July 16, 2013

THE CONSERVATIVE CANONS:

The Origins of the Modern American Conservative Movement (Lee Edwards, Ph.D., 11/21/03, Heritage Foundation)

It is a striking historical coincidence that both the People's Republic of China and the modern American conservative movement were born a little over 50 years ago, the PRC in 1949 with the coming to power of Mao Zedung and modern conservatism in 1953 with the publication of Russell Kirk's masterwork, The Conservative Mind.
Chairman Mao famously declared that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. While that may be true for certain regimes in certain circumstances, such political power cannot be sustained permanently, for it requires ever larger barrels and ever more guns. Political power that depends exclusively for its survival upon force inevitably degenerates into military power and leads to an authoritarian and usually a totalitarian state. Chairman Mao's aphorism in fact denies the reality that lasting political power grows not out of a gun, but out of an idea.

The central idea of The Conservative Mind, upon which American conservatism is essentially based, is ordered liberty. It is a blending of the sometimes contending requirements of the community and the individual, of individual freedom and individual responsibility, of limited government and unlimited markets.

Kirk described six basic "canons" or principles of conservatism:

A divine intent, as well as personal conscience, rules society;

Traditional life is filled with variety and mystery while most radical systems are characterized by a narrowing uniformity;

Civilized society requires orders and classes;

Property and freedom are inseparably connected;

Man must control his will and his appetite, knowing that he is governed more by emotion than by reason; and

Society must alter slowly.

The Conservative Mind was an impressive feat of scholarship a synthesis of the ideas of the leading Conservative AngloAmerican thinkers and political leaders of the late 18th century through the early 20th century. The work established convincingly that there was a tradition of American conservatism that had existed since the Founding of the Republic. With one book, Russell Kirk made conservatism intellectually acceptable in America. Indeed, he gave the Conservative movement its name.

However, the intellectual pedigree of American conservatism goes much farther back in time than the 18th century. In a subsequent book, Russell Kirk wrote that the roots of American order were first planted nearly three thousand years earlier.

Kirk used the device of five cities Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and Philadelphia to trace their development. The roots first appeared in Jerusalem, with the Hebrew perception of a purposeful moral existence under God. They were strengthened in Athens, with the philosophical and political selfawareness of the Greeks. They were nurtured in Rome, by the Roman experience of law and social awareness. They were intertwined with the Christian understanding of human duties and human hopes, of man redeemed. They were joined by medieval custom, learning, and valor.

The roots of American order were then enriched by two great political experiments that occurred in London, the birthplace of parliaments and the guardian of common law, and in Philadelphia, where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were written. The miracle of Philadelphia was that the delegates were able to resolve, for the most part, the conflicting demands of freedom and order. They created a true national government but not an absolute government. They designed something new under the political sun a federalism which carefully enumerated, separated, and restrained the powers of the national government.



Posted by at July 16, 2013 5:23 AM
  

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