Monday, December 12, 2011

The meaning of conservatism

Bonald has written a very worthwhile short essay titled The Meaning of Conservatism. It's not that long (it's divided into four short pages which you have to click through), but it still manages to be a comprehensive account of the differences between conservatism and liberalism.

28 comments:

  1. Thank you for the mention, and for maintaining this excellent weblog that I've been reading regularly for the last few years.

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  2. I would comment on one point of Bondal's strong definition. At the end of the article he states:

    "This demand ignores the fact that all true love or attachment is directed towards a particular person or community, never to an abstraction like “humanity”. For example, the claim “all men are brothers” is a pernicious lie. I cannot love a stranger in the same way that I can love a man devoted to the same parents and with whom I spent my childhood. To demand that I have the same love for strangers that I do for my brother ultimately means that I must regard my brother as a stranger."

    According to Christian doctrine we are called to do exactly this, love our neighbor as ourselves, regardless of race and community. In this instance reverence for God is called to take precedence over simple affiliation for our natural communal group. This extraordinary and counterintuitive obligation placed on us is one of the cornerstones of Christianity and takes us out of our natural ties and into the spiritual.

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  3. Thanks for reminding me why i'm not a Christian Jesse.

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  4. Jesse, the Catholic doctrine states:

    The exercise of charity would soon become injudicious and inoperative unless there be in this, as in all the moral virtues, a well-defined order. The ordo caritatis, as theologians a term it...takes into account these different factors:

    1.the persons who claim our love,
    2.the advantages which we desire to procure for them, and
    3.the necessity in which they are placed.

    The precedence is plain enough when these factors are viewed separately.

    Regarding the persons alone, the order is somewhat as follows: self, wife, children, parents, brothers and sisters, friends, domestics, neighbours, fellow-countrymen, and all others.


    So there is no need for us to deny our love of kith and kin, of country or of family ancestry in order to uphold the Christian virtue of caritas.

    That fits in well with our lived experience that we feel a reverence in our spiritual lives for such forms of connectedness - it would be tough if Christianity commanded us to deny significant aspects of the spiritual life in order to reverence God.

    Fortunately it doesn't - not in the Catholic tradition anyway.

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  5. Jesse, in an internet discussion on the ordo caritatis one commenter put forward these three principles:

    Principle 1] Love for one’s neighbor should not result in a detriment or danger to one’s family, or those closer to him.

    These examples were given:

    If a father forces a life of poverty upon his family then this act risks violating the ordo. If a mother is so busy tending to the needy that she neglects the needs of her own children, then this risks violating the ordo.

    Principle 2] Love for one’s neighbor should derive from love for oneself and those closest to him, not replace it.

    The Christian virtue of caritas is not supposed to be a self-dissolving one in which there is no concern for one's own spiritual welfare or existence or in which other loves and loyalties are denied.

    And the third principle is this:

    Principle 3] Love for one’s neighbor should never replace, or become a substitute for, love for God.

    Jesse, as far as I am able to judge the Christian virtue of caritas can be boiled down to the idea that as God's presence is in all men, that since we love God, we will also extend our love to all men.

    It's true that that is a challenging virtue but it doesn't mean that all particular distinctions in our relationships and responsibilities and loyalties are dissolved away.

    In a way caritas should have a very different effect. One aspect of liberalism seems to be a fear that unless we respect however people choose to define themselves that we will dehumanise them and commit atrocities upon them.

    But a society that recognises caritas as a virtue has a non-liberal way of upholding the dignity and decent treatment of "the other".

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  6. Bonald,

    Thank you for your kind words. I look forward to continuing to explore the essays at your own site.

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  7. Jesse, you've got me thinking on this issue. So I'm going to run through another thought on this.

    If I love my neighbour as I love myself I will wish for him the objective goods in life. That will include that he enjoy membership in a traditional community of his own. I will want his life to be rightly ordered.

    But remember - I am loving him as I love myself - so to the extent that I wish upon him this objective good so too would I wish it upon myself and to those closest to me.

    And my first responsibility in working for the achievement of these goods is to myself and those closest to me extending out in a circle to my family and friends, my neighbours, my countrymen and then all others.

    That fits, I think, with the general traditionalist outlook, which is to want in other societies and places the maintenance of diverse cultures and peoples, whilst feeling ourselves most obligated to work on behalf of our own.

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  8. Mark,

    Thanks for the response. The command to love as I understand it, is a spiritual command, designed to raise us from our carnal (of the world) natures, to our spiritual level and by its nature is obviously a struggle. We still have to carry out our other social duties and obligations, including the preservation of the family, culture and nation. For instance In 1 Peter 2:13-14:

    "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right,".

    Whilst love doesn't extend to the destruction of yourself, it is still a move away from "tit for tat" or self focused thinking to a greater focus on God. Left liberal thinking would place man and his physical/material state as the highest good and that fosters extensive welfare thinking, clearly that is not right and that place belongs to God.

