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

Syria and the Bankruptcy of Liberal Universalism

President Obama and his cabinet officers are campaigning to secure support for a military strike against Syria. If he succeeds he will overturn precedent and make sovereignty obsolete in a perversion of America’s political system through an “inevitable mess” which at best weakens our national security, while at worst risks spiraling us into an epic political crisis. In other words, it’s not worth it.

The President is encountering skeptics within his own support base, among members of Congress (his institutional co-equal), a divided international community and a public that is tired of war, as he and his administration maintain a strong media campaign to make their case and generate support for a strike. Regardless of the outcome, the Syria issue will likely have repercussions for President Obama’s domestic agenda in his apparent repeat of history. Syria would be an addition to numerous events which have developed into a cascading force which overshadows his domestic policy goals.

Of particular interest to the bloggers at and audience of is the conservative skepticism toward the call for action against Syria. Members of the contemporary Old Right are thrown together with neoconservatives, Tea Partiers, the public and members of the establishment left in an ad hoc opposition movement that cuts across party lines and ideological boundaries. As the full-court press against the media continues, the American public (and its government) is left wondering who the war is for.

An American strike against Syria will wreck the very liberal values and norms that modern liberals hold close to their hearts. The media campaign, the domestic political risks and the divided international community belie the credibility and the sustainability of the “liberal world order” which America currently maintains. President Obama’s case for intervention – his attempt to defend the norms of liberalism – in Syria demonstrates that liberalism is sick and it is dying. This disease is terminal and is the most recent symptom of liberalism’s crisis and imminent death.

As Congress continues to postpone a vote on a policy which most members of the two legislative bodies do not support (partially consistent with a public opposition to military intervention), the Obama administration and other actors (specifically Russia and Syria) consider diplomatic alternatives to avoid a US military strike and resolve the problem peacefully (i.e., through the transfer of Syrian chemical weapons into international control, a proposal that has met political and logistical problems).

While the United States weighs the possible benefits and costs of turning enemies into friends, we should take a step back and consider the bigger picture: liberalism is dying, and a military intervention into Syria may just be the push it needs into the coffin.

Categories: Checks and Balances, Constitutional Law, Ideology, The Constitution, Tyranny, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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

Misconceptions? What Misconceptions?

Ben has written a provocative post which challenges the conventional wisdom that is hammered into our heads in grade school and celebrated by every pundit, pundette and person in America. He takes on the reading of the Declaration that we received from Lincoln, who famously immortalized it in his Gettysburg Address of November 19, 1863.

To close his post, he asks the readers of this blog

So, once again, my question for the reader: when you celebrate the Declaration of Independence this 4th of July, exactly what are you celebrating? Is it the Declaration of state sovereignty, historical particularity, and continuity with the past? Or is it the Declaration of the American “nation,” universal abstraction, and revolution? I’m afraid I already know the answer.

My answer is that I celebrate the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. Contrary to Ben, I think that Lincoln’s Declaration is continuous with the Founders’ Declaration. I think it is his interpretation of the Declaration and of Lincoln that are misguided.

Ben advocates a compact theory of constitutional development; I think that the compact theory is wrong. Lincoln was correct to argue that the nation predates the individual states. Daniel Webster eloquently describes the type of relationship upon which this nation was built – and which Lincoln correctly, in my view, defended at Gettysburg – in his second reply to Senator Hayne. It is not a compact between states.

When the gentleman says the Constitution is a compact between the States, he uses language exactly applicable to the old Confederation. He speaks as if he were in Congress before 1789. He describes fully that old state of things then existing. The Confederation was, in strictness, a compact; the States, as States, were parties to it. We had no other general government. But that was found insufficient, and inadequate to the public exigencies. The people were not satisfied with it, and undertook to establish a better. They undertook to form a general government, which should stand on a new basis; not a confederacy, not a league, not a compact between States, but a Constitution; a popular government, founded in popular election, directly responsible to the people themselves, and divided into branches with prescribed limits of power, and prescribed duties. They ordained such a government, they gave it the name of a Constitution, and therein they established a distribution of powers between this, their general government, and their several State governments. When they shall become dissatisfied with this distribution, they can alter it. Their own power over their own instrument remains. But until they shall alter it, it must stand as their will, and is equally binding on the general government and on the States.

The gentleman, Sir, finds analogy where I see none. He likens it to the case of a treaty, in which, there being no common superior, each party must interpret for itself, under its own obligation of good faith. But this is not a treaty, but a constitution of government, with powers to execute itself, and fulfil its duties.

Ben claims that there is no evidence that the states viewed themselves in the way Lincoln viewed them. Yes, there is evidence of the shared view. The legislators and jurists during the founding era shared this proto-Lincolnian view of constitutional development. If Ben were correct in his view of the relationship between the states and the federal government, then Georgia would have won. But it didn’t. While the myth of the compact is alive and well, the accumulation of history points to a union “of the people, by the people, for the people” – not of, by and for individual, voluntary states.

Moving on, Ben attempts to refute Lincoln’s alleged claim that we were a nation founded upon universal truths and abstract rights. He claims that the Founding Fathers held a contrary view. I disagree with that claim and Lincoln did, too. I don’t mean to be flippant, but I don’t have a problem with an interpretation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution which outlaws slavery of African-Americans. And I don’t see why (other) conservatives would or should have a problem with that interpretation Lincoln left us. That said, I’m open to being persuaded.

