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Who Are the Conservatives?

Just off Central Park, in New York, a friend of mine lives in a brownstone house that has fallen upon evil days and is cut up into little apartments. The Puerto Ricans are moving down this way from Harlem, nowadays, and a dozen families of them have occupied the house next to my friend's. Their radios blare all night; their beer-bottles crash down the dumb-waiter all day; through my friend's windows comes an incessant medley of screams, curses, snatches of song, and shrill laughter. All this neighborhood will be a slum, before long. But my friend, who cannot afford to pay a higher rent elsewhere without giving up books and certain other touches of civilization, stays on. His apartment is an island of order in this Babel, for he and his family have resources not subject to time and place. They have educated themselves humanely, and do something to preserve the decent draperies of traditional life in a topsy-turvy world. The American thinker whom my friend admires most is Irving Babbitt, perhaps the strongest conservative author in the whole range of modern American letters. For my friend is an enlightened conservative; and he is also a truck-driver. Another friend of mine is an old-fashioned manufacturer. A religious man, he has a strong will and a strong mind, and a strong respect for the pagan and the Christian virtues. By long experience of the world, he has learnt the true meaning of justice, which is this: "Give to each man the things which nature fits him for." He is not a sentimentalist nor an equalitarian, but he is a generous and honest man. Familiarity with contracts has taught him the necessity for the reign of law. He knows that thrift, diligence, and intelligence deserve their proper rewards, and that any society which denies this presently will cease to be a just society, or to exist at all. Wiser than most educationists, he knows that society is not a machine, to be tinkered with at a whim; society, instead, is a delicate growth, kept in tolerable health only because some conscientious men, ordinarily few in number, devote their lives to conserving the complicated general ideas and political institutions and economic methods which we have inherited from our ancestors. His practicality informs him that slogans like "human rights" and "absolute liberty" and "social justice" and "fair shares for all" do not have any meaning unless they are attached to particular proposals: he distrusts the abstractions of liberalism. My friend, in short, is a working conservative. A third friend of mine-I am going to describe only three-is a farmer with a face like leather, who owns eighty or a hundred acres of stony ground, on which, by much exertion, he raises potatoes and beans and cucumbers, and keeps a few cows. Intensely independent in character, he resents any endeavor to convert him into another sort of man than the being he is by nature and circumstance. He wants to live as his father lived before him, and to bring up his children in his own steps. He is well enough satisfied with the cabin that always has been his home. He knows that it is highly imprudent to disturb a thing that is at rest; he has a suspicion of most change, although he understands that society, like the soil, can grow sterile from lack of cultivation. But he is convinced that certain moral axioms never can be cast aside with impunity, and that a mysterious continuity guides the destinies of men, as surely as the seasons follow their cycle. A hater of centralization, a lover of old habits and old stories, in his little community he stands out with some success against the ascendancy of the mass-mind and against the threatened conversion of society into a mere state-supervised economic operation, rather than a way of living. He understands the idea of the Republic, a government of laws and not of men, and would confine the operation of government within prescriptive bounds. Although my farmer-friend is not much read in political theory, and probably could not express his social principles in any very coherent summary, still he is a reflective and genuine conservative.* Now most truck-drivers and manufacturers and farmers do not possess the will and intelligence of these three friends of mine. If they did, preserving justice and freedom in our society would not be so alarming a problem. But the point I am endeavoring to make is just this: the people whom we call "conservative" are not restricted to any social class or any economic occupation or any level of formal education. Some are physicians, and some engine-drivers, and some professors, and some clerks, and some bankers, and some clergymen, and some die-makers, and some soldiers. In a popular magazine, recently, I * A well-known scholar active in liberal causes, in a public discussion with me, objected that my truck driver would be more convincing if he read Faulkner-as if, like most liberals, I lived in a world of abstractions and idealizations, and had invented my friend, instead of describing an actual person. In simple fact, for that matter, men who live close to the anarchy that bubbles just under the surface of our modern life have no fondness for fictional violence, if they have any power of mind; thev know it too well at first hand to romanticize it. And my critic also objected in passing to my reference to the Puerto Ricans and their habits, apparently on the humanitarian liberal theory that it is unjust to remark the failings of anyone but the leaders of society. Anyone familiar with the living hell of Spanish Harlem, however, will not long remain under the delusion that social corruption may be amended by flattery and "abolishing segregation." How Munis or Ruskin would have despised the modern American sentimental liberal noticed a passing reference to "the rich conservatives, the well-off liberals, and the poor laboring men." This notion is nonsense. Some millionaires are fanatically radical, and some working men are fiercely conservative, and the well-to-do may be anything under the sun. Conservatism and liberalism and radicalism are states of mind, not of the pocketbook. The United States, throughout most of our history, have been a nation substantially conservative, though rich men have exerted less direct influence upon government here than almost anywhere else in the world. Conservatism is something more than mere solicitude for tidy incomes. Conservatism, indeed, is a word with an old and honorable meaning-but a meaning almost forgotten by Americans for some years. Even today, although there are many men of conservative prejudices active in national and state politics, few are eager to describe themselves as "conservatives." The people of the United States became the chief conservative nation of the world at the very time when they had ceased to call themselves conservatives at home. For a generation, the word "liberal" had been in fashion, particularly in universities and among journalists. The liberal, in American parlance, has been a man in love with constant change; often he has been influenced directly by the group of ideas called pragmatism and the writings of John Dewey; commonly the liberal has tended to despise the lessons of the past and to look forward confidently to a vista of endless material progress, in which the state will play a larger and larger role, and a general equality of condition will be enforced. This