Michael Oakeshott

Andrew Cunningham writing in American Thinker a few days ago introduced us to a British conservative that not many Americans are familiar with, and that’s too bad.

Yet, at its core, conservatism is still a practical, applicable, and logical political philosophy — a philosophy deeply concerned with maintaining what is good in society while rejecting dangerous and idiotic pipe dreams from the Left.

The most convincing argument for conservatism was presented by 20th-century British philosopher Michael Oakeshott. Oakeshott presents a conservatism that seems easy to accept and understand. The basis of Oakeshott’s argument for conservatism is the idea of familiarity.

In his landmark work, On Being Conservative, Oakeshott writes, “To be conservative is to be disposed to think and behave in certain manners; is to prefer certain kinds of conduct and certain conditions of human circumstances[.] … [T]hey [conservative values] center upon a propensity to use and enjoy what is available … rather than what was or what may be.” In other words, to be conservative means to prefer certain belief systems and styles of living and human behavior more than other types. It also means to appreciate what exists in the current social system without a pining for a future that might never exist.

A rudimentary view on Oakeshott’s conservatism is that it simply prefers the familiar over the unfamiliar and the proven good over unproven potential, or, as he says it, “present laughter to utopian bliss.” Oakeshott’s conservatism is an appreciation for the good that presently exists in the world.

At the most basic level of human life, there are preferences for food, music, and types of employment. On a more political level, one might prefer to maintain the good aspects of a society, such as basic freedoms of speech and religion, rather than hypothetically seeking what could be.

This is all very good, and it is true. It is also Burkean and explains well why Burke supported the American Revolution while strongly opposing the French revolution. And if one were to look at history since, one will see the utility and correctness of that appraisal. Still today, Americans tend to noisily work out our disagreements, in fact, we have the same government since the Terror was going in France, while the French are on their fifth republic, having had a couple of empires, a king or two, and whatnot since. They still have little idea of how to work out problems while the Anglo-Saxon powers do so as a matter of course.

That said and truly said, because Burkean (or Oakeshottean) conservatism will avoid most problems, it is not quite enough. It is the problem of the British Conservative party, which has no real foundation, and so tends to slide down the slope (almost always to the left). It’s also a problem for many American conservatives.

Most of that foundation in American usage comes from Locke, who provides the foundational beliefs which makes the building which Burke built so solid that it has weathered all the storms that have broken against it since before 1776. There are other sources, including our joint documents, but Locke clarified much.

By all means, read and study Oakeshott, and Burke as well, they are excellent practical guides but also read Locke, so that you can develop the foundational beliefs that have allowed American conservatism to stand as the rock against whichever storm is hurled against it, as it has as long as there has been an America.

And something that greatly pleases me is the author’s blurb for the linked author, to wit:

Andrew Cunningham is a published author and a junior at the University of Illinois, Springfield.  Follow his writings at Conservative Roundtable.

What an excellent start!


Sir Robert Scruton


First a personal note, it is good to see ‘The Unit’ liking posts, here again, he has been missed since the first of the year. I look forward to his resumption of commenting. 🙂

Sir Roger Scruton died of cancer over the weekend, at home in England surrounded by his family. As Steven Hayward says on PowerLine:

Sir Roger deserves to be considered the greatest conservative thinker and writer of the last generation—full stop—certainly the most prolific and wide-ranging since G.K. Chesterton, having published more than 50 books and countless articles.

And yet he’s very hard for me, at least, to write about. I agreed with him almost always, but what he said was in a way so simple, so commonsensical, that it seemed to hardly need saying, and yet it did, and he always said it well, with great humor. Steven again.

Although Scruton can throw down with the deepest and most complex of modern philosophers such as Wittgenstein, when it came to conservatism he was not a dense theorist or systematizer. To the contrary, he liked to say that conservatism should begin with love—the things we love, the places we love, and the institutions we ought to love, but often don’t, because of the imperfections in all things human. In the introduction to his book The Meaning of Conservatism, Scruton writes that “Conservatism may rarely announce itself in maxims, formulae, or aims. Its essence is inarticulate, and its expression, when compelled, skeptical.”

Why “inarticulate”?  Because, as he explains elsewhere, the liberal has the easy job in the modern world. The liberal points at the imperfections and defects of existing institutions or the existing social order, strikes a pose of indignation, and huffs that surely something better is required, usually with the attitude that the something better is simply a matter of will. The conservative faces the tougher challenge of understanding and explaining the often subtle reasons why existing institutions, no matter how imperfect, work better than speculative alternatives.

This is true, and pretty obvious, really. It’s always easier to criticize and show what’s wrong, even if one sticks to the truth, which these days is not a given. It is always much harder to see why the time-honored system works although imperfectly, better than any of the simplistic proposed replacements.

