TBT: History of Conservative Thought Update: Edmund Burke

The Summer 2020 session of History of Conservative Thought is really going well.  Yesterday, the three young man each gave brief presentations on three excerpts from Edmund Burke’s writing, summarizing Burke’s main points and ideas.

It was made for a lively, far-ranging discussion.  One of the students is taking another summer course, Terror and Terrorism, a popular summertime offering from one of my colleagues.  I had the pleasure to fill-in last summer for the French Revolution portion of that class while my colleague was away at an AP Summer Institute.  Apparently, that course just covered the French Revolution again, so it dovetailed nicely with our discussion of Burke’s Reflections on that bloody affair.  We had a good time contrasting Burkean “ordered liberty” and Rousseau’s “general will.”

As such, I thought this edition of TBT could look back to Summer 2019’s HoCT update, “History of Conservative Thought Update: Edmund Burke“:

A bit of a delayed post today, due to a busier-than-usual Monday, and the attendant exhaustion that came with it. The third meeting of my new History of Conservative Thought class just wrapped up, and while I should be painting right now, I wanted to give a quite update.

Last week, we began diving into the grandfather of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke. Burke prophetically saw the outcome of the French Revolution before it turned sour, writing his legendary Reflections on the Revolution in France in 1789 as the upheaval began. Burke argued that the French Revolution ended the greatness of European civilization, a Europe that governed, in various ways, its respective realms with a light hand, and a sense of “moral imagination.”

To quote Burke reflecting on the Queen of France:

“I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroick enterprise is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness.”

What a powerful excerpt! The “sophisters, economists, and calculators,” indeed, reign in the West. What Burke was driving at here was that the rationalistic, abstract bureaucrats who would abandon tradition in their quest for a perfect society would sacrifice everything that made their country great, and life worth living.

Burke was also arguing that there is more to obedience to a government or king than the mere threat of power. People are invested in their country and society—and willing to submit to authority—because of organic culture from which it grows. Uprooting the great tree of tradition in favor of abstract foundations merely destroys the tree, and plants its seedlings in shallow ruts of stone. What grows will be anemic and pitiful by comparison.

Volumes could and have been written about Burke, but I’ll leave it here for now. Next week we’re getting into the development of Northern and Southern conservatism, which should make for some pre-Independence Day fun.

History of Conservative Thought Summer 2020, Week 2

The second week of History of Conservative Thought 2020 is in the books.  We did another Google Meet session, as I’m still supposed to be quarantining, but we should be able to meet in person next week.  My fever is virtually gone, and I’m finally feeling normal again.

The bulk of today’s discussion centered on Russell Kirk’s “Ten Conservative Principles,” which expanded a bit upon the six conservative principles Kirk wrote about in the “Introduction” to The Portable Conservative Reader.  It was a great discussion, and it was interesting to read the students’ papers before class to see how their answer to the question “What is Conservatism?” changed after reading Kirk.

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First Day of History of Conservative Thought 2020

Today marked the first day of the Summer 2020 session of my History of Conservative Thought course.  Because I’m sick and awaiting COVID-19 test results, we held the inaugural session on Google Meet, discussing the big picture question “What is Conservatism?

The session went quite well (and I was pleased to see that even with a fever I could last around 75 minutes).  The students hit upon these concepts as being key to conservatism:

  • Fiscal responsibility
  • Constitutionalism (in the American context)
  • Limited/small government and States’ Rights
  • Traditionalism in a cultural and religious sense
  • Opposition to Progressivism itself (certainly a feature of Buckleyite fusionism
  • Peace through Strength
  • Strict immigration enforcement

To that list I added the classically liberal concept of natural rights and the Burkean idea of “ordered liberty.”  We also talked about how the earliest conservatives of the Enlightenment Period were largely monarchists, and explicitly rejected the concept of natural rights (at least, rejected the concept as Americans understand it; that is, that all men are created equal and God gives them their rights).

They’re reading Russell Kirk’s “Ten Conservative Principles” for next week, and we’ll check Kirk’s principles against their list.

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History of Conservative Thought Update: Edmund Burke

A bit of a delayed post today, due to a busier-than-usual Monday, and the attendant exhaustion that came with it. The third meeting of my new History of Conservative Thought class just wrapped up, and while I should be painting right now, I wanted to give a quite update.

