Thursday, May 04, 2017


“Freedom is a need of the soul, and nothing else.  It is in striving toward God that the soul strives continually after a condition of freedom.  God alone is the inciter and guarantor of freedom.  He is the only guarantor…. Religion and freedom are indivisible. Without freedom the soul dies. Without the soul there is no justification for freedom.”
-          Whittaker Chambers – “Witness”

I didn’t attend the forum on the “common good” a few weeks ago, so the information I’ve gleaned about it has come from media reports. With that said, I did find one of the comments cited in the Gazette from Professor Charles Brown quite interesting

This is what Professor Brown said - “What strikes me is that conservatives don’t have the faith in peoples’ abilities to come together, reason together and make constructive changes for the future. It strikes me that they, too, often say, ‘Well, we’re just better off to just let things alone...’

While I’m sure that Professor Brown’s thoughts are sincerely held, I must say that they don’t represent the Conservatism I explored, studied in depth, and adopted in the late seventies.

I didn’t come by my Conservatism easily. I grew up in Boston, America’s cradle of liberty and one of the country’s Progressive strongholds. Until the 1970’s, I would never have considered voting for a Republican, nor can I recall knowing many Conservatives other than an occasional acquaintance I tolerated for the sake of politeness.

Things began to change when a friend encouraged me to read William Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale.” I was surprised to find that Buckley wasn’t the fire breathing lunatic I’d heard about. Once I passed that threshold, I decided that further exploration was in order. I read Whittaker Chambers’ “Witness” next, followed by Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations," F.A. Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom” and “The Fatal Conceit.” Then came Milton Friedman’s “Capitalism and Freedom” and Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France.”

My pilgrimage was complete as soon as I read the final page of Russel Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind.” I knew that I was a Conservative and was proud to be part of the movement.

When Professor Brown said that Conservatives “don’t have faith in the peoples’ abilities to come together,” he couldn’t have been more wrong. That’s not the Conservatism I have practiced for many years now.

When one looks at the core beliefs of Conservatives, he or she won’t find a shred of evidence that suggests that Conservatives “don’t have faith in the peoples’ abilities to come together.” At the heart of Conservative belief is the principle that people should live cooperatively with their neighbors and be as free as possible to govern their own lives. Further, they should be governed by people who promote human freedom and virtue.

If Professor Brown believes that we Conservatives don’t have faith in people, he has misread us. We do trust people, but we also understand human nature and recognize, as Founding Father Alexander Hamilton did, that men aren’t angels and limits must be placed on those men and women who govern us.

In his recent book, “Constitutional Conservatism,” Peter Berkowitz described how Conservatism works: “It assumes the primacy of self-interest but also the capacity of and necessity for citizens to rise above it through the exercise of virtue. It welcomes a diverse array of voluntary associations because they are an expression of liberty, to prevent any one from dominating, and because they serve as schools for the virtues of freedom. And it recognizes the special role of families and religious faith in cultivating these virtues.”

Conservatives value liberty. Where the real divide between Conservatives and Progressives comes in to play is the value Conservatives place on what Berkowitz called “traditional understandings of order and virtue.” He says that Progressives see these traditional understandings as obstacles to freedom. Conservatives, on the other hand, see them as pillars of freedom.

We Conservatives aren’t resistant to change, but we are the first ones who would say, to paraphrase English poet/philosopher G.K. Chesterton, “Don’t ever tear down a fence until you know the reason why it was put up.” Put another way, Conservatives believe Hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress.” (from Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind”)

We Conservatives are fully prepared to cooperate with our fellow citizens and leaders. We are willing to compromise when compromise is called for. Above all, we want to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and for the generations of Americans to come. We believe these blessings are best preserved when we preserve them freely and cooperatively. These virtues are nourished, as Berkowitz observed, “by tradition.”  In fact, liberty and tradition are inter-dependent. They’re like love and marriage from the old Sinatra tune - “You can’t have one without the other.”