Dialectics of Conservatism

Demolition of the Château of Meudon
Demolition of the Château of Meudon , Hubert Robert
Located near Versailles, with a view of Paris and the Seine River, the château of Meudon was once among France's finest monuments. It fell into disrepair during the 1700s. During the French Revolution, which began in 1789, the château was ransacked and suffered further damage in a fire of 1795.
It was demolished entirely in 1803.
Rather than documenting the site's actual appearance in that year, Hubert Robert combined fact and fiction, depicting features that had already vanished alongside still-standing ruins.

February 4, 2022

What would some famous writers have said about today?

Luke Lattanzi: …Burke in particular would probably have plenty to say regarding the modern conception of liberty, versus the more Burkean conception/ordered liberty.

He’d look at porn and Onlyfans and the glorification of sex and violence as vindication, regarding men who have poor restraint upon their appetites, and so forth.

He’d probably criticize the BLM movement in a similar manner to that of the French radicals.

I had to read his Reflections for a political philosophy class once. I didn’t read it in the sense that you read a novel, because course readings take up too much time that way, but it was interesting in reading what was essentially the philosophical bedrock of most of what we argue today in American Pigeon.

In criticizing the revolution in France, Burke is essentially saying “Whoa, slow down!” Which is precisely what a conservative ought to say today.

In fact, I’m not particularly convinced that Burke was necessarily against the notion of “revolution.” I think he was against the imprudent throwing off of government without any plan on what will take its place, which is why he looks to the American Revolution in a far more favorable light.

The American Revolution was probably the most “conservative” revolution ever, even though the term “conservative” wasn’t a term of politics back then. The American struggle was only “American” in the sense that it was located in America, but was primarily an English affair for most of the time. It wasn’t defined by class struggle or envy for the rich, or the desire to tear down the old institutions like the churches or religion in general. The “revolution” in America was merely the ideas of Locke (and others) in praxis: men are endowed by God with unalienable rights not to do whatever they want, but to do what is right – to resume the traditions that had been taken away from them by the British.

I think this also ties into the myth that the founders wanted a separation of church and state. The First Amendment says Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion. It was an old English-American tradition for the colonies to make laws respecting whatever church they pleased. And while the federal government was off-limits, they certainly never considered “secular” state governments.

Like I said, English traditions.

It was the freedom to be religious, not some state-endorsed secularism.

Jacob Yusufov: Accepting the Revolution to be conservative, would we not also have to accept the thing of conservation to be gone? Teddy Roosevelt believed America must maintain a strong kinship to England, a lineage by blood, politics, and culture. We are many times removed from England. The English themselves are removed from their own country.

I think we’re witnessing a displacement and dying peoples from all over the West, which makes our conservatism… probably not unique?

I feel like it was characterized by the same brooding temperament that the world is going to end. “Our” world, whomever that might be.

Luke: Well, I think the American became both a unique breed (primarily due to distance) but still nevertheless Englishmen, at least at first.

The first premise of the revolution was not originally independence, but rather “Hey, we’re Englishmen too!” But the politics of America made American Englishmen a different breed in the sense that the enlightened philosophy of Locke was adopted to challenge the ancient rule of European monarchy. Men were no longer subjects, but citizens – constituents. It is conservative nowadays, but was radical back then.

When I use the word “conservative” to describe the revolution, I use it as an adjective chiefly, comparing it to other revolutions like the French, or the left wing uprisings of the 19th/20th centuries.

Jacob: Then would it be incorrect to consider any revolution conservative in essence? By comparison, sure. The American Revolution was the most conservative by its effort to throw off a nonconsensual condition the creation of a Crown 3,000 miles away.

By the act of declaring independence even informally through their grievance, they ceased fluid movement with England. Burke says the social contract is preexistent; not simply created, but easily destroyed.