liberal now is a distraught and frightened man, incapable either of serious leadership or serious criticism. It is time for people who know they are not liberals or radicals to ask themselves just what they do believe, and what they must call themselves. The traditional system of ideas opposed to liberalism and radicalism is the conservative belief. Already the words "conservative" and "conservatism" are being employed as terms of praise in the popular press and by serious critics of society, and books by conservative writers are receiving an attention that they have been denied most of this century. In politics, as in physics, it is scarcely possible to make progress until you have defined your terms. What is conservatism? Who are the conservatives? Aristotle was a conservative, and so was Cicero, and there have been intelligent conservatives in every age. John Stuart Mill, a century ago, called conservatives "the stupid party." But the conservatives have outlasted their enemies, or most of their enemies. Modern conservatism, as a regular body of ideas, took form about the beginning of the French Revolution. In England, the founder of true conservatism was Burke, whose Reflections on the Revolution in France turned the tide of opinion against the leveling and destructive impulse of the French revolutionaries. In America, the founders of the Republic had no desire to turn society upside down; and in their writings, particularly in the works of John Adams and in the Federalist Papers, we find a sober conservatism built upon an understanding of history and of human nature. I think a very brief review of the chief sources of modern conservative principles will be of service here. Historically considered, modern conservatism is a protest against the delusions and excesses of the modern revolutionary impulse, which Mr. D. M. Brogan has described so somberly in The Trice of Revolution. It is an error to look upon the American War of Independence as the first of the terrible revolutions of the modern era; for our "Revolution" was a movement intended to preserve the traditions of American society against the innovation of George III and his friends, not to create a new order in the thirteen colonies. The French Revolution, instead, with its contempt for social continuity and its exaltation of abstract doctrines, ushered in the disorder which has brought Western society-and now nearly all the world- so close to destruction. "Conservatism" was not a political term until the early years of the nineteenth century, when first Continental thinkers like Guizot, and presently English writers, began to employ it to describe those principles of social and moral order which had been so powerfully expounded by Burke in his Reflections. When the Bastille fell, Burke was sixty years old, a party leader who had been out of office most of his career, an orator celebrated for his espousal of liberal causes. His Irish vehemence of character, which had enabled him to overwhelm George III and his supporters with splendid scornful imagery, at this juncture was directed against W T arren Hastings, the conqueror and plunderer of India. Burke never had hesitated to assail the powerful, or to defend the weak, or to oppose the strength of his high imagination to established interests, if he thought established interests unjust. His chief constructive measure had been the Economical Reform, which mightily amended the structure and operation of the governmental machine in despite of everything that placeholders and royal influence could do to prevent it. He had been the most outspoken champion of the Irish Catholics, zealous to free them from the cruel disabilities under which they labored. He had insisted, when first he rose to eminence in the House of Commons, that Americans possessed both the rights of Englishmen and the rights which they had acquired in the history of their colonial experience. He had steadfastly opposed all policies calculated to reduce private liberties, to centralize authority, or to diminish the prerogatives of Parliament. His generous sympathies for the ancient rights of civilized men extended far beyond England and Ireland, to Canada and Madras. Incorruptible in private and public life, Burke was not a rich man, nor was he of high birth. Even his own party-let alone the English crown -never had properly rewarded his courage, his brilliance, his scholarship, and his energy. It seemed to many of the leaders of liberal opinion in revolutionary France, therefore-to Mira-beau and Kloots and a young gentleman named Dupont, to Thomas Paine and other Englishmen-that Burke, more than any other English political leader, was admirably calculated to head in Britain a radical movement of reform on French principles. But the revolutionary liberals reckoned without their man. Paine, Kloots, and Dupont all had visited Burke at Beacons-field, and had enjoyed his kindnesses; and all three wrote to him, in 1789, in the expectation that he would approve their radical alteration of French institutions. They had mistaken Burke's whole nature. He was not a man of the Enlightenment, but a generous Christian statesman, guided by the wisdom of his ancestors, and imbued with the moral and political convictions of Aristotle, Cicero, the Fathers of the Church, the Schoolmen, and the great English divines. The presumption of the Age of Reason summoned forth Burke's indignation and contempt. Endowed with a prophet's genius, he marvelously foresaw the whole course of events which would follow upon the French attempt to reconstruct society after an abstract pattern. The Revolution, after careering fiercely through a series of stages of hysterical violence, would end in a despotism; but by that time, it would have brought down in ruin most that was lovely and noble in traditional society. Burke was resolved that England should not share in France's folly, and that the whole of the civilized world must be awakened to the menace of these abstractions of impractical speculators, which would expose mankind to the terrible cruelty of the brute that lurks beneath our unregenerate human nature, instead of conjuring up the Noble Savage of romantic literature.* Edmund Burke, much read in history and much practiced in the conduct of political affairs, knew that men are not naturally good, but are beings of mingled good and evil, kept obedient to a moral law chiefly by the force of habit and custom, which the revolutionaries would discard as so much ancient rubbish. He knew that all the advantages of the civil social existence are the product of intricate human experience over many centuries, not to be amended overnight by some coffeehouse philosopher. He knew religion to be a great benefit to mankind, and established order to be the gift of Providence, and hereditary possessions, and the mass of prescriptive beliefs which we call "prejudices." He set his face, then, against the revolutionaries like a man who of a sudden is attacked by robbers. Burke had defended the rights of the Americans because they * An influential professor of history at a great Middlewestern university, not long ago, lectured somewhat forlornly on the relevance of Burke to the problem of subversion and loyalty in our day. Burke was wrong from beginning to end in his political assumptions, and thoroughly illiberal in his opinion of the French Revolution, this professor declared; and yet somehow, the professor confessed, Burke had been right about what would come out of the Revolution, and Paine had been wrong. The professor simply could not understand it. Now this professor had been diligently endeavoring to determine, for many years, exactly how high the tide was on the night Lafayette landed in America. To what end? Why, on the assumption, I suspect, that there exists a democracy of facts, in which any fact is just as significant as any other, taken at random-the pack-rat method of historical study. And I suspect that this professor could not apprehend Burke's prescience simply because Burke possessed the higher historical imagination, and the professor did not. "Statistics is a science which ought to be honorable," says Carlyle, "the basis of many most important sciences; but ... a wise head is requisite for carrying it on. Conclusive facts are inseparable from inconclusive except by a head that already understands and knows."  