Conservative Tenet # 5

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Well, and Your Humble Blogger is up to the fifth of 21 Conservative Tenets, from Clinton Lawrence Rossiter's book Conservatism in America (New York: Knopf © 1955).

5. The need for a ruling and serving aristocracy.

This seems to me to flow directly from the Fourth Tenet, which accepts the necessity and inevitability of social classes, which leads naturally to the ruling class. I'm agin it.

I should again remind any of y'all who've stuck with me this far that Rossiter was writing in 1955, and was specifically writing about the Conservative tradition, rather than the current feel of the Conservative movement. More importantly, Rossiter does not take this list as a formula or statute, but as a description of the faith of Conservatism, which he describes as a mood or bias, rather than an ideology. I would probably consider it closer to a world view, a model of the universe for getting along.

As such, it does seem to me that modern Conservatives in the US, tho' they would presumably deny Tenet # 5, do hold to it in a modified way. I think that they see a difference between people who should be participating in government, and those who are not capable of it. It comes out in George Will, sometimes, and often in people such as Jeff Jacoby and Michael Kelly; a sense that there are people too stupid, or uninformed, or criminal, or weak to participate. It's not an aristocracy in the "old Europe" sense (hee hee), but a meritocracy, which should both rule and serve, or at least guide.

This is not an idea peculiar to Conservatives, of course, particularly in its meritocratic American sense. The "Talented Tenth" or the Kennedy family's Tradition of Service all smell, to me, of Us (the natural rulers, who must also serve) and Them (the rabble, the salt of the earth, the am ha'aretz, who must be ruled and serve, because they can't do it themselves). That's not such a horrible thing, either. I'm a fortunate guy, through luck rather than merit, and I should take on more responsibility because of it. Furthermore, I'd rather vote for a smart person than a stupid one, an educated person than an ignorant one, an articulate person than an inarticulate one.

When it comes to voting, almost everybody thinks they believe in one vote for each citizen, but on the other hand, almost everybody is uncomfortable with Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel having the same vote as they do. Even Cletus, I'm sure, is uncomfortable with Snuffy Smith having a vote. The thing about democracy, though, is that is messy; that's how it works. If anybody's vote counts more than anybody else's, you don't have democracy. The idea of a ruling class, either hereditary or meritocratic, is antithetical to the idea of democracy, and I'm a democrat. And that means that not only do I have to put up with Cletus and Snuffy voting, but I am thrilled when Cletus and Snuffy vote.

Thank you,

Note: The above reference to the late Michael Kelly was made before his untimely demise. I do not need to retract it, but I feel it is important to say that it was not intended as an attack, but rather a disagreement. I was tempted to edit the note and replace his name with another's, but felt that too would be inappropriate. Hm. Anyway, I am saddened by his death, and if the timing of my reference was offensive to anyone who knew him, please accept both my apology and my assurances that it was inadvertant. Thanks, -V.

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