Burke, Kirk, & Scruton: A Conservative Legacy for the 21st Century

(Insight)

Russell Kirk (Left) Edmund Burke (Center) Roger Scruton (Right)

Legends, a description often given to myth like characters to impart a quintessential ethos concerning their respectability; Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, and Roger Scruton are not myths but living souls who reserve legendary status in way of their writings and actions concerning conservatism.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) can only be regarded as the Father of Modern Conservatism; an Irishman whose testimony against the French Revolution became the standard bulwark against sudden, revolutionary rather than evolutionary change. Prior to Burke there are philosophical and political thinkers since ancient times that conservatives consider as great minds of conservatism including Plato, Cicero, and Adam Smith. Yet Burke is reasonably the source by which a clear movement out of the Enlightenment sprung forth called conservatism. Controversially Burke showed favor, at least privately, toward the American Revolution because in his mind the Americans were seeking more than “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” that the French Revolution squandered through means of a gut wrenching bloodbath, godless laws, and uprooting centuries of tradition without any consideration of its effects. These Americans however still had respect for the laws and traditions of Great Britain while tout à fait différent due to distance and time in a far away land. Nevertheless, Burke taught us the necessity of respecting our institutions even when those institutions may require reform. Hardly blind to injustice, Burke grasped the nature of human needs and wants including our ugly side; a side often ignored when it comes to personal desires over the common good requirements to maintaining political stability, law, and order. With that in mind Burke reminds us of the need to move steadily when making great social changes, something the French failed to do.

Burke taught us the necessity of respecting our institutions even when those institutions may require reform.

Russell Kirk (1918-1994) was a man of class. Kirk grasped the good life by eventually placing it on the rock of the Christian faith and eternal moral truths. Described as a “Stoic Pagan,” he consumed Roman and Greek philosophy to the point of taking Stoicism as a central tenet of being. Ancient thinkers had spoken, Kirk was there to listen. However, Kirk slowly converted from quasi-protestantism and unchristian spiritualism toward a christian humanism and finally Catholicism after decades of studying, pondering, and a willingness to surrender his own presuppositions. St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas would eventually share his mind, heart, and soul as much as Irving Babbitt, Marcus Aurelius, or F.A. Hayek. Preposterous to some Kirk’s grasp of the real inheritance of conservative thought would shine brightest in his Magnum Opus, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Santayana (1953) (by its third edition Santayana was replaced with Eliot). A book that re-sparked an intelligent, compassionate, imaginative, and moral conservatism; a true conservatism beyond the left versus right politics that presently distorts modern hearts and corrupts modern minds found deep within modern cultures. Never afraid to espouse the vitality of ideas when properly rooted in principles and in God, Kirk was a man of mystery and awe fighting tooth and nail for what was seen by many as his quirks including a distrust of technology or that conservatism was not an ideology rather its anthesis. Kirk established that history, philosophy, literature, and religion hold greater deference than mere economics and dumbed down politics that modernity has wrought. We are to be a people of sacrifice, committed to a greater good, proclaimers of faith, and protectors of private property as laid out in his Ten Principles of Conservatism. Sir Roger once described Russell Kirk as “the last word or a court of appeal against which all the quarrels of his disciples would be finally settled.” A remark that grasps Kirk’s immense influence toward the imaginative, transcendent, and romantic mind that conservatism brings to the world.

Kirk established that history, philosophy, literature, and religion hold greater deference than mere economics and dumbed down politics that modernity has wrought.