were the traditional and real rights of actual men, developed through historical processes. He attacked the false concept of the Rights of Man expounded by the French speculators because he recognized in this abstract notion of rights an insensate desire to be free of all duties toward the past and toward posterity. Burke never favored revolution; he bitterly regretted the American war, and had labored for conciliation, neither repression nor revolution. And the American Revolution, after all, was (as Burke said of the triumph of William and Mary) "a revolution not made, but prevented"; it was an act of separation, but it preserved, rather than destroyed, the traditional framework of life in America. The French Revolution, on the contrary, was intended to uproot that delicate growth called society, and, if not impeded both in the realm of mind and the realm of politics, would end by subjecting all men either to anarchy or to a ruthless master. They would have lost all real rights in the pursuit of pretended abstract rights. In Parliament, Burke's high and solemn denunciation of the French Revolution at first had little effect. His own friend and fellow-leader of the Whigs, Fox, looked upon the upheaval in France as a splendid triumph of progress and liberty; while the younger Pitt, then in power, thought the eclipse of the French monarchy more an opportunity for English advantage than a menace to established society in England. Perceiving that he must appeal from St. Stephen's Hall to the sound sense of the English public, Burke set to work writing a tremendous answer to a letter from his young French acquaintance Dupont, which soon became that book which is the foundation of conservative principles, Reflections on the Revolution in France. Dupont never saw this tremendous epistle until it was published, and then was astounded by it. The immediate effect of the Reflections was titanic. The Tories, the Portland Whigs, and some other persons began at once to perceive the terrible danger of revolution, and proceeded to that course of action which, in the long run, would crush Napoleon. Fox's Whigs, on the contrary, cried down Burke as an apostate, and the Duke of Bedford was rash enough to accuse Burke of mere self-seeking, so that he provoked Burke's crushing reply called A Letter to a Noble Lord. A flood of pamphlets in answer to Burke's great work appeared through Britain and the Continent; in the English language, the two most influential retorts were those of James Mackintosh and Thomas Paine. Mackintosh, as the Revolution progressed, admitted that Burke had been wholly right, and became one of Burke's own disciples; and though Paine never disavowed his own radicalism, his narrow escape from the guillotine in Paris was sufficient refutation of his early high hopes for French liberty and justice. Burke, Paine said, pitied the plumage but forgot the dying bird: When we see a man dramatically lamenting in a publication intended to be believed that "The age of chivalry is gone! that The glory of Europe is extinguished forever! that The unbought grace of life (if anyone knows what it is), the cheap defense of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is goner and all this because the Quixot age of chivalry nonsense is gone, what opinion can we form of his judgment, or what regard can we pay to his facts? In the rhapsody of his imagination he has discovered a world of wind mills, and his sorrows are that there are no Quixots to attack them. But if the age of aristocracy, like that of chivalry, should fall (and they had originally some connection), Mr. Burke, the trumpeter of the order, may continue his parody to the end, and finish with exclaiming: "Othello's occupation's gone!" This passage is from The Age of Reason. In the minds of liberals as well as the minds of conservatives, from Woodrow Wilson to Harold Laski, from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Paul Elmer More, Burke vanquished Paine in this great debate; and certainly he won the immense majority of his countrymen, so that Britain turned all her energies to the defeat of revolutionary violence. That leadership which is inspired by honor, that love of things established which grows out of a high veneration of the wisdom of our ancestors, that profound sagacity which reconciles necessary change with the best in the old order-these things Burke knew to be infinitely superior to all the pretended Rights of Alan that Paine extolled; and British and American society, at least, have been incalculably influenced by Burke ever since the Reflections was published in 1790. On first examination, the Reflections may seem to be a chaotic book; but really it is nothing of the sort. Burke "winds into his subject like a serpent," blending history with principle, splendid imagery with profound practical aphorisms. All his life, he detested "abstractions"-that is, speculative notions with no secure foundation in history or in knowledge of true human character. What Burke is doing in this book, then, is setting forth a system of "principles"-by which he means general truths deduced from the wisdom of our ancestors, practical experience, and a knowledge of the human heart. He never indulges in "pure" philosophy because he will not admit that the statesman has any right to look at man in the abstract, rather than at particular men in particular circumstances. To understand the greatness of Burke's book, one must read it through, and that with the closest of attention. Written at white heat, the Reflections burns with all the wrath and anguish of a prophet who saw the traditions of Christendom and the fabric of the civil social order dissolving before his eyes. Yet his words are suffused with a keenness of observation and a high wisdom which are the marks of an accomplished statesman. This book is polemic at its most overwhelming strength, an undying work of political philosophy, and one of the most influential tracts in the history of civilization. Today its pertinence is greater, whether for conservative or liberal (Burke himself was both), than it was forty years ago. The revolution of our times has dissipated the shallow optimism of the early years of the twentieth century, and we now perceive in the Russian Revolution the counterpart, still more terrible, of the French Revolution; and we behold in the grinding tyranny of the Soviets the full realization of Burke's prophecies. Having broken with all the old sanctions to integrity, Burke knew, revolutionaries must come down to force