Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Few Notes on Burkean Conservatism

Several times recently, in posts on this blog discussing the vagaries of current American politics, I’ve had occasion to reference my own political philosophy by name. This has caused a certain amount of confusion and curiosity, because the moniker I mentioned—“moderate Burkean conservative”—falls nowhere on the narrow range of political opinions allowed into our collective discourse these days.

Now of course a good part of the confusion arises because the word “conservative” no longer means what it once meant—that is to say, a person who wants to conserve something. In today’s America, conservatives who actually want to conserve are as rare as liberals who actually want to liberate.  The once-significant language of an earlier era has had the meaning sucked right out of it, the better to serve as camouflage for a kleptocratic feeding frenzy in which both establishment parties participate with equal abandon. Putting meaning back into the words can be a risky proposition, in turn, because so many Americans are used to waving them about as arbitrary noises linked to an assortment of vague emotions, the common currency of what passes for thought in so much of modern American life.

Nonetheless, I think the risk is worth taking, if only because a genuine conservatism—that is, a point of view oriented toward finding things worth conserving, and then doing something to conserve them—is one of the few options that offer any workable strategies for the future as the United States accelerates along the overfamiliar trajectory of a democracy in terminal crisis.

Let’s start with the least familiar of the terms I mentioned above, “Burkean.” The reference is to the Anglo-Irish writer, philosopher, and politician Edmund Burke (1729-1797), generally considered the founder of the Anglo-American conservative tradition. This is all the more interesting in that Burke himself was none of the things that gets labeled “conservative” in today’s America. For example, while he was himself an Anglican Christian, he defended the rights of Catholics to freedom of worship at a time when this was a very unpopular stance—roughly on a par with defending the rights of Satanists in today’s America—and lent his own home to a group of Hindus traveling in Britain who had been refused any other place to celebrate one of their religious holidays.

He was also an outspoken supporter of the American colonists in their attempts to seek redress against the British government’s predatory and punitive trade policies, and maintained his support even when all peaceful options had been exhausted and the colonists rose in rebellion. Yet this was the man who, toward the end of his life, penned Reflections on the Revolution in France, which critiqued the French revolutionaries in incisive terms, and which has much the same place in the history of Anglo-American conservatism that The Communist Manifesto has in the history of the modern radical left.

This doesn’t mean, by the way, that Burkean conservatives quote Burke’s writings the way Marxists quote Marx or Objectivists quote Ayn Rand. Like other human beings, Burke was a blend of strengths and weaknesses, principles and pragmatism, and the political culture of his time and place accepted behavior that most people nowadays consider very dubious indeed.  Those of my readers who want to hear what Burke had to say can find Reflections on the Revolution in France online, or in any decent used book store; those who want to engage in ad hominem argument can find plenty of ammunition in any biography of Burke they care to consult. What I propose to do here is something a bit different—to take Burke’s core ideas and set them out in a frame many of my readers will recognize at once.

The foundation of Burkean conservatism is the recognition that human beings aren’t half as smart as they like to think they are. One implication of this recognition is that when human beings insist that the tangled realities of politics and history can be reduced to some set of abstract principles simple enough for the human mind to understand, they’re wrong. Another is that when human beings try to set up a system of government based on abstract principles, rather than allowing it to take shape organically out of historical experience, the results will pretty reliably be disastrous.

What these imply, in turn, is that social change is not necessarily a good thing. It’s always possible that a given change, however well-intentioned, will result in consequences that are worse than the problems that the change is supposed to fix. In fact, if social change is pursued in a sufficiently clueless fashion, the consequences can cascade out of control, plunging a nation into failed-state conditions, handing it over to a tyrant, or having some other equally unwanted result. What’s more, the more firmly the eyes of would-be reformers are fixed on appealing abstractions, and the less attention they pay to the lessons of history, the more catastrophic the outcome will generally be.

That, in Burke’s view, was what went wrong in the French Revolution. His thinking differed sharply from continental European conservatives, in that he saw no reason to object to the right of the French people to change a system of government that was as incompetent as it was despotic. It was, the way they went about it—tearing down the existing system of government root and branch, and replacing it with a shiny new system based on fashionable abstractions—that was problematic. What made that problematic, in turn, was that it simply didn’t work  Instead of establishing an ideal republic of liberty, equality, and fraternity, the wholesale reforms pushed through by the National Assembly plunged France into chaos, handed the nation over to a pack of homicidal fanatics, and then dropped it into the waiting hands of an egomaniacal warlord named Napoleon Bonaparte.

Two specific bad ideas founded in abstractions helped feed the collapse of revolutionary France into chaos, massacre, tyranny, and pan-European war. The first was the conviction, all but universal among the philosophes whose ideas guided the revolution, that human nature is entirely a product of the social order. According to this belief, the only reason people don’t act like angels is that they live in an unjust society, and once that is replaced by a just society, why, everybody would behave the way the moral notions of the philosophes insisted they should. Because they held this belief, in turn, the National Assembly did nothing to protect their shiny up-to-date system against such old-fashioned vices as lust for power and partisan hatred, with results that made the streets of Paris run with blood.

The second bad idea had the same effect as the first. This was the conviction, also all but universal among the philosophes, that history moved inevitably in the direction they wanted: from superstition to reason, from tyranny to liberty, from privilege to equality, and so on. According to this belief, all the revolution had to do to bring liberty, equality, and fraternity was to get rid of the old order, and voila—liberty, equality, and fraternity would pop up on cue. Once again, things didn’t work that way. Where the philosophes insisted that history moves ever upward toward a golden age in the future, and the European conservatives who opposed them argued that history slides ever downward from a golden age in the past, Burke’s thesis—and the evidence of history—implies that history has no direction at all.

The existing laws and institutions of a society, Burke proposed, grow organically out of that society’s history and experience, and embody a great deal of practical wisdom. They also have one feature that the abstraction-laden fantasies of world-reformers don’t have, which is that they have been proven to work. Any proposed change in laws and institutions thus needs to start by showing, first, that there’s a need for change; second, that the proposed change will solve the problem it claims to solve; and third, that the benefits of the change will outweigh its costs. Far more often than not, when these questions are asked, the best way to redress any problem with the existing order of things turns out to be the option that causes as little disruption as possible, so that what works can keep on working.

That is to say, Burkean conservatism can be summed up simply as the application of the precautionary principle to the political sphere.

The precautionary principle? That’s the common-sense rule that before you do anything, you need to figure out whether it’s going to do more good than harm. We don’t do things that way in the modern industrial world. We dump pesticides into the biosphere, carbon dioxide into the air, and inadequately tested drugs into our bodies, and then figure out from the results what kind of harm they’re going to cause. That’s a thoroughly stupid way of going about things, and the vast majority of the preventable catastrophes that are dragging modern industrial society down to ruin result directly from that custom.

Behind it, in turn, lies one of the bad ideas cited above—the notion that history moves inevitably in the direction we want. Yes, that’s the myth of progress, the bizarre but embarrassingly widespread notion that history is marching ever onward and upward, and so anything new is better just because it’s new, which keeps so many people from asking obvious questions about where our civilization is headed and whether any sane person would want to go there. I’ve discussed this in quite a few earlier posts here, as well as in my book After Progress; I mention it here to point out one of the ways that the political views I’m explaining just now interface with the other ideas I’ve discussed here and elsewhere.

The way that a moderate Burkean conservatism works in practice will be easiest to explain by way of a specific example. With this in mind, I’m going to go out of my way to offend everyone, by presenting a thoroughly conservative argument—in the original, Burkean sense of that word “conservative,” of course—in favor of the right to same-sex marriage.

We’ll have to pause first for a moment, though, to talk about that word “right.” This is necessary because by and large, when Americans hear the word “right,” their brains melt into a puddle of goo. The assumption these days seems to be that there’s some indefinite number of abstract rights hovering out there in notional space, and all of them are absolute and incontrovertible, so that all you have to say is “I have a right to [whatever]!” and everybody is supposed to give you whatever it is right away. Of course everybody doesn’t, and the next step is the kind of shrill shouting match that makes up so much of American political nonconversation these days, in which partisans of the right to X and partisans of the right to Y yell denunciations at each other for trying to deprive each other of their rights.

If you happen to be a religious person, and believe in a religion that teaches that God or the gods handed down a set of rules by which humans are supposed to live, then it probably does make sense to talk like this, because you believe that rights exist in the mind of the deity or deities in question. If you’re not a religious person, and claim to have a right that other people don’t recognize, you’ll have a very interesting time answering questions like these: in what way does this supposed right exist? How do you “have it”—and how do the rest of us tell the difference between this right you claim to have and, say, an overdeveloped sense of entitlement on your part?