I don’t disagree with Ben that Lincoln believed that the Declaration was enshrined with abstract truths or rights. But I think to stop there, as Ben seems to, presents a misleading portrait of Lincoln.

I don’t think that Lincoln was the radical, abstract, history-and-tradition-dismissing statesman that Ben seems to suggest. Reading Lincoln in context (biographically and philosophically), I think it is clear that he has a narrow understanding of this right of equality. It is an understanding that does not assume that everyone will enjoy equality or that the government will force everyone to be equal – as actual Jacobins may believe; but, only that the founders “declare[d]“ that the right of equality exists. And his argument is specific to the historical crisis against which Lincoln stood. Lincoln makes it very clear in his speeches and letters – and his biography provides further evidence – that in his argument in favor of a right to equality he is he is speaking about and against slavery. Lincoln was historically aware and recognized the continuity between the views of the Founders and his own.

Finally, Lincoln is a conservative. He said so himself. He is a conservative cut from the type of cloth that those of us at beyondthegop are cut from.

We conservatives can learn a lot from Lincoln. We should take a moment to examine the historical context in which he developed, advocated and implemented his constitutional views, rather than paying lip service to history. His writings demonstrate that had deep respect for the Founding, the Constitution and the republican experiment that the American Revolution launched.

A revolution that was, contrary to the typical conservative interpretation (including Ben’s), a radical event. Gordon Wood corrects this misunderstanding in his Pulitzer Prize winning book

If we measure the radicalism of revolutions by the degree of social misery or economic deprivation suffered, or by the number of people killed or manor houses burned, then this conventional emphasis on the conservatism of the American Revolution becomes true enough. But if we measure the radicalism by the amount of social change that actually took place–by the transformations in the relationships that bound people to each other–then the American Revolution was not conservative at all; on the contrary: it was as radical and as revolutionary as any in history. Of course, the American Revolution was very different from other revolutions. But it was no less radical and no less social for being different. In fact, it was one of the greatest revolutions the world has known, a momentous upheaval that not only fundamentally altered the character of American society but decisively affected the course of subsequent history.

Which Declaration do you support? The Declaration of history or the Declaration of Lincoln?

From Dred Scott

In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show, that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument.

A Lincolnian declamation(?)


Categories: Declaration of Independence, Federalism, Ideology, Secession, The Constitution, Tyranny | 1 Comment

Three Misconceptions about the Declaration of Independence

“The Gettysburg Address has become an authoritative expression of the American spirit — as authoritative as the Declaration itself, and perhaps even more influential, since it determines how we read the Declaration.”– Garry Wills


Americans have always celebrated Independence Day as an important moment in the development of the American character. Still, I wonder if Americans today don’t have a radically different understanding of the Declaration of Independence than earlier generations did. Indeed, the original meaning of the Declaration seems to have been eclipsed by subsequent events. In particular one could argue, as Gary Wills does, that Americans understand July 4, 1776 through the lens of November 19, 1863- the date of Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.”

That short speech has become a fixed part of the American psyche and I would argue that we are worse off for it. In those 10 sentences lie not only the foundational elements of Lincoln’s political thought, but also a blueprint for a drastic recasting of the American constitutional order. So, on this Independence Day, I would ask the reader to take a moment to consider exactly which “Declaration of Independence” it is that we are celebrating- is it the “Declaration” of Lincoln or that of the Founders? For the two are wholly incompatible.


Much of what Lincoln says in the Gettysburg Address can be seen as a direct commentary on the Declaration. Notably, it is the Declaration and not the United States Constitution that Lincoln sees as the centerpiece of the American political order. There are three underlying principles of Lincoln’s political thought that can be drawn out through a close examination of the Address, and all have to deal, more or less directly, with his peculiar interpretation of the Declaration:

1) America was founded, as a “nation”, in 1776.

2) America has been, since its inception, established upon universal truths.

3) America is, at its heart, revolutionary.

These propositions deserve individual treatment. Each of them represents not only a misunderstanding of American history, but a deeply flawed political theory. And each of them has been increasingly accepted by each subsequent generation of Americans.


1) America was founded, as a “nation”, in 1776.

The line “four score and seven years ago” points back, from 1863, to the year 1776 and not, as one might expect when talking about the founding of America, to the ratification of the Constitution. Lincoln has two reasons for emphasizing the Declaration over the Constitution: one philosophical, to be discussed in the following section, and one practical, based on Lincoln’s historical understanding of the American founding.

To Lincoln, the issuance of the Declaration of Independence symbolized an era of pre-Constitutional national unity: the American colonies were engaged in a united struggle against British rule and joined together to collectively announce their new identity as a nation. Lincoln saw this moment as the precise beginning of the national American government.

Advancing this theory of the founding was absolutely critical for Lincoln. He was fighting a war against a Southern polity that was premised around an opposite conceptualization of the founding. The Southern states considered themselves to be sovereign nations in their own right and parties to a “compact.” This “Compact Theory” of the Constitution posited that the 13 original states, after they had won their own individual independence from Britain in the Revolutionary War, had then only surrendered a portion of their sovereignty to the national government in ratifying the Constitution. As sovereign states, they had as much a right to withdraw from that compact as the modern US does to leave the United Nations.

