Conservatism Notes

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Arizona State University
Political Science
POS 210

Unit  Four: CONSERVATISM To be  a conservative  one  must  first  have  something  that  one  wants  to  conserve:  property,  wealth,  customs,  status,  power.   Thus   conservatives  are  those  who  are  usually  in positions  or in possession   of property,  wealth,  power,  status  and  simply  want  to keep  things  as   they  are. Some  conservatives  think  that  conservatism  is not  an  ideology  and  is  anti­ ideology .  They  think  this  not  because  conservatism  lacks  the   doctrines  or beliefs  or values  that  compose  an  ideology,  but  because   they  refuse  to accept  programs  as  logical  deductions  from  a set  of  general  principles.   In other  words,  they  do not  see  that  all political   problems  can  be  solved  by referring  to theory  and  reason.   This would   seem  to make  them  at  least  anti­liberal  and  maybe  anti­ideological. But this  is not  an  argument  we  need  to take  up  here,  because   conservatism  does  hold  the  elements  we  have  identified  as  making  up   an  ideology. Sometimes  one  hears  that  conservatism  is an  ideology  defined  solely   as  support  for the  status  quo.   Thus  those  hard­ line  ideologues  in the   Kremlin  who  wish  to perpetuate  the  Cold War and  return  Russia  to  communism  are  "conservatives." But this  is not  Conservatism  with  a capital  "C." Conservatism  is a  political  ideology  beginning  with  Edmund  Burke  and  stretching  down   to contemporary  times­ ­including  Ronald  Reagan  on its active  side  and   David  Brooks,  George  Will, and  the  like on its intellectual  side. It honors  order,  social stability,  religion,  tradition,   hierarchy,  community,  obligations,  and  at  best  gradual  change.   We  shall look at  all of these  qualities,  but  first  let us  look at  the  exemplar   of this  ideology,  the  father  of Conservatism,  EDMUND BURKE. EDMUND BURKE Burke  was  not  the  first  conservative,  but  he  was  the  first  to address   conservatism  as  an  ideology,  as  a political  philosophy.   Indeed   conservatism  does  not  enter  into  political  speech  in England­ ­its  home­ ­until the  1830s.   But its philosophical  substance  begins  with   Burke's  spirited  critique  in 1790  of the  French  Revolution. 1 Conservatism  is born  in Burke's  reaction  to that  revolution  (See  Ball &  Dagger,  pp.  59­61  and  102­ 104,  as  well as  later  in this  lecture.).   It is a   reaction  to liberalism  in action.   For Burke,  and  conservatives  after   him,  self­interest,  individualism,  and  the  very  idea  that  society  is held   together  by a social contract  built on competing  claims  and  natural   rights  were  and  still are  repugnant  ideas. WHO WAS  EDMUND  BURKE? He was  a British  statesman  and  philosopher,  but  born  (1729)  to a  family in Ireland,  close  to the  poverty  line.   He was  a good  scholar,   attending  Trinity  College,  Dublin,  and  then  going  to London  to read   law.  He was  never  called  to the  bar  and  instead  started  on a career  in  writing  and  journalism. In 1765  he  was  invited  by the  incoming  Prime  Minister­ ­Lord  Rockingham­ ­to become  his personal  secretary.   Burke  soon  became   one  of the  Prime  Minister's  leading  spokesmen  and  pamphleteers.   From  1770  until the  American  Revolution  Burke  acted  as  an  agent  in  Parliament  for the  colony  of New York, during  which  time  he  tried  to  convince  Parliament  to ease  up  on its attitudes  and  demands  toward   the  colonies. He entered  the  House  of Commons  at  the  age  of 37,  representing  the   city of Bristol.  During  his campaign  there  he  gave  his famous  speech   arguing  for REPRESENTATION (Trustees) , not  DELEGATION.   Delegates  are  those  one  elects  to vote  only as  the  constituents   demand;  representatives  or trustees  are  those  who  use  their  own   judgment  when  they  need  to make  a decision  in Parliament.  He later   "sat  for"­­represented­ ­Malton  when  Bristol turned  him  out,  probably   for following  his own  advice.    