Cultural development

NCIS Season 11 – the departure of Ziva David and Cheers for the National Security State

For NCIS fans, the season premiere looks great. As most people (who a) care and/or b) watch the show) probably know, Cote de Pablo is leaving NCIS. In what looks to be an exciting and awesome premiere, an explosion will occur, someone will die and Gibbs comes out looking good — in other words, just another stellar episode in the series that gave us Colin Hanks playing a Dick (Parsons, that is).

Regardless of your opinion of them, everyone should tune in to NCIS to learn the answer to that burning question: what will happen between Anthony DiNozzo and Ziva David? Tune into the season premiere, and you will find out.

So as we are busy here at beyondthegop analyzing, interpreting, explaining and debating the contours, fissures, and peaks and dips of the modern liberal state, don’t forget about the thing that makes this country awesome: great television celebrating public order, moral clarity, law enforcement bureaucracy and the concept of the national security state in a fearful and eternal fight against bad guys.

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Traditionalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Will the Beauty of the Ages Be Food for the Creditors?

A news story that has a personal touch for me – the bankruptcy of Detroit (I am from the the mitten)
Detroit declared bankruptcy on July 18, 2013. Detroit’s debt exceeds $18 billion. As storied a history as the city has, it is unfortunate that it has decayed so greatly since its World War II prominence

Detroit - Arsenal of Democracy

Detroit bankrupt

One of the institutions caught in the middle of the bankruptcy is the Detroit Institute of Arts. This renowned museum risks losing much of its collection in order for Detroit to repay its creditors. The auction house Christie’s will appraise an expected 3,500 of the museum’s 60,000+ pieces for the possible sale to creditors. This possibility has already had effects in the region, as Oakland County has voted to treat any attempt to raise money for creditors through an art sale as grounds to terminate its financial support of the museum.

Even though the Michigan Attorney General has said that the art can’t be sold, this has not stopped a very rich debate over what should happen to the art from taking place.

So, should the art be sold or not? Does the city’s debt require (and should it be) that the art museum’s collection be sold to pay off the city’s debt? Or can (and should) the art work be protected from being sold off? Do the rules of the market apply to this stuff – these commodities – or is art work in a museum a type of thing that is immune or outside of the boundaries of the rules of the market? It’s an old old debate made new.

Categories: Atomism, Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Federalism, Ideology, Libertarianism, Localism, Traditionalism | Leave a comment

Rand… Randy… Oooh Yeah

As Ben, Kelse and others consider the profundity and efficacy of Rand Paul’s epic filibuster, and while I think of a response to Kelse’s awesome critical examination of my self-identified conservatism, I counsel us to take a step back to remember what’s really important:

Tell the White House to designate May 20th as Macho Man Randy Savage Day

I have seen it on facebook and I’d like our readers to be aware of this important step for American national pride, unity and occasional monarchy.

Let’s reminisce this man’s profound effect on our country

As I watched Randy Savage call out with confidence and certainty the then-World Wrestling Federation President, I immediately thought of Rand Paul’s epic filibuster: not because he’s the cream of the crop, but because Randy Savage lost to Ricky Steamboat in Wrestlemania III. That doesn’t give me confidence in a long view of the effect of Senator Paul’s action. It just makes me think that, after everything is said and done and the script is finished, he will lose. Randy Savage lost to a great technician from Hawai’i; Senator Paul will ultimately lose to a great technician from Hawai’i (perhaps with some outside interference from his allies). Just call me a pessimist.

But don’t let that stop you: work for your democracy, don’t wait for your democracy to work for you. Rand Paul is working for our democracy. So, too, can the memory of Macho Man Randy Savage.

Categories: Constitutional Law, Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Libertarianism, Rand Paul, The Constitution, Traditionalism, Tyranny | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Gaypocalypse and the Conservative Cause

PRSanco has written a provocative post which gives to the conservative a pragmatic solution to the gay marriage debate that currently divides the country and causes conservatives to break out in cold sweats as they lie awake at night waiting for the gaypocalypse.

