Thursday, September 29, 2005
I continue my series in which I embrace Conservative Philosophy (and reject the notion that modern conservatives, are), presenting Kirk's Fourth Principle:
Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence. Burke agrees with Plato that in the statesman, prudence is chief among virtues. Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away. As John Randolph of Roanoke put it, Providence moves slowly, but the devil always hurries. Human society being complex, remedies cannot be simple if they are to be efficacious. The conservative declares that he acts only after sufficient reflection, having weighed the consequences. Sudden and slashing reforms are as perilous as sudden and slashing surgery.
“Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences...” Does this sound like modern conservative thought? In warning about global warning, many scientists are deeply embracing this point – saying, “We don't know for sure what the outcomes will be for our current lifestyle. There is evidence it could be greatly detrimental. It would make sense, therefore, to change our policy until we know that it is a prudent way to live.”
And, very promptly, those same scientists are rebuffed and ridiculed by conservatives for being prudent.
When the Peacemakers were advocating caution instead of invading Iraq, were we not being prudent? Were we not asking, “What are the consequences of setting pre-emptive invasion as a precedent? Of invading a country that poses no threat to us?”
It seems very clear to me that, at least in the fields of foreign and environmental policies, the progressives are the prudent ones. I think we'd be considered the more prudent in economic matters, too. Think of Wendell Berry's or Lester Brown's writings encouraging us to consider the economy a subset of the environment instead of the other way around. They've both written very responsible and well-thought-out essays on the matter.
Yes, I certainly agree strongly with this Conservative Principle.
Monday, September 26, 2005
Third, conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription.
Conservatives sense that modern people are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see farther than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time. Therefore conservatives very often emphasize the importance of prescription—that is, of things established by immemorial usage, so that the mind of man runneth not to the contrary. There exist rights of which the chief sanction is their antiquity—including rights to property, often. Similarly, our morals are prescriptive in great part.
Conservatives argue that we are unlikely, we moderns, to make any brave new discoveries in morals or politics or taste. It is perilous to weigh every passing issue on the basis of private judgment and private rationality. The individual is foolish, but the species is wise, Burke declared. In politics we do well to abide by precedent and precept and even prejudice, for the great mysterious incorporation of the human race has acquired a prescriptive wisdom far greater than any man’s petty private rationality.
Now here's a principle with which I don't know that I agree. It's not so much that I disagree, it's just that I think there have been great and not-so-great people in every time. I don't underestimate the greatness of our forerunners, we've certainly had great thinkers and actors in our history. But we likewise have great thinkers and actors today.
This is, I suppose, similar to Kirk's earlier principle of observing Old Wisdom and, with both thoughts, I can see the validity of embracing that which has come before, but only after due reason and consideration have been given to the principles. I do not advocate blindly embracing tradition or its authors.
That's really all I have to say about that.
Friday, September 23, 2005
Kirk's second principle, in his own words:
Custom, convention and continuity
It is old custom that enables people to live together peaceably; the destroyers of custom demolish more than they know or desire. It is through convention—a word much abused in our time—that we contrive to avoid perpetual disputes about rights and duties: law at base is a body of conventions. Continuity is the means of linking generation to generation; it matters as much for society as it does for the individual; without it, life is meaningless. When successful revolutionaries have effaced old customs, derided old conventions, and broken the continuity of social institutions—why, presently they discover the necessity of establishing fresh customs, conventions, and continuity; but that process is painful and slow; and the new social order that eventually emerges may be much inferior to the old order that radicals overthrew in their zeal for the Earthly Paradise.
Conservatives are champions of custom, convention, and continuity because they prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t know. Order and justice and freedom, they believe, are the artificial products of a long social experience, the result of centuries of trial and reflection and sacrifice. Thus the body social is a kind of spiritual corporation, comparable to the church; it may even be called a community of souls. Human society is no machine, to be treated mechanically. The continuity, the life-blood, of a society must not be interrupted. Burke’s reminder of the necessity for prudent change is in the mind of the conservative. But necessary change, conservatives argue, ought to he gradual and discriminatory, never unfixing old interests at once.
Here again, I'm not sure that I disagree with this. The progressives I associate with greatly value Ancient Wisdom. Wendell Berry, Gene Logsdon and the Amish, for instance, are always pushing the notion of clinging to the continuity of the Old Ways of farming that have been undone by modern (often conservative-backed?) agribusiness.
I do have a few red flags that pop up as I read his commentary, though. Sometimes, things ought to change and they ought to change quickly. I'm thinking slavery. I'm thinking thinking civil rights. I'm thinking genocide.
