It is high time that conservatives should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the spectre of conservatism with a manifesto of the conservative movement itself.
Hardt and Negri, Marxists both, ache for a life “in common” of a multitude that creates a social product in performance rather than in habit and that constantly produces and reproduces itself. After following a tradition that divided and oppressed ordinary people with class warfare and gender warfare for over a century, these hollow men now call for love.
Love means precisely that our expansive encounters and continuous collaborations bring us joy. There is really nothing metaphysical about the Christian and the Judaic love of God: both God’s love of humanity and humanity’s love of God are expressed in the common material project of the multitude.”1
This love will, of course, be created in that erotic moment of Kairòs, the convulsion of political violence from below.
But the Christian, Judaic love is not eros, but caritas. It is not the oblivion of orgasm but the constant care of one companion for another. In the social lifeworld of life “in common” it is social cooperation without the Kairòs, without the threat of armed young men in the streets, that must inspire the hearts and minds of humans.
If you want Kairòs then you are willing terror, whether the Terror of the French Revolution, the Bolshevik police state, or the multiple terrors of Mao Zedong. Edmund Burke already understood this when he prophesied the Terror of the French Revolution in 1790.
On the scheme of this barbarous philosophy... laws are to be supported only by their own terrors... In the groves of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows. Nothing is left which engages the affections on the part of the commonwealth. On the principles of this mechanistic philosophy, our institutions can never be embodied... in persons; so as to create in us love, veneration, admiration, or attachment.2
Already, in 1790, 150 years before Horkheimer and Adorno linked instrumental reason and domination, Burke is linking terror and mechanism. It is not mechanism that binds humans together but affection, he argued. Without the support from “the spirit of a gentleman, and the spirit of religion,” manners and civilization could not have supported learning through the dark ages, nor could learning have enlarged the ideas of landowners and churchmen. But when the educated seek not just to support learning but seek to rule, then learning loses its protectors and “will be cast into the mire, and trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude.”3 Burke already seems to discern the Bolshevik disaster on the far horizon.
Where trade and manufactures are wanting to a people, and the spirit of nobility and religion remains, sentiment supplies... their place; but if commerce and the arts should be lost in an experiment to try how well a state may stand without these old fundamental principles, what sort of a thing must be a nation of gross, stupid, ferocious, and at the same time, poor and sordid, barbarians, destitute of religion, honour, or manly pride, possessing nothing at present and hoping for nothing hereafter?4
In Burke’s understanding, the communal bonds grow from the private affections between humans in everyday intimacy. He evoked this truth in his assertion that public virtue builds upwards from the love of the near at hand.
To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind.5
But how do we get from the public affections of the little platoon to a love of country and mankind as a whole? Burke makes it seem the most natural thing in the world, but the very idea of country as a nation state and mankind as a whole was pretty new at the end of the 18th century. Most people in the world at that time lived on some lord’s patrimonial estate, and knew no affection beyond the blood ties of family and clan. Anyone outside the boundary of the kindred was outside the limit of public affection. It took the revolution of the Axial Age and the invention of the individual responsible to society and to God to create the possibility of modern public affection.
The little platoon is not just the germ of public spirit, it is also a refuge from the scouring tides of power. These refuges had already begun to flourish in the benefit societies, the fraternal associations, and the Dissenting churches of Burke’s England as a trading and manufacturing people began to burst the social boundaries of village and kindred. The people mustered new platoons, based upon the memory of brotherhood among masons, or oddfellows, or woodmen or the fancy of brotherhood among antelope or eagles, to replace the old ties of kin and soil. Oblivious to the political elite the little platoons were trying to muster all across the Anglosphere. They spontaneously reinvented the nature of social association — and without knowing Burke they did it on the Burkean principle of sociability and affection.
