Humanely Conservative: a review of The Wisdom of Our Ancestors: Conservative Humanism and the Western Tradition By Graham James McAleer and Alexander S. Rosenthal-Pubul. (Reviewed by Lee Trepanier, 7/07/24, University Bookman)

Conservatism represents a middle ground between a cosmopolitan liberalism and a tribal nationalism. Within this middle ground, particularist loyalties to the family and nation exist but within a Christian framework where all human beings are ultimately valued and accepted.

The second part of “conservative humanism” is an educational movement that is classical and Christian, but not modern. Classical humanism is from the Greek and Roman world of intellectual, moral, and aesthetic formation, while Christian humanism recognizes that every person has an intrinsic and transcendent dignity since humans are created in the image of God. The classical and Christian combination of humanism stands in stark contrast to its modern counterpart which starts from the Enlightenment and reduces human nature to materialism, whether biological or technological. For McAleer and Rosenthal-Pubul, the “humanism” in conservative humanism is the cultivation of the individual in the Greek, Roman, and Christian sense where the person “affirms an obedience to a moral order transcending our will.” By recognizing a moral order outside of the individual, the conservative humanist accepts the limitations of the human condition and attempts to live a flourishing life within them.

This understanding of conservative humanism is the thread that connects the chapters in McAleer’s and Rosenthal-Pubul’s book, which, the authors admit, are a commentary on the themes found in Roger Scruton’s The Meaning of Conservatism. These themes include humanism, conservatism, the establishment, natural law, free enterprise, and freedom. In the first two chapters about conservatism, McAleer and Rosenthal-Pubul emphasize its associational aspects—the family, the church, and private schools—as well as the value of humanism which is “the master idea of our civilization.” According to the authors, conservatives are to defend humanism, the transcendent dignity of the individual person, against the ideologies of totalitarianism, tribal nationalism, and transhumanism.