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Conservatism

Conservatism can be understood in different ways, specifically as relating to moral, cultural, and political matters. In general, the conservative believes that common human experience across times and places has revealed the value of certain practices and arrangements. These have stood the test of time because they are conducive to human flourishing. Thus, the conservative favours deeply rooted moral and cultural values and believes that these will be found in all longstanding and healthy societies. Central to such values are freedom and responsibility, work and leisure, family and property, custom and respect. Conservatives also tend to believe that these values are discovered and celebrated through living in accord with them rather than being the product of abstract theory. Hence conservatives are suspicious of ideologies particularly revolutionary and utopian ones which seek to displace existing traditions. Critics of conservatism see it as uncritical, self-contented, resistant to change, and unwelcoming to those who cannot or choose not to conform to established patterns of life. In relation to religious belief and practice, conservatism is sometimes equated with ‘traditionalism’.

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    And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them through the land . . . .

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    A JEDNA- DAS #VI On being Conservative I The common belief that it is impossible (or, if not impossible, then so unpromising as to be not worth while attempting) to elicit explana- tory general principles from what is recognized to be conservative conduct is not one that I share. It may be true that conservative conduct does not readily provoke articulation in the idiom of general ideas, and that consequently there has been a certain reluctance to undertake this kind of elucidation; but it is not to be presumed that conservative conduct is less eligible than any other for this sort 01 interpretation, for what it is worth. Nevertheless, this is not the enterprise I propose to engage in here. My theme is not a creed or a doctrine, but a disposition. To be conservative is to be disposed to think and behave in certain manners; it is to prefer certain kinds of conduct and certain conditions of human circumstances to others; it is to be disposed to make certain kinds of choices. And my design here is to construe this disposition as it appears in contemporary character, rather than to transpose it into the idiom of general principles. The general characteristics of this disposition are not difficult to discern, although they have often been mistaken. They centre upon a propensity to use and to enjoy what is available rather than to wish for or to look for something else; to delight in what is present rather than what was or what may be. Reflection may bring to light an appropriate gratefulness for what is available, and consequently the acknowledgment of a gift or an inheritance from the past; but there is no mere idolizing of what is past and gone. What is esteemed is the present; and it is esteemed not on account of its connections with a remote antiquity, nor because it is recognized to be more admirable than any possible alternative, but on account of its familiarity: not, Verweiledoch, du bist so schön, but, Stay with me because I am attached to you. ON BEING CONSERVATIVE 169 If the present is arid, offering little or nothing to be used or enjoyed, then this inclination will be weak or absent; if the present is remarkably unsettled, it will display itself in a search for a firmer foothold and consequently in a recourse to and an exploration of the past; but it asserts itself characteristically when there is much to be enjoyed, and it will be strongest when this is combined with evident risk of loss. In short, it is a disposition appropriate to a man who is acutely aware of having something to lose which he has learned to care for; a man in some degree rich in opportunities for enjoyment, but not so rich that he can afford to be indifferent to loss. It will appear more naturally in the old than in the young, not because the old are more sensitive to loss but because they are apt to be more fully aware of the resources of their world and therefore less likely to find them inadequate. In some people this disposition is weak merely because they are ignorant of what their world has to offer them: the present appears to them only as a residue of inopportun- ities. To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to Utopian bliss. Familiar relationships and loyalties will be preferred to the allure of more profitable attachments; to acquire and to enlarge will be less important than to keep, to cultivate and to enjoy; the grief of loss will be more acute than the excitement of novelty or promise. It is to be equal to one's own fortune, to live at the level of one's own means, to be content with the want of greater perfection which belongs alike to oneself and one's circum- stances. With some people this is itself a choice; in others it is a disposition which appears, frequently or less frequently, in their preferences and aversions, and is not itself chosen or specifically cultivated. Now, all this is represented in a certain attitude towards change and innovation; change denoting alterations we have to suffer and innovation those we design and execute. Changes are circumstances to which we have to accommodate ourselves, and the disposition to be conservative is both the emblem ==== 2 ===3=S $4₁ TE 20 RATIONALISM IN POLITICS 170 of our difficulty in doing so and our resort in the attempts we make to do so. Changes are without effect only upon those who notice nothing, who are ignorant of what they possess and apathetic to their circumstances; and they can be welcomed indiscriminately only by those who esteem nothing, whose attachments are fleeting and who are strangers to love and affection. The conservative disposition provokes neither of these conditions: the inclination to enjoy what is present and available is the opposite of ignorance and apathy and it breeds attachment and affection. Consequently, it is averse from change, which appears always, in the first place, as deprivation. A storm which sweeps away a copse and transforms a favourite view, the death of friends, the sleep of friendship, the desuetude of customs of behaviour, the retirement of a favourite clown, involuntary exile, reversals of fortune, the loss of abilities enjoyed and their replace- ment by others - these are changes, none perhaps without its com- pensations, which the man of conservative temperament unavoidably regrets. But he has difficulty in reconciling himself to them, not because what he has lost in them was intrinsically better than any alternative might have been or was incapable of improvement, nor because what takes its place is inherently incapable of being enjoyed, but because what he has lost was something he actually enjoyed and had learned how to enjoy and what takes its place is something to which he has acquired no attachment. Consequently, he will find small and slow changes more tolerable than large and sudden; and he will value highly every appearance of continuity. Some changes, indeed, will present no difficulty; but, again, this is not because they are manifest improvements but merely because they are easily assimilated: the changes of the seasons are mediated by their recur- rence and the growing up of children by its continuousness. And, in general, he will accommodate himself more readily to changes which do not offend expectation than to the destruction of what seems to have no ground of dissolution within itself. Moreover, to be conservative is not merely to be averse from change (which may be an idiosyncrasy); it is also a manner of accom- modating ourselves to changes, an activity imposed upon all men. For, change is a threat to identity, and every change is an emblem of extinction. But a man's identity (or that of a community) is nothing ON BEING CONSERVATIVE 171 more than an unbroken rehearsal of contingencies, each at the mercy of circumstance and each significant in proportion to its familiarity. It is not a fortress into which we may retire, and the only means we have of defending it (that is, ourselves) against the hostile forces of change is in the open field of our experience; by throwing our weight upon the foot which for the time being is most firmly placed, by cleaving to whatever familiarities are not immediately threatened and thus assimilating what is new without becoming unrecognizable to ourselves. The Masai, when they were moved from their old country to the present Masai reserve in Kenya, took with them the names of their hills and plains and rivers and gave them to the hills and plains and rivers of the new country. And it is by some such subterfuge of conservatism that every man or people compelled to suffer a notable change avoids the shame of extinction. Changes, then, have to be suffered; and a man of conservative temperament (that is, one strongly disposed to preserve his identity) cannot be indifferent to them. In the main, he judges them by the disturbance they entail and, like everyone else, deploys his resources to meet them. The idea ofinnovation, on the other hand, is improve- ment. Nevertheless, a man of this temperament will not himselfbe an ardent innovator. In the first place, he is not inclined to think that nothing is happening unless great changes are afoot and therefore he is not worried by the absence of innovation: the use and enjoyment of things as they are occupies most of his attention. Further, he is aware that not all innovation is, in fact, improvement; and he will think that to innovate without improving is either designed or inadvertent folly. Moreover, even when an innovation commends itself as a convincing improvement, he will look twice at its claims before accepting them. From his point of view, because every improvement involves change, the disruption entailed has always to be set against the benefit anticipated. But when he has satisfied him- selfabout this, there will be other considerations to be taken into the account. Innovating is always an equivocal enterprise, in which gain and loss (even excluding the loss of familiarity) are so closely inter- woven that it is exceedingly difficult to forecast the final up-shot: there is no such thing as an unqualified improvement. For, innova- ting is an activity which generates not only the improvement' 172 RATIONALISM IN POLITICS sought, but a new and complex situation of which this is only one of the components. The total change is always more extensive than the change designed; and the whole of what is entailed can neither be foreseen nor circumscribed. Thus, whenever there is innovation there is the certainty that the change will be greater than was intended, that there will be loss as well as gain and that the loss and the gain will not be equally distributed among the people affected; there is the chance that the benefits derived will be greater than those which were designed; and there is the risk that they will be off-set by changes for the worse. From all this the man of conservative temperament draws some appropriate conclusions. First, innovation entails certain loss and possible gain, therefore, the onus of proof, to show that the proposed change may be expected to be on the whole beneficial, rests with the would-be innovator. Secondly, he believes that the more closely an innovation resembles growth (that is, the more clearly it is intimated in and not merely imposed upon the situation) the less likely it is to result in a preponderance of loss. Thirdly, he thinks that an innova- tion which is a response to some specific defect, one designed to redress some specific disequilibrium, is more desirable than one which springs from a notion of a generally improved condition of human circumstances, and is far more desirable than one generated by a vision of perfection. Consequently, he prefers small and limited innovations to large and indefinite. Fourthly, he favours a slow rather than a rapid pace, and pauses to observe current consequences and make appropriate adjustments. And lastly, he believes the occasion to be important; and, other things being equal, he considers the most favourable occasion for innovation to be when the pro- jected change is most likely to be limited to what is intended and least likely to be corrupted by undesired and unmanageable con- sequences The disposition to be conservative is, then, warm and positive in respect of enjoyment, and correspondingly cool and critical in respect of change and innovation: these two inclinations support and elucidate one another. The man of conservative temperament be- lieves that a known good is not lightly to be surrendered for an unknown better. He is not in love with what is dangerous and diffi- ON BEING CONSERVATIVE 173 cult; he is unadventurous; he has no impulse to sail uncharted seas; for him there is no magic in being lost, bewildered or shipwrecked. Ifhe is forced to navigate the unknown, he sees virtue in heaving the lead every inch of the way. What others plausibly identify as timi- dity, he recognizes in himself as rational prudence; what others interpret as inactivity, he recognizes as a disposition to enjoy rather than to exploit. He is cautious, and he is disposed to indicate his assent or dissent, not in absolute, but in graduated terms. He eyes the situation in terms of its propensity to disrupt the familiarity of the features of his world. 