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Growing Up Conservative?

My son is taking poly-sci classes in college so I saw a book sitting on the landing called International Human Rights. Who knows what it says, but it triggered a succession of ideas in my mind that ran from the French Revolution quite rapidly to Russell Kirk and from there to the tribalization of American political thought.

I was struck by the fact that my son has never been asked to read anything by Russell Kirk or any other great conservative thinker, not even Edmund Burke or Alexis de Toqueville (whom many liberals claim as well). And then a light came on.

No wonder Rush Limbaugh represents conservative thought to our age. When you go to school, you learn something between the Whig and the French Revolution version of history and humanity. When a young man or woman, who wants to approach life with a broader and deeper view than naturalistic materialism allows him but isn’t a sucker for the various and trendy new age movements that come and go like water from a tap, when such a young man or woman gets to college, there won’t be much there for him. Unless he goes to a great books type college.

He’ll be compelled to study analytical approaches to normative subjectives for years. If his soul survives at all, it will have a respect for tradition and simply tune out the hyper-analysis of the modern university. But it won’t have been given the good food it so craved.

He’ll know that arrogance and unlimited, undefined government don’t work. But where to turn? Well, there’s Glenn Beck making obvious points. I guess I’ll follow him. And here’s Ann Coulter teaming up with Laura Ingraham to mock the liberals for mocking the conservatives. Oh, and here’s Sean Hannity whining about the unfairness of the media and modern politics.

Where’s Edmund Burke when you need him? Where’s Russell Kirk? These people understood that reverence is the essence of conservatism and that when you become a scoffer you’ve adopted the so-called liberal worldview, no matter how capitalistic or small government you are. Here’s the ur-text of conservatism. It’s from Edmund Burke. Compare it with the tribal thinking you get from the pop-conservatives who so embarras us.

The age of chivalry is gone. — That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold a generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defense of nations, the nurse of the manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage while it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness. . . .

But now all is to be changed. All the pleasing illusions, which made power gentle, and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland the simulation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the super-added ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of her naked shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.

On this scheme of things, a king is but a man; a queen is but a woman; a woman is but an animal; and an animal not of the highest order. . . . On the scheme of this barbarous philosophy, which is the offspring of cold hearts and muddy understandings, and which is as void of solid wisdom, as it is destitute of all taste and elegance, laws are to be supported only by their terrors, and by the concern, which each individual may find in them, from his own private speculations, or even spare to them from his own private interests. In the groves of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows. . . .

When even conservatives are guided, not by chivalry but by “sophisters, oeconomists, and calculators”, then the age of chivalry is gone indeed.

But in a way, it’s the liberals’ fault that conservatives are so reactionary. We’d like better thinkers to follow, but they’ve convinced us there aren’t any, if only by removing them from the curriculum. We’re only given the calculators (i.e. analysts, pragmatists, skeptics) to read.

It’s bad for everybody when TS Eliot, Irving Babbit, William Shakespeare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, George Santayana, Thomas Aquinas, Friederich Hayek, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Fyodor Dostoevsky, George Washington, Orestes Brownson, PJ Woodhouse, Jane Austen, and of course Russell Kirk, Edmund Burke, and Alexis de Tocqueville aren’t read. Yes, there are plenty more. Some are even living.

One of the causes of the polarization of the political climate is that the liberal education establishment, such as it is, prevents conservatives from developing their sound instincts into mature thought. We love honor, duty, country, place, family, children, tradition, form, chivalry. We won’t give them up for an argument. But we don’t have the resources to mature them. We all have to think about the implications.

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