All these confusions come from the attempt to claim that rights have some kind of abstract existence of their own. To the Burkean conservative, this is utter nonsense. A right, from the Burkean point of view, is an agreement among the members of a community to allow some sort of behavior. That’s what it is, and that’s all it is. The right to vote, say, exists because the people of a given nation, acting through political institutions, confers it on a certain class of persons—say, all adult citizens.

What if you don’t have a right, and believe that you should have it? That’s called “having an opinion.” There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion, but it doesn’t confer a right. If you want to have the right you think you should have, your job is to get your community to confer it on you. In a perfect world, there would no doubt be some instant, foolproof way to establish a right, but we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world where the slow, awkward tools of representative democracy and judicial review, backed up by public debate, are the least easily abused options we’ve yet found to accomplish this task. (That doesn’t mean, please note, that they can’t be abused; it means that they’re not quite as prone to abuse as, say, the institutions of theocracy or military dictatorship.)

With that in mind, we can proceed to the right to same-sex marriage. The first question to ask is whether government has any business getting involved in the issue at all. That’s not a minor question. The notion that legislation is the solution to every problem has produced a vast number of avoidable disasters. In this case, though, what prevented same-sex couples from marrying was governmental regulations. Changing those regulations requires governmental action.

The second question to ask is whether government has any compelling interest in the existing state of affairs. History shows that letting government interfere in people’s private lives is a very risky thing to do, and while it can be necessary, there has to be a compelling interest to justify it—for example, in the case of laws prohibiting child abuse, the compelling interest of protecting children against violence. No such compelling interest justifies government interference in the marital decisions of legally competent, consenting adults; as noted further on, “Ewww, gross!” does not count as a compelling interest.

The third question to ask is whether the people who will be affected by the change actually want the change. That’s not a minor question, either; history is full of grand projects, supposedly meant to help some group of people, that were rejected by the people who were to be “helped,” and those inevitably turn out badly. In this case, though, there were plenty of same-sex couples who wanted to get married and couldn’t. Notice also that the proposed change was permissive rather than mandatory—that is, same-sex couples could get married, but they could also stay unmarried. As a general rule of thumb, permissive regulations don’t require the same level of suspicion as mandatory regulations.

The fourth question to ask is whether anyone would be harmed by the change. Here it’s important to keep in mind that “harmed” does not mean “offended;” nor, for that matter, are you harmed by being kept from forcing others to do what you want them to do. One of the eternal annoyances of liberty is that others inevitably use it in ways that you and I find offensive.  We put up with the inconvenience because that’s the price of having liberty ourselves. Claims that this or that person is going to be harmed by a change thus need to evince specific, concrete, measurable harm. In this case, that standard was not met, as there are no Purple Hearts issued for being butthurt.

The fifth question is whether the proposed change is a wholly new right, a significant expansion of an existing right, or the extension of an existing right in its current form to a group of people who did not previously have it. Creating a wholly new right can be a risky endeavor, as it’s hard to figure out in advance how that will interact with existing rights and institutions. A significant expansion of an existing right is less hazardous, but it still needs to be approached with care. Extending an existing right in its current form to people who don’t previously have it, by contrast, tends to be the safest of changes, since it’s easy to figure out what the results will be—all you have to do is see what effect it has had in its more restricted application. In this case, an existing right was to be extended to same-sex couples, who would have the same rights and responsibilities as couples who married under existing law.

The sixth question, given that the right in question is being extended in its current form to a group of people who didn’t previously have it, is whether that right has been extended before. In this case, the answer is yes. Marriage between people of different races used to be illegal in many American states. When extending the right of marriage to mixed-race couples was being debated, the same arguments deployed against same-sex marriage got used, but all of them amounted in practice to someone being offended. Mixed-race marriages were legalized, a lot of mixed-race couples got married, none of the horrible consequences imagined by the opposition ever got around to happening, and that was that.

So, to sum up, we have a group of people who want a permissive regulation granting them a right already held by other people. No actual harm has been demonstrated by those opposed to granting that right, and no compelling interest prevents government from granting that right. The same right has been extended before with no negative consequences, and a very simple change in the wording of existing marriage laws will confer the right. Under these circumstances, there is vastly more justification for granting the right than for refusing it, and it should therefore be granted.

No doubt some people will take offense at so mealy-mouthed an adding up of pros and cons. Where are the ringing affirmations of justice, equality, and other grand abstract principles? That, of course, is exactly the point. In the real world, grand abstract principles count for little. In a society that values liberty—not, please note, as a grand abstract principle, but as a mutual agreement that people can do as they wish so long as that doesn’t infringe on the established rights of others—what matters when someone petitions for redress of a grievance is simply whether that petition can be granted without any such infringement. The questions asked above, and the institutions of representative democracy and judicial review, are there to see to it that this happens. Do they always succeed? Of course not; they just do a marginally better job than any other system. In the real world, that’s justification enough.

What about the religious communities that are opposed to that right? (This is where I’m going to shift gears from offending my readers on the rightward end of things to offending those on the other end of the political spectrum.) Conservative Christian groups are a religious minority in America today, and it’s a well-established rule in American law and custom that reasonable accommodation should be made to religious minorities when this can be done without violating the agreed-upon rights of others. That doesn’t give conservative Christians the right to force other people to follow conservative Christian teachings, any more than it would give Jews the right to forbid the sale of pork in America’s grocery stores. It does mean that conservative Christians should not be forced to participate in activities they consider sinful, any more than Jewish delicatessens should be forced to sell pork.

By and large, businesses that serve the general public are rightly required to serve the general public, rather than picking and choosing who they will or won’t serve, but there are valid exceptions, and religion is one of them. I’m told that in New York State, orthodox Jewish businesses are legally allowed to post signage stating that Jewish religious law applies on the premises, and this exempts them from certain laws governing other businesses; thus, for example, a woman who enters such a business with uncovered hair will not be served.  It would be a reasonable accommodation for conservative Christian businesses that cater to weddings to be able to post signage noting that they only provide services to the kinds of weddings authorized by their own religious laws. That would let same-sex couples take their business elsewhere; it would also let people who support the right of same-sex marriage know which businesses to boycott, just as it would let conservative Christians support their co-religionists.

Again, any number of shiny abstractions could be brandished about to insist that conservative Christian businesses should not have that right, but here again, we’re not dealing with abstractions. We’re dealing with the need to find reasonable accommodation for differing beliefs in a society that, at least in theory, values liberty.  Claims that this or that person will be harmed by letting a religious minority practice its faith on privately owned business premises, again, have to evince specific, concrete, measurable harm. Being offended doesn’t count here, either, nor does whatever suffering comes your way from being denied the power to make other people do what you think they ought to do.

My readers may have noticed that, given the arrangements just outlined, nobody in the debate over same-sex marriages would get everything they want. That’s at least as offensive as anything else I’ve suggested in this post, but it’s the foundation of Burkean conservatism, and of democratic politics in general. In the messy, gritty world of actual politics, nobody can ever count on getting everything they want—even if they shout at the top of their lungs that they have a right to it—and the best that can be expected is that each side in any controversy will get the things they most need. That’s the kind of resolution that allows a society to function, instead of freezing up into permanent polarization the way America has done in recent years—and it’s the kind of resolution that might just possibly get some semblance of representative democracy intact through the era of crisis looming ahead of us just now.

Two other things. First, I’m frankly astounded by the outpouring of congratulations—not to mention tip jar contributions—that came in response to last week’s post on the tenth anniversary of The Archdruid Report. On the off chance that anyone didn’t get thanked sufficiently, please know that the lapse wasn’t intentional! I’m more grateful than I can say for the support and encouragement I’ve received from the community of readers that’s emerged around this blog.

Second, I’m delighted to announce that the first issue of Into the Ruins, as far as I know the first-ever magazine of deindustrial science fiction, is now in print. This is the periodical equivalent of the After Oil anthologies, chockfull of new stories selected by editor Joel Caris; those who like compelling stories about the future we’re actually likely to get won’t want to miss it. Subscribers should be getting their copies shortly if those haven’t arrived already; as for the rest of you—well, what are you waiting for? ;-) You can order copies or buy a subscription at this website.


1 – 200 of 337   Newer›   Newest»
Jim said...

I, too, have had difficulty justifying forcing, for example, a Christian wacko wedding photographer to service a gay wedding. As usual the Archdruid has phrased the argrument perfectly.

I'd be interested in your opinion of hetrosexual marraige. MY wife, daughter and I were discussing marraige and premarital sex recently and I think that the issue is more complex by far than the issue of gay marraige. The concept of forcing fertile couples to make a lifetime commitment before society allows sexual intercourse has obvious benefits to society. Yet the "right" to engage in potentially child-producing, disease spreading behavior is now almost universally accepted in industrial society.

Having been young and horny myself several decades ago I can understand the eagerness by which the young favor the exercise of this right but clearly a casual Burkean conservative glance at premarital sex would be cause to call out the well armed militia. Yet we see this right, and the right to easy divorce causing significant social damage. Is this damage more significant than the damage caused by people being held in bad marraiges?

