August 7, 2015


The Moral Conservatism of Nathaniel Hawthorne (Russell Kirk, Imaginative Conservative)

Hawthorne disliked snobbery and commercial appetites; he wanted to be proud of America; and his very fascination with the dead past occasionally tempted him into an uneasy expression of sympathy for the present and hope for the future. Yet few other Americans have been so congenitally conservative as Hawthorne, steeped in tradition and suspicious of alteration.

His democracy was the democracy of his friend President Franklin Pierce, an intelligent, moderate, and honest gentleman of considerable talents with whom partisan historians have dealt brutally. Like Pierce, Hawthorne knew that the curse of Southern slavery could not be dispelled by punitive legislation or Northern intimidation. He detested slavery, but he understood that, its existence being contrary to the trend of economic forces and moral convictions throughout the world, with the passage of time it would pass away without interference. Fanaticism could imperil the Union, but it could not resolve social questions like this. No man ever was more justly hanged than John Brown, he declared in contempt of Emerson and Thoreau and Lowell. If his moderation had been more widely emulated, North and South, America might have kept to the path of tradition which, he knew, was the secret of English political tranquillity. Yet all this is of small importance now; it is his underlying social and moral principles that possess enduring significance. He influenced American thought profoundly by her perpetuation of the past and by his expression of the idea of sin.

The survival of a conservative spirit depends upon reverence for dead generations. The incessant movement and alteration of life in America, the absence of true family continuity, even the perishable fabric of American building, unite in tempting the United States to ignore the past. All Scott's genius was required to remind nineteenth-century Britain that any generation is only a link in an eternal chain; and the problem of persuading Americans to look backward to their ancestors was still greater. Irving, Cooper, and Hawthorne (with historians like Parkman) succeeded in waking the American imagination; they created, out of rude and fragmentary materials, a vision of the American heritage which still helps to direct the amorphous mass of the American people into a national ideal which originated among a few English-speaking folk along the Atlantic shore. Among these writers Hawthorne's work possesses the most enduring strength. In the solitude of his haunted chamber in Salem he learned how hard was the task of a romancer in a land without the mystery of antiquity; he taught himself to conjure up the ghost of old New England, and his necromancy gave to American letters a bent still discernible.

...we turned to Hawthorne.

N.B. It was the hysterical reaction of the transhumanist right that lead to this blog.

Posted by at August 7, 2015 7:49 AM

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