2 It is commonly believed that this conservative disposition is pretty deeply rooted in what is called 'human nature'. Change is tiring, innovation calls for effort, and human beings (it is said) are more apt to be lazy than energetic. If they have found a not unsatisfactory way of getting along in the world, they are not disposed to go looking for trouble. They are naturally apprehensive of the unknown and prefer safety to danger. They are reluctant innovators, and they accept change not because they like it but (as Rochefoucauld says they accept death) because it is inescapable. Change generates sad- ness rather than exhilaration: heaven is the dream of a changeless no less than of a perfect world. Of course, those who read 'human nature' in this way agree that this disposition does not stand alone; they merely contend that it is an exceedingly strong, perhaps the strongest, of human propensities. And, so far as it goes, there is something to be said for this belief: human circumstances would certainly be very different from what they are if there were not a large ingredient of conservatism in human preferences. Primitive peoples are said to cling to what is familiar and to be averse from change; ancient myth is full of warnings against innovation; our folklore and proverbial wisdom about the conduct oflife abounds in conservative precepts; and how many tears are shed by children in their unwilling accommodation to change. Indeed, wherever a firm identity has been achieved, and wherever identity is felt to be pre- cariously balanced, a conservative disposition is likely to prevail. On the other hand, the disposition of adolescence is often predomin- ܙܠ ܘܫܫܐܩܢܪ ܫܪܝܪܡ ܝܢܐܐ ܝܒ ܒ ܒ 0:11 1 RATIONALISM IN POLITICS 174 antly adventurous and experimental: when we are young, nothing seems more desirable than to take a chance; pas de risque, de pas plaisir. And while some peoples, over long stretches of time, appear successfully to have avoided change, the history of others displays periods of intense and intrepid innovation. There is, indeed, not much profit to be had from general speculation about 'human nature', which is no steadier than anything else in our acquaintance. What is more to the point is to consider current human nature, to consider ourselves. With us, I think, the disposition to be conservative is far from being notably strong. Indeed, if he were to judge by our conduct during the last five centuries or so, an unprejudiced stranger might plausibly suppose us to be in love with change, to have an appetite only for innovation and to be either so out of sympathy with our- selves or so careless of our identity as not to be disposed to give it any consideration. In general, the fascination of what is new is felt far more keenly than the comfort of what is familiar. We are disposed to think that nothing important is happening unless great innova- tions are afoot, and that what is not being improved must be deterio- rating. There is a positive prejudice in favour of the yet untried. We readily presume that all change is, somehow, for the better, and we are easily persuaded that all the consequences of our innovating activity are either themselves improvements or at least a reasonable price to pay for getting what we want. While the conservative, if he were forced to gamble, would bet on the field, we are disposed to back our individual fancies with little calculation and no apprehen- sion of loss. We are acquisitive to the point of greed; ready to drop the bone we have for its reflection magnified in the mirror of the future. Nothing is made to outlast probable improvement in a world where everything is undergoing incessant improvement: the expec- tation of life of everything except human beings themselves contin- uously declines. Pieties are fleeting, loyalties evanescent, and the pace of change warns us against too deep attachments. We are willing to try anything once, regardless of the consequences. One activity vies with another in being 'up-to-date': discarded motor-cars and television sets have their counterparts in discarded moral and re- ligious beliefs: the eye is ever on the new model. To see is to imagine ON BEING CONSERVATIVE 175 what might be in the place of what is; to touch is to transform. Whatever the shape or quality of the world, it is not for long as we want it. And those in the van of movement infect those behind with their energy and enterprise. Omnes eodem cogemur: when we are no longer light-footed we find a place for ourselves in the band.¹ Of course, our character has other ingredients besides this lust for change (we are not devoid of the impulse to cherish and preserve), but there can be little doubt about its pre-eminence. And, in these circumstances, it seems appropriate that a conservative disposition should appear, not as an intelligible (or even plausible) alternative to our mainly 'progressive' habit of mind, but either as an unfortunate hindrance to the movement afoot, or as the custodian of the museum in which quaint examples of superseded achievement are preserved for children to gape at, and as the guardian ofwhat from time to time is considered not yet ripe for destruction, which we call (ironically enough) the amenities of life. Here our account of the disposition to be conservative and its current fortunes might be expected to end, with the man in whom this disposition is strong last seen swimming against the tide, dis- regarded not because what he has to say is necessarily false but be- cause it has become irrelevant; outmanoeuvred, not on account of any intrinsic demerit but merely by the flow of circumstance; a faded, timid, nostalgic character, provoking pity as an outcast and con- tempt as a reactionary. Nevertheless, I think there is something more to be said. Even in these circumstances, when a conservative dis- position in respect of things in general is unmistakably at a discount, there are occasions when this disposition remains not only appro- priate, but supremely so; and there are connections in which we are unavoidably disposed in a conservative direction. In the first place, there is a certain kind of activity (not yet extinct) which can be engaged in only in virtue ofa disposition to be conser- vative, namely, activities where what is sought is present enjoyment and not a profit, a reward, a prize or a result in addition to the exper- ience itself. And when these activities are recognized as the emblems 1 'Which of us,' asks a contemporary (not without some equivocation), 'would not settle, at whatever cost in nervous anxiety, for a febrile and creative rather than a static society?" 1 DIESEN AIR HO | 176 RATIONALISM IN POLITICS of this disposition, to be conservative is disclosed, not as prejudiced hostility to a 'progressive' attitude capable of embracing the whole range of human conduct, but as a disposition exclusively appro- priate in a large and significant field of human activity. And the man in whom this disposition is pre-eminent appears as one who prefers to engage in activities where to be conservative is uniquely appro- priate, and not as a man inclined to impose his conservatism indis- criminately upon all human activity. In short, if we find ourselves (as most of us do) inclined to reject conservatism as a disposition appropriate in respect of human conduct in general, there still remains a certain kind of human conduct for which this disposition is not merely appropriate but a necessary condition. There are, of course, numerous human relationships in which a disposition to be conservative, a disposition merely to enjoy what they offer for its own sake, is not particularly appropriate: master and servant, owner and bailiff, buyer and seller, principal and agent. In these, each participant seeks some service or some recompense for service. A customer who finds a shopkeeper unable to supply his wants either persuades him to enlarge his stock or goes elsewhere; and a shopkeeper unable to meet the desires of a customer tries to impose upon him others which he can satisfy. A principal ill-served by his agent, looks for another. A servant ill-recompensed for his service, asks for a rise; and one dissatisfied with his conditions of work, seeks a change. In short, these are all relationships in which some result is sought; each party is concerned with the ability of the other to provide it. If what is sought is lacking, it is to be expected that the relationship will lapse or be terminated. To be conservative in such relationships, to enjoy what is present and available regard- less of its failure to satisfy any want and merely because it has struck our fancy and become familiar, is conduct which discloses ajusqu'- aubutiste conservatism, an irrational inclination to refuse all relation- ships which call for the exercise of any other disposition. Though even these relationships seem to lack something appropriate to them when they are confined to a nexus of supply and demand and allow no room for the intrusion of the loyalties and attachments which spring from familiarity. But there are relationships of another kind in which no result is ON BEING CONSERVATIVE 177 sought and which are engaged in for their own sake and enjoyed for what they are and not for what they provide. This is so of friendship. Here, attachment springs from an intimation of familiarity and sub- sists in a mutual sharing of personalities. To go on changing one's butcher until one gets the meat one likes, to go on educating one's agent until he does what is required of him, is conduct not inappro- priate to the relationship concerned; but to discard friends because they do not behave as we expected and refuse to be educated to our requirements is the conduct of a man who has altogether mistaken the character of friendship. Friends are not concerned with what might be made of one another, but only with the enjoyment of one another; and the condition of this enjoyment is a ready acceptance of what is and the absence of any desire to change or to improve. A friend is not somebody one trusts to behave in a certain manner, who supplies certain wants, who has certain useful abilities, who possesses certain merely agreeable qualities, or who holds certain acceptable opinions; he is somebody who engages the imagination, who excites contem- plation, who provokes interest, sympathy, delight and loyalty simply on account of the relationship entered into. One friend cannot replace another; there is all the difference in the world between the death of a friend and the retirement of one's tailor from business. The relationship of friend to friend is dramatic, not utilitarian; the tie is one of familiarity, not usefulness; the disposition engaged is conservative, not 'progressive'. And what is true of friendship is not less true of other experiences of patriotism, for example, and of conversation - each of which demands a conservative disposition as a condition of its enjoyment. But further, there are activities, not involving human relationships, that may be engaged in, not for a prize, but for the enjoyment they generate, and for which the only appropriate disposition is the dis- position to be conservative. Consider fishing. If your project is merely to catch fish it would be foolish to be unduly conservative. You will seek out the best tackle, you will discard practices which prove unsuccessful, you will not be bound by unprofitable attach- ments to particular localities, pieties will be fleeting, loyalties evanes- cent; you may even be wise to try anything once in the hope of improvement. But fishing is an activity that may be engaged in, not