Lincoln’s narrative precluded such an argument. If the American nation- starting with the Declaration- was historically prior to the states as political entities, then any efforts to reclaim a state’s residual sovereignty were invalid attempts to get in between the “American people”- considered in the aggregate- and their government. As a rhetorical ploy, Lincoln’s narrative works well; the only problem with it is that it is not supported by the historical record. The Declaration did not symbolize the birth of any pre-constitutional American “nation,” chiefly because, just as the states were engaged in fighting their own wars for independence, they authorized their own declarations for independence as well. By July 4, 1776, delegates to the Continental Congress from 12 of the 13 colonies had already received prior authorization by their state governments to declare independence. The delegates from New York had not been authorized by their state legislature to vote in favor of independence and thus abstained from voting until weeks later. Even though the states collaborated with one another in fighting for, and declaring, their independence, there is absolutely no historical evidence that they saw themselves as comprising a singular “nation” in the sense Lincoln used the word.

2) America was, at its inception, built upon universal truths.

Lincoln’s reliance upon the Declaration of Independence was also due to the fact that the Declaration, unlike the Constitution, easily lends itself to a political theory based on abstract, universal principals. Lincoln wrote in 1859 that the Declaration put forth “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times.” In the same letter, Lincoln goes on to write that the “principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society.” In the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Lincoln claimed that the writers of the Declaration “meant to get up a standard maxim for free society…. which declares that ‘all men are created equal.’”

To see the Declaration as advancing this kind of timeless principle is perhaps even more common today than in Lincoln’s time, but it is nonetheless a very flawed reading of the text. For one thing, once the reader gets past the first four sentences of the Declaration (if the reader gets past the first four sentences of the Declaration), it becomes very clear that the author is much less interested in the kind of “standard maxim for a free society” that Lincoln is advocating. Rather, the reader finds a laundry list of violations of the traditional British common law. In other words, the Declaration of Independence is very much bound to its own historical setting. The great conservative scholar M.E. Bradford picks up on this, arguing that “to anyone familiar with English letters and the English mind in the 17th and 18thcenturies, the Declaration of Independence is clearly a document produced out of the mores majorum- legal, rhetorical, poetic- and not a piece of reasoning or systematic truth.”

3) America is, at its heart, revolutionary.

So Lincoln’s conception of the Declaration as a work of abstract philosophy is, once again, based on bad history. Yet there is an even more dangerous consequence of Lincoln’s reliance on universal principles. Implicit in basing a political theory on abstract philosophical principles is a belief that society must be constituted upon those principles and that any society that is not must be replaced.

To this effect, Lincoln spoke repeatedly throughout his career about the need for a “new act of founding” which could potentially undo the damage done by the ratification of the Constitution and return the country to the principles embodied in the Declaration. His entire conception of America as being a “new nation” recently “conceived” demonstrates the extent to which he saw 1776 as a radical break from the past. Yet how closely does this conform to the historical record? Exactly how “revolutionary” was the Revolutionary War? It certainly didn’t uproot the social hierarchy or even drastically alter the political and legal institutions that made up colonial America. In other words, the American “Revolution” was not “revolutionary” at all- at least not in comparison to those historical revolutions which have truly been based upon abstract, universal principles.

Nevertheless, in spite of his status as a recent conservative icon, Lincoln’s political theory celebrates radical, truly revolutionary political change. Indeed, this approach of leveling society and then rebuilding it to conform to a set of abstract philosophical principles has always been the foundation of every revolutionary political ideology: from Plato on down through Rousseau and the French Jacobins, and then up to the modern revolutionary crisis with Marx, the story remains the same. Lincoln, however pleasant his “universal principles” might sound to the modern ear, was willing to do incredible things in order to conform America to the abstract vision in his head. Just how far he was willing to go is up for debate. But a hard look at the historical record leaves Lincoln looking more like a revolutionary than a conservative, despite modern attempts by “conservatives” to appropriate him.


Each of these political principles appears as a factual proposition. As a historical matter, each of these propositions proves false. As a matter of political theory, each of the propositions lends itself to very dangerous results. Whatever the Revolutionary War and the original Declaration of Independence might have lacked as “revolutionary” political actions- with the word “revolutionary” understood in its most radical and deadliest sense- has been compensated for tenfold by the revolution that followed directly from Lincoln’s vision of America.

So, once again, my question for the reader: when you celebrate the Declaration of Independence this 4th of July, exactly what are you celebrating? Is it the Declaration of state sovereignty, historical particularity, and continuity with the past? Or is it the Declaration of the American “nation,” universal abstraction, and revolution? I’m afraid I already know the answer.