W. B. Jorgenson said...

Well, looks like I'm right to say I'm a conservative then. I've offended quite a few people with my arguments from this, I've summed up my reasoning with "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" and this is apparently quite offensive to a number of people.

This is exactly why I take what appears to be the least popular position in Canadian politics these days when it comes to the senate: leave it as is, the risks of altering it aren't worth the dangers. If it's abolished, that's fine, but the committees it has can do excellent work. If it's made elected, how do you deal with disputes between the houses? Australia has a system, but I'm fond of pointing out it had a constitutional crisis over this, and it seems no one wants to put even the limited rules Australia has in place. If the method appointees are made to it is altered, again fine, but the current system works, the new one needs to prove it does too, and most changes seem likely to be abused.

It's also fun to watch people recoil in horror when you defend democracy, not because it's "perfect" and "moral", but despite the flaws. In fact, it was fun to watch people try to argue with me when I began by pointing out all democracies are always corrupt, and that there is nothing that can be done about it since people with power will want money and people with money will want power. However, since democracies tend to treat their citizens better than non-democracies, it is worth preserving it, despite the corruption.

Over all, these arguments get rather fun, as long as it's done in good spirit on my end. I can't control how other's react, but it's still interesting to watch.

W. B. Jorgenson said...

Oh, I've had another thought: what would Burke have thought of the Great Reform Act? It radically altered the balance of power in the House of Commons. Also the way it passed dramatically altered the balance of power in parliament to the now drastically altered House of Commons, by telling the House of Lords "either do things our way or we will flood your house with people who will". I think it was a very dramatic change, and the overall effects, while they seem good, weren't guaranteed.

Villager said...

Isaiah Berlin and John Gray are current exemplars of the Burkean conservatism. Berlin has often said that there are many ways for humans to flourish and the primary task of modern governments is to create a tolerant framework that helps groups with incompatible beliefs to share essential goods and services with minimal conflict.

John Gray's Straw Dogs is an interesting read - though a bit too oriented toward aphorism and popular appeal for my tastes.

Burke lived in a time when a well articulated belief counted for something. In today's Twitterverse that's an idea 140 characters or less in length.

I followed your suggestion and am reading Magic Mountain - wherein a chapter is as long as the typical generic romance. Interesting enough if one keeps front and center the thought that the sanatorium is Mann's depiction of a diseased society in miniature.

Leo Knight said...

Thank you for this. Usually when someone uses a squishy, subjective term with multiple meanings, e.g. liberal, conservative, Christian, etc. my first thought is, "Define your terms!" Like Damon Knight's definition of science fiction, so much is "what I point to when I say it." A lot of it seems like emotional reasoning, and tribal identity. Thus, "I am a member of a group. My group is good. Anything identified with my group is good. Anything outside of my group is bad." So, if a "liberal" proposes something that "conservatives" support, many "conservatives" will reflexively reject it because it came from an outsider. Of course, liberals usually have the same response when the roles are reversed. Thanks again for ten years of clear thought.

Justin said...

Jim, I have to think that the furor over gay marriage is some kind of perverse vestige of the old rules about premarital sex - after all, not too long ago, straight people were only allowed one more partner than gay people. However, I have to think that monogamy for nearly everyone was an important social technology that had benefits beyond the prevention of unwanted pregnancy and the control of STDs. It seems to me like homosexuals were unintentional casualties of the rigid control over sexuality. What do you think, JMG?

Tom Schmidt said...

It would be a reasonable accommodation for conservative Christian businesses that cater to weddings to be able to post signage noting that they only provide services to the kinds of weddings authorized by their own religious laws.

I assume you would extend this right to religious groups whose belief system indicates that members of other groups can be ignored or not served? If so, you've essentially repealed the Civil Rights laws. That would be consistent with Burkean conservatism, but you will now bring down the wrath of the leftish half of your readership upon you.

One wonders what the subsequent years would have been like had social pressure simply led to the repeal of the odious segregation laws at a state level without the Federal Civil Rights legislation.

John Michael Greer said...

Jim, okay, let's walk through it. You're asking whether government should interfere in the private sexual decisions of consenting adults; I've already suggested that this is a bad idea unless there's a compelling interest, and the benefits to society of trying to prevent nonmarital sex are by no means as clear as you've made them out to be. Remember, we tried that as a society for some centuries, and the evidence of history suggests that it was no more effective than Prohibition -- and like Prohibition, the old laws and customs banning nonmarital sex fed crime and produced a bumper crop of ruined lives, without seriously impacting the actual frequency of nonmarital sex, sexually transmitted disease, single motherhood, and so on. Nor are the negative consequences of being raised by a single parent necessarily any worse than the negative consequences of being raised by parents who hate each other but are forced by law to remain in each other's company -- a survey of the literature on Victorian family relationships will demonstrate that clearly enough.

History thus shows that the benefits to legal prohibition of sex outside of marriage are largely illusory and the costs are real and serious. That being the case, government does not have a compelling interest; the people who would be affected by the change you're proposing clearly don't want to be "helped" by it. Liberty, if it means anything, includes the right to make bad decisions, and therefore -- from the standpoint of moderate Burkean conservatism, as I understand it -- the gradual social changes that, over the course of the twentieth century, abolished prohibitions on nonmarital sex were justified.

WB Jorgenson, exactly! If it ain't broke, don't fix it, and if you're going to fix it, you need to be able to show that your solution will be better than the problem.

Unknown said...

As I understand it, the argument against allowing religious folk to discriminate against their clientele is that needed services would become completely unavailable for certain people in certain areas, effectively blocking them off from the benefits of citizenry. The Green Book for black motorists is a great historical example - traveling through the southern U.S. before the Civil Rights Act was like an expedition into hostile territory. I'm not sure the Burkean conservative argument is entirely on your side for this.

To say it more simply: allowing Christian cake makers to refuse to make cakes for gay couples is giving any ethnic enclaves who want to institute the Sharia law the militia right wing claims to fear a hell of a legal foothold.

John Michael Greer said...

WB Jorgenson, I'd have to look into the pros and cons of the Great Reform Act in its historical context to have any clear idea.

Villager, I've tended to have a similar reaction to Gray -- philosophy by aphorism can work (Nietzsche comes to mind), but it can also be glib and shallow. Berlin is quite another matter, and I share his take. As for Mann's novel, it's got many levels, but the social-satire aspect is to my eye always there.

Leo, exactly -- thus my jab at verbal noises linked with vague emotional states as the common currency of American nonthinking.

Justin, as I see it, the laws against homosexuality were religious in origin, and thus part of the hangover (in the head-pounding, gut-churning, kneeling at the porcelain altar and repatriating your last two meals sense) from the theocratic stage of European history. That is to say, they were certainly part of the general revulsion toward sexual pleasure that pervaded Christianity before the modern era, but I don't think the matter was anything like as utilitarian as you've suggested.

Tom, as far as I know, there are very few religious groups whose doctrines actually prohibit, say, doing business with people of a different ethnic background or skin color. There are a few -- the Christian Identity movement comes to mind -- but religion wasn't the source of the Jim Crow laws, and I've specified that accommodating the needs of religious minorities is something of a special case. (For example, the draft laws grant special exemptions to members of religious minorities that aren't granted to other categories of people.) Thus I don't see civil rights laws as necessarily invalid; a lot would depend, as it generally does, on a case by case analysis of costs and benefits.

fudoshindotcom said...


I am disappointed. Here I was looking forward to being offended and............not one offensive word ;) If that was a genuine attempt to offend me you really must try harder.

I would venture that in this age of expecting immediate gratification people are too narrowly focused on the present moment to allow the Precautionary principle to be employed usefully.

As for our intelligence, I think you'll agree that one clear-eyed look at how we've treated our life-support system, the biosphere, masterfully illustrates the monumental stupidity our species is capable of. Half as smart as we think we are? Not even close.

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown, you're comparing apples and oranges. In the case of the pre-Civil Rights south, we're not talking about a religious minority having the right to pursue its own faith in its own subculture, we're talking about an entire society set up to impose undue burdens on a minority. With regard to Sharia, keep in mind that every Halal butcher shop, and for that matter every mosque, already follows Sharia, in exactly the same way that every orthodox Jewish synagogue, schul, and delicatessen follows Talmudic law; there's a very large line between following religious laws in private lives and private associations, on the one hand, and insisting that it should replace secular law across the board on the other.

Pinku-Sensei said...

I have to congratulate you on two wonderful quotes--"'Ewww, gross!' does not count as a compelling interest" and "there are no Purple Hearts issued for being butthurt." I found both of them simultaneously hilarious and truthful.

