ARE YOU A PHILOSOPHICAL CONSERVATIVE?

preamble to the constitutionLabels are imprecise things.  Therefore, when we call ourselves Conservative, we don’t tell people much.  Hence, we try to clarify with adjectives.

Consider this list.

Types of Conservatism (from here)

  • Cultural Conservatism.
  • Social Conservatism.
  • Religious Conservatism.
  • Fiscal Conservatism.
  • Paleo-Conservatism.
  • Neo-Conservatism.
  • Bio-Conservatism.

What you won’t often see in any list is the expression “Philosophical Conservatism.” Why? Well, many of the people who educate us are opposed to the concept of Conservatism. They don’t like Conservatism, they don’t understand Conservatism, and they don’t want anyone to be Conservative. The last thing they want is any discussion of a coherent Conservative philosophy.

Consider some quotes.

Some are just shallow and silly.

Philosophical conservatism is defined as the belief that people are evil or selfish by nature, while philosophical liberalism is described as the belief that people are good or have great moral potential. (from here)
Some are so “deep” they drown in their own nonsense.
Fourth, there is what I would call philosophical (or also anthropological) conservatism, that in turn is rooted in a particular philosophical anthropology or perhaps social ontology. This stance implies a commitment to realizing a set of substantive values, irrespective of whether these values are already instantiated in the present. In other words, for philosophical conservatives, the primary question is not about what the past suggests, or how, or by which proven method, these values should be implemented. The question is of course what sets of values we are talking about in this context. I claim that philosophical conservatives are primarily invested in the importance of hierarchical relationships, or some more or less naturalized conception of inequality. They do not simply emphasize the particular and the potential importance of its preservation; they attribute differential value to particular sets of human beings, and they emphasize that certain social arrangements distributing power unequally are unalterable. (from here)

Some are just hateful.

The philosophical conservative is someone willing to pay the price of other people’s suffering for his principles. (from here)

This last quote is actually fairly popular, and it is the way too many see Conservatism. Such is the headache with letting politicians educate our children. Should we be surprised that our SOCIALIST school system does not encourage us to ponder what it means to be a Conservative?

Consider this observation.

Conservatives typically possess a pessimistic vision of human nature, drawing on the modern tradition, on Hobbes’s belief, that were it not for strong institutions, men would be at each others’ throats and would constantly view one another with deep suspicion. (Their emphasis is thus not on the ensuing hypothetical pacifying social contract but on the prevalence of fear in human society). Conservatives are highly skeptical of power and man’s desire to use it, for they believe that in time it corrupts even the most freedom loving wielders: hence, the potential accession to any position of supreme power over others, whether in the guise of a national or international chamber, is to be rejected as being just as dangerous a state as Hobbes’s vision of the anarchic state of nature. Conservatives thus applaud those institutions that check the propensity for the stronger or the megalomaniacal to command power: conservatives magnify the suspicion one may hold of one’s neighbor. (from here)

Do Conservatives possess a pessimistic vision of human nature? Yes. We realize that we are all imperfect and quite corruptible. The Christian Conservative takes it for granted that but for the grace of God we would all be going to hell. And yet because God loves us we all have infinite worth. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we each can do good works.

Are you a Social Conservative or a Fiscal Conservative? Why? What is the logic that drives you to be a Social or Fiscal Conservative? Have you ever asked yourself questions such as these questions?

  • What is the purpose of government?
  • What powers should the government have?
  • Can the government provide justice? What sort of justice? How should the government provide justice?
  • When is it moral to force our neighbors to pay taxes? What functions of government justify punishing people when they refuse to pay their taxes?
  • When is it proper for government officials to transfer public funds to private charities? Is a private charity that is funded entirely by the government still a “private” charity?
  • Is it moral for government officials to take money from some citizens and provide charity to other citizens? Can we trust the same government officials to redistribute the wealth and protect our property rights?
  • What is a constitution? What purpose does a constitution serve? How should a constitution be interpreted?
  • What is the role of the Declaration of Independence in our nation’s heritage?
  • Are men corrupted by power? How do we prevent our leaders from becoming too powerful?
  • What obligations does each citizen have to exercise control over the government?
  • When do citizens have an obligation to rebel against the government?

Unless we consider such questions, and we have ready answers, how can we say we have a coherent Conservative philosophy? To be any kind of Conservative, we must first construct a coherent Conservative philosophy. Once we have done so, I think many Conservatives will realize that for our Conservatism to have any meaning, we must be Philosophical Conservatives, that is, we must be able to logically explain why we believe what we believe.

13 thoughts on “ARE YOU A PHILOSOPHICAL CONSERVATIVE?