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    Free Republic Browse · Search News/Activism Topics · Post Article Skip to comments. Why I Became a Conservative: A British liberal discovers England's greatest philosopher. FrontPageMagazine.com ^ | Wednesday, February 5, 2003 | By Roger Scruton Posted on 02/04/2003 10:13:26 PM PST by JohnHuang2 Why I Became a Conservative By Roger Scruton The New Criterion | February 5, 2003 I was brought up at a time when half the English people voted Conservative at national elections and almost all English intellectuals regarded the term “conservative” as a term of abuse. To be a conservative, I was told, was to be on the side of age against youth, the past against the future, authority against innovation, the “structures” against spontaneity and life. It was enough to understand this, to recognize that one had no choice, as a free-thinking intellectual, save to reject conservatism. The choice remaining was between reform and revolution. Do we improve society bit by bit, or do we rub it out and start again? On the whole my contemporaries favored the second option, and it was when witnessing what this meant, in May 1968 in Paris, that I discovered my vocation. In the narrow street below my window the students were shouting and smashing. The plate-glass windows of the shops appeared to step back, shudder for a second, and then give up the ghost, as the reflections suddenly left them and they slid in jagged fragments to the ground. Cars rose into the air and landed on their sides, their juices flowing from unseen wounds. The air was filled with triumphant shouts, as one by one lamp-posts and bollards were uprooted and piled on the tarmac, to form a barricade against the next van-load of policemen. The van—known then as a panier de salade on account of the wire mesh that covered its windows—came cautiously round the corner from the Rue Descartes, jerked to a halt, and disgorged a score of frightened policemen. They were greeted by flying cobble-stones and several of them fell. One rolled over on the ground clutching his face, from which the blood streamed through tightly clenched fingers. There was an exultant shout, the injured policeman was helped into the van, and the students ran off down a side-street, sneering at the cochons and throwing Parthian cobbles as they went. That evening a friend came round: she had been all day on the barricades with a troupe of theater people, under the captainship of Armand Gatti. She was very excited by the events, which Gatti, a follower of Antonin Artaud, had taught her to regard as the high point of situationist theater—the artistic transfiguration of an absurdity which is the day-to-day meaning of bourgeois life. Great victories had been scored: policemen injured, cars set alight, slogans chanted, graffiti daubed. The bourgeoisie were on the run and soon the Old Fascist and his régime would be begging for mercy. The Old Fascist was de Gaulle, whose Mémoires de guerre I had been reading that day. The Mémoires begin with a striking sentence—“Toute ma vie, je me suis fait une certaine idée de la France”—a sentence so alike in its rhythm and so contrary in its direction to that equally striking sentence which begins A la recherche du temps perdu: “Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure.” How amazing it had been, to discover a politician who begins his self-vindication by suggesting something—and something so deeply hidden behind the bold mask of his words! I had been equally struck by the description of the state funeral for Valéry—de Gaulle’s first public gesture on liberating Paris—since it too suggested priorities unimaginable in an English politician. The image of the cortège, as it took its way to the cathedral of Notre Dame, the proud general first among the mourners, and here and there a German sniper still looking down from the rooftops, had made a vivid impression on me. I irresistibly compared the two bird’s-eye views of Paris, that of the sniper, and my own on to the riots in the quartier latin. They were related as yes and no, the affirmation and denial of a national idea. According to the Gaullist vision, a nation is defined not by institutions or borders but by language, religion, and high culture; in times of turmoil and conquest it is those spiritual things that must be protected and reaffirmed. The funeral for Valéry followed naturally from this way of seeing things. And I associated the France of de Gaulle with Valéry’s Cimetière marin—that haunting invocation of the dead which conveyed to me, much more profoundly than any politician’s words or gestures, the true meaning of a national idea. Of course I was naïve—as naïve as my friend. But the ensuing argument is one to which I have often returned in my thoughts. What, I asked, do you propose to put in the place of this “bourgeoisie” whom you so despise, and to whom you owe the freedom and prosperity that enable you to play on your toy barricades? What vision of France and its culture compels you? And are you prepared to die for your beliefs, or merely to put others at risk in order to display them? I was obnoxiously pompous: but for the first time in my life I had felt a surge of political anger, finding myself on the other side of the barricades from all the people I knew. She replied with a book: Foucault’s Les mots et les choses, the bible of the soixante-huitards, the text which seemed to justify every form of transgression, by showing that obedience is merely defeat. It is an artful book, composed with a satanic mendacity, selectively appropriating facts in order to show that culture and knowledge are nothing but the “discourses” of power. The book is not a work of philosophy but an exercise in rhetoric. Its goal is subversion, not truth, and it is careful to argue—by the old nominalist sleight of hand that was surely invented by the Father of Lies—that “truth” requires inverted commas, that it changes from epoch to epoch, and is tied to the form of consciousness, the “episteme,” imposed by the class which profits from its propagation. The revolutionary spirit, which searches the world for things to hate, has found in Foucault a new literary formula. Look everywhere for power, he tells his readers, and you will find it. Where there is power there is oppression. And where there is oppression there is the right to destroy. In the street below my window was the translation of that message into deeds. My friend is now a good bourgeoise like the rest of them. Armand Gatti is forgotten; and the works of Antonin Artaud have a quaint and dépassé air. The French intellectuals have turned their backs on ’68, and the late Louis Pauwels, the greatest of their post-war novelists, has, in Les Orphelins, written the damning obituary of their adolescent rage. And Foucault? He is dead from AIDS, the result of sprees in the bath-houses of San Francisco, visited during well-funded tours as an intellectual celebrity. But his books are on university reading lists all over Europe and America. His vision of European culture as the institutionalized form of oppressive power is taught everywhere as gospel, to students who have neither the culture nor the religion to resist it. Only in France is he widely regarded as a fraud. By 1971, when I moved from Cambridge to a permanent lectureship at Birkbeck College, London, I had become a conservative. So far as I could discover there was only one other conservative at Birkbeck, and that was Nunzia—Maria Annunziata—the Neapolitan lady who served meals in the Senior Common Room and who cocked a snook at the lecturers by plastering her counter with kitschy photos of the Pope. One of those lecturers, towards whom Nunzia conceived a particular antipathy, was Eric Hobsbawm, the lionized historian of the Industrial Revolution, whose Marxist vision of our country is now the orthodoxy taught in British schools. Hobsbawm came as a refugee to Britain, bringing with him the Marxist commitment and Communist Party membership that he retained until he could retain it no longer—the Party, to his chagrin, having dissolved itself in embarrassment at the lies that could no longer be repeated. No doubt in recognition of this heroic career, Hobsbawm was rewarded, at Mr. Blair’s behest, with the second highest award that the Queen can bestow—that of “Companion of Honour.” This little story is of enormous significance to a British conservative. For it is a symptom and a symbol of what has happened to our intellectual life since the Sixties. We should ponder the extraordinary fact that Oxford University, which granted an honorary degree to Bill Clinton on the grounds that he had once hung around its precincts, refused the same honor to Margaret Thatcher, its most distinguished post-war graduate and Britain’s first woman Prime Minister. We should ponder some of the other recipients of honorary degrees from British academic institutions—Robert Mugabe, for example, or the late Mrs. Ceausescu—or count (on the fingers of one hand) the number of conservatives who are elected to the British Academy. Suffice it to say that I found myself, on arrival in Birkbeck College, at the heart of the left establishment which governed British scholarship. Birkbeck College had grown from the Mechanics Institution founded by George Birkbeck in 1823 and was devoted to the education of people in full-time employment. It was connected to the socialist idealists of the Workers’ Education Association, and had links of a tenacious but undiscoverable kind to the Labour Party. My failure to conceal my conservative beliefs was both noticed and disapproved of, and I began to think that I should look for another career. Because of Birkbeck’s mission as a center of adult education, lectures began at 6 P.M. and the days were nominally free. I used my mornings to study for the Bar: my intention was to embark on a career which gave no advantage to utopians and malcontents. In fact I never practiced at the Bar and received from my studies only an intellectual benefit—though a benefit for which I have always been profoundly grateful. Law is constrained at every point by reality, and utopian visions have no place in it. Moreover the common law of England is proof that there is a real distinction between legitimate and illegitimate power, that power can exist without oppression, and that authority is a living force in human conduct. English law, I discovered, is the answer to Foucault. Inspired by my new studies I began to search for a conservative philosophy. In America this search could be conducted in a university. American departments of political science encourage their students to read Montesquieu, Burke, Tocqueville, and the Founding Fathers. Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin, and others have grafted the metaphysical conservatism of Central Europe on to American roots, forming effective and durable schools of political thought. American intellectual life benefits from American patriotism, which has made it possible to defend American customs and institutions without fear of being laughed to scorn. It has benefited too from the Cold War, which sharpened native wits against the Marxist enemy, in a way that they were never sharpened in Europe: the conversion of important parts of the social democratic Jewish intelligentsia of New York to the cause of neo-conservatism is a case in point. In 1970s Britain, conservative philosophy was the preoccupation of a few half-mad recluses. Searching the library of my college, I found Marx, Lenin, and Mao, but no Strauss, Voegelin, Hayek, or Friedman. I found every variety of socialist monthly, weekly, or quarterly, but not a single journal that confessed to being conservative. The view has for a long time prevailed in England that conservatism is simply no longer available—even if it ever has been really available to an intelligent person—as a social and political creed. Maybe, if you are an aristocrat or a child of wealthy and settled parents, you might inherit conservative beliefs, in the way that you might inherit a speech impediment or a Habsburg jaw. But you couldn’t possibly acquire them—certainly not by any process of rational enquiry or serious thought. And yet there I was, in the early 1970s, fresh from the shock of 1968, and from the countervailing shock of legal studies, with a fully articulate set of conservative beliefs. Where could I look for the people who shared them, for the thinkers who had spelled them out at proper length, for the social, economic, and political theory that would give them force and authority sufficient to argue them in the forum of academic opinion? To my rescue came Burke. Although not widely read at the time in our universities, he had not been dismissed as stupid, reactionary, or absurd. He was simply irrelevant, of interest largely because he got everything wrong about the French Revolution and therefore could be studied as illustrating an episode in intellectual pathology. Students were still permitted to read him, usually in conjunction with the immeasurably less interesting Tom Paine, and from time to time you heard tell of a “Burkean” philosophy, which was one strand within nineteenth-century British conservatism. Burke was of additional interest to me on account of the intellectual path that he had trod. His first work, like mine, was in aesthetics. And although I didn’t find much of philosophical significance in his Essay on the Sublime and the Beautiful, I could see that, in the right cultural climate, it would convey a powerful sense of the meaning of aesthetic judgment and of its indispensable place in our lives. I suppose that, in so far as I had received any intimations of my future career as an intellectual pariah, it was through my early reactions to modern architecture, and to the desecration of my childhood landscape by the faceless boxes of suburbia. I learned as a teenager that aesthetic judgment matters, that it is not merely a subjective opinion, unargued because unarguable, and of no significance to anyone besides oneself. I saw—though I did not have the philosophy to