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Showing posts with label Russell Kirk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Russell Kirk. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Reclaiming Conservatism

By Ken Connor

This month, the American Conservative Union's Conservative annual Political Action Conference, or CPAC, convened in Washington, D.C. This year's conference featured many of the GOP's presumed up-and-comers, people like Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and Bobby Jindal. There was much talk about economic liberty, the Obama administration's assault on the American tradition of individual liberty and self-determination, and the crisis of America's spiraling national debt. The crowd was full of energetic, motivated young people excited about taking on the forces of big government in order to secure a bright future for themselves and their children. What didn't register as much on the agenda at this year's CPAC were subjects involving marriage and family, namely, same-sex marriage and abortion.

John Murdock, writing for First Things, lamented the myopathy of a GOP that ignores foundational social issues in favor of an obsession with the ideological abstraction called "liberty."

Read more at Renew America >>


Friday, March 14, 2014

Ronald Reagan’s City of God

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Paul Kengor’s new book 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative. Among the principles is faith. A version of this article first appeared at

Conservatives constantly talk of freedom.

Freedom. Freedom. Freedom. Go to any gathering of conservatives, and you will hear a freedom mantra. They speak of “freedom” almost as if it were a one-word synonym for conservatism, a slogan for the movement. At times, they do so in an almost trite way.

Ronald Reagan likewise spoke constantly of freedom. Mankind, from “the swamps to the stars,” as he said in his seminal October 1964 “Time for Choosing” speech, longed to be free. The global Cold War struggle of Reagan’s life represented the arc of that longing, of that crisis. Obviously, the communist world hungered for freedom. But even the free world didn’t always appreciate it. Free people needed always to be reminded of their freedom and the need to understand and reassert it. That included Americans. Reagan said that freedom is always under assault; every generation must fight to preserve it.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

"The Conservative Mind" at 60

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of Russell Kirk's monumental work, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot This "founding document" of the American conservative movement grows ever more important amidst the wasteland created by twentieth century liberalism, relativism and other modern heresies.  Russell Kirk points us to "permanent things" and eternal truths that offer hope and a sure way forward to restoring civil society - families, communities and the American republic.

This Heritage Foundation panel recently discussed Kirk's relation to the contemporary conservative movement.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Russell Kirk: We Cannot Separate Christian Morals and the Rule of Law

Russell Kirk gave this paper as one of nine distinguished lecturers leading a seminar entitled, "The Bible and the Republic In a Secular Age," at Hillsdale College's Center for Constructive Alternatives in March 1982.

Editor's Preview: Does a nation that makes too little room for God in its laws make too much room for a Hitler or a Stalin? Is the day coming when American courts could rule that the state may not forbid murder because the church does forbid it?

Russell Kirk, one of the most eminent conservative thinkers of this century, argues that these dangers are more real than most people want to admit.

He shows why religion, and Christian belief in particular, is the most powerful source of ethical principle behind our laws. Attempts to sever this ancient connection, and to base law instead on some new civil doctrine such as liberalism or scientism, would create a vacuum quickly filled by the "the commandments of the Savage God, enforced by some Rough Beast."

The government may encourage religion without establishing it, a distinction understood even by liberals on the bench until recent decades.

Are we human creatures made in the image, of a Creator, or mere fleshly computers? Today, even in our law courts, the war on this issue is fought to the knife. Dr. Kirk writes:

"Two there are by whom this world is ruled," said Pope Gelasius I, near the end of the fifth century. In that phrase may be found the beginning of the doctrine of the "two swords"—of the separation of church and state. In every century, after one fashion or another, church and state have had occasion to fall out—even in this American Republic.

Recently the Supreme Court of the United States found unconstitutional a Kentucky statute requiring that the Ten Commandments be posted in public schools. The placards in question bore a notice stating that "the secular application of the Ten Commandments is clearly seen in its adoption as the fundamental legal code of Western Civilization and the Common Law of the United States." But the Supreme Court ruled, five justices against four, that this educational employment of the Decalogue breached the famous wall of separation (Stone v. Graham, decided November 17, 1980). This decision carried to an extreme the doctrine of the two swords: the concept that although the spiritual authority and the temporal authority exist in symbiosis, still a gulf must be fixed between the two.

Presumably the majority of the justices who handed down this decision were not expressing hostility toward Judaism or Christianity; but certainly they did not acknowledge any religious consecration of the American Republic. Beyond this present "neutrality" in the courts may lurk the prospect of hostility between church and state, even here in America. And so one thinks of the words of T. S. Eliot: "If you will not have God—and he is a jealous God—you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin."

The vast quantity of litigation in federal and state courts concerning church schools, employees of churches, church tax-exemptions, and related questions, suggests that the old established relationships between church and state in America have become strained.

Litigation may, and does often, become effectual harassment. It is possible, for instance, for American Civil Liberties Union types to harass out of existence public displays of the Nativity at Christmas time. Also it is possible, or may become possible, for the state to harass the church into compliance with political passions of the moment. It is quite conceivable that there is developing among us, even now, a humanitarian "civil religion," an American Erastianism, which might supplant Christian teaching as the basis of public order.

