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    The Ten Principles of the Orthodox Conservatives

    Johnathan R. Razorback
    Johnathan R. Razorback
    Admin

    Messages : 7234
    Date d'inscription : 12/08/2013
    Localisation : France

    The Ten Principles of the Orthodox Conservatives Empty The Ten Principles of the Orthodox Conservatives

    Message par Johnathan R. Razorback le Sam 29 Aoû - 8:34

    https://www.orthodoxconservatives.uk/socialconservatism

    "There is no central text to conservatism, unlike The Communist Manifesto, The Rights of Man, Democracy in America, or On Liberty, except possibly Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, but even a cursory reading of this text will show that it is little more than ruminations on the political life, the ‘true’ foundations of social order, and those destructive forces that threaten to transform our societies into the “dust and powder of individualism”.

    This lack of a central text is, for the large part, a boon; it frees conservatives in their particular expressions (a term that shall be explained in the series) from doctrine, and allows them to focus on the day-to-day activities of governing. But this leaves the intellectual conservative with a dilemma. This dilemma is simply, what do I believe in? For those of different philosophies, the answer is presented: if I am a liberal, I believe only in myself; if I am a socialist, I believe in equality; and if I am a postmodernist, I believe in nothing.

    Any conservative will find that he instinctually believes in the settled way of things as they are. But in an age when this answer is “not enough”, he must have ballast to his arguments, a way of justifying these things beyond their mere factual existence. It is for this reason that conservative students who face this challenge almost daily in our interactions with other students, must articulate their arguments as best they can.

    The purpose, therefore, of this document is not to propose the philosophy of conservatism, but a philosophy of conservatism, specifically our own. We will not suggest a political programme, nor a system of thought, but merely observe the principles of this philosophy in a manner akin to a structure of thought, within which you, if you consider yourself a conservative, can place yourself and understand your own philosophy. “The first task of conservatism… is to create a language in which “conservative” is no longer an insult”. It is our aim to do just that.

    Michael Oakeshott once wrote that the conservative prefers present laughter to utopian bliss. It is a beautiful gift of mankind that we have the capacity to dream and imagine a better world; one of the first and most enduring imaginations that has captured the attention of all mankind was that of Heaven. But Heaven is a place where everything is perfect, and the imperfections of this earth are enough to know that Heaven is not of this world.

    But why does this matter? Because the things we have, and have inherited, are precious and fragile, capable of being lost. They are not the products of design and artificial creation, but the slow, gradual and communal discoveries of the safest and most stables manners of ensuring good social continuity.

    The knowledge needed to understand the origins of these things might have since been lost, but rather are distilled into addressing circumstances which these institutions were responding to.

    It is forgivable to think that conservatism is overly-concerned - indeed, obsessed - with the past. The conservative often looks back with tears falling from behind rose-tinted glasses, thinking of all that is passing away. We say 'passing', and not 'passed', because the conservative can only love those things he encounters as real, and he cannot love that he does not experience which is confined to the past, for much the same reason the conservative is so skeptical of the dreams of absolute equality; they are not real. Already, and always, the present is passing away, and so the conservative will only ever live in misery and a sense of forlorn, if he obsesses over the past.

    Conservatism, though, does not focus only on the past for what it has lost: he seeks to trace lineages and transcendent values that have been proven - not made - by the experiences of history. To this fact, the conservative responds by seeking to carry forth and transmit into the future those things revealed and proven by time, not mire in the present that is already ticking away.

    It is the cultivation of values that must be the conservative's call to action: to defend institutions without justifying the foundations on which they are built is to cede the argument at the outset. For too long, the denial of the intellectual argument has been conservatism's undoing, and has played into the hands of conservatism's enemies - socialism, liberalism, and so on - to the extent that the debate has been decided and determined by the language of these enemies. How can the conservative make the case for duty and obligation in the face of the liberal's talk of rights? How can he justify the idea of service and defend the idea of deference when the socialist dreams of equality? From where comes the love of land and country when it does not figure in the calculations of the capitalist? Why would an atheist respect authority, when he denies its very source ?

    Conservatism needs to make a positive argument for the values it wishes to preserve and carry forth. It will be necessary to identify these values, no doubt, but truth is not accepted when it is difficult, especially in the face of comfortable fantasies. The case must be made then, and made clearly and intelligibly. The conservative vision must be present without apology or acquiescence. It is time, again, to speak of responsibility, of good public life, of loyalty, of Britishness, of cultural - not just political - identity. It is time, above all, to speak of love for the real world.