and terror, the only influences which suffice to govern a society that repudiates the conservative principles of veneration and prudence. The spirit of religion and the spirit of a gentleman, Burke tells us, gave to modern Europe everything generous and lovely in our culture. A speculative system which detests both piety and just order speedily will repudiate even the pretended affection for equality which gives that system its initial appeal to the masses. "To them, the will, the wish, the want, the liberty, the toil, the blood of individuals is nothing," Burke said of the French zealots. What these pretended humanitarians really sought was power; the human person was as nothing, in their fierce imagination, by the side of an abstract nationalism. In the name of liberty, every ancient freedom would be overthrown; in the name of fraternity, every atrocity excused. And the true moral equality of men would be rejected together with the religious sanction which gave it meaning. We know all too well, in the middle of the twentieth century, the dreadful accuracy of this description, which nineteenth-century optimists took for mere distempered fancy. We, to our sorrow, live in that "antagonist world" of madness and despair which Burke contrasted with the traditional order of social existence. Oliver Goldsmith once feared that Burke was giving to his party the noble talents he ought to give to mankind. In the end, it was very different, for Burke broke with party and friends and the very climate of opinion, out of "the exigencies of this tremendous reason." Only today are we coming to understand fully the nobility and the wisdom of his act. Burke knew that the Revolution in France was no simple political contest, no culmination of enlightenment, but the inception of a tremendous moral convulsion from which society would not recover until the disease, the disorder of revolt against Providence, had run its course. Burke's American influence has been incalculably pervasive, North and South. The Federalists-not only Hamilton and Ames and Dwight, but John Adams and his son, these latter somewhat against their will-learned a great deal from him. The Southern conservatism of John Randolph and Calhoun, and so in some measure Southern political opinion to the present day, is rooted in Burke. Tocquevillc, Burke's best Continental pupil, reinforced the American appreciation of Burke. "Criticism of literature as criticism of life begins, as a serious matter," Harold Laski wrote, "with James Russell Lowell"; and Lowell, like Arnold, believed Burke to be the great master of English prose and the great source of political wisdom. Ever since, social and literary criticism in the United States has borne the mark (sometimes unacknowledged) of Burke. It is plain today upon the most interesting and vigorous schools of critical thought-upon the New Criticism, upon the Thomistic circles, upon Catholic writers, upon the American humanists of Paul Elmer More's and Irving Babbitt's school, upon the Southern "agrarians." And because our own epoch is so much like that which followed the French Revolution, Burke's direct influence upon American thought is certain to grow. Yet it will not do to neglect the native American sources of our conservative ideas. The conservative tradition in America is receiving just now a respectful attention long denied it, from the age of the Mathers to the age of Elihu Root and Henry-Cabot Lodge. Much still needs to be done. Mr. Daniel Boor-stin, in his Genius of American Politics, reminds us how American conservatism has usually found its expression in a respect for juristic precedent and constitution, beginning with the Federalist Papers, rather than in an affirmation of abstract political doctrines. Such, substantially, was the conservatism of Chancellor Kent, of Calhoun, of Webster, of Alexander Stephens, of Joseph Choate, to choose some eminent names almost at random. This cast of mind has dominated the class in America which Tocqueville called our best expression of natural aristocracy-our lawyers, who from the beginning have constituted a stabilizing influence upon the American temper. Both of our early parties, the Federalists and the Republicans, were led by men whose training and mode of expression were those of Anglo-American jurisprudence, rather than of metaphysical speculation. Jefferson, despite the show of French ideas which he made from time to time, founded his idea of liberty and justice upon the writings of Coke and Karnes and the other English juridical writers, and upon the tradition of English freedom from the Anglo-Saxons down to the eighteenth century. James Madison, fundamentally conservative both at the time of the framing of the Federal Constitution and in his later years, expressed this prudent and reasoned view of human rights and duties with a high prescience. And the most vigorous and candid of American conservatives, old John Adams, anticipated Burke in a good many things, and did a great deal to establish ineradicably in Americans' minds that attachment to the division and balancing of power which has been our principal achievement in the art of just government. A thorough critical biography of that great man, incidentally, is one of the most conspicuous gaps in American literature. His demolition of the delusion that men are naturally benevolent, his historical examination of constitutional government, and his attack upon centralized power, democratic despotism, and sentimental abstraction are the best expression of the American genius for a practical politics illuminated by historical knowledge. The founders of the American Republic, knowing that theirs was a conservative task, endeavored to attain to the level of Burke's model of a statesman, who should combine a disposition to preserve with an ability to reform. "They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society," Abraham Lincoln said once, "which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere." This prudent idea, so remote from the Jacobin dream of absolute rights imposed immediately without respect for established interests and traditions, has remained ever since strong in the minds of our leading statesmen. Lincoln himself, though the object of much misplaced "liberal" adulation, was substantially a conservative, as Mr. Stanley Pargellis argues. "What is conservatism?" Lincoln asked, before he was president. "Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?" Lincoln's original allegiance was to the Whigs, then the conservative party of the United States; and, as Air. Richard Weaver observes in The Ethics of Rhetoric, "It is no accident that Lincoln became the founder of the greatest American conservative party, even if that party was debauched soon after his career ended. He did so because his method was that of the conservative." The best men in our political life usually have desired to be esteemed as conservatives; Lincoln was one, Calhoun another. Our native radical movements, like Populism, commonly have been inspired, however curiously, by certain conservative instincts. Doctrinaire socialism never has been able to win many converts among us. Our occasional professions of egalitarianism have been given the lie by our actual conduct of affairs. We have submitted ourselves with good will to the most successful conservative device in the history of government, the Federal Constitution, so that it is quite natural for us to