    1. Thank you.

      I did not ask myself many of those questions until I was in my fifties. Was I just stupid? I don’t think so. Unfortunately, we are not taught to question the social norms of our society. Part of the reason no one teaches to question the assumptions upon which our society rest because those who teach us fear we might reject those assumptions and do something rash. However, I fear the primary reason is that most people are just ignorant. It has been too long since our schools focused on the documents the founding father wrote and read themselves. Much as we do with the Bible we ignore the heritage that came with the founding of this nation.

      We must work to change that, to read and study both the Bible and our history. If we don’t understand the assumptions upon which our society rests, we must inevitably have a difficult time making our society operate appropriately. We won’t even know what it is we support or reject. When patriots ask us to support the Constitution, we will not understand what they are asking our how to help them. When con-artists approach us with their big government schemes, we won’t know why we should reject them.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed, and that’s a good question.

      Constitutional Conservatism is I think closely related to Philosophical Conservatism. Constitutional Conservatism represents the method the Founders chose to apply Conservative principles. In England or France, it would make little sense to call anyone a Constitution Conservative, would it?

      Since I am an American, why do I care to use a broader term? Why bother with something I call Philosophical Conservatism? The broader expression puts the focus on the underlying principles whereas Constitutional Conservatism puts the focus on a document.

      Because Constitution says nothing about the principles which led to its invention, we must speak about those principles. Otherwise, too few will understood how the document is supposed to work. Unless they are taught, the principles will be forgotten by increasing numbers of people.

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  1. Simply, being a Conservative means being a real American.

    Real Americans are those who understand the Western Heritage from which the Founding Fathers drew to design and build the American Republic.

    Labels are important in the Western Heritage because they indicate the nature of a thing.

    The more we understand the nature of a thing the more we understand reality or truth.

    Such thinking comes from Aristotle student of Plato student of Socrates.

    Sadly, in postmodernity, labels are used by the anti-Americans, (leftists, Progressives, etc.) to cause confusion and make reality or truth unknowable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @silenceofmind

      I am not certain I want to set myself up as someone who decides who is a real American and who is not, but I concede your point. I pity any American who does not understand the Western Heritage from which the Founding Fathers drew to design and build the American Republic.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Citizen Tom,

        Understanding the nature of things does not mean we set ourselves up as a judge who determines what is real.

        That’s what atheists do.

        Reality already is and it is up to us to discern its nature.

        I simply said that a real American is someone who understands what America is.

        That is, someone who understands the nature of the American Republic as it was founded.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. “…the Western Heritage from which the Founding Fathers drew to design and build the American Republic.” Seeing as the majority of their thought stemmed from philosophy that was a) no more than 100 years old and b) rejected the totality of Western thought at that time, “heritage” is a strong term and “western” is a term that would merely explain the geographical location where the ideas originated.

      “Labels are important in the Western Heritage because they indicate the nature of a thing.” According to “Western Heritage” the essence, quiddity, or “thing-ness” of a thing determines its nature. Seeing as the inspiration for the American republic believed that such metaphysical discoveries were not only irrational but impossible, there cannot be a discussion of such things in American philosophical discourse that does not end in banal subjectivity.

      “Such thinking comes from Aristotle student of Plato student of Socrates.” But not from those that inspired America. By your logic i.e that a conservative is one who understands the people the founders drew from, Socrates and Plato don’t and cannot enter into American philosophical discourse.

      “Sadly, in postmodernity, labels are used by the anti-Americans, (leftists, Progressives, etc.) to cause confusion and make reality or truth unknowable.” Ironically, you used labels to make the reality of aforementioned philosophies unknowable by shrouding them in popular, albeit wrong, rhetoric. Since post modern life and philosophy has its genesis in the very thinkers that inspired the founders, the relation modern conservatism has with modern liberalism less kissing cousins and more a brother and sister duo out to destroy the last vestiges of rational thought.

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  2. I disagree. I contend that the pessimistic view of human nature was a 16th century misinterpretation of Augustine of Hippo. If you compare the Enlightenment republicans with Renaissance republicans–Locke and Machiavelli for example–the latter has less to do with tyranny verses freedom and more to do with the traditional mode of life of the specific peoples. Machiavelli did not object autocratic rule in Florence simply because he thought autocracy was wrong, but because Florentines were traditionally republican.

    This pessimism is what leads to greater dangers such as individualism. Once man believes that the whole human race is rotten, naturally he’ll think the whole human race is out to get him and his stuff. That is a rather reductionist view of Locke but Locke himself is reductionist so I call it fair. This leads to governments not based on mutual aid but mutual distrust. The government becomes conflict based. Any compromise is billed as a betrayal of x or y. Ultimately, this polarizes the nation in camps and, historically, this leads to national implosion. So long as people force themselves away from authentic communities and into their spheres of individualistic ideology, the relational dichotomies will only grow larger.

