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Notes from Chapter 13 – Section 1

In the late 20th century, conservatives in both America and England faced a crisis of leadership and ideas. It seems the radicals are destined to win, but they are always met with challengers that break the very foundations of the radical’s ideas.

– Throughout the years Conservatives have been routed but never conquered but the latest ideology

Jacobins were taken down by Napoleon’s boot

Benthamites were “checked” by Romantic writers

Positivists are occasionally popular but nixed by the absurdities

Marxism was “made hideous” to British/American eyes by the gross abuses of Russia & China among others

“In both great English-speaking nations, conservative convictions have maintained a political and intellectual continuity for two centuries, while the radical parties that detested tradition have dissolved successively, adhering to no common principle among them except hostility to whatever is established.” (458)

Russell Kirk Quote - The Conservative Mind

– Since French Revolution, conservatives have often been in a headlong retreat but are able to resolve themselves in the traditions of man

Radicals only arouse the feelings of novelty and envious passion but often collapse under own lack of principle or in-fighting

– As Kirk was writing this around 1972, the church is solid in America/Britain which would stun the revolutionaries of 1789

– In politics the British crown still stands tallest, the Houses run their order, and the British Constitution has changed little

“In America, the Federal Constitution has endured as the most sagacious conservative document in political history; the balance of interests and powers still operates, however threatened by recent centralization; and almost no one with a popular following advocates the overthrow of American political establishments.” (459)

– Private property rights still reign supreme in both nations

– Veneration for the old learning of man is still common even with the rise of over communication, outlandish science, and declining morality

Conservatism suffers from a lack of leadership on both sides of the ocean

“Conservatism’s most conspicuous difficulty in our time is that conservative leaders confront a people who have come to look upon society, vaguely, as a homogeneous mass of identical individuals whose happiness may be obtained by direction from above, through legislation of some scheme of public instruction. Conservatives endeavor to teach humanity once more that the germ of public affections (in Burke’s words) is ‘to learn to love the little platoon we belong to in society.’ A task for conservative leaders is to reconcile individualism – which sustained nineteenth-century life even while it starved the soul of the nineteenth century – with the sense of community that ran strong in Burke and Adams. If conservatives cannot redeem the modern masses from the sterile modern mass-mind, then a miserable collectivism impoverishing body and soul impends over Britain and America – the collectivism that has submerged eastern Europe and much of Asia and Africa, the collectivism (as Orwell wrote) of ;the stream-lined men who think in slogans and talk in bullets.” (460 – 461)

Collectivists face tough challenges within British and American cultures as they try to centralize – but they refuse to see the monster the total state becomes

– During this time of loss, Liberals and Socialists are losing popular momentum and power

“P.C. Gordon Walker, sometime Labour secretary of state for commonwealth relations, frankly became hopeful of devising new compulsions: ‘The new State will also directly augment authority and social pressure by new powers of punishment and compulsion. So far from withering away, as in theory both the individualist and the total State should, the new State, if it is to bring into being and serve the better society, must create new offenses and punish them.’” (464) – Gordon Walker, Restatement of Liberty, p. 319

– Aldous Huxley in 1927 commented on British socialism that it still stands the test of time as describing the radical movements throughout the centuries

“‘In the early stages of the great movement which has made the whole of the West democratic, there was only discontent and a desire for such relatively small changes in the mode of government as would increase its efficiency and make it serve the interests of the discontented. A philosophy was invented to justify the malcontents in their demands for change; the philosophy was elaborated; conclusions were relentlessly drawn; and it was found that, granted the assumptions on which the philosophy was based, logic demanded that the changes in the existing institutions should be, not small, but vast, sweeping, and comprehensive … Becoming familiar, a dogma automatically becomes right… The transformation of the theory of democracy into theology has created a desire for progress in the direction of more democracy among numbers of people whose material interests are in no way harmed, and are even actively advanced, by the existing form of government which they desire to change. This spread of socialism among the middle classes, the spontaneous granting of humanitarian reforms by power-holders to whose material advantages it would have been to wield their power ruthlessly and give none of it away – there are phenomena which have become so familiar that we have almost ceased to comment on them.’” (465) – Huxley, Proper Studies, pp. 24-28

– The Russians strove for the socialistic egalitarian society but realized it was “equality in misery” and the dogmas came crashing down

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

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