February 15, 2010


A New Conservatism? : Either it will be Christian or not at all (Anthony Esolen, Catholic World Report)

It must recognize zones of authority. Libertarianism is, I am afraid, a false friend. It assumes that my freedom is defined by what others cannot legitimately prevent me from doing: from learning how to play the violin, if I so choose (to use Isaiah Berlin’s example), or, far more sinister, from destroying the offspring in the womb. But that is a cramped view of freedom, and assumes that the relationship between freedom and authority is adversarial.

For authority is not opposed to freedom; it is rather its precondition. We can divine this from the suggestive Latin etymology: the “auctor” is one who gives increase. When, for example, the child cheerfully obeys his father, he liberates himself from both the unruliness of his youthful appetites and from the distractions with which the world besets him. He becomes a responsible young man capable of shingling a roof, or changing the oil in the car, or kneeling before the Lord in humble and exalting prayer.

The family, for instance, ought to be an area of freedom from state intrusion not, principally, because the individuals in it should be allowed to do as they please within the bounds of the civil law, nor even because the family can accomplish what the state cannot, but because it is in itself an area of law-giving and law-abiding. It has its own authority, which demands respect. The school, the parish, the neighborhood, the city, the workplace, the football team, indeed all free associations of human beings—both those that arise by nature and those that men create and choose—should be afforded freedom, not as part of a Madisonian compromise among competing factions, but as an acknowledgment by the state of what is after all human reality.

Such a vision would, paradoxically, help deliver the freedom which libertarians long for while grounding it in the virtue of obedience and breaking the terrible reduction of human life to the conflict between individual will and state control. [...]

It must recognize that our greatest threat is Nothing. The false gods of pagan Greece and Rome are no more. It is now, for western man, as David Hart has put it, Christ or nothing. He did not mean simply that a belief in the Messiah (having come, or, for the faithful Jew, yet to come) is the only belief left standing. He meant also that the world now offers, as a totem of worship, the god of Nothingness, meaninglessness. “Ye shall be as gods,” said the serpent in the garden; but our new tempters improve upon the old. “Ye are no more than serpents,” they say, or collocations of atoms in the void, and once you understand this—once you understand that there is no objective reality to good and evil, and no such thing as human dignity, you may then do as you please. You may then, for example, act as a serpent does, one long alimentary canal, consuming what you like, and excreting what is not to your use. You may be gods—serpent-gods.

We must learn to “see” this faceless Nothing, this spiritual death. For it cloaks itself in the shabbiest ways. When we hear that all cultures are equal, meaning that man never makes any progress toward the truth, because there is no truth, then we must see Nothing hovering near, like a sinister Cheshire cat, no body and all grin. When we hear that there are no differences between man and woman, then we should turn around and see Nothing, flipping through a magazine, yawning, bored. When we hear that the State must assume all our duties for caring for one another, must feed our children, fill their brains with fog, and put them to bed at night, we must see the Nothing sitting enthroned in our parlors, in front of the television.

Nothing beckons, because Nothing promises freedom: as of a body falling from a great height, but indefinitely.

As befits conservatism, it's not new.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 15, 2010 6:50 PM
blog comments powered by Disqus