Categories: Declaration of Independence, Federalism, Ideology, Secession, The Constitution | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

What Peter Viereck Can Tell Today’s Conservatives

In later editions of his bookConservatism Revisited: The Revolt Against Ideology, Peter Viereck includes a second part with the provocative title “The New Conservatism: What Went Wrong?” In his provocative post on “cool kids” conservatism, Kelse mentions Viereck fairly negatively in a discussion about just what it is that conservatism is worth. I think Viereck presents a challenge to the libertarians and the conservatives on this blog (as well as a lot of what counts as the conservative right today) in those few pages. It is relevant today, just as it was when it was first published around 40 years ago.

Here are some passages which, I think, require contemporary conservatives to face some unpleasant political realities.

(from page 134 of the Transaction edition 2005)

In America, Southern agrarianism has long been the most gifted literary manifestation of the conservatism of yearning. Its most important intellectual manifesto was the Southern Symposium I’ll Take My Stand, 1930, contrasting
the cultivated human values of a lost aristocratic agrarianism with Northern commercialism and liberal materialism. At their best, these and more recent examples of the conservatism of yearning are needed warnings against shallow practicality. The fact that such warnings often come from the losing side of our Civil War is in itself a merit; thereby they caution a nation of success-worshippers against the price of success. But at their worst, such books of the 1930s, and again of today, lack the living roots of genuine conservatism and have only lifeless ones. The lifeless ones are really a synthetic substitute for roots, contrived by romantic nostalgia.

Such romanticizing conservatives refuse to face up to the old and solid historical roots of most or much American liberalism. What is really rootless and abstract is not the increasingly conservatized New Deal liberalism but the romantic conservatives’ own utopian dream of an aristocratic agrarian restoration. Their unhistorical appeal to history, their traditionless worship of tradition, characterize the conservatism of writers like Russell Kirk.

In contrast, a genuinely rooted, history-minded conservative conserves the roots that are really there, exactly as Burke did when he conserved not only the monarchist-conservative aspects of William the Third’s bloodless revolution of 1688 but also its constitutional-liberal aspects. The latter aspects, formulated by the British philosopher John Locke, have been summarized in England and America ever since by the word “Lockean.”

And he states further (this on page 142 of the previously mentioned edition)

What about the argument (very sincerely believed by National Review and Old Guard Republicans) that denies the label “conservative” to those of us who support trade unionism and who selectively support many New Deal reforms? According to this argument, our support of such humane and revolution-preventing reforms in politics—by New Dealers and democratic socialists—makes us indistinguishable from liberals in philosophy. Shall we then cease to call ourselves philosophical conservatives, despite our conservative view of history and human nature?

So, conservatives, what is your answer to his question?

Categories: 2012, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Rand Paul, Robert Nisbet, The Constitution, Traditionalism, Tyranny | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 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

The Philosophers and the Conservatives

Alexander Rosenberg and Daniel Little have written excellent books which introduce to the student of the social sciences the many different philosophical problems that the student will implicitly explicitly confront in his progress towards his mastery of the discipline(s). While both books provide excellent and overlapping overviews of the major philosophical dilemmas that are inherent to the social scientific enterprise, the Little book has one feature that elevates it above Rosenberg’s effort: examples. While Rosenberg’s book provides a philosophically rich discussion of the themes and arguments in the philosophy of social science – whose questions and answers have significant implications for the design, execution and expectations of the practice(s) of the social sciences, his book lacks the kind of (con)textual references which would appeal to the student or practitioner of the social sciences who would like to know how topics and perspectives on matters such as causality; cultural and moral relativism; the other sciences; or, Marx and Freud, have to do with them.

Little comes through where Rosenberg lags. Whereas after reading Philosophy of Social Science, the reader (whether or not he is a student of the social sciences) may be left wondering how the themes discussed in the chapters are relevant to what is placed on the average political science syllabus, journal article or book, very early on and consistently in Varieties of Social Explanation, the reader is made aware of the implicit and explicit relationships between the philosophical themes under consideration and the nuts-and-bolts work that comprises social science. Each chapter of the book contains within it any number of separate and brief boxes highlighting social scientific research, which provides concrete examples of topics of study in order to connect the abstract philosophy of social science with the concrete reality of social science practice.

I recommend both books to any student of political science, political theory or other social science disciplines. In particular, I think the political theorists would have a lot to say in response to the philosophical topics dealt with in the philosophy of social science. The bloggers and readers of would, I think, have many opinions – some strong, others weak – on the philosophical matters that social scientists and social science confront. On whether or not human behavior is rational; whether or not human behavior is best understood as a product of the structure or function of a particular social system; whether or not there are universals in human cultures or whether or not there are incommensurable differences in beliefs, morals and/or cultures; whether or not a science of human behavior is either possible or desirable; and, how the answers to these and other questions affect our study of human behavior. All of this is taken under consideration in both of the books.


So what is a conservative to say to the person who wants to be a social scientist? I think that the answer depends on the conservative. I say this to, I suppose surreptitiously, point out that conservatism per se really has nothing to say to the study of human behavior. After all, conservatism claims to be the anti-system. Anti-ideology, anti-rationalism (enlightenment), anti-change, anti-dreams, fantasies and fancies. The does not leave much for conservatism to say to a person who wants to systematically study and produce conclusions about the social world. Conservatism is not Marxism (some of whom, working in that tradition, have produced some interesting stuff).