Grim Descent

Now the purpose of law is to keep the peace. When this end is half forgotten, and instead the law is used by some as a means of extortion from others, or as an instrument for class advantage, or as a tool for social direction, or merely for the gratifying of malice—why, the law itself tumbles into injustice. Toward that we have been sliding in this republic; and most of the world has stumbled the whole way down that grim descent.

True law necessarily is rooted in ethical assumptions or norms; and those moral principles are derived, in the beginning at least, from religious convictions. When the religious understanding, from which a concept of law arose in a culture, has been discarded or denied—well, the laws may endure for some decades, through what sociologists call "cultural lag"; but in he long run, the laws also will be discarded or denied, after having been severed from their ethical and religious sources.

With this hard truth in mind, I venture to suggest that the corpus of English and American laws—for the two arise for the most part from a common root of belief and experience—cannot endure forever unless it is animated by the spirit that moved it in the beginning: that is, by religion, and specifically by the Christian religion. Certain moral postulates of Christian teaching have been taken for granted, in the past, as the ground of justice. When courts of law ignore those postulates, we grope in judicial darkness.

Nowadays those postulates are being ignored; nay, we suffer already from a strong movement to exclude from courts of law such religious beliefs, and to discriminate against those unenlightened who fondly cling to the superstitions of the childhood of the race. Permit me to offer two recent examples of this anti-religious tendency in judicial concerns.

Consider the attempt made not long ago to disqualify a federal judge who was about to hand down—and subsequently did hand down—a decision in a case concerned with an extension of time for ratifying the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. Judge Marion Callister is an active communicant of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, and formerly was a bishop iii that church. The Mormon Church has declared its opposition to the Equal Rights proposal. Therefore the federal Department of Justice sought to have Judge Callister disqualified from hearing the case, on the ground that his religious views would prejudice him.

Presumably, if we are to grant this premise, a Catholic jurist, or a Missouri Synod Lutheran, or a member of any other denomination that has declined to embrace the enthusiasts of ERA, also would be found disqualified. On the other hand, a judge who could demonstrate that his conscience lay untroubled by any religious scruples would be found qualified by our Department of Justice.

Religion Divisive?

My second instance is certain litigation about an ordinance regulating abortion in the city of Akron, Ohio. The American Civil Liberties Union, representing two abortion clinics and an abortionist-physician, challenged in a federal district court various provisions of the Akron ordinance. The most curious aspect of the case was the ACLU's argument about "divisiveness": put succinctly, the ACLU contended that any restraint upon abortion must be unconstitutional, because such statutes or ordinances are founded upon a religious belief to the effect that human life commences at the conception of the fetus. In short, any law rooted in religious dogmas is no law at all—or so the zealots of the ACLU contend.

The Supreme Court has yet to instruct us that Christian and Hebraic beliefs are inadmissible in a court of law, and that a new civil religion of "scientism" has supplanted them. The two cases I mentioned a moment ago are not yet the law of the land; they suggest, nevertheless, the direction in which our juridical assumptions have been drifting.

This retreat from the Christian postulates of American law (for there are such Christian postulates, just as there are Muslim postulates of Arab law) soon may encounter unhappy difficulties. Many moral beliefs, although sustained by religious convictions, may not be readily susceptible of "scientific demonstration." Our abhorrence of murder and rape may be traced back to the Decalogue and other religious injunctions. If it can be shown that our opposition to such offenses is rooted in religious belief, then are restraints upon murder and rape unconstitutional?

At such absurdities we arrive if we attempt to erect a real wall of separation between the operation of the laws and those Christian moral convictions that move most Americans. Theater of the absurd can become nasty reality: "See my pageant passing," says the playwright, looking out of his window upon the revolutionary mob pouring through the street. The doctrinaires of the American Civil Liberties Union would not be spared, were the religious postulates underlying law to be swept away; for that matter, our very civil liberties themselves are held up by theological pillars. Yet not all is lost; and if we are to try to sustain some connection between Christian moral teaching and the laws of this land, we must understand the character of that link. We must claim neither too much nor too little for the influence of Christian belief upon our structure of law.

Christian Foundations Minimized

For the past two centuries, the tendency of writers upon the law has been to claim too little for Christian influence upon the foundations of law.

If we turn to that high juridical authority Sir Henry Maine, who was no Christian enthusiast, we find that in his Early History of Institutions (published in 1875) he remarks many Christian influences upon law: how Christianity restrained the liberty of divorce; how it affected the Brehon laws; how it altered the character of contracts; how it worked in favor of women with respect to the laws; how it promoted donation; how "the Will, the Contract, and the Separate Ownership were in fact indispensable to the Church as the donee of pious gifts; and they were also essential and characteristic elements in the civilization amid which the Church had been reared to maturity." Parallel treatment of Christian influence could be cited in various other important nineteenth-century writers on legal institutions and jurisprudence—although still more about Christian teaching will be found in the works of seventeenth-and eighteenth-century legal writers.

