NEW YORK, NY April 8, 2015–What, precisely, defines a person as a conservative? It strikes me that conservatives ought to be about conserving something, but what, precisely? What can all agree upon as the sine qua non of conservation?
To begin answering the question, we develop a theory of conservative philosophy. That which grows out organically from Creation might be a
start. Of course, man too is part of Creation, and so what man creates ought, in that sense, to be considered a part of it.
In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis tried to define what he called “The Tao,” that set of agreed-upon standards that all major religions of the world would support. “Thou shalt not murder” is of course part of the Tao, as is a sense of reverence either for ancestors, or family. So perhaps we start with family.
A conservative, then, is focused on preserving and nurturing the elemental unit of human development, the family, whether in nuclear format as peculiar to Anglo-Saxon lands with much territory available to each man, or in extended formats like as seen further from England. One comment upon the popularity of The Godfather was that people in the USA were astounded that there was one unit that would stand up even against the might of the Federal Government, the family. Even further from Sicily, recall the expression from Iraq about Arab families: Me against my brother. My brother and I against our cousin. My family against the world.
The family is the natural unit of human flourishing. In an irreligious view, man is simply another species on planet earth, and preserving the
family, then the clan, then the tribe, the nation, and finally the human race become parts of the concentric circles of concern. In noticing that
man is a part of nature, a wider view also entails: that the circles of concern extend outward to animals, plants, and soon entire ecosystems.
The conservative, then, will naturally try to preserve and conserve webs of life; stewardship over the planet, if religious, or environmentalism if
secular being the guiding philosophy. This stewardship naturally makes the conservative a systems thinker, recognizing the interconnectedness of all living things with the planet, and causes him to abhor the sorts of thinkers who use phrases like “ceteris paribus,” all else being held equal.
Contrast the radical or the Progressive. One could take any thinker grown out of the French Revolutionary ethos, but we’ll choose the most prominent: Marx. In chapter two of the Communist Manifesto, he advocates for the following:
“Abolition of the family! … On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital… The bourgeois family will vanish … with the vanishing of capital.” Pretty radical, all to be achieved by a revolution that would wipe away existing forms of society and begin anew. In other words, by ignoring the systems and webs that were a fact of life and beginning creation again.
Marx had the following 10 examples of what a Communist society would look like:
1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the
hands of the State.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the
improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country..
10. Free education for all children in public schools.
#1 has not been achieved, although property tax does limit the “rents” due to land. 2, definitely. 3, somewhat; if an effective inheritance tax rate of over 35% is to be believed. 4 is getting closer in the USA, given the punishments meted out to Americans who renounce their citizenship. 5, absolutely. 6 is achieved by the transfer of the communications network to an IP-based model using the Internet. 7, absolutely, even in the USA; government-funded irrigation projects have “made the deserts bloom” and ruined ecosystems nationwide. 8, not at all. 9 is CLEARLY the result of US anti-city policy and encouragement of suburbanization. 10, absolutely.
Now, simply because a radical was in favor of these items does not mean a conservative will oppose them, but see how many items directly undermine the strength of the family. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, and 10 all challenge the domain of what was once provided by the first form of social insurance, the family. One could add Social Security and Medicare to the list as well.
Not directly threatening the family, of course, are issues like gay marriage, war overseas, or different religions, like Islam. So the
conservative will either have no issue with these areas, or will object only when they intrude on the domain of the family. Likewise, even
established things that might normally might need conserving will be opposed by the conservative if they undermine the family. Though opposing public schooling might appear radical, for example, it is simply consistent.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Thomas Schmidt applies systems thinking to questions political, social, and economic. A former writer at Lew Rockwell[dot]com, his approach is rooted in Thomist philosophy and an undying love for the Hapsburg empire. Dr. Schmidt is a faculty member in the undergraduate Business and Technology Management program at NYU’s School of Engineering. Tom has pursued the intellectual life of what Nassim Nicholas Taleb called a flaneur in his book Antifragile. With a background in political science and a doctorate in computer science, he is an acolyte of Jane Jacobs’ works on urban planning, especially her insights in the fields of development and social order.
Adding in the spirit of his native Brooklyn with an appreciation for the operatic works of Wilhelm Richard Wagner, his wide-ranging but deep knowledge is ably put to use in program design and academic administration; he has developed curriculum and taught with stellar evaluations at seven universities. With over 10 years experience at a Dean level , he is fully engaged with the university’s mission of nurturing and growing human
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