I don’t think that conservatives should be looking to conservatism in order to find any guiding wisdom for the study of the social world. The conservative – traditionalist, neo, paleo, christian, etc. – should realize that the self-acknowledged limitations of conservatism imply that the conservative has to search elsewhere if (s)he wants to actually make conservatism matter. Decouple and unpack the assumptions that the individual traditionalist has about the world and then come back to conservatism after the traditionalist has a slightly better understanding of the relationship between his view of the world that is independent from the conservatism that is supposed to be its source. Is it at this level where I think that the conservative theorist can meet the philosophy of social science.

After that meeting, when the conservative has engaged the topics, then return to conservatism with a better understanding of the philosophical issues at risk and then improve upon the presentation of conservatism. Philosophy of social science has the potential to give a great deal to conservatism. I hope that the conservatives will be willing to dialog with it.

Categories: Cultural renewal, Ideology, Libertarianism, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | 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

The Righteous Path

Since Kelse had a music-themed post recently, I thought I would join in. I was taking a walk this afternoon when the Drive-By Truckers’ song “The Righteous Path” came up on my MP3 player.

If you don’t know the song, here’s a video of the band performing it at Austin City Limits:

The narrator tells of his struggles to provide for his family and survive in a world that’s moving too fast. He’s not a philosopher and he doesn’t have answers to the dilemmas he and his society are up against, but what makes the song’s message so poignant is the refrain he keeps repeating in response to every challenge he faces:

“I don’t know God but I fear his wrath
I’m trying to keep focused on the righteous path”

“More bills than money, I can do the math
I’m trying to keep focused on the righteous path”

“I’m trying to keep focused as I drive down the road
On the ditches and the curves and the heavy load
Ain’t b****ing ‘bout things that aren’t in my grasp
Just trying to hold steady on the righteous path”

Drive-By Truckers

I don’t claim to know the political views of Patterson Hood (who wrote and sings lead on this song), but I would argue that the singer’s response to what we can call the “Crisis of Western society” is a fundamentally conservative one.

Western society has undergone a tremendous shift in recent centuries: the economic, technological, and social forces of modernity have brought about immense change. Unfortunately and for whatever reason, the spiritual and social forces that used to support humans have not always been able to keep up with those changes. The spiritual and moral guidelines that we tell our children to live by seem to have been written for simpler times. Traditional communities- filled with people who raised each other’s children, beared each other’s burdens, and felt a mutually-shared sense of responsibility for their neighbor’s well being- are now a thing of the past. The traditional family unit, once the bedrock of society, is now on life support.

This is the “Crisis” that Western civilization is faced with: millions of people in Western society no longer feel as if the world they live in was made for people like them. They feel lonely, alienated, dislocated, and unable to cope with the increasingly-fast pace of their increasingly-materialistic and increasingly-empty lives. Meanwhile, they seem no longer able to turn to those institutions and relationships that used to provide a source of meaning.

This “Crisis” engenders two basic responses: the first is the revolutionary response; the second is the conservative response.

The revolutionary response is summed up well in a line by Karl Marx: “Philosophers have explained the world; it is necessary to change the world.” Tired of feeling like the world he lives in is fundamentally broken, the revolutionary will take it upon himself to redeem it. Moreover, the revolutionary will inevitably feel that contemporary society is so thoroughly corrupted at this point that his only choice is to completely level the whole structure and rebuild from scratch.


It is this desire to change the world and remake it in our own image- in essence, to supplant God- that is the hallmark of every totalitarian philosophy. It’s what fueled Communism and Fascism in the 20th Century. It’s what makes the Islamists strap bombs to themselves in the 21st Century. It’s what makes revolutionary philosophers like Rousseau so dangerous, in spite of attempts by some conservatives to whitewash him. Ultimately, I believe it was this revolutionary response (in a somewhat milder form, thank God) that propelled Barack Obama to the White House in 2008.

The conservative response is much more humble in its ambitions. Like the narrator in “The Righteous Path,” the conservative will attempt to do the best he can to provide for his family, try to live up to traditional standards of morality, and (to paraphrase Mr. Hood) not “worry about things that aren’t his grasp.” Fundamentally, the conservative believes that any resolution to the cultural “Crisis” will be brought about more as a result of his own inward moral development than of any government program or the regulation of others’ behavior.

This is not to say that the conservative never seeks to change his society. Seeking justice always requires some element of social alteration, but the conservative always sees society on the whole as doing more good than harm and will thus be apprehensive about jeopardizing the already-fragile social order through radical action. The revolutionary’s glossy visions of the world transformed hold no sway over him because he doesn’t believe Utopian goals can be attained.


Ultimately, those still fighting for the preservation of that which is best in the Western tradition have a difficult task at hand: they must find some way to make classical/Christian morality and traditional bonds of community and family once again accessible to a culture that can no longer take them for granted.

Until such a time, the fate of Western civilization rests on the uncommon strength of everyday men and women who, like the singer in “The Righteous Path,” try their best to follow traditional morality without understanding it and lacking the accompanying social pressure that used to encourage obedience to it. Our fate rests on the shoulders of people who “fear the wrath” of a God they no longer know, who hopelessly wander through the long-forgotten ruins of Athens and Jerusalem without every fully knowing what a healthy civilization looks like but still somehow sensing that the answer lies in some forgotten tradition.