In trying to understand the success of the United States the Peruvian businessman Hernando de Soto stumbled across the extraordinary self-organizing abilities of North Americans. How could the United States have become so successful in self-government while his native Peru remained so backward? The answer was, because Americans just went ahead and did it. In the 19th century, he found, ordinary Americans had defied the existing laws of land-ownership, had created their own living law of homesteading and land settlement, and had lived to tell the tale. The living law they had developed on the frontier in defiance of their betters was eventually codified in the Homestead Act of 1862.6 The California miners in the gold rush of 1849 were another race of self-governors. They came to extract gold from a land that had just been seized from Mexico and had no mineral law. So the miners formed mineral associations and wrote their own laws. What did the US government do about this? In 1872 Congress passed a mining law that essentially codified the miners’ living law.7 This self-organizing ability even extended to the unemployed during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Eric Hoffer:
Once, during the Great Depression, a construction company sent down two trucks to the Los Angeles skid row, and anyone who could climb onto the trucks was hired. When the trucks were full, the drivers put in the tailgates and drove off. They dumped us on the side of a hill in the San Bernardino Mountains, where we found bundles of supplies and equipment. The company had only one man on the spot. We began to sort ourselves out: there were so many carpenters, electricians, mechanics, cooks, men who could handle bulldozers and jackhammers, and even foremen. We put up the tents and the cook shack, fixed latrines and a shower bath, cooked supper, and next morning went out to build the road. If we had to write a constitution we probably would have had someone who knew all the whereases and wherefores. We were a shovelful of slime scooped off the pavement of skid row, yet we could have built America on the side of a hill in the San Bernardino Mountains.8
While Hernando de Soto and Eric Hoffer have found in American history stories of successful self-government, others taught the opposite lesson. By the middle of the 19th century people began to write about “plutocracy,” the rule of the wealthy, and they were not recommending it as a model of the good society. The self-government of ordinary people could not defend against the power of the new capitalist generals and their industrial armies. The great social need was for social protection against these new men, and thinkers began to debate how that might be accomplished. To the socialists and the educated class the solution was a powerful state. In its revolutionary articulation this solution would be achieved in the Kairòs of political convulsion; in the Fabian Society model it would be achieved by gradual reform and “rational, factual socialist argument” of Fabian intellectuals. In the tradition of American institutionalism as it developed after World War II it was articulated by John Kenneth Galbraith in his notion of “countervailing power” between big business, big labor, and big government.9 In the early 21st century American liberals look back to the era of the three Bigs as a golden age of good jobs at good wages.
But in To Empower People Peter L. Berger and Richard John Neuhaus assert that social protection can only be supplied by “mediating structures,” that is, “institutions standing between the individual in his private life and the large institutions of public life.”10 They are needed because “Modernization brings about a... dichotomy between public and private life.” There are large institutions, the “megastructures,” that dominate public life: the modern state, big business, big labor, and the administrative bureaucracies of education and the professions. Then there is “private life,” in which people have little institutional support. The megastructures are “alienating” in that “they are not helpful in providing meaning and identity for individual existence.” Thus moderns are suspended in society between “hard” megastructures that are “personally unsatisfactory” and “soft” private life that cannot be relied upon for social protection. Mediating structures help people alleviate this crisis.
Such institutions have a private face, giving private life a measure of stability, and they have a public face, transferring meaning and value to the megastructures... Their strategic position derives from their reducing both the anomic precariousness of individual existence in isolation from society and the threat of alienation to the public order.
Our focus is on four such mediating structures—neighborhood, family, church, and voluntary association... The proposal is that, if these institutions could be more imaginatively recognized in public policy, individuals would be more “at home” in society, and the political order would be more “meaningful.”11
More than that, the mediating structures act like earthquake shelters, preserving space for individuals against the possibility that collateral damage from the battle of the giant megastructures might from time to time bring ruin down upon millions. This is not mere speculation. When states run out of money the checks stop coming, and people must resort to other means to protect themselves and their loved ones from destitution. It might be better for them to be practiced and successful in voluntary social cooperation rather than already primed to look to a strong leader for help.
Roger Scruton gives a more philosophical gloss to the ideas of Neuhaus and Berger. He develops the philosophical basis of conservatism in the process of arguing for a conservative environmentalism, what should better be called “conservationism.”
Conservatism, as I understand it, means the maintenance of the social ecology. It is true that individual freedom is a part of that ecology, since without it social organisms cannot adapt. But freedom is not the only goal of politics. Conservatism and conservation are two aspects of a single long-term policy, which is that of husbanding resources and ensuring their renewal. These resources include the social capital embodied in laws, customs, and institutions; they also include the material capital contained in the environment, and the economic capital contained in a free but law-governed economy. According to this view, the purpose of politics is not to rearrange society in the interests of some overarching vision or ideal, such as equality, liberty or fraternity. It is to maintain a vigilant resistance to the entropic forces that threaten our social and ecological equilibrium. The goal is to pass on to future generations, and meanwhile to maintain and enhance, the order of which we are the temporary trustees.12
On Scruton’s analysis, it is the need for validation of its extraordinary powers that chases big government everywhere to seek an “overarching vision” for its subjects. To realize an ideal requires social mobilization. It means that people must leave their normal occupations and enroll in the ranks of the soldiers dedicated to fighting for and winning the visionary ideal, and they must subject themselves to military discipline as society marches towards that goal. Unfortunately, there is a problem. Any such mobilization requires the rational organization of society into an army under the leadership of a military or political elite. Such a society is necessarily organized according to the dictates of instrumental reason as it works to achieve its strategic goal. As such, it seeks domination over other men; it must dominate its subjects in order to lead them to the Promised Land. Already, as it mobilizes, it has become a movement; already it is clothing itself in the raiment of religion. Every army is a system; every system is domination.