justify this—that aesthetic judgment lays a claim upon the world, that it issues from a deep social imperative, and that it matters to us in just the way that other people matter to us, when we strive to live with them in a community. And, so it seemed to me, the aesthetics of modernism, with its denial of the past, its vandalization of the landscape and townscape, and its attempt to purge the world of history, was also a denial of community, home, and settlement. Modernism in architecture was an attempt to remake the world as though it contained nothing save atomic individuals, disinfected of the past, and living like ants within their metallic and functional shells. Like Burke, therefore, I made the passage from aesthetics to conservative politics with no sense of intellectual incongruity, believing that, in each case, I was in search of a lost experience of home. And I suppose that, underlying that sense of loss is the permanent belief that what has been lost can also be recaptured—not necessarily as it was when it first slipped from our grasp, but as it will be when consciously regained and remodelled, to reward us for all the toil of separation through which we are condemned by our original transgression. That belief is the romantic core of conservatism, as you find it—very differently expressed—in Burke and Hegel, and also in T. S. Eliot, whose poetry was the greatest influence on me during my teenage years. When I first read Burke’s account of the French Revolution I was inclined to accept, since I knew no other, the liberal humanist view of the Revolution as a triumph of freedom over oppression, a liberation of a people from the yoke of absolute power. Although there were excesses—and no honest historian had ever denied this—the official humanist view was that they should be seen in retrospect as the birth-pangs of a new order, which would offer a model of popular sovereignty to the world. I therefore assumed that Burke’s early doubts—expressed, remember, when the Revolution was in its very first infancy, and the King had not yet been executed nor the Terror begun—were simply alarmist reactions to an ill-understood event. What interested me in the Reflections was the positive political philosophy, distinguished from all the leftist literature that was currently à la mode, by its absolute concretion, and its close reading of the human psyche in its ordinary and unexalted forms. Burke was not writing about socialism, but about revolution. Nevertheless he persuaded me that the utopian promises of socialism go hand in hand with a wholly abstract vision of the human mind—a geometrical version of our mental processes which has only the vaguest relation to the thoughts and feelings by which real human beings live. He persuaded me that societies are not and cannot be organized according to a plan or a goal, that there is no direction to history, and no such thing as moral or spiritual progress. Most of all he emphasized that the new forms of politics, which hope to organize society around the rational pursuit of liberty, equality, fraternity, or their modernist equivalents, are actually forms of militant irrationality. There is no way in which people can collectively pursue liberty, equality, and fraternity, not only because those things are lamentably underdescribed and merely abstractly defined, but also because collective reason doesn’t work that way. People reason collectively towards a common goal only in times of emergency—when there is a threat to be vanquished, or a conquest to be achieved. Even then, they need organization, hierarchy, and a structure of command if they are to pursue their goal effectively. Nevertheless, a form of collective rationality does emerge in these cases, and its popular name is war. Moreover—and here is the corollary that came home to me with a shock of recognition—any attempt to organize society according to this kind of rationality would involve exactly the same conditions: the declaration of war against some real or imagined enemy. Hence the strident and militant language of the socialist literature—the hate-filled, purpose-filled, bourgeois-baiting prose, one example of which had been offered to me in 1968, as the final vindication of the violence beneath my attic window, but other examples of which, starting with the Communist Manifesto, were the basic diet of political studies in my university. The literature of left-wing political science is a literature of conflict, in which the main variables are those identified by Lenin: “Kto? Kogo?”—“Who? Whom?” The opening sentence of de Gaulle’s memoirs is framed in the language of love, about an object of love—and I had spontaneously resonated to this in the years of the student “struggle.” De Gaulle’s allusion to Proust is to a masterly evocation of maternal love, and to a dim premonition of its loss. Three other arguments of Burke’s made a comparable impression. The first was the defense of authority and obedience. Far from being the evil and obnoxious thing that my contemporaries held it to be, authority was, for Burke, the root of political order. Society, he argued, is not held together by the abstract rights of the citizen, as the French Revolutionaries supposed. It is held together by authority—by which is meant the right to obedience, rather than the mere power to compel it. And obedience, in its turn, is the prime virtue of political beings, the disposition which makes it possible to govern them, and without which societies crumble into “the dust and powder of individuality.” Those thoughts seemed as obvious to me as they were shocking to my contemporaries. In effect Burke was upholding the old view of man in society, as subject of a sovereign, against the new view of him, as citizen of a state. And what struck me vividly was that, in defending this old view, Burke demonstrated that it was a far more effective guarantee of the liberties of the individual than the new idea, which was founded in the promise of those very liberties, only abstractly, universally, and therefore unreally defined. Real freedom, concrete freedom, the freedom that can actually be defined, claimed, and granted, was not the opposite of obedience but its other side. The abstract, unreal freedom of the liberal intellect was really nothing more than childish disobedience, amplified into anarchy. Those ideas exhilarated me, since they made sense of what I had seen in 1968. But when I expressed them, in a book published in 1979 as The Meaning of Conservatism, I blighted what remained of my academic career. The second argument of Burke’s that impressed me was the subtle defense of tradition, prejudice, and custom, against the enlightened plans of the reformers. This defense engaged, once again, with my study of aesthetics. Already as a schoolboy I had encountered the elaborate defense of artistic and literary tradition given by Eliot and F. R. Leavis. I had been struck by Eliot’s essay entitled “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in which tradition is represented as a constantly evolving, yet continuous thing, which is remade with every addition to it, and which adapts the past to the present and the present to the past. This conception, which seemed to make sense of Eliot’s kind of modernism (a modernism that is the polar opposite of that which has prevailed in architecture), also rescued the study of the past, and made my own love of the classics in art, literature, and music into a valid part of my psyche as a modern human being. Burke’s defense of tradition seemed to translate this very concept into the world of politics, and to make respect for custom, establishment, and settled communal ways, into a political virtue, rather than a sign, as my contemporaries mostly believed, of complacency. And Burke’s provocative defense, in this connection, of “prejudice” —by which he meant the set of beliefs and ideas that arise instinctively in social beings, and which reflect the root experiences of social life—was a revelation of something that until then I had entirely overlooked. Burke brought home to me that our most necessary beliefs may be both unjustified and unjustifiable from our own perspective, and that the attempt to justify them will lead merely to their loss. Replacing them with the abstract rational systems of the philosophers, we may think ourselves more rational and better equipped for life in the modern world. But in fact we are less well equipped, and our new beliefs are far less justified, for the very reason that they are justified by ourselves. The real justification for a prejudice is the one which justifies it as a prejudice, rather than as a rational conclusion of an argument. In other words it is a justification that cannot be conducted from our own perspective, but only from outside, as it were, as an anthropologist might justify the customs and rituals of an alien tribe. An example will illustrate the point: the prejudices surrounding sexual relations. These vary from society to society; but until recently they have had a common feature, which is that people distinguish seemly from unseemly conduct, abhor explicit sexual display, and require modesty in women and chivalry in men in the negotiations that precede sexual union. There are very good anthropological reasons for this, in terms of the long-term stability of sexual relations, and the commitment that is necessary if children are to be inducted into society. But these are not the reasons that motivate the traditional conduct of men and women. This conduct is guided by deep and immovable prejudice, in which outrage, shame, and honor are the ultimate grounds. The sexual liberator has no difficulty in showing that those motives are irrational, in the sense of being founded on no reasoned justification available to the person whose motives they are. And he may propose sexual liberation as a rational alternative, a code of conduct that is rational from the first-person viewpoint, since it derives a complete code of practice from a transparently reasonable aim, which is sexual pleasure. This substitution of reason for prejudice has indeed occurred. And the result is exactly as Burke would have anticipated. Not merely a breakdown in trust between the sexes, but a faltering in the reproductive process—a failing and enfeebled commitment of parents, not merely to each other, but also to their offspring. At the same time, individual feelings, which were shored up and fulfilled by the traditional prejudices, are left exposed and unprotected by the skeletal structures of rationality. Hence the extraordinary situation in America, where lawsuits have replaced common courtesy, where post-coital accusations of “date-rape” take the place of pre-coital modesty, and where advances made by the unattractive are routinely penalized as “sexual harrassment.” This is an example of what happens, when prejudice is wiped away in the name of reason, without regard for the real social function that prejudice alone can fulfill. And indeed, it was partly by reflecting on the disaster of sexual liberation, and the joyless world that it has produced around us, that I came to see the truth of Burke’s otherwise somewhat paradoxical defense of prejudice. The final argument that impressed me was Burke’s response to the theory of the social contract. Although society can be seen as a contract, he argued, we must recognize that most parties to the contract are either dead or not yet born. The effect of the contemporary Rousseauist ideas of social contract was to place the present members of society in a position of dictatorial dominance over those who went before and those who came after them. Hence these ideas led directly to the massive squandering of inherited resources at the Revolution, and to the cultural and ecological vandalism that Burke was perhaps the first to recognize as the principal danger of modern politics. In Burke’s eyes the self-righteous contempt for ancestors which characterized the Revolutionaries was also a disinheriting of the unborn. Rightly understood, he argued, society is a partnership among the dead, the living, and the unborn, and without what he called the “hereditary principle,” according to which rights could be inherited as well as acquired, both the dead and the unborn would be disenfranchized. Indeed, respect for the dead was, in Burke’s view, the only real safeguard that the unborn could obtain, in a world that gave all its privileges to the living. His preferred vision of society was not as a contract, in fact, but as a trust, with the living members as trustees of an inheritance that they must strive to enhance and pass on. I was more exhilarated by those ideas than by anything else in Burke, since they seemed to explain with the utmost clarity the dim intuitions that I had had in 1968, as I watched the riots from my window and thought of Valéry’s Cimetière marin. In those deft, cool thoughts, Burke summarized all my instinctive doubts about the cry for liberation, all my hesitations about progress and about the unscrupulous belief in the future that has dominated and perverted modern politics. In