    Nonetheless to be Christ like we are called, I believe, to look past our cultural borders and affiliations and this is demanding. This is also one of the reasons why Christianity is a superior moral tradition and why we can defend ourselves with a clear conscious and in the right.

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  9. I don't disagree with your statement. For instance when we tithe we hand over a tenth of our income, (which belongs to God anyway), so the rest might be blessed and also increased. We're not obliged to give everything or destroy ourselves in the process because God wants our benefit.

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  10. Catholics are more pragmatic, Jesse. They keep the simple utopian rule in theory but add epicycles to make it conform more closely to brute reality.

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  11. Christ's teachings obviously tell us to demonstrate love above and beyond that which is expected of us in the natural order of things. We are told to love our enemies and to do good to those who do us evil, which would never be expected of us in the natural order, but which that order's divine Author has every right to demand of us.

    These teachings, however, should not be understood as promoting a universalist, egalitarian, revolutionary challenge to the natural order. Christ warned that it would be a misunderstanding of His words to interpret them as a dismissal of God's Law, and that Law clearly upholds the natural order. Note that when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for using man-made traditions to nullify God's law, the law He specifically pointed to was the requirement for filial piety.

    When the book of Deuteronomy first commanded the Hebrews to "love thy neighbor as thyself" this would not have been understood as "love everybody". Nor would it have been understood that way when Jesus took this commandment and raised it to the level of the second great commandment had someone not asked Him "who is my neighbor?" to which He gave the parable of the Good Samaritan in response. The word neighbor, after all is not a universal word. It denotes a relationship within a community.

    The question that logically arises in response to that would be "But doesn't the parable of the Good Samaritan teach that everybody is my neighbor?"

    Look at what Jesus was doing with that parable. The lawyer had asked Him "Who is my neighbor". Jesus never answers the question. The parable He tells enables Him to return the question to the one who originally asked it. When Jesus puts the question back to the lawyer it is now a question of which of the characters in His parable had acted as a neighbor to the man who had been beaten and robbed. The lawyer gave the obvious answer - the man who helped him, i.e., the Samaritan.

    Nobody that I am aware of has ever interpreted this exchange in the most literal way possible. That would not be "everyone is my neighbor" but "my neighbor is the person who helps me when I am in need". That interpretation would fit the letter of the text the best "Who is my neighbor?" "Which of these men was a neighbor to him?" "The one who helped him".

    It would completely violate the spirit of the text however. Jesus was not interested in answering the man's question but in addressing the spirit that lay behind it. By asking "who is my neighbor", the lawyer was hoping to get a definition of "neighbor" that would enable him to say "okay, these are the people I have to love, I don't have to love these other people". This reflects the legalistic attitude of "I will do what is required of me - but only the very minimum".

    The parable Jesus tells, in which a robbed person, left to die on a highway, is ignored by the people who should be most concerned with helping him, and is helped by a member of a despised rival ethnic group, speaks to that attitude. The people who walked by the man in need found reasons to justify their not stopping to help. That is the kind of justification the lawyer was looking for. Jesus was not willing to give it.

    This parable then, does not mean that our specific duties to love specific people, have been abrogated by Jesus and replaced with a universal command to love everybody equally. It means that our requirement to love our family and kin, our friends and neighbors, and our countryman, does not translate into an excuse for a lack of compassion and charity towards others to whom we do not have those specific bonds of attachment.

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  12. Jesse, I vehemently disagree with this theology:

    The command to love as I understand it, is a spiritual command, designed to raise us from our carnal (of the world) natures, to our spiritual level and by its nature is obviously a struggle. We still have to carry out our other social duties and obligations, including the preservation of the family, culture and nation.

    That desacralises our connection to family, culture and nation and sacralises instead our connection to strangers.

    That doesn't make sense within the larger Christian doctrine. For instance, take the example of marital love. Is that merely an expression of our carnal nature as opposed to our love of strangers being an expression of our spiritual nature?

    It doesn't seem to be treated as so within the Catholic tradition in which marriage is considered a sacrament which confers divine grace.

    And for non-Catholics there is Jesus saying in the Bible:

    "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."

    What God has joined together. That doesn't strike me as suggesting that marriage is merely a social duty or phenomenon.

    From Ephesians:

    Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it.

    We are to love our wives (marital love) just as Christ also loved the church.

    Therefore, if our love for our wives is merely carnal that would suggest that the love of Christ for the church was also merely carnal.

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  13. If I expressed myself poorly in the last point I apologise. There is a difference between the personal and political element. For instance although we are called to turn the other cheek personally in an instance such as theft, that doesn't mean that there should be no punishment or justice for the worngdoer at the political or governmental end. However, there is a tension there as we are still called to overcome selfish instincts. Marriage is obviously different to carnality and is a spiritual act. Work while day to day is also spiritual as we are called to do our best in praise of God.

