is good for man, the state is not man’s ultimate good, and that it is in many contexts more true that “the state exists for man’s good” than that “man exists for the good of the state”. This implies that there are limits to matters that fall within the state’s authority to govern.

(10) Politically, the conservative believes that in very many contexts, freedom from government control is the normal default condition, and that government regulation of a part of life that has not before been under government regulation requires specific justification more than a mere judgment that the state might achieve some good by so regulating.

(11) With regard to government authority as implied in 8, 9, and 10, the conservative typically need not be dogmatic about the concrete limits of government involvement in affairs: prudence and judgment in a culture and in specific conditions count for much (excepting the limits implied by absolute moral norms and human nature itself, from which political authority finds its wellspring.)

(12) The conservative is, within the limits indicated above, a strong proponent of respect and honor due to the state, and to its legitimate government, qualities beyond mere obedience to the laws. This respect and honor can be summed up under the name patriotism, and is a positive human virtue associated with the virtues of justice and religion. Properly understood, patriotism is not derogatory toward others’ societies.

(13) The conservative loves the communities close to him: his family, his neighborhood, his local church, his city, his place of work, and his school. The conservative resists diminution of these communities’ vibrancy and life through misplaced pursuit of “larger” solutions that controvert subsidiarity. The conservative is in the best sense parochial in attitude and behavior.

(14) Since each community in which we live maintains its life by a mutuality of giving and receiving that requires and implies conformity to a purpose held in common, the conservative insists on recognizing and maintaining communities by distinguishing who is part of the community and who is not, who is committed to the same identical common good and who is not. This starts as close-to-home as the family and continues to the school, business, the church, the city, and the state. Since the human person is physical as well as spiritual, his communities are often based on physical location. Hence the conservative insists on borders: “Good fences make good neighbors” applies politically and culturally as well as in neighborhoods.

(15) The conservative believes that just as the government cannot claim oversight and control of all aspects of life, so also the government cannot claim sole right to exercise force in defense of individuals and their property. As a result, personal right to use force in defense of life and property should not be made subject to a default presumption of criminality. In this time and place in America, this entails the right to bear arms.

(16) The conservative accepts that the state is one natural community, yet there are other natural communities, one of which is the family; and that the family is in a certain sense prior to the state. As a result, the family holds a special place of significance to the state, and is to be accorded official recognition as a communal entity by the state. The conservative holds that the parents have authority over children that is not given to them by the state or any other social entity, and cannot be taken away from them except in extraordinary contexts.

(17) The conservative Christian believes that God made a gift of the world to mankind, and that this implies that mankind has been granted authority to use the world especially for man’s benefit. He regards man’s energy and intelligence combined (i.e. creativity) as gifts that he is called upon to use to participate in God’s ongoing creation of good things.

(18) The conservative holds that generally he is rightly free (in the sense of Sirach 15:14, “God made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of his own counsel”) to choose for himself the ways he will endeavor to bring benefit to mankind by applying himself to the resources at hand, taking into account certain social obligations and existing limits on those resources. Hence the conservative holds that the free production side of a free market is the normative default state of affairs, granting certain limits.

(19) Likewise, the conservative holds that when a man has applied himself to resources available to him and generated something good that others may want, he is rightly free to decide how to distribute the good so generated – if at all – again taking into account certain social obligations and existing limits. Thus, the conservative holds that the free distribution side of a free market is the normative default state of affairs, granting certain limits.

(20) However, due to sin, to local variation in resources (both natural and historical), to variation in men’s abilities, and to variations in customs, the conservative recognizes that an absolutely unrestrained marketplace will not best serve all of the needs of men, and thus men have other social obligations besides those of participating in a free market. These include constructing such constraints on the market as are needed to ensure that it remains free in the truest and most noble senses, a humanly ordered market, (for instance, promoting transparency and restraining fraud); and include extra-market activities to deal with needed distributions of goods that cannot be met by the free market unaided. The conservative does not believe that all social obligations can be the subject of the marketplace, nor ruled solely by the principles of exchange.

(21) The conservative generally approves men perceiving and interacting on the basis of mutual benefit with neighbors, including trade and many other types of organized interaction. The conservative does not think that the normative state of affairs is constant warfare with all others, nor is all-out competition ultimately achieving economic conquest. The Conservative prefers that men mostly endeavor to achieve a state of peaceful cooperation of mutual benefit with neighbors, and recognizes that extending this behavior to those far off in the distance is also a good, within certain limiting constraints. One such constraint is the obligation to respect those wholesome but diverse customs of those others with whom we trade or otherwise interact, and the fact that not all customs can be easily tolerated by every other culture. Another is the inherent limits of time and space: great distance is a rational reason to limit one’s trade and other social interactions with others (including charitable giving). Hence travel and foreign exchange are good, but not absolute goods that trump all others.

Let me now move to a list of the sub-types of conservatives that men speak of.

A. Paleo conservatives – emphasize family and local communities, support strong defense and reject foreign interventionism. They tend to be agnostic about specific economic policies, other than “getting government out of our business”.

