The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An Alternative Review

My last essay was a review of Dr. Theodore Dalrymple's In Praise of Prejudice. I encourage you to read the book itself, but if you are interested in an alternative review to mine, here is a link to Sir Peregrine Worsthorne's review entitled "Conservative Iconoclasts Required" which appeared in the December 15, 2007 issue of The Spectator (London):

The title of Worsthorne's review refers to his one reservation about the book. Worsthorne writes:

I have only one reservation: that Dr Dalrymple’s valuable reassertion of the need for prejudice — by drawing attention to the idiotic notions which proliferate in its absence — has come too late...This is the trouble with encouraging prejudice today: it will be liberal prejudice, since liberalism is what is in the air we breathe...So the last thing conservatives need is a return to prejudice. Indeed they need exactly the opposite — a recrudescence of freethinking, iconoclasm and audaciously cocked snooks at received views and liberal pieties — all too often the same thing.

That too, is food for thought.

That’s Prejudiced!

In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas by Theodore Dalrymple, New York, Encounter Books, 2007, 129 pages, CAN $25.95

It is rare that one hears someone put in a good word for prejudice. The word prejudice has had primarily negative connotations for quite some time and increasingly so in recent decades when one specific use of the term has come to overshadow the others. Today the first meaning that comes to mind when one hears the word “prejudice” is that which used to be conveyed by the expression “color prejudice”, i.e., a negative opinion of someone formed solely on the basis of their race or skin color.

Color prejudice or racial prejudice is not the only kind of prejudice, however. Nor are all prejudices negative opinions of other people. It is as possible to be prejudiced in favor of a particular group of people as it is to be prejudiced against them. Furthermore, people are not the only objects of prejudice. The word “prejudice” simply means an opinion or an idea that is formed before the person holding the prejudice has had the opportunity to marshal all the facts and form an educated opinion on the basis of cold, hard, calculating, reason. We all have prejudices.

There are some people who would affirm the universality of prejudice and on that basis argue “That is why we need government programs that will educate people and eliminate prejudice”. Such people find it as impossible to conceive of a prejudice that is helpful rather than harmful as they find it impossible to understand why other people regard their suggestions as a form of soft-pedalled Stalinism.

Think however, of a child who is walking home from school when a vehicle pulls over beside him. The driver rolls down the window and a strange man offers the child candy if he will get into the car. The child refuses to do so and runs away making it home safely.

What saved the child from danger in this situation?

The answer, of course, is prejudice. He did not have all the facts. He did not know who the stranger was. He could not prove in a court of law that the man was a dangerous sicko and not some innocent generous benefactor. His parents, however, who were more concerned about their child’s welfare than about bringing him up to be free of prejudice, wisely installed in him a prejudice against accepting candy and rides from people he did not know.

Prejudice has always had its advocates. After the violence of the French Revolution began, Edmund Burke, having finally come around to the viewpoint of his friend Samuel Johnson, declared prejudice to be “the general bank and capital of nations, and of ages” which is “of ready application in the emergency” and “renders a man’s virtue his habit”. It is essential because “the individual is foolish, but the species is wise”. This arguments were expressed again in the 20th Century by Burke’s American disciple Russell Kirk.

In his 2007 book, In Praise of Prejudice, Theodore Dalrymple follows in this illustrious tradition. Who is this Theodore Dalrymple? Under his real name, Dr. Anthony Daniels, he was a physician and psychiatrist who worked in British hospitals and prisons until his retirement in 2005. Under his pen name he continues to pursue his second career as a conservative social and cultural critic who can be read in the pages of the City Journal (New York) and The Spectator (London) to name just two of his outlets.

In Praise of Prejudice is not a long book, but it is packed with wisdom in its 29 short chapters. In his first chapter, he describes the current attitude towards prejudice:

To admit to a prejudice is to proclaim oneself a bigot, the kind of person who can’t, or worse still won’t, examine his preconceptions and opinions, and is, as a consequence, narrow in his sympathies, pharisaic in his judgments, xenophobic in his attitudes, rigid in his principles, punitive towards his inferiors, obsequious to his superiors, and convinced of his own rectitude. (p. 3)

He then traces this attitude to its source: René Descartes. Descartes was the 17th Century French rationalist who in his Discourse on Method described his personal struggle with skepticism, how he sought to rid his mind of all preconceived ideas, and to believe nothing that he could not prove from self-evident first principles that could not be doubted. He struggled to find first principles which were not susceptible to doubt, which proved difficult until he famously realized, that in the very act of doubting there was something he could lay hold on as being beyond doubt. He was doing the doubting, which meant that he was capable of thought and that he existed. “I think” he declared “therefore I am”.

The “prejudice against prejudice”, Dr. Dalrymple points out, requires that we all be Descartes. There is, however, a twist:

The popularity of the Cartesian method is not the consequence of a desire to remove metaphysical doubt, and find certainty, but precisely the opposite: to cast doubt on everything, and thereby increase the scope of personal license, by destroying in advance any philosophical basis for the limitation of our own appetites. (p. 6)

This is the theme that recurs throughout this book as Dr. Dalrymple explores the practical consequences, illustrating them with examples gleaned from his medical practice and everyday life, of a world without prejudice.