The problem is that this is not a new solution. Andrew Sullivan did it first. In 1989 he wrote a now seminal article arguing that conservatives should support gay marriage. From that time, conservatives have only stood against history, yelling their throats raw in an effort to defend “tradition” instead of becoming a guide of social and political change. So, while there is a debate, let’s not mistake that it is an academic one. Instead of pining for the old, why don’t conservatives get on with a justification for their existence, which is to conserve the social order? Conservatives can’t do that if they’re scaring the crap out of us in an effort to warn us of the great Gaypocalyse. We get it. The world is changing. Traditional marriage is coming to an end. If we accept gay marriage we are spelling the end of traditional marriage by fundamentally rejecting the definition that has undergirded Judeo-Christian culture for thousands of years. Now do your thing and guide the change so that it doesn’t devolve into some radical left wing gay orgy (literally). It’s what we’re supposed to do. It’s our thing to keep the society from becoming overwhelmed by its baser instincts. Yet we’re not doing that. We’re too busy telling the world about how society is succumbing to the democratic whims of its lesser selves. Way to drop the balls, guys.

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Localism, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

In Defense of Homeschooling

My colleague Joe Ptak has written a post linking homeschooling to the rise of cultural pluralism and the erosion of the civic culture, which he argues leads to a “culture of relativism.” Once you start homeschooling, according to Joe, you threaten the stability of a society and open the door to “anarchic relativism.” It’s an innovative argument, associating the rise of homeschooling with cultural disorder and a lack of cultural unity. Unfortunately, it’s also an argument that relies on several troubling assumptions, all of which Joe leaves wholly unstated.

Let me start out by admitting that there are a lot of points in Joe’s argument that I’m unclear about. For one thing, a crucial part of his argument seems to be that homeschooling leads to having a “fractured civic ontology.” Now, perhaps I am somehow out of the loop here (it wouldn’t be the first time), but I cannot, for the life of me, understand what a “fractured civic ontology” looks like nor do I understand how it differs in practice from an “intact civic ontology.” Joe does link to the Wikipedia entry for Ontology, yet somehow I doubt that Heideggarians and Cartesians coexisting together is the kind of cultural pluralism he’s worried about.

It’s also up to the reader to determine what Joe means when he talks about the importance of “civic culture”: a phrase that I take, rightly or wrongly, to be an appeal to the civic republican tradition which emphasizes the importance of having a commonly-held  set of social, political, and personal moral values. At the surface level, this might sound like a very conservative goal; in fact, Joe seems to be appealing to the sympathies of traditionalist conservative readers by using the republican (small-r) and largely conservative language of civic virtue and the need for some kind of cultural cohesion. For Joe, it seems that the real goal of educating children is not to make them educated, but to make sure that they are inculcated with the correct civic views. Of course, from a conservative perspective, the value of such civic education depends entirely upon which views are being transmitted.

What Joe doesn’t make explicit is that he implicitly considers the educational system a better source for civic virtue than he does parents. The desire to instill virtue, public as well as private, in their children is undeniably one of the major reasons parents choose to educate their children at home. Joe recognizes this, but sees home-instilled values as a “recipe for extremism” because the children will not encounter views that contradict the parents’ own.

However, if Joe is really concerned about the pervasive effects of “relativism,” this should be a good thing, shouldn’t it? Joe seems to feel that a plurality of viewpoints within a society is “insidious” while a plurality of viewpoints within the homes of (typically conservative) families prevents extremism. If opposing views can help combat extremism at the family level, then why not extend this principle to the whole society? Alternately, if a plurality of viewpoints inevitably leads to moral relativism, then why would we want to thrust the children of conservative families into moral confusion? There is an obvious double standard here, and one begins to wonder if Joe’s problem with homeschooling is not so much that it allows for a plurality of views, but that it allows for the propagation of what he considers to be the wrong view.

Secondly, Joe suggests that having a “fractured civic ontology” totally precludes us from teaching moral values to our children, but it is wholly unclear why this should be the case. Once again, Joe seems to attribute the transmission of moral and civic principles to the society writ-large (or at least to the education system writ-large) instead of placing responsibility for the moral upkeep of the young where it has been for millennia: in the hands of the church and the family. Standing contrary to this tradition, Joe seems to see such localized, bottom-up propagation of moral principles as “anarchistic” and opts to side with centralized, uniform, top-down transmission of moral principles flowing from the society directly to school children, with as little interference from the family as possible. This is certainly a way to combat pluralism in society, although the accompanying loss of liberty and local particularity make it hard to believe that any theoretical benefits outweigh the definite costs.


