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Monday, June 11, 2012


This morning I woke up and discovered myself to be a Conservative.  I tried going back to sleep to see if things would be back to normal when I woke again.  But no, just like Gregor in Kafka's Metamorphosis, I was hopelessly changed--or perhaps like the bug that Gregor became, I just saw what I already was.

How could this student of Saul Alinsky and Michael Harrington, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr for Civil Rights and with Jane Fonda against the War in Vietnam, devotee of the economics of Galbraith, Stiglitz, and Krugman possibly be a conservative.  But I have been reading the Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk (see note below) and What is a Conservative by John Kekes, both classical works by conservatives, for conservatives, about conservatives mostly.

And generally in their definition, with few exceptions, I classify myself a conservative.  I hold dear a respect for tradition to avoid hasty and imprudent innovation, an acknowledgment of a transcendent in humanity to avoid relativism in human affairs, an acceptance of the necessity of the State to protect and to support people against evil, an acceptance of the need for mores, laws, and rules to limit the human propensity to evil, an affirmation of the importance of personal property in extending the human individual, a respect for diversity and differences in humans and the importance of groups or even factions, including associations and publics.

I would argue that while I am a conservative in the tradition of a Burke, Kirk, and Kekes, I am NOT a conservative in the tradition of the so-called "neo-conservatives" like Cheney and Rumsfeld nor of those who ran as "radical conservatives" in the Republican presidential primary election.  Bachmann, Santorum, Gigrinch, Romney, and Paul, would be disowned by Kirk and Kekes.

Kekes certainly separates himself from libertarian, absolutist, fideist conservatives.  "Moderate skepticism about general theories in politics; pluralism about traditions, values, and conceptions of a good life; traditionalism; and pessimism about human perfectibility and the eradication of evil jointly define the version of conservatism that is the best alternative to its chief contemporary rivals: liberalism and socialism."

Liberalism is classically a faith in the unrestricted free market; and in the US a liberal is often identified as a defender of dependence on government.  Socialism is often defined as government ownership and control of property and/or democracy as mass rule (under a party or faction).  In no way, will I classify myself as a liberal or socialist under those definitions.

The ethics and politics, for which I have been articulating a theory, I suppose could be classified as liberal or progressive in that it affirms that evil can be overcome, that humanity can progress and even achieve a glimpse of infinity through the use of inquiry, insight, and reason, that true belief is an evil to be overcome including a religion or politics that holds any words, formula, document, image, or organization as divine or infallible, that humans are individuals in association and create publics and states to foster human development, that all humans have dignity that should be protected by the community, and that the future is always calling to rebellion, innovation, and transformation.

But my ethics and politics should also be classified as conservative in that it affirms the human propensity to evil as well as to good, that society can be oppressive to human differences and individuality, that individuals often have to rebel against society's oppression, that the past is always with us and must be respected and its understandings and values restored, that a mass society absorbs individuals and destroys human creativity and ingenuity, that beliefs and prescriptions while always to be questioned are to be respected for how they developed and for their function in assisting human preservation, that there is no freedom without limits, boundaries, regulations, and most of all that there is in human existence a transcendent or invariable structure on which to base a universal ethic and one's personal conscience.

As for me personally I do tend to the progressive optimistic side of life as well as having a sense of irony in all human affairs.  I have always worked for democratic social change against racism, sexism, nationalism and will not let the value of human diversity be a rationalization for exploitation or for needless suffering.  Also I have never met a Conservative with a sense of humor, the likes of Stewart and Colbert, or Woody Allen and George Carlin, or Mark Twain and Will Rogers.  Conservatives seem oh so serious and while they constantly poke fun at "liberals," hardly ever poke fun at themselves.  It is the "true believer" aspect, the "righteousness" in them, as well as in some liberals too, that I can't stand.

So what kind of insect did I awake as this morning?  Like Gregor I hope to enjoy it for a time even though others may not.


Note:  Kirk in the tradition of Edmund Burke identifies six elements of the Conservative's belief:

1) There is a transcendent order, a body of divine or natural law, that is invariable and accessible to conscience.  This opposes relativity in the moral order and the notion that the State is not ordained by God or Nature.
2) There are a variety of humans with different capacities.  This opposes radical egalitarianism--or economic leveling.
3) There are traditional orders or classes in human society.  This argues against a mass society where everybody has the same due or political leveling and contempt for tradition.
4) Property is connected to freedom and is the extension of the individual.  Without private property Leviathan rules.  This argues against all property held in common.
5) Prescription, e.g. specific and concrete laws, rules, commandments are important.  This argues against the abstract sophistry of academic economists.
6) Change is often destructive.  Prudence is the statesman's chief virtue. This argues against hasty innovation and revolution and the perfectibility of man or unlimited progress.

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