    If we were to accept the proposition from Kirk that Conservatives believe in an enduring moral order, then this pessimism is even more absurd. If there is an objective order by which all human action can be judged and analyzed, then the continued distrust and assumption of evil is pointless insofar as the given populace adheres to this moral order. The likely attack against this is to ask who am I to say what is right or wrong. Not only is this a ridiculous quesiton on its face, it points to the reason why conservatism, devoid of this order, is just a liberal that likes values from 70 years ago. The obvious answer to such a silly attack is that the order is inherent in human nature and that metaphysical philosophy necessarily directs one into the direction one must steer government. To answer the questions:

    1. To provide for the common good.
    2. All that are necessary to accomplish 1.
    3. What is the purpose of government?
    4. Yes. Positive justice informed by authentic Natural Law principles. In that manner best suited to the dispensing thereof.
    5. When they do not pay them. The functions that necessitate the use of public funds for the common good of community in question.
    6. When it is deemed by the community to be proper. That depends on your definition.
    7. Seeing as Charity, rightly understood, is participation in the Divine Love of God, government is merely the collective human action of the community, human action must conform, ultimately, to the Divine Love of God, then I would hope the government’s actions were charitable. As much as you can trust yourself.
    8. That which constitutes a given state. The purpose the community has for it. However the community deems the constitution is to be so.
    9. According to the liberal philosophy that inspired it? Whatever meaning the majority of individuals decided it has.
    10. Yes. By not being corrupt yourself.
    11. That depends on the constitution of the given community.
    12. When it is manifest that no other means are rationally feasible to secure authentic natural rights.

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    1. @mastersamwise

      Thank you for your comment.

      It is late. Got to hit the sack. Tomorrow, Lord willing, I will consider and answer your comments.

      Of course, anyone who wants to add their two cents is welcome to do so.

      I contend that the pessimistic view of human nature was a 16th century misinterpretation of Augustine of Hippo.

      I just have a question. No one else besides Augustine observed verses like this one?

      Isaiah 64:6 New King James Version (NKJV)

      6 But we are all like an unclean thing,
      And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags;
      We all fade as a leaf,
      And our iniquities, like the wind,
      Have taken us away.

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    2. @mastersamwise

      There is an old joke. If “they” are really out to get you, you are not paranoid.

      Human nature is what it is. There are times and places that surprise. Against all reasonable expectations, there have been times and places where people did what for the most part what they should have done. The United States was a place like that. The United Kingdom was a place like that.

      For most of human history, might has made “right.” The man with the sword and the money — the power and the wealth — decided what was “right.” Most of the population consisted of slaves. Justice, such as it was, consisted of the ruler’s need to maintain order so he could exercise power. Even the “democracy” of Athens and the Roman republic did not change the overall hierarchy. Slavery remained.

      The notion that might makes right remained dominant until the advent of Christianity. Then Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and teachings slowly began to change the world. His Bible told us told us both what we should do and what we are.

      James 1:22-25 New King James Version (NKJV)

      22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

      What the Word tells us to do is to love God more than anything else and to love each other as we love ourselves. The Bible does not tell us to pretend either other people or our self is good. In fact, the Bible tells us only God is holy. We can only participate in His holiness by striving to let Jesus work through us, by serving as His hands and feet.

      When Jesus spoke about His kingdom, He made it clear that governments established by men had nothing to do with it. He distinguished between the two by stating we should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Hence, as Romans 13 commands, we should obey the governing authorities “for rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil.” But when governing authorities ask as to do something contrary to the will of God, we must resist.

      Giving our rulers more power than is necessary to maintain order is wrong. Because power corrupts men, power tempts our rulers to force us to put the will of man before the will of God. Therefore, we should follow the example of the founders of this nation. As much as possible, we should limit the purpose of our government to the protection of our rights to life, liberty, and an the pursuit of happiness.

      Charity, for example, began as a private activity. In the hands of politicians, “charity” is just something devious men and women use to buy votes. Thanks to such stealing, the Federal Government now spends for more money on social/welfare programs than anything else. And, yes, what you call Positive justice is just a fancy way of excusing thievery.

      Consider what government charity actually involves. To redistribute their wealth, the “charitable” among us use the power of government to threaten their uncooperative neighbors with property confiscation and jail time. That represents Divine Love of God? Seriously? The Bible never describes forcing someone elso to give of themselves to another as an act of love. The Bible describes charity — agape love — as a personal and willing act.

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      1. “Against all reasonable expectations, there have been times and places where people did what for the most part what they should have done.” Actually, I would contend that the most reasonable expectation is for people to act according to right reason. It is irrational happenstance that causes one to do evil.

        Actually, for most of human history, might did not equal right, especially after the Athenian Constitution and the hegemony of Greek philosophy. By the time of Alexander, people from Illyria to India had a concept of natural rights and governments were largely ordered around those premises. Indeed, ancient history seems to judge man according to a distinct, objective, and enduring moral order rather than the modern outlook which is basically asking how were the conditions to purchase goods.