The problems of moral relativism and a lack of social cohesion in society that Joe refers to are serious issues that deserve serious consideration. In bringing attention to these issues, Joe does conservative readers a great service. An honest examination of these issues, however, shows the nation’s public school system to be a large part of the reason that they are a major issue. And while Joe allows for parochial schools, his total dismissal of homeschooling seems unwarranted.

Far from being anarchistic and undermining of the culture, homeschooling has been one of the major ways that concerned, traditionally-minded families have responded to the moral relativism that pervades the contemporary American educational scene. If, from an academic perspective, the entire K-12 educational industry in this country seems more interested in producing a certain type of citizen than classically educated individuals, and if that type of citizen seems engineered to radically alter traditional American society, then wouldn’t choosing an alternative education for your child (either parochial schools or homeschooling) be a defense of the civic culture?

Homeschooling- whether for religious, educational, or philosophical reasons- has quickly become one of the most dramatic and effective rejections against contemporary American culture. In an age of increasing uniformity and decreasing local particularity, homeschooling provides the ultimate expression of decentralized control and local values. It would be a shame for conservatives to write it off due to fears that homeschooled students might turn out “different” than their public-and-private schooled peers.

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Localism, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Homeschooling on the Rise

This story is a few weeks old, but quite interesting.

Homeschooling is on the rise, according to the Economist.

Three decades ago home schooling was illegal in 30 states. It was considered a fringe phenomenon, pursued by cranks, and parents who tried it were often persecuted and sometimes jailed. Today it is legal everywhere, and is probably the fastest-growing form of education in America. According to a new book, “Home Schooling in America”, by Joseph Murphy, a professor at Vanderbilt University, in 1975 10,000-15,000 children were taught at home. Today around 2m are—about the same number as attend charter schools.

While modern homeschooling started off as a movement by leftists to get their kids out of the oppressive capitalist American school systems, it is now a staple of religious conservatives.

Today the ranks of home-schoolers are overwhelmingly Christian, and 78% of parents attend church frequently. According to the National Household Education Survey in 2007, the main motivation for home schooling was for religious or moral instruction (36%), followed by school environment (21%) and the quality of instruction available (17%). After this comes concerns about special education, the distance of travel and even nut allergies.

But don’t think that “religious” means only Christian. Muslims are one of the fastest-growing homeschooling groups in the country.

So homeschooling is growing. What about the success of homeschooling?

Academically, home-schooled children seem to do well; they enter higher education in proportions similar to those who are conventionally educated, and score as well or better on college entrance exams. Nor, on the evidence of Mr. Murphy’s book, are they socially backward: most seem confident, assured and well-adjusted. They also have fewer behavioural problems. But one study did find higher attrition rates when they enter the armed forces.

The rise of homeschooling is an important trend for several reasons. Most importantly, it gives to parents–and takes from the state–control of children’s moral and intellectual training. It is essential to the survival of a free society that the state does not have a stranglehold on the upbringing of the young. It is essential that families and communities  control the education and character formation of future generations. The variety of viewpoints that emerge in such educational decentralization (both Christians and Muslims taking full advantage of their educational freedom) preserves the diversity of thought that renders an overbearing monolithic state a difficult undertaking.

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Libertarianism, Traditionalism | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Strike blows against militarism and hollywood

In a blow against militarism and for restraint – for conservatism – the White House has responded to a petition to begin construction of a Death Star with a “no.” 

That’s probably a good thing…

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, The Constitution, Traditionalism | 1 Comment

Political Science, Theory and Philosophy

Over at the duck of minerva blog, there have been a few responses (and responses to responses to a recent paper written by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (whose blog can be read here). The topic of the paper is outside of the scope of the normal stuff we discuss on the blog – the title is “Leaving Theory Behind: Why Hypothesis Testing Has Become Bad for IR” and it is to be published in European Journal of International Relations – but, I think relevant to what it is we write about; it gives another spin to and expands the scope of the persistent debate on this blog between tradition, history, and rationalism.

