Friday, May 16, 2008

Am I (an Anarchist) Conservative?

Where is Confucius’ dictionary of political clarity when you really need it? Although, written by a guy named Confucius, it probably wouldn’t turn out all that clear anyway. Today I’m going to introspectively analyze Russel Kirk’s Ten Conservative Principles, currently available at Feel free to tag along on this ethical journey, just to see what Socratic falsification we can squeeze out of this clash.

“1. First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order.”

Well, that’s great news, so do I. I’d say that’s the basis for my anarchism, in fact. I love morality and ethics. Especially in hypothetical life-boat situations. It’s fun to intuit discrepancies in my own instincts and what causes them. In general, I subscribe to a ‘choose the path of least harm’ principle, neither overtly pacifist nor overtly activist.

“Our twentieth-century world has experienced the hideous consequences of the collapse of belief in a moral order. Like the atrocities and disasters of Greece in the fifth century before Christ, the ruin of great nations in our century shows us the pit into which fall societies that mistake clever self-interest, or ingenious social controls, for pleasing alternatives to an oldfangled moral order.”

Preach on, brother! With villains like Hitler and Pol Pot and Stalin, I don’t think anyone could possibly disagree here. But that oldfangled moral order line seems a bit metathesiaphobic for my taste. What qualifies for oldfangled? Would Plato’s republic or Athen’s democracy qualify? If so, would you be as eagerly defending man-boy love as you do American conservatism? Just an honest inquiry, as there has to be some other argument for conservatism than the fallacy known as the Appeal to Tradition.

“2. Second, the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity.”

That’s a Yes, Yes, and capital Yes for me. I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone walking around in billowing 16th century garb outside the Ren Fest. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed it. Never public nudity either. And as far as ritual Aztec cannibalism is concerned, you can count me right out, I’ll have no part of it.

But... where are these people that don’t adhere to custom, convention, and continuity? Everyone does! Your championed trait is as distinguishing as any bee that likes being busy! Welcome to sociology 101, this phenomenon is known as socialization. It happens.

“3. Third, conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription.”

“Conservatives argue that we are unlikely, we moderns, to make any brave new discoveries in morals or politics or taste. It is perilous to weigh every passing issue on the basis of private judgment and private rationality. The individual is foolish, but the species is wise, Burke declared.”

I imagine the ancients must have imagined the same thing. That is, except for those individuals we remember them for – Plato, Aristotle, Socrates. They all spent considerable time in personal musing upon man and his place in society, even constructing complex theories to fit their arbitration. Plato’s Re Publica, for example.

Oh, I apologize, I think I just hijacked your appeal to authority. Oops.

“4. Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence.”

“Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away.”

I completely agree here. I’m as pensive and prudent as they come, folks. But you might want to PM these folks with that memo:

Reactionary revolution. Who’d a thunk it?

“5. Fifth, conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety.”

Damn, it getting to seem like anarchism and conservatism are a rose by any name! I love variety too (some call it chaos, but I call it liberty).

“They feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems.”

Mmmm... I suppose the radical system that was and is the United State’s constitution qualifies as well. I certainly support it’s abandonment.

“6. Sixth, conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability.”

You’re right, Russel. Why bother? Man is imperfect. Nobody’s individual opinion or judgment can be trusted, and all we end up with is totalitarian plutocracy, time and time again. “Utopian domination” isn’t something to strive for, because it just makes things worse. Let’s strive for ubiquitous liberation (and non-interventionist solitude, in case of imperfection) instead.

“7. Seventh, conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked.”

Well certainly. I think freedom is a nicer synonym for power. And what grants power more than property? Property is a social contract, albeit an injust one, and without the necessities of life, property is nothing more than social blackmail. Property, then, is the means by which the abuse of freedom is preserved.

“8. Eighth, conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism.”

Holy crap! This could pass for the central anarchist creed!

“For a nation is no stronger than the numerous little communities of which it is composed.”

Substituting individuals for communities in the above sentence, I concur.

“9. Ninth, the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions.”

Me too. These restraints must come from within the power holder, because it is impossible to deprive everyone of any power by which they could oppress another, and even if it was possible, might qualify as oppression itself. Instead, we must each of us recognize the universality of natural consequence, and strive to the maximum personal preference in the expenditure of our own time – a sort of lazze faire hedonism, or epicureanism if you will.

“10. Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society.”

Reification, my friend. There is no permanence, all is flux.

“he is opposed to the cult of Progress, whose votaries believe that everything new necessarily is superior to everything old.”

Bifurcation. You believe I think everything new is superior to anything old, and I suspect you think that everything old is better than anything new. The truth? Neither. Things are better and worse as subjective interpretation dictates. What this entails is your admitted greatest fear: THOUGHT. Arbitration. Judgment. Individual evaluation. Your mind stagnates at the conclusion of a fallacy, mine riddles with eternal paradoxes.

I recall the words of Blake:

“I mock thee not;
though by thee I am mocked
Thou call'st me madman
I call thee blockhead”.

We are not so different, you and I, Mr. conservative. The majority of your sound-bites I applaud. But under serious scrutiny, your conclusions are laughably naive. Get back to me when conservatives of every country agree with one another to the degree anarchists of all countries do. Perhaps then we’ll have enough in common to merit dialouge. Until then, keep servicing the status quo ante.

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