And yet, in saying that American Englishmen were of a different breed, that their politics were the result of the praxis of an English philosophy, then not only would the American Revolution be conservative, in that it was the offspring of England, but also liberal, in that it equally shed itself of her; in doing so, though it brought with it the tradition of Common Law and the suspicion of philosophy undergirding its Constitution, it too has descended into the natural conclusion of liberalism, when freedom spirals into the ambiguous conflation of liberty (the power to do what is right) and licentiousness (the power to do what one pleases).

Luke: …How are we defining “liberalism” here? Are you trying to say that even the classically liberal origins of the Revolution helped set the stage for modern liberalism nowadays? Furthermore, how much of the societal decadence these days is due to liberalism as opposed to leftism? I view the progressive desire to restructure society completely – the dissent against the classically liberal order – one of the primary catalysts for America’s civilizational decadence (and the rest of the West’s). Although, we could absolutely make the argument that even though liberals are not leftists (in fact they’re philosophically opposed), they nevertheless flirt with leftist dogma, which allowed the genuine ideologues to run things.

I think you’re probably correct that liberalism has a natural conclusion in allowing unchecked freedom, resulting in civilizational decadence. But does that start with the classically liberal origins of the American Revolution? Or does it start with the more modern, contemporary American liberalism we see today. I also feel that classical liberals parallel with conservatives in a variety ways. Jordan Peterson, for example, considers himself a classical liberal. Look up his lecture on “twelve conservative principles.” Both political philosophies, though to different extents, tend to harbor a significant appreciation for political incrementalism: in which ideals are valued, but they aren’t worshipped. Meaning that, society is not indicted in comparison to some hypothetical ideal, but rather it is compared with what actually exists in the world right now, as well as what existed in the past. 

Both the classical liberals and conservatives seem to agree that prudent change is the means for our preservation, even though they may differ on specific policy positions.

Jacob: Burke argues against the liberal notion of the social contract, at odds with Locke, Smith, and Rousseau. He saw their liberalism as suggesting an ‘absolute freedom’ from which people sprout and come together to decide how they want to be governed. He disagreed with this, instead positing that the social contract is already embedded into society—this is what made the American Revolution conservative. No one was reinventing the wheel in the way the French tried to do with the Declaration of the Rights of Man. So when I say that liberalism, when taken to its natural conclusion, leads to freedom spiraling out of control, I’m taking aim at the philosophy’s central tenet of individual sovereignty.

Luke: Ah, that makes a lot more sense now. I can see where you’re objecting from.

Jacob: You’re right in saying that conservatives and classical liberals share this in common with one another, specifically where it relates to government imposition. However, Burke was not advocating for this centralization of the individual; because he recognized that with it will come a displacement of heritage and those preexistent values already implied within the social contract.

So liberalism leads to leftism, insofar as it puts self-expression and licentiousness on a pedestal above liberty herself (which is the power to do what is right, not what one pleases).

The natural question to ask at this point, I think, would be why has the individual become displaced as well as his heritage, for the communal and tribalism of the left, though it is a product of liberalism.

Luke: This is probably a fair characterization, yes. But it happens gradually, through an aggressive but slow process of kowtowing. I feel that most liberals don’t know how far they’ve gone until they’ve already inadvertently facilitated the radical reconstruction of society as we know it.

The liberal defense of Critical Race Theory is an important example. Many liberals accuse conservatives of not knowing what it is, for opposing “learning about racism.” But it is this gaslighting that is not necessarily indicative of a deliberate plot, but rather just the inherent naivety of the modern liberal in this context. They’re presented with and fed snippets of fashionable, “woke” talking points that feed their egos and they become convinced that this will advance the cause of equal justice under law. But liberals don’t realize, of course, that “equal justice,” as has been traditionally conceptualized by the classically liberal order, is ultimately on the chopping block.

Hence the term “equity” as opposed to equality, because leftists don’t actually want equal treatment or justice under the law, they want a society whose constitution can facilitate equitable justice under law, in which certain tribes receive better treatment than others, based on broad postulations about their supposed oppression.

