Our country is being pulled further and further in two directions, one that can be safely described as progressive and the other as conservative, though not in a way intended by many who use that term now.
To see a nice summary of the progressive position, take a look at this article.
Progressives see the world in terms of ideologies in conflict, each trying to achieve what they consider a just representation. It is a politics rooted in relativism and one that, historically, tends toward centralized planning and thus to tyranny, though in varying degrees.
Conservatives, in the sense that I use the term (rooted in Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk’s writings, not the Weekly Standard or Rush Limbaugh), regard ideology itself as a poison. We don’t see the world as the battlefield of ideologies unless people are foolish enough to embrace an ideology.
Conservatism in this sense is opposition to all ideologies. Conservatism is not an ideology itself for one simple reason: it acknowledges a law of nature and of nature’s God to which everybody is bound.
Ideologies may begin within the constraints of natural law, but they possess an inner impulse to break down those constraints. They turn to the identity of the group instead of human nature.
In general, they join the money-lovers in their assault on nature itself, but they attack it from the other side. Thus, while the money-lover comes from a position of strength and thus strives to establish an oligarchy in which he uses his capital to build a fortune and then buys the state to secure it, the ideologue usually arises from or uses those in a position of weakness.
He organizes the oppressed into a force that rises up against the oppressor, whether that be the Roman Republic of the era of the Gracchi (2nd century BC), the English peasantry under Richard II (late 14th century) the French peasantry under Louis XIV (18th century), the unorganized forces of labor during the railroad years (late 19th century), or the descendants of the slaves in our own time.
The advantage of the ideologue is that he always has justice on his side. In other words, oppression is always wrong and people always absorb guilt into their souls and their communities when they practice it.
The other advantage of the ideologue is that the oppressed are excluded, by definition, from both the centers of influence and the means to those centers of influence of the wider culture. In every case I can think of, that means education. In other words, the oppressed tend to be illiterate.
The illiteracy that the oppressor imposes on the oppressed is the very weakness that leads to the overthrow of the oppressor. It’s simple. Illiterate and oppressed people (they need not be the same) feel vulnerable and weak. They are looking for someone to protect and strengthen them. They become, in varying degrees, gullible.
The ideologue thus becomes the demagogue. He promises peace and prosperity and delivers violence and suffering.
But in so doing he adds a meaning and a hope to the lives of the oppressed that fuels the revolution the seed of which was planted by the oppressor himself.
Then sets in the law of the catastrophic continuum. Once the ideologue is able to gather power to himself, he is attractive to anybody who wants a share of his power. More and more people find themselves oppressed. They establish an identity for themselves. They form a group and feed off the ideology.
And who is not oppressed?
But here is the fatal problem with both money-loving and ideology. Both of them, having built their kingdoms on greed and envy, are idolaters. Both of them are trying to overthrow nature. Both of them, to do so, need ever-expanding power.
The money-lover buys out the established government. The oppressed threatens it.
Both expand it and then find themselves unable to control it.
This is why amoral capitalism leads to socialism and why democracy always leads to demagoguery. The forces of greed and envy unleashed are demons of violence and suffering. Both are impatient. Both deny limits. Both centralize power.
This is where we sit as a nation today, on the knife’s edge between the money-lover driven by greed and the ideologue driven by envy.
Conservatism has been taken over and redefined by the money-lover. Liberalism has been taken over and redefined by the ideologue.
Conservatism has become a sounding brass and liberalism a tinkling cymbal.
The one sure thing is that we will continue to watch our government expand and intrude relentlessly until either we repent and assume responsibility for our lives, our families, and our communities, or we will find ourselves under a “benign” tyranny that stultifies every genuinely human ambition or impulse that does not meet the narrow goals of the ideologue.
What solution, then? Practically, I don’t know. But certainly if we don’t acknowledge truth and a law of nature that governs all of us, including the ruler, the merchant, and the revolutionary, then there is no solution.
The always insightful CS Lewis put it this way in his most important book:
Only the tao* provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.
The Abolition of Man
* by “tao” Lewis means what the west has commonly referred to as the natural law.
Because our people have formally rejected this natural law for over a century (as seen, for example, in the maxims and decisions of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.), the oppressed have nowhere to turn but to the direct quest for power themselves.
When the powers that be determine that they are the ones who determine what is right and wrong (the practical definition or at least effect of moral relativism), even their best intentions leave no genuine hope for the oppressed.
This happened to slaves in the pre-civil-war era and it has happened to workers and to descendants of slaves since then.
But if the oppressor does not acknowledge a higher law, then how can the oppressed be expected to?
We are driven by ideologies in conflict, each seeking enough power to protect themselves and to overthrow the oppressed.
But, says St. Paul, if you bite and devour one another, take heed lest you be consumed by one another.
Let us learn not to trust in the deceitfulness of riches, nor to allow envy to drive us into ever new forms of slavery. Perhaps we can model again what Gandhi and King imitated:
Unless a seed falls in the ground and dies, it abides alone.