Twentieth-century commentators, nevertheless, have been somewhat timid about referring to religious sources for law. Take Roscoe Pound, in his Interpretations of Legal History, written in 1922. Pound is by no means unfriendly to Christian concepts; he thinks Christian influence has been held in too low esteem; for all that, he grants such concepts no broad sway.

"The prevailing view has been that, after the stage of primitive law is passed, religion has played relatively a small part in legal history," Pound writes. "Yet I venture to think that the influence of religious ideas in the formative period of American law was often decisive and that without taking account of Puritanism we shall fail to get an adequate picture of American legal history as it was in the last century. I suspect also that some day we shall count religious ideas as no mean factor in the making of what are now the doctrines of English equity. Undoubtedly such ideas played a substantial part in the history of the modern Continental law of obligations. So far as it directs attention to a factor which often may be of the first moment in shaping legal rules and doctrines and institutions, the religious interpretation is by no means to be neglected."

Let it be noted that here Pound is writing of the law—both statutory law and common law—rather than of the sources of the law. "One of the main difficulties and causes of confusion in Jurisprudence," J. C. Gray writes in his Nature and Sources of the Law (second edition, 1927), "has been the failure to distinguish between Law and the sources of Law." A country's law is "composed of the rules for conduct that its courts follow and that it holds itself out as ready to enforce." But these rules, Gray continues, though enforced regardless of abstract theories of justice, in part arise from ethical principles. Permit me to add to Gray's observation that ethical principles ordinarily arise from religious perceptions.

Rationalists, Darwinians, Freudians

I am suggesting that Pound and Gray, though conceding something to Christian ethics as a source of law, still conceded too little; they wrote in a climate of opinion not cordial toward religious concepts, a climate in which flourished the dicta and obiter dicta of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. I am suggesting that Christian faith and reason have been underestimated in an age bestridden, successively, by the vulgarized notions of the Rationalists, the Darwinians, and the Freudians. Yet I am not contending that the laws ever have been the Christian word made flesh; nor that they can ever be.

My Puritan ancestors of Massachusetts Bay, like their fathers the "Geneva Men" of Elizabethan England, hoped to make the laws of the ancient Jews into a code for their own time—a foolish notion. My Scottish Covenanting ancestors, too, aspired nearly to that. Upon such misconceptions, my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather on the distaff side, Abraham Pierce, was tried at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1625, for indolence on the Sabbath; by a miscarriage of justice, doubtless, he was acquitted.

Such attempts at legal archaism, being absurd, failed before they properly began; for the particular laws of a people ineluctably mirror the circumstances of an age. Hebraic legal institutions would no more suit seventeenth-century England, say, than the English common law of the seventeenth century would have been possible for Jerusalem in the sixth century before Christ. No, what Christianity (or any other religion) confers is not a code of positive laws, but instead some general understanding of justice.

Judges cannot well be metaphysicians—not in the execution of their duties upon the bench, at any rate, even though the majority upon the Supreme Court of this land, and judges in inferior courts, seem often during the past three decades to have mistaken themselves for original moral philosophers. The law that judges mete out is the product of statute, custom, convention, precedent. Yet back of statute, custom, convention, and precedent may be discerned, if mistily, the forms of Christian doctrines, by which statute and custom and convention and precedent have been much influenced in the past. And the more that judges ignore Christian assumptions about human nature and justice, the more are they thrown back upon their private resources as abstract metaphysicians—and the more the laws of the land fall into confusion and inconsistency.

Peril of Judicial Metaphysics

Prophets and theologians and priests and pastors are not legislators, ordinarily; yet their pronouncements may be incorporated, if sometimes almost unrecognizably, in statute and custom and convention and precedent. The Christian doctrine of natural law cannot be made to do duty for the law of the land: were this tried, positive justice would be delayed to the end of time. Nevertheless, if the Christian understanding of natural law is cast aside utterly by magistrates, mocked and flouted, then positive law becomes patternless and arbitrary.

Would it be preferable to have the law arise from the narrow, fanatic speculations of some ideologue? Just that disaster has befallen the law in Russia, China, and other lands: a matter with which the gentlemen and ladies of the American Civil Liberties Union do not much concern themselves.

I am saying that Christian doctrine, in the United States as in Britain, is not the law; yet it is a major source of the law, and in particular a major foundation of jurisprudence, that science so neglected in nearly all American law schools. This reality was understood by the two principal legal scholars of the formative era of American law, Joseph Story and James Kent and to them I turn now.

Story and Kent sustained the long-established understanding of the relationship between Christian morals and the law of the land. Sir Matthew Hale, Justice of the King's Bench, ruled in Taylor's Case (1676) that "the Christian religion is part of the law itself." In Woolston's Case (1729), King's Bench found that "Christianity in general is parcel of the common law of England and therefore to be protected by it." (Both were cases concerned with blasphemy.) These precedents, cited by Sir William Blackstone in his Commentaries, were accepted by those American champions of common law Justice Story and Chancellor Kent. There runs through Story's Commentaries and Kent's Commentaries the assumption that in America also the common law is bound up with Christian doctrine.