B. Neo conservative – a form of conservatism given to the policy of low taxes allowing for stimulated economy, and moderately aggressive interventionism internationally to “build democracy”. Culturally, neos are more or less OK with government promoting traditional social mores, but stop short of allowing that promoting to take on a cast special to Christianity: they do not want government stepping on the toes of religious pluralism. In this they oppose traditional or reactionary conservatives.

C. Traditional conservatives – emphasize the transcendent order which infuses both the moral and political spheres with interlocking lines of loyalty, the distinction of competence and virtue in persons, and the need to order society in recognition of those distinctions: they typically argue in favor of a cultural and political order that, if not explicitly monarchical or aristocratic, tends in that direction. They exhibit a strong aversion to democratic modernity across many layers. They sometimes use the label “reactionary” without “conservative” added to it.

D. Economic conservatives – place their emphasis on the economic order, and often allow the conservative principles applicable to economics to be their delegates for what presumptive principles should be applied in other areas. “Free Market” principles thus may come to be used in education, in government, in religion, etc.

E. Social conservatives – support the strong cultural defense of traditional Christian morality, in accordance with the 10 Commandments, and if they don’t urge laws requiring such morality per se, at least they urge legal recognition of such morality as implicit in the social order and constituting an important layer of meaning for law. Other than supporting traditional morality, they want government to be minimalist, letting other social communities run their own spheres.

F. Burkean Conservatives – In the tradition of Edmund Burke, these are largely social or traditional conservatives who generally avoid dogmatic “solutions” to social problems, preferring to locate solutions that belong to one time and place. The Burkean is uncomfortable with the conservative who speaks of general principles of politics and social order, though he generally operates in ways that recognize such principles. The Burkean attitude carries into mainstream conservatism a deep distrust of utopianism, though tendencies of utopianism are found in some small degree in Neocons and Economic conservatives.

G. Crunchy Cons – associated first with Rod Dreher, the attitude in favor of good family order and economics, with “intentional” small communities, situated effectively in a largely plastic mental framework regarding anything outside those minute communities; this permits almost any other “ism” as long as it leaves the family whole. They are not clearly opposed to liberalism or libertarianism, and in fact many Crunchy Cons are rather libertarian in their economic outlook.

H. Fiscal Conservatives – want balanced budgets and little to no government debt, and usually want to shrink the size of government. They want to reduce government oversight of society. Other conservatives usually go along with these attitudes as general trends, but are not as dogmatic about it.

Conservatism can also be understood from the movements and thinking that are generally understood to oppose it.

Liberalism – holds that man’s individual autonomy is the foundational principle of man in society, and that human happiness arises in the conditions that recognize that autonomy as absolute in principle, limited in practice only to leave the autonomy of others intact. Liberalism more naturally aligns with denying any fixed human nature, though it also can be accounted as accepting an extremely limited “nature”, only to the extent of claiming for all men the autonomy to “be whatever I choose”. Liberalism proper ends up denying that God’s position over man has any normative bearing on man insofar as political authority goes, though many liberals don’t realize this and would be unwilling to say it explicitly. In practice, they are comfortable with effectively denying that “God said not to” can be a grounding for law, or even for custom. Liberals typically are moral subjectivists of one form or another.

Libertarianism – holds that man is not by nature ordered to a social good, and that he must retain his innate “freedom” (meaning lack of constraint) as much as possible in all matters to be happy. The Libertarian is usually a Liberal of some sort as well, though some few are not. Often they are closely allied with fiscal and economic conservatives, but often without underlying common principles.

Progressivism – holds that the ultimate good of men is to be sought and found here on earth and can be achieved by progressive change. They generally deny original sin, and typically deny any fixed human nature. Progressives are generally moral relativists.

Marxism – denies any fixed human nature and any supernatural facet to man, and holds that man can and must be molded to conform to a rationalized materialistic pigeon hole subservient to the good of the state.

Alt-Right: Although conservatism in America generally is associated with the Right, it is not exactly true to say that the Alt-Right is a branch of conservatism, as that movement attempts to distinguish itself from conservatism by an explicit effort to distance itself. The Alt-Right urges the position that conservatives have swallowed hook, line, and sinker the liberal tenet that whatever is decided democratically must be accepted politically. This is a misunderstanding of conservatism, but it helps the Alt-Right to claim distinction from conservatism. The Alt-Right resistance to the nonsense of democratic degeneracy (especially PC nonsense) often makes it look like the Alt-Right is closely aligned with Traditionalist Conservatism / Reactionary Conservatism, but in practice it is more anarchic than given to principled models of hierarchic authority. The Alt-Right has little regard for the traditional morality in any principled sense, seeing in tradition mainly a tool with which to oppose PC and progressivism.

From all this, we can attempt a sort of working definition of conservatism, if we mean by that the root concepts that inform the conservative as such. It should be a definition of “simple” conservatism, without hyphenation, recognizable to most conservatives.

