November 27, 2022


Society: A Community of Souls (Frank Filocomo, 11/27/22, University Bookman)

We are now living in an America plagued by a libertarian ethos; this is the downward slope in Putnam's U-curve. Total libertarianism, which sees the individual as the only important variable, is a fundamentally un-American idea. Russell Kirk, in his prescient essay, Libertarians: the Chirping Sectaries, rightly posits that fusing conservatism and libertarianism is akin to "advocating a union of ice and fire."  

The question remains: Why do conservatives today continue to conflate these two clearly contradictory ideologies? Furthermore, why aren't conservatives actively advocating for a return of American community? Though these are difficult questions to answer succinctly, I propose that the lines have been blurred due to a shift in understanding the role of the conservative. The Edmund Burke Foundation's National Conservatism Project, for example, in trying to correct neoconservative tendencies toward internationalism, has itself drifted from conservatism's communitarian moorings by elevating the nation state--as opposed to local associations and state governments--as the guarantor and goal of conservatism. National goals, of course, will always remain essential to the American people. But a disproportionate "nation first" emphasis entices conservatives to look beyond the particular communities they inhabit toward a universal idea to which it is much more difficult to contribute.

An individual who defines conservatism as nothing more than freedom from a totalist state mistakes the forest for the trees. While opposition to totalism is certainly important, it is a consequence, not the essence, of what it means to be a conservative. Many today who fancy themselves as conservatives are lacking in the fundamental works of literature, history, philosophy, and theology that both shape and reflect Western civilization. In his 1958 Modern Age essay entitled "Cultural Debris," Kirk advocates for a return to classical literature that, for centuries, has acted as the bedrock of Western civilization. Kirk argues that the undoing of a cohesive Western community is due to our indifference toward tradition:

Whether our civilization really retains coherence sufficient for restoration to be possible may be made clear to all thinking men within a few years. If the fabric of our ancient society has declined to the condition of a mere scattering of debris, all the tailors in the world cannot put it aright--nor all the beachcombers live by raking the sand for its vestiges. The totalists say that the old order is a corpse, and that man and society must be fashioned afresh, upon a grim plan. Yet there survive among us some people of intellectual power who hold that the wardrobe of our moral imagination is not yet altogether depleted.

Through the gloomy horizon Kirk points us to a shining light. Conservatives who love and revere Burkean traditionalism can save the day. The problem, though, is that many conservatives remain ideologically confused.

Often, those who deem themselves conservatives will echo certain familiar buzzwords: civil liberty, individualism, constitutional rights, freedom of speech. While there is nothing wrong with these terms per se, there is an essential piece of the pie missing here: community. The doctrine of rugged individualism, it seems to me, is incompatible with community. The Gadsden flag, which reads "Don't tread on me," is erroneously called a conservative symbol; rather it is an exclusively libertarian one. Kirk emphasized that conservatives and libertarians can both agree that bureaucratic overreach forces a straightjacket over individuals and municipalities. But where is the sense of community in "Don't tread on me?" Libertarianism, at least in its most fundamentalist form, is a rebuke of community. 

The Right is the Left.
Posted by at November 27, 2022 12:00 AM