In important decisions in their courtrooms, Story and Kent sustained the especial standing of the Christian religion in common law. In Terret v. Taylor (1815), Story recognized that the Episcopal Church in Virginia derived its rights from the common law; in Vidal v. Girard's Executors (1844) he accepted Daniel Webster's argument that the Christian religion was part of the common law of Pennsylvania. Kent, in People v. Ruggles, when Chief Justice of New York, found that the defaming of Christianity might be punished under common law. He wrote in his decision (1811), "The people of this state, in common with the people of this country, profess the general doctrines of Christianity, as the rule of their faith and practice."

Story's and Kent's decisions, and their arguments in their respective Commentaries, remained powerful influences upon later important federal and state decisions that touched upon questions of morals—for instance, the United States Supreme Court's stem warning against bigamy and polygamy, written by Chief Justice Waite and Justice Field (in 1879), who called these customs crimes against "the laws of all civilized and Christian countries. " Even though weakened by the ambiguity of a series of Supreme Court decisions during the past three decades, the opinions of Story and Kent continue in some degree to affect court rulings on public morality.

Not an Establishment of Religion

Did Story and Kent imply that an establishment of religion existed in the United States? Not so: both jurists strongly expressed their approval of the separation of church and state. In 1813, touching upon the practice of the New England Puritans, Story denounced (and somewhat misrepresented) the Puritan error of "the necessity of a union between church and state." In his Commentaries, he remarked that "Half the calamities with which the human race have been scourged have arisen from the union of Church and State." And in Vidal v. Girard's Executor, Story noted in his decision that "although Christianity may be a part of the common law of the State, yet it is so in this qualified sense, that its divine origin and truth are admitted, therefore it is not to be maliciously and openly reviled and blasphemed against, to the annoyance of believers or the injury of the public. " In a letter to Story, Kent expressed his full concurrence in the Vidal decision.

In effect, Story and Kent tell us that Christianity is not the law of the land in the sense that Christian teachings might be enforced upon the general public as if they were articles in a code; Story and Kent had no intention of emulating in the nineteenth century the Geneva Men's ambition to resurrect the laws of the Jews. Rather, the two great American commentators point out that Christian moral postulates are intricately woven into the fabric of the common law, and cannot be dispensed with, there being no substitute for them in ethical concerns; and that the Christian religion, as the generally recognized faith (in one profession or another) of the American people, is protected against abuse by defamers, that the peace may be kept and the common good advanced.

It is not Christianity as an exclusive creed, but rather Christianity as the Western, or English, or American form of what C. S. Lewis calls the Tao, or the underlying morality of natural law, which is a source of common law and of jurisprudence. Story and Kent affirmed their belief in the Christian connection with common law, and their belief in the need for separation of church and state—without lack of consistency.

The relationship of federal and state governments to Christian belief, as implied in the first clause of the First Amendment, was taken up by Story in his Commentaries:

"It was impossible that there should not arise perpetual strife and perpetual jealousy on the subject of ecclesiastical ascendency, if the national government were left free to create a religious establishment. The only security was in extirpating the power…

"Probably at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and of the amendment to it now under consideration, the general if not the universal sentiment in America was that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation."

Even Douglas Bowed

There is no national establishment of religion, but the American governments acknowledge the benefits of religion and desire to encourage religious faith—this, Joseph Story's view, remained the general consensus of the Supreme Court of the United States, with few and partial exceptions, until very recent years. Justice William O. Douglas wrote in the Zorach case (1952):

"We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. We guarantee the freedom to worship as one chooses. We make room for as wide a variety of beliefs and creeds as the spiritual needs of man deem necessary. We sponsor an attitude on the part of government that shows no partiality to any one group and that lets each flourish according to the zeal of its adherents and the appeal of its dogma... To hold (that government may not encourage religious instruction) would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe…But we find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence."

It will be noted that Justice Douglas referred to religion in general, rather than to the Christian religion in particular; American pluralism had grown more diverse with the passage of more than a century. But also it should be noted that so late as the Zorach case, even the more liberal justices of the Supreme Court did not interpret the "wall of separation" doctrine (a phrase that originated in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson, not in any public document) as a declaration of hostility against Christian churches. Story and Kent were heard, at least through echoes, as late as a quarter of a century ago.

A less amicable relationship between state and church has been developing since 1952—although it is true that a series of recent decisions by the United States Supreme Court, somewhat dogmatically reaffirming the separation of church and state, have the beneficial effect of securing church schools and churches themselves against various attempts at direction by the agencies of the federal government or of the several states.

What we call "law" does not exist in an intellectual and moral vacuum. To cut off law from its ethical sources is to strike a baleful blow at the rule of law. Yet such blows are inflicted upon the law today—ordinarily in the names of liberation and modernity.

Apollo vs. Dionysius

The wisest brief treatise on the present plight of the law with which I am acquainted is the Cardozo Lecture delivered in 1962 by Huntington Cairns, entitled Law and Its Premises. Dr. Cairns emphasizes that the forces of order, symbolized in ancient times by the god Apollo, are attacked in every age by the forces of license, symbolized by the god Dionysius. In our time, that struggle affects the whole of the law.