He is particularly interested in the relationship between prejudice and the family. In chapter five he examines how the cultural bias against prejudice affects the raising of children. Responding to an editorial from the New England Journal of Medicine about the child-obesity epidemic, he notes that the editorial correctly points out that young children to whom junk food ads are directed, are not old enough to make proper decisions about their diet. Instead of suggesting that parents should exercise their authority and teach their children good habits, the editorial called for a ban on junk-food advertising to children. The former, after all, would be installing one’s own opinions in one’s children rather than allowing them to form their own, and that is a great evil in these non-judgmental, non-prejudicial times.

The failure, however, to pass one’s own likes and dislikes on to one’s children, does not mean that they will grow up without prejudice, Dr. Dalrymple notes. A child treated as a sovereign decision maker from his formative years will grow up with a prejudice that his every whim ought to be immediately gratified. Of such a child, Dr. Dalrymple writes:

He is not free of prejudices just because he is free of his parents’ prejudices. On the contrary, he is a slave to his own prejudices. Unfortunately, they are harmful both to him as an individual, and to the society of which he is a member. (p. 20)

If parental attempts to raise children without installing their prejudices in them only results in the children developing new prejudices it follows that the world without prejudice the social engineers dream about cannot actually be created. Attempts to do so, merely replace one prejudice with another, and this can involve replacing a prejudice with a worse one, or even replacing a generally helpful prejudice with a harmful one. In chapter six Dr. Dalrymple looks at how the prejudice in favour of family life, such as the formerly omnipresent idea that “families should sit down together to eat around a table”(p. 21.) has been replaced with a prejudice against family life. In the next three chapters he examines a particular example of this: the replacement of the prejudice against having children out of wedlock with a prejudice that there is nothing wrong with having children out of wedlock.

Here he makes the important point that is actually cruel not to instill the right prejudices in children. The prejudice that there is nothing wrong with having children out of wedlock, shields the young girls that do so from social criticism, and empowers them. It also makes it more likely that unhappy home conditions will be perpetuated from one generation to the next. Dr. Dalrymple writes:

Would it not have been better, for her in particular and for the world in general, if she had been instilled at an early age with a prejudice that she should not have a child until such time as she was able, with the child’s father, to offer the child a stable base from which he or she would later be able to launch his or her own life?

By the time she comes to this conclusion herself (and from talking to such girls, I have discovered that it is likely that she will do so, it will be too late.
(p. 32)

Part of the problem with the people who have created the “prejudice against prejudice” is that they think far too highly of man’s rational abilities. In chapter 11 Dr. Dalrymple traces this to John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. Mill, Dr. Dalrymple argues, through his ignorance of human nature, “generally overestimated the role that reasoning did, or very well could, play in normal, day-to-day life”. He then points out that the real target of Mill’s tract, was not “openly tyrannical government” but “social prejudice”. Mill was not trying to define the limits to the legitimate sphere of government authority so much as seeking to exclude all of society from a sphere of authority he sought to generate around the rational individual. Most people, however, do not and can not live their lives by treating every decision that arises as one that must be carefully reasoned out from first principles.

Contrary to Mill and his liberalism, authority is essential. If we never accepted anything on authority human knowledge would be very limited because we would all spend our lives re-learning from scratch everything every previous generation had learned in the same way. Dr. Dalrymple eloquently puts it this way:

I have known from a very early age that a battle took place at Hastings in the year 1066, but I still do not know how to prove that it did. To do so would require the training of a lifetime, and would necessarily inhibit my acquisition of knowledge in other directions, with the result, moreover, that it would merely confirm what I already knew, unless it were also my intention to carry out original research into that period of history. (p. 49)

Borrowing an image from Lord Acton, Dr. Dalrymple shows how Mill has become the godfather to various ideas that he would probably have rejected – the idea that one’s idea is as good as any other provided it is one’s own (chapter 13), and the idea that we should abandon morality in licentious pursuit of our passions (chapter 15). He then demonstrates that it is actually very difficult to establish standards of common decency by arguing from first principles. How, in the example he uses, do you prove that people should not put their feet up on unoccupied seats in trains?

The chapters in Dr. Dalrymple’s book are short and concise although several of them deal with themes that deserve book length treatment on their own – such as how the vacuum created by the collapse of traditional morals and prejudices is quickly filled by new ones such as the current prejudice against tobacco use (chapter 17), or how radical individualism actually results in an increase in government power (chapter 18).