I examined how well different ideas of conservatism and liberalism worked to explain what was going on in Food Fight! Thoughts on liberalism and conservatism inspired by the Preface to Food, Inc. The Burkean definition used by Jerry Pournelle proved utterly inadequate in identifying modern American conservative and liberal positions. In fact, the liberal solution to the example I was examining ended up fitting Burke's and Pournelle's idea of conservatism, while the conservative solution would have been identified by the same authors as being the liberal one! Instead, classifying political positions based attitudes about inequality worked better than tradition vs. rationality. Score one for Marx.

As for your solution regarding accommodation for minority religious views, it reminds me of Andrew Sullivan's call for magnanimity by the activists on behalf of same-sex marriage. He observes that they don't seem to have any, even in the face of stunning successes. Sullivan may be the most visible Burkean conservative in the U.S. It helps that he's originally from the U.K.

Tidlösa said...

This should offend a lot of people, since Burke is usually seen as a paragon of Throne & Altar Conservatism. In your interpretation, Burke sounds more like people imagine a liberal to sound like! That is, a liberal before the term lost any meaning and became a synonym for "SJW on Twitter".

It could be argued that same-sex couples shouldn´t have the right to adopt children, since children need both male and female parents/role models. This would be a compelling interest for the government to either stop same-sex marriage, or create a form of marriage sans children. Also, international adoption organizations (whether we like it or not) tend to avoid nations where children can be adopted by same-sex couples, making it impossible to adopt foreign children if same-sex marriage is passed into law. But yes, I´m trying to argue the case in a "Burkean" fashion here, following your example.

As for the French Revolution, I believe that the ancien regime was so rotten, that the revolution became inevitable once the nobility had rejected Necker´s reform proposals - "abstract ideas" or not! The "Burkean" argument makes sense only in a society that can still be reformed by some other means. If it can´t, we all have to ride the tiger (and go off and run like hell when the tiger stops, I suppose).

I also agree with some of the comments above, that democracy is preferable because it is (in the words of Churchill) "the worst possible form of government...except for all the others". C S Lewis said something similar: he supported democracy precisely because humans *aren´t* perfect. Even Plato (sic) had a similar opinion, stating (or letting one of his dialogue characters state) that democracy was incapable of great glory, but precisely for that reason, also incapable of great crimes...

Does this make me a Burkean? Hmmm...I always thought of that guy as some kind of super-toxic arch-reactionary!

Justin said...

Er, just so you know, I didn't think the laws against homosexuality were utilitarian in a rational way but rather in an irrational one. Nonetheless I'm far from decided on the matter.

Although I suspect more pressing issues will rear their heads in a couple years, I am not sure what to make of the issue of cake makers being forced to comply with cakes for gay weddings. I don't have much sympathy for homophobes, after all, unlike racists, homophobes can have gay children and I've seen the consequences of that. On the other hand, wedding cakes are hardly a human right, and even in more conservative places I'm sure the average gay couple can find a baker who'll help.

Lynnet said...

OK, let's go apples to apples. Is it OK for a small Jewish business to refuse to serve non-Jewish people (whether wearing headscarves or not)? Is it OK for a small Christian business to refuse to serve Jewish people (as they believe: Christ-killers)? or Muslim people? This is a slippery road.

blue sun said...

Having a political outlook that has been greatly influenced by your writing and other similar thinkers, I have struggled to define myself.

Have you ever heard, or used, the term "paleoconservative"? I've applied that to myself at times for lack of a better term. In fact, just the other day I discovered you can take a quiz to determine if you are one:

Then there is the term "Crunchy Con" (for crunchy conservative), coined by the writer Rod Dreher in his 2006 book 'Crunchy Cons.' I've used that one too.

Dreher used to write for the Front Porch Republic and now writes for The American Conservative, as far as I know. In the years when your blog first started, I also used to read the Front Porch Republic blog nearly as often, although that site has degraded considerably since most of the founding authors have left.

As a thinking person in America today, it's very difficult to define one's self with any of the commonly used labels!

Thelma said...

JMG - I haven't seen it mentioned for several months, so I am prompted to ask, "Is the contest still on?" Are you accepting short stories that are situated in a "Star's Reach" landscape? If so, what is the deadline? Thanks

John Roth said...

In the question of religious law, I believe in New York State there's an accommodation for Talmudic law in arbitration proceedings, both parties willing. I see no reason not to extend the same right to Sharia, although that might have a bit of trouble considering the prohibition against lending at interest.

S.Treimel said...

I do enjoy your sense of humor: telling people up front that you are going to offend them and then delighting them thoroughly with insight and reason.

Cherokee Organics said...


It is nice that you defined a conservative as: "a person who wants to conserve something". It would be nice to meet people like that. ;-)!

In an astonishing coincidence this morning, I was listening to the radio when a lady representing the Australian Conservation Foundation was being interviewed on a rather important topic. I thought that the interview may be interesting and I was particularly curious to hear what that group was trying to conserve.

You see the problem is that Cape Grimm which is in the north western corner of the island state of Tasmania - a stunning, wild and very remote corner of the planet - has a scientific station measuring some of the world's cleanest air, which they believe will very soon be able to measure 400ppm (that's parts per million) of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere at that location. This is an unprecedented recording / measurement from such a remote corner of the world. The very thoughtful interviewers asked the very hard and outstanding question: “Whatever happened to the 350 organisation?” BAM – as I’ve heard said!

What surprised me the most is that after delivering a concise and very well spoken summary of the problem, the representative then went onto claim that their group was demanding that the government apparently do something about the problem, because without government action... No doubt they are correct in that assertion, but they also failed to mention other more immediate courses of action which may possibly have put them out of a job. The interesting thing was that the representative had an ever so slight moment of hesitation before communicating that particular meme and I wonder if there was a guilty conscience underneath those words - or even a true sense of the sheer scale of the problem. My gut feeling was that the words were intended to provide a soothing effect, but I could well be wrong?

Out of sheer curiosity, do you see that meme being thrown around? The reason I ask is because I wonder how well that meme will last when the climate extremes, become even more extreme? My gut feeling is that at some stage in the future, people may switch to the even more dubious claims such as: Well, action could be taken if it weren't for . Dunno.

Of course: "A right, from the Burkean point of view, is an agreement among the members of a community to allow some sort of behavior ."

It is my gut feeling that community is often avoided / feared - or only fostered with likeminded people - for the very reason that people are indulging their "overdeveloped sense of entitlement on your part?" as you put it.

Putting up with the many interesting characters who have very different desires and objectives in a real community is a very different experience as I know only too well.

PS: I second your opinion of "Into the Ruins" - which I received in the mail this morning - and urge everyone to go out and subscribe to this excellent and very well priced publication. And most importantly, it appears to be completely advertisement free!

PPS: Did you just provide a basic lesson on the processes of logic, deduction and reasoning? Well done, you! :-)!



Dennis Mitchell said...

Let me add my graditude for your work. I consider tipping after I've bought all your books. (Loved Stars Reach...looking forward to Retrotopia!) I've floundered amongst all political tags. Never fitting in. I'd just about decided to be against everything.
In reality, I'm desperate to find a sane political voice to vote for. Then again I greatly admired, Bill Cosby and Lance Armstrong. At least T Rump can't do anything to disillusion me.

Robert Dudek said...

There is a general prohibition on full nudity in most public spaces. It's difficult to discern the harm done by full nudity except insofar as it causes "offense" to others. Similarly, perhaps the niqab should be banned in public due to a similar level of "harm" it does to the general public.

I for one find it offensive that women should be completely covered up due to the demands of their religion ( even on the hottest days of the year).

Repent said...

Fascinating essay as always !

I found a recent live interview online that you gave to the youtube channel 'Live leak', in addition to your fabulous writing skills you are also very skilled at giving great interviews, the interview was great !

What really fascinated me was that you dove headfirst into your knowledge and pursuit of the occult. I personally, though my experiences with Ayahuasca, took up a dedicated and daily practice of meditation. I've found that quieting my mind and going deep inside takes me even further into other realms than I experienced using the sacred medicine. I was also fascinated in regards to your statement of feeling the thoughts of the bird on your patio. This is obviously much further down the rabbit hole of experience than anything that I've experienced myself yet. (It also shows how much more that there is to discover)

Do you think you can do a post regarding your personal meditative practices and implications of your insight into the cosmos at large?

Clarence said...

an excellent disquisition of your personal belief. i don't think you can go far enough out of your way to offend me: our views and beliefs seem to be of kind. i don't frequent any internet sites that repost your essays, so i won't know what response this will engender outside of the immediate readership of the archdruid report. i would venture the thought of strident denunciations wouldn't suprise me.


S.Treimel said...

There are significant rights, privileges, and benefits that go along with the legal partnership we call marriage, such as tax benefits, inheritance, visitation, and more. I always figured that's what was underlying the demand for recognition of same sex marriage: the bundle of rights and privileges that go with the recognition of the legal partnership. The compelling social interest is that it clarifies claims on property, among other things.