Last week, we began diving into the grandfather of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke. Burke prophetically saw the outcome of the French Revolution before it turned sour, writing his legendary Reflections on the Revolution in France in 1789 as the upheaval began. Burke argued that the French Revolution ended the greatness of European civilization, a Europe that governed, in various ways, its respective realms with a light hand, and a sense of “moral imagination.”

To quote Burke reflecting on the Queen of France:

“I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroick enterprise is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness.”

What a powerful excerpt! The “sophisters, economists, and calculators,” indeed, reign in the West. What Burke was driving at here was that the rationalistic, abstract bureaucrats who would abandon tradition in their quest for a perfect society would sacrifice everything that made their country great, and life worth living.

Burke was also arguing that there is more to obedience to a government or king than the mere threat of power. People are invested in their country and society—and willing to submit to authority—because of organic culture from which it grows. Uprooting the great tree of tradition in favor of abstract foundations merely destroys the tree, and plants its seedlings in shallow ruts of stone. What grows will be anemic and pitiful by comparison.

Volumes could and have been written about Burke, but I’ll leave it here for now. Next week we’re getting into the development of Northern and Southern conservatism, which should make for some pre-Independence Day fun.

TBT^4: It’s a Thanksgiving Miracle!

Another year has passed, and another Thanksgiving has rolled around.  In the tradition of this blog going back to 2017, I’m throwing back to past Thanksgiving Day posts.  I’ll alternate between italicized and non-italicized posts so readers can see the layers of commentary and annual updates.

In re-reading “TBT^2: It’s a Thanksgiving Miracle,” it’s interesting to reflect on the contrast between 2019 and 2020.  Yes, 2020 has been a rough year universally, but it’s personally been one of my better years.  The Virus really took its toll financially, especially on my private music lessons and gigging empire, but both of those are recovering as folks mellow out about The Virus and the holidays approach.  I’m back to six students now, and have been blessed with some truly God-sent bookings recently.

The Virus brought a silver lining:  it forced me to slow down.  All the shutdowns made me do what I would have been loathe to do voluntarily—give up various extracurricular activities and side gigs.  For the first time in probably seven years, I took the summer off, other than my History of Conservative Thought course and one intrepid piano student (and three days of painting for the school, because they were desperate).  I reluctantly got on some extremely mild anxiety medication, and now I love the stuff—I’m not fretting over insignificant things anymore.

I enjoyed distance learning, too, though I am glad to be back with students (most days).  It provided the opportunity to laser-focus on my teaching, without all the extra little duties and responsibilities that normally come with teaching generally and my position specifically.  I missed putting on a big Spring Concert, but I didn’t miss the stress, the lack of institutional support, and the hours and hours of unwinding and connecting XLR cables.

All in all, it’s been a very good year.  I’m up to eight generous subscribers now to my SubscribeStar page, and many of you have purchased my music on BandcampYour support came when I needed it most, and for that, I will always be grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving 2020!

—TPP

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Lazy Sunday LXXX: Big Ideas

So many of the West’s problems are fundamentally spiritual in nature.  Our politics are no longer the pedestrian, earthy wranglings over how to maintain the roads (clearly not) or what the marginal tax rate should be.  Even the most mundane of political discussions become theological battles about the nature of Truth itself.  It’s ironic given the Left’s wholesale embrace of postmodernism’s rejection of Truth.

As such, it seemed like an opportune time to dedicate a Lazy Sunday to posts about big ideas.  It’s easy to get bogged down in the details—the Devil is in them, after all—but it’s also important to grasp at the makeup of the entire forest, not just its diversity of trees.

With that, here are some of my own stabs at understanding the dark forest in which we moderns find ourselves:

  • What is Conservatism?” & “TBT: What is Conservatism?” – This post kicked off the first run of my History of Conservative Thought Class, in which begin exploring the ideas of Russell Kirk.  So much of what Americans consider to be “conservative” today is really an abstract ideology, whereas Kirk’s conservatism varied from one society to the next.  It did, however, contain some similar elements across cultures.  Kirk is mostly forgotten in conservative circles today, which is unfortunate; it would behoove us to know more of his thought and work.  
  • Resist the Black Pill” – It’s easy to get discouraged with the state of the world at present, especially here in the United States. Even with the efforts of President Trump and his MAGA cadre, there are long-term concerns for the future of our country.  The nomination of Amy Coney Barrett is one sign of hope, though whether or not the Court will return to true constitutionalism is still an open question.  What we can know is that nihilistic despair is a sin, and our hope comes from the Lord.
  • What is Civilization?” – This post dealt with a lively discussion between Milo and a couple of groypers, Steve Franssen and Vincent James, about the future of civilization.  It’s an intriguing debate about whether or not abandoning the cities to progressive destroyers represents an abandonment of civilization itself (my answer would be no).