be, nowadays, the chief conservative power among the nations. None of our great parties ever has been dominated by true radicals, and all of them always have contained real and influential conservatives. Our native conservatism extends to every class and interest in our society. We Americans were from the first a people endowed with strong conservative prejudices, immeasurably influenced by the spirit of religious veneration, firm in a traditional morality, hostile to arbitrary power whether possessed by a monarch or a mob, zealous to guard against centralization, attached to prescriptive rights, convinced of the necessity and beneficence of the institution of property. We have reason, I think, to be proud of the healthy and continuous existence of conservative principles here, for three centuries; and it is to be hoped that we will act today in the light of this long conservative development, not lusting after abstract new doctrines, whether those doctrines are called "conservative" or "liberal" or "radical." What we most require is an illumination and renewed recognition of the lofty conservative concepts and institutions which have sustained our nation. Now Mr. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., writing in the quarterly journal Confluence, remarks that "The aim of the New Conservatives is to transform conservatism from a negative philosophy of niggling and self-seeking into an affirmative movement of healing and revival, based on a living sense of human relatedness and on a dedication to public as against class interests, all to be comprehended in a serious and permanent philosophy of social and national responsibility." This is well put. It is important, however, to make sure that we do not draw certain erroneous deductions from Mr. Schlesinger's essay. First of all, true conservatism has not ordinarily been "a negative philosophy of niggling and self-seeking." Many of the people who think this are suffering from a delusion semantic and historical in its sources. Such notions continue to prevail even among professors of history and politics, so that to them the word "conservatism" means a doctrinaire attachment to the accumulation of private wealth, an inclination toward political centralization, and a glorying in ruthless competition. But these beliefs, whether or not they are consonant with one another, are none of them articles of conservative conviction. Nor do true conservatives seek to harden the conservative impulse into a set of dogmas. They do not despise philosophy; and probably Mr. Schlesinger does not mean by "a serious and permanent philosophy" such a system of abstract doctrines as the Benthamites professed. Prudence and humility are the virtues of the successful conservative statesman, who does not mistake abstractions for principles. With these qualifications, Air. Schlesinger's summary of the aims of thinking conservatives is valuable. But Mr. Schlesinger believes that modern American conservatives suffer from impracticably and an historical confusion. One cannot trace a regular line of consistent conservative leaders in American history, he says; besides, "the New Conservatives, for all their ardent conviction that philosophy must be precipitated out of the actual circumstances of society and the concrete life of the people, remain astonishingly indifferent to the actual circumstances of American society and to the concrete life of the American people." Then, too, America never had a feudal system, and so lacks the aristocratic traditions which gave force to European conservatism. Mr. Schlesinger insists that "as feudalism was the central fact in European conservatism, so the business community must be the central fact in American conservatism." The modern conservatives either must align themselves with the industrialists, therefore, he continues, or else with what he calls "the party of the people" (at present, it appears, the minority party). "The true obligation of the New Conservatives is to illuminate the limits and potentialities of business rule in America, and not to reproduce the agreeable but irrelevant sentiments of European conservatism." So, after all, Mr. Schlesinger slips into the errors of the Jacobins-especially the Jacobin passion for simplicity. The dominant aspiration of the French revolutionaries was for simplicity of structure and concept; it was no mere coincidence that they detested Gothic architecture. And Mr. Schlesinger, in his desire to reduce the complexity of American politics to black-and-white abstractions, lops away from his concept of the antagonist forces in our country every branch or twig that does not suit his a priori system, so that when he has finished, we are left with the Hard, Practical Industrialist confronting the Civil-Liberties, Democratic Liberal. This tableau is impossibly fanciful. First of all, Mr. Schlesinger has confused the Conservatives (who did not exist before 1790, and did not take the name for more than two decades after that) with the Tories; then he has supposed the conservative interest to have been identical with the interest of the landed proprietors in England and Europe, which it never was; then he has quite ignored the conservative interest in America which came from roots very different from mere love of material aggrandizement; then he has eliminated from consideration the conservatives in the Democratic party; then he has implied that the thinking conservatives-unlike Harvard professors-know nothing of real life in  these United States; and at last, after such a series of ingenuous bounds, he leaves us with the interesting alternatives of serving Mammon or serving The People. Now, in sober reality, conservatives are not merely a sect of political economists, but rather a number of persons, of all classes and occupations, whose view of life is reverential, and who tend to be guided by the wisdom of their ancestors, instead of abstract speculation. To attempt to identify the true conservative with the hard-headed man of business is to substitute what sociologists love to call a "stereotype" for careful analysis of American society-in short, it is an error precisely of the sort which Mr. Schlesinger attributes to the conservative writers. The American businessman is a being caricatured in-sensately by both his enemies and his friends. Far from the existence of a "business rule" in the American Republic, the fact is that the vast majority of American industrialists and entrepreneurs, preoccupied with the intricacies of production, decline to take any substantial interest in politics, and constitute no coherent body of opinion; they are not "conservative" or "liberal" or "radical," but simply busy. And if all men of business should turn political philosophers, or even political managers, next week, we should all be ruined. Someone has to do the world's work; the man of business, by definition, is not a man of leisure; and although I hope we may count upon his intelligent support, increasingly, of a reflective conservatism, we should be silly to expect him to lead us in politics. Besides, he is not trying to lead; he is desperately anxious to follow, if he can follow with confidence; and if sometimes he follows the demagogue and the charlatan, it is because he errs in judgment, more than in heart. And important though the support of manufacturers and bankers and retailers is to the conservative cause, the businessman does not stand alone as a buttress