Shane W said...

setting the record straight, black travelers could find no shortage of black-owned black accommodations in the South in the pre Civil Rights era, the region with the highest percentage of black people was more than able to support a wealth of black businesses. Traveling through the lily white North and West is where things got hairy, I once read that there were no accommodations open to black travelers in the entire state of New Hampshire pre-Civil Rights. People must remember that although segregation was REQUIRED by law in the South, it was PERMITTED by the ABSENCE of Civil Rights laws in the rest of the nation, and most white people outside the South took advantage of this by judiciously forbidding blacks to patronize their establishments. Allowing "coloreds" in that day and age, outside the South, was a surefire way to kill business, and most businesses weren't willing to open their doors to black people.

pygmycory said...

There may not be many religious groups who prohibit doing business with people of a different skin colour, but the example of requiring a woman to cover her hair to receive service is more likely to be an issue. If enough places demand this, then women effectively have to cover their hair in order to get by without major problems. That does impact their freedoms.

James M. Jensen II said...

Burkean conservatism reminds me of the political views of Richard Rorty. While Rorty was a devotee of the myth of progress, he also had a keen sense of the limitations of human reason to improve matters. He once wrote something to the effect that the question of justice was not a matter of figuring out what rights people have according to this or that political/ethical theory, but of working out what kind of society we want to live in.

On an only slightly different matter, one thing I was thinking about recently is JFK's classic quote about how "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable." It's a favorite amongst Lefties like me, yet it flies completely in the face of how we actually act. A huge part of the left-wing agenda right now is to try to make sure people that we've labeled "bigots" don't get anything they want, at all costs. Somehow, keeping a significant portion of the country disenfranchised doesn't strike me as a recipe for political stability.

Graeme Bushell said...

Far from being mealy-mouthed, I actually appreciated your clear-headed analysis (as I do on most other topics you discuss).

Do you know, I don't think I ever asked that question of myself before, "in what sense can a right be said to exist?". It's a good question. In the Burkean sense, the arguably more fundamental rights listed in the UN declaration exist because the authorised signatories to that declaration said that they do (although perhaps they don't exist in the sense of being universal - that would be an opinion). The same goes for the rights outlined in the US constitution.

The interesting questions arise when these rights get constrained by a shrinking natural resource base: mostly those listed in article 25 of the declaration.


William Polensky said...

It is worth noting that the same conservative argument could lead to different conclusions in different countries.

I remember reading a Meiji-era explanation of the basis for Japanese family/marriage law that went something like this: The family being the basic unit of social organization, strong families are an essential requirement for a strong state. Because the State has a compelling interest in the stability of families, and the production and rearing of children, the State therefore grants certain privileges to married couples and their households.

If you start with the premise that the legal institution of marriage is a policy designed to promote stable, reproductive households, then there is no "right" to marriage that could be extended. Here in Japan (my long-time abode), the consensus of opinion seems to be that same-sex couples can do whatever they want, but there is no point in them getting "married" per se (especially since there exist legal loopholes by which they can acquire some of the privileges of marriage).

Max St said...

Dear JMG,

Once again, I am startled by the quality of your arguments; really, I feel like I'm listening to myself.

I remember being vilified in dear old Bellingham when I used the exact phrase "If it aint broke, don't fix it" to a group of uber-liberals; I don't even recall the exact topic. And yet the jeers and catcalls; I was asked if I'd done the awful thing of voting Republican. My response --that I'd stopped voting entirely-- provoked the standard cliched response: if you don't vote, you can't complain. Really, whether one votes or not is independent of one's "right" to complain, which, as you've pointed out, isn't a right at all. One can attempt debate; it is either accepted or denied. In my case, among card-carrying liberals, it was denied, and it was really just a case of this:

"...nobody can ever count on getting everything they want."

It's difficult to bear, though, when the other party insists on getting their way at all costs. What does one do then? Are we obligated to act civilly towards barbarians? Your thought on this, as always, would be very welcome.

Vesta said...

Seems like a Burkean society would procede to experiment incrementally, evaluate carefully, replicate freely, and eliminate continuously, emperically and without principle a priori. No? Sounds Natural.

Duke Williams said...

I appreciate the position that people are not half as smart as they think they are. I was having that discussion recently with friends and we came to agreement that we do not have much to measure our comparative intelligence against. Dogs, lab rats, worms, viruses.

Admittedly we are embarrassingly often out smarted by our dogs. We can't seem to out think non-thinking viruses. Maybe the bar which allows us our hubris is very low. Or maybe we are simply not clever enough to recognize the bar and our defiencies.

Ray Wharton said...

This kind of conservatism seems wise to me. Because there is too much history to read, and application is much more of an art than an science, it is hard to be sure what lessons to use from it. Which is nice, gives plenty of room for perspectives.

It is useful, regardless of the current political context, and applies differently in different contexts. Not so much about ideals, as about relations. A culture that is hot for Democracy has opportunities and dangers than one which isn't accustomed to that political system.

There is no correct ideal, instead each situation is open to benefiting from certain possible adaptations, but unable to gain from adaptations that work in other contexts. This is evolutionary. A nice thing about evolution is its creativity, finding many many different solutions to a given circumstance.

History is the guide, the process of experience hoping to become manifest.

John the Peregrine said...


Let's say you're the Supreme Leader of France in 1789 (or for that matter, Russia in 1917). The monarchy has been toppled, and France is in a state of shock and anticipation for what's to come. As a Burkean, what specific changes do you make to improve society? Do you still abolish feudal privileges? What argument can you make for it, when they've been "proven to work" for 1,000 years? Do you overthrow the monarchy completely, or reduce its power to that of a constitutional monarchy, or something else?

thenoteswhichdonotfit said...

This is why, of all of the ideas for changing the health care system in the USA (which is so bad that, yes, I think that it could be greatly improved), I favor Medicare-for-all. Is it perfect? Hell no! Medicare has tons of problems. But it also has been around for decades, there are many countries with single-payer systems which get better health care at a significantly lower cost (which implies that it is something which works on a consistent basis), and Medicare-for-all would be extending a benefit already offered to a certain group of people to an (admittedly much larger) group of people. I think it would have less unexpected bad consequences than more radical health reforms - and I think it would work a lot better than the 'affordable' care act which currently have.

avalterra said...


I've often thought that, although many good decisions were made by the founding fathers, that one of the best boons to our own revolution was a wide open western frontier. That the reason a violent over throw of our government never occurred was the release valve of the frontier. If you didn't like what D.C. was doing - head west.

Of course, eventually this closed off but by then we had begun to tap the huge energy potential of crude oil and began to establish our empire.

Regarding marriage, though, wouldn't it be easier to remove the government from the problem entirely. If marriage is just a legal contract between whoever then the issue is taken out of the hand of legislators and voters and is kept a private affair. And there in lies the problem I see. Laws tend to build up like layers of paint on an old house. Inevitably one ends up with a bureaucratic empire that sees nothing beyond its reach but everything beyond its grasp.


Leo Knight said...

W.B.Jorgensen, you reminded me of Winston Churchill's dictum, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others."

NC Jim said...

Replace the baker of wedding cakes with the filler of prescription drugs and does the same religious exemption apply? A person can die without required medication so a potential for harm can be shown which could(should?)override religious objection but is this not a slippery slope? There are a lot of goods and services between pastry and antibiotics.

Compound F said...

I am completely unoffended. You're choc-a-block with good ideas e.g., the precautionary principle seems like a no-brainer, but the evidence suggests otherwise. At 400 ppm CO2, is a true anachronism. If you have ever seen Golgi stains of prefrontal neurons before and after, say, sucrose or methamphetamine use, you'd be astonished at the long-lasting hypertrophy. I'd say a similar thing has happened to industrial society's brain following the exploitation of fossil fuels: a derangement of architecture and function leading to the loss of normal incentive recognition.

A Post-Millennial said...

JMG, I have to take issue with your rejection of "grand, abstract principles" like liberty, equality, and justice. How are we to know what aspects of our society are worth conserving without some shared values? You attempted to address this in your discussion of liberty by characterizing it as a "mutual agreement" rather than an "abstract principle," but proceeded simply to put that abstract principle into words: "people can do as they wish so long as that doesn't infringe on the established rights of others." See Article IV of the Declaration of the Rights of Man:

"Article IV - Liberty consists of doing anything which does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has only those borders which assure other members of the society the enjoyment of these same rights. These borders can be determined only by the law."

What this suggests to me is that there are in fact certain "grand principles" which you value, like liberty and perhaps also justice and equality. They are crucial in guiding you in determining what facets of our society are worth preserving and, perhaps, provide direction if you feel some aspect of society needs changing. Correct me if I'm off base here.