All societies define themselves by membership: in tribes the family and in religions the faithful. But “members of nations see each other as neighbors... [because] [f]irst and foremost the nation is a common territory, in which we are all settled, and to which we are all entitled as our home.”13 The nation is a common homeland. Scruton calls the love of home “oikophilia” and its opposite, realized in elite “political correctness” and activist trans-national NGO activism, as “oikophobia.” “Oikophobes define their goals and ideals against some cherished form of membership – against the home, the family, the nation.”14 Oikophilia protects and defends the home, the family, and the nation. The worst thing is that
left-wing movements and their mobilized spokesmen should prevail. The best thing is that ordinary people, motivated by old-fashioned oikophilia, should volunteer to localize the problem, and then try to solve it. If they are losing the habit of doing this, it is in part because governments, responding to pressure groups and activists, have progressively confiscated the duties of the citizen, and poured them down the drain of regulation.15
But modernity is not just the love of home that resists the megastructures; it involves also the movement of self-expression that began with the Romantic movement. Freedom is not just the right to be free from subjection but the obligation to live a life of self-defining discovery. Thus, for Charles Taylor, the modern era is defined by three moral sources: theism, naturalism, and Romantic modernism, and all want justice, equality, freedom of expression, and the relief of suffering. What moderns disagree about is the emphasis. Is relief from domination the overarching value? Or authentic self-expression? Ordinary human flourishing, or higher spiritual ideals? The great question is how to negotiate or adjudicate, or exchange these conflicting goods. In ancient times, these questions were resolved in a compact society where economic, political, and cultural questions were all mixed together in a compact lifeworld, but not today in our modern differentiated society.
All this is but to say: we live in civil society, the new socialization that modern humans have created to replace the tighter bonds of traditional community. Many people have mourned the destruction of the agricultural village, and have pointed the finger of blame at modern democratic capitalism as the author of this desecration, for wherever capitalism has intruded upon the society traditional to the agricultural age it has disrupted it forever. They might also look to blame the agricultural revolution that even in the reign of Elizabeth in 16th century England began the enclosures that expelled peasants from their subsistence serfdom. But whichever it was, enclosures or capitalism, it demolished the unitary culture of the traditional, kin and village-based community, and mankind has had to come up with a new cultural paradigm to replace the old ways.
But how exactly shall we describe this new cultural arrangement, the new way in which modern humans cooperate as social animals? Lawrence E. Cahoone has described it as “the joint development of the market, civil society, and nationalism.”16 The market is a maelstrom of “creative destruction,” a permanent economic revolution that is founded, paradoxically, on trust and credit. Nationalism encases modern humans in a “linguistically-culturally homogeneous sovereignt[y]” as a compensation for the loss of the “cocoon of feudal caste, kin, and locale;”17 But civil society is the world in which modern humans actually live, day to day. We may make our living in the challenging world of the market economy; we may thrill with patriotic pride on national holidays; but we live in civil society.
Civil society is not community, for its members are not bound together in a common culture or by kinship; yet civil society involves a sense of solidarity. It is not political, although it relates to politics. It is not an enterprise, although its members belong in the market economy. It is a loose form of association, without the close binding of community or the contractual obligations of enterprise. It is instead founded upon four main goods: “membership, freedom, civility, and dignity”,18 and supporting all these goods is equality, for people enter into civil society on a basis of unspoken equality. Each is a member, although free to remain or to detach himself. Members are associated through civility, where people “countenance the private interests of their fellow citizens” and feel that their own dignity is protected. Dignity requires the maintenance of a “decent equality,” the recognition of the other pursuing a “meaningful course of life,” whether janitor or physician, in “recognizable worthiness.”
The paradigmatic form of civil society is neighborhood, “an association of adjacent and nearby households whose fortunes are relatively independent, but who accept civility, the collective concern for the survival of the neighborhood, and the concern for the decent life of members.”19 That is why the “bad” neighbor, the one with the barking dog or the overgrown trees, is such a scandal to civility. She fails to countenance the interests of her neighbors, and violates their dignity with her thoughtless behavior.
