February 27, 2016

Recovering Conservative Reading

If we are truly to call ourselves "conservatives," and mean anything by the term, then we must look not only to authors of the moment (Beck, Levin, etc. - such as they are conservative, that is), but to authors of our tradition. Russell Kirk, in his book The Conservative Mind (executive summary here) , sought to trace the intellectual history of conservatism, beginning with Edmund Burke, and moving forwards in time from there. With that in mind, I have listed below some conservative authors (some likely who could also be placed in the "classical liberal" camp) who repay reading. From each author, I have included a quote to whet your appetite.

1. Edmund Burke

There is a sort of enthusiasm in all projectors, absolutely necessary for their affairs, which makes them proof against the most fatiguing delays, the most mortifying disappointments, the most shocking insults; and, what is severer than all, the presumptuous judgement of the ignorant upon their designs. An account of the European Settlements in America (1757).

2. John Randolph of Roanoke

I am an aristocrat. I love liberty; I hate equality.

3. Fisher Ames

Despotism lies at the door; when they tyranny of the majority leads to chaos, society will submit to rule by the sword.

4. John Adams

Tis impossible to judge with much Præcision of the true Motives and Qualities of human Actions, or of the Propriety of Rules contrived to govern them, without considering with like Attention, all the Passions, Appetites, Affections in Nature from which they flow. An intimate Knowledge therefore of the intellectual and moral World is the sole foundation on which a stable structure of Knowledge can be erected. Letter to Jonathan Sewall

5. John Calhoun

Now, as individuals differ greatly from each other, in intelligence, sagacity, energy, perseverance, skill, habits of industry and economy, physical power, position and opportunity,—the necessary effect of leaving all free to exert themselves to better their condition, must be a corresponding inequality between those who may possess these qualities and advantages in a high degree, and those who may be deficient in them.

6. Alexis de Tocqueville

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood; it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided that they think of nothing but rejoicing.

7. J.F. Cooper (yes, that one)

Equality is no where laid down as a governing principle of the institutions of the United States, neither the word, nor any inference that can be fairly deduced from its meaning, occurring in the constitution. As respect the states, themselves, the professions of an equality of rights are more clear, and slavery excepted, the intention in all their governments is to maintain it, as far as practicable, though equality of condition is no where mentioned, all political economists knowing that it is unattainable, if, indeed, it be desirable. Desirable in practice, it can hardly be, since the result would be to force all down to the level of the lowest.

8. E.L. Godwin

The state has lost completely, in the eyes of the multitude, the moral and intellectual authority it once possessed. It does not any longer represent God on earth. In democratic countries it represents the party which secured most votes at the last election, and is, in many cases, administered by men whom no one would make guardians of his children or trustees of his property.

9. Irving Babbit

For behind all imperialism is ultimately the imperialistic individual, just as behind all peace is ultimately the peaceful individual.

10. Paul Elmer More

For, when everything is said, there could be no civilized society were it not that deep in our hearts, beneath all the turbulences of greed and vanity, abides the instinct of obedience to what is noble and of good repute. It awaits only the clear call from above.

11. M.E. Bradford

For the Agrarians, the measure of any economic or political system was its human product. Goods, services, and income are, to this way of thinking, subsidiary to the basic cultural consideration, the overall form of life produced. Of course, the Agrarians were anti-egalitarian. They knew the abstract drive toward Equality . . . to be the mortal enemy of the patriarchy. And thus they agreed that, though some have providentially five or three or only one talent, every man should be encouraged to become as independent as he can be.

12. Richard Weaver

The man of culture finds the whole past relevant; the bourgeois and the barbarian find relevant only what has some pressing connection with their appetite.

13. Russell Kirk

In any society, order is the first need of all. Liberty and justice may be established only after order is tolerably secure. But the libertarians give primacy to an abstract liberty. Conservatives, knowing that "liberty inheres in some sensible object," are aware that true freedom can be found only within the framework of a social order, such as the constitutional order of these United States. In exalting an absolute and indefinable "liberty" at the expense of order, the libertarians imperil the very freedoms they praise.

14. Whittaker Chambers

When you understand what you see, you will no longer be children. You will know that life is pain, that each of us hangs always upon the cross of himself. And when you know that this is true of every man, woman and child on earth, you will be wiser.

15. Willmoore Kendall

The idea of natural right is not so easily reducible to the equality clause, and there are better ways of demonstrating the possibility of self-government than imposing one's views concerning natural right upon others. In this light it would seem that it was the Southerners who were the anti-Caesars of pre-Civil War days, and that Lincoln was the Caesar Lincoln claimed to be trying to prevent; and that the Caesarism we all need to fear is the contemporary Liberal movement, dedicated like Lincoln to egalitarian reforms sanctioned by mandates emanating from national majorities, a [Civil Rights] movement which is Lincoln's legitimate offspring. In a word, it would seem that we had best learn to live up to the Framers before we seek to transcend them.

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