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Monday, 8 August 2016

The Making of My Conservatism: A Search For Order

This essay originally appeared on TheeWesterner, however due to its personal importance I am re-posting it here.

I am writing today to investigate the origins of my own ‘conservatism.’ Conservative is an appellation I am reluctant to apply to myself, simply because I believe it is too simple and politicized. The connotations associated with modern day conservatism have their origins in the competitive and demagogic nature of democracy itself. Therefore, it is only in the simplest and vaguest sense that I title myself a conservative. I am a conservative insofar as it is necessary to conserve things from a society, which I believe, ‘unconsciously’ wishes to destroy them. 

The origin of my political and philosophical understanding has always been a desire to understand and compose a normative moral framework for the anarchic world I perceived around me. The earliest stirrings of political awareness I had were fostered in my junior high school where we had a humanities curriculum that gave us a few dozen pages of reading on the philosophes, the Hegelians, and the English Empiricists. Here I found a brief mention of Marx and then, despite not knowing the first thing about him, I plunged into the romantic world of the Communists; the Communist Manifesto enraptured me at 14 years old, and I became the champagne socialist extraordinaire. My best friend and I formulated long Marxist monologues that we hurled at our classmates ruthlessly. 

This Communist affinity did not last however; the politicized world of my junior high Humanities class was replaced by an ambivalent high school where libertine pursuits became the norm. I indulged in excessive drug consumption and generally lived a hedonistic lifestyle, because that’s what everyone did, and I could not find a convincing moral framework capable of limiting my rationalizations for such behavior. 

Instead of politics, I excelled in anthropology and psychology classes, whereby I came to the nihilistic and cynical perception that humanity is just an ‘animal.’ Biological determinism and reductionism became the scientific justification for anti-social and hazardous behavior: science justified everything. Still I loathed disorder around me, and the perception that something was missing. I had become a history reader in the most prolific sense, and planned to study history in university, and each time I opened dusty pages or imagined the world in the past, I felt pangs of loss. 

The world felt cruder, more chaotic, angry, atomized, lonely, and uncaring; the world was prepared to destroy itself for the sake of pleasure. The sensation of historical loss, and the loath of disorder, both in my own soul, as well as the world around me, were perhaps the first stirrings of an unarticulated conservatism. 

I graduated with a mix of honours grades in the subjects I engaged in, and middling results in the rest, and with no clear route to the university, a fear of student loans, and the pressures associated with being the first person in my family to potentially pursue a degree. Therefore, I abjure my own desires and took the best paying job I could find out of high school in order to ‘save for university.’ I became an electrician, and flew to the Canadian arctic to work. My political and philosophical development had been placed on hold once again. However, my experiences working in the field among the blue collar, and living for various stints in some of Canada’s most impoverished and disordered communities did begin to shift the lens that had informed my prior perceptions of the world.

I took immediate notice of two things, that there was dignity in the work that people did and dignity came not from an outside validation, but the intrinsic value of family and the local. People were desultory when they laboured without connectedness. Yet, those who pursued their work with ends and purpose in mind flourished or at least staved off nihilism: I was exposed to philosophy by living it. In addition to this exposure I also saw hardship in our communities. I saw that government dependency was harmful; our northern communities had no capacity or sense of self-reliance and the government despite its best efforts to foster the local and the traditional were failing in instilling an organic flourishing and a sense of autonomy and capability in our aboriginal people. This failure to incentivize and propensity toward handouts caused immense hardship and disillusion. I saw people, who for want of a constructive tradition and firm family structure failed to reach their potential. 

I could not, however, and do not think our government, must fail to be a civilizing force in Canada. Rather, I believed and still do that it ceases to do so because it fails to see itself as authoritative in defining the good in this regard, but by ignoring the spiritual, communal, and moral obligations of government it left disillusion and unsatisfactory materialism and autonomy where the preconditions for such prerogatives were lacking. 

In the meantime, I decided I would be a writer. I punched out two novels and read literature and imagined a career as a pulp writer. Probably impoverished. Probably unsuccessful. But at least I would not become a failed tradesman (I couldn’t even build lego effectively as a child or an adult) so I planned, despite many detractors to return to school. The return to education began a process that would guide me toward developing some sort of political and philosophical framework of permanence. 

It would please me to suggest that I came to align with the conservative disposition from a reading of Edmund Burke or some other insight, however my introduction to conservative thinking did not come from such a place. Rather, I discovered intellectual conservatism first through the fallout caused by Islamic extremism and the associated apoligism that metastasized in the West, and an introduction to basic economics. 

These two major, and contradictory forces led me to political conservatism, first the arguments of the new atheists, particularly Christopher Hitchens, who by extension brought me into reluctant contact with his much more intellectually perceptive brother Peter Hitchens. Christopher Hitchens likewise brought me into contact with Douglas Murray (another British pundit and director of the Henry Jackson Society) who vociferously opposed both Islamic Extremism and moral relativism. Murray had written a book on Neo-Conservatism, which perplexed me. How could such a loathsome political ideology be advocated by anyone? I investigated the history of the movement and found the Straussians and Irving Kristol, who more than anyone else touched my intellectual development. 

Meanwhile, a professor of mine, Dr B (to preserve anonymity) lectured on microeconomics and introduced me to the nuances of free-market economic theory, as well as the insights of more critical economic nationalism and the cultural-economic theories of John Kenneth Galbraith. He directly repudiated socialist ideas, while still seeing a place for prudent intervention by government to limit market power. His nuanced perspective removed the blinders inhibiting me from rejecting my bifurcation of economics, and social policy. It was his views combined with the growing insights of more tactful conservative scholars made palatable my growing acceptance of conservatism outside democratic discourse. I began to read scholars like Thomas Sowell and Roger Scruton and saw shades of grey and a valuable intellectual tradition there.

Though a great deal more could be said about my turning toward conservatism I must, to reduce the esoteric, simplify and say that a love of history, a hatred of disorder, and a rejection of the attacks of the simple upon the complex: the leftist critique of almost everything, led me to a reactionary impulse.

This reactionary impulse began a process where I searched and read and studied as best I could in order to expand upon what I slowly decided was my life’s mission, to determine and articulate as best I am able that traditionalism and pre-modern political thought is deep, meaningful, valuable, and constructive. Conservatism became to me the method by which we work positively for betterment of society, how we chose to build and treasure things built cumulatively in such a way that we cannot articulate their meaning simply, but rather can only detail in the abstract. Such preservation has value beyond what is immediately evident through reason. Conservatism, in its collective wisdom, and rejection of human reason as the criteria of decision making became to me the only way toward human salvation and moral order. And that in the most basic sense is how and why I became a conservative.