of the conservative interest. The American farmer generally is conservative; and the skilled craftsman; and the lawyer; and the man who goes to church; and the man who owns a house; and a great complex of other groups and interests and occupations, joined in a common conservative belief out of their understanding that they are all safe together within American political traditions and American moral prejudices. "We are told that a working-man cannot be conservative," Disraeli said in 1874, "because he has nothing to conserve-he has neither land nor capital; as if there were not other things in the world as precious as land and capital!" The working-man, in a free society, has liberty, security of person and home, equal protection of the laws, the right to the fruit of his industry, and opportunity to do the best that is in him. "Surely these are privileges worthy of being preserved! . . . And if that be the case, is it wonderful that the working classes are conservative?" Eighty years later, Disraeli's words ring true. The American working-man rarely is a radical. For the principles of conservatism are not simply economic doctrines, and they are not confined to the interests of a single class. They are intended to shelter the rights and the hopes of everyone in society. If we adhere to the wisdom of our ancestors and to the rights which society has acquired through the trial of centuries, Burke said in his reply to the Duke of Bedford, then we all are safe together, rich and poor, the powerful and the humble. But if we once sweep away our established ways of living together, the path is opened for any ruthless adventurer or knot of unscrupulous men to plunder society. Precisely this happened in France in Burke's time, and has happened in half the world during our century. Conservatism, then, is not simply the concern of the people who have a great deal of property and influence: it is a social concept important to everyone who desires equal justice and personal freedom and all the lovable old ways of humanity.   Conservatism is not simply a defense of "capitalism," the abstraction of Marx. The true conservative does defend private enterprise stoutly; and one of the reasons why he cherishes it is that private enterprise is the only really practicable system, in the modern world, for satisfying our economic wants; but more even than this, he defends private enterprise as a means to an end. That end is a society just and free, in which every man has a right to what is his own, and to what he inherits from his father, and to the rewards of his own ability and industry; a society which cherishes variety and individuality, and rises superior to the dreary plain of socialism. A conservative society enables men to be truly human persons, not mere specks in a collective tapioca-pudding society; it respects their dignity as persons-or, as Chesterton put it, the right of every man to be "his own potty little self." Strong though the conservative tradition is in America, it will not suffice for us simply to express a vague opposition to collectivism if, at the same time, conservatives allow the enemies of traditional society to obtain control over the instruments of political and economic survival. Centralization, extension of the economic functions of government, the increase of taxation and national debts, the decay of family-life and local association, and the employment of state education to enforce uniformity of character and opinion-these influences, and others, are at work among us with dreadful power. We are just beginning to make our way back to the first principles of politics and ethics. The conservative instinct of America, just now reawakening, must draw its vigor from everyone who believes in enduring truth, in liberty under law, and in the political and economic institutions essential to the preservation of a just and free and tranquil society. Americans have more to conserve, probably, than have any other modern people; and conservative impulses are more general among us than anywhere else. We all are partners in this gigantic incorporation of American society, whether our material share in the national partnership is large or small; the man with the smallest portion has as much right to that share as the man with the greatest possessions has to what is his own. Correspondingly, we all have the duty of standing by our common heritage of the Republic. The majority of conservatives, in every country, always have been men of slender means and obscure station. These conservatives are not devoted primarily to "free competition" or "the American standard of living," valuable though those possessions may be. What gives the true conservative his strength in our time of troubles is his belief in a moral order which joins all classes in a common purpose, and through which men may live in justice and liberty. It is high time that the leaders of political conservatism began to speak in terms of ethics, of right and wrong. If they do so, they will find that they enjoy a free field, for their liberal and radical adversaries are morally bankrupt in this fateful year. The American conservative, priding himself upon his old antipathy toward abstraction, ought to endeavor to define his own terms. Precisely what is the essence of our American conservatism? I think that the old conservative character of the American nation is marked by these qualities: (1) A belief in an order that is more than human, which has implanted in man a character of mingled good and evil, susceptible of improvement only by an inner working, not by mundane schemes for perfectibility. This conviction lies at the heart of American respect for the past, as the record of Providential purpose. The conservative mind is suffused with veneration. Men and nations, the conservative believes, are governed by moral laws; and political problems, at bottom, are moral and religious problems. An eternal chain of duty links  the generations that are dead, and the generation that is living now, and the generations yet to be born. We have no right, in this brief existence of ours, to alter irrevocably the shape of things, in contempt of our ancestors and of the rights of posterity. Politics is the art of apprehending and applying the Justice which stands above statutory law. (2) An affection for variety and complexity and individuality, even for singularity, which has exerted a powerful check upon the political tendency toward what Tocqueville calls "democratic despotism." Variety and complexity, in the opinion of conservatives, are the high gifts of truly civilized society. The uniformity and standardization of liberal and radical planners would be the death of vitality and freedom, a life-in-death, every man precisely like his neighbor-and, like the damned of the Inferno, forever deprived of hope. (3) A conviction that justice, properly defined, means "to each the things that go with his own nature," not a leveling equality; and joined with this is a correspondent respect for private property of every sort. Civilized society requires distinctions of order, wealth, and responsibility; it cannot exist without true leadership. A free society will endeavor, indeed, to afford to men of natural abilities every opportunity to rise by their own efforts; but it will resist strenuously the radical delusion that exact equality of station and wealth can benefit everyone. Society longs for just leadership; and if people