"From the beginnings of Western thought," Cairns writes, "law has been a field of knowledge derived from a larger whole, the understanding of which has been held to be indispensable to any effort to reach the standards applicable to human affairs. At the same time, there has been a volitional element in the legal process stemming from the contrary view that law is not derived from a larger whole; man devises his own standards and law need not be understood in terms of any ultimate order. These two ways of seeing law are in conflict today, and the consequences of this conflict in the long run could be fatal."

In this contest during the present century, the Dionysian powers are those influences that would sweep away altogether any influence of Christian postulates—along with classical wisdom—upon modern law; and the Apollonian powers set their faces against this emasculation of the law. Christian belief is not the only source of ethical principle behind our laws; but it is the most powerful and popular source. If all connection between the Christian religion and the verdicts of courts of law is severed in this country, the law must become erratic and unpredictable at best (when it is supposed to be regular in its operation), and tyrannical rather than protective.

Some moral convictions must be the foundation of any system of law. In this country, were the Christian postulates swept away, by what moral principles might they be supplanted? Not by the amorphous notions labelled "liberalism," now thoroughly unpopular, called by Santayana "a mere adventitious phase. " No. the Christian moral understanding presumably could yield, in the long run, only to the commandments of the Savage God—enforced by some Rough Beast, his hour come round at last.

What Is Man?

How will this struggle over the nature of law, with the followers of Apollo on one side and the votaries of Dionysius on the other, be terminated? Will the Christian sources of the law be effaced quite speedily—as already they have been in eastern Europe—or will the Christian moral imagination and right reason rise up again in strength, even in our courts of law? No man can say. It would be easy to accept, with the Eastern sages in Chesterton's poem The Ballad of the White Horse, "the inevitability of gradualism"—that is, the steady diminishing of religious remnants and the steady advance of the Dionysian. Yet that cannot be the way of the Cross.

"The men of the East may spell the stars,
And times and triumphs mark,
But men signed of the cross of Christ
Go gaily in the dark.

"Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?"

In the domain of the law today, as in all other realms of human endeavor, there is waged a battle between those who believe that we human creatures are made in the image of a Creator, and those who believe that you and I are not much more than fleshly computers. Even within the courts of law, created to help keep the peace, this war is fought to the knife.

Witness to the truth, my friends, and go gaily in the dark wood of our twentieth century.

Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Russell Kirk on "The Courage to Affirm"

The following Commencement Address was delivered by Dr. Russell Kirk to the Class of 1985 at Hillsdale College. It serves as a refreshing reminder to all of us whose graduation days are long past that we are continually on the verge of new stages in our own lives; that we make and remake our commitment to preserving what T. S. Eliot called "the permanent things" all of the time, and so our futures are just as bright and as full of possibility as the futures of the Class of 1985.

In this stubborn old college and at this pleasant old town of Hillsdale, the young ladies and gentlemen who are being graduated today have enjoyed four years of sanctuary from the hurly-burly of our era; four years of immunity from the violence and fraud of an age that some call "the post-Christian era." That four-year interval of relative quiet made possible the liberal education of the graduates of 1985.

The tranquillity of your Hillsdale years, ladies and gentlemen of the graduating class, is ended for most of you by this commencement: you are commencing the active life. As Aristotle instructs us, the end of man is an action. But it is the tranquillity of the college years that makes possible effective action throughout the lifetime of a graduate.

For the sort of education which most profoundly affects the civil social order, in the long run, is a schooling that lifts the student above ephemeral concerns. The function of the college is not to rouse young people to revolt against the nature of things, but rather to acquaint them with the wisdom of our ancestors. The function of the college is not to promulgate an impractical ideal of human perfectibility, but rather to teach what Unamuno called the tragic sense of life—the greatness and the fallibility of human beings. The function of the college is not to inflame the passions, but rather to lead the rising generation toward right reason.

It never was the duty of Hillsdale College to make its students wise, but only to point out the ways toward wisdom. Hillsdale College has put a walking-stick into the hands of its graduates. What road they choose will depend upon their degree of belief in certain affirmations that Hillsdale College has endeavored to teach.

At Hillsdale, ladies and gentlemen of the graduating class, you have known four years of academic leisure. These years may not have seemed leisurely to you; yet during that time you have had more opportunity for reading books and reflecting upon what T. S. Eliot calls "the permanent things" than most of you will have hereafter. If you have employed that leisure well—and leisure, true leisure, is a world away from idleness—now you can begin to make your mark in the world during the closing years of the twentieth century.

That world, beyond American frontiers, grows daily rougher; it may grow rougher in this country too. Some graduates present here today may find that sacrifices are required of them. I mean that some may be required to venture much—even life—for the sake of the permanent things. The enemies of the permanent things are in arms today, and they will bear down some of the friends of enduring truth. Yet, as Eliot wrote once, there are no lost causes, because there are no gained causes. In every age, we wage afresh the battle between the forces of order and of disorder. Some present here today will move from success to success. Some of this day's graduates will encounter defeat, whatever their valor. Win or lose personally, if one lives a life of affirmation, he helps to redeem the time.

Nowadays it often requires courage to stand up for the permanent things: to affirm that there exist standards worth preserving, to defend those laws that make possible order and justice and freedom, to witness to the truth. I trust that the graduates of Hillsdale College, defying fad and foible, will find the courage to affirm.

Hillsdale has been a college of affirmations. During the turbulent sixties and seventies, students at nearly all universities and colleges were exhorted—even by commencement speakers—to protest! protest against all things established! But the students of Hillsdale then refused to run with those hounds, and the event has justified Hillsdale.

Yet there exists a form of protest worthy of praise; and that is protest against the enemies of the permanent' things. To protest eloquently against the destruction of the moral order and the social order is an act of courage and piety in our day. That sort of protest against the enemies of order and justice and freedom has been heard at Hillsdale, and to some effect. So permit me some brief remarks concerning rightful protest in this age when often it seems as if the fountains of the great deep had broken up.

If we protest, it ought to be a protest arising out of love, and not out of hatred; that protest ought to be an affirmation that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

That protest ought to be an affirmation of the dignity of man, not an appeal to primitive impulse.

That protest ought to be an affirmation of the ties of family and community, not an enthusiasm for centralized power or for the overthrow of private and public affections.

That protest ought to be an affirmation of the goodness of God's creation, not a denunciation of the life-impulse.

That protest ought to be temperate and patient, not an inciting to violence.

That protest ought to be undertaken in humility, not in the self-righteousness of the Pharisee.

That protest ought to reunite the generations and the classes, rather than becoming a declaration of war to the knife.

That protest ought to ask for the recognition of moral authority, and not for the casting of every person upon his private petty resources of intellect and appetite.

And that protest ought to be promulgated in the name of the permanent things, rather than being a shriek amidst the winds of doctrine.

Protest which ignores these aims and limits is no better than the howl of the fanatic. That howl echoes through the world today; it has been raised recently upon some campuses, in crazy protest against the President's visit to a German graveyard, in frantic demand that South Africa be reduced to the happy condition of Uganda or Chad. Before the stony idols of Unreason and Devastation, the modern mob bows down. Unreason often seems fashionably clever, and Devastation has its charms for the bored and the hopeless. It requires courage to speak up for the truth, in this time of troubles which is our age.

In revolutionary times, Tocqueville says, madness may not be a handicap; indeed, it may become a positive advantage, leading to a temporary success. But the ephemeral triumph of the eccentric in politics and morals is the ruin of the permanent things, and perhaps the destruction of us all.

With courage, then, let us protest against the follies of the time; let us affirm that you and I are part of a great continuity and essence, joining the dead, the living, and those who are yet unborn. But in finding courage to affirm the truth of the permanent things, let us abjure the fell power of ideology.

This word "ideology" does not mean political theory, or political principle. It means political fanaticism: obsession with rigorous and merciless political dogmas. The ideologues are the men whom the historian Burckhardt calls "the terrible simplifiers."

Coined in the first years of the nineteenth century, this word "ideology" signifies the notion that mankind can be governed by abstract political formulas, regardless of a people's historical experience, and notwithstanding the complexity of human affairs. Ideology is the negation of politics as the art of the possible. The ideologue sets up a sham religion and promises salvation—not salvation through grace in death, but salvation here and now, through violent revolution. The ideologue cries, "Follow me, and I will lead you to the Earthly Paradise!" But no Earthly Paradise exists, or can exist. It is entirely possible, nevertheless, to contrive an Earthly Hell. Once in power, the ideologue becomes the humanitarian with the guillotine. For this ideologue, in the line of George Orwell, is the man who "thinks in slogans and talks in bullets."

The ideologue affirms a set of fanatic abstractions. But the friend of the permanent things affirms faith in the long experience of mankind, under God. He has the courage to affirm that much in our civilization is worth sacrificing for. Let me suggest some of these permanent things defended by people who know that we were not born yesterday.

The friend of the permanent things affirms that life is worth living, whatever life's tribulations; that being is better than non-being.

He affirms that we profit mightily from the wisdom of our ancestors; and that if we are wise in our generation, it is only because we draw upon the intellectual and moral capital of past generations.

He affirms that the political system under which we live, here in America, is in essence a good and just order, out of which arises our freedom; that no ideologue could create a better pattern of politics than the pattern we have developed in our historical experience.

He affirms that our prosperous economy is the result of private property and economic liberty, and that the ideologue would reduce us to poverty and servitude.

He affirms that we improve our civil social order through the exercise of right reason and moral imagination, not through hatred and violence.

He affirms that our moral order is the product of the blended wisdom of prophets and philosophers, and is sustained by many centuries of trial; that no ideologue's fanciful scheme of moral perfection can supplant successfully the moral ideas and customs which are interwoven with our whole culture.

He affirms that civilization is better than savagery, and that the truly human person is something higher than the beasts that perish.

To affirm such truths, in a time of passion, may not make the friend of the permanent things popular; yet that affirmation makes him a power for good. If some of us do not courageously affirm these truths, the order of the soul and the order of the republic must decay.

So it is you whom I attest, this year's graduates of Hillsdale College. I pray that you may find the courage to affirm your faith in the permanent things, and to resist steadfastly the grim powers of political fanaticism and moral dissolution. In your work and by your example, all of you can accomplish much to redeem the time.

