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Notes from Chapter 13 – Section 4

Conservatism is about preserving the “permanent things” of mankind as a whole, and for elements of society as well. That is one particular reason why “conservatism” can be defined within different societies, i.e. European conservatism is not the same as American conservatism. Conservatism is not averse to change, but if there is an overall benefit to society or humankind, a change is worth implementing. If the change attacks the “permanent things”, breaks down societal order or throws humanity into chaos, the change is to be resisted with discussion and ideas.

For, dear me, why abandon a belief
Merely because it ceases to be true?
Cling to it long enough, and not a doubt
It will turn true again, for so it goes.
Most of the change we think we see in life
Is due to truths being in and out of favor.
As I sit here, and oftentimes, I wish
I could be a monarch of a desert land
I could devote and dedicate forever
To the truths we keep coming back and back to.

– Robert Frost, “The Black Cottage”

– Society cannot be renewed by political forces alone

Conservatism Preserves the Permanent Things

“How to restore a living faith to the lonely crowd, how to remind men that life has ends – this conundrum the twentieth-century conservative faces.” (492)

– Three major motives have compelled man to believe life is worth living and to carry out Duty:

  1. Carrying on in a spiritual sense through health and welfare of children
  2. Honest gain of property and passing that on to the next generation
  3. Knowing that continuity of mankind is more probably than change

“…in other words, men’s confidence that they participate in a natural and moral order in which they count for more than the flies of a summer. With increasing brutality, the modern temper – first under capitalism, then under state socialism – has ignored these longings of humanity. So frustration distorts the face of society as it mars the features of individuals. The behavior of modern society now exhibits the symptoms of a consummate hideous frustration.” (492)

– Conforming the mind to the state the “positivistic planner” proposes brings about a boredom that brings about a sense of death for an individual and society

T.S. Eliot is a principled 20th century conservative trying to point the society and soul out of a Wasteland – books of focus: The Idea of a Christian Society and Notes towards the Definition of Culture

“‘Conservatism is too often conservation of the wrong things,’ Eliot wrote in The Idea of a Christian Society, ‘Liberalism a relaxation of discipline; revolution a denial of the permanent things.” (493)

Conservatism Preserves the Permanent Things

“…the unsparing spectator of the Waste Land of modern culture, took up the defence of the beliefs and customs that nourish civilization, bitterly aware that we are ‘destroying our ancient edifices to make ready the ground upon which the barbarian nomads of the future will encamp in their mechanized caravans.’ This menace is imminent: for our mechanical civilization already has accustomed masses of the population to the notion of society as a machine. ‘The tendency of unlimited industrialism is to create bodies of men and women – of all classes – detached from tradition, alienated from religion, and susceptible to mass suggestion: in other words, a mob. And a mob will be no less a mob if it is well fed, well clothed, well housed, and well disciplined.’” (493)
– T.S. Eliot, The Idea of a Christian Society, p. 21

– He distrusts the new elites to be the “guardians of culture” because they’re “spiritually impoverished” and collectivism teaching has lead them to be arrogant and contemptuous of tradition and family honor

“‘The elites, in consequence, will consist solely of individuals whose only common bond will be their professional interest; with no social cohesion, with no social continuity. They will be united only by a part, and that the most conscious part, of their personalities; they will meet like committees. The greater part of their ‘culture’ will be only what they share with all the other individuals composing their nation.’” (494)

– Eliot often described himself as a royalist because the Conservative Party was such a wide ranging collective of factions that he couldn’t see their conservatism

– “The Literature of Politics” in 1956 made clear that he was a “defender of norms in culture and in the civil social order”

“Eliot’s real function, for all that, was one of conserving and restoring: melancholy topographer of the Waste Land, but guide to recovered personal hope and public integrity. Having exposed the Hollow Men, diseased by life without principle, Eliot – like Vergil in a comparable age – showed the way back to the permanent things.” (495)

– He recognized that defense of the permanent things was difficult and often a losing battle in our time but would help generations to come

“‘If we take the widest and wisest view of a Cause, there is no such thing as a Lost Cause, because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors’ victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that it will triumph.’” (495)

– He foresaw the “destruction of order” and wanted to prevent ruin

“Through the whole of Eliot’s writing there runs the idea of a community of souls: a bond of love and duty joining all the living, and also those who have preceded us and those who will follow us in this moment of time. That perception may outlast the ideological dogmas of this century.” (496)

– Poetry’s chief purpose is “to reinterpret and vindicate the norms of human existence” – that is not to say it can’t have radical upstarts, but even that returns to order and permanence

– Another conservative poet with some popularity was John Betjeman with Collected Poems (1959)

– Poets didn’t have to announce they’re “conservative” for the reader to gather their perspectives

– Homer, Sophocles, Vergil, Dante, all appealed to higher orders and powers to return their cultures to the truths their cultures once embodied – Milton, Dryden, Swift, Jogue, Coleridge, Yeats, Samuel Johnson (Irene) were others throughout the years

– Robert Frost didn’t prefer “conservative” but his writings were no doubt in this fashion

“For the neoterist and doctrinaire reformer, Frost had no fellow feeling. Harrison in ‘A Case for Jefferson,’ is a Freudian and Marxist, though of pure Yankee stock:

He dotes on Saturday pork and beans.
But his mind is scarcely out of his teens.
With him the love of country means
Blowing it all to smithereens
And having it all made over new.

One reason for Frosts’s popular successes, aside from his high talent, is his affinity with the old America, and with views of humanity and art older still. From tradition came his strength. A Tory poet, Kipling, prophesied that the gods of the copybook headings with fire and slaughter would return; and so have they come among us again, and they smite with increasing fury.” (499)

“In the present decade, liberalism and socialism lie prostrate, and for the most part fallen from public favor. A New Order, nevertheless, struggles to arise: an order of the lords of misrule, described in Troilus and Cressida –

Strength should be lord of imbecility,
And the rude son should strike the father dead:
Force should be right; or rather, right and wrong
Between whose endless jar justice resides,
Should lose their names, and so should justice too.
Then everything includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite.” (500)

– “Men of affairs” must rise to meet the poet’s call for conservation of “the permanent things” of culture and politics

– Remember an individual is foolish, but as a whole species, we’re wise.

  • Kirk, Russell. The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot – Seventh Revised Edition. Washington DC: Regnery Publishing Inc., 2001

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