Let’s hope they can keep it up a little longer. At least until my dissertation gets published…

Categories: Cultural renewal, Ideology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Benevolent Sexism

Here’s a great point-to link from Charles Murray over at AEI. It’s the abstract for an article from the Psychology of Women Quarterly on “benevolent sexist.” Read and enjoy the combination of ridiculous academic prose and even more absurd academic reasoning.

Previous research suggests that benevolent sexism is an ideology that perpetuates gender inequality. But despite its negative consequences, benevolent sexism is a prevalent ideology that some even find attractive. To better understand why women and men alike might be motivated to adopt benevolent sexism, the current study tested system justification theory’s prediction that benevolent sexism might have a positive linkage to life satisfaction through increased diffuse system justification, or the sense that the status quo is fair. A structural equation model revealed that benevolent sexism was positively associated with diffuse system justification within a sample of 274 college women and 111 college men. Additionally, benevolent sexism was indirectly associated with life satisfaction for both women and men through diffuse system justification. In contrast, hostile sexism was not related to diffuse system justification or life satisfaction. The results imply that although benevolent sexism perpetuates inequality at the structural level, it might offer some benefits at the personal level. Thus, our findings reinforce the dangerous nature of benevolent sexism and emphasize the need for interventions to reduce its prevalence.

Murray comments:

When social scientists discover something that increases life satisfaction for both sexes, shouldn’t they at least consider the possibility that they have come across something that is positive? Healthy? Something that might even conceivably be grounded in the nature of Homo sapiens?

I think we’ve had enough of that, Mr. Murray!

Categories: Cultural renewal, Ideology | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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

President Obama and the Future of Conservatism

The re-election of President Barack Obama to a second term of office has sparked some intense debate about the place of conservatism in American politics in particular and in American society more broadly. This blog is no exception in its participation in this post-election evaluation of the state of conservatism at the precipice of a second term for the Obama presidency.

I am, perhaps, in the minority on this blog, because what I am going to say in this post-election autopsy differs from the majority on this blog who express a view which I think could be accurately labeled decadent conservatism. This is a worldview that turns history and experience on its head; it is a view that, to be honest, I don’t recognize as conservative, if conservatism is to be understood, defined and delimited by the Six Canons of Conservatism laid down by Russell Kirk so many years ago in his The Conservative Mind.

  1. Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience.
  2. Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems…
  3. Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes, as against the notion of a “classless” society.”
  4. Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked…
  5. Faith in prescription and distrust of “sophists, calculators, and economists” who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs
  6. Recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress

Conservatism at its best is not supposed to be an ideology; conservatism at its best is supposed to be a practical, realistic and empirically-driven approach toward the world. In the lament over the re-election of President Obama, I think some conservatives miss out on being conservative. These conservatives have elevated the pure abstraction of ideology over the brass tacks that makes conservatism so, well, real. Really real, in a way that distinguishes it from and serves as its intrinsic appeal over all of its ideoligical opposites, such as the many varieties of leftism that have had the unpleasant fact of having existed.

However I fear that conservatism or conservatives – at least of some varieties – cannot legitimately or at least convincingly make that reference to reality in the wake of this response to President Obama’s re-election. Not if conservatives are rejecting history and experience in favor of celebrating abstract, vague and circuitous appeals to eras and ideas that are no longer relevant to the American cultural, social or political tradition. Well, a historicist cannot. A traditionalist, I suppose, can.

So, after this long, winding and lamenting encomium to conservatism, what do I think the re-election of President Obama means for conservatism? It means absolutely nothing. This is because conservatism is dying — conservatives are killing it.

If conservatives and conservatism want to begin to digest and respond to the re-election of President Obama, it would seem that we should take a page from Andrew Sullivan and read some Michael Oakeshott

Categories: 2012, Ideology, Traditionalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hope, Change and the Staid President

My apologies to readers and fellow contributors to the blog; this is later in the day than I wanted to post. That being said, here it is.

Up to this post, our readers have been given advice (with one notable exception) to behave in a way that in practice results in a repudiation of the two-party system in which we participate. I do not think that voting third-party is an effective behavior; I think it is a radical behavior that is contrary to the tenets and the practice of conservatism. So, like Chuck O’Shea, I advocate the support of one of the major two-party candidates in this election. The candidate I support will be the one running against him. I believe that a conservative should support President Barack Obama for re-election in 2012.

This post is broken up into two sections: the first section will provide an anchor for the argument by way of description of a practical conceptualization of the kernel of conservatism as uncertainty; the second section will shift to a description of a case (through secondary sources) for why President Obama has governed as a conservative and why this should be sufficient to persuade conservatives to support him for re-election.

Part 1: Conservatism as Uncertainty

The arguments that have dominated this blog revolve around the definition of conservatism and the corollary of who and what qualifies as conservative today? Many of us on this blog have input time and energy into answering a question that pundits more important than we are
have dwelt. This suggests a broadness, perhaps more accurately and precisely, a foundational uncertainty to be the characteristic which is hallmark of conservatism. Conservatism, in a sense, is so dysfunctional and confused (or at least antifoundational) that a prominent conservative magazine is subjecting itself to an identical tortured process that we are conducting at the same time we are conducting it.