On the blog, we discuss all sorts of political topics; but, how do we make the connection between what it is that we write about – honey boo boo. guns, small-r republican gun control obamacare, libertarianism – and larger methodological and epistemological questions that might arise – yet the answers to or assumptions about which we might take for granted – as we try to make sense of our social world?

Are Mearsheimer and Walt right to lament the decline of theorizing and its replacement with hypothesis testing? What is the relationship between the political philosophy and political philosophers (like the folks on this blog) to the study and practice of political science? In our critiques of contemporary culture, our emphasis on the good, the true and the beautiful, and a relatively rich description and understanding of human behavior, what is it that we can say as we look at the discipline? How can we appear to people outside of the discipline as more than simply smug newspaper readers or smug obscurantists? Getting the message out; connecting theory to policymaking, and being more aware of the effect of our philosophical assumptions on the study of, and pronouncements on, politics. We’re conservative, sure, but we’re also dudes and chics who’ve spent a lot of time in the classroom thinking about these questions that many people don’t really care about nearly as much as we do. And I think that demands a reflection and engagement with ourselves. And that might begin with trying to figure out how it is that we think. What are the implications of our philosophical positions. And what role those philosophical assumptions have – how they trickle down (or up? or no trickle at all?) into manifestations of political positions. Just a thought.

So… hypothesis testing: good or bad for the study of politics or international relations in particular? Why, why not, what are the deficiencies, flaws or mis-directions of that approach? If not it, then what are alternative approaches toward the study of politics? Should an emphasis be placed on theory instead? And what kind of theorizing should one do in order to study politics?

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Traditionalism | Leave a comment

Secession: Seriously, People?

Ben has written a thoughtful and provocative critique of charles cooke’s criticism of the recent secessionist movements. I disagree with Ben’s view.

The late paleoconservative writer Sam Francis also held a critical view of modern secessionist movements, writing in February 1998 in his Chronicles Magazine column “Principalities and Powers” of Southern neo-secessionist movements that

There are, to put it simply, two strong
reasons why secession, for the South or any other part of the
nation, is not a good idea. In the first place, it is not
practical; in the second place, even if it were practical, it
would not be desirable.

In a later section of that same column, he writes about something of an irony of contemporary american secessionist movements by pointing out that the south “begins to vanish as a cultural unity” in comparison to movements of cultures that have more legitimate claims to secession as a result of more distinctive cultural-linguistic, religious and historical traditions than the south. Additionally, the contemporary south receives much in the form of government subsidies, legal policies (e.g., affirmative action) and welfare programs.

I am not convinced that there is a “disassociation of contemporary political issues from their broader philosophical and historical contexts” of which any contemporary critic (such as any at national review) is guilty. First, history is on the side of NR, as well as the guys at Claremont.

Second, the philosophical assumptions behind ben’s position are, I think, flawed. The long view of history borders on the deterministic and integrates history and philosophy in a way that denies the very causal and ethical frameworks necessary to justify the secessionist claims. It is difficult to view the vague, hyperbolic and abstract observations about the current state of cultural and political affairs as having any actual explanatory power with regard to the current secessionist movement. At some point, the broader historical and philosophical view must be rejected in favor of something that actually provides a decent causal explanation, which does not require so long a view of time for its power. The alternative view of history, which seems to be assumed, that history is a collection of related and enduring borders on the deterministic (or inevitable) which has some serious philosophical problems to respond to. Alexander Rosenberg briefly addresses historicism in his survey of contemporary philosophy of social science which I will selectively quote here

A theory or method is historicist roughly if it holds that in order to understand and to predict subsequent states of a system-whether a whole society or an individual person-we must have detailed knowledge of the (usually distant) pas states of the system. Even to predict the very next “stage” in the development of a neurosis or an economic system, we need to know about events long past in the life of the individual {usually the patient’s infancy) or the society-sometimes even its prehistory.