Conservatism means that perspective about humans in society which recognizes inherent value in retaining such social forms and goods which already subsist in society (often implicitly), and which thus implies an ordering standard between goods that are and competing goods which do not yet exist. It is a recognition that man, being social by nature, cannot be truly happy in the absence of some stable social forms around which development of new good is more in the nature of organic growth than fundamental mutation, and thus the conservative is not at all opposed to the change of growth or perfection. Conservatism does not deny the possible need for such fundamental mutation in some cases, but rather sets a high evidential hurdle as a default against fundamental social mutation, in favor of stability. (It is important to note that this implicit inclination against fundamental social mutation is not opposed to Christian conversion, which Christian conservatives urge most strongly.) The conservative recognizes in many social orders sufficient good that it is conceivable to correct their failings and purify them of grave evils while leaving their core essence intact, and thus is quite willing to see various monarchies, aristocracies, and democracies continue apace. Conservatism is naturally opposed to relativism, including moral, religious, and philosophical; recognizing in the mind’s desire for truth an undeniable compass indicator that truth and moral right both exist independently of what a person thinks. Conservatism includes a commitment to some moral and philosophical absolutes.

As a result, in my opinion those Crunchy-cons, Neocons, and Economic cons who are quite comfortable with relativism – whether in morals or in philosophy – are more in the nature of ”fellow-travelers” with conservatives than actually being conservatives themselves. Reactionary conservatives who would overturn current democracy, not only because of its many modernist degeneracies, but in principle and in no matter what democratic form, are perhaps less properly conservative than they are reactionary, but they can work with other conservatives in regard to many basic moral principles applicable to social order. I think that conservatives generally would be well-advised to accept that many of their fellow conservatives, especially many of the above hyphenated-conservatives, may not have delved into the implicit principles behind their picture of the world, and may hold various conservative conclusions for reasons that are less compatible with the best conservative underpinnings. When they are viewed as allies, this is not a problem, and we should welcome working with them. When they purport to speak for conservatism, it can be a problem and often that should be contested - but not always, for the sake of greater good.

Conservatism is not really an ideology because it is neither a belief system per se nor a comprehensive social system. It is not a belief system because it does not take its foundational standards from belief but by reference to more basic truths that can be demonstrated or are self-evident. In contrast, progressivism for example is rooted in beliefs that could not be established firmly even in principle. Conservatism is rooted in an attitude of respect for that which we have received, for human nature, and for the divine order, which respect can be justified by truths which are capable of suitable accounting by reason.

And Conservatism is not a comprehensive system: it provides some starting points and a certain default setting about change, but it leaves available many different “systematic” solutions to social problems. It does not purport to set forth the best social or political arrangement for man worldwide. It is not utopian, and is not a faith system. Conservatism is not primarily a negative attitude (against things), it is primarily a positive attitude, for its primary focus is the good which we have received, and in respect of which we have some obligation.

Comments (24)

Very informative list of the different conservative subclasses. I have a few general comments.

Conservatives are always playing defense and unfortunately once the offense scores, there is no way to get points off the score card. There are countless examples to illustrate this point. The most current example is same-sex 'marriage'. Conservatives went from defending sodomy laws to defending marriage. The next generation of 'conservatives' will conserve the right to sodomy and right to marriage while fighting the next battle against transgendered bathrooms.

There is much to disagree with the Alt Right about, but the thing to take note of is that the Alt Right is an offensive strategy. The movement does not simply aim to stop the other team from scoring points, but to put points on the board. For instance, Fox News just dropped the most watched program on the network because of harassment allegations. Does anyone not think this was an orchestrated attack? Conservatives often have no spine to defend allies. Conservatives need a full fledged offensive strategy to direct politics back towards those goods we have received.

The next generation of 'conservatives' will conserve the right to sodomy and right to marriage while fighting the next battle against transgendered bathrooms.

Sad to say, Urban, there will be some conservatives who think they are obliged to defend the "right to sodomy". You are right about that.

Nevertheless, this will be a mistake. That is, it is a mistake, even from within the realm of conservatism, not just 'right thinking'. As I indicated (see #s 1, 3, and 6 & 7), the conservative aims to preserve the GOOD that is now, and he believes in natural law as well as moral norms that oblige all men. Positive (human) laws that defy human nature and controvert objective moral norms that oblige all men are to be fought always, no matter how long they have been in place.

In addition, deeply held custom doesn't get eradicated in a mere 10 or 20 years. Our society, ever since the invention of "no-fault" divorce, has more or less formally turned its back on the meaning of marriage in SOME sense. Living with your boyfriend is no longer a social disaster for young women - most people don't even comment on it, and many think it is normal. In spite of that attitude, those same people think that a wedding is something important enough to invite 200 people to, and to spend $10,000 on: the deeply held custom of a wedding being 'important' remains, even in the face of contrary practices.

Conservatives are always playing defense and unfortunately once the offense scores, there is no way to get points off the score card.

Depends on which score card you look at. On my scorecard, my wife and I kept our 6 kids out of their schools and raised them to be against everything they are trying to inculcate in their schools. Score so far: 3 straight sets to us, 3 sets left: we have a shut-out running. And my serve is better now than it was in the first 3 sets.

I know the people who founded Thomas Aquinas College, and Christendom College. Score there: of several thousand students who have attended, by far the vast majority reject the liberal culture and work actively against it, and live in close attention to Christ. The very founding of these institutions constituted offence, not defense. Same with Wyoming Catholic, Ave Maria University, and the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria.

