I imagine that most readers of this web log would consider themselves conservatives in some sense of the word. (Bear in mind that it's critically important to distinguish conservatism from the policies of Mr Bush and the GOP in general; nearly everyone today would agree that Mr Bush is not representative of traditional American conservatism.) While it's necessary not to confuse Orthodoxy with any partisan political party or position, it is our responsibility to take seriously our commitments to the societies in which we live, which necessarily means having some guiding principles by which to make political judgment. To my mind, some variety of traditional conservatism provides the most prudent such guide. Since, however, those calling themselves conservatives – at least in the US – have generated an unbearable amount of tripe in recent years, it's well past time to get back to first principles. I can think of no better introduction to the underlying issues than Daniel Larison's brief essay "Imagining Conservatism in a New Light." (Please note Mr. Larison's new URL.) To whet your appetite I offer the first two paragraphs of this essay:
It has been one of the great, failed projects of conventional American conservatism to encourage the fiction that the Christian civilisation conservatives admire and the Enlightenment civilisation that destroyed it are part of a real continuity. For the purposes of this essay, I take it as a given that conservatism is, or at least ought to be, the persuasion and mentality that seeks good order and that in a Western society a conservative’s understanding of good order is unavoidably defined significantly and primarily by the Christian intellectual tradition in general and by the received teachings of the early Fathers of the Church in particular. This latter point may not seem obvious or ‘given’ to some, but when we consider that these Fathers were responsible for the formulation of most of the formal doctrines that created the latticework of all subsequent Christian thought and they were likewise the architects of the Christian synthesis of reason and faith that survived unimpaired in all of Europe at least until the Reformation, this claim should seem far more compelling. I also take it as a given that a conservative acknowledges the overwhelming and irreducible cultural significance of the claims of the Christian religion, including its claim to the be the True Faith, and I assume that many philosophical conservatives are confessing Christians who see their conservatism as a logical, if not strictly necessary, accompaniment to their confession of the Faith and their conviction that Christianity is true and that Christ is the Truth who was incarnate for our sake. Such Christian conservatives are, I suspect, committed, to one degree or another, to the preservation of what remains of Christian civilisation in Europe and North America, and they believe that the Western experiment of modernity has been, at best, deeply flawed and generally hostile to the Christian tradition.A good essay to read next is Mark C. Henrie's "Understanding Traditionalist Conservatism." Those interested in going deeper could hardly find a more useful book than this. Students trying to get an education despite being in college should acquire as many books from this series as they can. Students and teachers should know that subscription to these excellent journals is free. Those who haven't yet begun their indoctrination should consult this book before choosing their ivory prison. Make sure, too, to revisit this post.
That might be too much to assume, but I regard these points as the sine qua non of any effort to develop a philosophical conservatism of real significance. This essay is written in the conviction that it is in some real sense entirely vain to imagine that American conservatives may re-imagine a Christian civilisation and preserve its existing remnants, much less restore such a civilisation, so long as we persist in this fiction of the basic compatibility and agreement of the two traditions, the Christian and the Enlightenment. This is because we may either rely on the Faith’s understanding of human nature and the proper relationship of man to God and to his fellow men, or we can accept the understanding of one of a host of modern derivatives of the liberal tradition in the knowledge that the assumptions we embrace will define and determine what sort of society and way of life our posterity will have. If the former is true, we will have to act as if it were true. A beginning would be to reject the false assumptions of liberalism broadly defined.
We are not (yet) in the catacombs, and it may well be that our form of martyrdom (that is, of witness) is to live as Christians not only in our "Church" lives, but in all aspects of our lives. This can't be done without an education – which today requires a hefty amount of self-education – that forms both mind and soul into the image of Christ.