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Modern Conservatism, or: Who Says That We're Our Brother's Keeper?

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It should be noted that, in the First Edition of his book, Dr. Kirk had recourse to a divine Providence, which may or may not exist, to make his Sixth Canon work. (I too believe God exists, but I also believe, as Aesop said two millennia ago, He/She helps those who work hardest to help themselves.) The Revised Seventh Edition takes a step back from its dependence on Divine Providence, but with his dismissive attitude and tone toward "radical," i.e. liberal, thought since 1950, we should not be surprised by Dr. Kirk's fear of change and innovation.

Beware of Well-written Propaganda

You, gentle reader, must always remember while you are reading The Conservative Mind --or any other opinion piece including my own--that while Dr. Kirk was a superb political scientist, and an able historian, he was also a propagandist for the cause of conservatism, his form of conservatism. He was not above ignoring facts, and misconstruing or misdirecting both the actions and philosophies of individuals, in order to arrive at his desired conclusion.

One of Kirk's most important pieces of misdirection is to state that all of the conservative ideals of Great Britain and America are good, and all of the "radical" ideas are bad. In fact, Kirk will give credit for the actions, as well as for many ideas, of those on the left, to conservatives, and vice-versa, to shore up his arguments. For example, he attributes to Thomas Jefferson, not to George Washington and John Adams, responsibility for the line in the Treaty with Tripoli which asserts that America is not a "Christian nation" (Kirk, op cit., p. 458). This type of writing sets a bad precedent for the conservatives that followed him.

As I stated earlier, Kirk is very much a hierarchical, authoritarian conservative. If he had been alive at the time of the American Revolution, I believe he would have sided with King George III, not with Washington, Franklin, Jefferson and Adams. I might be wrong, but given his six canons above, I believe I am correct.

Kirk's Is Not Conservatism's Only Modern Template

I would also note that Dr. Kirk's are not the only rules for Conservatism presented since World War II. Read Peter Viereck's statement of the essential principles of conservatism (from his 1949 paper Conservatism Revisited 6), and note the differences between his principles of conservatism and those of Dr. Kirk. Vierick writes that "The conservative principles par excellence are proportion and measure; self-expression through self-restraint; preservation through reform; humanism and classical balance; a fruitful nostalgia for the permanent beneath the flux; and a fruitful obsession for unbroken historic continuity. These principles together create freedom, a freedom built not on the quicksand of adolescent defiance but on the bedrock of ethics and law." Dr. Kirk's Canons are far more authoritarian and self-limiting than Viereck's principles.

However, to give him his due, Dr. Kirk was anything but laudatory in The Conservative Mind about the type of conservatism that we see America--especially the majority of our wealthiest 0.1%--embracing today. David Jenkins in his article on Russell Kirk points out that Kirk was not happy with the sort of conservatism espoused by Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover prior to the Great Depression [Amplification in brackets]:

"In his seminal book The Conservative Mind, From Burke to Eliot," Jenkins writes, "Kirk pointedly described how the nation deviated from true conservatism in the 1920s. He wrote:

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""The United States had come a long way from the piety of Adams and the simplicity of Jefferson. The principle of real leadership ignored, the immortal objects of society forgotten, practical conservatism [has] degenerated into mere laudation of "private enterprise,' economic policy almost wholly surrendered to special interests--such a nation was inviting the catastrophes which compel society to re-examine first principles.'" [Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Elliot, Seventh Revised Edition, p. 455.]

These words are no less applicable to the situation we have today.

A Different View of the Future

Dr. Kirk would have been opposed to the following idea, written by Brooklyn College and CUNY Economics Professor Corey Robin, for The Nation magazine in June, 2010, and reprinted by AlterNet.org:

"Since the nineteenth century, it has been the task of the left to hold up to liberal civilization a mirror of its highest values and to say, 'You do not look like this.' You claim to believe in the rights of man, but it is only the rights of property you uphold. You claim to stand for freedom, but it is only the freedom of the strong to dominate the weak. If you wish to live up to your principles, you must give way to their demiurge. Allow the dispossessed to assume power, and the ideal will be made real, the metaphor will be made material."--Corey Robin, "Like Glenn Beck, Ayn Rand Peddled Garbage as Truth--Why Did America Buy It?"

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Robin's vision of "liberal civilization" seems a tad bit Utopian on its face, but FDR and his successors, up until the Reagan Administration, demonstrated that it was based on a foundation of truth. The United States created the largest, best educated, most all-inclusive middle-class in its history, driven by President Roosevelt's New Deal, including his G.I. Bill. Just as Aristotle had stated in his Politics (Book IV, Chapter 11), this thirty-five-year period of middle-class dominance saw an economic equalization without intentionally stripping the rich of all of their wealth; a social revolution that ended a century of apartheid in the United States; and technological innovations that included the end (at least in the First World nations) of many of the world's killer diseases--including polio and smallpox--that had killed and crippled millions over the centuries. Embodying promise for the rest of mankind, this golden era also put humanity on the moon, and saw the start of the age of the personal computer. Only greed, violence, and a lack of vision prevented that age of wonders from continuing not only technologically, but economically and socially as well.

Professor Robin wrote another article for his blog earlier this year (March 20, 2013), "Edmund Burke on the Free Market," which demonstrates to me how often Dr. Kirk "cherry-picked" his facts in order to make the facts fit his premise. The following observations by Dr. Kirk's hero, Edmund Burke, show him to be far more practical, and of much greater depth and liberality of thought, than Dr. Kirk would care to admit:

"The value of money must be judged, like every thing else, from its rate at market. To force that market, or any market, is of all things the most dangerous."

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Richard Girard is an increasingly radical representative of the disabled and disenfranchised members of America's downtrodden, who suffers from bipolar disorder (type II or type III, the professionals do not agree). He has put together a team to (more...)
 

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