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What if we were to have created all the ingredients, pre-requisites, and conditions for a strong, vibrant social order but nobody wanted one? What if people all realized they had to freedom to do and build great things but said no thanks. Conservatives tend to focus on formal, structural assaults on the Constitution, but maybe we don’t spend enough time wondering whether we are still a people who can and want to make use of its protections and how to be such a people.
Roger Scruton in How to be a Conservative (2004), makes a number of points that will be familiar to Ricochetti but expressed so brilliantly they often seem almost new. In Chapters 10 and 11, for example, he explains why to be a conservative is to want to preserve free association and the conversations (“conversations” used in an artful way incorporating Aristotelian concepts) that promote virtue and value. Law and governance are supposed to be about protecting the freedom to act and flourish in fully human ways and not about imposing preferred outcomes or mandated displays of select virtues.
But what if our “conversations” simply suck? What if we do not flourish in that way and instead buy into the lazy idea that virtues, innovation, compassion can be artificially generated by adopting an ideological assault on intellect or a government program (or an AI)? What if Burke’s “little platoons” simply dissolve by choice or indifference?
Some people have opined that the American political and legal order has some intrinsic, structural reliance on the Christian religion and will perish without it. I think it is perhaps more accurate to say that our system depends heavily on the prevalence of the kinds of virtues fostered by Judeo-Christian beliefs and practices. Whether a comparable source of moral inspiration and personal formation can also be effected in a purely secular form is an open question.
What can be done to stem moral rot and the enfeeblement of the social order once it has begun to set in? (Has it begun or I am viewing things through an unduly dark lens?)
Some years back, I read a brilliant defense of the family as an institution by a fellow I have known for a long time. Replete with statistics and citations, it was a wonderful piece of work. My obnoxious response was that it requires some specific virtues to read, understand, and be cognitively changed by such quality written works. If the lack of formation, the triumph of brain-dead ideology, habitual Orwellian verbal obfuscation, indifference to truth, and sheer mandated sheer stupidity are regnant, how would such a work of discursive reason help? In other words, how would people without the personal formation that the paper seeks to foster (and the sort of people they would vote for) ever be affected by the truths it provides? Doesn’t the battle for family values also have to be fought on a plane other than the ethereal levels of reason, rhetoric, and science?
Can the “little platoons” still be a source of common sense, basic values, historical perspective, and human connections if they become just echo chambers of social media garbage or merely the locus of our cable TV boxes?
The Great Society erred by inadvertently damaging family structures and thus breaking up needed little platoons but did not intend for that to happen. The modern left wants a more complete destruction and on purpose. And much in our entertainment, our media-mediated discourse, and even our consumer culture aid that project of dissolution.
Or, again, I am just unduly pessimistic at the moment? Probably so. Maybe I should go hug some grandkids.Published in