True, on the larger scales, conservatives have been losing. Some say we have been losing since Rousseau and the Endarkenment era. Some say we have been losing since Hobbes and Locke wrote. Others say we have been losing since Luther and Calvin wrote, since they ushered in the era in which it was fashionable to reject the perennial philosophy and theology of united Christendom.

I am not sure what "we have been losing at the political level" says about the principles of conservatives. The Romans lost against the barbarian hordes, eventually. Was Roman society in the wrong because of that? The early Spaniards lost against the Muslim invaders for hundreds of years, and then coexisted with them for more hundreds. Was Spanish Christianity suspect because they were losing for so long? The mostly Christian England and Wales and Normandy lost against the Vikings for hundreds of years. If political success is the measure of rightness, the first Christians had it wrong for almost 3 centuries.

It can readily be admitted that conservatives sometimes choose the wrong tactics.

In other words, the conservative understands that the humans are organized into three irreducible levels
a) Individual
b) family
c) the city or the polis

None of the levels may be reduced to the others. The liberal sees only the individual. And the tragedy of American conservatism lies in a persistent confusion with liberalism's disparagement of the family and the polis.
That leaves many conservatives unable to answer questions that libertarians pose to them--such as how does my gmarriage harm your marriage?

Conservatives often have no spine to defend allies. Conservatives need a full fledged offensive strategy to direct politics back towards those goods we have received.

I failed to say, Urban, that I completely agree with you here. It is disgusting to see so-called conservatives fall all over themselves to give up ground to liberals in such situations. Conservatives have been betrayed over and over by "leaders" of what should have been staunch conservative groups. And a comprehensive offensive strategy is sorely needed. Do you have candidates? Or, elements that need to be in such a strategy?

And the tragedy of American conservatism lies in a persistent confusion with liberalism's disparagement of the family and the polis.

Mactoul, can you expand on this?

Do you have candidates? Or, elements that need to be in such a strategy?

That is a good question. It is often much easier to point at things that shouldn't be done, such as week long apology tours Republican politicians go on when they violate some liberal norm. You already pointed out part of what I think should be done. You mentioned that you know the people who founded Thomas Aquinas College and Christendom College. Part of the strategy is to build our own institutions and technologies. I think of how YouTube has placed many Prager University videos on "restricted mode", which is material considered unsuitable for children. Our enemies understand that the battle is not just at the polls, but on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, Reddit, etc. I think conservatives have been at a disadvantage here because we don't want all of life to be political - we want to take care of our families, hang with our friends, watch football, and go to church, but the reality is that the left has politicized everything and we need to deal with that reality.

A second strategy is the use of good and effective rhetoric. Conservatives often believe that if they simply lay down the arguments the rest will sort itself out. Accusations of "racism", "sexism", and "bigotry" have been extremely effective leftist tools. Conservatives tend to attempt to reason with these accusations, which I think is a mistake. Fight rhetoric with better rhetoric. Social Justice Warrior and snowflake are two good examples.

I don't have any candidates, but I do think a Kurt Schlichter attitude is an attitude Republican candidates should adopt. Thanks for the discussion. I'm curious to hear what you think.

a Kurt Schlichter attitude

Not if that means Kurt Schlichter's Twitter language. And, yeah, I think language matters. Not because I'm liberal, but because I'm conservative. And not if that means we have to be Trumpites to show that we really know how to fight.

Not if that means Kurt Schlichter's Twitter language.

I suppose I do not see enough of his Twitter posts to know what kind of language he is using. I am talking about his Townhall articles, which I enjoy.

And, yeah, I think language matters. Not because I'm liberal, but because I'm conservative.

Liberals understand that language matters, which is why they work extremely hard to set the Narrative, to define the terms, and use rhetoric to their advantage.

And not if that means we have to be Trumpites to show that we really know how to fight.

I don't think you need to be Trumpite.

Tony,
It is in Russell Kirk. I wonder why and how libertarians came to be identified as belonging to the Right. They do not care for the tradition. They do not care for the nation-state. And thus their fusion with the conservatism led to a severe infection of the conservatism with libertarian ideas.
An infection that is now beginning to be recognized to what it is, partly thanks to the alt-right.

Not if that means Kurt Schlichter's Twitter language.

I guess I am glad I am not a Twit, then.

Fight rhetoric with better rhetoric. Social Justice Warrior and snowflake are two good examples.

This is probably dated now, but one of my favorites was, just when you see that a SJW feminazi is about to launch her "check your privilege", you do it first and louder, right back at her before she gets a chance. The technique can be expanded to all sorts of other digs to undermine her rhetorical position (and composure): check your insanity. Check your hypocrisy. It almost doesn't matter WHAT actual term is used, initially, of course, because almost anything you might use will have a shred of truth, and it is easy enough to go on at length about her insanity, her hypocrisy, her hatred, etc.

But it does require you to be on your toes, prepared, not only to get it in first, but to take the initiative and keep on running with it so she cannot get her feet back under her.

Note, however, that good rhetoric does not mean descending to the gutter and treating a person as if they were a thing. Good rhetoric can cut an opponent to ribbons, leave them stuttering and ineffectual, while remaining language you could use in front of your pastor.