Interestingly, by this definition, it seems conservatives would never back an invasion like the one we have going on in Iraq. They're trying to force radical change quickly and, I'd suggest, they're having the negative results that Mr. Kirk warns of here. Using Iraq as an example, I'd say that the peaceful negotiated change in Iraq that progressives were pushing fits Kirk's definition of Conservatism better than the Conservative Solution. In the words above, I hear Kirk calling Bush a nutty radical!
My blogfriend, Constantine, was suggesting this might make for some very interesting thought and discussion. I agree and welcome your input.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
In an effort to explore this thought, I've looked up a reference given by one of my conservative friends: Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles, which are cited by some as being a fairly good outline of what conservatives believe. They are listed below:
Russell Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles
1. An enduring moral order
2. Custom, convention, and continuity
3. Standing on the shoulders of giants
4. Prudence is chief among virtues
5. The preservation of differences
6. Resisting the utopian and anarchic impulse
7. Freedom and private property are related
8. Voluntary community vs. involuntary collectivism
9. Power and passion require restraint
10. Permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled
Now, each of these have some explanation from Kirk. I thought I'd tackle each item individually for discussion and consideration. I'll begin with the first.
Kirk says, "First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. That order is made for people, and people are made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent... It has been said by liberal intellectuals that the conservative believes all social questions, at heart, to be questions of private morality. Properly understood, this statement is quite true. A society in which men and women are governed by belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honor, will be a good society—whatever political machinery it may utilize; while a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society—no matter how many people vote and no matter how liberal its formal constitution may be."
So far, so good. I don't know that many progressives would disagree with this notion as stated. We do indeed believe in Moral Truths. Right and wrong. Yes, I know that there are genuine moral relativists out there, but I think that they are a minority. Otherwise, you wouldn't have so many people up in arms (so to speak) about the immorality of the Iraq Invasion. We believe it is wrong because we do believe in right and wrong.
Further, I could make a case that the Iraq War supporters are the moral relativists, in that they are saying sometimes it is okay to kill innocent people and sometimes it's not. Whereas I'm saying that it is always wrong to kill innocents. I ask you: Who's the relativist in that scenario: Me or the war-supporter?
NOTE: I'm not really wanting to get back in to the war debate, we've already done that here and here, among other places. I'm just using that as an example of moral relativism on the part of those on the Right.
All of that to say that I basically agree with this Principle and that I think many progressives would, as well. At least as much as conservatives do. The one place where I'd expand his definition is that all social questions are questions of private and corporate morality.
Monday, September 19, 2005
If the nation could not handle very well a localized disaster, what will the country be like when the entire industrialized world runs permanently short of petroleum in the grip of the coming (final?) energy crisis?
That's an important question for us to consider. Left, right, radical, conservative. It's in all of our interest to plan for a rainy day. This is surely one of the lessons from Katrina and it is even more vital as we consider it given the undisputed fact that we will one day run out of oil. What then? And will we be prepared?
If $3/gallon gas throws us for a loop, what will $20/gallon do for us? What if those who suggest that we're ready to peak within the next ten years are correct - will we be ready? I'd especially like to hear from fiscal conservatives on the topic. It sure seems to me this is a fiscal conservative issue, or should be.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
all embracing in His love,
in sublime almightiness enthroned,
a sovereign doer of whatever He wills.
The Qur'an, Sura Al-Buruj 85:14-16, tr. Asad
I've a friend who is a preacher in Morocco, which is a very Islamic nation and currently a bit hostile towards and suspicious of Christians. She just sent me a copy of her 9/11 sermon in which she noted:
It may surprise us Christians to learn that Allah is named The Forgiving One 97 times in the Qur’an. I think (though I am not sure so don’t quote me on this), that this is the third most common name for God found in the Qur’an, right after Ar-Rahim (the merciful) and Ar-Rahman (the beneficent).
She then preached a marvelous sermon about forgiveness, especially in the face of 9/11 and our desire for vengeance. She closes with a great story that I'd like to share:
I want to close by reading to you some words written by Christian de Cherge, one of the seven Trappist brothers kidnapped by Islamic extremists in March, 1996, and murdered by them after two months of captivity; the stated reason for the killing was that the brothers were encouraging evangelism.