He goes on to state one of the problems of historicism with regard to causality

This sort of causation bears the same problems as teleological causation. Recall in Chapter 5 (“Causation and Purpose”) the problems of future events, events that don’t yet exist and therefore cannot bring about present ones. Historicism requires that past events, which no longer exist, bring about future events somehow without affecting present ones. But if past states do not leave a mark on the present that we can identify and employ to chart the future, then their determination of the future cannot be through causal means known to the rest of science. For causation does not work through temporal gaps any more than it works through spatial gaps. There must be chains linking the earlier to the later. And a complete knowledge of the intrinsic causal properties at any link, together with laws, should be enough to determine the character of future effects, without adding information about earlier tasks.

I excerpt all of that in order to make somewhat transparent the assumption(s) behind Ben’s view of history that he employs and to suggest that the view of history has serious problems, for the simple reason that the broad view of history is unnecessary. Which is not to concede that history is an unrelated and transient set of “facts”; but rather, that the view of history that he argues simply should not be – and probably is not – a view of history that is required in order to understand the contemporary secessionist movements. There simply is no “broad historical and philosophical context” that is short changed in the critique that Charles Cooke gives of the contemporary secessionist movements. Not unless one wants to make the claim that the contemporary secessionist movements have their roots in historical “causes” of half and full and full and a half centuries past; but, these movements don’t support that type of claim. These movements don’t seem to support the broader claim of historical and philosophical context that is allegedly missing from pages of NR. This is because, most likely, the evidence that is in does not support a historicist interpretation of the secession talk, but rather an interpretation that is bound up in recent events that some people just don’t like which is the immediate, easiest and most likely best explanation for the uptick in secession talk.

More interestingly – and this should be of interest to those of us who have participated in the historicism versus the not historicism debate on this blog – it would seem that there is an odd appeal to abstract concepts and reasoning detached from the foundation and structure of concrete, lived experience in the listing of alleged flaws in the system. There is nothing in that list – nothing unique or concrete – that the historical circumstances are ripe for a breakdown of the republic, or that even the corrosion of the structure of government is any different now than it may have been in 1950 (or 1900, or 1860, etc): the point is that those grievances are not structural, but rather political and cultural; and are not specific enough to be able to be distinguished from similar laments that could have been uttered at any other time in the history of this republic. Unless we can establish a bright line with specific examples to demonstrate that yes, this is the time and the place that spells our country’s last breath, then those words are reality-denying fantasy.

Harry Jaffa writes a line that should make all traditionalists stop, take a deep breath, and think

Contrary to our “paleoconservatives,” the truths of the Founding do not depend solely upon tradition or divine revelation, but are “discerned in human nature” by human reason grounded in “self-evident truths.”

Further, Jaffa writes

Notwithstanding the great gulf between them, Kirk and Kristol have been as one in their fanatical opposition to the doctrines embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Like Carl Becker, they held that “To ask whether the natural rights philosophy of the Declaration of Independence is true or false, is essentially a meaningless question.” This has been their received and unexamined premise. They are undisturbed by the fact that it renders meaningless the American political tradition itself.

And additionally, he writes

The Declaration is today the first of the Organic Laws of the United States in the United States Code. All acts and deeds of the United States since 1776, including the original Constitution, have been dated from its signing. According to a joint statement of Madison and Jefferson in 1825, the Declaration is not only the act of separation of the thirteen colonies from Great Britain but “the act of Union” by which the thirteen became one (6). Kirk’s assertions about the Declaration are expressions of ideological fanaticism, with no foundation in history or reason.

From these few comments, one can make a claim about paleoconservatism and contemporary secession movements that suggests that at their foundations, neither traditionalist conservatism nor the secessionist movements are grounded in american tradition, history or reasoning. It is, to use Jaffa’s words, “ideological fanaticism.”


Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Secession, The Constitution, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Jean Jacques Rousseau: The Patron Saint of Conservatives

Chuck O’Shea has written an excellent post about the merits of economic and political localism.

The type of social arrangement Chuck applauds is, I think, a variant of the model(s) of democratic activity about which benjamin barber and others have written.