Our enemies understand that the battle is not just at the polls, but on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, Reddit, etc.

We also need a replacement for Hollywood: someone producing good movies that help develop what Russell Kirk called the "moral imagination". My kids watch Studio C on youtube.

Conservatives tend to attempt to reason with these accusations, which I think is a mistake.

Right, it is eminently clear that those making the most noise for liberalism in the trenches are not actually interested in logic and reason, and so attempting to reason with them is just barking up the wrong tree.

There remain a few liberals who are actually looking for reasons and are open to logic – even if most of those are now over 70. But the real problem is the slice of people who are neither liberals nor conservatives, who are not bent into little liberal pretzels (yet), who can still be reached through reason at least to some extent. Sure, it is also true that rhetoric – and other techniques, such as using straight emotion not filtered through the mind – will succeed in drawing such people toward the truth…for a time. The problem is that you have to repeat the dosage forever to keep the result. Effectively, relying on such methods without ever trying to change their thinking through reason amounts to admitting that Marxist propaganda is what is suited to humans as humans. It says “we’re just as prepared to manipulate you as they are, for the sake of getting you to follow our program which WE know is better for you.”

There is no reason to not use BOTH good rhetoric AND reason - since reason is actually on our side, (since "our side" is whatever is true).

An infection that is now beginning to be recognized to what it is, partly thanks to the alt-right.

If anything, the alt-right's tendency to dismiss issues like abortion or even to actively diss the pro-life movement as "dysgenic" plays right into the hands of the libertine wing of libertarianism. Hey, look, boys and girls: You can be called "conservative" while not believing those inconvenient things that get in the way of your sex life, like that killing unborn babies is wrong.

There is no reason to not use BOTH good rhetoric AND reason - since reason is actually on our side, (since "our side" is whatever is true).

I absolutely agree. I think effective rhetoric must be based on truth. I also think it's important to know when to reason and when to use rhetoric. For example, don't try to reason with the Safespace Warriors on college campuses. They deserve to be mocked, not reasoned with.

Effectively, relying on such methods without ever trying to change their thinking through reason amounts to admitting that Marxist propaganda is what is suited to humans as humans...

I think you are correct here as well. We can't forget that we are fighting for what is true and what is good. It can't just be propaganda for propagandas sake.

"An infection that is now beginning to be recognized to what it is, partly thanks to the alt-right."

and

"If anything, the alt-right's tendency to dismiss issues like abortion or even to actively diss the pro-life movement as 'dysgenic' plays right into the hands of the libertine wing of libertarianism."

If the Right needs to learn anything, it's that "choice devours itself" in both the sexual AND economic spheres. There is very little difference between "I can do what I want -- it's my body!" and "I can do what I want -- it's my property!" Both are rooted in the same sub-Christian individualist anthropology.


I may regret this, but...

Nice, do you mean that my numbers 18 and 19 are wrong?

Now that I think about it, that could be taken either of two ways:

(a) 18 and 19 do not express what conservatives think; or

(b) 18 and 19 do express what conservatives think, but conservatives are wrong on this.

"I may regret this, but..."

:-)

"do you mean that my numbers 18 and 19 are wrong?"

Not necessarily, but I'd say that 18 and 19 should derive from a variant of 20, and be colored by it, rather than the other way around. I think you're getting the cart before the horse. I see this resulting from a sort of lacuna between numbers 16/17 and 18 -- man-in-community jumps to man as individual in the marketplace. As they say in England, "Mind the gap."

Or to put this another way, I don't see it as warranted to proceed from the Christian notion of freedom (including that of markets) to the Lockean one on which most, if not all, modern market activity is based.

This is the basis for my previous comment, in that the idea of man as a radical individual autonomous actor is false, whether it appears in sexuality or in economics.

16: The family is a natural community and is prior to the state.

17: God made a gift of the world to mankind for us to use.

18: Men are rightly free to choose how they will use the world by applying themselves to the resources at hand, taking into account certain social obligations and existing limits on those resources.

20: Due to sin and to local variation in men, resources and in customs, an absolutely unrestrained marketplace does not meet the needs of men.

but I'd say that 18 and 19 should derive from a variant of 20, and be colored by it, rather than the other way around. I think you're getting the cart before the horse. I see this resulting from a sort of lacuna between numbers 16/17 and 18 -- man-in-community jumps to man as individual in the marketplace. As they say in England, "Mind the gap."

NM, I would welcome a more explicit framework in which to locate the right ordering principles that you think require 18 and 19 to derive from 20.

Let me give you a sense of how I thought through the ordering of these.

(a) Because man has a nature that is given, we cannot fully and clearly state what is proper to man without being able to discern what is proper man merely as man, and what is proper to man given further accretions that are built up on top of what he is per se. That is, without being able to distinguish between what is true of man per se and true of man per accidens. (Now, I DO NOT take "what man is per se" to mean, (as Locke seems to), man as an _individual_, treating man in society as per accidens. For man is, per se, a social animal. His good is to be found in relationships, at least in part.) Hence, seeing what is right and good for man per se includes seeing what he would need for the good life even apart from sin, for sin is not per se.