The relative independence of the members in civil society implies a diversity of cultural narratives. Civil society is not a religious or a cultural association; it recognizes that members will worship at different churches. Yet civil society implies a consensus of cultural narrative, and this means that some narratives, most likely the ones least likely to present themselves as “civil,” will be left outside. It is this fact that exercises our liberal friends determined to protect “traditionally marginalized” groups from the oppression of the dominant narrative, and it is this fact that makes a militant Islamism, that refuses to present itself as civil, into a scandal. But civility must draw a line, even as it requires tolerance of those outside the consensus, and allows the outsiders to try to reenter the consensus and to change the consensus. Thus “civil society and culture engage in a kind of dance which has no end... The point is to keep dancing”20 and not to betray civility to the temptations of coercion.
Civil society does not make a grand entrance into history, but emerges below the radar through a kind of social Darwinism, inescapable process of social variation and natural selection where forms of socialization are born, grow, combine, and decay; civil society exists because it works. In different ages it has been differently understood. For Aristotle, Cahoone argues, the polis was a “partnership of several villages” characterized by “reciprocal equality, by friendship or fellowship, and by justice.”21 On this view the political and civil were nearly identical. By Roman times “civil” came to mean the association of citizens outside the army or the church. “Civil” meant state, “but not state as government”22 and it meant civil as opposed to barbarous, i.e, civilized opposed to savage or primitive. By the time of the France of the ancien régime it was connected with ideas of courtesy, the court behavior that tamed France’s warrior nobility and transformed it into a pacified court nobility. In Locke, civil society represented the result of the social contract, and included government as the product of the social contract. In parallel, the rising bourgeoisie and its town life of burghers, merchants, guilds and officials created the idea of a “public” independent of a feudal lord and the notion of the “autonomy of the social” from the cultural hegemony of Throne and Altar. In Hegel, civil society is a way station on the evolutionary road from the family to the state, in which civil society educated the individual away from the family towards commercial society, preparing the individual for “fulsome moral association of membership in the state.”23 In Marx, civil society and capitalism tear the sentimental veil from traditional community to provoke alienation and oppression. But Tocqueville, writing a decade before Marx, noticed the development in the 19th century United States of the voluntary association that engaged the social sympathies of the isolated American: alienation, the antithesis of traditional socialization, had already found its synthesis in association. We may say that the responsible self instinctively moves to attach his individual self to society in a self-conscious act of association. With the rise of socialism the Hegelian notion dominated, with the left regarding civil society as an apology for capital and the right regarding it as a mystification of the rationality of market and individual rights.
Hegel was wrong. Civil society is not a way-station to membership in the state; it is a necessary seat of culture and civility without which societal relations independent of the state and its compulsion are a nullity. That is what Central European dissidents in the Soviet empire determined as they read Michael Novak’s The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism in samizdat. They were seeking for a source of social capital to fill the social void left by the “democratic centralism” of their Soviet-bloc governments. Elsewhere, proponents of civil society do not need to fill a void; they propose civil society as a buttress, a defense against the “statism” of social democracy. What has emerged, according to Cahoone, is a notion of civil society answering three modern social needs:
1. A social organism for constructing social meanings
2. A social solidarity constructed in mediating institutions
3. A social order that eschews hegemonic foundational narratives
Critics have accused this notion of nostalgia, of avoiding the admission that capitalism needs positive political control, and of using Hegel’s term of a way-station between family and state to smuggle something quite different, the notion of an autonomous, spontaneous order.24 They should rather admit the truth, that it is not nostalgic at all, but radical.
Worked out in more detail, Cahoone finds that his notion of civil society features five institutional characteristics:
1. Social autonomy, with norms originating from the inside;
2. Free and equal citizens, with elevation of the “plebs” to respected status;
3. Spontaneous order, where social order emerges out of social interactions, not commands from above;
4. Institutional pluralism, a pluralism of different types of organizations and competition between organizations of similar type; and
5. Market economy, necessary but not sufficient, for civil society abuts the market and “the rules of civility are not the rules of the market.”25
When deployed into line, anyone can look at these five standards of a civil society and appreciate how they provide rallying points that satisfy the needs both of those trying to rebuild social structures after the murrain of totalitarianism, and those trying to erect a blocking action against the spread of statist social democracy. In total, these institutional characteristics mount a direct challenge to the social model and the ruling class that dominate democratic capitalist nations in the early 21st century. Taking Cahoone’s five institutional characteristics, one by one, we can enumerate the ways in which they threaten the ruling class thus:
1. The ruling educated class does not accept the idea of social autonomy: it insists on supervising the origination of norms.
2. The ruling educated class shies at the notion of free and equal citizens, preferring to act as patrons of “protected classes” of second-class citizens.