Sir Roger Scruton (1944-2020) If Burke is the Father of Conservatism; Kirk the Father of Imaginative Conservatism; Sir Roger is the Father of Living Conservatism. Scrutonian conservatism, a philosophy as a way of being, never ignored reality as it confronted society with a higher culture in mind. Roger unabashedly grounded conservative thinking. Sir Roger realized that ignorance of the present will doom the future if conservatives remain only in the clouds. Sex, law, wine, politics, food, aesthetics, religion, music, nature… all hold value for upholders of tradition. These are not simply consumer products but a prescribed essence to the good life. Life described by Scruton requires Oikophilia, a devout love and duty to the family, locality, and nation by which you are a member, a rejection to misplaced multiculturalism but hardly a disrespect to all cultures. Cultures are to be respected in their context, learning beyond our own world but still holding dear to your tribe. Combined, life is a symphony by which we find its quintessential notes to taste, pluck, and appreciate at their highest existence while humbly submitting ourselves to the good, the beautiful, and the true. Scrutonianism equips by delicately grappling issues seemingly thought far and wide yet are practical in every way. Practicality is the centrality of a Living Conservatism, it not only demands a good head but one well planted on the ground. Sir Roger never let his readers forget it. He portrayed the sacred amongst the living while carrying it to its highest experiences such as music or art or the aesthetics of a Cathedral. An Anglican who loved his England and its Church, Roger lived what he professed as a farmer who believed in environmental protections, an active dissenter of Communism in Czechoslovakia, and a housing advisor for England. To profess yet never to live out what you profess is as the Disciple James warns in the Holy Scriptures, faith without works is dead (James 2:17). A capital reminder for all conservatives.

Sir Roger realized that ignorance of the present will doom the future if conservatives remain only in the clouds. Sex, law, wine, politics, food, aesthetics, religion, music, nature… all hold value for upholders of tradition.

Altogether the future holds bright for conservatism when linking together a respect for the past, the present, and the transcendent; a trifecta built on integrity versus a lesser sensibility. This is the conservative legacy for the 21st century.

References

About Edmund Burke. https://kirkcenter.org/edmund-burke-society/edmund-burke/

Burke and the American Revolution. https://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/burke-and-the-american-revolution

Did Edmund Burke Support the American Revolution? https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2020/03/edmund-burke-support-american-revolution-bradley-birzer.html

Edmund Burke & the American Revolution: The Whole Story. https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2016/04/edmund-burke-and-the-american-revolution-the-whole-story.html

Oikophilia. https://hac.bard.edu/amor-mundi/oikophilia-2020-01-29

Religion and the Conservative Mind. https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2016/12/religion-conservative-mind-dermot-quinn.html

Roger Scruton. A Brief History Of A Great Man. https://northamanglican.com/roger-scruton-my-encounter-with-a-great-man/

Roger Scruton’s Architectural Morality. https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/roger-scrutons-architectural-morality/

Roger Scruton – On Russel Kirk. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHTmJlRsaOY&ab_channel=ConservatismArchive

Roger Scruton Was a Giant of Conservatism. https://www.heritage.org/conservatism/commentary/roger-scruton-was-giant-conservatism?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIiO2b1szr6wIVAdvACh0RQgadEAAYASAAEgIyUvD_BwE

Roger Scruton Was a Conservative. But What Kind? https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/29/opinion/roger-scruton.html

Russell Kirk: Conservative, Convert, Catholic. https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2018/10/19/russell-kirk-conservative-convert-catholic/

Russell Kirk: Christian Humanism and Conservatism. https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2018/01/russell-kirk-christian-humanism-and-conservatism-vigen-guroian.html

Russell Kirk: Conservative, Humanist, Christian. https://blog.acton.org/archives/83039-russell-kirk-conservative-humanist-christian.html

Russell Kirk Expounds on Being Catholic. https://www.ncregister.com/features/russell-kirk-expounds-on-being-catholic

Russell Kirk on Higher Education. https://www.jamesgmartin.center/2020/01/russell-kirk-on-higher-education/

Scrutonian philosophy as a way of life. https://www.thearticle.com/scrutonian-philosophy-as-a-way-of-life

Ten Conservative Principles. https://kirkcenter.org/conservatism/ten-conservative-principles/

The Conservative Mind of Russell Kirk. https://www.heritage.org/political-process/report/the-conservative-mind-russell-kirk

The Forgotten Father of American Conservatism. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/russell-kirk-father-american-conservatism/573433/

