the late eighteenth century there
arose an Irishman named Edmund Burke. Today, he is considered
the father of modern conservatism.
contending with Age of Enlightenment thinkers of the
time, Burke raised many astute arguments that are worth noting.
With clarity of thought and intuition, he championed the search
for truth with as much integrity as his opponents did, but from
an entirely different perspective. While Locke and the French philosophers
idealized the potential of reason, human nature, and the possibility
of creating a better world, Burke eloquently argued for the other
side, challenging their ideals with a hefty dose of realism. These
conservative challenges are as important to Chivalry-Now as
all the rest, because they drag Enlightenment idealism back to earth.
He did this by pointing out the limits of reason, while extolling
the primacy of intuition, along with the wisdom of the ages, on
which tradition is based. Here we find the original essence of conservatism,
a counterbalance to the new idealistic firestorm that spread across
Europe and inspired the founders of the United States.
viewed colonialism as bad, radicalism as dangerous, and democracy
as a threat to social stability. He considered governmental conventions
as spiritually based and not to be tinkered with.
of his other thoughts:
- While he
conceded human equality in the eyes of God, he felt no such compunction
for equality here on earth.
- Respect for
a higher power was essential to his philosophy, no matter what
the religion. Church and State were inseparable, but in spiritual,
not mechanical sense. Both were derived from God.
conscience was meant to be directed by "prescription, presumption
and prejudice." (His use of the word "prejudice"
had nothing to do with bigotry, but with having a sense of innate
- It was not
enough to be free. Life had to have meaning as well, and meaning
can be found in tradition, folklore and myth.
- History was
the unfolding of a design wrought by Heaven, of which today's
consumerism would be antithetical.
finds its authority not on a social contract, but on virtuous
- There is
a collective intellect, seeped in ancient wisdom, that people
inherit and culture safeguards and transmits. We learn about principle
through the understanding of nature and history.
Now, at first
glance some of this runs contrary to modern sensibilities. Today
we are taught to believe in and cherish democracy. This was not
the case even for the founders of the United States, whose distrust
of the masses produced a republican form of government instead.
It was somewhat "democratic," but not a true democracy.
This evolved over time, as people gained the right to vote in Senatorial
and Presidential elections. Nevertheless, the electoral college
remains as one of the early safeguards against democracy, designed
to protect people from their own folly. So-called "super-delegates"
are considered a safeguard as well.
How should we see democracy today? The sad truth
is that most voters do not adequately educate themselves on the
issues, are easily swayed by ideological strategists, and often
cast their votes for reasons unrelated to the office. Elections
have boiled down to popularity contests based on negative advertising.
The damage to democracy this has caused is phenomenal. Edmund Burke
was not afraid to point this out.
The project of democracy comes with immense responsibility.
Those who vote only perform their duty well when they understand
the ramifications of who and what they are voting for. They need
to be open to both sides of various issues, rather than just the
means for paying them. It is important that candidates and political
parties then be held accountable for their actions. The media has
to report what is going on with integrity, not by treating everyone
the same. While "fair and balanced" may sound good, it
enforces a level of competitive rules rather than responding to
right and wrong. Think tanks have to be more concerned about truth,
with all its nuances, rather than shaping people's thoughts.
If democracy is considered dangerous because
of the faults and frailties of the masses, who should lead the nation?
Burke, like many in his time, believed that the upper class should
lead, those who are cultured, well educated, and wealthy enough
to resist corruption. He trusted the aggregate opinion and good
will of the aristocracy along with successful business people, rather
than the people at large. Unfortunately, as we all too often witness
today, this too has its dangers. Power and wealth are no safeguard
against corruption. We see many powerful and wealthy people indulge
in it without restraint. The lessons to be gleaned from this hearken
back to Plato's Republic: only people of real virtue should be placed
in control, so that virtue leads.
Is it possible to raise a "virtuous
Why not? If a given culture so cherishes intelligence,
virtue and personal responsibility that it makes them endemic, would
that not belay the fears of Plato, Edmund Burke and the American
founders? Once again, the answers that we seek come down to people
and the choices that they make.
Burkes' references to God, and that government
is shaped by Providence, do not necessarily provide a stumbling
block for those who believe in the separation of church and state.
While their literal meanings contradict separation, they can be
seen in a deeper context, pointing to something greater than a social
contract of convenience. For example, the virtues and values we
freely inculcate in Chivalry-Now must never be seen as rules
of convenience, but as qualities we reverence - ideals expressing
the very best in human nature. That's because goodness has intrinsic
value of its own, for believers and non-believers alike. People
of all faiths, or none at all, can join the unity of this vision.
I think this would meet Edmund Burke's approval.
Does history support the unfolding of heavenly
design that Burke suggests? Maybe so. Maybe not.
In a very real sense, it does not matter. From
a sense of moral duty, what matters is that we have the power to
contribute to a better world, whether we believe in heavenly design
The conservatism of Edmund Burke raised good
questions that not only challenged Enlightenment philosophers, but
challenge us today, so that truth is better revealed. This is the
way things should be. Rejecting things out of hand makes for a rejection
of truths that are otherwise hidden. Digging deep enough, we find
ideas that ultimately converge, even when, on the surface, they
contradict each other. Hence the importance of an open mind.