effect, Burke was joining in the old Platonic cry, for a form of politics that would also be a form of care—“care of the soul,” as Plato put it, which would also be a care for absent generations. The graffiti paradoxes of the soixante-huitards were the very opposite of this: a kind of adolescent insouciance, a throwing away of all customs, institutions, and achievements, for the sake of a momentary exultation which could have no lasting sense save anarchy. It was not until much later, after my first visit to communist Europe, that I came to understand and sympathize with the negative energy in Burke. I had grasped the positive thesis—the defense of prejudice, tradition, and heredity, and of a politics of trusteeship in which the past and the future had equal weight to the present—but I had not grasped the deep negative thesis, the glimpse into Hell, contained in his vision of the Revolution. As I said, I shared the liberal humanist view of the French Revolution, and knew nothing of the facts that decisively refuted that view and which vindicated the argument of Burke’s astonishingly prescient essay. My encounter with Communism entirely rectified this. Perhaps the most fascinating and terrifying aspect of Communism was its ability to banish truth from human affairs, and to force whole populations to “live within the lie,” as President Havel put it. George Orwell wrote a prophetic and penetrating novel about this; but few Western readers of that novel knew the extent to which its prophecies had come true in Central Europe. To me it was the greatest revelation, when first I travelled to Czechoslovakia in 1979, to come face to face with a situation in which people could, at any moment, be removed from the book of history, in which truth could not be uttered, and in which the Party could decide from day to day not only what would happen tomorrow, but also what had happened today, what had happened yesterday, and what had happened before its leaders had been born. This, I realized, was the situation that Burke was describing, to a largely incredulous readership, in 1790. And two hundred years later the situation still existed, and the incredulity along with it. Until 1979 my knowledge of Communism had been entirely theoretical. I did not like what I had read, of course, and was hostile in any case to the socialist ideas of equality and state control, of which I had already seen enough in France and Britain. But I knew nothing of what it is like to live under Communism—nothing of the day-to-day humiliation of being a non-person, to whom all avenues of self-expression are closed. As for Czechoslovakia, as it then was, I knew only what I had gleaned from its music—the music of Smetana, ~DVORAK, and ~jan in particular, to all three of whom I owe the greatest of debts for the happiness they have brought me. Of course, I had read Kafka and Ha~s\ek—but they belonged to another world, the world of a dying empire, and it was only subsequently that I was able to see that they too were prophets, and that they were describing not the present but the future of their city. I had been asked to give a talk to a private seminar in Prague. This seminar was organized by Julius Tomin, a Prague philosopher, who had taken advantage of the Helsinki Accords of 1975, which supposedly obliged the Czechoslovak government to uphold freedom of information and the basic rights defined by the U.N. Charter. The Helsinki Accords were a farce, used by the Communists to identify potential trouble-makers, while presenting a face of civilized government to gullible intellectuals in the West. Nevertheless, I was told that Dr. Tomin’s seminar met on a regular basis, that I would be welcome to attend it, and that they were indeed expecting me. I arrived at the house, after walking through those silent and deserted streets, in which the few who stood seemed occupied by some dark official business, and in which Party slogans and symbols disfigured every building. The staircase of the apartment building was also deserted. Everywhere the same expectant silence hung in the air, as when an air-raid has been announced, and the town hides from its imminent destruction. Outside the apartment, however, I encountered two policemen, who seized me as I rang the bell and demanded my papers. Dr. Tomin came out, and an altercation ensued, during which I was thrown down the stairs. But the argument continued and I was able to push my way past the guard and enter the apartment. I found a room full of people, and the same expectant silence. I realized that there really was going to be an air-raid, and that the air-raid was me. In that room was a battered remnant of Prague’s intelligentsia—old professors in their shabby waistcoats; long-haired poets; fresh-faced students who had been denied admission to university for their parents’ political “crimes”; priests and religious in plain clothes; novelists and theologians; a would-be rabbi; and even a psychoanalyst. And in all of them I saw the same marks of suffering, tempered by hope; and the same eager desire for the sign that someone cared enough to help them. They all belonged, I discovered, to the same profession: that of the stoker. Some stoked boilers in hospitals; others in apartment blocks; one stoked at a railway station, another in a school. Some stoked where there were no boilers to stoke, and these imaginary boilers came to be, for me, a fitting symbol of the communist economy. This was my first encounter with “dissidents”: the people who, to my astonishment, would be the first democratically elected leaders of post-war Czechoslovakia. And I felt towards these people an immediate affinity. Nothing was of such importance for them as the survival of their national culture. Deprived of material and professional advancement, their days were filled with a forced meditation on their country and its past, and on the great Question of Czech History which has preoccupied the Czechs since Palack~y\’s day. They were forbidden to publish; the authorities had concealed their existence from the world and had resolved to remove their traces from the book of history. Hence the dissidents were acutely conscious of the value of memory. Their lives were an exercise in what Plato calls anamnesis: the bringing to consciousness of forgotten things. Something in me responded to this poignant ambition, and I was at once eager to join with them and make their situation known to the world. Briefly, I spent the next ten years in daily meditation on Communism, on the myths of equality and fraternity that underlay its oppressive routines, just as they had underlain the routines of the French Revolution. And I came to see that Burke’s account of the Revolution was not merely a piece of contemporary history. It was like Milton’s account of Paradise Lost—an exploration of a region of the human psyche: a region that lies always ready to be visited, but from which return is by way of a miracle, to a world whose beauty is thereafter tainted by the memories of Hell. To put it very simply, I had been granted a vision of Satan and his work—the very same vision that had shaken Burke to the depths of his being. And I at last recognized the positive aspect of Burke’s philosophy as a response to that vision, as a description of the best that human beings can hope for, and as the sole and sufficient vindication of our life on earth. Henceforth I understood conservatism not as a political credo only, but as a lasting vision of human society, one whose truth would always be hard to perceive, harder still to communicate, and hardest of all to act upon. And especially hard is it now, when religious sentiments follow the whims of fashion, when the global economy throws our local loyalties into disarray, and when materialism and luxury deflect the spirit from the proper business of living. But I do not despair, since experience has taught me that men and women can flee from the truth only for so long, that they will always, in the end, be reminded of the permanent values, and that the dreams of liberty, equality, and fraternity will excite them only in the short-term. As to the task of transcribing, into the practice and process of modern politics, the philosophy that Burke made plain to the world, this is perhaps the greatest task that we now confront. I do not despair of it; but the task cannot be described or embraced by a slogan. It requires not a collective change of mind but a collective change of heart. TOPICS: Editorial; News/Current Events; Philosophy KEYWORDS: copernicus5; faithandphilosophy; rogerscruton Navigation: use the links below to view more comments. first 1-20, 21-40, 41-60, 61-80 ... 141-154 next last Wednesday, February 5, 2003 Quote of the Day by EternalVigilance 1 posted on 02/04/2003 10:13:26 PM PST by JohnHuang2 [ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies] To: JohnHuang2 Very nice. I'm bookmarking this about 2/3 through because I've got to get to bed. But it's really an excellent essay. 2 posted on 02/04/2003 10:30:27 PM PST by Cicero [ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies] To: JohnHuang2 Worth re-reading again tomorrow. 3 posted on 02/04/2003 10:36:31 PM PST by marron [ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies] To: JohnHuang2 Great read. Thanks for posting it. 4 posted on 02/04/2003 10:42:40 PM PST by The Iguana [ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies] To: The Iguana Welcome 5 posted on 02/04/2003 10:44:22 PM PST by JohnHuang2 [ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies] To: Cicero G'nite, amigo. 6 posted on 02/04/2003 10:45:20 PM PST by JohnHuang2 [ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies] To: JohnHuang2 This is truly one of the most incredible essays I have ever read.... it is long, but so very, very worth it. I'm in awe. Tammy 7 posted on 02/04/2003 10:51:44 PM PST by Tamzee [ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies] To: marron Fancy finding you on this page, my well worded friend. 8 posted on 02/04/2003 11:19:19 PM PST by farmfriend ( Isaiah 55:10,11) [ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies] To: rdb3; Carry_Okie "The abstract, unreal freedom of the liberal intellect was really nothing more than childish disobedience, amplified into anarchy." 9 posted on 02/04/2003 11:20:11 PM PST by farmfriend ( Isaiah 55:10,11) [ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies] To: JohnHuang2 Marvellous, John. Bookmarking and printing it. And thanks so much for all you do around here. It's the handful of people like you, searching out the best in writing, like this, that make FR the constant delight it is. 10 posted on 02/04/2003 11:40:08 PM PST by Byron_the_Aussie [ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies] To: JohnHuang2 What interested me in the [Burke's] Reflections was the positive political philosophy, The wisest person I know suggested this book to me and I still haven't read it... 11 posted on 02/04/2003 11:40:50 PM PST by KayEyeDoubleDee (const vector<tags>& theTags) [ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies] To: JohnHuang2 *bump* 12 posted on 02/04/2003 11:45:01 PM PST by Tredge [ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies] To: Byron_the_Aussie Why, thank you, good buddy. Appreciate the kind words. 13 posted on 02/04/2003 11:53:28 PM PST by JohnHuang2 [ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies] To: JohnHuang2 The trouble with Edmund Burke's philosophy is that it can be used to justify anything. Therefore, it says nothing. 14 posted on 02/04/2003 11:56:32 PM PST by The Great Satan (Revenge, Terror and Extortion: A Guide for the Perplexed) [ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies] To: KayEyeDoubleDee "What interested me in the [Burke's] Reflections was the positive political philosophy," A few years back in a used book store I found an old paperback that combined Burkes' "Reflections" and Thomas Paines' "Rights of Man". The contrast is stark. 15 posted on 02/05/2003 12:02:34 AM PST by fella [ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies] To: fella Indeed it is. 16 posted on 02/05/2003 12:03:02 AM PST by The Great Satan (Revenge, Terror and Extortion: A Guide for the Perplexed) [ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 15 | View Replies] To: farmfriend I am uncomfortable with his assertion that hierarchical obedience in service to an established hereditary order is necessity to a free society. I think he misses the true message offered by de Toqueville, that people whose obedience is to God and country as