    1. That freedom is impossible without order.

    When the conservative speaks of freedom, he does not mean that same thing as the liberal, who imagines freedom as non-interference, or in John Stuart Mill’s historic pronouncement, that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant”. Neither does the conservative imagine freedom to be non-domination, as is the dream of the republican (see On the People’s Terms, by Philip Pettit) – all society is built from hierarchy, and the reality of any legal system is that power lies in reserve, waiting until it might be authoritatively used.

    So what, then, does the conservative truly mean by ‘freedom’? After all, no political philosophy that exists only in repudiation, in denying that which others talk of, will last long – especially if it cannot engage with the real world. This is the age-old problem of conservatism; it has spent so long fighting against ideas, it has forgotten the ground it stands on, and seems anti-intellectual in itself.

    What the conservative means by freedom, is the freedom to become the best version of oneself. This idea involves multiple elements, but the first and most easily identifiable is that we have many desires naturally arising within us, that must be tempered and controlled in order to live in that civilisation JS Mill thought of as so important. We do not pretend here that biological drives – those most essential to survival – are bad, merely that there is such a thing as excess; and the received wisdom of centuries have proven that you can have “too much of a good thing”.

    Those of us who surrender to every whim and desire that arises within us are not free, because we cannot escape the dictates of the most permanent thing in our lives – ourselves – and the ability to gain discipline over yourself is the most important cause of all, because it is only through internal discipline that you gain the capacity to follow rules and laws.

    But not only is the constant satisfaction of each desire as it arises a poor display of discipline – it lends itself to an unsatisfied mind, seeking to satisfy every desire as it arises immediately, and becoming agitated in oneself from the inability to provide that satisfaction leads to the constant pursuit of excess, overloading oneself with stimuli until only the largest possible dose of pleasure registers. Once each desire is satisfied, another immediately arises, and that is satisfied immediately, after which follows another desire, and so on until you are caught in an endless cycle of self-satisfaction that does not allow for the cultivation of the good life. This agitation carries over into the social world, where satisfaction is not derived from the appreciation of others as they are, but for what they can do for you – or what they can satisfy in you.

    Of course, this freedom from animalism is not the only ‘freedom’ necessary for good social order: so too is that freedom provided by the security of civilisation. We would not consider, for instance, a child dropped in the centre of the Sahara ‘free’, because he would have no parents to protect him, no walls to keep out the heat, no roof to block away the sun, and no infrastructure to provide him with the water and food he so desperately needs.

    With this in mind, it is the firm belief of the conservative that, though they may seem antithetical, freedom cannot exist without a stable, peaceful and secure order underpinning it. It might seem that the order necessary for this freedom is one that impinges on liberty, but the truth is that we do not emerge into the world as complete and separate individuals but as children who need structure and guidance in order to show us how to achieve this freedom, and in that respect provides us with the self-discipline necessary in order to fully utilise the liberty we feel as a natural impulse. Without the self-discipline capable for pursuing this liberty, we risk falling into the inseparable twin of liberty, that of license; we are incapable of recognising those desires that will improve ourselves and our lives from those that will be damaging. If we are incapable of disciplining ourselves, we will call a foreign body in to discipline our lives for us – this is, inevitably, the State.

    I recall here Edmund Burke: “I pride myself that I love a manly, moral, regulated liberty”.

    2. That Western civilisation is an achievement, but easily lost.

    The West is the civilisation that has contributed most to the history and development of Mankind; some may be older (the Chinese), but the political settlements that have arisen in the context of the West – the nation-state; religious toleration; the rule of law; amongst others – have been the most conducive to the enrichment and advancement of human civilisation. But this civilisation is not natural, easy, or ancient; it is hard-won, and only recently found its clearest expressions, and must be defended.