destroy natural distinctions among men, presently some Bonaparte will fill the vacuum-or worse than Bonaparte. (4) A suspicion of concentrated power, and a consequent attachment to our federal principle and to division and balancing of authority at every level of government. (5) A reliance upon private endeavor and sagacity in nearly every walk of life, together with a contempt for the abstract designs of the collectivistic reformer. But to this self-reliance, in the mind of the American conservative, is joined the conviction that in matters beyond the scope of material endeavor and the present moment, the individual tends to be foolish, but the species is wise; therefore we rely in great matters upon the wisdom of our ancestors. History is an immense storehouse of knowledge. We pay a decent respect to the moral traditions and immemorial customs of mankind; for men who ignore the past are condemned to repeat it. The conservative distrusts the radical visionary and the planner who would chop society into pieces and mould it nearer to his heart's desire. The conservative appeals beyond the fickle opinion of the hour to what Chesterton called "the democracy of the dead"-that is, the considered judgment of the wise men who died before our time. To presume that men can plan rationally the whole of existence is to expose mankind to a terrible danger from the collapse of existing institutions; for conservatives know that most men are governed, on many occasions, more by emotion than by pure reason. (6) A prejudice against organic change, a feeling that it is unwise to break radically with political prescription, an inclination to tolerate what abuses may exist in present institutions out of a practical acquaintance with the violent and unpredictable nature of doctrinaire reform. American character being complex, along with these conservative threads are woven certain innovating and even radical threads. It is true, too, that national character is formed, in part, by the circumstances of history and environment, so that such a character may alter, or even grow archiac. Certain powerful influences presently at work among us are affecting this traditional character, for good or ill. It is time, nevertheless, that we acknowledged the predominantly conservative cast of the American mind, since the inception of the Republic, and time that we paid our respects to the strength and honesty of that character. We are not merely the pawns of impersonal historical influences; we have it in our power to preserve the best in our old institutions and in our old opinions, even in this era of vertiginous change; and we will do well, I think, if we endeavor to govern ourselves, in the age that is dawning, by the prescriptive values in American character which have become almost our second nature. Mr. Daniel Boorstin, in his recent study of American political institutions, suggests that the chief merit of them has been that they arose out of the peculiar circumstances of American life, rather than from abstract ideologies; and he is right. He goes on to advise us not to attempt to impose American institutions upon all the world, because one cannot transplant history; and again he is right. It does not follow, however, that we ought to leave our national institutions and character out of consideration in our foreign policy. The conspicuous defect of our course of action abroad since the end of the war against Germany and Japan seems to have been that we have endeavored to espouse and sustain a dim ideology which is neither an expression of the American experience nor a system founded upon the traditional institutions of the nations whose concerns we have busied ourselves with. We have talked windily of "democracy" and "the four freedoms" and "the permanent revolution" and similar abstractions. But we have meant, ordinarily, something very different from anything that exists in America. Too often we have commended, in Europe or Asia, the totalitarian democracy of Rousseau, or a catalog of nondescript "freedoms" impossible to attain anywhere upon earth, or the destruction of the established ways of life and thought of whole peoples, so long as that revolution was not professedly or initially "Marxist." We cannot afford to be so naive much longer. It is ridiculous, for instance, to talk of "fighting for democracy" in Indo-China when the people we support there are not democrats at all, and cannot be, in the light of history and the present condition of Indo-China. We owe ourselves and the world candor. We are not struggling to establish universal "democracy" or "capitalism" or "human rights." Our mission in the affairs of nations is not to undertake an eccentric crusade on behalf of these abstractions, but rather the practical task of repelling the menace of Soviet imperialism, and of conserving the freedom and justice and strength of the United States. Most of us are not really so arrogant as to think we have a right to remould the whole world in our image. The best we can do, toward redeeming the states of Europe and Asia from the menace of revolution and the distresses of our time, is to realize our own conservative character, suspicious of doctrinaire alteration, respectful toward history, preferring variety over uniformity, acknowledging a moral order composed of human persons, not of mere political and economic atoms subservient to the state. We have not been appointed the correctors of mankind; but, under God, we may be an example to mankind. I have heaped a great deal of praise upon conservatism, enlightened conservatism, the conservatism of honor and reflection. There exist varieties of conservatism, however-or, rather, impulses vulgarly called conservative-f or which I have no sympathy. One of these is the conservatism of mediocrity, and the other the conservatism of desolation. By the conservatism of mediocrity, I mean the concept of the juste milieu, the middle course, the excluded middle, the way of the trimmer and temporizer, pluming himself on having attained the Golden Mean when in truth he has only split the difference. Unless the conservative adheres to some enduring principles, the middle course will be wherever one extreme or the other decides to put it. If, for instance, a communist faction demands the confiscation of all property, and a "reactionary" group maintain that they do not want any of their property confiscated, it is scarcely conservative to endeavor to compromise by confiscating only half the property in question. Such an issue must be settled by an appeal to enduring justice, not by splitting the difference. The real conservative is not a devotee of "expediency," in the modern meaning of that word. Burke, it is true, often commended policies of "expedience"; but what he meant was prudence, the avoidance of applying abstract a priori doctrines regardless of particular circumstances. Nor is the real conservative a pragmatist. Mr. C. Hartley Grattan, some few years ago, commended a certain Republican senator as a "pragmatic conservative." But there is no such animal. Pragmatism, in the meaning it has acquired from its adoption by Peirce, William James, and John Dewey, is the policy of judging all things purely from the standpoint of how they "work"-that is, simply in the light of present experience, in contempt of tradition and the past, and in the confidence that somehow vague experiment with everything established will lead to future sure