(b) Considering mankind even without sin and thus without greed and power-struggles and hoarding, men living in natural communities implies man living with social obligations to each other, obligations that do not stem from sin, nor from laws or customs that are primarily designed to restrain sin. For example, both parents and older siblings in a family have a positive obligation to get and provide for youngsters in the family food, clothing, shelter, and other goods. Right ordering within such relationships will have men finding and allocating resources not only for each one's own personal good, but the good of those to whom he bears natural obligations. Thus, even without any hypothesized sin or scarcity of goods, men would have rightful constraints on their use of goods - which is why in 18 and 19 I have "taking into account certain social obligations..."

(c) Even without sin in the world, there would be (must be) some local variation in natural resources: Not ALL good things can be found immediately to hand, because there is not enough space immediately to hand for that many different good things. And, even if we assume (per conditions like the Garden of Eden), a kind of total abundance that denies scarcity, we have to admit of a kind of local limitation of goods. So, at an absolute minimum, the work implied in getting up off your duff and going to find / collect some natural goods is necessary for us to use them, even assuming general abundance rather than scarcity. This is why I included in 18 and 19 "existing limits".

That men would and should undertake expending energy and effort in these ways (and for those to whom they naturally have obligations) is entirely natural - and yet not specified by nature: men have to decide for themselves which of the available opportunities to follow up on to pursue such goods as may be gained. Nature may dictate: provide a good meal for a celebration. She does not dictate which type of foods that should entail. Given various choices, men must choose for themselves.

(d) Genesis indicates that at least some aspects of scarcity of natural resources are due to sin. And, further, that the distaste we find for expending energy on such needs is due to sin. Therefore, it seems right that what must be true of man in economics after the Fall, with constraints on him due to sin and due to scarcity unlike the Garden of Eden, is true of man per accidens. Then the constraints we must impose on ourselves for the good of men due to sin, and due to scarcity of resources, are in addition to the limits that belong to man merely in virtue of his nature as such. Therefore, in a logical sense at least, understanding the necessities of law and right economic order due to sin comes after understanding what natural economic ordering for man would require, at least basically if not in detail.

This is why I place 18 and 19 before 20.

(e) In addition to the purely natural resources of the world, such as Genesis describes in the Garden of Eden, it falls to man to make out of those resources ADDITIONAL good things, both those that are good in themselves, and those that are entirely instrumental such as tools. Those that are good in themselves include paintings, sculpture, and music; those that are instrumentally good include locomotives, electric drills, and X-ray machines. Many of these made-goods are of such a sort that they persist for a long time and are capable of benefiting men for a long time, others (such as singing a song) are fleeting in nature and the effort must be repeated to benefit others again. (But even for a song, the good from the effort in making the lyrics and the melody and harmonies does not have to be repeated, that good persists.) Men's development of natural resources into made-goods is entirely natural, IN GENERAL. Here, again, nature prescribes THAT man do such things, generically, she does not prescribe specifically which things.

Given variation in men's abilities for making such made-goods, it is inevitable that there should arise in the world local variation in goods that is beyond the natural local variation of purely natural goods. Given the Fall, and the resulting human distaste for work, it is inevitable, also, that there should arise disagreement about the relative merits of these made-goods compared to those made-goods, and the allocations of such goods among men cannot but be the subject of disputes. The principles of economics after the Fall must necessarily take into account man's distaste for work and the resulting disputes about the values of goods and their allocations.

Hence, in laying out economic theory after the Fall, we need to reflect both what is true of man simply as man, and what is true of man due to such accretions to our condition as sin, scarcity, and distaste for work. (Locke certainly failed, in missing those obligations that apply to men in society simply as men, because man IS a social being.) Hence, in #20 I add to the economic framework that is implied for man purely by his nature additional constraints that stem from the conditions of sin, scarcity, variation in man's abilities, and man's distaste for work.

This makes sense. But am I wrong, or does #18 seem somewhat to privilege markets among man's post-fall community activities? Maybe that's the disconnect I sense, and I'm reading it into #20. Community is natural to man in a way that the market is not, given the latter's rootedness in the scarcity caused by the fall.

In any case, I'd still argue that our contemporary thinking on the subject of economics is gravely tainted by a false view of human liberty, one that fails to take into account Creation as gift, community as natural to man, and original sin. There does not seem to be any substantial difference between an economics which says "Have it your way!" financially, and a morality which says the same thing related to sex. It seems incoherent to preach wholeheartedly against the latter while giving the former a pass, especially given our current situation wherein consumerism and sexual immorality are so bound up with one another. Lots of handwringing over shacking up, homosexuality, the Sexual Revolution, etc. (and rightly so!), but not a lot of attention being paid to James 5.

Industrial/finance capitalism is destructive of all that we conservatives value, yet we refuse to put it under the microscope because we have idolized choice!


Maybe that's the disconnect I sense, and I'm reading it into #20. Community is natural to man in a way that the market is not, given the latter's rootedness in the scarcity caused by the fall.

That's an excellent question, NM! I have a theory (of sorts) about it, and even though it is by no means a complete theory, I think it addresses your concern at least a little.

Let's consider what might human society might have been like 40 or 50 generations after the Temptation, if Adam and Eve had not sinned and there was no Fall. Not in toto, I don't claim to be that comprehensive a thinker. Just in a few respects.

