Conservative Tenet # 1

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Your Humble Blogger posted a list of Beliefs in the Conservative Tradition yesterday, as a prelude to doing some serious thinking about them. This is the first note in a series; I may do each one separately, or do some together, or do a couple and then trail off. Anyway, here's the first one from Rossiter's list.

1. The mixed and immutable nature of man, in which wickedness, unreason, and the urge to violence lurk always behind the curtain of civilized behavior.

Well, and I can’t entirely gainsay that, but it is entirely too narrow a view of human nature. Behind the curtain of civilized behaviour, after all, lies kindness, creativity, and the urge to snuggle.

Also, and more fundamentally, I’m not convinced that the nature of man is immutable. Not that human nature is perfectible, thank the Lord, but that it is shaped in part by social constraints, and that those social constraints are not always the same everywhere. This, I think, is a fundamental difference I have with the Conservative mood (by the way, that’s the whole reason behind this set of essays, to examine these principles, see if and where I differ from them, ascertain if I have anything to replace them with, and ultimately perhaps formulate some Tenets of Vardibidianism).

Here, it’s easier (as always) to specify what I don’t believe, rather than what I do. I don’t believe that Human Nature is nonexistent, or that it is easy to shape, or that a government (or other organization of people) can choose to change it with predictable results. I don’t believe that all “civilized” behaviour is the same everywhere, although I also don’t believe that any behaviour can be called civilized in the proper circumstances. I don’t believe that all of the actions of current upright members of society will always be counted as civilized by their descendants. I don't believe that barbarism (taken as the opposite of civility) is entirely in the eye of the beholder, or entirely inherent; slave-trading and infanticide may have sometime been regarded as civilized behaviour, but indiscriminate slaughter of the vulnerable is inherently barbaric and always has been. Is it human nature for us to take care of our parents when they become elderly and sick? Has it always been? Is it human nature to tell stories? Has it always been?

Finally, beliefs are applied to organizations of people, to nations and villages and families. This Conservative principle, applied as it tends to be, leads people to emphasize the importance of discipline, self-discipline first, of course, and then the imposition of discipline by the communities. This discipline is intended to keep up the curtain of civilized behaviour; it is a primary function of communities to teach, preserve and enforce that code. I agree that it is a (but not the primary) function of communities; a primary function of individuals is to question that code, analyse it, interpret it, and adapt it. We should, as individuals and communities, try to make sure that wickedness, unreason and the urge to violence are not wrapped in the mantle of civilized behaviour, and that kindness, creativity, and the urge to snuggle are not smothered under it.

Thank you,