    The key institution of the West, of the nation-state, is explored further below (in principle five), but here our concern is principally with that web of loyalty we call the ‘rule of law’. The gradual development of the West has been one of reconciliation, first and foremost between the rulers and ruled who, in times past, were separated by the gulf of conquest, but through the mixing of cultures (and, often, blood) found points of agreement between themselves. This mixing was gentle, for the most part, but would often erupt into violence when that gulf became too much to bear. Take the Barons’ Rebellion of 1215, for instance, when King John was forced to recognise the ancient rights and liberties of the Barons and the church. The charter, originally drafted in the previous century, was dedicated to the liberty of ‘the realm’, because the Barons of the time knew (quite rightly) that while individual Barons would come and go, it was the land that was permanent, and the shared home of those who lived there. In this respect, the long tradition of law (that, as we say, only found its clearest expressions in the recent past) as binding all who lived under its aegis – including the rulers – reflected that reconciliation necessary for the foundation of good order; that all are equal before the law.

    But the law is itself based on the reality of social life, which is that of a shared space in geographic terms – the land – and it was the gift of Western civilisation that slowly eroded the assumption of claim to the land on the grounds of blood. The violence of the previous century was the final repudiation of this idea – specifically that obsession with race of the National Socialist government in Germany – and instead sought to justify inclusion to a political order on the question of behaviour in legal terms.

    That system of law that has grown through the development of the West has not only been one of reconciliation between rulers and ruled, but also through tradition and change. When the West was shaken so violently by the birth of the Industrial Revolution, it was the rule of law that mediated between the demands of society and the impulses of the industrialists. Granted, the violence and speed of the Revolution often led to a situation in which the law struggled to keep up – but this is testament to the challenging nature of the Revolution, not the foundations of the law. Good sense prevailed – sometimes too late – but the key method of that mediation (the law) was always there. The greatest change we face now is one of declining religiosity and increasing atheism and multi-faith societies; but the ancient recognition of the law in the West has been one of toleration and privatisation of faith, to the extent that (as Sir Roger Scruton remarked), “to us it is not just absurd but oppressive that there should be a law punishing adultery. We disapprove of adultery; but we also think that it is none of the law’s business to punish sin just because it is sin”. The sentiment, as we say, is not recent but ancient: John Locke’s Letter on Toleration summarised this most clearly:

    “The care of souls is not committed to the civil magistrate, any more than to other men… nor can any such power be vested in the magistrate by the consent of the people, because no man can so far abandon the care of his own salvation as blindly to leave it to the choice of any other… to prescribe to him what faith or worship he shall embrace”.

    But this is not to say that toleration cannot go too far. It was Karl Popper’s great paradox to ask how we tolerate the intolerant, but the conservative ought not to think of the government as an impartial mediator in this debate. Instead, the government (whilst respecting religious freedom) should make it clear that the practice of modern secularism has only been possible with a harsh submission of religious identity to the primacy of law and the nation. Any religion that sees no distinction between religious identity and the law – as shari’ah Islam does, for instance – will struggle to accommodate itself to the West. We say this with awareness that shari’ah is not the mainstream religion of any Arab states bar the odd exception (Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia, for instance), but the conservative is not the only mind aware of this problem. The fantastic series of essays, Minorities Within Minorities, edited by Avigail Eisenberg, is the clear expression of liberalism’s wrestle with this problem.

    The undercurrent of this is the way of life we know in the West is the product of gradual, long and experimental reconciliation, but this reconciliation can be damaged if there is no shared ground on which we stand, or overriding order to which we are committed.

    3. That civil society is a repository of knowledge.

    Margaret Thatcher once (in)famously declared that there is “no such thing as society”. It earned her the enmity of the Left permanently, whose very philosophy is built around the primacy of society and the subjection of the individual to its will. The forgotten second half of the declaration, however, is telling; “there are only individuals, and their families”. What Thatcher maybe misunderstood of her own philosophy, was that there is no monolithic society; instead, ‘society’ is merely a collection of associations and traditional communities, overlapping constantly with one another, brought and held together under the banner of government and politics, national identity, and (perhaps) some quirk of geographic boundary. Indeed, the Conservative Party’s 2010 Manifesto stated, as some leading members of the Party had in the 2000’s, “there is such a thing as society, it is just different from the state”. An observer would be forgiven for being confused here; “so what do conservatives think about society?” The answer, if there is one, is varied and complex (as usual – nothing is ever easy).