Kevin Donnelly in the Spectator Australia has some thoughts as well.

In opposition to the nanny state and big government much like Edmund Burke’s vision of little platoons, Scruton in his book Conservatism stresses the value of “the networks of familiarity and trust on which a community depends for its longevity”.   Scruton also suggests ordinary people are conservative by nature; something not acknowledged by society’s intellectual elites.

An intellectual class that sees itself as “gifted with superior insight and intellect and therefore inevitably critical of whatever it is that ordinary people do by way of surviving.  An intellectual class that does not identify with the way of life around it”.

Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States by Hilary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”, Scott Morrison’s ability to win the support of the “quiet Australians” and Boris Johnson’s success attracting traditional Labor voters are proof of Scruton’s thesis.

He’s correct and if they do their jobs well, the continued strength of the Anglosphere will be his greatest memorial.

Scruton, like the poet T S Eliot and the philosopher Michael Oakeshott. believed the purpose of education is to initiate succeeding generations into what Matthew Arnold described as “the best that has been thought and said”. 

For Scruton what mattered most “is the spiritual and moral health of a community” and it’s understandable why he abhorred the destructive impact of cultural-left theory on the academy especially the impact of postmodernism and deconstructionism on music, art, literature and history.

When discussing the threats to modern conservatism Scruton identifies one of its chief enemies as political correctness and “its restraint on freedom of expression and its emphasis in everything on Western guilt”.

A very great man of towering intellect and peripatetic interests. His loss will be keenly felt.

Godspeed, Sir Roger.

A need for Community Ahead of Efficiency

Wiring a residential loadcenter

Last Tuesday, we talked about the world I have spent my life in and how agricultural efficiency hs (perhaps mortally) wounded it. If you missed it, it is here. That agricultural society is perhaps the bedrock on which America founded, owing much more to Jefferson’s vision than to Hamilton’s, although it shares, and always has, much of Hamilton’s vision as well.

In The Federalist on Wednesday, Nathanael Blake explained much of the basis for this. Let’s look:

Counterfeiting boutique basses is a minor example, as those looking to buy high-end instruments probably won’t be fooled by a shoddy imitation, and those knowingly buying a counterfeit — oh, the strange vanity of wanting to appear to have an expensive instrument — are unlikely ever to shell out the cash for the real thing. But as the Wall Street Journal’s reporting about Chinese sellers on Amazon documents, many Americans have watched Chinese rip-offs and counterfeits damage and even destroy their businesses.

There’s another example from a few years ago. The Chinese flooded the US market with counterfeit Square D circuit breakers. For me, and for many other electricians, Square D is the silver standard. We are talking here of the residential series (Homeline) not the commercial line (QO). I dislike using any other manufacturers’ equipment, the price isn’t that different, but the quality is.

Except all of a sudden, it wasn’t. We were awash in reports of failed breakers (we call them overcurrent protective devices or OCPD, which includes fuses which do the same job) which caused all sorts of problems including a fair number of new houses burning down, and not a few deaths. Eventually, the government, Underwriter’s Laboratories, and Square D got it under control. Square D, which is owned by Schneider survived, but if they hadn’t been so big, they might not have.

Some contractors who innocently installed the counterfeits didn’t. They were mostly (but not exclusively) in the supply chain of the big box stores, so one of the effects was that we quit buying there and went back to our supply houses. And remember, Amazon is the biggest of the big box stores. Very nearly the only thing they look at is cost, and that makes them (and their customers too) vulnerable.

That’s one of the things that putting cost ahead of everything else can do.

Free markets do not necessitate soulless hedonistic materialism; they simply respond to what people want. People who want love, friendship, and beauty rather than maximal material acquisition and physical pleasure are free to pursue them. It is not capitalism’s fault if too few do so.

This overlooks the fact that some goods are only achievable in common and in community. Indeed, community in the full sense as a form of friendship is a good that cannot be attained through individual preference. Community is not a consumer good to be purchased. But the efficient flow of capital for maximum profit does not account for, and frequently harms, communities and the goods they instantiate, enable, and cultivate.

The economic instability of capitalism’s “creative destruction” damages goods for which the market cannot compensate. A moment’s decision in New York or San Francisco can destroy generations of relationships in the heartland.

Ironically, this throws grit into the gears of the market machine. Williamson points out that many industries are struggling to find good workers. True enough, but such workers are people, not robots. Good workers cannot be ordered up on demand, but are grown and cultured in families and communities that do not reduce them to their future economic output. […]

The efficient allocation and reallocation of capital is in tension with creating and sustaining stable, nurturing families and communities. Conservatives recognize this; we know that the goods of economic liberty must be balanced against the goods of communal and family stability as we try to steer between stagnation and disintegration.