Brother Christian, prior of Notre Dame de l’Atlas monastery in Tibhirine, Algeria, had anticipated that one day, he might be killed in the terror ravaging Algeria. So he left a testimony for his family to open if and when that day came. So in May, 1996, Christian’s family shared these words with the world:
If it should happen one day, and it could be today, that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems set to engulf all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would hope that my community, my Church, and my family, would remember that my life was given to God and to this country. I ask them to accept that the one Master of all life was not a foreigner at this brutal departure… I would like them to be able to link this death with so many other deaths, equally violent, but shrouded in indifference and anonymity… When the time comes, I would like to be able to have that stroke of lucidity which would permit me to ask forgiveness of God and of my brothers in humanity, forgiving whole-heartedly, at the same time, whoever my killer might be.
Returning to the thought of forgiveness in the last words of his testimony, Christian addresses his killer:
And so, this letter of gratitude, this “A-Dieu”, committing all to God, is intended for you, also, my friend of the last moment, you who will know not what you do. If God our Father wills it, may we be allowed to meet in paradise, the two of us together, blessed thieves.
That is a fearful and wonder-ful legacy for us, brothers and sisters. It is my prayer that here we would cultivate a culture of gratitude and forgiveness that will help us all on the journey as we seek to trust and serve God, the Forgiving One, Allah Al Ghaffur. For God can and WILL redeem it all, bringing healing in our own lives and in this world that God so loves.
See Karen's complete sermon at the Jeff Street blog.
Monday, September 12, 2005
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush's job approval has dipped below 40 percent for the first time in the AP-Ipsos poll, reflecting widespread doubts about his handling of gasoline prices and the response to Hurricane Katrina.
Nearly four years after Bush's job approval soared into the 80s after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Bush was at 39 percent job approval in an AP-Ipsos poll taken this week. That's the lowest since the the poll was started in December 2003. -Associated Press
How low can he go? How low can he go?
It's the Presidential Limbo!
Thursday, September 8, 2005
Friday, September 2, 2005
Further, I'm sure there are those out there talking about “what a bunch of animals these people are,” I've already heard words to that effect. And to be sure, the some of the stories of violence have been horrific (How can a rape happen in the midst of the Superdome without someone knowing about it and stopping it?!)
And it is pretty easily for some, for me, to cast blame on “these monsters.”
But we must remember that there are no such things as monsters. These are people. People in a terrible situation. People, perhaps, who've not learned to be a responsible part of society, but people nonetheless.
Perhaps they're people like some of my friends with mental illnesses. Some of my friends raised poorly in poverty. I'd like to offer a couple composite descriptions of some of my friends and ask for some good thoughts.
Gus is 45 years old and has no job. He has mental issues that have led to his being fired from every job he's had. He's had violent outbursts that are part of his psychoses that have led him to being barred from seeing his family.
In good times, Gus lives in an apartment paid for by the state. Lonely and angry but seemingly unable to do anything productive with his life for long because of his issues. In bad times, Gus is on the street and off his meds. To look at Gus, he seems healthy and capable of working (and he is physically healthy and capable of working).
Yet Gus' life is a spiral of homelessness and living with government help.
Samantha is a 22 year old mother of four. Except, her children don't live with her. They were taken away because she was an unfit mother. Samantha is expecting another child in a couple of months.
As she's living in a tent on the river (where she was raped earlier in the year, leading to this pregnancy), she will likely lose custody of this child soon after she's born.
Samantha ended up on the streets after running away from home at the age of 15. Her mother's boyfriend had raped Samantha, leading to her first pregnancy. Samantha's mother's story was much like Samantha's.
With little education and a very difficult childhood, Samantha doesn't know very well how to take care of herself, get a job and hold it, tend an apartment or do much that we take for granted.
Gus and Samantha are the types that conservatives love to hate. “Worthless! Dangerous! Need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps like I did!”
And yet, Gus and Samantha just can't pull “normalcy” off. Or at least, they haven't yet.
So tell me, what do we do with Gus? With Samantha?
And I'll tell you right now, I'm not writing this essay so that my conservative friends can deride my friends as “human waste who should just be sent to jail to rot,” so don't bother writing that sort of response.
I'm serious. What do we do with people who've not learned how to make it in our society?
My family is a part of a church that really tries to help our friends in dire straits, but even with the support of a community of wonderful people like those at church, it's not easy. We lose some of them and are of limited help to most of the others.
It's almost as if they need to be adopted as adults by someone or some community with time to work with them indepth, but it's hard to find someone willing to take on that kind of challenge. (And, of course, I know one of the bigger answers is to get help to them when they're young – to tighten our societal safety net – would be the wise, compassionate and fiscally responsible thing to do. But that's a different essay.)
As we raise our anger at those misbehaving in Louisiana and grieve over those in our own lives we are unable to help, I'm just wondering – in those hard cases – what do we do?