Friday, September 23, 2005

Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles, part 9

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.


madcapmum said...

I think I'm with you on this one, Dan.

Here's my observation: the damaging social conventions that you mentioned (slavery, racial prejudice, genocide), are imposed on society by the desire of the wealthy to profit financially. (I'm thinking specifically of plantations, but also of land-and-resources grabs in Africa and the Middle East.) The same elite group also endorses the business and agriculture practices that foul our land and water, taking as much as possible, as quickly as possible.

Would that be considered a "conservative" principle? Not in any long-sighted way, I don't think, because ultimately nothing is conserved, and uprisings are inevitable.

I'd be interested in hearing you apply this same principle to religion, given your current status in that sphere.

Dan Trabue said...

Thanks for stopping by, MCM.

Yours is a good question, about religion.

I mean, it sure seems as if religions of all groups would support Old Wisdom. I'm sure most would say they do, in fact, support Old Wisdom.

...I've written several responses to your comment and then erased them. I find I'm having difficulty responding. Perhaps, I don't fully understand what it is you're questioning, Ms. Madcap. Would you care to rephrase the question?

My short answer to your question as I understand it is that the religious have tended to be just as sucked in to an unsustainable and often unwise system as the world at large. Perhaps more often than not, they have even contributed to the problem.

This does not mean that I think having a faith community is unwise, though. Just as I distrust large corporations and gov't leaders, I also mistrust many church folk, based on what I hear them say their priorities are.

But that does not mean that I think all gov't, all corporations or all churches/faith systems are "bad." Just fallible.

madcapmum said...

Well, I guess "ancient wisdom" (whatever that is in religious terms) would find its home in the human heart. All the structures built on top of it are just that, structures. So, how far back do you go, whose structure is the "original" one you want to follow, and why that one? How is it anything but arbitrary?

If you applied Wendell's and Logsdon's models of a good, sustainable life to the religious life, what would you come up with? I would argue that it wouldn't be church in any form. And if you don't accept that model as applying to religious life, why not?

Dan Trabue said...

I think if you applied Saints Wendell and Gene's philosophies to religion, you'd have the Amish, the anabaptist, many native people's religions. All of which are practical and involve putting your hand in the soil and to the hammer frequently and with loving fervor.

Wouldn't you think that'd be the case?

(One can't read Berry/Logsdon too long before you catch an admirable praise cast the Amish's way).

madcapmum said...

Well, I've read quite a bit of Logsdon, and he doesn't seem to have much time for churchified religion in any form, though he's quite keen on Amish methods of farming and barn-building. I notice that neither of them has joined a commune, either, so presumably they're more in favour of individualism in all spheres. Collective individualism, everybody running their own ship, but coming together when more hands are needed.

So, what about it? If collective individualism is a good thing for life in general , does it translate into religious life, too, say a la Habitat for Humanity? (For Dan, not Wendell or Gene.) Why or why not? Is there some very compelling reason to become a church collective, or is it a matter of preference? If it's just a preference, I'm fine with that - it's just not my preference, and we're all welcome to our own. But if it's more than that, please explain where you're coming from and convince me it's more than just what you happen to enjoy.

If you want to, that is. (It's just my preference, after all! ;) )

Dan Trabue said...

I see folk like Berry and Logsdon who don't (I believe) regularly go to church and think that is fine for them.

I think, especially where your only church choices are not especially uplifting or whole (as I think many churches would not be for me), it especially makes sense to find your church community where you can, even if it's not in a church congregation.

One problem, I think, with not being part of a church community is a lack of accountability. Believe what you want and act how you want with no one there to suggest otherwise. It could be a bit narcissistic (hear me rightly - COULD be).

So, Dan thinks that if you can find a wonderful church community (as I have) it makes a lot of sense to be part of it. It uplifts, it challenges, it encourages, it strengthens, it is very much an extended family in the best sense of the word. If I were not part of my community, I would not be where I am now.

As you can probably tell, I'm a bit loose with how you define church/faith community. If your faith community is scattered here and there and meets over beer on saturdays instead of in a house or building on sundays, then be true to that faith community.

I have happened to find one that meets in a church building and it has been my salvation.

It's preference to a degree, but I do think having a community to which you belong is vital.

Does that answer your question?

madcapmum said...

Yup, that'll do to be going on with. Thanks, Dan! You're a good sport.