    The first thing we think needs addressing is the concept of Knowledge. Kieron O’Hara predicated his defence of conservatism on the twin principles of Knowledge and Change, both pertinent to conservatism’s continued relevance and revivals, and distinctly connected. The issue of change is always a difficult one; the assumption that conservatism is the “desire to conserve” is misguided in that it ignores one of Burke’s most fundamental observations, that “a society without the means of change is without the means of conservatism”. Hogg makes this point more lucid in his claim that “if conservatism meant ‘no change’, then the only truly conservative organism would be a dead one”. Here is revealed the distinctly organic view of society that conservatives take; that it changes of its own accord, it is a living thing, and must be respected as such.

    All human experience generates knowledge, but no individual is capable of experiencing everything, so no individual is capable of knowing everything on their own. As a result, it is impossible for you to know if something is dangerous to you until you have tried it – part of the wonderful playfulness of children is the curiosity that spurs them on. But trying something once can be so dangerous that there might be coming back from it; the reason we do not allow children to play in the road is because they do not understand its dangers. Unfortunately, this is often how we learn – from the mistakes of others.

    This is where the truth of civil society shows itself: we learn from the shared knowledge of those around us. At times this might be direct experience , but for the most part it is from the knowledge that is passed down through generations until such a time when the threat of danger has seemingly disappeared – but only because we have taken that knowledge seriously. Chaos always lurks just beyond the boundaries of the known, sometimes with a comforting face, and (as we show in principle six) it is better to stay within the boundaries of received knowledge than to abandon it entirely.

    This is not to say we cannot challenge this knowledge – after all, we are beings with free will that very often refuse to listen to received wisdom, because it is the natural curiosity of life to dream and wonder. It is this experimentation of the individual that allows society to persist in its safety. And this deep well-spring of knowledge is not only the guiding light of safety and action to the individual, but the source of continued and persistent identity for society at-large. The shared history and experiences that stretch across generations provide a continual lineage of identity that flows through the residual symbols of culture that others have loved and have found value in.

    So why is Knowledge relevant? Put simply, the knowledge of how society could change and alter can only be found in society itself. In other words, even if it were a good idea to do so, government cannot possible know how to direct society towards a final goal, because the knowledge required to do so is so dispersed and unintelligible that it cannot never be held, all at once, by one institution. Similarly, as society is the primary repository of knowledge, it is also the primary producer of identity. Where postmodernists seek to tear down the categorical boundaries of social identity to strip us back to the bare bones of our animal state – and thus remake us into novo sapiens that can live in the utopias of tomorrow – conservatives are enamoured with those social identities that have been produced and fostered over time, and which shape us indefinitely. The significance of institutions – from families to schools, from friendship groups to sports teams – in shaping our behaviour, and by extension our identities, cannot be overstated. But it is this shared identity that provides society with the unique means by which we can bridge the gap between individual identities and see ourselves as members of the “first-person plural – the ‘we’”, and so we must cherish these identities as providing us with a sense of belonging with one another.

    Society is a fragile organism, and it must be respected as one; protected from harm, but given the room and freedom to develop as it so organically wishes.

    4. That the family is the initial foundation of all society.

    We emerge into this world (for the most part) as members of a family – even if we are the first-born child, by definition we are creating the family into which we emerge; we would find it strange, for instance, to call a couple without children a family in itself. The family is, with the State, the only association that is not essentially optional; indeed, it precedes that very entity that the State is built on, which is society itself, and has existed for time immemorial.

    Families are, by virtue of their necessity, the key institution through which an individual learns of who he is and his place in this world, relying on the beneficent love and stewardship of his parents for his very existence, both in the first instance through birth, and every moment after that until he is mature enough to exercise his own autonomy and independence. To this end, parents are bound by a duty of obligation to protect their child from the dangers he has no knowledge of, and provide the stable and safe environment for the cultivation of his identity necessary for the exercise of liberty (as in principle one).

    Through this sacrificial tie, and unconditional love, the individual learns the importance of deference to authority; by recognising that parents know more (even if they do not always know what is best), the child learns that all authority that precedes him is built on a vast foundation of experience and knowledge (as in principle three) that, rather than binding him and ‘destroying’ his liberty, is a deep well from which to draw in the pursuit of that liberty. Legitimate authority exists, not to control us, but to keep us safe.

    When the conservative defends the family, he does not defend the family in a particular form, such as the ‘nuclear family’; though there is research that shows the nuclear family has existed as far back as the 13th century, due largely to the fact that English couples married much later than their continental counterparts, by which time they were expected to find a new home and start their family proper, society changes and shifts, and to try to prevent or reverse changes that organically occur would be to capitulate to the social engineering impulse of socialism that conservatives so stridently reject.