Over the course of the whole book, however, he makes an excellent case for the fact that human beings cannot avoid forming prejudices and making judgments, that we cannot make all our decisions on the basis of well-reasoned arguments from first principles, and that when we abandon old prejudices, contained in the customs, traditions, moral rules, etc. that represent the accumulated experience and wisdom of our species we will simply form new prejudices that are inferior to the old ones and harmful to ourselves and to our societies.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Private Property: A Social Institution

Between the seventeenth century and the twenty-first liberalism has traveled a great distance on the subject of private property. It was in the late seventeenth century that the works of the Father of Liberalism, John Locke, were first published. In his treatises in which he argued for the contract theory of society, for natural rights, and individual liberty, Locke made private property the foundation of rights and civilization. Today, it is not uncommon to hear “liberals” repeat mindless slogans like “people before property” or “human rights before property rights”. These slogans, as Russell Kirk pointed out decades ago, express nothing more than the desire to have the government expropriate that which belongs to somebody else.

Socialism, from which contemporary liberalism has absorbed many ideas and values, is built upon a foundation of enmity towards property. In the 19th Century, when various different socialisms sprung up, often as or more hostile towards each other than to capitalism, the one thing which they had in common was their hatred of property. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the founder of 19th Century French socialist anarchism declared “La propriété, c'est le vol” (“Property is theft!”). Karl Marx, who attacked Proudhon in the third chapter of the Manifesto of the Communist Party declared in the second chapter: “the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.”

When a movement exists with the express purpose of destroying an institution like property it is important that those who believe that institution to be beneficial and would prefer that it be retained oppose the movement seeking it’s destruction. From what stand point should the defenders of property launch their attack upon socialism?

To many the answer to that question is “liberalism”, that is liberalism in its original form, the liberalism of John Locke, Adam Smith, and J. S. Mill. Those who would defend property from the standpoint of liberalism refer to themselves as “classical liberals”, “libertarians”, or sometimes, although very inaccurately, “conservatives”.

In the course of this essay I will first make the case that such people have chosen the wrong standpoint, that they are building their edifice upon a foundation that will not support it. The seeds of contemporary, more socialist, liberalism can be found in classical liberalism. After having made this case, I will make the case for an alternative foundation for the institution of private property in traditional society – the society, the authority of which, classical liberalism was founded to attack.

The quotation from Karl Marx given above is a truncated quotation. The first three words “In this sense” were omitted. What sense is Marx referring to?

In the four preceding paragraphs Marx had argued that communism is not unique in its goal of the abolition of existing property relationships. “All property relations in the past have continually been subject to historical change consequent upon the change in historical conditions” he wrote, and gave as an example the French Revolution, which “abolished feudal property in favour of bourgeois property.” What was distinct about communism, Marx argued, was that it sought the abolition of bourgeois property and:

modern bourgeois private property is the final and most complete expression of the system of producing and appropriating products, that is based on class antagonisms, on the exploitation of the many by the few.

This is the “sense” Marx is referring to. Marx saw history as an ongoing struggle in which classes of exploited “have nots” (people without property) would constantly overthrow their exploiters, the class of “haves” (people with property) becoming the new class of “haves”. The bourgeoisie, however, would be the last class of “haves” and their property would be the last form of “private property”. The proletarian, Marx argued, in overthrowing the bourgeoisie, would establish communism in which the distinction between “haves” and “have nots” would vanish, nobody would be exploited, all property would be owned in common and society would function according to the principle “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”.

While most of what Marx wrote was complete rubbish there is insight we can glean from him in the parallel he drew between the French Revolution and the Communist revolution he was advocating. If the bourgeoisie were to feudal society what communism was to bourgeois society then the ideology which the bourgeoisie devised to justify overthrowing feudal society can hardly be said to be a pro-property ideology. What was that ideology?

The French Revolution to which Marx refers was launched in the name of the “rights of man and of the citizen”, gathering its inspiration primarily from the writings of the romantic philosopher Jean- Jacques Rousseau. In the English-speaking world, however, the transition from feudal to bourgeois society was accomplished, in a much less violent manner. The ideology which inspired or explained the transition in the English-speaking world was the classical liberalism of John Locke and Adam Smith.

If English liberalism achieved the same end as the French Revolution through less overtly violent methods what does that say about liberalism as an appropriate ideological foundation for the institution of property?

Before returning to Lockean liberalism it is important that we define property. What is property? What concepts are essential to its nature? What is “private property” as opposed to other types of property?

The noun “property” simply means “that which is owned”. Specialized uses of the term in law, politics, and economics come back to this basic meaning. In law property can be either personal property (your clothes, books, and other such items), real property (land, buildings, etc.) or intellectual property (the legality of which is currently in debate, a debate which is beyond the scope of this essay). In economics “property” refers to “the means of production”, i.e. everything such as land, raw materials, a production plant and tools that is used in the production of useful goods.

In political arguments about “private property” the term “property” tends to encompass both the economic meaning of property and the legal concept of “real property”. The adjective “private” means “not open to the public but exclusive for the use of X”. When we modify property with the adjective “private” we express the idea of that property which is owned, not collectively by society, but privately by society’s members.

One last word needs to be defined and that is the verb “own”. To own something means more than just to possess the use of it. Human beings can use resources without owning them. We all breathe the air but non of us owns it. We all use the light of the sun but it is not our property. The basic difference between owning something and merely using it is that when you own a resource you have the right to determine how the resource is used, whether for your own benefit or the benefit of others. Inherent within this right is the right to exclude others from the use of the resource.