For workers, an unsettled, nomadic life following the efficient allocation of capital impedes love, friendship, and communion with others. We were not created for economic efficiency. We are not defined by our productivity but by our relationships. An economic and political order that does not recognize this is unjust.

Thus, conservatives know we are not obviously better off destroying those inefficient communities Williamson disdains. I am not really better off if my grocery bill is a few bucks less but my brother is unemployed.

Yep, and that is the essential difference between conservatism, and full-on libertarianism which we see in the Koch brothers, and even the Randian Objectivists and conservatives. For many of us, there are more important things than saving a buck on a circuit breaker. Being able to sleep at night is one, and having a community is another.

And you know, for years, I followed work around, in my field we call it booming, it happens in some parts of electrical contracting just as it does in the oil fields. I can tell from experience that the main reason you’ll find us in the bar at night is company. Sure we prefer pretty girls, but an old farmer is also interesting to have a beer with.

As John Donne said long ago:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee

America’s Ruling Class vs. All

Mad as hellThis is the absolute truth, and not only at the Washington level. Whenever you see a man (or woman) who has grown fat and prosperous in a government (or elective) job, you have found corruption. If we do not roll it back, it will be the cause of the end of the Republic.

Sitting back and observing the current civil war happening within the Republican party should come as no surprise to anyone who resides outside the beltway of Washington, D.C. Pundits, thinkers, writers, and radio hosts who I once admired, have now lost credibility as they have bestowed upon themselves the bastion of what is and isn’t “true conservatism”. Yet, while the civil war wages within the party, the party itself does a disservice to this nation for fighting the wrong battle at the wrong time as the war for the heart of this country wages on.

To myself, this has always been the main issue in regards to the Republicans. For far too long they’ve fought for the soul of conservatism as they’d like it to be, but not for the soul of the nation as it truly is. I highly doubt that the very pundits, thinkers, writers, and hosts whom I’ve come to follow are malevolent in their intent for overlooking this point but I have come to realize that they’ve overlooked it completely. I find it flat out astounding that they fail to recognize the zeitgeist of the times as America has reached a point in which the majority of the voters not only couldn’t give a damn about what is and isn’t conservatism, but have no idea what the word even means. Why? Because year after year, representative after representative, and election after election the elites within the Republican establishment repeatedly betray their constituency as they immediately capitulate on their promises.

Each time a Republican, supporting conservative principles, promising to fight once elected into office, gets elected and then turns on those very principles, it damages the cause of conservatism. […]

The latter, those so covetous of power that they’ve abandoned all principle for the sake of power is what I’d define as America’s ruling class. Our ruling class’s agenda is power for itself.

via America’s Ruling Class vs. All – Politically Short.

And you know, Americans are not really that stupid. Even the ones that don’t really understand what is going on, know that something has changed, and they no longer have the upward path their parents did. I have friends that are ready to jump ship to places like the Philippines that are corrupt, but honestly corrupt. I’m too old to start over yet again, and I’m stubborn, so I’m staying, but I’m increasingly understanding what they are saying, and yes, I’m sympathetic.

I think it is what also drives the “Let it Burn” meme that we hear so much. It’s time to turn it around, not just manage the decline.

Video Tuesday

Go Air Force

And Ben Franklin

Conservatism in real life. From The Federalist

Eliminate the politics and nearly everyone of any partisan stripe idealizes conservative principles without realizing it.

How? Consider the world of sport and fitness. It’s nearly always a fantastic encouragement of individual expression and ability while also promoting a positive community at large. Those hard working, disciplined, don’t-give-up mantras have become more prominent in the last few years as America’s athletic personality has swelled with amateurs.

Mentally tough and intuitively conservative-minded concepts of hard work and personal responsibility accompany these ventures.

Continue reading What Fitness Tells Us About Conservatism’s Appeal

A civilized society, not

This one is serious, because we do seem to be going there. If you work in law enforcement, you must (actually you should have always) think about this, because she is exactly right.

Because remember, you took an oath, not to obey the President, the Governor, the Mayor or any other man, but to defend the Constitution, from all enemies. We count on you to do the right thing. Just before crossing the Delaware 237 years ago this month, General Washington said this to the Continental Army

The time is now near at hand which will probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves, whether they are to have any property they can call their own, or whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed and they consigned to a state of wretchedness from which they cannot be delivered. Our cruel and unrelenting Enemy leaves us no choice but a brave resistance or the most abject submission.

We are not yet at that point, and God willing we will never be. But that is sometimes what liberty demands. Do not let us down.

And Bill Whittle

Or the rest of us, for that matter.


The Duties of a Free Citizen

English: Monticello from the west lawn.

English: Monticello from the west lawn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Professor Gutzman made a contribution on the duties of a free citizen lately that I found quite germane. Far too often I get involved in the events of the day, and lose focus on the medium and long term. i suspect we all do, and while we must engage, we must also always make sure that we remain within our world view. That’s not easy.