    The conservative, then, defends family, not in any prescribed format, but as a truth of learning those boundaries so important for the recognition of liberty (as in principle one), educating us on the significance of deference to authority, and what obligation to each other and ourselves means in its real terms. To this end, family is a place of stability, and love, and its particular substance is not important to the overall form it takes in the provision of this key element.



    Dernière édition par Johnathan R. Razorback le Sam 29 Aoû - 8:58, édité 1 fois


    _________________
    « La racine de toute doctrine erronée se trouve dans une erreur philosophique. [...] Le rôle des penseurs vrais, mais aussi une tâche de tout homme libre, est de comprendre les possibles conséquences de chaque principe ou idée, de chaque décision avant qu'elle se change en action, afin d'exclure aussi bien ses conséquences nuisibles que la possibilité de tromperie. »
    -Jacob Sher, Avertissement contre le socialisme, Introduction à « Tableaux de l'avenir social-démocrate » d'Eugen Richter, avril 1998.

    Johnathan R. Razorback
    Johnathan R. Razorback
    Admin

    Messages : 7234
    Date d'inscription : 12/08/2013
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    The Ten Principles of the Orthodox Conservatives Empty Re: The Ten Principles of the Orthodox Conservatives

    Message par Johnathan R. Razorback le Sam 29 Aoû - 8:37

    5. That the nation is the upper limit of political community.

    Conservatives are not the only ones that defend the nation – liberals have made use of the nation, and history has shown us that the recognition of national loyalty was the finest method of self-determination for those states that suffered under colonial rule – but the liberal defence of the nation and national loyalty often comes from an instrumental approach. Consider, for instance, David Miller’s On Nationality: the nation, Miller argues, is a only method for binding people together and encouraging a liberal set of values, and not a truth of the development of loyalty and identity in the West.

    The origins of the nation are often traced back to 1648, with the Peace of Westphalia and the emergence of what was called the ‘Westphalian System’ of national identity: it was this peace treaty that sought to end the religious wars of central Europe, and solidified the nation-state as the central body capable of demanding the loyalty of each individual within that nation, holding priority over the Catholic Church in Rome, or the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna (at the time). But this ‘origin’ is often misconstrued as the beginning of the loyalties that nationhood came to represent; instead, it was more of the formalisation of the local loyalties and identities that had been fermenting in Europe for centuries, such as local religious practices that had often accommodated Christianity and blended with it.

    Moreover, the nation exists to provide the legal stability and security necessary for the cultivation of freedom that we defined in principle one; but rather than being the freedom of the individual, here it is the freedom of the community that the nation is built on and around, to realise its own corporate identity, and expression of liberty most consistent with the internal identity of that community. To that end, the nation provides the community within it the most important liberty it can have: the freedom to continue to exist.  

    This upper limit at the height of the Renaissance revealed the truth of over-extended systems of government that were built on weak ties of loyalty, but it is a lesson that seems to have been ignored mostly since. The grand empires of the high colonial period were never destined to last, because they were built on flawed ideas of loyalty, oppression and exploitation – even the British Empire, that managed to inspire loyalty even within colonies such as Jamaica and India to the extent that thousands of men travelled to the “Mother Country” to fight for her in the dreadful wars of the twentieth century, collapsed in the end. Of course, the European Union is the most recent attempt at this loyalty, but the weakness of association felt amongst the European peoples has already begun to fray the bonds of this project.

    None of this is to say that the nation is the inevitable or determined expression of society, but it is the one that the West has found to be the most stable, welcoming and inclusive form of association to have ever existed. This is because it makes demands of its members based entirely on behaviour, and not on creed, colour or class, as in the totalitarian regimes of the past (and present), and this relation of behaviour has found its clearest expression in citizenship through the web of the rule of law that has been so central to the Western tradition. This web of law is so special because it makes the same demands of the ruled – that the laws are obeyed – as it does of the rulers. As Roger Scruton says, “the law, even if it depends on the sovereign to impose it, can also depose the sovereign if he tries to defy it” – such as when the British Parliamentarians sought to put King Charles I on trial for abuse of his powers as sovereign (even if they did not mean to put the monarchy as an institution on trial).

    Ultimately, the nation is the finest form of loyalty and stability that the West has ever experienced, because it makes such minimal demands on its citizens, and remains essentially porous – members can leave, just as much as they can join, the community that underpins it.

    6. That the imperfect known is better to the possibly perfect.

    As well as Oakeshott’s preference for ‘present laughter’ over ‘utopian bliss’, other conservative philosophers have neatly summarised the rejection of the idea of perfectibility. Roger Scruton, for instance, described conservatism as the love of the real, the liebenswelt (living world) that we find around us. Part of this love, or preference, is an implicit recognition that it is not perfect; there are many problems in this world, almost no one denies that – even Leibniz claimed this was the best of all possible worlds, not that is was a perfect world – but these problems have been slowly whittled down and made manageable (for the most part) throughout human history.

    The temptation to dream of a perfect world – utopia – is not a new phenomenon. It has existed for time immemorial, from dreams of Heaven to the Elysian Fields, and has recurred ever since, though the modern name came from Thomas More’s novel Utopia. The problem with a perfect place is that it requires perfect inhabitants, which human beings are not (see principle seven); but the impulse of utopian politics is to try and make human beings perfect. This impulse began innocently with social experiments such as Robert Owens in the 19th century, and his project in New Lanark, but degenerated rapidly as these social experimentations turned to social engineering under the totalitarian powers of the mid-twentieth century, where the future society was defined partly on the grounds of who would inhabit it (the Aryan race, the homo sovieticus, and so on). And in the misguided pursuit of perfection, much that was imperfect but had proven itself to work (the local cultures and identities of Eastern Europe, for instance) was lost or damaged.

    So the conservative, rather than risk these dire experiments that treat human beings not as morally autonomous individuals but as cogs in a machine that can be dispensed of once they have fulfilled their purpose, works with the world as he finds it; imperfect, yes, and not perfectible, but improvable. The risk of dystopia lurks in the shadow of utopia, and it is safer to resist the temptation than to lose that which we have.

    7. That we human beings are flawed and imperfectible beings.

    Liberals begin with the idea of the individual as a self-contained being, acting entirely rationally with full access to this complete identity and all the knowledge they possess. Chantal Mouffe describes this individual as the "unencumbered self" – unencumbered because they are not. The reality is that we are not created as autonomous beings, but have only the knowledge that we do by interacting with one another and in the institutions that shape us.

    Rationality cannot be enough on its own to guide our actions - the basic facts of life in a biological sense are not instruments of rationality by motives of sustenance. Food, drink, sex - these are emotive, and cannot be rational - but they can be rationalised. Consider Buridan's ass: a donkey, dying of thirst, between two equally distant, equally large pails of water. He must make a decision, but reason alone cannot guide his action. Instead, we should think of reason as the faculty for understanding our emotive desires, and to overcome them.

    The most recognisable form of this principle comes from Christian doctrine, that of Original Sin; because we were cast out from Eden in the Fall, we are forever tainted with the burden of Adam and Eve’s abuse of free will. But the belief does not have to be theological; instead, simple logic can help us to understand this principle. Truly perfect beings can create truly perfect things – and yet human beings never have. In this understanding, the conservative rejects the possibility of perfecting humans as the utopian dreams of doing, and instead focuses on understanding the truth of humans as they are; ones of limited capacity for action, and therefore limited capacities for knowledge (see principle three).

    Because of this, conservatives believe no human order will ever be perfect; consider the view of the social bond that conservatives possess (akin to the Social Contract theory). Social Contract theory presumes each signatory to be perfectly rational in his capacities; Hobbes’ proposed understanding of social obligation was that we engage one another to decide on rules for harmonious living, due to his perception of the ‘state of nature’ as being a ‘war of all against all’, where life was ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’, but the essential proviso was that “there can be no obligation on any man, which arises not from some act of his own”. In essence, every citizen gives his consent to be ruled.

    But how can this consent be understood? Briefly, the theory suggests each member of society tacitly agrees to the rules by which he is governed through membership, and in doing so metaphorically signs the social “contract”. This is a compelling argument for obligation; after all, you have had a say in the way you should be governed, meaning you have rational cause to obey the laws, and also you have ration cause to disobey the law where it is used to abuse you.

    However, the error made in understanding Social Contract theory is to assume the contract precedes the association of the signatories. John Rawls’ ‘veil of ignorance’ theory, for example, assumes the future signatories of the contract are assembled for the pure purpose of signing the contract, that they may live together in future, in harmony. However, Scruton has highlighted the mistaken assumption here; the signatories of the contract have associated with one another before the issue has arisen. It is hard to identify exactly when the issue of harmonious living may have arisen, but the group, who is now called upon to sign the contract, had a reason to associate in the first place. We cannot say for certain what that reason was for this specific group, but it must have been strong enough to encourage a persistent association following the issue leading to the signing of the contract: maybe it was the basic survival instinct; maybe it was familial obligation; maybe it was love. Regardless, “the social contract requires a relation of membership, and one, moreover, which makes it plausible for the individual members to conceive the relation between them in contractual terms”.

    The other presumption of consent is that the individuals ‘signing’ the contract possess the knowledge required to do so, by which we mean a full awareness of the different possibilities and outcomes that precede and follow his decision. If he does not know all of these different possibilities, how can he truly be making an informed and authentically consensual decision? The answer is, he cannot; instead, the knowledge that individual must draw on in his decision-making comes from that very society to which he is supposedly ‘signing’ a contract with (see principle three).

    8. That government ought to provide moral leadership to its citizens.

    Whereas socialists believe government can only ever be good, and libertarians believe government can only ever be bad, conservatives believe that government can only ever be. To the conservative, government is a natural and irresistible conclusion of the natural association of free individuals, but a free association that demands structure and rules to ensure harmonious living.

    Conservatives see these rules as emerging from below and through experience, meaning that law and order as enforced by the State should be made by the people, not by alien agents forcing an agenda on a people who do not want it. Some may argue that liberal and socialists are still "of the people" because they are, at the end of the day, people and chosen by their constituents. But they are not agents of the people; they are agents of ideology, and ideology can never belong to the people, because it's focus is on the future, on some indeterminate utopia when it's goals have been achieved, whatever they may be and whenever that time may come.

    This is where conservatives must tread a steady line with government action; it must be responsible and following the flow of society, as well as offering moral guidance and conditions for the achievement of happiness, and occasionally offer positive examples where the fabric of society looks to be tearing itself apart. But it cannot force onto people what they do not want.

    Let us return to first principles: what does government do? There are a multitude of answers - provide healthcare; regulate business; organise the police - but all are variations on the simple reality that government either acts, or does not act. A government, in acting, can legislate, be diplomatic, give pronouncements, and so on; and in not acting, explicitly or implicitly delegates the responsibility for these things to another body or actor - the market, the family, a trade union, etc. But either choice is to make a decision, and this decision-making capacity realises that government's two potential in the moment of decision are two faces of the same reality - to act.

    It is a truth of government that it does make moral pronouncements in the act of governance. As George Will says, the decision to do nothing is itself a decision, and therefore an act. In this respect, government should not pretend it has no say - or no influence - on the internal character of its citizens. As Anthony Quinton (see principle 9) recognises, the identity of each person is shaped by the institutions he grows up in - so too does his sense of right and wrong.

    But government is not simply composed of laws and speeches and conventions, but politicians also. And politicians are the leaders of the society over which they have been chosen to govern. So moral leadership is not a truth simply of good laws, but also of actors - remembering of course that politicians are as human as the rest of us, we expect of them good conduct and to obey the rules as we all do - and in doing so provide the leadership that we ask for, and entrust them with.

    9. That there is no universal human nature.

    Some people have commented on the formation of this group and the publication of these ten principles, particularly in the supposed contradiction between this principle, and principle seven (that human beings are imperfect and irrational). We would like to clarify at the start: what we mean by human nature is not the same as human biology. There is a clear biological universalism that all human beings belong to, with the same basic facts of biology (bifurcated into the two sexes), and this biology is in itself the origin of that imperfectability and irrationality: the emotive driving forces within ourselves are products of biology, which limit our capacity for rationality (despite our natural inclination towards it); and the imperfectability of humanity comes from the truth that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ human (even a definition of the perfect human runs into trouble at the outset).

    So, what is the ‘nature’ in human nature? We do not pretend it exists, merely that there is no universal one; Anthony Quinton discusses this more clearly than we can, by noting “the conception of human beings and society as being organically or internally related” meaning that “individual human beings are not fully formed… except in their basic biological aspect, independently of the social institutions and practices within which they grow up. There is, therefore, no universal human nature” while the “desirability of institutions for a conservative is relative to the circumstances of a particular time and place”; this leads to scepticism over the abstraction of human behaviour into generalisable theories.

    Therefore, ‘human nature’ is not something universal because it is intricately linked to the circumstances in which we grow up, and which form our identities. Indeed, these institutions become such a part of our identity – whether we like it or not – that it becomes impossible to imagine ourselves unencumbered from the legacies of these institutions. So while the Englishman shares a basic biological identity with the African, their institutions are not shared and their nature cannot be the same.

    Because there can be no universal human nature, it makes no sense to pretend that there can be universal ‘best’ methods of government; instead, it is better to recognise that the institutions of government that exist in the different places on earth have arisen in response to particular histories and experiences, and are not different or aberrant versions of a single ‘good’ model of government. Conservatism is, as Keiron O’Hara says, a positional ideology, drawing its principles from the social order (and therefore its vision of ‘human nature’) from the place in which it finds itself.

    10. That change, where necessary, should be cautious and reversible.

    Conservatism is not the resistance to change, but a cautious and sceptical eye cast on the change that inevitably occurs. Change is, the old saying goes, the only constant; and as Hogg noted (as we show above), conservatism thinks of society as an organism, but the only organism that does not change is a dead one. Throughout this document, we have dealt implicitly with the idea of change, but we must distinguish between change that is legitimate, and illegitimate.

    Organic change, that which is legitimate, comes from within civil society, and is a product of that knowledge that is passed down through wisdom mixed with the experimentation of the individual that we have explored above (see section three) in such a way that our traditions and social heritage is not threatened but complemented. Illegitimate change is that which is imposed from without, a product of the engineering impulses of the utopians (see principle nine) or the destructive winds of chaos that have no regard for the heritage of the people who must suffer these changes.

    To that end, change that is legitimate is not only that which arises from within a community, but that which develops slowly and gradually, always with the option of rowing back or rejecting the failed experimentation of change where it has gone wrong. This is to protect that which we have.

    Some people might ask, how this might fit in with the action of Brexit, of the British peoples’ vote to leave the European Union. In this we think it is important to look back to the Glorious Revolution of 1688; conservatism is often caught between the comfortable reality of the status quo, and the recognition that that status quo has gone wrong somewhere. Indeed, this was the dilemma facing the Parliamentarians who had invited Charles II to rule once the republican failure of the Commonwealth had revealed itself, which only led to further problems and tensions in the country. Instead, the past was consulted to find the most suitable solution, and one was found in the form of William of Orange and his wife Mary. To restore the constitution of Britain to its proper identity, William was invited to become King William III of Britain, and to correct the historic wrong that came out of the Civil Wars. The same is true of Brexit; a historic mistake was made, and that mistake was rectified – indeed, the changes made under the umbrella of European membership proved itself to not be compatible with that form of change the conservative values, in that it was not reversible, despite the continual efforts of British politicians.

    So, change, though it is real, must be made safe for the society that experiences it. When the socialist and liberal cries “change!” the conservative simply seeks to ask, “why?” If no suitable answer can be made, then the conservative will refuse; if one can be made, however, then the conservative will acquiesce, provided that answer is consistent with the practices and identities of society.

    Concluding Remarks

    So, what is the conservative philosophy? We only inherit the products of society, the institutions it has fostered, the behaviours they promote, and the stability this combination has produced; we must listen to the wisdom of those that came before us, and discipline the limits to our own actions alone, and seek to predicate those limits on experienced moments of truth; the resistance to the rationalisation of the market economy should illustrate our resolve against the rationalisation of the behaviour of individuals, and the goals they choose themselves; and government must be kept at an arm’s-length from society and refrain from forcing goals and ends to be pursued on those who do not care for them, and only guide society where the social fabric looks to be tearing itself apart, and provide the moral leadership necessary for us to become the best possible versions of ourselves.




    _________________
    « La racine de toute doctrine erronée se trouve dans une erreur philosophique. [...] Le rôle des penseurs vrais, mais aussi une tâche de tout homme libre, est de comprendre les possibles conséquences de chaque principe ou idée, de chaque décision avant qu'elle se change en action, afin d'exclure aussi bien ses conséquences nuisibles que la possibilité de tromperie. »
    -Jacob Sher, Avertissement contre le socialisme, Introduction à « Tableaux de l'avenir social-démocrate » d'Eugen Richter, avril 1998.


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