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Notes from Chapter 13 – Section 3

Man is a creature with a dual nature: an individual spirit that longs for a sense of connection to their fellow man. Conservatives celebrate that individual spirit but also seek to nurture a voluntary community built around shared principles, experiences, and a sense of something greater than the individual. The Radical seeks to destroy these communities at every chance they get. When the individual is isolated they are ripe to be exploited by the Radical’s siren call of “community” which is nothing more than a despotic state of misery.

“‘Both the successes and failures in the American social experience strengthen the classically conservative belief – the orthodox medieval belief, indeed – that all human concerns are properly linked according to a hierarchy of values. Some aspects of life exist, that is, for the sake of others, and these latter are more important.’” – Roland Berthoff, An Unsettled People (475)

– A centralizing of power leads to greater complexities upon a civil servant’s office – when combined with official duties, that leaves little time for thought/reflection of legislative duties

– Last President to think originally – Herbert Hoover

– Last Prime Minister “of intellectual distinction” – Arthur Balfour

“So it is that when one discusses social thought in recent decades, one rarely turns to those who occupy high political office: the ideas expressed by those men are put into their heads by others, and their very words ordinarily come from the typewriters of anonymous or quasi-anonymous members of their staffs – who, in turn, often echo the phrases of influential publicists or scholars.” (475)

Lionel Trilling noted in 1950 that little had been done by noted conservatives but quickly after that books, magazines, and writers came out to write for conservatism

– Conservatives came out and rightly repeated that “intellectuals” of the rational Enlightenment didn’t have a monopoly on thought or that it is solely “right thought”

Bertrand Russell replied when asked what he thought an “intellectual” was:

“‘I have never called myself an intellectual, and nobody has ever dared call me one in my presence. I think an intellectual may be defined as a person who pretends to have more intellect than he has, and I hope that this definition does not fit me.’” (477)

– Intellectuals were seen as those thinking knowledge can be “derived from reason”

Bacon, Hume, Coleridge wrote against them
Burke despised as “abstract philosophe”
Romantics and Utilitarians looked down on them

“All in all ‘intellectual’ meant what Bacon had suggested, a person who overrates the understanding. By implication, an intellectual neglected the imagination, the powers of insight and wonder, and the whole realm of beyond that is beyond private rational perception.” (478)

– 20th century definitions shifted to “jargon of Marxism” – Schooled & rational persons at odds with established social institutions

“The word implies an opposition between the life of the mind and the life of society – or, at least, a hostility between ‘advanced social thinkers’ and the possessors of property and power.” (478)

– It wasn’t until the 1920’s that intellectuals began to make an appearance en masse in New York and London

– American intellectuals were branded “liberals” in a deliberate sense to distinguish them for pragmatic philosophes and experiential visions in education and morality

– Ideology took hole at a time when education in America began to wane – loss of interest in learning, ease of academic achievement

“‘Intellectuals’ appeared in America when the works of the mind began to lose ground in public influence.” (479)

“‘I understand by the scholar no more pedant, dilettante, literary epicure or dandy; but a serious, robust, full-grown man; who feels that life is a serious affair, and that he has a serious part to act in its eventful drama; and must therefore do his best to act well his part, so as to leave behind him, in the good he has done, a grateful remembrance of his having been. He may be a theologian, a politician, a naturalist, a poet, a moralist, or a metaphysician; but whichever or whatever he is, he is it with all his heart and soul, with high, nobel – in one word, religious aims and aspirations.’” (479 – 480) – Orestes Brownson“The Scholars Mission”

– Trilling noted those he termed “liberals” were devoid of that scholarship and looked down upon the people they were to help shepherd

“‘The scholar is not one who stands above the people,’ Brownson had said, ‘and looks down on the people with contempt. He has no contempt for the people, but a deep and all-enduring love for them, which commands him to live and labor, and, if need be, to suffer and die, for their redemption; but he never forgets that he is their instructor, their guide, their chief, not their echo, their slave, their tool.’” (480)

– 50’s saw a public sympathetic tone to receiving conservative opinions – especially in foreign affairs – When facing the thought of Tocqueville’s “democratic despotism” and the centralizing forces seen by the “armed doctrine” ideologies like Communism

– Conservative social scientists argued for a “social coherence” and stability as a common purpose for man

– Focus on local and voluntary activities and goals rather than towards “an egalitarian collectivism

– Research the moral imagination of religious institutions rather than try to destroy the “‘superstitions of the childhood of the race’”

– Recognize that life is diverse and varied and value that rather than standardization

– See that man years for permanent rather than constant change

Conservatism Nurtures Community

“If the need of the eighteenth century was for emancipation, the need of the twentieth is for roots.” (482)

Robert Nisbet, The Quest for Community > Community and Power

– Nisbet sought to correctly define terms like community, liberalism, democracy, and individuality in a new light versus the light that sociologists of the Benthamite dogma cast on them