I guess I’m going to use this post to highlight the drunk uncle of intellectual conservative thought: Jean Jacques Rousseau

Although many traditionalists are critical of rousseau, the critical-negative reaction to rousseau is not universal among conservatives. Given the connection between hegel and rousseau; the continuing impact of rousseau on (at one time) contemporary debates about human nature, the modern woman and modernity, Rousseau is as relevant now as he ever would be. As wearily skeptical products of the Enlightenment, we conservatives ought to be more open to him as an intellectual father of the counter-enlightenment. His moral realism should be a welcome respite from the imaginative fantasies of the neo-jacobins; and other ahistoricists who reject the concrete for the abstract and unreality for the difficult complexities of human experience.

So, let’s re-open those books by him, examine that secondary literature, human nature and recognize his origins and re-interpret him and his work for what he did and the legacy he left, instead of accepting the image and interpretation that the babbitts and kirks of the world have left to us.

Jean Jacques Rousseau

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Traditionalism | 1 Comment

Look to City Leaders, Not Washington

Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, has an interesting article on local city leaders and their role in creating jobs and economic growth. He notes differences between various big cities such as Austin, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee, which have thriving economies and low unemployment rates, and Albany, New York, and Stockton, California, which don’t. The cities that succeed do so, not because of national leaders, but because city leaders in politics, business, and philanthropy work to create a social environment friendly to economic growth and humane social existence.

The reality is, when it comes to creating economic growth and good jobs, local leadership trumps national leadership. For instance, Austin and Albany are both capital cities in big American states. Neither city is located by a port or a natural tourist attraction with beaches or mountains. They’re pretty much alike, except that Austin wins big and Albany loses big.

The difference, in my view, is that Austin has deeply caring, highly engaged business, political, and philanthropic leaders with principles, policies, beliefs, and values about human nature that work. They understand how to build a thriving, growing economy — one that welcomes business and entrepreneurship. Albany has the opposite, as I see it: Leaders with principles, policies, values, and beliefs that discourage business and entrepreneurship, if not outright scaring them away.

Cities across the country with great leadership are filled with booming startup companies, and those cities have thriving economies that create authentic, organically grown good jobs. These cities are saving America, while the others are letting the country down.

Categories: Cultural development, Libertarianism | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

On Conservatism and Ghostly Tales

I wish that I had seen this before Halloween. The University Bookman has published a review of Russell Kirk’s gothic novel Lord of the Hollow Dark. It’s one of my favorite gothic novels, admittedly, a genre with which I have limited experience. All Hallows Eve was one of Dr. Kirk’s favorite holidays. Like Christmas, today Halloween is very much a (ugh) consumerized holiday, “severed from its Catholic roots as a solemn day in honor of the saints and even from the earlier Celtic festival of Samhain, where the dead mingled with the living as newly departed souls traveled to the otherworld.” However, Kirk still believed that it was a time that could remind us that “there are more things in heaven and earth…than are dreamt of in [our] philosophy.”

Kirk, author of many short ghostly tales and three novels, was considered a master of the genre. No doubt quite a surprise to many readers of his political and cultural works. However, he understood the genre to be an excellent outlet for the exploration of what is more than mere materialism. He writes in his essay “A Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale,”

[A]s the rising generation regains the awareness that ‘nature’ is something more than mere fleshly sensation, and that something may lie above human nature, and something below it—why, the divine and diabolical rise up again in serious literature.

Something like that, the author of the review thinks, could be happening now with the fascination with vampires and such in popular literature. We’ll see. The author presents the possibility but is as dubious as I am that these works actually “uplift humanity.” Kirk’s characters prevailed in his stories because of their “timeless virtues” and aid from sources more than natural, a lesson on the value of tradition in preserving salient virtues and the mystery of human existence. This is why, for Kirk, the ghost story is a peculiarly conservative genre. He writes,

[The writing of ghost stories] has been a skill innately conservative. As M. R. James wrote of Le Fanu, “The ghost story is in itself a slightly old-fashioned form; it needs some deliberateness in the telling; we listen to it the more readily if the narrator poses as elderly, or throws back his experience to ‘some thirty years ago.’” If faithless to this trust, the ghost-story writer will deserve to be hounded to his doom by the late James Thurber’s favorite monster, the Todal, “a creature of the Devil, sent to punish evil-doers for having done less evil than they should.”