        “The Bible does not tell us to pretend either other people or our self is good.” Then why did God say man was good? If God created man to be good and made him good, then does man have the power to thwart the creative power of God and change the very essence of a thing?

        “He distinguished between the two by stating we should give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” So it was Christ and not Hugo Black? By that token, God really doesn’t belong in public schools, the Ten Commandments need to be taken out of courthouses, and religious institutions need to pay for contraceptives. Unless, of course, there was some enduring moral order that says that this rendering to each passage does not mean governmental action needs to be devoid of Judeo-Christian mores.

        “Giving our rulers more power than is necessary to maintain order is wrong.” Seeing as I said nothing of the kind, I deem this a red herring.

        “Because power corrupts men, power tempts our rulers to force us to put the will of man before the will of God.” Well that is a cop-out. Pushing the responsibility away from men and onto external circumstances erodes the social understanding of personal responsibility. “It wasn’t me; I was just given too much power.” Isn’t it written that one who is given much is expected of much? It is a lame excuse and attempts to shift the burden of blame to something no one can pull before a jury.

        “Charity, for example, began as a private activity.” Began where? In western history? Certainly not. It was seen as a public duty. If you read Emma by Jane Austin, you will notice that the titular character goes visiting the poorer people in the community. Almsgiving was pretty standard practice and fairly public. Even Dickens writes about the well-meaning gentlemen taking up Christmas collections. In fact, America is unique in western history–if it can be considered western due to continuity issues–in that almsgiving is reduced to either a utilitarian act or a private act that no one knows about. In contrast, western history shows there is a long tradition of whole communities publicly giving and supporting the poor. There is a custom in Italy where, when a woman has a baby, the women in the town will come over and basically run her house for her for months. It is seen not as something they deign to do out of the goodness of their hearts, but a societal duty that must be fulfilled. America has no such traditions except through immigrants. Americans, typically, try to be as far away from the actual work as possible, hence why money is important. Before there is a parade of the great things Americans do with their charity, it is important to point out that Myanmar, dictatorship that it is, actually has the highest percentage of charitable giving a work in the world. This is a country that is practically bankrupt. It is always important to see how the poor shame us fat cats every time before be boast of Cain-like offerings and justifications for them.

        “And, yes, what you call Positive justice is just a fancy way of excusing thievery.” Actually, what I call positive justice is merely justice meted out from positive law i.e law that is legislated by men, not Natural or Divine Law.

        “To redistribute their wealth, the “charitable” among us use the power of government to threaten their uncooperative neighbors with property confiscation and jail time.” Tell me: what was the rich man’s sin in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus?

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        1. @mastersamwise

          Sin is irrational? Up to a point. If we don’t realize how flawed our assumptions are, we can logically justify our sins. Consider why pride is the greatest sin. When we make everything about our self, we put our self before God and the welfare of our fellows. That is one reason why ancient peoples were so brutal. They worshiped gods designed to give them they wanted and to justify doing whatever they wanted to do.

          “Then why did God say man was good?” The Bible is the story of how Jesus redeemed us of our sins. After Chapter 3 of Genesis — after Adam and Eve sinned — the Bible says God loves us, but it does not say man is good.

          1 John 1:5-10 New King James Version (NKJV)
          Fellowship with Him and One Another

          5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

          8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

          I suppose before we can be born again we must admit just how sinful we are. None of us like doing that, but we cannot repent until we admit we have sinned.

          Your comment about the public school system makes my point, not yours. Do we owe our children to God or the government? Are we supposed to bring up our children up in the way they should go as Proverbs 22:6 teaches, or we obligated to let our government indoctrinate our children in the worship of the state?

          Pushing the responsibility away from men and onto external circumstances erodes the social understanding of personal responsibility. “It wasn’t me; I was just given too much power.”

          God does not tempt man to sin, but we most certainly tempt each other. Consider those things we call vices. Some people make a living tempting other people. Nevertheless, when we fail to resist temptation, we sin.

          Since the subject of the post involved the meaning of Philosophical Conservatism with respect to government, when I referred to private charity that meant voluntary charity provided via private funds. Since all your examples speak approvingly of such charity, I am uncertain why you feel the need to write as if we disagree about how charity should be provided.

          Tell me: what was the rich man’s sin in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus?

          Voting for big government and gobs of social welfare programs would not have made the rich man any less a sinner. In fact, like lots of other rich people, it is quite likely he would just have grown more wealthy feeding at the government trough.

          The rich man’s sin was indifference. He did not care about the plight of those with the least. Government-run social welfare programs just give us an excuse not to care. When we make the government responsible for “charity,” we give ourselves an excuse for our indifference. It the government’s problem.

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