Burke once said, "
it is not
permitted that we should trifle with our existence."
I can think of no better prologue to the 12
Trusts, which starts with developing one's life for the greater
good, so that we do not "trifle with our existence."
Twentieth century socialist, Granville Hicks,
once commented on Burke's conservatism in these words: "The
Tory has always insisted that, if men would cultivate the individual
virtues, social problems would take care of themselves." Chivalry-Now
suggests the very same conclusion. Social problems are people problems.
If a thoughtful, virtuous people stop propagating them, they disappear.
When Burke told us that there is a collective
intellect, steeped with ancient wisdom that people inherit, and
culture safeguards and helps transmit, he predicted the psychological
theory of the collective unconscious, from which Carl
Jung delineated universal archetypes. Chivalry-Now points
to similar conclusions as part of Nature's Law. We call it conscience.
When Burke takes issue with equality, he is arguing
from what he feels is observable fact. People are not alike. How
can they be equal? They do not enjoy the same personal attributes,
including intellectual capacity, education, experience, self-discipline,
talent, judgment, etc. This seemed especially true during eighteenth
century England, when class distinctions were profoundly distinct,
despite the rising middle class.
Today, we take measured care when dealing with
the issue of equality, paying it lip service at state
occasions, trying to be fair during adjudications, but otherwise
ignoring it as a nice but unreachable ideal. Liberals try to support
equality, even though their actions show contrary belief. Conservatives
just disavow themselves of the entire concept - except, as liberals
do, when convenient.
What lesson can we take from this?
Burke lived in a parliamentary monarchy not long
wrested from the Middle Ages. Most western nations are very different
today. Equality is something brought to the forefront of our civilization
under the aegis of equal rights. It has been around long enough
to serve as a "tradition" for conservatives to at least
recognize, while liberals wrestle with it. It has become a serious
ideal that we should strive for in this day and age.
Thomas Jefferson, a contemporary Enlightenment
thinker, supported the idea of small government and limited regulation.
His capitalist instincts did not wish to inhibit wealth acquisition
in any way. But there is far more to his thought than this conclusion.
The disparity of wealth in the United States that he saw was extremely
limited compared to what he witnessed in Europe, where palaces and
estates separated the aristocracy from impoverished peasants. He
sharply criticized that, and never thought anything like it could
ever happen in the New World. Class distinctions were limited to
Times change. The United States is now home to
obscene wealth and privilege for the few, and general disregard
for the rest. It has replicated the wealth disparity that horrified
Jefferson, who believed that his own people were morally incapable
of such greed. Virtue would protect them from that.
As an ideal, this sounds commendable. Unfortunately,
Burke's observations ended up closer to fact. For Jefferson's ideals
to work, People have to make them work. They have to be open and
interested. Morality has to be more than a tagline. Enlightenment
thinkers like Jefferson placed virtue at the forefront. Not greed
and the lust for power.
Modern Western republics are closer to being
democratic than the framers ever wanted. One person, one vote-not
only for representatives, but also for propositions and referendums.
Daily polling of popular opinion now exerts a powerful influence
on politics. This makes equality an issue that needs to be reconsidered,
if not as an obvious fact, then as a goal.
The conservative ideas of Edmund Burke confront
dreamy eyed idealism with a healthy dose of reality. For idealism
to work, it needs to face such challenges head on. Properly applied,
idealism gains whatever viability it has through its relationship
to realism. Their symbiosis completes them both.
Inasmuch as Chivalry-Now reveres and preserves
what is best from the past, cultivates personal virtue as a viable
answer to our social problems, and looks to conscience for innate
expressions of Nature's Law, it is proudly and decidedly conservative.
Inasmuch as it embraces the idea of freedom, equality, love of neighbor,
rational thought and progress, it is decidedly and proudly liberal.
We contend that conservatism and liberalism are not natural enemies.
Partisanship, on the other hand, is everyone's enemy, reducing everything
to purposeful and oftentimes meaningless opposition.
Because of this, both "ideologies"
suffer from systemic hypocrisy. They work hard to keep truth divided
along narrow, artificial lines, thus robbing it of its wholeness.
Exaggerations, witch-hunting, scandal-mongering, spin, watered-down
policies, unbending ideological stances (despite all evidence to
the contrrary), think-tanks serving as propaganda machines, and
all kinds of corruption spring from this unnecessary tension.
These are "false ideologies," based
not on virtues or well considered propositions, but on clichés
and jingoism. One party feels that government "of, by
and for the people" has a positive role to play in
assuring equality and public health. The other feels that government
is something bad, like a thief picking our pockets
through taxes, and prefers the kind of freedom where the successful
and privileged naturally excel. In reality, despite the rhetoric,
they both support big government programs, deficit spending, and
find ways of picking our pockets either publically or privately
for their friends. As "partisans" they are well adept
in looking the other way when it comes to their own corruption.
this respect, the advocate for Chivalry-Now should probably
not align with either of these artificial extremes, and should actually
reject them both. Why? Because truth is important to us. Open minds
see quite plainly what is going on. Paid propagandists who make
wealthy livings off of scandals and gossip do not deserve our respect.
How is it that so many people surrender their integrity to radio
and television personalities who decide for them what is right and
means that we discover truth for ourselves. If we relinquish that
responsibility, I fear we relinquish freedom as well.