The ‘great adventure’ of Sir Roger Scruton, RIP. https://blog.acton.org/archives/114123-great-adventure-sir-roger-scruton-rip.html?utm_term=roger%20scruton%20philosopher&utm_campaign=5+Facts+-+Educational+Evergreen&utm_source=adwords&utm_medium=ppc&hsa_acc=9098040689&hsa_cam=6526563754&hsa_grp=91366174524&hsa_ad=411597365231&hsa_src=g&hsa_tgt=kwd-363370490599&hsa_kw=roger%20scruton%20philosopher&hsa_mt=b&hsa_net=adwords&hsa_ver=3&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIkOSum-7x6wIVzsDACh28pgL2EAAYAiAAEgL-t_D_BwE

The Moral Imagination. https://kirkcenter.org/imagination/the-moral-imagination/

The Promises and Perils of Christian Politics. https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2016/05/russell-kirk-promises-and-perils-of-christian-politics.html

The Radicalism Of Russell Kirk. https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-radicalism-of-russell-kirk/

The Six Core Beliefs of Conservatism. https://isi.org/intercollegiate-review/the-six-core-beliefs-of-conservatism/

When is a revolution not a revolution? Edmund Burke and the New America. https://blog.oup.com/2016/12/edmund-burke-new-america/

Thy Week, Thus Far

Wednesday August 26, 2020

A Weekly Wednesday Dose of Truth

Zeno of Elea by Carducci or Tibaldi

Articles, Podcasts, and Videos

Rod Dreher (Writer & Author) wrote an excellent piece at The American Conservative concerning the dreadful revelation of Becki and Jerry Falwell Jr sex-capades with their former pool boy. Liberty University has not been in my opinion a shining light for the Christian faith but the University still represents a large portion of American Christianity that dims the light even more. See: Falwell Family Values

Rob Henderson (Ph.D. Student at the University of Cambridge) published an article over at Quillette. Henderson argues that the rise of a luxury mindset has a corrupting nature going from high class society to the bottom. An interesting piece for our decadent times, but I would suggest that this corrupted nature exists in all of humanity and simply manifests in different ways depending on power, influence, etc. Still a valuable read for us all. See: Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class—A Status Update

Faith Angle (Podcast) A podcast that seeks to bring together scholars and journalists to discuss relevant issues through cultivating deeper religious consideration. Last week, I know not this weeks news but we all benefit from learning, was an interview with Rod Dreher and Andrew Sullivan concerning the rise of illiberal groups particularly in relation to Woke ideology and what Dreher calls “soft totalitarianism.” Dreher has a new and upcoming book, Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents (2020), coming out in late September. I imagine Dreher is borrowing the term from Tocqueville’s “Soft Despotism” found in Democracy in America (1835). Both are proper terms for describing the Western move towards Socialism and Marxist ideologies. See: Rod Dreher and Andrew Sullivan: Live Not by Lies

Still Life by Jan Davidsz de Heem

Get Woke or Get Broke: When Reason Fails to Stand

(Opinion)

(Note to my readers: Originally I intended this piece to be of the category, Special Report, meaning a stricter standard in how information is analyzed and cited. Essentially that standard requires greater in-depth study. While I personally believe what I wrote here today to be true and factual, it did not meet my standard of a Special Report. Therefore, I qualify this as an opinion piece.)

Classical Liberalism On Edge

Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought. A theory however elegant and economical must be rejected or revised if it is untrue; likewise laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust.

— John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, p. 3

Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights). So strong and far-reaching are these rights that they raise the question of what, if anything, the state and its officials may do.

— Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, p. xix 

In the course of human history there have been principles worth abiding by when considering a deep, problematic societal concern that has and can continue to have great ramifications if it either remains unresolved or attempted to mitigate. Oftentimes issues of such magnitude fall within realms that provoke or placate the values and emotions of a populace. Justice, an essential value concerning human nature, is one of those realms. To better grasp such a realm, an acquisition of human institutions are required; those social institutions specifically include Faith, Tradition, Reason, and Imagination all of which can help an individual and society uncover values above and beyond themselves. Yet, what arises when these institutions dissolve, for whatever reason that may be, is a culture that moves away from interaction towards disengagement and then usurpation. Of all the institutions, reason is the most fragile and in a liberal democratic society, the failure to reason is the sign of a metaphysical collapse.