    There are so many references to love being a priority in the New Testament "The Greatest of these is love" on the command to love God and love others "depend the whole Law and the Prophets" that it can't fit neatly into what is simply good for us or our community. Everyone else is also part of his creation and excessive pride in ourselves or our own is a sin. Our personal desires must to a degree be battled because our quest for ourselves must become our quest for God and out of that we can love our neighbor.

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  14. How do you turn the other cheek in an instance of theft? By not calling the police? In that case, Christians are a detriment to society, helping to keep criminals on the street. Turning the other cheek was a phrase that had clear meaning in a Middle Eastern society that sanctioned violence in defense of one's honor, even when there was no real threat of physical harm. It has nothing to do with theft.

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  15. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amy_Biehl

    "When 26-year-old Biehl drove a friend home to the township of Guguletu, outside Cape Town, on August 25, 1993, a black mob pelted her car with stones and smashed its windows while shouting racial epithets. Biehl was struck in the head with a brick, then dragged from her car and surrounded by a mob who stoned and stabbed her to death while she begged for her life.[1]"


    "Biehl's family supported release of the killers, and her father shook the murderers' hands"

    The Biehl's family was a Christian family. Another aspect that the wiki article doesn't go into is that the parents invited the killers to their home for dinner and also employed them.

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  16. Jesse,

    If I may interject here, I don't understand how you get from here:

    "Whilst love doesn't extend to the destruction of yourself, it is still a move away from "tit for tat" or self focused thinking to a greater focus on God."

    to here:

    "Nonetheless to be Christ like we are called, I believe, to look past our cultural borders and affiliations and this is demanding.

    Why must a man "look past" his own people to avoid "tit for tat" retaliation against another? Why can't he simply, as Mark put it ably, expect a foreign man to care for and guard his own people as he cares and guards for his own? Why, in short, can't a man look at his own people and then across the ocean at another much as a father looks at his own family and then across the street to a neighbor's?

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  17. As for Bonald's definition, I think he hit it square on the head: The idea that anyone could love any and all strangers as if they were his own brothers can't be true. It's not possible for a man to say so much as "Hello" to all 7 billion people on this earth in his lifetime much less to get to know them and do for them exactly what he does for his brothers.

    Bonald is right to call this a "pernicious lie." It allows a man to justify treating precisely those people who count on him the most most, worse, so that he can treat those who count on him the least, better. You'll remember that elsewhere Jesus also said this,

    "3But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?

    4For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.

    5But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me;

    6And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.

    7Ye hypocrites..."


    Matthew 15:3-7

    Jesus clearly took a dim view of "spiritualizing" our commitments to those who materially rely upon our loyalty.

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  18. "Bonald is right to call this a "pernicious lie." It allows a man to justify treating precisely those people who count on him the most most, worse, so that he can treat those who count on him the least, better. You'll remember that elsewhere Jesus also said this,"

    This seems to be a weakness in Western society. Its the behaviour of the liberals.
    I have a burning hate for those that would give charity to those most distant to themselves. While at the same time often refusing to aid, mocking and outright working against those with the most proximity to them.

    I read this recently off the Thinking Housewife.

    "If you want to do what’s right, if you want to live a life of sacrifice and bravery, turn from the Marine Corps and take a different path. Find a young lass who can give you children (and eventually grandchildren) who will look like you and who will look like your grandparents. Love her and protect her and set up a home for her where she is safe. Find a way to learn or teach yourself some skills that will feed your family and allow you at least some independence. Keep your word. Protect your home. Help your neighbor. Be merciless to those who would harm your family or your home. Keep to yourself and keep your own counsel. Listen more than you talk. Throw away your television set. Reject the mindset of the lemmings."

    This is the thinking that is needed.

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  19. I should say that the quote from the Thinking housewife is good depending on how you interpret "help your neighbour" I don't think its healthy to take this thinking further than your actual community.
    Certain groups like white liberals should be rejected, ridiculed and not associated with at all. There is no hope for them. There should be no love for them. They have no love for their own.

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  20. In the Old Testament it says,

    "If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.” Ex 23:4-5

    and,

    "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD."
    Leviticus 19:18

    also,

    "When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt." Leviticus 19:33-34 (living might be translated as traveling).

    We culminate in the New Testament:

    "You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:43-48

    Bonald talks about moral community being one of the basis of conservatism, and he is quite right in my opinion. This morality is heavily based on our Christian morality and tradition. It is right for us to defend our culture and our communities to which we are tied, it is not right for us to continually hate others or to be motivated primarily by anger. The reason we are called to turn the other cheek is not so we will be passive but so we will not be dominated by continued anger which is destructive and carnal. The reason we are called to love is to show our love for God.