– He has the same fears as Tocqueville regarding “democratic despotism”, the erosion of local groups, and corrupting forces of materialism

“‘The family, religious association, and local community – these, the conservatives insisted, cannot be regarded as the external products of man’s thought and behavior; they are essentially prior to the individual and are the indispensable supports of belief and conduct. Release man from the contexts of community and you get not freedom and rights but intolerable aloneness and subjection to demoniac fears and passions. Society, Burke wrote in a celebrated line, is a partnership of the dead, the living, and the unborn. Mutilate the roots of society and tradition, and the result must inevitably be the isolation of a generation from its heritage, the isolation of individuals from their fellow men, and the creation of the sprawling, faceless masses.’” (483)

– Nisbet concludes that man is suffering from a loss of community

– Missing a sense of continuity in existence and a sense of direction with causes being:

– Decay of the family structure
– “Obliteration of the old-guild organization”
– Love for localities in favor of centralized state
– Sad state of religious beliefs

“The most conspicuous result of the revolutionary destruction of traditional society – a result, too, of mass industrialism – has been the creation of the Lonely Crowd: a mass of individuals without real community, aware that they matter to no one, and often convinced that nothing else matters.” (483)

Conservatism Nurtures Community

– The freedom that results from the destruction of traditional societal institutions is like the freedom of a baby deserted by parents and are swept up in Communist and Fascist rhetoric that promises everything to cure their loneliness

“‘So say that the well-fed worker will never succumb to the lure of communism is as absurd as to say that the well-fed intellectual will never succumb. The presence or absence of three meals a day, or even the simple possession of a job, is not the decisive factor. What is decisive is the frame of reference. If, for one reason or another, the individual’s immediate society comes to seem remote, purposeless, and hostile, if a people come to sense that, altogether, they are victims of discrimination and exclusion, not all the food and jobs in the world will prevent them from looking for the kind of surcease that comes with membership in a social and moral order seemingly directed toward their very souls.’” (484)

– Family decay is present not because of sociologist’s buzz words, but its loss of “economic and educational advantages”

– This holds true for every organization that bonds man to man

– Social planners didn’t account for, in Benthamite calculus, that they would be dealing with these fundamental issues of society, they thought it would just be the “big stuff”

– History shows us it is filled with stories of the slow destruction of community – the modern state being the most destructive force

“Hostile toward every institution which acts as a check upon its power, the nation-state has been engaged, ever since the decline of the medieval order, in stripping away one by one the functions and prerogatives of true community – aristocracy, church, guild, family, and local association. What the state seeks is a tableland upon which a multitude of individuals, solitary though herded together, labor anonymously for the state’s maintenance. Universal military construction and the ‘mobile labor force’ and the concentration-camp are only the more recent developments of this system. The ‘pulverizing and macadamizing tendency of modern history’ that Maitland discerned has been ground to pass by ‘the momentous conflicts of jurisdiction between the political state and the social associations lying intermediate to is and the individual.’ The same processes in the history of Greece and Rome; and what came of this, in the long run, was social ennui and political death. All those gifts of variety, contrast, competition, communal pride, and sympathetic association that characterize man and his manliest are menaced by the ascendancy of the omnicompetent state of modern times, resolved for its own security to level the ramparts of traditional community.” (485-486)

“Liberation from the dead hand of the past was the object of the devotees of romantic emancipation and of the ‘will of the people.’ But because men who ignore the past are condemned to repeat it, this expected emancipation from prescription has become, in the twentieth century, a tyranny more thorough and inescapable than anything known to the despotism of antiquity, let along the Ole Régime, throughout half of Europe and a large part of the rest of the world.” (486)

Marx’s dream of a central state that would wither away was merely a “terminological trick and in part self-deception”

– Just a rehash of the ideas of Rousseau and Bentham

“And as the old elements of true community have been hacked away, men increasingly have been induced to bring Marx’s dream to fulfillment, seeking in the vast impersonal state a substitute for all the old associations that, dimly, they know they have lost.” (486)

Conservatism Nurtures Community

– The 19th century saw the rise of the “political mass” that sought solace in the state that promised prosperity, liberty, justice, and community

– The total state found its power sources in the masses and sought to destroy any institution or minority that threatened its power

– It can take on any calling or creed – for evil or a self-deluded good – working toward its destructive ends

– Nazis and Fascists rose in power because of the “hysteria and loneliness of the masses”

“The totalist order destroys minorities by force and terror, but employs flattery and bribery to retain the support of the masses. The modern total state never is an unpopular creation.” (487)

– The total state seeks to obliterate the past history of a people as something to turn to for guidance

