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What is Conservatism? edited by Frank S. Meyer

January 21, 2011

I finished What is Conservatism?, a collection of 13 essays edited by Frank S. Meyer, a volume demonstrating the fusion (and fission) of the conservative/libertarian alliance in the early 1960s.  Excluding essays by Stanley Parry and Stefan T. Possony, time is well-spent pouring through the book and analyzing its arguments.  Some quotes:

Freedom, Tradition, Conservatism-Frank S Meyer
“But the only possible basis of respect for the integrity of the individual person and for the overriding value of his freedom is belief in an organic moral order.  Without such a belief, no doctrine of political and economic liberty can stand (14-15).”

“Political freedom, failing a broad acceptance of the personal obligation to duty and to charity, is never viable (15).”

“Although the classical liberal forgot–and the contemporary libertarian conservative sometimes tends to forget–that in the moral realm freedom is only a means whereby men can pursue their proper end, which is virtue, he did understand that in the political realm freedom is the primary end (15).”

“Looking to the state to promote virtue, they forgot that the power of the state rests in the hands of men as subject to the effects of original sin as those they govern.  They could not, or would not, see a truth the classical liberals understood: if to the power naturally inherent in the state, to defend its citizens from violence, domestic and foreign, and to administer justice, there is added a positive power over economic and social energy, the temptation to tyranny becomes irresistible, and the political conditions of freedom wither (16).”

Prescription, Authority, and Ordered Freedom-Russell Kirk

“Authority, in fine, is the ground upon which prudent action must be performed (24).”

“By trial and error, by revelation, by the insights of men of genius, mankind has acquired, slowly and painfully, over thousands of years, a knowledge of human nature and of the civil social order which no one individual possibly can supplant by private rationality (28).”

“A man of strong character who accepts just authority and its works will be meek–but meek only as Moses: that is, obedient to the will of God, but unflinching against human tyrants (31).”

“From just authority, from respect for our cultural and moral and political heritage, comes genuine civil freedom (39).”

A Conservative Case for Freedom-M. Stanton Evans

“An assault on individual freedom, in the authoritarian manner, will not restore us to virtue because virtue cannot be legislated.  Freedom and virtue have declined together and must rise together (69).”

“Men without values are more than willing to trade their freedom for material benefits (71).”

“The conservative believes man should be free; he does not believe being free is the end of human existence (72).”

“The free economy permits morality but does not guarantee it; the coerced economy guarantees immorality (72).”

Why I Am Not a Conservative- F.A. Hayek

“It is that by its [conservatism’s] very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. (89).”

“Liberalism is not averse to evolution and change; and where spontaneous change has been smothered by government control, it wants a great deal of change of policy (90).”

“…one of the fundamental traits of the conservative attitude is a fear of change, a timid distrust of the new as such, while the liberal position is based on courage and confidence, on a preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead (91).”

“…two other characteristics of conservatism: its fondness for authority and its lack of understanding of economic forces.  Since it distrusts both abstract theories and general principles, it neither understands those spontaneous forces on which a policy of freedom relies nor possesses a basis for formulating principles of policy (92).”

“So unproductive has conservatism been in producing a general conception of how a social order is maintained that its modern votaries, in trying to construct a theoretical foundation, invariably find themselves appealing almost exclusively to authors who regarded themselves as liberal (92).”

“Like the socialist, he [the conservative] is less concerned with the problem of how the powers of government should be limited than with that of who wields them; and, like the socialist, he regards himself as entitled to force the value he holds on other people (93).”

“…he [the conservative] has no political principles which enable him to work with people whose moral values differ from his own for a political order in which both can obey their convictions (93).”

“To live and work successfully with others requires more than faithfulness to one’s concrete aims.  It requires an intellectual commitment to a type of order in which, even on issues which to one are fundamental, others are allowed to pursue different ends.  It is for this reason that to the liberal neither moral nor religious ideals are proper objects of coercion, while both conservatives and socialists recognize no such limits.  I sometimes feel that the most conspicuous attribute of liberalism that distinguishes it as much from conservatism as from socialism is the view that moral beliefs concerning matters of conduct which do not directly interfere with the protected sphere of other persons do not justify coercion (93-94).”

“The liberal, of course, does not deny that there are some superior people–he is not an egalitarian–but he denies that anyone has authority to decide who these superior people are (94).”

“It is not who governs but what government is entitled to do that seems to me the essential problem (95).”

“But, from its point of view rightly, conservatism fears new ideas because it has no distinctive principles of its own to oppose to them; and, by its distrust of theory and its lack of imagination concerning anything except that which experience has already proved, it deprives itself of the weapons needed in the struggle of ideas.  Unlike liberalism with its fundamental belief in the long-range power of ideas, conservatism is bound by the stock of ideas inherited at a given time (95).”

“I can have little patience with those who oppose, for instance, the theory of evolution or what are called ‘mechanistic’ explanations of the phenomena of life simply because of certain moral consequences which at first seem to follow from these theories, and still less with those who regard it as irreverent or impious to ask certain questions at all (96).”

“Should our moral beliefs really prove to be dependent on factual assumptions shown to be incorrect, it would be hardly moral to defend them by refusing to acknowledge facts (96).”

“What distinguishes the liberal from the conservative here is that, however profound his own spiritual beliefs, he will never regard himself as entitled to impose them on others and that for him the spiritual and the temporal are different spheres which ought not to be confused (98).”

“The task of the political philosopher can only be to influence public opinion, not to organize people for action.  He will do so effectively only if he is not concerned with what is now politically possible but consistently defends the ‘general principles which are always the same (103).’”

The Conservative Search for Identity -Stephen J. Tonsor

“It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, it is worse to be oppressed by a majority (142).” -Lord Acton

“Liberty is so holy a thing that God was forced to permit evil that it might exist (143).” -Lord Acton

“Conservatism ought not to confuse its cause with secularism.  Neither ought it to confuse its cause with those who encourage a religious establishment (149).”

Notes Towards an Empirical Definition of Conservatism-William F. Buckley

“One man’s anarchism is another man’s statism (216).”

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