Stories of ghosts, if Cicero was right that ghosts are the damned haunting the places of their evil deeds, are a reminder that “[T]enebrae ineluctably form part of the nature of things; nor should we complain, for without darkness there cannot be light.” This is why Kirk liked Halloween.

Kirk saw how occasions such as All Hallows Eve might serve as opportunities to take back the moral imagination from the diabolical. It is an occasion to remember saints who continue speaking through a legacy of lives that sought to push under the dark powers of their times.

That’s Kirk’s understanding of ghost stories. But I haven’t even discussed Lord of the Hollow Dark. Go and read the review. It’s a great book.

Categories: Cultural development, Traditionalism | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Burke and Traditionalism

There is an interesting, albeit three-year old, post at Front Porch Republic titled “Is Burke Our Intellectual Father?” that bears upon our present subject, the value and meaning of traditional conservatism. The author, James Matthew Wilson, answers in the affirmative and takes some pains to make it clear why he thinks that Burke spawned that peculiar intellectual movement called traditional conservatism. Along the way he touches upon several issues of importance to our readers (especially those who have read about conservatism and positivism, questions for historicists, or rationalism).

First, is Burkean traditionalism “consummately anti-intellectual” and his “antithesis of ideology to be a renunciation of ideas”? Wilson answers in the negative. Burke’s target was intellectual reductionism and abstract rationalism that it so often becomes. His interest was in the concrete results of such abstractionism and reductionism in terms of the human cost of such philosophical mistakes in human affairs.

The real cause of Burke’s ire, however, was the supposedly intellectual disdain with which his contemporaries greeted the conditions of actual human life-of what we may redundantly call lived experience.  Rejecting the claims of natural rights variously articulated in the months after the French Revolution, Burke contended that, as rights, liberties, and restrictions “vary with times and circumstances, and admit of infinite modifications, they cannot be settled upon any abstract rule; and nothing is so foolish as to discuss them upon that principle.”  Human experience is not only the source of human wisdom, but its permanent condition and also its end.  Those who would either transcend the concrete conditions of history or ignore the legitimate concerns for the preservation of human happiness in order to take flight into utopian realms of abstraction succumb to a double weakness; their minds blithely reduce reality to theory and, in pursuing a theory, may brutally cause real suffering.

Second, Burke stands closest to his intellectual opponents among the Jacobins and English Whigs in holding that society is an artifice, the construction of human hands to provide for human wants. Society is a social contract, Burke writes,

It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection.  As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.

Third, such a partnership demonstrates each man’s dependence upon his fellow men, not only those living at the same time as himself, but all those who came before him and bequeathed his current circumstances. By the same token, every person alive will pass on those circumstances, either in improved or dilapidated form to future generations. There is no escape from this existential situation. This is the meaning of traditionalist’s insistence on looking to historical circumstance; it is the precondition of man’s social, political, and intellectual existence. Wilson writes,

We are not our own, and we are not therefore sovereign rulers of ourselves or our society, at least to the extent that we compose a small part of an ‘eternal society’ comprising past, present, and future generations.  As such, the work of artifice is founded in a Constitutional theory; the English constitution, as the exemplary form of government, works ‘after the pattern of nature,’”

There is much else in the post that is interesting and it provides a good introduction to Burke’s thought. I encourage our readers to read it.

Categories: Cultural development, Ideology, Traditionalism | 1 Comment

Replicating American Libertarianism

Kelse’s response to my post “Traditionalism and Statism,” suggests that my defense of traditionalism over some kind of rational libertarianism was off-base because I focused only on the tradition that he and I share, not on traditionalism as such. Kelse suggests that, were we to focus our attention on a different culture (he gives the example of Saudi Arabia), my argument would have much less to offer it. There are three points I would like to make in response to this: 1) libertarianism as Kelse knows it is inextricably tied to a particular historical context, 2) traditionalism offers more hope for the libertarian-minded individual in Saudi Arabia than Kelse suggests, and 3) that this form of tradition-infused libertarianism actually has more to offer than does a purely reason-based libertarianism, if one can be said to exist.