Now having the “right” to determine how something is used and to exclude others from its use is different from having the “ability” to do so. Lets say you go out and build a wall around a section of land, fortify the wall, and arm yourself to the teeth. You may very well possess the ability to determine the use of the land and prevent others from using it. That does not mean that you have the right to do so and if you do so in the middle of a public park that thousands of people frequent on a daily basis you are probably going to run into some difficulties as a result of your actions.

What makes the difference between the person whose control over resources he claims for himself rests solely on his ability to defend his claim by force and the person who actually owns resources?

The difference is that the latter’s claim to the property in question is recognized by society and protected by society’s laws.

What does this tell us about private property?

It tells us first, that society has a interest in recognizing and protecting the institution of private property. The private ownership of property, therefore, benefits not only those who own property themselves, but society as a collective whole.

Secondly it identifies for us the idea in supposedly pro-property Lockean liberalism that is the seed of the anti-property contemporary liberalism.

In the first of John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government, Locke had argued against Robert Filmer’s defense of patriarchal authority.(1) His second treatise was devoted to suggesting an alternative theory of the origins of society, authority, and government. In his theory, men in their natural state, are “free, equal and independent”, and societies arise when men voluntarily contract with each other to form a society and government for their greater security. Men’s basic rights, according to Locke, go back to the pre-societal natural state. The fifth chapter of his second Treatise is devoted to the question of how property arose in this natural state. God had given the world, including the land and all lesser creatures, to man in common, Locke argued, but “every man has a ‘property’ in his own ‘person.’” He then goes on to argue:

This nobody has any right to but himself. The "labour" of his body and the "work" of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever, then, he removes out of the state that Nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with it, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state Nature placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it that excludes the common right of other men. For this "labour" being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good left in common for others.

Locke’s theory that property, like rights and the individual himself, predates society, requires him to come up with an explanation like this. There are a couple of problems with it however.

The first problem is that the entire theory of which Locke’s “labour theory of property” is a subcategory is manifestly false. It is the human state of nature to live together in societies, not to be “free, equal, and independent”. Society precedes the individual person – as can be seen every time a baby is born, for he is born into a pre-existing society, his family.

The second problem is that this theory is also the foundation of Marxism.

Think about it. How does Marx’s theory of history work again? First, all things are owned in common. Then some people appropriate to themselves that which was previously held in common and form the class of the “haves”. This leaves the rest without anything. They become the class of the “have nots”. Because the “haves” have all the property they are able to exploit the “have nots” who have only their labour. The exploitation takes this form: the “have nots” exchange their labour for wages from the “haves”, but because the “haves” have all the property the bargaining is one-sided and the “have nots” never receive the full value of their labour. This continues until the “have nots” overthrow the “haves” and become the new “haves” until the process ends with communism being established.

Marx’s theory is false, but apart from Locke’s theory of the origins of property it would be completely incoherent. It is nonsense to think that the workers in a factory are exploited just because the factory owner makes a large profit from selling the factory’s product. Nobody would ever have thought so, however, if Locke had not argued that property arises out of labour.

Locke is wrong. There is no state of nature for human beings that is prior to society. The man outside society is the most unnatural of men. Property is a product of society.

Traditionally, societies are bound together by a common set of beliefs, customs, and habits. These form the core of a society’s culture and they include basic concepts of what is right and what is wrong with regards to human behavior. The terms we use for a particular system of right and wrong (morality) or for the branch of philosophy devoted to the question of what is right and wrong are derived from the Latin and Greek terms for “custom” or “habit”, reflecting the fact that standards of right and wrong are primarily collective rather than personal. A society with a higher civilization than others will believe in moral standards that transcend itself, that are universal, written in a natural law flowing from a higher authority (God’s). In such a society, however, the higher, universal rules, must be expressed in particular customs and habits.

It is out of such customs and habits that the institution of private property arises. Societies recognize that their members have a right to that which they have legitimately acquired (through inheritance, purchase, gift, etc.), forbid others from trespassing on that (through theft, robbery, vandalism, trespass, etc.) and protect people’s rights to their own through their laws.

Does the institution of private property then serve the interests of society as a collective whole? If so what are those interests?

I can see three ways in which the institution of private property serves the collective interests of a society. These are a) it helps preserve the peace, b) it helps conserve the condition of material things in society, c) it contributes to the general prosperity of society.

Society consists of human beings, who live and work together for their common good as a society, the collective goods of the families, churches, and communities to which they belong, as well as their own personal goods. Such living and working together generates friction and at times disagreements arise. Sometimes one person’s good may conflict with another person’s, or the good of one or both of them might conflict with the good of society as a whole. One of the purposes of law to prevent these disagreements from tearing society apart in violent conflict.

Private property is a means to this end because when property is privately owned the difference between what belongs to one person and what belongs to another is also clearly defined and distinguished. This makes it easier for disputes to be settled peacefully.