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    Political Philosophy: Methodology Political philosophy begins with the question: what ought to be a person’s relationship to society? The subject seeks the application of ethical concepts to the social sphere and thus deals with the variety of forms of government and social existence that people could live in – and in so doing, it also provides a standard by which to analyze and judge existing institutions and relationships. Although the two are intimately linked by a range of philosophical issues and methods, political philosophy can be distinguished from political science. Political science predominantly deals with existing states of affairs, and insofar as it is possible to be amoral in its descriptions, it seeks a positive analysis of social affairs – for example, constitutional issues, voting behavior, the balance of power, the effect of judicial review, and so forth. Political philosophy generates visions of the good social life: of what ought to be the ruling set of values and institutions that combine men and women together. The subject matter is broad and connects readily with various branches and sub-disciplines of philosophy including philosophy of law and of economics. This introduction skims the most relevant theories that the student of political philosophy is likely to encounter. The article covers Liberalism, Conservativism, Socialism, Anarchism, and Environmentalism. Table of Contents Ethical Foundations Methodological Issues Political Schools of Thought Liberalism Conservatism Socialism Central Ownership The Moral Critique of Capitalism Anarchism Environmentalism Conclusion 1. Ethical Foundations Political philosophy has its beginnings in ethics: in questions such as what kind of life is the good life for human beings. Since people are by nature sociable – there being few proper anchorites who turn from society to live alone – the question follows as to what kind of life is proper for a person amongst people. The philosophical discourses concerning politics thus develop, broaden and flow from their ethical underpinnings. To take a few examples: the ethical utilitarian claims that the good is characterized by seeking (that is, attempting to bring about) the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people (see consequentialism). Accordingly, in the political realm, the utilitarian will support the erection of those institutions whose purpose is to secure the greatest happiness for the greatest number. In contrast, an ethical deontologist, who claims that the highest good is served by our application of duties (to the right or to others), will acknowledge the justification of those institutions that best serve the employment of duties. This is a recognizable stance that merges with human rights theorists’ emphasis on the role of rights (to or from actions and/or things). In turn an ethical relativist will advocate a plurality of institutions (within a nation or around the world), whereas an ethical objectivist will condemn those that are seen to be lacking a universally morally proper purpose (for example, those that support certain inalienable rights). As ethics is also underpinned by metaphysical and epistemological theories, so too can political philosophy be related to such underlying theories: theorizing on the nature of reality and of how we know things logically relates to how we do things and how we interact with others. The greatest and most persistent ethical-political issue that divides philosophers into a host of schools of thought is that concerning the status of the individual: the ethical ‘person’. Although the variety and subtleties of this area of thought cannot be examined here, suffice it to say that philosophers divide between those who deem the individual person as sacrosanct (that is, ethically and thus politically so) and those who consider the individual to be a member of a group (and accordingly for whom the group takes on a sacred status). Others consider political institutions to be sacred in their own right but this is hardly a tenable position: if humanity did not exist such institutions would be meaningless and hence can only gain their meaning from our existence. The key question that divides political philosophers returns to whether it is the group or the individual that should be the political unit of analysis. The language used by the opposing thinkers to describe the political primacy of their entity (that is, individual or group) alters throughout history depending on other competing or complementing concepts; but today the division is best characterized by the “rights of the individual” versus the “rights of the group.” Other appropriate terms include: the dignity of the individual; the duties and obligations owing to the group; the autonomy or self-determination of the group or individual – and these in turn resolve into particular and applied issues concerning the role of cultural, racial, religious, and sexual orientations. In political theory courses, the debate proceeds today between communitarians and liberals who debate the middle ground of rights and obligations as they stretch between groups and individuals. This caricature of extremes enables us to consider the differences and the points of agreement between the several schools of political philosophy in a better light. But as with generalizations made of historical events, the details are much more complicated and subtle. This is because the application of philosophy in the political realm necessarily deals with social institutions, and since people are sociable – indeed could hardly be said to be human if we possessed no society or culture – both extremes must examine and evaluate the social-ethical realms of selfhood, friendship, family, property, exchange, money (that is, indirect exchange), community, tribe, race, association, and the state (and its various branches) – and accordingly the individual’s relationship with each. 2. Methodological Issues In pursuing a philosophical examination of political activity, philosophers also divide between those who are methodological individualists and those who are methodological holists. Methodological individualists seek to explain social actions and behavior in terms of individual action – and politically are known as individualists, whereas holists seek to explain behavior by considering the nature of the group. The bifurcation results from a metaphysical division on the appropriate unit of study. In contrast to methodological individualists, who claim that a society (or culture, people, nation) is no more than the sum of its living members, holists argue that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, which in the political realm is translated into the state being greater than the citizenry, or the race, folk, or people being greater than the individual; politically, holism translates into the general theory known as “collectivism,” and all collectivist theories deny or lessen the value and authority of the individual in relation to the higher status accorded a collective entity. Methodological individualism translates into political individualism, in which the individual’s cultural or group membership is either rejected completely as not worthy of study or its causal or scientific relationship is deemed too amorphous or pluralistic and changing to provide anything by qualitative assessments of social affairs. Simmering in the background, it must also be noted, are theological-political philosophies that deny any primacy to the individual or to the group in favor of the supreme status of the divine realm. Yet these too must also split between individualist and holist conceptions of the individual (or of the soul) and for our purposes here can be said to follow the same dialogue as secular oriented political philosophers. Once theologians admit to having to have some kind of government or rule for the living on earth, the general debate of political philosophy can be admitted and expounded upon to define the good life for people amongst people. A second important methodological issue that relates both to epistemology as well as to ethics is the role that reason plays in social affairs. The extreme positions may be characterized as rationalism and irrationalism, but the descriptions are not necessarily logical opposites. A rationalist may declare his belief in rationalism to be ultimately irrational (for example, Karl Popper), and an irrationalist may act rationally. Political rationalism emphasizes the employment of reason in social affairs: that is, individuals ought to submit to the logic and universality of reason rather than their own subjective or cultural preconceptions. Rationalists argue that reason unifies humanity politically and hence is a conducive vehicle to peace. Irrationalists, on the other hand, downplay the efficacy of reason in our human affairs or more particularly in our social affairs. In turn, a broad range of alternatives are put forward in reason’s stead: emotions; cultural, religious, or class expectations; atavistic symbols; or mystical forms of intuition or knowledge. Irrationalists of all hues can also criticize rationalists for ignoring the subtle wisdom of intellectual and social heritage that often lies beneath contemporary society or which is deemed necessary for the reasoning mind; politically, they consider the demands of reason to be rationalizations of a particular culture (usually the criticism is leveled against the West) rather than demands that are universal or universalizable claiming that political solutions that appear rational to one group cannot necessarily be translated as solutions for another group. Some irrationalists uphold polylogism – the theory that there are (or ought to be) more than one form of logic, which ultimately collapses into an epistemological subjectivism. That is, tribal logic is predicated on the separateness or distinctiveness of particular groups’ logic or methods of discourse and thinking. However, other irrationalists deny that the human mind develops alternative logics around the world, but that human action does develop alternative methods of living in different places and from different historical circumstances. Politically this stance translates into conservativism, a philosophical stance that is skeptical of rationalist designs (say to overthrow all political institutions so as to begin ‘afresh’ according to some utopian blueprint) and which emphasizes the continuity of wisdom – as contained in institutions and the language of politics – over the generations and in specific localities. To return to the epistemological problems facing holism, the existence of overlapping loyalties that often characterize groups presents a strong criticism against collectivist doctrines: which group ought to be the subject of analysis when an individual belongs to more than one sociological entity? (Marx, for instance, based his philosophy on class analysis but did not give any precision to the term ‘class’.) If an epistemological relativism is permitted, say in the field of logic (“European logic is different from American”), further analysis must permit more particular gradations (“German logic is different from French logic” and “Bavarian logic is different from Schleswig-Holstein logic”) until one reaches the final thinking agent – the individual (“Franz’s logic is different from Katja’s”). The rationalist aspires to avoid such fractional implications of polylogism by maintaining the unity of human logic. Yet, if the rationalist is also an individualist, the paradox arises that individuals are united into the collective whole of rational beings (all individuals share reason), whereas irrationalism collapses into a plurality of individualistic epistemologies (all groups are ultimately composed of subjectivists). Nonetheless, between individualists (who emphasize the sacred status of the individual) and collectivists (who emphasize the sacred status of the group) exist a panoply of schools of thought that derive their impetus from the philosophical shades – the gray overlapping areas, which are today found in the perpetual disputes between individualists and communitarians. 