May 12, 2013

Review Corner

I'm going to infer from 11 substantive comments to last week's Review Corner that the topic of political language is still of interest and that Arnold Kling's division of American polity into Conservatives, Progressives, and Libertarians has been accepted on some level. Because I wish to marry this to another tenured ThreeSources discussion: canons. (One n -- looking up the plural I see I have been discussing aircraft armament. Oops. my bad).

Homonyms aside, I have frequently complained that the Progressives have a substandard canon. I hold that, but in the spirit of fairness must admit that my beloved Libertarian canon is inferior to the Conservatives. Mises, Hayek, Bastiat, Wollstonecraft, Locke and Rand excite me and I hold their ideas in great esteem.

But I spent last week with GK Chesterton's What's Wrong with the World. And I have to admit that Chesterton and Edmund Burke lay a timeless foundation for Conservatism (blog friend Sugarchuck would throw in C.S. Lewis; probably JRR Tolkien and Jonah Goldberg deserve slots in the pantheon).

Chesterton gets five stars for clarity and five for sparkling prose. I highlight quotes for reader's corners and it is difficult to stop and leave any lines un-highlighted. Sugarchuck compares his humor to Monty Python:

Compromise used to mean that half a loaf was better than no bread. Among modern statesmen it really seems to mean that half a loaf is better than a whole loaf.
[...]
It is not merely true that a creed unites men. Nay, a difference of creed unites men--so long as it is a clear difference. A boundary unites. Many a magnanimous Moslem and chivalrous Crusader must have been nearer to each other, because they were both dogmatists, than any two homeless agnostics in a pew of Mr. Campbell's chapel.
[...]
I am told that the Japanese method of wrestling consists not of suddenly pressing, but of suddenly giving way. This is one of my many reasons for disliking the Japanese civilization. To use surrender as a weapon is the very worst spirit of the East.

Gilbert Keith uses his gifts in support of conservatism. Jonah Goldberg loves to quote his line "Tradition is the Democracy of the dead." I'm a modernist and a libertarian, but the argument that we discard the proven is compelling.
Our modern prophetic idealism is narrow because it has undergone a persistent process of elimination. We must ask for new things because we are not allowed to ask for old things. The whole position is based on this idea that we have got all the good that can be got out of the ideas of the past.

I think the natural affinity between Kling's L's and C's is a common belief in property rights. GK is eloquent, as usual:
The average man cannot cut clay into the shape of a man; but he can cut earth into the shape of a garden; and though he arranges it with red geraniums and blue potatoes in alternate straight lines, he is still an artist; because he has chosen. The average man cannot paint the sunset whose colors be admires; but he can paint his own house with what color he chooses, and though he paints it pea green with pink spots, he is still an artist; because that is his choice. Property is merely the art of the democracy. It means that every man should have something that he can shape in his own image, as he is shaped in the image of heaven.

TGreer's comment on last week' Review Corner segues into this week's. I, too, came to little-l libertarianism through conservatism. For me it was Bill Buckley and National Review (and I still subscribe to Frank Meyers's Fusionism). Buckley subscribed to Milton Friedman's libertarian ideas on economics, school choice and drug legalization.

But Buckley and Chesterton "stand athwart history, yelling 'Stop!'" For Chesterton, that includes a large portion of the book devoted to Women's suffrage which a modern finds difficult to read. Chesterton is agin it, not because women are not good enough to vote. But because they are too good

Many voteless women regard a vote as unwomanly. Nobody says that most voteless men regarded a vote as unmanly. Nobody says that any voteless men regarded it as unmanly. Not in the stillest hamlet or the most stagnant fen could you find a yokel or a tramp who thought he lost his sexual dignity by being part of a political mob. If he did not care about a vote it was solely because he did not know about a vote; he did not understand the word any better than Bimetallism. His opposition, if it existed, was merely negative. His indifference to a vote was really indifference. But the female sentiment against the franchise, whatever its size, is positive. It is not negative; it is by no means indifferent.

