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Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Quotations, and General Thoughts



Intro

Today I’ve gathered a number of quotations, extracted from my Facebook page actually, and decided to use them as an analytical and exercise that will, in some ways, I hope personalize the conservative impulse by placing it in the context of the words of others.

The commentary I apply to each will obviously not be indicative of the sole and only viable conclusion to be drawn from each small block of text; however, I hope those who read them find it the words intriguing regardless.

"[Paris 1968] I suddenly realized I was on the other side. What I saw was an unruly mob of self-indulgent middle-class hooligans. When I asked my friends what they wanted, what were they trying to achieve, all I got back was this ludicrous Marxist gobbledegook. I was disgusted by it, and thought there must be a way back to the defense of western civilization against these things. That’s when I became a conservative. I knew I wanted to conserve things rather than pull them down." - Roger Scruton

Here Roger Scruton is referencing to his experience during the Paris 1968 riots. What I find most interesting here, is that he in fact makes a statement that would dovetail closely with a thesis proffered both by himself, and George Grant: Scruton in his How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for an Environmental Conservatism, and Grant in his seminal Canadian Treatise Lament for a Nation. Both philosophers make the case that we can only love the good, or engage in a selfless love, if first we care for what is unique, and what is ours, that is the crux of what Scruton saw in 1968, the destruction of something. Something that he did not build, he did not steward in any explicit sense, and yet via the tide of history came into ownership of, something uniquely his and destroyed and assaulted by the frivolities of radicals.

In turn it seems, that it is only by searching for the value in the things we have inherited that we learn to love what is ours, and build a base on enlightened modesty, but such a position is much more trying, and that is why the conservative will always be assaulted by the radical simplicity of the revolutionary consciousness.

"To abstain from sin when one can no longer sin is to be forsaken by sin, not to forsake it" - Saint Augustine

I am no theologian, but I read this morsel from Augustine as having much deeper implications for the way in which a person ought to conduct themselves on a daily basis and in even great respects as a direct challenge to the virtue signaling inherit in an individuated society. A society whereby moral communities are absolved and replaced by endearing and convenient frontage with little actual utility.
In the context of the individual, Augustine plainly questions the value of claiming one lives a moral life when the person themselves is not immersed in, or experiencing the temptations of sin. Augustine views mankind as expert rationalizers, fallen, and good out of convenience. We avoid and condemn when we are able to do so, because our circumstances enable us to avoid the degeneracy of wrong actions. However, this is ultimately meaningless because our intention itself is not to avoid sin in any actual sense, but rather that we are unable to do so and then provided with license to indulge in pride via no strain of our own.

If one were to take the statement of Augustine and apply it more broadly; I see it as having great insight into the culture of virtue signaling and the trivialities of those who profess to do good from afar at the expense of their own homes and civilization. Implicit in this is both an inefficacy as distance makes it impossible to ensure the fruits of our labours are rightly distributed, but it also divorces us from direct action when geography and novelty pits us against the local.

Finally, in forsaking the sin at home, for sin, which the individual has no exposure, one does not challenge themselves, nor do they place themselves in a position whereby they value home. Instead, they make the implicit statement that what is close and meaningful to the great majority is instead to be neglected and treated with disdain, and is that not how so many individuals who act righteous and indignant on behalf of foreign causes, Tibet, Palestine, et al treat problems of their own local? As unworthy, or beyond amelioration? That is not to say all act in such a fashion, but instead, that the public and indignant class does act in such a way much of the time.

"There are two things by which our empire should be governed, the sacred laws of the emperors and good practices of our predecessors and ancestors. We neither desire nor are able to exceed those limits; we do not accept what is not compatible with them." - Fredrick Barbarossa

Fredrick Barbarossa, to my knowledge, has never been held as an icon of conservative thinking, however, such a statement both rings true eternally, and provides a succinct summation of the conservative disposition toward legal reform and institutional change. Likewise, such a statement is a valuable profession of modesty, and in itself recognizes the fact that human beings have little potential to do better, or know more, than human beings in years past. Instead, it says we cannot use logic to redefine what generations have built and the intelligent of the elect, the privileged, the logicians, the rationalists, the scientists, and the politicians, is but miniscule in the eyes of eternal gradual improvement.

Something also lies deeper within this quote however, because Barbarossa also leads us to toward a line of thinking, which it seems, suggests that the very character, the identity, and the form of the state, its eternal heart by which it is defined its stewarded by its historical character. ‘we do not accept what is not compatible with them.’ In this statement the unacceptance is because what is beyond such limits is inevitably in conflict with the very nature of the state. If it is then case that the identity of the state is found not in its people alone, but in the works of those people complied over generations, then it needs to be recognized that such works are in danger of destruction and must be handled with the utmost care lest something valuable unique, and timeless be lost. People frequently morn the loss of a child; it is rare they mourn the loss of a nation.

There is joy in work. There is no happiness except in the realization that we have accomplished something. - Henry Ford

  I think this quote by Henry Ford is deceptively deep, why? Because it alludes to something key in the conservative nature, and that is that struggle has value, challenge has value, resistance and achievement has value. Looking beyond the context of the industrialist toward our daily struggles with virtue Ford here harkens back to the idea that Aristotelian happiness seems to derive more from the contemplation of achievement then it does from the passions and pleasures of the moment. This is directly in opposition to the modern society so indulgent and frivolous.

"I don't want the past back. I just think we chose the wrong future." - Peter Hitchens

I think Hitchens nicely summarizes the best argument to be made against those who cry reactionary bigotry against any form of conservative impulse. Notice, Hitchens does not attempt to mollify, but rather clarify, he reframes the issue rightly in terms of the fact that a conservative does not observe the past as completely without fault or corruption, in fact both are natural, (it’s the passing beyond both that is erroneous). Instead, he informs the critic that society has taken an unmerited and destructive detour.

Such a statement is not anti-progressive, but rather critical of the historical path on which the western world has begun to walk. If, as Hitchens states, it is the wrong future, and such a premise is acceptable to critics and conservatives alike then it opens up dialogue about what a better potential future could look like, while negating the criticism of inevitable and blind regressivism.

"[W]e have no God-given right to destroy our inheritance, but must always patiently submit to the voice of order, and set an example of orderly living. - Roger Scruton

Since I’ve already commented upon Scruton I will simply say that I believe that he points to order primarily as the foundation of all social structure and the bedrock of both personal and societal flourishing, which are inexorably linked. In addition, just as the community furnishes the individual understanding of orderly life so does the past furnish the perception of order inherited by the community as a whole. The substance and living history of a society ought to constrain it just as thoroughly as the community ought to constrain the individual and instruct it.

"Nineteen twentieths of [mankind is] opaque and unenlightened. Intimacy with most people will make you acquainted with vices and errors and follies enough to make you despise them." - John Adams

I won’t say much on Adam’s accept that he was obviously one of the most conservative of the founding fathers, and helped to shape the notion of a nation built on checks and balances. Not just in terms of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, but also doing his best to insulate it from the whims of the common man. Arguably, the American political scene is more demagogic than ever, but here I believe Adams strikes at the very heart of the problem of democracy. That we cannot trust the average person not to be a fool, not to be impious, lacking in virtue, or vested in self-interest at the expense of others, and if this is the case how truly viable is the highly democratic state? Democracy, I believe is something a conservative is wise to assess and question and is itself driven by so much shortsighted thinking that it is almost imperative that a true conservative limit the extent of the popular influence in political decision making.

Conclusion

Thanks everyone for reading and I hope you found this little novelty article as interesting as I did. Leave a comment if you’d like and thanks for your time.

--Cole