But of course, perhaps this example is an instance in which the dissent against individualism goes too far. The whole logic behind CRT is very collectivist in nature, in that people are grouped into larger groups and are seen as helpless drones at the mercy of faceless power structures that were founded to, and continue to oppress them while uplifting other groups.

Maybe the whole “live and let live” logic that is so popular today, is a better example of what you’re talking about – vindication of Burke’s warning regarding the centralization of the individual.

I also find that argument present in pro-abortion arguments. “It’s my body, my choice.” It’s the myth of absolute autonomy with no checks or balances.

Jacob: Ignorance may be a reason for the displacement of the individual. But then we do need to assume their inadvertence to the radical reconstruction of society, and I’m not so convinced of their innocence, however naïve or ignorant liberals might be. 

There was always an a priori collective aspect to liberalism, i.e. Rousseau, who postulated a general will prior to the individual or the people, constituents, that make up a state. I think Burke saw this as the insidious (the slow but harmful) consequence of the individual/little platoon separation. Let’s make this point clearer, so we don’t contradict Burke. Burke believed in communities as central to society, but this was not an advocacy for collectivism in any ideological sense. It was merely the sustenance of culture and the communities that permeated it that he grounded the individual in. I think he saw unfettered individualism, tied to nothing but himself, as a danger to himself and to society; because absent community, a people will begin to search for it. He didn’t say this so explicitly I don’t think, but his Sublime and Beautiful acknowledges the grave importance of reverent tradition, like going to Church on Sunday, to remind us of the awe and wonder of God and our minute existence—i.e. the Sublime. 

Burke here would be a prototypical social conservative… against an individual untethered to community in the face of constant change, lest he be wrapped up in Change’s vicissitudes and fall into the sin of decadence.  

Critical Race Theory seems to be the visible effect of a symptom, but not the symptom itself. The “live and let live” logic you mention may be closer to the mark.

This live and let live logic goes back to the licentiousness of the individual, prioritizing wants over moral obligation. It’s also led to indifference, thinking of the metropolitan liberal, so enmeshed into various communities, and yet ironically alienated from his neighbors. This is George Simmel’s ‘Stranger’— the New Yorker at the seat of the money economy, who knows only how to treat his neighbors transactionally, as he’s become so indifferent to the constant stimulation of the city, that all things become like commodities. Here we can draw parallels to Onlyfans and pornography, or trace it further back to the market of sensuality: prostitution, or the symbolic venues of strip clubs and brothels. 

Studies also show this indifferent attitude in urban residents versus rural residents. It is easier for you and I to pass unflinchingly and without regard to a homeless person asking for help, than it is a southerner who will be more disposed to take a knee and confront what every liberal rhetorically proclaims: that such a sight is a problem that goes unresolved by the uncaring.

Luke: I think you’ve said it better than I ever could. The indifference of the urbanite compared to the rural resident is certainly a great example, and is certainly true in praxis. As someone who just moved to Texas, I’ve noticed that the stereotypical “southern hospitality” is a stereotype for a reason – it’s true.

The urbanites, particularly, are significantly more indifferent to each other. As a New Jersey native I was raised in this culture, and I stick out like a sore thumb down south because of it. It’s almost like I’ve had to re-learn how to talk to people, as well as how to reciprocate in kind whenever someone goes out of their way to help me with something.

It’s the strong emphasis on community: a people whose individualism is perhaps just as pronounced, yes, but is nevertheless also tethered greatly to the society in which they participate in. There is a stronger moral obligation in Texas than there is on the streets of New York City, or the suburbs of central Jersey.

Jacob: I once heard someone say that “down south, people don’t care who you are or where you come from. It’s when they believe you’re making fun of them that there begins a problem.”

Luke: I think this is quite true. It’s especially true for a genuine Yankee such as myself. Be respectful of the people and the culture, and you’ll be fine. Before you know it, you’re just as immersed in it as everyone else.


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