I imagine that men would come in a variety of sizes, personalities, capabilities, and preferences. I think some would be more athletic, others more studious, some more risk-taking, others more risk-adverse, some more methodical, others more intuitive. Though all good and worthy and noble, not all equally so in every respect.

As a result, I take it that different men would find that they are better at some things and worse at others: some would be singers, some composers, some sculptors, some mathematicians, some engineers, and some managers. And some excellent janitors. All would be held in esteem and valued for their selves first, not for their preferred occupations.

Similarly, men would vary in their preferences: some would like beaches more, others mountains more, and still others forest more. Some would like the sunshine, others the starlight. Some would live for gardens made exquisitely, others for natural beauty.

And yet the human community at large would need some way to communicate what they valued more and what less, in the aggregate and in particular. If 100 people are good at composing (of sorts), but people only actually like the output of 70 of them, the other 30 need to be told, in effect, "yeah, those compositions are interesting, in an intellectual sort of way, but not as much". If 1000 are good at janitoring, but there is need for only 500 janitors, somehow the community needs to be able to discover and communicate that there is need only for 500, not 1000. If 600 enjoy gardening, but 100 of them are not especially GOOD at it, somehow those 100 need discover that they should pursue their gardening for their own sake, but not for the public gardens. If people like carved wooden bowls just fine, but prefer drinking out of silver or gold cups, these facts need to be made known to the wood carvers. And the gold cup makers.

And not just in the aggregate and average: perhaps most people more enjoy a horse that can be trained to dance and jig this way and that, but just a few prefer sheer, outright speed in a horse.

Or, to put it more generally, there needs to be communication about relative values of goods based on a variety of factors, which include (a) general preferences, and (b) amount of effort needed to produce them. That is to say, the men who produce good things for the sake of others' delight must needs know what others prefer. And, likewise, for those who instead prefer things that are out of the average, they too need to be able to communicate their preferences to those who produce such goods.

This, I think, is the foundation of a marketplace _of_sorts_. There needs to be a way of evaluating goods in comparison to each other, for many people to know where to put their efforts. It makes little sense for Johnny to complete that composition of spoons scraping concrete, if nobody enjoys it. If the caretakers of ski slopes don't know how many people to plan for using the slopes, they cannot rightly estimate how many slopes to prepare. In my opinion, these needs imply something like money: some way of relating average values between very UNlike goods. It need not be entirely like money, of course, but somehow or other people need to be able to reasonably estimate expected demand for the goods they willingly and happily produce for the delight of others. And, even aside from drudgery involved in the effort (assuming that none is felt), there are limits to the TIME AND RESOURCES that they should use up in producing those goods, limits based on the demand for them, which demand should also reflect all the other pressures on time and resources. So, even without greed and sin and natural disasters, there would still be supply and demand constraints that need to be reflected in how people interact in their making and using decisions. A marketplace. Of sorts.

There would be no cheating others, no complaining of being undervalued, no dire poverty, no unnatural shortages, of course, without sin. But there would still be less and more, due to human efforts to make good things. Decisions about allocation of effort have to be made, and given variation in preference, such allocation decisions have to reflect average preferences but allow for variance from the average. There would be variation in supply, and in demand, from individual to individual. Hence individuals would, effectively, have to register "I would rather have one of these than 2 of those", even when on the average others would not, in order for supply and demand to level out happily with all parties satisfied. All decisions about making and using will be peacefully and equitably made - in part because there will be adequate information about people's relative values of various goods to make wise and happy allocations of effort and resources. And this information comes about through a great many instances of choosing in the concrete, as people register their preferences through choice.

I think that a developed natural society would indeed have a kind of market, even without sin.

There is no conflict between community and market if it is kept in mind that market exists in community and for the sake of community.

It is conceiving of markets in purely individualistic terms that is erroneous.

Yes, Tony, I can certainly see how some sort of exchange system like the one of which you speak could exist in an unfallen world. It reminds me of what St. Maximus Confessor wrote about our free choice in the eschaton, where we will be able to choose between multiple goods, none of them less good than any other, but without the possibility of sin, i.e., a bad choice.

Thing is, I don't know of many critics of capitalism that have a beef with markets per se, as markets obviously existed in pre-capitalist societies. It is when the market is elevated into a system based on individualistic self-interest that it becomes problematic, especially as that system has become increasingly invasive and all-encompassing.

There is no conflict between community and market if it is kept in mind that market exists in community and for the sake of community.

It is conceiving of markets in purely individualistic terms that is erroneous.

Mactoul, I think this is entirely right. I think that ideally there is supposed to be a sort of synergy between the community and the individual: the individual commits himself to the common good, and in many ways elevates the common good above an individual's personal good; at the same time, the individual is headed to an eschatological future than no temporal order can encompass, and the temporal community is thus limited compared to the individual in terms of that ultimate good. Man is designed to be social, so that what constitutes the good life (temporally) includes man devoting himself socially to the good of the whole. Unlike in insects, man is designed to do this by reason and with love, which makes the common good something that he himself actually enjoys.