If all the above is essentially on target, that suggests your major issue with the French Revolution is not ideological but rather methodological. That sounds reasonable; nobody (save a few bloodthirsty communists) wants to defend the Reign of Terror. I fear, however, that your analysis of how social change happens is unhelpful. Here you are on rights, and how people acquire them:

"A right, from the Burkean point of view, is an agreement among the members of a community to allow some sort of behavior. That’s what it is, and that’s all it is. The right to vote, say, exists because the people of a given nation, acting through political institutions, confers it on a certain class of persons—say, all adult citizens."

Really? The people gave themselves the right to vote by "acting through political institutions?" In every historical example I can think of, people organized themselves and put pressure on the state in non-traditional ways, using methods firmly outside of the existing political institutions, methods which often included violence. American land-owners won the right to govern their own affairs through victory in their independence war, a model that many other colonized people would be forced to follow. The French bourgeoisie rejected the institutions of the Monarchy when they swore the tennis court oath and affirmed their willingness to pursue and defend their aims with noble blood.

I know the French Revolution horrifies you as much as it did Burke. And that's fine, no conservative should be a partisan to that movement. My contention is that the conservative ideology you propose has no mechanism to evolve unless society is already shaped in a certain way, already possesses the "awkward tools of representative democracy and judicial review" won in a historical transformation which almost certainly was not conservative in nature. I fail to see how a Burkean conservative, situated in the American south in the 1950s, could be anything other than a proponent of "state's rights" to uphold Jim Crow.

Given that your underlying project seems to be to identify the elements of the present society, technical and ideological, which are worth preserving in the face of imminent collapse, I can understand the allure of a political ideology which claims to make preservation its primary aim. However, such an ideology is much less alluring if situated in a society whose organization starkly contrasts with the abstract principles we hold dear, places like the French Old Regime or Old Dixie. For me, Burkean Conservatism as you have described it, needs to be paired with a positive project, perhaps some sort of ecological democracy, for it to make any sort of sense.

Bill Pulliam said...

One of the stumbling blocks here is the need to be able to understand distinctions. For example, the difference between an evangelical pastor who does not want to perform same-sex marriages in his church, versus the same evangelical pastor who is also an elected county clerk who does not want to perform civil same-sex marriages at the courthouse. This skill is lacking in a very large number of people. The concept of aint-broke-dont-fix-it is also rather scarce in the present era...

Total aside... Interesting you chose the marriage example at this time, as I have just been chatting with a friend of mine who was finally able to get married last year. His partner of 20 years is Canadian and, having no legal status to their relationship, the partner has been living as an undocumented shadow in the US for two decades. Now, thanks to a marriage license and a good immigration lawyer, he has a SS## and a green card, and can participate fully in the economy and society AND pay taxes. Lots of positives there, nary a negative to be found.

Stacy said...

Mr. Greer,

I can understand your example of the bakery being allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples in a Burkean context, but I am scratching my head over the Hobby Lobby case, in which a private company wanted to disallow the insurance coverage of hormonal birth control for its female employees based upon the religious beliefs of its owners. Is this a different animal or the same type of example as the bakery?

Tom Schmidt said...

With regard to Sharia, keep in mind that every Halal butcher shop, and for that matter every mosque, already follows Sharia, in exactly the same way that every orthodox Jewish synagogue, schul, and delicatessen follows Talmudic law; there's a very large line between following religious laws in private lives and private associations, on the one hand, and insisting that it should replace secular law across the board on the other.

Could a Kosher Deli forbid a lactating woman from entering, for fear of mixing milk with meat? I once tried too rider a cappuccino at the Second Avenue Deli. Unclear on the concept!

Nathan Donaldson said...

I remember having a debate with a substitute teacher in the eighth grade about whether a Virus qualified as a life form. I don't remember exactly, but he had list of criteria of what constitutes life and since viruses lacked one of them he said they didn't qualify. But I argued that since it reproduced itself then it had to be a life form, self-replication is the only necessary qualification. Eventually the class came over to my side of the argument.

Of course there are sterile things in nature, like Mules, that are surely living things. But I would say that although they are alive they are defective.

I do not think it is coincidental that same-sex marriage has become an issue at a time of universal below replacement reproduction rate in Western countries. I am not claiming that homosexuality is a major cause of the current sterility (at least not yet - I don't pretend to know what exactly drives the behavior but I think you would agree that from the historical record of the ancient world it appears that it may be somewhat socially elastic) but the sterility of modern life makes it appear to be a good idea. We no longer save seed, raise chicken or breed goats - and wish our grass would behave like the asphalt. To an Amish farmer the idea of two men getting married is as absurd as it would be to our great-great grandfathers.

You wrote about Catch 22s a week or so back but here is the ultimate one as I see it: The population of advance countries is depleting natural resources fast. Infertility would seem to be the best way to reduce the population and save resources. But as the population gets older how do you pay for promises of a long retirement with fewer young workers? At certain point those promises will obviously not be able to be paid, so why should younger people keep at it and support the system? A tipping point will be reached and a vicious cycle starts. (As in Obamacare now: healthy people dropping out of insurance, causing insurance premiums to go even higher, causing more healthy people to drop out) I believe that even if ecological disaster doesn't destroy our economy first then the socialized Welfare/Warfare/Financial state will still find a way to collapse under it's own weight instead.

The problem of modern life might be even greater then the Earth's stinginess. I see the end of a civilization as an inevitable battle between the forces Arrogance and Apathy. Honestly, what do you think Spengler would have to say about gay marriage, the long-term negative birthrate, long-term negative interest rates (for crying out loud!), and the huge migration of Muslims into Europe? I haven't read Burke, but I read the Decline years ago and it colors all my thinking about the social change I've witnessed in my lifetime.

A note: I never bought into the myth of progress, ever... I was pessimistic even as a child. I picked up Spengler's book at the library in my early twenties because the title was appealling. To be a conservative, spiritually conservative that is, is to imagine deep down in one's heart a lifetime lived in the past far more worthwhile then the one being lived in the present time, or in the foreseeable future. I am sure I am a conservative.

Bill Pulliam said...

Ya know, I have this sense that these "christian cake baker" etc. arguments are in the straw man realm. Honestly how many bakers or photographers are going to turn down ANY paid work?? And even so, if word was out that they disapproved, what couple would ever want to spoil their wedding by trying to force some business to participate in it that objected to them? As for clergy, is any clergy person ever required to perform marriages outside of their religious community? I'm a clergy person and I'm not aware of being under any legal obligation to perform the service for ANYONE, ever, under any circumstances. It's just like my drivers license. Just because I have it does not mean I am REQUIRED to drive. It just means I can, if I chose to.

John Michael Greer said...

Fudoshindotcom, so noted! I'll try being more offensive next time. ;-)

Pinku-sensei, oh, granted -- the language of political discourse is so thoroughly corrupt in today's America that any abstract scheme ("tradition vs. rationality," for example) inevitably fails to make sense of the whole picture.

Tidlösa, by the logic you're proposing, single parents should have their children taken away from them, since they can't provide role models of both genders! Same-sex couples have been raising children in the US for a while now; I know of no evidence that the children are in any way disadvantaged or harmed by this. It's also been quite common, especially after major wars, for large numbers of children to be raised in households consisting only of women, as the men in question were no longer alive to take part, and those children also came out fine. Thus your proposal can't be justified.

Justin, oh, I get that. Most "utilitarian" claims are pretty irrational, when you give them a hard look. As for access to wedding cakes, I'm not a great fan of homophobia either, but again, the nature of liberty is that some people are going to use it in ways that you and I dislike.

Lynnet, no, now you're comparing apples to grapefruit. There are specific religious prohibitions against same-sex relationships in the Bible. There are no such prohibitions preventing Christians from doing business with non-Christians, and so appealing to religious law as a basis for such an exclusion would be impermissible. As for slippery slopes, every issue is a slippery slope heading somewhere -- meaning, of course, that if you take any statement and extrapolate it far enough, you can get something unacceptable. That's why every determination of rights is a tradeoff in which nobody gets everything and everybody gets something.

Blue Sun, yes, I've heard "paleoconservative," and considered it for a while, but there's more than one flavor of conservatism included in that word. (Though I did come up way over on the paleoconservative side of things on the quiz you linked to.) That's why I settled on "moderate Burkean conservative" as a self-description -- it differentiates me, for example, from religious conservatives, monarchists, Traditionalists, and the like.

Thelma, the deadline's passed, but I haven't yet had time to begin assembling the anthology; if you've got a story, or can get one together fairly soon, you might want to surf on over to The Meriga Project website and post a link. In the meantime, though, there's a new Space Bats contest on.

John, in an arbitration process, where both sides have agreed not to use the mechanisms of civil law, relying on the Talmud or any other traditional law code would pass the "sniff test" -- since the regulation permitting this is permissive rather than mandatory, and both sides have to agree to it, no one's liberties are being infringed on.

S. Treimel, I really was doing my best to be offensive! ;-)

Compound F said...