    The Bible does call us to see other members of humanity as our "brothers", as we are all His creation, we can all find redemption through Jesus and Jesus went to the cross for all of us. This does not mean we have to bring foreigners into our countries en mass and there are many references in the Old Testament opposed to this which are not refuted, including the following curse:

    "The foreigners who reside among you will become higher and higher over you and you will become lower and lower. They will lend to you but you will not lend to them; they will become the head and you will become the tail!" Deuteronomy 28: 43-44

    Nonetheless it is not right for us to see our community as the be all and end all of existence. Our traditions are not God and neither is our community. God is higher than our nation and our community and a desire to raise either above him is carnal and shows a spirit too in love with the world. However, through both, community and tradition, we serve God on earth and show righteousness and he rewards us.

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  21. ""It is right for us to defend our culture and our communities to which we are tied, it is not right for us to continually hate others or to be motivated primarily by anger. The reason we are called to turn the other cheek is not so we will be passive but so we will not be dominated by continued anger which is destructive and carnal. "

    There is no hate in our civilisation thats the problem. Hate has been outlawed. Fancy that an entire emotion banned. I think any shrink could tell you thats not healthy.
    We are not allowed to express our grievances and dislikes.
    I don't like group X because group X raped my sister. Is not allowed in western conversation.
    This is unatural and absurd.
    Its often the case when an outlet for emotion is restricted that people turn their anger on inwards to their own community. This is why we have the self hate in western society.
    Whats worse domestic violence could be attributed to the only outlet for anger being our own families.
    Hate is normal anger is normal. Too much anger and hate sure that is unhealthy.
    No anger or hate? That is an emotionless 'Eloi' characteristic.
    Whats more I do not trust someone in the military who would claim to not hate or have anger for his enemy. That they would love their enemy like it was their own child and then kill them. Thats psychopathic.

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  22. Jesse, I don't mean to annoy you, but it seems like you're arguing with a strawman here. Neither Bonald nor anyone here has argued that we "see our own community as the be all, end all of existence". That's a tribalism so extreme I doubt that even most Nazis could practice it consistently.

    I'd encourage you to reread carefully Mark's comments, particularly the one in which he explains how loving all men necessarily means to treat them as you would want to be treated, were you one of them. I don't treat all men as my brothers, just as I don't treat all women as my brothers. I treat them as what they are to me, and I treat them well according to that standard. I don't treat my students as if they were my brothers. It just wouldn't be appropriate or feasible to do so. I treat them as I eeould want yo be treated were I also a student and they were my teacher.

    The "brotherhood of man" is a transparent fraud. Loving your neighbor as yourself (in like circumstances) certainly is not.

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  23. ""see our own community as the be all, end all of existence". That's a tribalism so extreme I doubt that even most Nazis could practice it consistently."

    Its funny because universally this is the norm. Except oddly with Western Europeans, getting gradually worse the more towards the Christian anglosphere you venture.
    Why?

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  24. So if a man(or a woman) comes to you and says I only love my family, my people and my culture.
    This person is now an acceptable avenue of all your righteous hate and anger. Not only that but they are the only acceptable avenue.
    People wonder why the west is in decline.

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  25. Anonymous said,

    "There is no hate in our civilisation thats the problem. Hate has been outlawed. Fancy that an entire emotion banned. I think any shrink could tell you thats not healthy."

    You can hate sin.

    Psalms 26:5 "I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked".

    But not if it leads you to sin:

    Ephesians 4:26-27: "When angry, do not sin; do not ever let your wrath last until the sun goes down. Leave no such room or foothold for the devil give no opportunity to him."

    I agree that we should not be a passive or eloi civilisation. But struggling with your nature makes you strong not weak and God is a great strength.

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  26. This is a pretty sucky comment system Google have, and is probably responsible for a lot of misunderstanding and talking past people etc. There are good ones about that have threads and use the whole width for the comment, so you don't have to scroll up and down pages at a time but can read all the relevant ones together.

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  27. Gerry T. Neal, apologies but blogger put your comment in the spam box. I've now restored it.

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  28. Another thought. When we say we love our wife or our children it doesn't mean that we constantly feel that as an emotion. There will be particular moments when we do, but we experience much in the course of a day and the demands on our attention don't always draw us to such feelings.

    And yet our commitments to our family continue even when the emotion of love isn't immediately present.

    In part, this is because our commitments also have a source in our being as men. The unfolding or development of our essential nature as men includes the directing of our strengths toward the protection and provision of our family.

    And our commitments to family also derive from our sense of the objective, inherent value of marriage and family.

    So, although it is true that the virtue of caritas is made preeminent in the Bible, it is important to remember that it is not made exclusive.

    If Christians are concerned at leading a spiritually ordered life, then they must be oriented not only to caritas, but to our created being as men and women and to the objective meaning to be found within particular relationships, institutions and traditions.

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