The Conservative Tradition
5 March 2003, 1:17 PM
I came across the following, and thought I'd post it up; I'm still thinking about it, and I intend to post my thoughts later. Two things, though, before the excerpt: First, I am not a Conservative, neither in the modern sense nor the traditional as outlined below. Second, Rossiter claims to outline these positions reluctantly, and that the Conservative may or may not defend any of these cogently. He declares that above all, Conservatism is a faith, a matter of mood and bias, rather than an ideology, so the following principles should not be taken as tests, but rather inclinations. I strongly encourage anyone who self-identifies Conservative to write me about these; also anyone who does not so identify, but discovers agreement with them.
The Conservative Tradition
- The mixed and immutable nature of man, in which wickedness, unreason, and the urge to violence lurk always behind the curtain of civilized behavior.
- The natural inequality of men, except in the equal possession of a precious soul and inviolable personality.
- The superiority of liberty to equality in the hierarchy of human values and social purposes.
- The inevitability and necessity of social classes, and consequent folly and futility of most attempts at leveling.
- The need for a ruling and serving aristocracy.
- The fallibility and potential tyranny of majority rule.
- The consequent desirability of diffusing and balancing power-social, economic, cultural, and especially political.
- The rights of man as something earned rather than given.
- The duties of man-service, effort, obedience, cultivation of virtue, self-restraint-as the price of rights.
- The prime importance of private property for liberty, order, and progress.
- The indispensability and sanctity of inherited institutions, values, symbols, and rituals.
- The essential role of religious feeling in man and organized religion in society.
- The fallibility and limited reach of human reason.
- The civilizing, disciplining, conserving mission of education.
- The mystery, grandeur, and tragedy of history, man's surest guide to wisdom and virtue.
- The existence of immutable principles of universal justice.
- The primacy of the community-a wondrous, divinely ordained union of land, laws, customs, institutions, traditions, ideals, things, and people dead, living, and unborn- over the whims and rights of any individual, and consequent rejection of both individualism and collectivism as solutions to the persistent problem of reconciling liberty and authority.
- Reverence, contentment, sensitivity, simplicity, patriotism, self-discipline, the performance of duty-the marks of the good man.
- Stability, unity, equity, continuity, security, peace, the confinement of change-the marks of the good society.
- Dignity, authority, legitimacy, justice, constitutionalism, the recognition of limits-the marks of good government.
- The absolute necessity of Conservatism-as temperament, mood, philosophy, and tradition-to the existence of civilization.
Rossiter, Clinton Lawrence, Conservatism in America, (New York: Knopf (c) 1955), "The Conservative Tradition", pp. 61-62.