The various socialisms, of course, dispute this. They argue that the very existence of a distinction between “mine” and “thine” is the cause of conflict. All one needs to do to prove them wrong is to point to a society which has tried to put socialism into practice. The elimination, at least nominally, of private ownership of factories and land and other productive property, makes people more jealous of their most minute personal effects. It eliminates trust, tears people apart, and generates more conflict over the pettiest of things.

This is because socialism has misdiagnosed the cause of evil in human society. It is not the existence of private property, the existence of “mine” and “thine” rather than a universal “ours”. It is the human heart, which is fallen, rebellious, and depraved. There is no political, social, or economic cure to the human condition. It is from that condition that human evil comes, and the laws of human societies are better able to deal with it when private property exists and property rights and protected under law.

The private ownership of property helps to conserve the condition of material things in society. What that simply means is that people are less likely to waste and abuse resources that they own than ones which are owned in common by society. This should be obvious to everybody. Where are you more likely to find garbage carelessly thrown about? In the backyards and front laws of privately owned houses or in ditches, back alleys, streets, and public parks? Who is more likely to keep their home in well repair? The person who owns the house he lives in or the person renting an apartment? What are the biggest pollution problems in the world today? The pollution of the atmosphere, the oceans, and other resources where private ownership is largely impractical.

Ecologists have long recognized this but they unfortunately are largely infected with the affinity for socialism that pervades much of the contemporary scientific and academic world. Instead of promoting responsible private property ownership they tend to support more government intervention and conservation laws.

Practically speaking, there are basically three options with regards to conserving resources. Either a) the resources are commonly owned, and available to all, with no limitations, b) they are commonly owned, and available to all with regulations and limitations that are strictly enforced, or c) you have resources that are privately owned and available to those their owners make them available to.

The first is the worst option from an ecological standpoint. This produces the famous “tragedy of the commons” of which Garrett Hardin wrote. (2) The second option is appropriate only in very specific situations where there is a practical reason for having the resource publicly owned. Applied on a large-scale throughout a society it eliminates human freedom and produces misery. The third option, is the best option, the option that has stood the test of time.

Finally, private property contributes to the general prosperity of society. This is true on a number of different levels. There is the basic fact, that in a society with private property, like Canada, the UK, or the United States, there is greater material abundance at every level in society than in a country like the old Soviet Union where misery was the only thing in abundance except in the higher echelons of the Communist Party.

We should not make the mistake of identifying material abundance with human happiness however. The two are not the same. Private property contributes to society’s prosperity in the sense of real happiness in that people are healthier psychologically and happier when they can say of something “this is mine” and have society recognize their claim. This is part of what is meant by the term “status”. “Status” is not a concept that is well-liked by levelers, egalitarians, revolutionaries, progressives, liberals and the like but it is vitally important to a person’s well-being and their integration into society. Private property helps convey status, and with it a sense of responsibility and achievement and helps ward off alienation.

It is therefore an institution that is vital to the interests of a civilized society.

(1) In my opinion, Locke’s thesis and arguments are inferior to Filmer’s.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Here I Stand

One of my favorite op-ed writers used to be Charley Reese whose tri-weekly column, filled with old-fashioned common sense and conservatism continued to be syndicated by King Features for several years after his career at the Orlando Sentinel ended in 2001. Much to the loss of the reading public he gave up his column and went into full retirement a couple of years ago. He believed that an opinion writer should make a full disclosure of his convictions to his readers, and around New Years each year would write a column containing such a disclosure.

This essay will be along those lines.

I am 34 years old, was raised in rural Manitoba and live in the capital city of Manitoba, Winnipeg. My formal education after High School was in theology at Providence College and Seminary in Otterburne. I am a patriotic Canadian.

Theologically I am an evangelical Protestant and a small-c catholic. I am a Protestant in that I affirm the supremacy authority of the Bible and the soteriological doctrines of the Reformation (note the nod to Luther in the title of this essay). I am an evangelical in that I stress the importance of personal faith in Jesus Christ as revealed in the Gospel. I am a catholic in that I affirm the ancient creeds – Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian – shared by all major branches of historical/traditional Christianity as the basic doctrines of Christian orthodoxy.

Politically I am a Tory in the original sense of the term – a supporter of the monarchy and the Church. This does not mean I endorse the present Conservative Party. Being a true Tory, I revere royalty, and despise politicians and bureaucrats. As a classical conservative, I believe in an organic rather than a contractual society, regard the family rather than the “individual” as the basic unit of society, and believe in the need for a strong but non-intrusive government. Government should be strong enough to enforce the law and preserve the security of the country. It should not, however, become “big government” which intrudes into the authority of other social institutions such as the Church and family or into people’s personal lives. With regards to government and other social authorities I believe in subsidiarity – that all matters should be handled by the smallest authority competent to handle them. With regards to government and people’s private lives I affirm the “harm principle” – that human laws should basically prohibit actions which are directly harmful to other people and their property. I affirm this as a general principle, the way it is found in the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, not as the individualistic absolute that is found in the liberal manifesto of John Stuart Mill.