3. The ruling educated class shudders at spontaneous order, and promotes an endless parade of top-down economic and political initiatives based on the idea that society is a mechanism not an organism.
4. The ruling educated class worships at the shrine of institutional pluralism, but in practice cannot endure any dissent from the articles of faith of its secularist episcopal church in which only educated elitists get to be bishops.
5. The ruling educated class maintains an ironical distance from the market economy and its entrepreneurial practitioners, and proclaims “market failure” everywhere and “government failure” nowhere.
In its truculent opposition to the five characteristics of civil society, we may enumerate five characteristics that define the educated elite’s authoritarian welfare state as follows:
1. Social oligarchy, with norms originating only from approved elite sources.
2. Marginalization of cultural and social equality, with only the elite, its community organizers and “protected classes” having freedom of speech.
3. Subordinated order, with the educated elite defining and enforcing an approved social order organized from above.
4. Institutional domination, with all organizations forced to toe the “politically correct” line established by elite cultural and political cadres.
5. Crony capitalism, with the commanding heights of the economy dominated by economic interests that “pay to play” in the rent-seeking political marketplace.
The task of the conservative begins with the existential need to demoralize and de-legitimize the cultural hegemony of the educated elite and its rejection of the principles of civil society. This task is eternal, for “men like power and will seize it if they can.” There will always be a new generation arising to admire its reflection in the pool of Narcissus.
To those that renounce the Great Temptation of political power falls the responsibility to articulate a culture and a politics with that can defend civil society and provide it the space to flourish and to develop for itself a defense in depth against power. “But if they can’t rule, their next preference is that no one rule over them.” The first order of business is to advocate and establish a Greater Separation of Powers that provides a defense in depth of civil society from totalizing influences in politics, in the economy, and from militant moral warriors in the culture.
1Hardt and Negri, Multitude, p.351-352.
2Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, Collier, 1937, p. 214.
3Ibid., p. 216.
4Ibid., p. 216.
5Ibid., p. 185.
6Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital, Basic Books, 2000, pp. 107-108
7Ibid., p. 146.
8Eric Hoffer, “The Negro Revolution,” The Temper of Our Time, Harper & Row, 1967, pp. 55-56.
9J.K. Galbraith, American Capitalism: The Concept of Countervailing Power, Pelican, 1963, p. 125.
10Peter. L Berger and Richard John Neuhaus, To Empower People, AEI, 1996, p. 158.
12Roger Scruton, How to Think Seriously About the Planet, Oxford UP, 2012, p. 9-10
13Ibid., p. 241.
14Ibid., p. 249.
15Ibid., p. 252.
16Lawrence E. Cahoone, Civil Society:The Conservative Meaning of Liberal Politics, Blackwell, 2002, p. 259.
17Ibid., p. 259.
18Ibid, p. 238.
19Ibid., p. 245.
20Ibid., p. 263.
21Ibid., p. 211.
22Ibid., p. 212.
23Ibid., p. 215
24Ibid., p. 219-220
25Ibid., p. 225-229
Government and the Technology of Power
If you scratch a social reformer, you will likely discover a plan for more government.
Business, Slavery, and Trust
Business is all about trust and relationship.
Humanity's Big Problem: Freebooters and Freeloaders
The modern welfare state encourages freeloaders.
The Bonds of Faith
No society known to anthropology or history lacked religion.
A Critique of Social Mechanics
The problem with human society reduced to system.
The Paradox of Individualism
Is individualism the gospel of selfishness or something else?
From Multitude to Civil Society
The larger the government, the smaller the society.
The Answer is Civil Society
In between the separated powers.
The Greater Separation of Powers
If you want to limit power then you must limit power.
Conservatism Three by Three
Conservatism, political, economics, and cultural.
The Culture of Involvement
Imagining lives without the welfare state
The Poor Without the Welfare State
Can the poor thrive without the welfare state?
The Middle Class Without The Welfare State
How would the middle class live without all those middle-class entitlements?
From Freeloaders to Free Givers
The path to the future lies through moral movements.
The Real Meaning of Society
Broadening the horizon of cooperation in the last best hope of man on earth.
When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of agesthey seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990
In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society
We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.
E. G. West, Education and the State
Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures
The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since
1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and
philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West
Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its
characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then,
once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities
But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie
that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison
I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all.
In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism
The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness...
But to make a man act [he must have]
the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove
or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action
[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
When we received Christ, Phil added, all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh
The recognition and integration of extralegal property rights [in the Homestead Act] was a key element in the United States becoming the most important market economy and producer of capital in the world.
Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital