Wednesday, October 06, 2010

RIP Joe Sobran

A very gifted writer and thinker was buried yesterday. His love for Shakespeare was fitting, as he was a tragic character himself, having self-admitted 'demons' offsetting his basic goodness, like Everyman.

Via AmSpecBlog, a couple of snips from a long essay published by Buckley's National Review on Conservatism.

...More and more I find myself thinking that a conservative is someone who regards this world with a basic affection, and wants to appreciate it as it is before he goes on to the always necessary work of making some rearrangements. Richard Weaver says we have no right to reform the world unless we cherish some aspects of it; and that is the attitude of many of the best conservative thinkers. Burke says that a constitution ought to be the subject of enjoyment rather than altercation.

...Michael Oakeshott speaks of "affection," "attachment," "familiarity," "happiness"; and my point is not the inane one that these are very nice things, but that Oakeshott thinks of them as considerations pertinent to political thinking. He knows what normal life is, what normal activities are, and his first thought is that politics should not disturb them.

Chesterton (who hated the conservatism of his own day) has good remarks in this vein. "It is futile to discuss reform," he says, "without reference to form." He complains of "the modern and morbid habit of always sacrificing the normal to the abnormal," ...

For some reason, we have allowed the malcontent to assume moral prestige. We praise as "ideals" what are nothing more than fantasies--a world of perpetual peace, brotherhood, justice, or any other will-o'-the-wisp that has lured men toward the Gulag.

...The malcontent can be spotted in his little habits of speech: He calls language and nationality "barriers" when the conservative, more appreciatively, recognizes them as cohesives that make social life possible. He damns as "apathy" an ordinary indifference to politics that may really be a healthy contentment. He praises as "compassion" what the conservative earthily sees as a program of collectivization. He may even assert as "rights" what tradition has regarded as wrongs.

Nothing is easier than to image some notionally "ideal" state. But we give too much credit to this debased kind of imagination, which is so ruthless when it takes itself seriously. To appreciate, on the other hand, is to imagine the real, to discover use, value, beauty, order, purpose in what already exists; and this is the kind of imagination most appropriate to creatures, who shouldn't confuse themselves with the Creator...


Only a madman, one might think, would dare to speak of changing the entire milieu -- "building a new society" -- or even to speak as if such a thing were possible. And yet this is the current political idiom. It is seriously out of touch with a set of traditions whose good effects it takes too much for granted; it fails to appreciate them, as it fails to appreciate the human situation.

A political and legal system has to be based on the moral habits of its citizens, if it is concerned with anything more than power. To say that "that government is best which governs least" is not to yearn for anarchy: it is to say that those laws are best that don't require a huge apparatus of surveillance and enforcement. The foolishness of Prohibition was that it pitted the law against deep-rooted ways of life. Socialism makes the same mistake on an even larger scale. As Burke puts it, "I cannot conceive how any man can have brought himself to that pitch of presumption, to consider his country as nothing but carte blanche, upon which he may scribble whatever he pleases."

...It is Christianity, after all, that has formed our ideas of law. To accept this fact is no more to "establish religion" than writing the laws in English is to "discriminate against" people who don't speak English. Christianity is the basis of our moral idiom. Anyone who doubts this should try to imagine imposing the U.S. Constitution on a Moslem or Hindu country. Roosting Christianity out of our political tradition is like rooting words derived from Latin out of our dictionaries. It remains embedded even when it isn't noticed. There is no real point in trying to take it out or, for that matter, to put more of it in.

...unfortunately, [the Liberal's] vocabulary is pretty much the current vocabulary of politics, and when conservatives try to debate on his terms, their philosophy tends to appear as the mirror-image of his ideology. A few years ago the two camps were debating over the putative distinction between "totalitarian" and "authoritarian" systems. Liberals treated this as a quibble, a distinction without a difference. The debate sounded abstract and technical, as if egregious incidents of torture were simply "human-rights violations."

The distinction was valid, all right: and in fact liberals have consistently observed it in practice themselves, by preferring the totalitarian to the authoritarian, the Soviet Union an Cuba to South Africa and Chile. But conservatives failed to make the more serious and central point that the real difference between the authoritarian and the totalitarian is the difference between the bearable and the unbearable.

There is a great deal more at the link, all just as demanding of reflection and .....dare we say it?...Conservatism.

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