3. Political Schools of Thought Having illuminated some of the extremes that characterize political philosophy with regards to method and terminology, the major schools of thought can be introduced. What will be noted is not just to which end of the methodological spectrum the school leans, but also its implied connections to ethics. Similarly, other aspects need to be elucidated: does the school emphasize the primacy of reason in social affairs, or does it underplay the role of reason in political affairs in favor of the forces of history, heritage, emotional or tribal predispositions? a. Liberalism The term “liberalism” conveys two distinct positions in political philosophy, the one a pro-individualist theory of people and government, the second a pro-statist or what is better termed a “social democratic” conception. Students of political philosophy ought to be aware of the two schools of thought that reside under the same banner to avoid philosophical confusions that can be resolved by a clarification of terms. The “Great Switch,” as cultural historian Jacques Barzun notes, took place in the late Nineteenth Century, a switch which was the product of shifting the political ground towards socialist or social democratic policies under the banner of liberal parties and politics. Etymologically, the former is the sounder description since liberalism is derived from the word “liberty,” that is, freedom and toleration rather than notions of justice and intervention that took on board in the Twentieth Century. Yet, the pro-statist connotation pervades modern thinking so much so that it is difficult to separate its notions from the previous meanings without re-classifying one or the other. The former is often referred to as ‘classical liberalism’ leaving the latter unchanged or adapted to “social democratic liberalism,” which is a rather confusing mouthful; “modern liberalism” is an easier term to wield and shall be used unless the emphasis is laid upon the socialist leanings of such modern liberals. In the broadest, presently popularly accepted term the modern liberal accepts rights against the person and rights to entitlements such as health care and education. The two positions do not sit well philosophically however, for they produce a host of potential and recurrent inconsistencies and contradictions that can only be resolved by stretching the definition of freedom to include the freedom to succeed (or freedom to resources) rather than the freedom to try. This sometimes generates difficult and perhaps insurmountable problems for those who seek to merge the classical and modern doctrines; nonetheless, the (modern) liberal project is actively pursued by modern thinkers such as J.S. Mill, John Rawls, Will Kymlicka, Ronald Dworkin and others. For these writers, the historical emphasis on toleration, plurality and justice underscore their work; they differ on their interpretation of toleration, public and private roles, and the perceived need for opportunities to be created or not. Some modern liberals, however, do try to remove themselves from classical liberalism (for example, Kymlicka) and therefore become more like ‘social democrats’, that is, humanitarians of a socialist bent who assert the primacy of minorities and even individuals to partake freely in the democratic processes and political dialogues, or whose emphasis on equality demands an active and interventionist state that classical liberals would reject. Dworkin, for example, claims justice is the essential motif of liberalism and that the state’s duty is to ensure a just and fair opportunity for all to compete and flourish in a civil society. That may require active state intervention in some areas – areas that classical liberals would reject as being inadmissible in a free economy. Dworkin’s position emanates from Aristotle’s ethical argument that for a person to pursue the good life he requires a certain standard of living. Poverty is not conducive to pursuing the contemplative life, hence many modern liberals are attracted to redistributive or welfare policies. Such fairness in opportunity to create equal opportunities underpins John Stuart Mill’s liberalism for example. However, the modern liberal’s emphasis on equality is criticized by classical liberals who argue that people are neither born equal nor can be made equal: talents (and motivation) are distributed unequally across a population, which means that attempts to reduce men and women to the same status will imply a reduction in the ability (or freedom) of the more talented to act and to strive for their own progression. Similarly, the modern liberal’s criticism of inherited wealth is chastised as being misplaced: although the policy connects well to the desire to ensure an equal start for all, not all parents’ gifts to their children are monetary in nature. Indeed, some, following Andrew Carnegie’s self-help philosophy, may contend that monetary inheritances can be counter-productive, fostering habits of dependency. Both modern and classical liberals may refer to the theory of a social contract to justify either their emphasis on the free realm of the individual or the fostering of those conditions liberals in general deem necessary for human flourishing. Classical liberals derive their theory of the social contract initially from Thomas Hobbes’s model (in Leviathan) in which individuals in a state of nature would come together to form a society. Liberals of both variations have never believed such a contract ever took place, but use the model to assess the present status of society according to criteria they believe the contract should include. Hobbes leaned towards a more authoritarian version of the contract in which individuals give up all political rights (except that of self-preservation which he sees as a natural, inalienable right) to the sovereign political body whose primary duty is to ensure the peace; John Locke leaned towards a more limited government (but one that could justly take the alienable life of an aggressor); Rousseau sought a thoroughly democratic vision of the social contract; and more recently Rawls has entertained what rights and entitlements a social contract committee would allot themselves if they had no knowledge and hence prejudices of each other. Both classical and modern liberals agree that the government has a strict duty towards impartiality and hence to treating people equally, and that it should also be neutral in its evaluation of what the good life is. This neutrality is criticized by non-liberals who claim that the assumed neutrality is in fact a reflection of a specific vision of human nature or progress, and although critics disagree what that vision may entail, their claim prompts liberals to justify the underlying assumption that promotes them to accept such issues as: equal treatment by the law and by the state; liberty to pursue one’s life as one sees fit; the right to private property, and so on. Nonetheless, broad liberalism accepts and emphasizes that people ought to be tolerant towards their fellow men and women. The modern importance of toleration stems from the Renaissance and post-Reformation reactions to the division in the Church and the ensuing persecutions against heterodoxy. Freedom in religious belief extends to other realms of human activity that do not negatively affect neighbors, for example in sexual or romantic activities, the consumption of narcotics, and the perusal of pornography. But what is philosophically more important is that the liberal doctrine of toleration permits the acceptance of errors – that in pursuing the ethical good life and hence the appropriate political life, people may make mistakes and should be permitted to learn and adapt as they see fit; or, alternatively, that people have a right to live in ignorance or to pursue knowledge as they think best. This is held in common with political conservatives who are somewhat more pessimistic and skeptical of our abilities than most liberals. Classical and modern liberals do unite in expressing a skepticism towards experts knowing what is in the best interest of others, and thus liberals tend to reject any interference in people’s lives as unjustifiable and, from utilitarian point of view, counter-productive. Life, for the liberal, should be led from the inside (self-oriented) rather than outside (other- imposed); but modern liberals add that individuals ought to be provided with the resources to ensure that they can live the good life as they see fit. The classical liberal retort is who will provide those resources and to what age should people be deemed incapable of learning or striving by themselves? Despite such differences over policy, liberals – of both the social democratic and classical strain – predominantly hold an optimistic view of human nature. In modern philosophy the position is derived from Locke’s psychological theory from An Essay on Human Understanding that people are born without innate ideas and hence his environment, upbringing, and experiences fashion him: for classical liberals this implies a thorough rejection of inherited elitism and hence of supposed natural political hierarchies in which power resided with dynasties; for modern liberals this implies the potential for forging appropriate conditions for any individual to gain a proper education and opportunities. Liberals applaud those institutions that reason sustains as being conducive to human freedoms: classical liberals emphasizing those institutions that protect the negative freedoms (rights against aggression and theft) and social democratic liberals the positive freedoms (rights to a certain standard of living). If an institution is lacking according to a critical and rational analysis – failing in its duty to uphold a certain liberal value – then it is to be reorganized for the empowerment of humanity. At this juncture, liberals also divide between deontological (Rawls) and utilitarian theorists (Mill). Most classical liberals ascribe to a general form of utilitarianism in which social institutions are to be reorganized along lines of benefiting the greatest number. This attracts criticism from conservatives and deontologists – according to what ends? – according to whose analysis? – comprising which people? and so on. Deontologists are not precluded from supporting liberalism (Immanuel Kant is the most influential thinker in that regard), for they hold that the proper society and hence political institutions should generate those rules and institutions that are right in themselves, regardless of the particular presumed ends we are seeking (for example, happiness). Modern liberals lean towards a more interventionist government, and as such they place more emphasis on the ability of the state to produce the right political sphere for humanity and thusly emphasize reform projects more than classical liberals or conservatives. Peace, to choose one example, could be brought to warring peoples or natives if only they admit to the clearly defined and rational proposals of the liberal creed – that is, they should release themselves from parochial prejudices and superstitions and submit to the cosmopolitanism of liberal toleration and peace. The variants here – as in the host of applied subjects – are broad ranging: some liberals espouse the need to secure peace through the provision of a healthy standard of living (effected by appropriate redistribution policies from rich countries to poor); others promote the free market as a necessary condition for the growth of the so-called “soft morals” of commerce; while others emphasize the need for dialogue and mutual understanding through multi-cultural educational programs. These kind of programs, the modern liberals argue, ideally should be implemented by the world community through international bodies such as the UN rather than unilaterally which could arouse complaints against imperialist motives; however, once the beneficial classical or modern liberal framework is created, the state and political institutions ought to remain ethically neutral and impartial: the state is to be separated from imposing itself on or subsidizing any belief system, cultural rites, forms of behavior or consumption (so long as they do not interfere in the lives of others). The liberal seeks the best form of government which will permit the individual to pursue life as he or she sees fit within a neutral framework, and it is the possibility of a neutral framework that critics challenge the liberal ideal. b. Conservatism This approach plays down the unifying or omniscient implications of liberalism and its unifying rationalism and thus accords institutions or modes of behavior that have weathered the centuries a greater respect than liberals. Politically, philosophical conservatives are cautious in tampering with forms of political behavior and institutions and they are especially skeptical of whole scale reforms; they err on the side of tradition, but not for tradition’s sake, but from a skeptical view of our human ability to redesign whole ranges of social values that have evolved over and adapted to many generations; detrimental values will, conservatives reason, fall into disuses of their own accord. The first issue facing the conservative is: what ought to be secured (against, say, a popular but misguided temporary rebellion)? How long does an institution have to exist before it gains the respect of the philosophical conservative? Here, the philosopher must refer to a deeper level of analysis and proceed to question the nature and purpose of the institution in light of some standard. Liberalism turns to reason, which is broadly accepted as the unifying element to human societies, but conservatives believe that reason can be highly overestimated for it belongs to single individuals and hence to their own political motives, errors, prejudices and so on. Conservatives typically possess a pessimistic vision of human nature, drawing on the modern tradition, on Hobbes’s belief, that were it not for strong institutions, men would be at each others’ throats and would constantly view one another with deep suspicion. (Their emphasis is thus not on the ensuing hypothetical pacifying social contract but on the prevalence of fear in human society). Conservatives are highly skeptical of power and man’s desire to use it, for they believe that in time it corrupts even the most freedom loving wielders: hence, the potential accession to any position of supreme power over others, whether in the guise of a national or international