“‘A sense of the past is far more basic to the maintenance of freedom than hope for the future. … Hence the relentless effort by totalitarian governments to destroy memory. And hence the ingenious techniques for abolishing the social allegiances within which individual memory is given strength and power of resistance.’” (487)

– The old liberals assumed wrongly that Individualism and self-sufficiency were states man could achieve at the cost of community

– Conservatives knew the importance of community and hope to revive that sense to best back the State

– Rousseau and his ilk set man free from family, guild, class, church, and town but put him in chains to the State instead

“It is absurd to suppose that the rhetoric of the nineteenth-century individualism will offset present tendencies in the direction of the absolute political community. Alienation, frustration, and the sense of aloneness – these, as we have seen, are the major states of mind in Western society at the present time. The image of man is decidedly different from what it was in the day of Mill. It is ludicrous to hold up the asserted charms of individual release and emancipation to the populations whose most burning problems are those arising, today, from moral and social release. To do so is but to make the way for the Grand Inquisitor the easier. For this is the appeal … of the totalitarian prophet – to ‘rescue’ masses of atomized individuals from their intolerable individualism.” (488)

– Our age needs individuality that is divorced from the radical view

– Real democracy were the person participates in “communal affairs” versus the unitary democracy of Rousseau

– Real liberty of the person, no the “dogmatic liberalism

“How may true individuality and democracy and liberal spirit content successfully against Leviathan? Why, first of all, by acting upon the principle that the will is free. More than anything else, the influence that has aided the growth of the total state has been the assumption that such is the ineluctable course of history. The prophecies of Marx, like the prophecies of Knox, were of the order of those that work in their own fulfillment. If conviction of the inevitability of gradualism prevails in the minds of men a few years longer, ‘the transition from liberal democracy to totalitarianism will not seem too arduous or unpleasant. It will indeed be scarcely noticed save by the ‘utopians,’ the ‘reactionaries,’ and similar eccentrics.” (488 – 489)

– Intellectuals force down the opinion that centralizing and collectivism are the inevitable ends of the masses and stepping away from that idea is a “cardinal sin”

– Always wrong assume that man is a rational being over a creature of circumstance which leads intellectuals astray

– Nisbet contends the old laissez-faire of the atomized individual has failed because is sacrificed community to the individual

– This failed because the collectivist masses were able to overwhelm and with no community, the individual succumbs to radical forces

“Our new laissez-faire, however, ‘will hold fast to the ends of autonomy and freedom of choice. It will commence not with the abstract Economic Man or Citizen, but with ‘the personalities of human beings as they are actually given to us in association.’ The new laissez-faire will endeavor to create conditions ‘within which autonomous groups may prosper.’ It will recognize as the basic social unity the group: the family, the local community, the trade union, the church, the college, the profession. IT will seek not unity, not centralization, not power over masses of people, but rather diversity of culture, plurality of association, and division of responsibilities. Repudiating the error of the total state, it will restore the sort of State through which, as Burke said, Providence designed that men should seek their perfection as persons. In such a state, the primacy of ethics is recognized, and the true freedom of the person, which subsists in community, wil be guarded jealously.” (489 – 490)

Conservatism Nurtures Community

“…conservatism is not ideology, but instead a mode of looking at human nature and society.” (490)

– A scholar doesn’t have to be labeled a “conservative” to be so, they must recognize and embrace a sense of “the permanent things” over the change promoted by the ideologies – that influence is key

– The ideologies of today are latter-Marx and anarchists that learn nothing new and forget their past failures

“What today’s conservative thinkers have to fear, then, is not defeat in an intellectual contest, but rather eucatastrophe: that is, the collapse of the whole moral and social structure of modern civilization, before their arguments can more the minds and courses of the crowd.” (490)

– The conservative knows that despite neglect of order and community, that there is hope

“‘Fortunately the curious cycle through which American society had passed in its first 360 years left a growing sense that the good society could not be built merely by cutting the individual adrift from all institutions and structures. At best, too much of his energy and attention had to be devoted to keeping the society going at all. … At worst, the detached individual had become fearful, embittered, and unable to look beyond material success to any higher value of life. For a higher freedom – liberation of his energy and talents for cultural and spiritual self-fulfillment – evidently the support of a stable, well-founded social structure was as necessary as the checks and balances of the new economic system. By the late 1960s Americans were perhaps close to ensuring the individual a positive and many-sided liberty than at any time in at least a century and a half. If in their perennial aspiration toward a great society they could keep a reasonable balance between change and order, economic mobility and social stability, they might yet bring about the new birth of freedom, the city upon a hill, the beacon to all mankind, of the long-troubled American dream.’” (491) – Rowland Berthoff, An Unsettled People

  • Kirk, Russell. The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot – Seventh Revised Edition. Washington DC: Regnery Publishing Inc., 2001
  • Berthoff, Rowland. An Unsettled People: Social Order and Disorder in American History. New York, 1971

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