Also, I'm glad not to have invoked the "parthenogenetic lizard argument" in favor of same sex what-have-you, tho' I will when the time comes. For those unfamiliar, some female lizards engage each other in ritual sex, in order to stimulate reproductive "selfing," i.e., asexual reproduction. It's play-sex that stimulates real sex. Nature has its ways, whether or not it conforms to the human way of thinking.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, no question, we're going to hear that fortissimo from here on in. "The government ought to do something..." That the conservationists might want to do something themselves, such as reducing their own carbon footprint by half or so, never gets mentioned. What's more, if the government actually did something that mattered -- say, mandating that everyone cut their carbon footprint by half or so -- the screams of outrage would audible on the Moon.

Dennis, thank you!

Robert, there are some towns in the US where public nudity is not illegal, there are also a vast number of nudist camps across the country, and somehow the social fabric hasn't utterly unraveled there. I personally see laws banning nudity as another of those hangovers from the stark shivering terror of sexuality that we inherited from the theocratic era of European history.

Repent, that's really a topic for the other blog.

Clarence, oh, I expect some spit-slinging denunciations -- some from the left, some from the right. It should be entertaining to watch.

S. Treimel, hmm! That's a very good point. I don't know that it would count as a compelling public interest all by itself, but it certainly strengthens the case for the right to same-sex marriage.

Pygmycory, most restaurants have a sign saying "No shoes, no shirt, no service," and that impacts my freedom to go shirtless and shoeless. We all put up with limits to our freedoms; that's part of the bargain of living in a diverse society. Permitting members of a handful of minority religions to follow the dictates of their conscience on private business premises, when the vast majority of businesses don't follow those same rules, isn't much of a limit.

James, exactly! The insistence -- on both sides of the political spectrum, by and large -- that the only acceptable outcome is the total defeat of the other side is one of the main factors pushing the United States toward a really miserable future.

Graeme, no argument there. It's very easy to say "everyone has a right to food," but what do you do when there isn't enough food to go around?

William, and that's another feature of Burkean conservatism: it takes cultural differences into account. The consensus reached by one society concerning rights will not necessarily be the consensus of another society, and that's as it should be, because rights aren't abstractions -- they simply define what behaviors a given society collectively chooses to allow.

Jay Moses said...

jmg-your explication of same sex marriage based on burkean principles was interesting and well reasoned. nevertheless, a brief search of the internet for "edmund burke and marriage" yields a broad range of clashing opinions insisting that burke would/would not have supported such a right. this is not terribly surprising. in a long career including both political theorizing and practical politics, burke took many positions that were not always consistent. not surprisingly, his mantle has been claimed by many including both liberals (19th century liberals and the current variety) and conservatives (of the no longer fashionable russell kirk variety). kirk's view was ultimately rejected by the overwhelming majority of u.s. conservatives in favor of the libertarian views championed by william buckley and many others.
it is this latter point that makes your marriage argument interesting. as you apply these burkean principles to the issue you actually come out exactly where the libertarian would land, i.e. that government needs to keep its nose out of this issue altogether. indeed, i suspect most libertarians would argue that marriage is a contract freely entered into by two (or more) competent, consenting adults and that government should not be in the business of regulating marriages at all. and libertarians would surely agree with your conclusion that private businesses should have the unfettered right to choose with whom they trade.

as well reasoned as your argument may be, i must confess i have difficulty in squaring it with burke's often quoted point that "true religion is the foundation of society". have a care good druid, you may be morphing into a libertarian. not that there is anything wrong with being a libertarian. some of my best friends etc. etc.

Candace said...

My question would be about the obligations of hospitals to respect the rights of spouses. If the hospital in your area is a Christian hospital are they obligated to respect the rights of a same sex spouse? I know that the hospital here does not perform abortions.

Trying to parse out where the rights extend.

John Michael Greer said...

Max St, as a former resident of Bellingham -- I went to Fairhaven College from 1980 to 1983 -- I can well imagine that reaction! As for behaving civilly toward barbarians, among the things we need to discuss in this sequence of posts are the limits of tolerance. All in good time!

Vesta, excellent! Yes, I was planning on getting to that. Burkean conservatism is also evolutionary ecology applied to the sphere of human politics...

Duke, a lot of it is the peculiar but very popular belief that humans are somehow uniquely outside of nature. Thus we go out of our way to avoid noticing that we can often be outsmarted by an ordinarily resourceful duck.

Ray, exactly. Exactly! Politics is an art or, better still, a craft rather than a science. There is never only one right answer, and there are no answers that are entirely right.

John, trusting such decisions to a Supreme Leader is generally a very bad idea. If I were alive and politically active in France in 1789, I'd advocate for a written constitution, an elected legislature that met regularly, and specific reforms that limited the arbitrary power of the monarchy and abolished the special rights the aristocracy had over the Third Estate. Assuming that the Paris mob and a majority in the National Assembly backed me, the result would be a parliamentary constitutional monarchy on the English model, but with a written constitution subject to amendment by established procedures -- and that would be well positioned to extend further liberties to the French people over the course of the next century or so.

Notes, that seems entirely sensible to me. Heaven knows almost anything would work better than the Unaffordable Care Act, but expanding Medicare into a single payer system has all the advantages you've listed, and would very likely be the best option we've got.

Avalterra, yes, a case could also be made for taking marriage out of the purview of government. That would be a considerably larger change than simply changing the requirements for marriage, though, and you'd need to be able to show that there was enough benefit to be gained by that step to make it worth doing.

NC Jim, of course it's a slippery slope. Every decision that weighs the rights of one person against the rights of another is a slippery slope. That's why it's so important to recognize that rights are not grand abstract universals but simply the agreements made by a society about permissible behavior, so that we can debate and then settle where between wedding cakes and insulin the relevant line should be drawn.

Compound F. okay, that gets tonight's gold star. I haven't read up on prefrontal neurons since my college biology classes, but clearly I need to review that!

Claire said...

Thank you!
This is exactly the kind of clear thinking that has made this blog so immensely popular. This is why I've been a faithful follower for many years. Your blog is a breath of fresh air after the suffocating murk that passes for normal political discourse.

I'd like to see how that moderate Burkean conservative thought process works through the proposed mandatory vaccination laws. I can see that 'mandatory' is much more serious than 'permissive'. I can also see that proving harm is very subjective. I grew up at a time when getting measles and chicken pox was just a normal part of childhood. I find the current hysteria that surrounds this topic very strange.

I also see labelling ('anti-vaxxers') and lumping them together with creationist and climate change deniers as an example of using emotionally loaded 'snarl' words to stifle debate and de-legitimize the contrary view. Its almost impossible to have any kind of conversation about this very serious issue.

John Michael Greer said...

A Post-Millennial, excellent. I was wondering who was going to bring that up. What you've done, of course, is point to the complementary viewpoint to Burkean conservatism, that of classic liberalism -- at its core, the belief that a society should constantly be called to live up to the values that it claims to hold. In a healthy democracy, the liberals are constantly proposing measures to bring a society closer to its ideals, and conservatives are just as constantly requiring them to prove that their proposals will actually improve things, and won't have ghastly consequences.

That said, you're being somewhat unfair to Burkean conservatism in insisting that it offers no options for establishing entirely new rights and freedoms. Not so; do you recall my mentioning in the post that Burke supported the American Revolution? There are times -- they don't happen often, but they do happen -- when a wrong is so deeply entrenched that ordinary methods can't uproot it, and that's when you turn to other options. That's a very, very risky thing to do, but sometimes it's the only option. Thus I consider the American Revolution and the Civil Rights movement both entirely justified in the context of their times and places. Now of course I'm a moderate Burkean conservative, and thus tend to set the bar for justifying change lower than some others might, but there it is.

Bill, exactly. The habit of all-or-nothing thinking is very deeply rooted and very damaging in today's America. Congrats to your friend on his marriage!

Stacy, to my mind that's a different animal. It's only an issue because in the US, for a variety of bad reasons, your health care coverage is partly paid for by your employer, and that produces all kinds of conflicts when (as in this case) the employer's religious convictions and the employee's freedom of choice come into conflict. It's not surprising that a conflict of that kind produced a split decision at the Supreme Court! There are many other reasons, of course, why the current US way of handling health care costs needs changing, but the inescapability of conflicts along these lines is one of them.

Tom, you'd have to ask an Orthodox rabbi about that.

Nathan, I see the widespread acceptance of same-sex relationships in Western countries, rather, as a predictable outcome of the social changes that have turned Christianity into a minority religion in the West. Plenty of societies outside the Abrahamic religious sphere have zero trouble with same-sex relationships; a great many of them tend to differentiate between marriage, which is a contract between families for the purpose of producing children, and love -- but even that's not a universal. The decline in population -- that's normal, as I think Spengler points out somewhere, when a Culture becomes a Civilization; certainly it happened in a big way in the Roman world, and in other examples as well. As for the transformation of some European nations to Muslim-majority societies, that's yet another matter, which will get a post of its own in due time.

