May 4, 2007

Something for me to think about today...

From an essay by Daniel Larison, in New Pantagruel...

It has been one of the great, failed projects of conventional American conservatism to encourage the fiction that the Christian civilisation conservatives admire and the Enlightenment civilisation that destroyed it are part of a real continuity. For the purposes of this essay, I take it as a given that conservatism is, or at least ought to be, the persuasion and mentality that seeks good order and that in a Western society a conservative’s understanding of good order is unavoidably defined significantly and primarily by the Christian intellectual tradition in general and by the received teachings of the early Fathers of the Church in particular....

[....]

...However, this American conservatism was never entirely committed to rejecting the French Revolutionary model of society and its conception of humanity, at least not when similar ideas had already established themselves in Anglo-American culture by means that were really no less excessive and revolutionary in the seventeenth century. American conservatism could readily abjure an offensive Continental radicalism to which it was not really connected while embracing the fruits of an equally philosophically offensive, but more politically moderate English radicalism drawn from the English Puritan Revolution that had created the Anglo-American political consensus of almost three centuries.

For an American, even one inclined to recognise the deep roots of American order in Israel and antiquity, these three centuries must seem nearly an eternity—indeed, they are virtually the whole of our historical experience on this continent. From an American perspective, circa 1775, the legacy of Whig usurpation, violence and abstraction was already in some sense "traditional" and relatively well-established in precedent—the rights of Englishmen our ancestors claimed were, in the sweep of history, fairly new and based on contractarian and rights theories just as speculative and ahistorical in their own way as any imagined in France, but they had acquired a certain respectability and stability through their institutionalisation and their ready application in colonial life. The accidental seventeenth-century alliance between Dissenting and Reformed Christianity, the parliamentary cause and a philosophy of natural rights grew steadily stronger in the course of the Stuart dynasty, which in turn lent an unusual plausibility to the accommodation of Enlightenment claims and Christianity in English and American societies.

The results were the virtually universal Anglo-American embrace of political liberalism of one stripe or another and the tendency towards the unhealthy and rather odd identification of the "causes" of liberalism and Christianity, which profited from and deepened the secularisation of Anglo-American cultures here and in Britain. It is not surprising, then, that it was not until American Catholics, for whom the mythical alliance of Protestantism and political progress was always as nonsensical as it was often offensive (for what it implied about the Catholic church and Catholic nations), began fully to come into their own culturally, politically and intellectually that this largely unexamined accommodation continued unabated. It is perhaps also not surprising that American conservatism found its early champions in intellectuals (e.g., Weaver, Kirk, Burnham) whose journeys typically began on the left or far left, as these men had already taken the assumptions of the liberal age to their logical and unavoidably absurd conclusions and then recoiled in contempt at what they had found waiting for them...
(Thanks to Orrin)

"...recoiled in contempt." Precisely the right attitude.

Posted by John Weidner at May 4, 2007 8:35 AM
Weblog by John Weidner