What  distinguished  him  from  his fellow  parliamentarians  was  his  philosophical  bent:  He could  look beyond  the  interests  of the  day  to  offer  general  principles  by which  events  should  be  judged. BURKE'S VIEWS To Burke  a good  government  was  one  that  assured  stability  and  order   and  that  kept  the  peace.   These­ ­stability,  order,  and  peace­ ­were  the   goals  of his theory.   In this  regard  he  is much  like Thomas  Hobbes. But Burke  emphasized  the  importance  of feudalism,  the  patriarchal   family, local community,  church,  school,  and  guild.   It was  social units   or institutions  like these  that  provided  stability.   These  organizations   Burke  described  as  “little  platoons.” 2 Burke  argued  against  the  liberal  and  Enlightenment  stress  on reason   and  on the  individual.   He argued  that  we should  not  look to reason  to  rectify  social problems,  but  to tradition.   As a Christian  Burke  felt that  the  Enlightenment  emphasis  on the   perfectibility  of man  was  an  error.   Instead  of trying  to improve  the   world  through  reason,  Burke  felt that  the  moral  order  of the  universe   is unchanging.   The  first  duty  of legislators  is to the  present,  not  the   future.   Their attention  should  be  on correcting  present  and  real  ills,  not  trying  to map  out  an  ideal  future. In this  regard  Burke  was  especially  critical  of the  French   Revolutionaries  for destroying  the  inherited  institutions  and  traditions   in the  name  of progress  or improvement.   The  Jacobins ­­the  leaders   of the  Revolution­ ­were  attempting  to erect  an  entirely  new  political   order  on reason;  that  is, on a false  rationalistic  philosophy. BURKE AND THE FRENCH REVOLUTION Burke's  ideas  are  found  in his book  Reflections  on the  Revolution  in  France  (1790).   His positions  here,  especially  his emphasis  on  tradition,  shocked  his liberal  (called  “Whigs”  in England)  colleagues,   since  Burke  had  always  been  in favor  of reform.   For example,   because  of his experiences  as  the  agent  representing  the  colony  of  New York, Burke  supported  the  American  Revolution. He supported  the  American  Revolutionaries  for two  reasons:  1)  because  he  saw  that  their  war  was  a fight  of the  colonists  to preserve   their  inherited  rights  and  privileges­ ­traditions  upon  which  the  British   government  had  impinged. But weren't  the  French  fighting  for their  rights,  for the  "rights  of man"?   “NO,” said  Burke.   The  rights  that  the  Jacobins  wanted  were  at  the   expense  of personal  property,  religion,  and  the  traditional  class   structure  of a Christian  society. In addition,  2 ) the  American  colonies  were  fighting  against  an  alien   power,  while  the  Jacobins,  Burke  thought,  were  themselves  Frenchmen   trying  to destroy  French  civilization.   The  Jacobins  were  treating  their   own  country  exactly  like a country  of conquest,  and  they  used  force   against  their  own  people  exactly  as  an  invading  army  would.   The   Jacobins  were,  in fact,  TERRORIZING their  own  population,  as  we shall  see  in Unit Five. 3 The  goal  of the  Jacobins  was  not  so much  to free  their  fellows  from  the   oppressive  rule  of the  King and  the  aristocracy  as  it was,  thought   Burke,  to remake,  redefine,  and  manufacture  a new  kind  of man  and   citizen.   They  believed  that  through  education,  persuasion,  force,  and   terror­ ­which,  argued  Burke,  they  learned  from  Rousseau­ ­they  could   create  a new  being,  those  living  as  free,  equal,  and  communal  (liberte,   egalite,  fraternite ). The  Jacobins,  thought  Burke,  were  not  after  freedom  but  power.   What   did the  Jacobins  do?   1. Their goal,  as  gleaned  from  Rousseau,  was  to destroy  those   traditional  groups­ ­guilds,  monasteries,  corporations  and  associations   of all kinds,  the  “little  platoons”­ ­that  provided  people  with  some   social stability.   Thus  in 1791  the  Jacobins  abolished  all trade  guilds,   an  act  that,  ironically,  the  monarchs  of France  had  never  been  able  to  accomplish. 2. Next  the  Jacobins  attacked  the  family,  since  the  Philosophes ­­the   philosophers  or architects  of the  Enlightenment­ ­ thought  that  the   traditional  kinship  structure  was  "against  nature  and  contrary  to  reason."   