That’s it for this brief Lazy Sunday.  Here’s hoping these posts give you something to chew over as you head into your week.

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

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Lazy Sunday LXXII: Forgotten Posts, Volume I

I’ve been blogging daily for over a year-and-a-half now, with a smattering of posts going back to 2009 (on the old Blogger version of the site, which I call TPP 1.0).  While I think I have some decent posts—my buddy fridrix of Corporate History International once told me my material was in the top ten percent in terms of quality on the Internet—I’ve written a lot of garbage, too, including placeholder posts for times I can’t really get something fresh posted.

Of course, I’ve written essays that I think are excellent—or, at the very least, very important—that get virtually no hits.  Then I’ll write throwaway posts, like “Tom Steyer’s Belt,” that blow up the view counter.  That one at least made sense—I was one of the first sources to write about his goofy belt, and his ads were so ubiquitous in late 2019, people searching for his belt got my blog.

What’s interesting to me is that forget some of the things I’ve written.  It’s another reason we shouldn’t be so fast to crucify television personalities who posted something incendiary on their blog fifteen years ago.  Views change, although I think sometimes folks in the hot seat exaggerate how much they’ve “evolved” on an issue.  Then again, we’re responsible for what we put out there.

That’s all a long way of saying that I’m doing some deep dives for an indeterminate number of Sundays into some forgotten posts.  These are posts that don’t immediately spring to my mind when I’m referencing my own work.  These posts may or may not have had high or low hit counts; they are just posts that don’t linger strongly in my memory.  They’re the red-headed stepchildren of my churning mind.

To find these posts, I just looked back at months in 2018 and 2019 to see what didn’t leap out to me as familiar.  You’ll notice that February 2019 is heavily-represented here, as that was early in the process of what became my goal of one year of daily posts.

With that, here are some forgotten posts of yesteryear:

  • Reality Breeds Conservatism” – This post isn’t totally forgotten, but it’s one of those keystone essays that, for whatever reason, I don’t link to frequently (unlike “Progressivism and Political Violence,” which I have probably linked to more than another other post).  I also wrote this post before diving into Russell Kirk’s ideas about conservatism, which themselves reflect Edmund Burke’s notions of “ordered liberty” and the organic nature of a healthy society.  It’s a decent, if lengthy post from 2018 (TPP 2.0 era), and it explores the influence of risk upon one’s political affiliations and leanings.
  • Twilight Zone Reviews on Orion’s Cold Fire” – My blogger buddy photog undertook a project in 2019 to watch and review every Twilight Zone episode.  He’d obtained the full box set, I believe, and set about his task, initially with daily reviews, which he then scaled back to a few times a week.  He’s now writing reviews of Shakespeare in Film, which I will confess I have not followed as closely, but is in the same spirit as his TWZ project.
  • The Good Populism” – This post was one in which I mused about running the first iteration of History of Conservative Thought.  The essay explores a post from classicist Victor Davis Hanson entitled “The Good Populism.”  I enthused at the time about how I would “definitely include” this essay in the course.  Oops!  The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray, eh?  But it is a great essay, as VDH delivers keen analysis once again.  In an age in which populism has newfound purchase on the American political imagination, it’s worth understanding that not all populism is the wicked machinations of demagogues swaying the rubes.
  • More Good News: Tom Rice on the State of the Economy” – I completely forgot about this short post, which features a YouTube video of my US Represenative, Tom Rice, discussing the good economy.  That was in The Before Times, in the Long Long Ago, before The Age of The Virus, when things just kept getting better and better.  Just can the headlines at Zero Hedge and you’ll see pretty quickly that we’re headed for multiple financial cliffs if we don’t cease with all this shutdown nonsense.  Yikes!

Well, that’s it for this Sunday.  I’m looking forward into further deep dives over the coming weeks.

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

TBT: Ideas Have Consequences – Introduction

Yesterday was the last session of the Summer 2020 History of Conservative Thought course.  This summer marks the second run of the course, and it was a fantastic class.  I had three young men enrolled, all quite eager to dive into the material.