Classical liberal theory is a term to describe the belief in the rights of the individual, the freedom of markets, and private property. Within the context of the United States, the U.S. Constitution is a document representative of classical liberal thought though not entirely. Presently in the United States of America a climax has occurred on several ideological fronts. One such shift is the rise of woke culture from the far-left through its permeation into governments, corporations, universities, and other private-public institutions. No western post-industrial society is free from its wake.  

Wokeness Monster

Extensive analysis fills the web concerning critical theory, postmodernism, and cultural marxism. While additional analysis is necessary that is not the focus of this article. Therefore, a simple explanation will suffice concerning the meaning of Woke, Wokeness, or Woke Culture.

To be woke means a form of “awakening” to injustice particularly linked to racial injustices yet intersectional toward other oppressed minority/identity based groups e.g. trans/cisgender. Woke cultural markings have evolved into a dangerous ideology of critical, liberation, and social justice movements that developed ties to Marxism, Postmodernism, and other leftist identity based theories and organizations who oppose so-called Eurocentric or Westernized systems (e.g. Capitalism, Free Speech, Merit Base, Scientific Method, etc). To be presently woke means joining a collective that is centered on destroying entire westernized structures, not reforming them. And therein lies the problem.    

End of Discussion

Oversimplifying for the sake of a greater argument, it can be said that Christians and Conservatives, though fundamentally different, share a unique appreciation and understanding of the needs for the layout of faith, tradition, reason, and imagination. One based entirely on the faith in Jesus Christ and the other a philosophical movement in response to the French Revolution both seeking to challenge the hearts and minds of men in a sacred responsibility. Christians nor Conservatives are strangers to cultural critique including of liberal society (e.g. Capitalism or Free Speech) and upholding standards beyond the relative values of the day. As the conservative thinker Russell Kirk explained, “The pure democrat is the practical atheist; ignoring the divine nature of law and the divine establishment of spiritual hierarchy” (The Conservative Mind, p. 137). A synergy exists between the two over their respect for God and a moral law. However, neither fail to recognize liberalism’s overarching value to the world through their shared principles concerning human liberty, freedom, and rights. Both critique liberalism but never demanding the obliteration of classical liberal thought. In no fashion is that an attempt to whitewash history. Every side has its rabble that claim to uphold righteous values only to commit atrocities, however, as long as homo sapiens exist so shall their brutal behaviors. Historically Christianity, Liberalism, and Conservatism have peacefully coexisted despite their differences. 

Far from the spectrum of coexistence, woke ideals hold a Socialist-Marxist predisposition in uprooting systems by devaluing people who oppose them and belittling constructive debate that could possibly cultivate ideas across ideological lines. Almost a hundred years ago (98 to be exact) the economist and social theorist Ludwig von Mises published, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis (1922), warning against socialism: 

According to the Marxist conception, one’s social condition determines one’s way of thought. His membership of a social class decides what views a writer will express. He is not able to grow out of his class or to free his thoughts from the prescriptions of his class interests. Thus the possibility of a general science which is valid for all men, whatever their class, is contested… Thus Marxism protects itself against all unwelcome criticism… Marx and Engels never tried to refute their opponents with argument. They insulted, ridiculed, derided, slandered, and traduced them, and in the use of these methods their followers are not less expert. Their polemic is directed never against the argument of the opponent, but always against his person. Few have been able to withstand such tactics (pp. 18-19).

Those words ring equally true today. As I mentioned in Part 1 of my series Mob Rule, Mob Rules: 

Mob rule means a collective identity group must win. Mob rules serve the interests of that collective. Liberty and her institutions are being tested by this eruptive behavior, serving as a reminder that when pure rage is the predicate for judgement, tyranny is never far behind. What comes next will be decided by the public will for civility or lack thereof. Humanity itself may not only end up alone but alone with no way out. 