I am a High Tory not a “Red” Tory. I despise all forms of socialism – National Socialism (Nazism), Communism, Proudhonistic anarchism, Fabianism, the welfare-state (or rather “The Servile State” as the prescient Hilaire Belloc dubbed it before its creation). Socialism has been tried by countless societies and it has always failed. Selling itself as a “spread the wealth and prosperity” movement, it only ever succeeds in spreading human misery and magnifying it exponentially. I reject “socialism on paper” as much as I reject “socialism in practice”. Socialism’s ideal world – a classless society where property is owned in common – is as ugly to me as socialism in actual practice.

Which is part of the reason I reject capitalism as well as socialism. Capitalism is far more effective than socialism in weakening and eliminating social classes and the hierarchical principle in society.

I do not reject everything in capitalism. I affirm private property and private enterprise as institutions of society. I affirm economic freedom over government planning. I affirm the principle of competition. Capitalism is more than these things however, which would all be found prior to capitalism.

Capitalism is a set of values which is subversive of traditional society, of family, community, religion and any other “rooted” institutions which bind successive generations together and give a sense of permanency to human life and society. Capitalism values quantity over quality, consumption over production, and change over permanence. Its effect upon aesthetics and culture has been devastating. Capitalism has given us the world of concrete and steel buildings, of asphalt and smog, of pop culture and modern and post-modern art. For this we should annually burn an effigy of Adam Smith.

I believe there is an obligation upon the upper, privileged classes to contribute to society as a whole and that there is a Christian moral obligation upon the Church to see to it that the needy are provided for. I reject the welfare-state as being a fulfillment, in whole or in part, of these obligations. It is rather a rejection of these obligations. The welfare-state involves the wealthy voting away their moral responsibilities and obligations to the poor and placing them upon the state and it involves the poor voting to themselves the wealth of those more privileged than themselves. It kills the spirit of charity and creates an underclass. It is loathsome to the core.

I am a social conservative in two senses. In the first, and primary sense, I believe that authority in traditional institutions like the family and the Church should be preserved, and where it has been lost, restored if possible. In the second sense, I believe that the customs, morals, and values of Christendom, which have come under attack in the Modern Era, and especially in the decades after WWII, should be preserved where they have been retained, and restored where they have been lost. I do not believe, however, that government legislation is the best vehicle for preserving/restoring either traditional authority or those customs, morals and values. Government in its contemporary form, democratic bureaucracy, is particularly ill-suited for that purpose, having proven itself to be the social progressive’s most consistent ally and most effective vessel in bulldozing down the old social and moral order.

I am not a pacifist, nor do I believe in “conscientious objection” or “non-resistance”. I believe with Socrates and Alasdair MacIntyre that patriotism is a virtue and have nothing but contempt for the abuse of sacred texts in which verses are pulled out of context and used as a justification for the vice of shirking one’s duty to one’s country. I am not however, an enthusiast for war, and cannot off the top of my head think of a war within my or my father’s lifetime that was not a wicked waste of time, lives, and resources.

I do not believe in progress in any of the following three senses: 1) The prevailing idea of the Modern Age from the “Enlightenment” to World War I that through reason mankind would continually improve itself, 2) the idea connected with classical liberalism and capitalism that through new discoveries and technological advancement science will solve all problems that come man’s way, or 3) that through the use of state power a better world can be socially engineered through the elimination of discrimination, poverty, inequality, and ignorance. All such ideas are doomed to failure because they look for the source of human suffering outside of human nature. The primary source of human misery is evil in the human heart which comes not from inequality, lack of education, or poverty but from the fallenness of human nature. Human nature cannot be changed through political means. Mankind is a fallen being, exiled from Paradise because of sin, who must look for a spiritual answer to his condition in the grace of God.

I am a reactionary. While that word is largely used as a term of opprobrium by progressives (reason enough to claim it as a self-label) I use the term to mean someone who sees through the “you can’t turn the clock back” rhetoric of progressives. Imagine a person driving down a highway who sees a road that he thinks might get him to his destination faster. He takes the road but soon realizes that it ends at the edge of a cliff where a bridge used to be but which has collapsed. Keeping on the road, continuing in the direction he is going, will lead him to disaster. The only sane thing for him to do is to turn around, go back to where he got on the road, and get back onto the highway. The reactionary wishes for his society to make that kind of decision when necessary. The progressive allows for motion in only one direction – the direction which will take society over the metaphorical cliff. This does not mean that the reactionary tries to artificially recreate an era from the past. Rather he looks to the past for inspiration, seeking principles that can be re-applied and institutions and traditions that can be recovered in forms appropriate for the present.

I believe mankind is a limited being living in a limited world with limited resources. I do not possess the faith of the technological progressive (who frequently considers himself to be a “conservative”) in an infinite human capacity to find replacement resources and develop technological solutions to his problems. The present generation owes it to posterity to responsibly conserve essential resources for the future and not to recklessly use them up, blindly and naively believing with Mr. Micawber that “something will turn up”. In this, I agree with the ecologists.

I am also in aesthetical agreement with the ecologists that we should not uglify our environment by littering, polluting the air, rivers, lakes and oceans, and turning the planet into one giant megalopolis of concrete, steel and asphalt.

Having said that, I have no use for political environmentalism, the “Green” movement. Like all other obnoxious save-the-world, do-gooder movements, the environmentalist movement is far more about social engineering, socialism, and big intrusive government than about finding genuine solutions to ecological problems. Privately owned resources are always kept in better condition and conserved better than resources held in common by the community, yet the Greens are overwhelmingly biased in favour of more common resources, with greater government control. I am skeptical of many of the environmental doomsday scenarios like “global warming” that political environmentalists have been warning us about in recent decades, but I am far more skeptical of the environmentalists proposed solutions to the problems. If the rise of almost 1 degree Centigrade in the average global temperature over the last century indicates that the industrial output of greenhouse gasses has created an imminent threat of melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels then agreements to cut back on the rate of greenhouse gas emissions of the kind that are constantly being proposed are not going to help one iota.

I hold contemporary fads and fashions in scorn and I loathe political correctness.

I have no sympathy with any form of feminism. Societies differ in what roles they assign to men and to women, but the fact that they assign different roles to men and women is a universal. The differences in the specifics of gender roles from one society to the next are derived from differences between the societies in terms of their traditions, organization, and economy. Constant from society to society however, is the fact that gender roles are based upon the fundamental and permanent biological difference between the sexes – women get pregnant, give birth to children, and nurture children with their bodies, and men do not.

Liberal feminism seeks to eliminate this universal and reduce men and women alike to “individuals”. Radical feminism interprets everything society has done to support women in their vital role in society, from marriage in which men are made to support and take responsibility for the women who bear their children to society’s sending its young men out to fight its wars while protecting its women and children, as an attempt by the “patriarchy” or “male power structure” to oppress women. Post-modern feminism tells individuals they are to define for themselves what it means to be a “man” or a “woman” (whichever they chose, their biology being irrelevant if they so choose it to be).

In contrast I believe in patriarchal authority and in chivalry. With the exception of combat service in the military, I do not believe the state should pass laws saying “this occupation is reserved for men, this occupation for women”. Combat service is an exception because society, in the interests of its own survival, has a stake in protecting its women and children. Men and women are quite capable of separating into gender-appropriate roles suitable for their society at its stage of development on their own. Or rather they would be if government would abandon its foolish policies and programs aimed at producing equal representation of men and women in all occupations and all levels of society and/or at reducing men and women to generic individuals..

I am an anti-anti-racist. While I think that the idea that one person should be considered “better” or “worse” than another because of a morphological trait such as skin color, eye color, or hair color to be extremely silly, I don’t think I have ever encountered anyone who actually believed that idea. Physical traits like skin color are trivial but race is not trivial. The word race is derived from a French word denoting lineage and ancestry and when we apply it to groups of people who are identified by physical traits like skin color, we do so because the particular set of physical traits that distinguish that group indicate their descent from a common ancestral population.

We should never make the mistake of regarding “race” and “society” as being synonymous but we need to recognize that identifiable descent from one generation to the next is an essential element of society. Every society requires continuity across the span of generations, a sense in which the present generation is descended from the last and all previous generations and consists of the ancestors of the next and all future generations. Without this sense it is not a society, just a bunch of random people who happen to live in the same territory at the same time.

This does not mean that a person or family cannot be successfully integrated from one society into another or that a society should be completely closed to newcomers. It is unhealthy for a society to be completely closed on a permanent basis but it is even more unhealthy for a society to be so open that it eliminates continuity in its core identity from one generation to the next.

The category of “nation” is more helpful than the category of “race”. Both categories depict a group of people that have a common identity that persists across the generations. The identifying traits of a nation, however, are primarily cultural – language, religion, customs, and manners.

Anti-racism is a fundamentally dishonest movement that has capitalized, since World War II, upon people’s legitimate sense of moral outrage over the atrocities of the Third Reich. It seeks to break up people’s sense of identification with their ancestors, posterity, and larger society by treating all expressions of such natural loyalty and affection as being no different from the hate-filled ideology that brought about the Holocaust. It points to examples of where state power was used to treat people unjustly because of their ethnic identity to justify using state power to reeducate and reprogram people away from traditional loyalties to one’s particular kin, community, and society which are passed on in the home, towards a universal loyalty to mankind and the world. It supports using state power to silence and punish people who resist anti-racist indoctrination, not for acts of violence, but for the expression of their views. It seeks the people who are least likely to win much public sympathy (admirers of Hitler for example), pretends that these represent a realistic and grave threat to society, makes a public spectacle out of exposing and/or silencing them, and then pats itself on the back about how it has saved society from becoming the next Nazi Germany. Meanwhile it has trampled over traditional rights and freedoms, made a mockery of traditional standards of justice, and intimidated the public into erroneously believing that its views are the only legitimate views to be held on matters of race, ethnicity and our common humanity.

A society should be “multi-cultural” only in the sense that it allows and encourages local and regional variations to develop within its broader culture. Multi-culturalism in its more usual meaning, however, is the official attempt by the government to create an artificial and unnatural diversity by importing immigrants by the thousand to millions from backgrounds different from each other and from the society they are entering. This kind of multi-culturalism breaks up the social cohesion of local and regional subcultures and demands that every local community and culture abandon its distinct core identity and become a microcosm of the larger multi-cultural society. This is as evil as the kind of nationalism which seeks to eliminate local and regional identities which it regards as rivals and threats to its own.

I am an elitist in two senses of the term. First, I believe that it is inevitable that in every human society and organization a small minority will rise to forefront, assuming leadership and making the actual decisions for the society or organization. Robert Michels called this the “Iron Law of Oligarchy” and adequately demonstrated its veracity in his Political Parties. Vilfredo Pareto demonstrated that in every field of human endeavour a minority would excel, this minority being the elite in that field, a political elite being the minority that excels in the field of assuming power in society. This is classical elite theory and it is a description of reality that is born out by history, every day observation, and statistical analysis.

Secondly, and more importantly, I am an elitist in the sense that with Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and more recently Anthony Ludovici, Evelyn Waugh, and Sir Peregrine Worsthorne I believe that society needs aristocracy.

An elite, however, is not necessarily an aristocracy because the people that excel at obtaining power are not necessarily the same as the people who excel at exercising power. In a society where the democratic principle dominates the constitution it is inevitable that the two will not be the same. We can see this today in the Western world where the democratic principle has triumphed over all balancing competing principles. The actual ruling class (not necessarily the same as the nominal ruling class) in each Western society is using its power treacherously, not to govern its society but to tear it apart and dissolve it into a transnational New World Order. This is the exact opposite of what an aristocracy would do.

I hesitate to say anything about the arts here, because there is always a danger of mistaking one’s tastes, which are in large part personal and subjective for universal standards of what is good and beautiful. Today, however, the greater danger is to accept the widespread idea that the beautiful and good are entirely subjective matters and that there are no external and universal standards by which art and taste can be judged.

Art is the creative expression of a society’s culture. It is therefore an indicator of the health of a society’s culture. The subjectivism, relativism, and even nihilism that is found in so much contemporary art and art theory is a reflection of the collapse of social and cultural continuity and cohesion into atomism and alienation in the societies producing such art.

Against the barbaric aesthetic nihilism of the day I assert the classical standards of clarity, order, and balance. The best architecture, drama, literature, music, painting, and sculpture throughout Western history has been that which has followed the light of the standards established in Greco-Roman civilization. Classicism recognizes man’s limitations, prescribes forms and ideals through which excellence can be achieved. In saying this, I do not mean to identify the current morass with romanticism, classicism’s traditional antithesis, or to blame romanticism for such morass. While romanticism is inseparably tied to erroneously and naively optimistic views of man, his nature, and his limitations, it is by no means nihilistic. It has a reactionary as well as a revolutionary side and actually serves the interests of the classical ideal of balance by providing balance to classicism itself, balancing the classical universal with the romantic particular, and classical order with romantic creativity.

I do blame, however, commercial capitalism and the triumph of the democratic/bureaucratic state for much of the cultural decay that is reflected in the poor condition of the arts today.

Commercial capitalism has brought about the replacement of traditional popular culture (the customs and habits of the general populace of a society reflected in folklore, folkmusic, etc.) with “pop culture”. “Pop culture” finds its primary expression in new media opened up by technology like radio, cinema, television, and the internet. Like all other creations of commercial capitalism pop culture is manufactured to be sold to the greatest number of people at the lowest price. This appeal to the lowest common denominator inevitably gives the product the characteristics of vulgarity and cheapness –which are the primary characteristics of contemporary pop culture.

If commercial capitalism has had a deleterious effect upon popular culture and the arts which reflect it, the growth of the modern state and its increasing democratization and bureaucratization have had a deleterious effect upon high culture. Democratic/bureaucratic “big government” began at the start of the twentieth century to take over the role of the aristocracy as the supporter of high culture and its artistic representation. The result has been an extraordinarily long dearth of excellence in the fine arts and a proliferation of mediocrity.

It is traditionally the role of the aristocracy to encourage, promote, and subsidize high culture and artistic excellence. This is by far the most important element of noblesse oblige – the moral obligation upon the upper, privileged classes to contribute to the rest of society. It is a role that democratic/bureaucratic government is not suited to fill. Ever since government took over the funding of the arts, artists have been answerable only to bureaucrats who are notoriously tasteless people. This is akin to being answerable to nobody, and they have developed the unhealthy habit of producing aesthetically unappealing garbage (in some cases literally) and expecting to be paid out of the public treasury for it.

These are the convictions that I hope to express more fully in my essays throughout this year.

Happy New Year.