Daybook, 6th July 2016

After long months of neglect, I bring back one of my favorite things I’ve ever done of the internet–the Daybook.

Readings:

That last reading is challenging to me for many reasons. For one, Mr. Stitman’s journey seems, in many ways, to parallel one I’ve been on myself, though I find myself not abandoning conservatism–simply because the alternatives (liberalism, anarchism, libertarianism) are impossible to reconcile with other, deeply-held, primary and principle beliefs and notions I have–but rather retreating into ever-more idiosyncratic, complex, and even sometimes downright personally vexing articulations of it. I don’t find what passes for “conservatism” in America to have much that I find good, true, beautiful, or right.

Much of my issues with American conservatism find decent articulation in one line in particular from this essay: “That deeper affinity our faith had for American-style conservatism came from the spirit of voluntarism and individualism that defined this version of Christianity.” Perhaps at the core of American conservatism–of secular, economic, political, and even religious/cultural versions of it–is this notion of the individual. The individual reigns supreme, and even when an individual is aware of his connection with a larger community–as Stitman seemed to be, and seemed to recognize his family and fellow community members as also being–this connection to larger community is a means merely for policing the expression and exercise of individuality within certain accepted limitations. The focus, then, is still on the atomized individual. This is of disastrous consequences for political and economic communities, as well as (to get to the specific point of contention the author is raising in the sentence I quoted) in religious faith, especially Christianity.

I don’t know when this occurred, and I don’t know if anyone could know that. But I do know that this focus on the individual is a serious flaw in the work and thought of American conservatives. This focus, it seems to me, lead to many of the flawed “first principles” that Stitman discusses when he notes that “This is what holds together all the myriad failures of conservative politics: a devotion to first principles that simply must be true, whatever the consequences, and whatever the human suffering left in their aftermath.” As I think about what I think, what I believe, and the “first principles” that form the basis for these thoughts and beliefs, this essay gives me pause and forces me into significant personal reflection.

Something Else:

Apropos of the last essay and my muddled comments about it, a quote from Sir Roger Scruton’s “Governing Rightly,” from his excellent little book of essays Confessions of a Heretic:

It is therefore pertinent to consider not only the bad side of government–which Americans can easily recognise–but also the good. For American conservatives are in danger of appearing as though they had no positive idea of government at all, and were in the business simply of opposing all new federal programs, however necessary they may be to the future and security of the nation. Most of all, they seem to be losing sight of the truth that government is not only natural to the human condition, but an expression of those extended loyalties over time, which bind generation to generation in a relation of mutual commitment…

…We are free by nature because we become free, in the course of our development. And this development depends at every point upon the networks and relations that bind us to the larger social world. Only certain kinds of social networks encourage people to see themselves as individuals, shielded by their rights and bound together by their duties. Only in certain conditions are people united in society not by organic necessity but by free consent. To put in simply, the human individual is a social construct.

Reading Scruton and Stitman beside one another, it seems that perhaps American conservatives have forgotten that man is what The Philosopher calls ζῷον πολιτικόν.

Lastly, as I’m trying to put together a manual for prayer and devotion to be used in our own home, as well as thinking about how man is connected to things outside himself through webs of mutual obligations and duties, I keep coming back to this little set of basic instructions and duties of church membership from mid-20th century England:

DutiesOfChurchMembership

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