The revolutionary ideologue, having laid waste the gardens of this world, marches with his dupes at his back straight into the madhouse; and the gates clang shut behind them. But I think that few Hillsdale graduates will follow the ideologue. Life is for action, indeed; your own action is only beginning; and I do wish you all Godspeed in a work of intellectual and moral and social recovery. If you find the courage to affirm, there may not be said of our nation and our civilization what has been said of so many others: "And that house fell; and great was the fall of that house."

You are prepared to affirm some truths; for if you have been tolerably attentive during your Hillsdale years, and have studied reasonably well, you have learnt something of the body of knowledge most relevant to our time of troubles. Human nature being a constant, the most relevant things are discerned by men and women of genius in many different times and countries. The thought of St. Augustine or of Pascal, for instance, is far more relevant to the concerns of our time than is the typical neoterist course in "non-Western studies." The calm analysis of Tocqueville is more relevant to our present discontents than are the antics of the latest demagogue taken up by the mass media. Those who immerse themselves in the mere process of this month's events become the prisoners of time and circumstance.

Your more frequent memories of Hillsdale College, ladies and gentlemen, may conjure up images of talking and courting, of walking streets lined with fine trees, of games won, of curious old houses and professorial oddities, of the whole atmosphere of a venerable college on a humane scale. You will do well to recall such experiences and sensations, now not to be encountered on the typical mass-campus to which the average American undergraduate is condemned. You have been given four years of happy opportunity to form your mind and your character, under circumstances that have become unusual.

Yet beyond all these pleasures and sentiments, Hillsdale College has held out to you the possibility of becoming a full human being. I mean that Hillsdale offered you the opportunity to acquire what Aristotle called "intellectual virtue": that is, true strength of mind. To some degree, if you are being graduated today, you accepted that opportunity and disciplined your intellect. You may forget the details of much that you were taught by your professors or in books; but almost certainly you will retain something of what Newman called "a philosophical habit of mind." That is Hillsdale's chief enduring gift to you.

So I do counsel you, ladies and gentlemen, to summon up your courage and strike more than one blow, as the years pass, on behalf of the permanent things. Armored by intellectual virtue, you may be surprised to find how much one human being can accomplish. Hillsdale is a little college in a little county town; yet conceivably Hillsdale may move mountains; for, as Napoleon Bonaparte put it, "Imagination rules mankind."

It will be through your words and your deeds that Hillsdale College works for the renewal of our heritage of order and justice and freedom. We trust that you go into the world to build up, not to pull down. Affirm strongly, ladies and gentlemen, your belief in the things that endure—affirm it here in Hillsdale, and everywhere.

Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

None Dare Call It Savagery

Plato and Aristotle by Raphael

By Kyle Bristow

Russell Kirk, a former history professor at Michigan State University and the first American to earn a doctorate of letters at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, once remarked that “Michigan State University’s chief function [is to] deprive the young people who pass through its gates of whatever prejudices and moral principles they bring with them, to send them out into the world having given them nothing in return in the way of values or understanding to help them come to terms with the realities of life.” I believe that the observation he made nearly half a century ago is as true today as it was then.

In the humanities and political science classes, students are oftentimes immersed in the ideology of cultural relativism by their professors. Cultural relativism dictates that there are no good or evil, civilized or backwards cultures, but rather, that all cultures are morally equivalent.

By asserting that the West is no better than foreign cultures, the professors who preach cultural relativism are doing a great disservice to their students. Rat-like, the haters of Western civilization gnaw at the foundation of our culture.

Is it that radical to suggest that Western civilization is superior to foreign cultures?

The West has produced great authors, such as Shakespeare, Dante, and Goethe, and has produced great musicians such as Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. Although the indigenous peoples of Africa and the Americas have produced intricate dances for pagan tribal rituals at the camp bonfire, their “art” is by any fair measure inferior to the works the West has produced.

Westerners, compared to the peoples of lesser civilizations, have an innate desire to explore and learn. Hernán Cortés, Leif Erikson, Christopher Columbus, and Marco Polo traveled vast distances in their explorations. Is it any surprise that the same civilization that produced people who explored the ends of the earth also produced the people who put mankind on the moon and sent rovers to Mars?

The brilliant minds of Westerners have invented the airplane, the automobile, and the computer; cured diseases like Polio and Smallpox; and have given the world political theories such as democracy and republicanism. Certainly an African invented peanut butter and the indigenous peoples of the Americas gave the world popcorn and chocolate, but by any fair measure, the technological innovations of the West are superior to those of lesser cultures. In fact, at the time of Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the Americas in the fifteenth century, the indigenous people there had not progressed past the Copper Age, had not even figured out how to domesticate animals, and had not even invented the wheel—they were still living in the Stone Age. Perhaps if the indigenous peoples were less interested in capturing and sacrificing people to Huitzilopochtli and cannibalizing one another, they would have made some kind of technological and societal progress.

Technology, however, is in and of itself not the defining mark of superior culture, for ordered liberty is. With the blessing of ordered liberty, the people of a civilization are able to live in peace, which allows for them to achieve prosperity.

