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Conservatism, Organicity and Wholeness

One of the leftish sensibilities on display in Rod's book is its emphasis on organic holism — the idea that all good things must go together and that religion, politics, economics, aesthetics must all click into a state of synchronicity. Conservatism, in my book, is a partial philosophy of life. ~Jonah "Lie for a Just Cause" Goldberg, Crunchy Cons

This is simply wrong. The "organic holism" Goldberg rebels against is the normal state of affairs for men of the conservative persuasion. There are false conceptions of that "organic holism," which you do see in socialism, communism and fascism, just as there are false conceptions of the Good--that does not mean that we toss out "organic holism" or the idea of the Good. Abuse does not invalidate use. Remember that one?

If conservatism is a mentality or sensibility, it would permeate the whole of one's life. If it is a "philosophy of life" (talk about your New Age, self-help language!) at all, it would inform the whole of life. How does one have a partial philosophy of life without having a "partial life"? A partial philosophy of life is moral schizophrenia. There is something false and fragmented about this approach to things, as if each "sphere" of life were hermetically sealed and preserved from interference from the other "spheres." But what we believe to be true about God must affect what we believe about truth, beauty and virtue, and that in turn must affect what we believe about human relations, and that in turn must affect what we believe about the different sorts of relationships (political, economic, social, etc.) that men have. Goldberg has lost the sense of the what the Slavophiles called integrality--he shouldn't feel too bad, as they believed that this was something the West had lost some time ago, but it is precisely that fragmented mind that Rod perceives and criticises. Goldberg is making Rod's point for him, though it will undoubtedly once more be beyond him why this is so.

If conservatism is at all rooted in the Western intellectual tradition (and I rather think that it is), there is one Good in which all other goods participate and resemble. What is good in political life cannot diametrically oppose what is good in aesthetics, because of the unity of the Good. Yes, that is Plato, but I find Plato convincing here. So did Weaver. If conservatism does not understand this, it is little more than a fad, a pose, maybe a hobby or perhaps a kind of cult (in the negative sense). Worst of all, it could simply be an ideology. If someone claims to seek the Good, the True and the Beautiful, he cannot then be indifferent in practise to ugliness when it stares him in the face. That is Rod's point. The difference between that and the idealisation of the Volk or the proletariat is so vast that Goldberg should be embarrassed to have drawn a connection between them.

One can find all sorts of reasons why this should be so beyond the unity of the Good. As confessing Christians, many conservatives place a high premium, to put it mildly, on catholicity, by which I mean here wholeness or completeness, and on oneness of mind. Looking to any of the spiritual wisdom of the Christian tradition, broadly speaking, we see the same discipline towards the wholeness and unity of mind and away from fragmentation and dispersion. The Slavophiles, the main representatives of a Russian conservative intellectual tradition before Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn, understood community in sacramental terms as sorbornost (communion), and it is no accident that in Greek the word for community and communion are the same (koinonia). Orthodox Christology (and here I mean the Christology accepted at Chalcedon and shared by most Christians) stresses the fundamental unity of Christ realised in the Person of the Son made flesh. The unification and reconciliation of opposites is at the very center of our civilisation's cult and is the basis for our salvation.

Furthermore, anything partial is deficient in being and therefore untrue. If conservatism is only a "partial philosophy of life," what good would it be? If it is a sensibility or a philosophy, it would need to have a comprehensive vision of the good life. If it does not have it, why would anyone waste time on it? Conservatism is not salt to be sprinkled on the meal of modernity to give it flavour (the meal of modernity would in any event be preprocessed and laced in sodium already), but it would instead, in this analogy, be the art of preparing a full and balanced meal.

Daniel Larison | March 01, 2006


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