This uncertainty can be understood as an effect of a fluidity the vocabulary of the traditionalist-historicist conservative would recognize as the universal being expressed in the particular; further, in its vocabulary, it is what the rationalist would recognize as a fundamental abstract principle being applied to or filtered by and through reality: it is a cornerstone of a conservative case to support President Obama for re-election in 2012.

Part II: President Obama as Conservative, or the Prudence of Practice

Let me move to the second portion of this post, which lays out a case for the conservative support of President Obama by a brief examination of his policies in his first term.

Bruce Bartlett summarizes the case for Obama the conservative in the following bullet points (h/t to paul krugman

His stimulus bill was half the size that his advisers thought necessary;
He continued Bush’s war and national security policies without change and even retained Bush’s defense secretary;
He put forward a health plan almost identical to those that had been supported by Republicans such as Mitt Romney in the recent past, pointedly rejecting the single-payer option favored by liberals;
He caved to conservative demands that the Bush tax cuts be extended without getting any quid pro quo whatsoever;
And in the past few weeks he has supported deficit reductions that go far beyond those offered by Republicans.

I think that list makes a compelling case for the conservative to support President Obama for re-election in 2012. This is not about abstractions such as ideological purity, pro-life bona fides or any other conceptualization of conservatism whose essence exists outside of time and space; rather, this is about an on-the-ground, historically contingent conservatism which recognizes that history puts us in a set of circumstances in which liberal “big government” of the New Deal and Great Society are essential, defining characteristics of the relationship between a citizenry and its government; furthermore, that to recognize this relationship is to be cognizant of the historical concreteness that is, allegedly, at the core of conservatism. Such that this historical reality of post-New Deal and post-Great Society liberalism means that President Obama is the one conservative candidate running for President during this election. The other choices you have – which have been discussed on this blog – occupy positions on the ideological branches of the left and the right. When the pundits recognize a continuity between the two major parties’ candidates’ policies; and, when progressives recognize you to be a conservative and make a case against your candidacy for re-election, then you must be doing something right behind which conservatives (no pun intended) can throw their support.

If other conservatives want to make a convincing case that Obama is a liberal or a left-wing President of any type, then they will have to respond to the policies that he has implemented by effectively demonstrating how they represent a liberal rather than a conservative style of governance. References to a vague, amorphous, and essentially content-less notion of history or tradition will not be a strong foundation for a persuasive case against the conservative’s support for President Obama’s re-election. Nor will an effective case be made by attempting to demonstrate that his policies are contrary to certain principles (free-market, big government, etc) which are inherently conservative, at least not in an American sense of the term; nor is it sufficient to argue (however effectively one does make the argument), that in certain instances he has been an advocate, instigator or ally of policymakers or policy proposals that are contrary to alleged tenets of traditional culture (e.g., religious freedom or individual rights in the example of the health care reform bill): cherry picking is left for the fruit, it does not belong in a philosophically abstract or an empirical argument against a case for the re-election of President Obama.

The responses the economic crisis, the policies of reform, and the foreign policy that President Obama has pursued and implemented during his first term in office, point to a candidate for re-election who chooses to maintain a steady course and extract a limited amount from the circumstances given to him. That is to say, his presidency has been a conservative one. Stories of his past notwithstanding, he makes a poor example of a radical liberal, and an even poorer boogeyman of conservative critique, analysis and alarm. President Obama has governed with restraint; he has pursued policies with an eye toward the possible and not just purity of principle; he has behaved in a way that conservatives can and should recognize to be in resemblance to the doctrine, tenets and canons of conservatism. It is easy to understand why that is the case if one disregards the rhetoric and emotion that are expended in response to President Obama, and consider for a brief moment the policies he has actually pursued and realize that he is a conservative (or at least a run-of-the-mill Democrat, who is, nevertheless, probably more conservative – in a non-ideological understanding of the term – than most Republicans or self-described conservatives are at this point in our political history).

At the end of the day, the conservative is not left wondering why he should support President Obama in 2012; rather, he is left to wonder why he should not.

Categories: 2012, Ideology, Traditionalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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

Why I am, as a Conservative, Voting for (ughh) Romney, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Vote Republican

Yes, I am, as a conservative, voting for (ughh) Mitt Romney. (Hmm, I think I might have just thrown up a little bit in my mouth.) Why would I do this? Do I not understand that his foreign policy is virtually indistinguishable from Barack Obama’s and therefore a rejection of the Burkean prudence that I so ardently admire?

Do I not understand that his pro-life stance is a recent and rather suspicious addendum to his policy preferences serving only to make him slightly more palatable to social conservatives so as to harvest their votes? And, what’s worse, do I not know that he has more than alluded that his administration will support nothing of value to the pro-life cause?

Do I not understand that his economic proposals are only a reconfiguration of the current statist status quo?

In short, do I not understand that if aliens were plotting to conquer earth they could do worse than to release a mutant called “Obamney” that appears as two but speaks as one? We’ve seen this before, a few times actually.

Well, yes, I understand all that. However, I am voting for Mitt Romney (ughh, gulp) nonetheless. And here’s why.