I don’t agree with everything he says here, and we can discuss in comments but, he lays out a lot of rational thinking here, and on his major points, I see little to argue with.




This is the third contribution to ISI’s symposium, Conservatism: What’s Wrong with It and How Can We Make It Right?

If Russell Kirk was right in saying that conservatism is a disposition, not a program, then one should not presume to lecture one’s fellows on the way in which it ought to head.  I offer the following thoughts, then, not as a program, but as one conservative scholar’s considered stance concerning some of the most important issues of our time.

When asked, as I often am, I tell people that I am a Jeffersonian in my political outlook.  To some extent, I suppose that every intellectual is a Jeffersonian, more or less, in his approach to the world.  This holds true even for those of us, and I certainly am one, who come to conclusions markedly different from Jefferson’s on this issue or that.  For Jefferson, the world was a grand smorgasbord of areas of study, of things to learn, and his thinking reflected the latest currents of his time.  To that extent, he was a liberal, constantly denigrating inherited wisdom qua inherited wisdom—which is why I disagree with Clyde Wilson’s argument for Jefferson as a great conservative.  Yet, even insofar as we intellectuals end up at loggerheads with Jefferson, we generally do not do so without having subjected our ideas to serious consideration.  In that, we are Jeffersonians.


Adventurism Abroad Threatens Liberty at Home

So fuzzy-eyed idealism of a liberal variety will not do.  Yet, the Jeffersonian tenet that playing the diplomatic game would undermine republicanism has if anything acquired additional force from America’s post-1916 experience.[…]

The point is not that all American treaty commitments should be abandoned.  It may be, for example, that serious deliberation would lead to the conclusion that we must continue to shoulder part of the burden of defense against China for Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and some of their small neighbors.  I am open to the idea that doing so is in America’s interest.  Yet, there is clearly nothing conservative about the George W. Bush/John McCain project of “eliminat[ing] the evil-doers,” to say nothing of the Hillary Clinton/Madeleine Albright concept of the “indispensable nation” that dictates to all foreigners at all times, and it must be put out of our misery.

You Will See Your First Social Security Check … in Hell

One might think that beginning with foreign policy, of all things, shows that I am in the grip of the bipartisan internationalist elite’s worldview, if only as a dissenter.  He would be mistaken.  Instead, I have begun with the category that has shaped our other governmental policies for nearly a century.  So, for example, economic policy in the United States begins with foreign policy.  America’s gigantic borrowing and currency inflation these past several decades are largely traceable to the Empire.  The current depression resulted from the decision by George W. Bush and Alan Greenspan to finance the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars via currency inflation, which resulted in precisely the type of asset bubble and general economic contraction—boom and bust—that Austrian Business Cycle Theory predicted.  Yes, America has other economic problems, and their effects will be even more calamitous, but first things first.

In the economic realm, too, I counsel a marked policy shift. […]

Social Security is completely unfunded.  It cannot continue.  Where something cannot continue, it will not continue.  The same goes for Medicare.  Conservatives should be screaming this from the rooftops. […]

God Is Not a Four-Letter Word

The third area requiring immediate exertion is of course the cultural.  Although I recently wrote a biography of James Madison, whom I gave great credit for his underappreciated accomplishment of putting religion outside the realm of legitimate political debate in federal politics, I here make a radical proposal:  conservatives must speak of religion more often.[…]


And in the place of it all, what?  Citizenship.  Let us begin to speak to our fellows as citizens to be respected, not consumers to be sold or constituents to be manipulated.  In foreign policy, economic policy, and the culture, America faces very grave problems.  With some of them, such as the momentous abortion epidemic, the elites deal by simply keeping us in the dark:  no images ever appear on television.  (Lots of gassed Syrians, but no aborted Americans.)  In regard to others, such as the gigantic unfunded obligations, they simply ignore or deny what everyone knows.  Sometimes, as in regard to what “marriage” means, they do whatever a mobilized constituency wants.  Let us meet them with perfect candor.

Aristotle said that if we want to arrive at the truth, “First we call things by their right names.”  There is nothing new under the sun.

Kevin R. C. Gutzman is the New York Times bestselling author of four books.  Professor of history at Western Connecticut State University, Gutzman devotes his intellectual energy to teaching courses in the Revolutionary and constitutional history of the United States, to writing books and articles in these fields, and to public speaking on related topics. His books include The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution, James Madison and the Making of America, and Who Killed the Constitution? (with Thomas Woods).


Do go and read the entire article: The Duties of a Free Citizen | Intercollegiate Review. Excepting takes away much of the supporting structure that allows the concept to make sense. I pretty much guarantee that you will enjoy his essay.



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