Sunday, May 24, 2009
"Republics are created by the virtue, public spirit, and intelligence of the citizens. They fall, when the wise are banished from the public councils, because they dare to be honest, and the profligate are rewarded, because they flatter the people, in order to betray them." -- Joseph Story, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Last night I was feeling exceptionally depressed about Notre Dame University's betrayal of the faith, and as I often do when I am in a profound funk, I picked up a small book of poems to read. This particular book consisted of poems by the English writer William Wordsworth. As I started reading, I ran across the poem Great Men Have Been Among Us:
Great Men have been among us; hands that penned And tongues that uttered wisdom, better none: The later Sydney, Marvel, Harrington, Young Vane, and others who called Milton Friend. These Moralists could act and comprehend; They knew how genuine glory was put on; Taught us how rightfully a nation shone In splendor: what strength was, that would not bend But in magnanimous meakness. France, 'tis strange, Hath brought forth no such souls as we had then. Perpetual emptiness! unceasing change! No single Volume paramount, no code, No master spirit, no determined road; But equally a want of Books and Men!Wordsworth's poem brings up a vital truth about the relationship between any art and tradition. Conservatism, the defense of tradition in the face of the unrelenting march of the forces of forgetfulness, is absolutely essential to viabrant culture. Standards, customs, devotion to home and faith -- all of these are necessary to have a culture and literature that endures, that carries meaning. Without these things, art simply is not possible. Why? Because without these things, we humans are rootless and without perspective. Only by knowing where we come from -- our traditions and heritage -- can we know who we are and where we are going. We need our heritage to guide us and shape us in the habits of virtue, to help us to know, embrace and represent the true, the good and the beautiful. With this knowledge, progress and development in culture and art is possible. Without it, any attempt at art -- no matter how elevated and majestic -- will collapse in degeneration and decay. Conservatism -- and not a skeptical "conservatism of doubt" but a robust conservatism that affirms principle and tradition -- is as a consequence a necessary condition for any enduring cultural achievement. Otherwise we are left, as Wordsworth puts it, with "Perpetual emptiness! unceaseing change!" And in such conditions, nothing abiding can survive. No heritage is secure. And vitality drains forth, leaving us with a derth of both ideas and leaders, "equally a want of Books and Men!" Something for the folks at Notre Dame to consider.
Friday, May 1, 2009
One question that keeps coming up in conservative and libertarian circles regards the relationship of the American founding with the deeper and broader traditions of Western civilization. Were the American revolutionaries as a whole seeking to create the world anew, or were they seeking to a re-establish the fundamental norms of civilized government that they had known and learned about during the colonial period -- the rights of Englishmen and the natural rights of all human beings? Here's one (and only one) answer to that question:
[T]he founding was the rearticulation of Western civilization in its Anglo-American mode. The founders were thoroughly educated in the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew sources of this civilization, often knowing the classic writings in the original tongues, in addition to French and English literature. While substantially influenced by the secularizing tendencies of the movement from Humanism to Enlightenment, the American Revolution was essentially restorative and retrospective, in the primary meaning of the term as a movement to re-establish truth and justice on a primordial foundation, one lost through corruption and rebellion by men motivated by the perversities of valuting ambition and the lust for power engendered by selfishness, sin, and evil. This model of revolution as the "turn of a wheel" represents the primary -- not exclusive -- tendency of the American and perhaps of all earlier Western revolutions to be restorations.Elias Sandoz, A Government of Laws: Political Theory, Religion, and the American Founding (University of Missour Press: 2001), pg. 151.