Kelse readily acknowledges that his own libertarian beliefs fit relatively well into the broader Anglo-American tradition. He stops short, however, of recognizing that this is because the Anglo-American tradition gave birth to libertarianism.

Without the Magna Carta, without a Hobbesian conception of social atomism, without a Lockean understanding of property rights and religious toleration, without the Scottish Enlightenment, Kelse wouldn’t be the same thinker he is today. It is important then to note that Kelse’s beliefs do not arise “in a vacuum independent of tradition” as he argued in an earlier post. Either libertarianism is not as “reason”-based as Kelse suggests, or else reason is not as easily divorced from tradition as we are prone to believe. Either way, libertarianism has slowly grown and evolved within a particular historical context (borrowing, here and there, from minds outside the Anglo-American tradition).

Why was it not rationally deduced all at once? Did people just not think hard enough? Was Murray Rothbard the world’s first fully rational man? On the contrary, the history of philosophy would suggest that, whatever the differences in our individual reasoning capacities, all humans are in some way bound by the limits of their own tradition’s worldview: there are certain things they can and cannot see from their own particular historical vantage point. The Enlightenment notion that we have already achieved the pinnacle of human wisdom from which no further growth is possible is, from this point of view, laughably hubristic. One might then say that Anglo-American libertarianism is the best political philosophy heretofore known (which is improbable but conceivable), but one cannot say that it is the best that will ever exist.

As a traditionalist, I am proud of my culture’s accomplishments and believe that elements of its tradition have much to offer the modern world today. Yet, I do not believe that my own tradition represents any kind of grand advancement in human development. The value of my tradition is the same as the value of every other tradition: it conveys a universal truth about humanity. If a tradition has endured over hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years, it must have some degree of staying power. Thus, although I might have serious spiritual, cultural, and political differences with members of the Muslim world, I would have to acknowledge that there must be something worthwhile within their tradition to allow it such longevity.

This is not to suggest that there are not aspects of every tradition that do more harm than good to a society. My primary cultural identity comes from being born in the American South. And while there are many aspects of my culture that I love deeply, there are also some unfortunate aberrations from that tradition: slavery, discrimination, and racial prejudice to name a few. Did slavery exist for so long because it conveyed some deep truth about human nature or encouraged human excellence? Obviously not. So, as a Southerner, I must make a conscious choice to emphasize some aspects of my tradition over others. In order to make this distinction, I admittedly must have some understanding of a higher good that transcends my particular historical tradition. In a sense, perhaps this is similar to what Kelse means when he talks about “reason.” That being said, I would maintain that universal truth can only be understood through historical tradition.

This leads to an important point I was attempting to make, perhaps somewhat awkwardly, in my previous post: as a traditionalist, I am not trying to perfectly recreate an instantiation of universal truth that has already existed in the past; I am attempting to reformulate that truth to fit new circumstances. In the process, I am also constantly trying to improve my own tradition.

The libertarian-minded individual living in Saudi Arabia has the option of doing the same thing. If he were to look back at his own culture and see that theocratic Islamist statism does indeed lead to human excellence, he might begin to reconsider his previous attachment to libertarianism. If, on the other hand, he finds within his own tradition some kind of cultural precursor for limited government, for individual liberty and property rights, then he has the option of building upon this tradition and pointing his culture toward the type of society he sees as best encouraging human flourishing.

Ostensibly, a distinctly Saudi Arabian form of libertarianism won’t look exactly like the Anglo-American libertarian tradition that Kelse is familiar with. Nor should it. Libertarianism in America itself originated within a particular culture. Why should Saudi Arabian libertarianism not? Or alternatively, why should we hold out hope for Anglo-American libertarianism thriving in Saudi Arabia?

Libertarianism, to the extent that it has been separated from its original cultural moorings, has proved to be a more destructive than positive influence. If the Saudi Arabians want a more libertarian culture, then they should develop one within their own cultural context.

Categories: Cultural development, Libertarianism, Traditionalism | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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