improvement. No conservative can hold with this notion, for the conservative judges all things in the light of authority and the wisdom of our ancestors, tempered by a willingness to accept evidence of altered circumstances. A pragmatist has no faith that abiding principles exist; while the conservative believes that a man without principles is an unprincipled man. A conservative can be an empiricist, however, and many conservatives are-that is, they judge of present things by the light of experience, or history, a very different method from the pragmatic endeavor to act upon sheer experiment and the flickering light of the evanescent present. Lincoln, despite the attempts of certain commentators to prove otherwise, was not a pragmatist, and not ordinarily a trimmer; he declared that the endeavor to march smugly between pretended extremes was "a sophistical contrivance." And I am convinced that "conservatives" who think that their whole duty is to play Artful Dodger will end in the vestibule of Hell, where Dante saw them blown about by every wind of doctrine. By the conservatism of desolation, I mean the forlorn endeavor of certain persons of conservative instincts to convince themselves that they are "individualists"-that is, devotees of spiritual and social isolation. The dreary secular dogma of individualism is the creation of Godwin, Hodgskin, and Herbert Spencer, and it progresses from anarchy back to anarchy again. Any thinking conservative knows it for a snare and a delusion. The real conservative is all in favor of sound individuality; he is all against doctrinaire "individualism," the belief that we exist solely in ourselves, and for ourselves, so many loveless specks in infinite time and space, like the unfortunate youth in Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger to whom Satan reveals that nothing exists except the boy and empty space, and that his very informant is no more than a random thought of the desolate Self. La vida es sueno, y los suenos suenos son. Whatever we may say to Calderon, it is well to remember that the emancipated critic of Twain's novel is the Devil, or at least the Devil's nephew. Individualism was born in the hell of spiritual solitude. The conservative knows that he is part of a great continuity and essence, created to do unto others as he would have others do unto him. Godwin's and Spencer's individualism, literally applied, would destroy the whole fabric of civilization. It is nonsense in any age; but in our complex age, with all its apparatus of industry and urban life, it would bring a very speedy and very unpleasant death to almost all men. We ought not to indulge such childish heroics. We do not really live for our selves, nor unto our selves. Burke and Adams knew that individuality, the dignity of personality and private rights, was a great good, and the product of elaborate conventions, developed by the painful experience of the human race over many thousands of years. They also knew that the doctrine of individualism preached by their enemy Godwin was nicely calculated to wipe out the whole civil social order, should it get a hold upon the popular imagination. Burke was the most courageous opponent of tyranny and the improper extension of the powers of the state; but he knew that just government is the creation of Providence, intended to enable men to live a life, through willing cooperation, which they could not possibly enjoy in a state of anarchy. Some well-intentioned gentlemen whom I esteem as persons (I distrust not their hearts, but their heads) recently asked me to assist in the undertakings of a society of individualists, which is rather like being asked to subscribe to a philosophy of transcendental materialism. Now the stalwart conservative is not much afraid of his enemies, but he must often beseech Heaven to save him from his friends. I found that these persons had taken for their motto a remark of Cousin (extracted from its context) to the effect that nothing exists except the individual. Burke declared that society, after all, is simply individuals taken collectively, and that no policy which harms particular persons, therefore, can be good for society. But Burke would have been horrified at the declaration that only the individual exists. Several grand realities exist in addition to the individual. The greatest of them is God. Another is our country; and yet another is our family; and still another is our ancestry. We are not simply the flies of a summer. The true conservative, indeed, rejects Rousseau's misty and dangerous concept of the General Will, and denies Hegel's cult of the abstract State; but he does not cut himself off from true community, his duties toward his neighbors and his ancestors and his posterity. We are made for cooperation, says Marcus Aurelius, like the hands, like the feet: "Does the eye demand a recompense for seeing, or the feet for walking? Just as this is the end for which they exist, and just as they find their reward in realizing the law of their being, so too man is made for kindness, and whenever he does an act of kindness or otherwise helps forward the common good, he thereby fulfills the law of his being and comes by his own." These same gentlemen (who profess to be individualists, but really are conservatives in their impulses) cried up a pantheon of philosophers after their taste: Lao-tse, Zeno, Milton, Locke, Adam Smith, Tom Paine, Jefferson, Thoreau, John Stuart Mill, and Spencer. No thinking conservative would be much inclined to pull these old chestnuts out of the fire for the sake of the commonwealth. I suggested that if they were to substitute Moses or St. Paul for Lao-tse, Aristotle or Cicero for Zeno, Dante for Milton, Falkland for Locke, Samuel Johnson for Adam Smith, Burke for Paine, Orestes Brownson for Ralph Waldo Emerson, Hawthorne for Thoreau, Disraeli for Mill, and Ruskin or Newman for Spencer, then indeed they might make dry bones speak, and kindle the imagination of the rising generation. But they will accomplish nothing otherwise. Were I an agent of red revolution, I should make haste to join myself to these well-intentioned gentlemen, with their confused attachment to obsolete anarchical and Utilitarian dogmas, and second them heartily, and butter them up; for the best possible way to discredit the conservative movement would be to represent it to the world as a philosophy of cosmic selfishness. The conservative, if he understands himself and his world, is no sentimental humanitarian; but neither is he a swaggering nihilist, jeering at the state, the duties of men in society, and the necessities of modern life. As a reaction against the grim and insensate collectivism that menaces us today, this flight to individualism is understandable; but it is consummate folly, for all that, and even more disastrous to the conservative cause than the policy of unprincipled trimming. There is an order which holds all things in their places, Burke says; it is made for us, and we are made for it. The reflective conservative, far from denying the existence of this eternal order, endeavors to ascertain its nature, and to find his place in it. The shape of that order in the twentieth century, and the way in which conservatives may reconcile their birthright from their forefathers with that change essential to any healthy society, are the subjects of the ten short chapters which follow.  



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