Some things, sir, are not worth conserving.

But it is an awesome read and it is available on Kindle for $0.00. At five stars, that is an undefined value.

Click "Continue Reading" for more quotes.

Men have votes, so women must soon have votes; poor children are taught by force, so they must soon be fed by force; the police shut public houses by twelve o'clock, so soon they must shut them by eleven o'clock; children stop at school till they are fourteen, so soon they will stop till they are forty. No gleam of reason, no momentary return to first principles, no abstract asking of any obvious question, can interrupt this mad and monotonous gallop of mere progress by precedent. It is a good way to prevent real revolution. By this logic of events, the Radical gets as much into a rut as the Conservative. We meet one hoary old lunatic who says his grandfather told him to stand by one stile. We meet another hoary old lunatic who says his grandfather told him only to walk along one lane.

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2012-05-12). What's Wrong with the World (pp. 241-242). . Kindle Edition.


The mob can never rebel unless it is conservative, at least enough to have conserved some reasons for rebelling. It is the most awful thought in all our anarchy, that most of the ancient blows struck for freedom would not be struck at all to-day, because of the obscuration of the clean, popular customs from which they came. The insult that brought down the hammer of Wat Tyler might now be called a medical examination. That which Virginius loathed and avenged as foul slavery might now be praised as free love. The cruel taunt of Foulon, "Let them eat grass," might now be represented as the dying cry of an idealistic vegetarian.

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2012-05-12). What's Wrong with the World (pp. 281-282). . Kindle Edition.


What I say is that the communal ideal is not conscious of their existence, and therefore goes wrong from the very start, mixing a wholly public thing with a highly individual one. Perhaps we ought to accept communal kitchens in the social crisis, just as we should accept communal cat's-meat in a siege. But the cultured Socialist, quite at his ease, by no means in a siege, talks about communal kitchens as if they were the same kind of thing as communal laundries. This shows at the start that he misunderstands human nature. It is as different as three men singing the same chorus from three men playing three tunes on the same piano.

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2012-05-12). What's Wrong with the World (p. 271). . Kindle Edition.


The things philanthropists barely excuse (or do not excuse) in the life of the laboring classes are simply the things we have to excuse in all the greatest monuments of man. It may be that the laborer is as gross as Shakespeare or as garrulous as Homer; that if he is religious he talks nearly as much about hell as Dante; that if he is worldly he talks nearly as much about drink as Dickens. Nor is the poor man without historic support if he thinks less of that ceremonial washing which Christ dismissed, and rather more of that ceremonial drinking which Christ specially sanctified.

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2012-05-12). What's Wrong with the World (pp. 246-247). . Kindle Edition.


I quite understand why Mr. Carnegie has a hatred of Greek. It is obscurely founded on the firm and sound impression that in any self-governing Greek city he would have been killed. But I cannot comprehend why any chance democrat, say Mr. Quelch, or Mr. Will Crooks, I or Mr. John M. Robertson, should be opposed to people learning the Greek alphabet, which was the alphabet of liberty. Why should Radicals dislike Greek?

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2012-05-12). What's Wrong with the World (p. 228). . Kindle Edition.

Review Corner Posted by John Kranz at May 12, 2013 10:18 AM

The trick has always been to adopt the new where it is an improvement and retain the past where it is best. The failures of human progress rarely come from incorrect judgment in each case, but from on person or group of people making those judgements on behalf of the rest.

My prescription for remedy is two-fold: Liberty, and an unfettered marketplace - of both goods and ideas. In terms that Facebook Progs can (perhaps) understand, call it "crowd-sourced progress." It may not happen as fast as advocates of "perfect shopping cart wheels for everyone, always, immediately" may prefer but it makes up for that failing with an oft overlooked feature: The ability to change direction before tens of millions of people die, rather than afterward.

And if only a single ten million lives would be saved, isn't that worth it?

Posted by: johngalt at May 12, 2013 12:38 PM | What do you think? [1]