It is when the market is elevated into a system based on individualistic self-interest that it becomes problematic, especially as that system has become increasingly invasive and all-encompassing.

Nice, I think that's right. Markets (and other aspects of society besides markets, too) need to be able to respect and deal with individual goods, such as individual preferences and individual excellences, but WITHOUT elevating that respect to an all-encompassing principle driving the whole shebang. It is that false elevation which represents an anti-Christian anthropology.

Thing is, I don't know of many critics of capitalism that have a beef with markets per se, as markets obviously existed in pre-capitalist societies.

Sure, but any account of man's actual history will reflect man dealing with sin and disorder, which of course means it inherently cannot say what ought to be in the ideal. Somebody might argue that ALL such historical cases in which markets developed represent a falling away from the ideal, at best as accommodations to sin. My argument is that even in the ideal we would need markets.

Nice, what do you make of David Graeber's theories of the pre-modern origins of economies? Depending on how one defines a "market", I would not be surprised if he would deny that markets were part of the early pictures of societies managing goods in the aggregate.

In the interests of expanding on the distinction between being conservative and being alt-right, Vox Day has this to say:

The Alt Right is an ALTERNATIVE to the mainstream conservative movement in the USA that is nominally encapsulated by Russel Kirk's 10 Conservative Principles, but in reality has devolved towards progressivism. It is also an alternative to libertarianism...
The patron saint of conservatives, Russell Kirk, wrote:
"The great line of demarcation in modern politics, Eric Voegelin used to point out, is not a division between liberals on one side and totalitarians on the other. No, on one side of that line are all those men and women who fancy that the temporal order is the only order, and that material needs are their only needs, and that they may do as they like with the human patrimony. On the other side of that line are all those people who recognize an enduring moral order in the universe, a constant human nature, and high duties toward the order spiritual and the order temporal."

This is no longer true, assuming it ever was. The great line of demarcation in modern politics is now a division between men and women who believe that they are ultimately defined by their momentary opinions and those who believe they are ultimately defined by their genetic heritage. The Alt Right understands that the former will always lose to the latter in the end, because the former is subject to change.

I maintain, then, that what is true of the Alt Right is that they are conservative in most ways, except (a) in those ways in which they quite clearly misunderstand conservatism; and (b) in ways in which they are quite clearly just plain wrong.

For, it is quite wrong to hold for "those who believe they are ultimately defined by their genetic heritage." Every Jew, Roman, Greek, and Arab who converted from Judaism or paganism to Christianity, in the 1st through 3rd century AD, refused to believe that he was "ultimately defined by his genetic heritage", indeed he believed rather Paul who said "there is neither Jew nor Greek..." Every English yoeman of the 15th century, and English grocer of the 19th century, ultimately benefited by (and defined himself from) the infusions into England of the Pict, Roman, Angle, Saxon, and Norman cultures, utterly regardless of whether his blood was pure Saxon, pure Norman, or any mix of all the groups. Virtually every red-blooded white American son of American parents today is the recipient of genes from Britain, or France, or Germany, or Italy, or Sweden, or ... but while in America it does not matter which of these, in Europe it matters greatly - for American culture nearly disregards the different genes of former Swedes and Italians in America, and Swedish and Italian cultures do not.

Conservatives, on the other hand, do not disregard blood altogether, nor do they idolize it, but put it in its proper place: one of the important determinants of a people.

And if anyone tells me (as I just this afternoon read an alt-right site smugly and stridently declaring--and yes, it is definitely possible to be both smug and strident) that I will be somehow forced to choose his "side," even though I deem him to have both wicked ideas and wicked methods, because I won't have a choice, because this is war, etc., etc., then I recognize one thing immediately: This is the language of bullies. No one tells me that I "have to" support something I deem wrong and that in the end I "won't have a choice." There's this little thing called "principle," and some of us still believe in it. "How many legions hath your principle" is just a further illustration of what is wrong with the "side" that says it.

"Markets (and other aspects of society besides markets, too) need to be able to respect and deal with individual goods, such as individual preferences and individual excellences, but WITHOUT elevating that respect to an all-encompassing principle driving the whole shebang. It is that false elevation which represents an anti-Christian anthropology."

Agreed. But I think this is the exact problem with "capitalism," at very least in its post-Enlightenment manifestation. The individualist principle has become the driving force, but it is masked under the idea of "enlightened self-interest" and further obscured by the obvious material goods that the system has provided. When the individualism is cast as "liberty," and the material benefits cloud the spiritual, intangible costs, it makes it difficult to critique the system at any sort of fundamental level. The various degradations thus cannot be even conceived as anything other than bugs, and the notion that some if not all of them may in fact be features is given no consideration. Thus the evidence is made to fit the theory and not the other way around.

"what do you make of David Graeber's theories of the pre-modern origins of economies? Depending on how one defines a 'market', I would not be surprised if he would deny that markets were part of the early pictures of societies managing goods in the aggregate."

I'm not familiar with Graeber, but Christopher Franks has touched on this in his work on Aquinas, as have some of the agrarian writers. Their idea, in a nutshell, is that while almost all pre-modern economies had markets, and thus varying degrees of market activity, the actual economy based on the market, a "market economy," is a relatively new phenemenon.

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