I try to avoid lengthy lectures in HoCT, giving the basic background information and scaffolding necessary to put the readings into context.  I want the works to speak for themselves, and for the students to the do the heavy lifting of sussing out meaning and the author’s ideas.  Each week students wrote a short essay or answered a few different guided questions, then we would come in and discuss the material.

With this summer’s group, that model worked very well, as two of the young men in particular loved to plunge into discussions and ask questions.  One of the students was concurrently taking a colleague’s popular Terror and Terrorism course, which leads off each summer with the French Revolution.  That always dovetails nicely with our discussion of Edmund Burke, as we read several excerpts from his Reflections on the Revolution in France.  Burke comes on the heels of our discussion of Russell Kirk’s conservative principles, and helps frame the early portion of the course in the Burkean tradition.

In July, we left the nineteenth century and began looking at the modern conservative movement, with a heavy emphasis on William F. Buckley, Jr., and the notion of fusionism.  Buckley’s National Review catches a good bit of flack on the Right these days, including from this blog, but it truly shaped conservatism in the second half of the twentieth century.  Before National Review, conservatism was a disorganized, disunited hodgepodge of various ideologies, movements, and issues—it was, as Lionel Trilling put it, a “reactionary impulse,” a grumpy attitude about the way things were, but without a cohesive understanding of how to combat the dominance of New Deal liberalism.

For all its noodle-wristed hand-wringing and desperate virtue-signalling today, National Review created the modern conservative movement by giving conservatives their voice, their publication.  It also gave conservatism a politically viable platform of issues that could win in national politics.  That focus on nationalism certainly cuts against the Kirkean/Burkean mold of organic, ordered liberty, but it was the reality of post-war American political life.

We ended with another mid-century conservative, but one fitting far more into the spiritual and moral mold of Burke and Kirk, and far less in the neoliberal and materialist mold of Buckley-style fusionism:  Richard Weaver’s seminal Ideas Have Consequences, which I consider one of the greatest books ever written.  Indeed, I’m a bit of a Weaver fanboy, as he’s been featured twice on my Summer Reading Lists, first in 2016 for Ideas Have Consequences, and again in 2020 for his collection of Southern Essays.

For the course, we just read the “Introduction” to the book, which I try to read every August before school resumes.  It reminds me why I teach, and what is at stake.  Reading Ideas Have Consequences—first published in 1948—today reads like prophecy fulfilled.  Weaver’s core focus on William of Occam as the source of modernity and its related ills might seem a bit far-fetched, but that’s merely the germ from which the analysis of modernity’s fallen view of the world grows.

The real heart of Ideas Have Consequences is the abandonment of the transcendental—of God—in favor for navel-gazing particularism, a constant focus on lower, material concerns.  Unbound from any obligation to or belief in a transcendental moral order, men are left adrift in a world full of isolation, alienation, confusion, and meaninglessness.

I’ll let the rest speak for itself.  Here is 29 July 2019’s “Ideas Have Consequences – Introduction“:

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TBT: Flight 93 Election Follow-Up

It’s been a big election week for yours portly; even though I lost to a surprise write-in candidate, I feel pretty good about it.  It’s also, of course, a huge (yuge?) election year, with the fate of the United States dangling in the balance.

Right now, President Trump is down in the polls, and there’s a lot of black-pilled commentary on our side (I’m certainly guilty of it).  Z Man wrote a scatching post yesterday—entitled “Flight 93 Crashed“—that argues that Jeff Sessions’s defeat in the Alabama US Senate Republican primary to former football coach Tommy Tuberville marks the end of any significant, mainstream nationalist and immigration patriot influence in national politics.  Sessions was, indeed, a John the Baptist in the Senate, crying out in the wilderness of the cheap labor lobby, a lone voice for immigration restriction.

I do think President Trump has treated Sessions shabbily at times, but when Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, he allowed hostile forces to take the reins, resulting in two years and millions of wasted dollars on a politically-motivated investigation that nearly put Roger Stone in jail for a meaningless process “crime.”  More importantly, it stymied the Trump presidency, putting a stop to the energy and excitement of those early days of his administration.

Sessions was, I believe, doing what he thought was right, but his fatal error was he assumed we were still playing by the old playbook of political decorum and fair play.  By taking that path—however honorable in the particular—he unleashed incredibly dishonorable forces, albeit unintentionally.  To add insult to injury, Democrat Doug Jones won his Senate seat away from Judge Roy Moore, a huge hero for social and religious conservatives.

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