Thus  in 1792  marriage  was  declared  a civil contract,  not  a  sacred  one,  and  divorce  was  made  available. 3. The  Jacobins  also  abolished  any  sort  of corporate  land  owning.   The   great  estates  owned  by families,  the  Church,  or any  organization  were   divided  up,  to be  owned  only by individuals. 4.  They  terminated  all monastic  and  other  religious  vows,  nationalized   the  church,  made  all clergy  state  workers  bound  by an  oath  of  allegiance  to the  Revolution,  and  declared  the  new  religion  as  based   on reason  and  virtue. 5. To create  a new  social order  they  recreated  time  and  space.   To the   Jacobins  time  began  when  the  old monarchy  ended:  September  22,   1792.   This became  the  beginning  of Year 1.  From  now  on each  week   consisted  of 10  days;  three  weeks  equaled  one  month;  and  12  months   equaled  one  year.   Five  days  were  left at  the  end  of the  year  for  festival  days. Space:  1,400  streets  in Paris  received  new  names  because  the   old ones  had  some  reference  to a king,  queen,  or saint.   Notre  Dame   was  renamed  The  Temple  of Reason;  chess  pieces  were  renamed  (one   could  not  play  with  "kings  and  queens.");  children  named  Louis were   required  by law to have  new  names. 4 The  Revolutionary  "Committee  on Public Safety"­ ­led  by Robespierre­ ­  perfectly  captured  the  goal  of the  Jacobins:  "You  must  entirely   refashion  a people  whom  you  wish  to  make  free,  to  destroy  its   prejudices,  alter  its  habits,  limit  its  necessities,  root  up  its   vices,  purify  its  desires." According  to Burke,  this  goal  of the  Jacobins  was  not  simply  to remake   France  but  to destroy  all the  traditions  and  institutions  of France  and   make  the  country  unrecognizable  and  possibly  uncivilized.   It was  also   to spread  the  work of the  Revolution  to all of Europe  and  the  world.    The  revolution  was,  to Burke,  a threat  not  only to the  Crown  and  the   Church,  but  also  to the  aristocracy,  to all property  owners,  and  to the   right  to private  property. Burke  railed  against  the  attempt  in France  to seek  liberty  without  any   real  knowledge  of what  it meant.   The  Jacobin  liberty  was  an  "object   stripped  of all concrete  relations,"  nothing  but  "a metaphysical  idea."    Meanwhile,  equality  was  a false  idea  that  did great  social harm  by  pretending  that  real  differences  were  unreal.   Thus,  this  quest  for  equality  inspired  "false  hopes  and  vain  expectations  in those  destined   to travel  in the  obscure  walk of laborious  life."  Such  attempts   threatened  social hierarchy. What  is  Burke's  Alternative? Burke  saw  the  present  (the  18th  Century)  as  a decline  from  a great   history­ ­the  history  of feudalism  when  religion  was  unchallenged,   when  chivalry  was  the  accepted  code  of conduct.   It was  to the  past,   to the  Middle  Ages,  that  Burke  and  other  classical,  or traditional,   conservatives  looked  for models  and  ideals  to guide  policies  and   politics  in the  present. The  Middle  Ages  offered  membership,  ascribed  status , in an  ordered   society;  everyone  had  a place,  knew  his place,  and  knew  what  was   expected  of him­­his duties  and  his privileges.   Then  men  were  not   conceived  as  individuals  but  as  members  of social groups­ ­of a social   hierarchy ­­that  distinguished  one  from  another  and  gave  meaning   and  stability  to life. Within  the  hierarchy,  classes  and  groups  were  arranged  like organs  in  the  body,  and  this  social arrangement  was  thus  called  the  organic   view  of  society .  To be  healthy  these  groups  and  classes  had  to work   together  harmoniously.   Each  had  to know  his place  within  his group;   each  group  had  a place  within  the  hierarchy.  To disrupt  that  hierarchy   5 was  to destroy  society  and  to leave  men  without  meaning  in life.  THE  HIERARCHY MUST BE CONSERVED .  One  could  not,  as  liberals  wanted  to do, try to reform  society  radically   or fundamentally.   Society  was  organic,  with  interrelated  parts  that  fit  together  into  a tight  unit.   That  interactive  harmony,  said  Burke,  is  what  has  enabled  successful  societies  like England  to survive  and   thrive.   Society  was  not,  therefore,  a mechanical  device,  a machine  to  be  tinkered  with  or fixed  by replacing  parts  and  remaking  people. Did this  emphasis  on tradition  and  social hierarchy  force  conservatives   like Burke  to admit  that  the  society  they  wanted  to preserve  was  a  "caste"  society­ ­that  is, that  like the  societies  of the  Middle  Ages   persons  were  born  into  ascribed  statuses  that  they  could  never   escape? Burke  himself,  remember,  was  Irish,  and  thus  he  was  not   born  of the  gentry  or aristocratic  ruling  class  in England.   Still, he  held   important  positions  of influence  and  of political  power.   Although  it  was  true  that  Burke,  for example,  could  never  rise  to the  level  of the   landed  aristocracy,  he  could  still be  a member  of the  ruling  class.   As  part  of Burke’s  “natural  aristocracy ,” those  with  strong  talents,  like  Burke,  could  hold  significant  power  and  influence  in society.   But the   bulk of members  of this  natural  aristocracy  would  come  from  the   established  hereditary  families.   Because  they  had  money,  they  had   leisure  time;  because  they  had  leisure  time,  they  could  afford  to  educate  their  children  through  private  tutors.   The  well educated   were,  thought  conservatives,  the  most  stable  and  reliable  force  within   society. So, what  Burke  and  conservatives  like him  were  describing  was  the   difference  between  class  system  and  caste  society .  The  feudal   system  of ascribed  status  was  a caste  system,  such  as  that  found  in  India.   Caste  is like a box;  it has  fixed  boundaries  that  one  cannot   escape.   Class,  on the  other  hand,  is a form  of pressure.   The  pressure   makes  it difficult,  often  extremely  difficult,  to move  up  or out,  but  such   movement  is possible.   Thus,  there  is much  more  movement  available   in and  through  class.  In no way  were  conservatives  arguing  for a caste   system;  that  would  run  against  Burke's  insistence  on a natural   aristocracy. Burke  placed  great  faith  in the  wisdom  of inherited  tradition .  It was   this  wisdom  that  liberalism  was  undermining  and  ignoring.   So against   the  liberal  emphasis  on individual  rights,  natural  rights  theory,  and  the   social contract  of both  Hobbes  and  Locke,  Burke  emphasized  the   rights  and  role  of the  church,  of social class,  of family,  and  of property. 6 THIS IS THE POINT: RIGHTS AND DUTIES ARE THE PRODUCT NOT OF  ABSTRACT REASONING OR OF NATURE, BUT OF SPECIFIC LEGAL AND  INSTITUTIONAL ARRANGEMENTS DERIVED FROM HISTORY AND  CUSTOM. Burke  said  of rights:  "Our liberties.  . . are  an  entailed   inheritance.  . . The  idea  of  inheritance  furnishes  a sure   principle  of  conservation,  and  a sure  principle  of  transmission;   without  at  all excluding  a principle  of  improvement.   It leaves   acquisition  free;  but  it secures  what  it acquires." Inherited  rights  are  the  only real  rights;  natural  rights,  the  kind  of  rights  argued  for by Hobbes  and  Locke,  were  to Burke  repugnant   because  outside  of civil society  men  have  no restraints  on their   passions.   Besides,  put  a baby  in the  woods  and  tell him  to live  according  to his natural  rights.   What  will be  the  result?   So much  for  the  power  of natural  rights. What  does  Burke  mean  by  tradition?   As with  all conservatives,   Burke  trusted  experience  over  abstract,  deductive  thought.   History  is  the  recording,  the  accumulation,  of the  experiences  of men  and   societies.   The  traditions,  customs,  and  institutions  that  have   withstood  the  tests  of time  are  those  to be  venerated  and  maintained,   not  changed. True  history  for conservatives  is expressed  by the  persistence  of  institutions,  communities,  habits,  and  customs  generation  after   generation.   It is not  about  dates  and  persons  but  is a constant  looking   back  in time. Reason  outside  of tradition  was  dangerous,  argued  Burke.   Indeed,   claimed  Burke,  the  British  Constitution  was  legitimate  not  because  it  was  based  on reason,  but  because  it was  a social construct.   Its sole   authority,  he  said,  "is that  it has  existed  time  out  of mind."   This  meant  that  it had  a longstanding  tradition.   A constitution  made  by  tradition  "is ten  thousand  times  better  than  one  of choice"  or reason. The  real  constitution  of any  society,  said  Burke,  is not  a piece  of paper   but  the  history  of its institutions.   "Society,"  he  wrote  in probably  his  most  famous  lines,  "is a partnership...As  the  ends  of such  a  partnership  cannot  be  obtained  in many  generations,  it becomes  a  partnership  between...those  who  are  living,  those  who  are  dead,  and   those  who  are  yet  to be  born. HOW SOCIETY LOOKS TO CONSERVATIVES 7 To Burke  the  state  arises  as  the  result  of a process  of historical  growth   like that  of living  organisms. BURKE’S NOTION OF PREJUDICE: Burke,  and  his successors,  opposed  the  "spirit of innovation"­ ­change   for its own  sake.   The  strength  and  health  of the  state  is composed  of  its network  and  pattern  of customs,  manners,  institutions,  and  rules­ ­ expressed  and  unexpressed­ ­into  which  citizens  are  socialized­ ­what   Burke  calls prejudice .  Prejudices  built of habits  and  customs  are   more  reliable  than  trying  to derive  what  one  reasons  are  right  moral   doctrines  or moral  rules. Burke  emphasized  prejudice  to offset  the  Enlightenment  stress  on  reason,  on a Hobbesian  strict  deductive  method  of the  kind  found  in  geometry.   Burke  opposed  individual  truth­ seeking  and  favored   tradition  and  the  long  experience  that  comes  from  living  within  an   ordered  society.   Ordered  society,  its customs  and  institutions,  guide   us  in how  to live good  lives,  how  to be  just,  and  how  to prosper. Prejudice  is not  for Burke  what  it is for us­­beliefs  that  are  based  on  ignorance,  ill­founded  ideas,  or hatred.   Prejudice  was  a network  of  traditional  habits  or customs  giving  citizens  a way  of behaving  or  acting  that  is predictable  and  that  has  been  passed  down  for  generations.   This enables  persons  to act  without  needing  to delve   into  their  reasons  for doing  so.  It frees  them  from  needing  to analyze   every  action . These  habits  of mind  or prejudice  provide  persons  with  a moral   compass ­­how  to act  in certain  situations.   The  “little  platoons”  were   the  social institutions  that  used  prejudice  to educate  us  into  and  to  reinforce  proper  conduct. Prejudice  is a network  crucial  to how  society  functions  harmoniously.    Because  society  is organic,  it cannot  be  broken  down  into  small pieces   without  changing  its nature.   Innovation  is dangerous  because  one   cannot  predict  what  the  effects  in various  areas  will be  of changes  in  other  areas.   As a result,  Burke  thought  that  no general  rules  for  ordering  society  could  be  found  since  its coherence  and  integrity   rested  on the  "fit" of its customs,  institutions,  and  practices  that  had   evolved  over  time. Along  with  property,  authority  is a central  concept  in conservative   philosophy.   In opposition  to liberals,  Burke  argued  that  the  only kind   of liberty  worth  having  was  that  connected  with  order .  The  first   8 business  of government  is to restrain  men's  passions,  to thwart  their   inclinations  and  control  their  will. QUERY:  BUT WHY MUST THEIR PASSIONS BE  RESTRAINED AND THEIR INCLINATIONS THWARTED? Because  human  nature  is fixed  and  permanent.   Part  of that   permanence,  said  Burke,  is the  limited  nature  and  scope  of human   reason.   Because  man's  reason  is limited,  politics  and  government  can   only do so much  to improve  human  lives.   Thus  conservatives  reject   the  idea  of revolution  or the  radical  overthrow  and  restructuring  of  society.   Organizing  society  according  to some  ideal  of how  society   ought  to be  is a mistake. Human  moral  nature  is flawed  because  men  are  born  in original  sin.   This is why  men's  passions  must  be  restrained.   There  is
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