chamber, is to be rejected as being just as dangerous a state as Hobbes’s vision of the anarchic state of nature. Conservatives thus applaud those institutions that check the propensity for the stronger or the megalomaniacal to command power: conservatives magnify the suspicion one may hold of one’s neighbor. Critics – for example, of an anarchist or socialist strain – claim that such fears are a product of the presiding social environment and its concomitant values and are not the product of human nature or social intercourse per se. Such opponents emphasize the need to reform society to release people from a life of fear, which conservatives in turn consider a utopian pipe dream unbefitting a realistic political philosophy. For conservatives, the value of institutions cannot always be examined according to the rational analysis of the present generation. This imposes a demand on conservatism to explain or justify the rationale of supporting historical institutions. Previously, conservatives implicitly or explicitly reverted to the myths of our human or of a particular culture’s origins to give present institutions a sacred status – or at least a status worthy of respect; however, evolutionary thinkers from the Scottish Enlightenment (for example, Adam Ferguson), whose insights noted the trial and error nature of cultural (and hence moral and institutional) developments generated a more precise and historically ratifiable examination of institutions and morals – see the work of Friedrich Hayek especially. Accordingly, in contrast to many liberals, conservatives decry the notion of a social contract – or even its possibility in a modern context. Since societies evolve and develop through time, present generations possess duties and responsibilities whose origins and original reasons may now be lost to us, but which, for some thinkers, still require our acceptance. Justifying this is problematic for the conservative: present cultural xenophobia may emanate from past aggressions against the nation’s territory and may not serve any present purpose in a more commercial atmosphere; or present racism may emerge from centuries of fearful mythologies or again violent incursions that no longer are appropriate. But conservatives reply that since institutions and morals evolve, their weaknesses and defects will become apparent and thereby will gradually be reformed (or merely dropped) as public pressure against them changes. What the conservative opposes is the potential absolutist position of either the liberal or the socialist who considers a form of behavior or an institution to be valid and hence politically binding for all time. Conservatives thus do not reject reform but are thoroughly skeptical of any present generation’s or present person’s ability to understand and hence to reshape the vast edifices of behavior and institutions that have evolved with the wisdom of thousands of generations. They are thus skeptical of large scale planning, whether it be constitutional or economical or cultural. Against socialists who become impatient with present defects, the conservatives counsel patience: not for its own sake, but because the vast panoply of institutions that are rallied against – including human nature – cannot be reformed without the most detrimental effects. Conservatives – following Edmund Burke – thus typically condemn revolutions and coups as leading to more bloodshed and violence than that which the old regime produced. Some conservatives argue that a modicum of redistribution is required to ensure a peaceful non-revolutionary society. Whereas modern liberals justify redistribution on the grounds of providing an initial basis for human development, conservatives possess a pragmatic fear of impoverished masses rising up to overthrow the status quo and its hierarchy stems from the conservative reaction to the French Revolution. The conservative critique by Edmund Burke was particularly accurate and prescient, yet the Revolution also served to remind the political hierarchy of its obligations (noblesse oblige) to the potentially violent masses that the revolt had stirred up. The lesson has not been lost on modern conservative thinkers who claim that the state has certain obligations to the poor – including perhaps the provision of education and health facilities, or at least the means to secure them. In contrast to socialists though (with whom some conservatives may agree with a socialized system of poor relief), conservatives generally prefer to emphasize local and delegated redistribution schemes (perhaps even of a wholly voluntary nature) rather than central, state directed schemes. In affinity with classical liberals, conservatives often emphasize the vital importance of property rights in social relations. Liberals tend to lean towards the utilitarian benefits that accrue from property rights (for example, a better distribution of resources than common ownership or a method of providing incentives for further innovation and production), whereas conservatives stress the role private property in terms of its ability to check the power of the state or any other individual who seeks power. Conservatives see private property as a sacred, intrinsically valuable cornerstone to a free and prosperous society. The broad distribution of private property rights complements the conservative principle that individuals and local communities are better assessors of their own needs and problems than distant bureaucrats. Since conservatives are inherently skeptical of the state, they prefer alternative social associations to support, direct, and assist the maturation of civilized human beings, for example, the family, private property, religion, as well as the individual’s freedom to make his own mistakes. Conservatives of the English Whig tradition (Locke, Shaftesbury) have much in common with classical liberals, whereas conservatives of the English Tory tradition have more in common with modern liberals, agreeing to some extent with the need for state intervention but on pragmatic rather than necessary grounds. Those of the Whig tradition accordingly ally themselves more with individualism and rationalism than Tory conservatives, who emphasize community and ‘one-nation’ politics and its corresponding duties and responsibilities for the individual. The two, initially opposing doctrines, merged politically in the late Nineteenth Century as liberalism shifted its ground to incorporate socialist policies: the two sides of conservativism enjoyed a particularly visible and vocal clash in the late Twentieth Century in the political reign of Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom. c. Socialism The term “socialist” describes a broad range of ideas and proposals that are held together by a central overarching tenet: the central ownership and control of the means of production – either because central ownership is deemed more efficient and/or more moral. Secondly, socialists agree that capitalism (free-market conservativism or liberalism) is morally and hence politically flawed. Thirdly, some socialists of the Marxist persuasion argue that socialism is the final historical era that supplants capitalism before proper communism emerges (that is, a “historicist” conception). This section will focus on the first two claims. i. Central Ownership Politically, socialists claim that the free market system (capitalism) should be replaced or reformed, with most arguing for a radical redistribution of resources (usually to “workers” – that is, those socialists deem who do not presently own anything) and for the state or some form of democratic institution to take over the running of the economy. In the aftermath of Communism’s collapse – which is a point of conjecture amongst the historicist Marxist wing as to whether the Soviet system was truly communist or socialist – many socialists abandoned state ownership and control of economic resources in favor of alternative projects that proposed to be more flexible, democratic and decentralized. Economists of the Austrian school (notably Ludwig Mises and Friedrich Hayek) had long predicted the inexorable collapse of socialism because of its inability in the absence of market generated price mechanisms to plan resource distribution and consumption efficiently or effectively. Socialist economists such as Oskar Lange accepted the important critique and challenge but pushed on with state controlled policies in the belief that theoretically the markets’ prioritization of values through prices could by replaced by complex economic modeling: for example, Leontieff input-output models in which priorities are given values by either the central authorities, or in more modern turns with the socialist movement, by more decentralized institutions such as worker co-operatives. Despite the empirical challenge of the collapse of the Soviet system – and more importantly the failure of centrally controlled economies throughout the West and the Third World, socialists have rallied to parade alternative conceptions of the communal ownership and control of resources. Market socialism, for instance, tolerates a predominantly market system but demands that certain ‘essential’ resources be controlled by the state. These may then act to direct the general economy along politically desirable roads: for example, expanding technology companies, educational and health services, or the economic and physical infrastructure of the nation. Others argue that while markets should predominate, the state should control only the investment industry. However, the economists’ critique that state intervention produces not only an inefficient outcome but also an outcome that the planners themselves do not desire is extendable to all instances of intervention – and especially any interventions in investment, where the complexity of the price mechanism deals not just with consumers’ and producers’ present preferences but also their more subtle intertemporal preferences for present and future consumption. In the face of a growing indictment (and unpopularity) of central planning, many socialists have preferred instead to concentrate on altering the presiding property relationships demanding that companies be given over to the workers rather the assumed exploitative capitalist classes. Resources, most socialists claim, need to be radically redistributed. Worker control socialism (worker control capitalism) sees the way forward through worker owned and operated businesses, usually small-scale and run on a democratic basis. Legislative proposals that demand more discussion and agreement between management and staff are a reflection of such beliefs. However, the policy to give control to the workers presumes (a) the workers are a definable class deserving of a greater moral and hence political status than presently they are assumed to enjoy (which ethically would have to be established) and (b) that the workers are permanently in a condition of being either employed or exploited (perhaps by the same commercial concerns) and that they themselves do not wish to or actually do set up their own businesses or move between employees. An individual can at the same time be an employer, an employee, a worker and a capitalist and since individuals can move between the economic classes scientific precision is reduced and even abandoned. The strongest critique of socialist plans for the redistribution of income – coming from within and without the camp’s discussions – is on what moral or political criteria resources ought to be distributed. The pervading clarion call of Marx that resources ought to be distributed from each according to his ability to each according to his need does not offer any guide as to what should constitute a need. Social democrats may point to the disabled as deserving resources they are not in a position – through no fault of their own – to attain; but psychological disorders can be just as debilitating. Others generate more complex arguments. For example, the deserving are those who have historically been persecuted. But this raises the problem of how far back in history one ought to proceed as well as a host of ethical ramifications of being born either guilty (and somehow deserving moral and economic reprobation) or needy (and somehow deserving unearned resources – which certainly presents a paradox for most socialists, who in Nineteenth Century Europe castigated the aristocratic classes for their unearned incomes). The gravest criticism leveled against all arguments for a redistribution of resources, even assuming that the criteria could be agreed upon, is that, in the absence of perpetual and strict controls resources will eventually become unevenly distributed; Robert Nozick presents a strong challenge to socialists in his Anarchy, State, and Utopia, asking what would be wrong with a voluntary redistribution in favor of say, supporting an excellent basketball player, which would result in an uneven distribution. Socialists may thus either have to accept the persistence of continual redistribution of

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