Conservative political principle numero uno: politics is the art of the possible; it is the method of attaining salutary change by degrees among the political possibilities. We view history in terms of decades, centuries and millennia, not in terms of elections cycles. We do what we can in the political arena based upon the possibilities before us. Right now we’re facing a general election, specifically, for our federal president; not a primary, not a constitutional convention, not a decision on which party to give our affiliation or contributions.

Continue reading

Categories: Cultural renewal, Ideology, Traditionalism | 5 Comments

Traditionalism and “Transcendent Truth”

In a recent post, Joe questions whether traditionalist conservatives such as myself necessarily rule out the existence of any kind of truth that “transcends history.” Kelse, in response, gives a helpful example in asking whether traditionalists would deny the existence of universal economic laws, such as that minimum wage laws encourage unemployment.

Both Joe and Kelse seem to be taking traditionalism as saying that no universal truth can be known. If this is indeed the case, then conservatism of this sort would indeed have relatively little to offer the world. If traditionalists believed that every law of nature was subject to a random process of historical development and held no bearing over the laws of nature existing in any opposing tradition, this would be a rather dubious set of beliefs indeed. Such a philosophy would be rightfully subjected to charges of moral relativism by those who attempt to find some objective standard existing wholly outside history. For the sake of argument, let’s call the proponents of this anti-traditionalism “ideologists.”

This portrayal of traditionalism, however, misses the point by a wide margin. In turning to history, traditionalist conservatism does not deny the existence of an objective standard by which to judge particular traditions. On the contrary, the pursuit of universal truth is of ultimate importance. The key difference between traditionalists and ideologists (on both the Right and the Left) is that traditionalists attempt to locate universal truth within history, while ideologists attempt to find it existing outside of history. Traditionalism holds, as my colleague Edmund Babbitt argues quite eloquently in a separate response to Joe, that: “Universality is manifested concretely and intelligibly in the best of tradition, custom, and precedent produced through human action over time. Stated differently, universality requires particularity or historicity for existence and particularity or history requires universality for eternal meaning.”

A good example of this relationship can be found in Christianity. According to the Christian faith, God is a transcendent being and divine law exists outside of history. In order for humans to understand divine law, however, it was necessary for God to enter history in the form of a man: Jesus of Nazareth. The transcendent became historical and our understanding of divine reality is thus a thoroughly historical one. Once an element of universal truth is uncovered within a tradition, it can be applied more generally outside the tradition, although its historical nature must always be kept in mind.

All of that to say: there are some truths that the traditionalist recognizes as having universal validity. Gravity, for example, is no less of a physical reality in an indigenous tribe that has never heard of Isaac Newton. Or, to take Kelse’s example, the connection between decreased employment and minimum wage laws is no less of an economic reality in any country that favors Keynesian to Misesian economic theories.

Kelse’s minimum wage example, however, requires further examination. Although we now know that minimum wage laws lead to higher unemployment, it still remains to be proven that they should not be enacted. After all, are there economists out there who support minimum wage laws specifically because they are thought to be a good way of increasing employment? I hardly think so. Rather, the proponent of minimum wage laws might argue that they are necessary to prevent the exploitation of workers, that their benefits to those who are employed outweigh the detriments to those who are not, etc.

Eventually, in order to make a faithful argument against minimum wage laws, the libertarian will have to address the elements of a particular culture in order for his economic arguments to carry any weight. Some cultures might be conducive for startup competitors to enter the marketplace, others might not. Some cultures might have strong cultural proscriptions against mistreating your employees, others might not. Some cultures might feature a social safety net that will protect the most vulnerable members of a society, others might not.

The point here is not to argue that minimum wage laws should be enacted in some cultures; personally, I’m not sure that the benefits will ever outweigh the harm they cause. Rather, my point is that truth divorced from historical context is not necessarily true at all. “Human nature” is unchangeable and universal, but the interplay between what is generally human and what is unique to a particular culture- between nature and nurture, if you will- is far more complex than the ideologists acknowledge.

For, in eschewing history and focusing only on ahistorical “laws,” the ideologists are in constant danger of mistaking genuine cultural idiosyncrasies for universal truth. They observe some truth about human nature- a truth that is entirely contingent upon cultural and environmental factors- and from there assume that it is a truth about human nature generally. They are, in more Voegelinian terms, mistaking the “existence of order” for the “order of existence”: assuming that because a particular order exists in one culture, that this truth must “transcend history” and represent the order of all reality.

Let’s return to the example of Christianity provided above. A Christian might reasonably say, looking at the life of Christ, that “it is a universal truth that all men must love one another” or “it is a universal truth that all men need a divine Savior”; on the other hand, saying “it is a universal truth that that Savior must speak Aramaic” or “it is a universal truth that that Savior must die on a cross [a method of execution peculiar to its time and place]” would be confusing the instantiation of truth with the essence of truth.

Truth as we know it always has a historical character. We may, over time, get closer to understanding the true “order of existence,” but we do so, not primarily on the strength of our own individual reason- which is feeble and necessarily bound by our historical circumstances- but by relying on the historical truth embedded in the best of our cultural heritage. This reliance is the true essence of traditionalism.

Categories: Ideology, Traditionalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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