The Greeks and Romans gave the world liberty and law, respectively. The Enlightenment gave the world the free market, liberal democracy, and the desire to come to terms with reason through a better understanding of science. Britain’s Glorious Revolution of 1688 emphasized liberty and constitutionalism. The West has a long and proud history of perfecting ordered liberty—which is something that most of the world has yet to even attempt to achieve. Totalitarianism in Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East, and socialism in South America exist because of a lack of ordered liberty.

With all the blessings that Providence has bestowed upon the Occident, Westerners have felt obliged to spread their ideals and principles to the less fortunate. Hernán Cortés, Godfrey de Bouillon, Francisco Pizarro, and countless others were dispatched by the West to introduce Christian salvation to heathen lands.

We are the heirs to a great tradition. We should be proud of who we are.

Kyle Bristow was until recently the chairman of Young Americans for Freedom chapter of Michigan State University, which had become famous due to its lively and controversial meetings under his leadership.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Mike Huckabee, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Conservative Movement

I have been wanting to write a post on the conservatism of Mike Huckabee for some time. As should be obvious to readers of this blog, I truly believe he is a very important and articulate leader of the conservative movement in this country, and will be more so in years to come.

Unfortunately, he has been the victim of calumny by a rich, ambitious charlatan who, when preparing his business plan for capturing the White House, determined that espousing conservative positions contradicting everything he previously stood for, would be the surest route to capturing the Republican nomination for President. In this pursuit, he was backed by the White House and his friends at the Club for Growth, the very people that have done the most damage to working American families through international trade agreements, the export of American jobs, open borders, and the failure to enforce US immigration laws.

The following reflection from the Catholics for Huckabee blog affirms that Mike Huckabee is the authentic conservative, standing on the shoulders of conservative pillars like Russell Kirk, Phyllis Schlafly, Pat Buchanan and Ronald Reagan.

When the debacle of the 2008 presidential election is over, authetic conservatives will begin the task of rebuilding the party and the conservative movement that this President and the internationalists at the Club for Growth have done so much to destroy.

Huckabee's CPAC speech last Saturday was clearly a watershed moment, revealing Huckabee as an authentic, old-school conservative. It was a crucial speech which managed to hit all the right buttons with his conservative audience, and finally connected the rest of the dots around this most intriguing candidate.

In a brief summary of the various factors forming his political conservatism, the former Arkansas governor mentioned his humble working-class background, his staunch Republican employer as a teen (a rare commodity in Arkansas), his desire for order amidst the growing mayhem of the '60's, and his struggle to implement conservative policies in his gubernatorial career.

Along with his personal experiences, Huckabee included some serious discussions of political issues, displaying a wide-ranging and well-developed political philosophy in the process.

Particularly comforting and a personal highlight of his speech for me, was Huckabee's reference to Phyllis Schlafly's 1964 book, A Choice, Not An Echo, which he read as a teenager. A bestseller at the time, this groundbreaking book called for the unification of the conservative movement under the leadership of Barry Goldwater, against the liberal Eastern Establishment wing of the Republican Party, whose wealth and media influence had controlled the presidential elections for years.

Phyllis Schlafly has always been a heroine of mine. A lawyer with a Master's in Political Science from Harvard, this Catholic mother of six became famous for her articulate and impassioned opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment and the feminist movement in the '70's.

It was truly heartwarming to hear Mike mention the name of this gracious and eloquent defender of traditional values, still writing columns and speaking on the radio today, at the age of 81. Her name brought back memories of all the conservative Catholic giants of two decades ago: James Likoudis, Frank Morriss, Jean Kirkpatrick, Russell Kirk, and a young Joe Sobran and Pat Buchanan. It also reminded me of pro-life Marches to our Denver capital building on windy January days, of the Eagle Forum, Gloria Steinem, Pat Schroeder, Richard Nixon and ERA bumper stickers.

Recalling the name of Phyllis Schlafly and her example of courage and resistance against the popular liberal tide was no accident. Curiously enough, Huckabee did not mention the other conservative hero whose name has been on everyone's lips these past few weeks. Instead he chose a leader whose legacy is very close to Reagan's, and who is really his feminine counterpart. A significant choice in more ways than one, perhaps.

In this momentous speech, Mike boldly planted his own conservative banner on the hilltop, an invitation for traditional conservatives to rally around. His speech is a declaration of war against the secular liberalism of McCain and a call for true conservatives to unite.

The classic conservative positions Huckabee outlined in his speech, as well as the name of Phyllis Schlafly, signalled his personal connection to the same well-grounded, consistent conservatism which has been tested and proven over the last few decades and which lives on in many corners of this nation. This kind of conservatism may not be exactly thriving in country clubs, corporate offices and the halls of Congress, but it is alive and well in the middle and working classes, in labor unions, volunteer fire departments, middle-class neighborhoods, farms, small businesses, churches and in homeschooling families and small private colleges and schools.

In other words, the conservatism of Phyllis Schlafly et al., has been kept alive by all of us who have been busy making hard choices, going against the grain, and not merely echoing the lies and empty promises that have been thrust upon us from almost every side for all these years.