Without question the radical left are not alone in their threat against a liberal order but they are defining the times as R.R. Reno wrote in his book, Return of the Strong Gods (2019):

Today’s technocratic ethos defines political legitimacy in terms of the weak gods of policy expertise, therapeutic delicacy when speaking of sensitive topics, and the rhetoric of diversity and other motifs of inclusion (p. 141). 

Catholics like Reno represent a necessary deflection against the left vs right attitudes of our time. Believers in the good, the beautiful, and the true recognize that there can be shared critiques without shared beliefs in radical, revolutionary uprisings found within Communism or Fascism. Catholicism has long promotedsocial justice” issues including its claim that the idea itself comes from the book of Matt: 25:31-46. That claim, true or untrue, points to a long line of thinkers from the Apostle Matthew to Thomas Aquinas and onward, a line of pre-modern thinkers rather than modern thinkers like Karl Marx whom heretical christian groups have adopted; a movement rooted in gnosticism rather than Christian teaching. 

If those on the fringe would only listen and grasp that there are means to redemption, a shared bond in both the craving for justice and the rights of the individual—the Rawls-Nozick dichotomy—can be reached without destroying the very foundations that granted them their rights and privileges in the first place. Unfortunately, extremists have broken through in a trojan horse disguised as inclusiveness, diversity, equity, and universals (e.g. healthcare, housing, etc) on the back of a neoliberal order that momentarily makes even Socialism look promising by the untrained eye. They are not interested in listening, they are here to destroy.

Dr. James Lindsay, a physicist and mathematician from New Discourses, is one of the leading thinkers on critical theories and social justice practices including on why woke culture is anti-debate wrote:

The deeper, more significant aspect of this problem is that by participating in something like conversation or debate about scholarly, ethical, or other disagreements, not only do the radical Critical Social Justice scholars have to tacitly endorse the existing system, they also have to be willing to agree to participate in a system in which they truly believe they cannot win. This isn’t the same as saying they know they’d lose the debate because they know their methods are weak. It’s saying that they believe their tools are extremely good but not welcome in the currently dominant system, which is a different belief based on different assumptions. Again, their game is not our game, and they don’t want to play our game at all; they want to disrupt and dismantle it.

Fundamentally the critical ideological framework cannot coexist with our present rights, freedoms, and liberties; our culture is an anthemia to their ideals.  

What Happens Now?

Pessimism can easily set in when surveying the political landscape. There are no guarantees of success if that success means a complete and total reversal. Instead the pressures of life require those who oppose all forms of radicalization to be truthful and loving at a moment when anger and rage can easily persevere but only at great unnecessary costs. Reason will not work. Only the actions of a people who can rely on truth beyond reason, a movement beyond mere modern beliefs, and uphold eternal principles regardless of threat can withstand the revolutionary spirit filling the air. “Be still, and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10, ESV), that is the required spirit. Believers (and unbelievers) in God must testify truth and goodness through the acknowledgement of present hurts which no doubt exist within the black community and the latin community and the LGBTQ community. Again, there is a shared bond, a means to redemption beyond the ruin of an already broken world. Demands for justice need to be heard but never at the abandonment of truth, reality, and morality or it only becomes another form of injustice. 

Christians can lead in this through their understanding that while they may be alone, they are never truly alone and our calling is above ourselves. Conservatives can resonate in that understanding. And those beholden too Liberalism, especially classical liberal thinking, know what it means to sacrifice and stand against tyranny when it rises; prize an ideal beyond their present estate. All three prize liberty though in different forms but rooted in the greatest of ideals: Human Freedom. 

We must not become radicalized in response. Let their injustice show by speaking up for justice and speaking out against injustice; truth over untruth; reality above irreality; goodness over hate. Death by virtue versus radicalized ideals that seek to breakdown and destroy. Fight but with real love, not the fake dignity espoused by those who insult, deride, and traduce people no matter their origin.