Bill, I ain't arguing. I see it as an attempt by the totalitarian end of the Left to demand universal obedience to their dictates, and thus just as out of line as the equivalent demands made by the totalitarian end of the Right.

Compound F, I hadn't heard of that. Since we aren't lizards, I'm not sure how relevant it is!

Rob Rhodes said...

Thank you for your clear description of a right. Often when I hear people insist "I have a right to…." what they are really describing is a privilege to which they are accustomed.

Perhaps the most odious misuse of the word has been property rights, used over the centuries to justify everything from ownership of other humans to abuse of a piece of the Earth to which one happens to hold a current deed.

I will read some Burke, too much of what I know was written about him rather than by him and you certainly given an appetite for the original!

By the way, what would a radical Burkean conservative look like :-)

Yucca Glauca said...

I was considering this and thinking about ways that it would be possible to apply this analysis and still come to different conclusions. I was trying to work through how you could defend exactly one interpretation in each case, and then it hit me: The major benefit of this approach isn't to discover the One True Stance on every issue, but instead to avoid the gaping disregard for reality that leads to the worst sort of atrocities in politics. There can be disagreement among Burkean Conservatives, but none of them will be filling mass graves anytime soon. Since this approach assumes the necessity of compromise from the beginning, it's also more able to deal with disagreement constructively when it does come up.

Mister Roboto said...

I must be less on the leftward end of the spectrum than I thought because I wasn't at all offended by the last bit. In fact, if I were to imagine my ideal world, it would be one in which people who attempted to go around imposing their own existential or social beliefs on others would face significant social ostracism as a direct consequence. And yeah, I know I'm not going to get my ideal world. But there's something to be said for the idea of "Something to shoot for". :-)

kuanyin said...

Wonderful explanation of Burkean conservatism! I have a question for you, though. It's been on my mind for a few weeks, so I hope you don't mind if it harkens back to old posts. Also, I'm afraid it might seem a bit cheeky, but I really don't mean it in that way. I've been a faithful reader for years, though an infrequent commenter, and I am asking because I have great respect for your judgment, and really want to know what you think. So here it is: how do you square your Burkean awareness that the new will not necessarily be better (and can be a lot worse) than the old, even when the old sucks, with your conviction (expressed in last week's comments I believe) that Trump is preferable to Hillary, even though we don't what he will do, because it seems likely that it will at least differ from the current set of disastrous policies?

I'd like to offer a couple caveats here. I don't like Hillary and do think the status quo is a mess. Also, I am not scared of (or disgusted by or inclined to laugh at) Trump supporters in general. I appreciated your recent series of posts because they've given me support in my campaign to get acquaintances to stop referring to Trump supporters as "mouth-breathing, backward racists" and acknowledge that they are for the most part regular folks legitimately frustrated by being screwed over for the past 50 years. However, the idea of Trump himself as president DOES scare me a lot. It's the combination of uncontrolled ego, complete inability to tolerate criticism or mockery, bullying instincts, and authoritarian principles.

Also I think the racism thing is a bit more complicated than you made it out a couple weeks ago. I'm not sure it's just a question of does Trump hold prejudiced views. Personally, I'm not sure if he holds any views other than those related to his own greatness. I am sure if it would help him get elected he'd be more than happy to love on Hispanics and Muslims. The point is the opposite is true, so he is doing the opposite. He is USING racism as a tool to rev up people and, at least to some degree, to distract them from the real sources of their distress. What's to stop him from doing the same once he is in office? When, for instance, his people realize he is not going to help them as he promised, and he needs a convenient distraction. (I really am very doubtful that he will help the wage-earners who have suffered most from the neoliberal consensus. Free trade has made him rich! He made his true colors clear in the first debate when he said that U.S. wages were too high if we wanted to compete with China). I am an ESL teacher, so I work with a lot of recent immigrants, many of whom are Hispanic and Muslim, and who are frankly terrified of a Trump presidency. I have to say, I trust their judgment too. Many of them have seen this movie before, in their countries of origin.

So anyway, while Hillary is the obvious representative of the dysfunctional, corrupt status quo, couldn't things get a lot worse quickly? Personally, I can so easily picture them doing so under a Trump presidency that I am willing to hold my nose and pull the lever for her. What makes you more sanguine about our prospects under him, or at least willing to take that risk?

John Michael Greer said...

Jay, well, of course! A tradition that calls for painstaking weighing of pros and cons in the context of public debate is going to have colorful internal debates over the pros and cons of any proposed social change. To my mind, that's a feature rather than a bug: if everyone comes out spouting identical answers, the ideology in question is too rigid to work in the real world.

Russell Kirk had a massive influence on the development of my thinking, and his book The Conservative Mind ought to be read by anyone who wants to get a sense of what that much-vexed word "conservative" used to mean; for the benefit of my readers on the left, I'll mention that this lifelong conservative denounced the Iraq war and ripped into the Neoconservatives in no uncertain terms. That doesn't mean I share all his ideas, of course. As for Burke's comment about true religion, well, sure, and if we had any way to know which one of the world's many religions was true, that might actually mean something. As it is, liberty allows us each to choose the religion (or lack of same) that seems best to us, and so we muddle along as best we can.

As far as libertarianism, though, you've misunderstood me. I don't support the unilateral right of businesses to choose with whom they trade; rather, I support the American custom of allowing certain exemptions from ordinary public-accommodations laws in the case of religious minorities, when that can be done without significant infringement on the rights of others. To my mind, the libertarian movement is a classic example of the opposite of one bad idea being another bad idea -- but that's a discussion for another time.

Candace, the rights extend as far as law and custom extend them. Remember, rights aren't abstractions; they're agreements. Negotiating the point at which one person's rights end and another's begin is one of the things that the political process is there to do.

Claire, I know. My own point of view -- which is that mandatory vaccination is justified for serious infectious diseases, and not justified in other cases -- is by and large one that neither side wants to consider.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

One of the stations on the way to the Supreme Court's finding a right to same sex marriage in the Constitution was a decision by the California Supreme Court striking down, IIRC, an initiative passed by a majority of voters a few years previously which permanently outlawed same sex marriage.

The majority opinion accompanying the verdict was clearly written in plain English, easy to follow, but very long. I looked it up online and got through about the first half. The Court observed, correctly, that California already had a law that afforded same sex couples exactly the same legal rights, privileges and responsibilities as statutory marriage, but under a different label, civil union.

The author observed briefly that the proponents of marriage equality might have pursued it by trying to extend civil union to heterosexual couples (who were not eligible) while at the same time removing marriage from the state law codes altogether. "But that is not the case before us."

That was a road not taken, which IMHO would have accorded better with Burkean conservatism than the victory that was won. The First Amendment forbids an establishment of religion. Logically that means to me that "marriage is between a man and a woman", "marriage is between a man and up to four women", and "marriage is between two consenting adults who are not more closely related than first cousins" are personal opinions, and whether they originate in particular religions is something to which the civil law ought to be indifferent.

(continued in part 2)

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Burkean marriage law, part 2

The marriage laws in the Gold Rush era California Constitution were secular by the standards of the day; for example, all children born to a married woman are legitimate regardless of who the father might be. At the time the gay rights movement was gathering steam, cohabitation and adultery were legal in CA, spouses were not obligated to live together, and all divorce was no fault. This is a very different institution of marriage than the Christian sacrament. The groups that had pushed the successful initiative to ban same sex marriage made no serious effort to overturn the civil union law (equally scandalous to their convictions) because it had been on the books for awhile and most of the public accepted it.

My read on public sentiment at that tine was that if the gay rights activists in California had gone for getting marriage out of the state law code altogether and substituting universal civil union, they would have had a good chance of getting that passed by the legislature, and it would have made the proposition moot, because "marriage" would no longer have had any legal meaning.

From a Burkean POV, this would have been a better solution. It would simultaneously have granted equal rights to all adults regardless of sexual orientation, extended societal support for the family unit, and reduced the number of things that people with different moral and religious views can fight over in the courts. People would be obligated to recognize each other's civil unions; recognizing each other's marriages (or not) would be a private matter. The Christian confectioners would be left in peace.

I understand why the activists chose not to do this. As a practical matter, it's easier as JMG says to extend existing rights to another group than to rewrite the entire state law code, even if in this era a computer can be programmed to do a global search and replace on the term "marriage". Getting rid of legal marriage would have made coordination with all the marriage laws in other states and in Federal law much more difficult. But the main reason, I think, was the one that the majority opinion in the case I'm discussing cited as the basis for its ruling. That is that in our culture, the word "marriage" has a status and dignity that "civil union" does not. Some (not all) gay people wanted that dignity. Some heterosexual (or passing as heterosexual) people wanted to deny it to them. The gay people and their supporters won outright in the end.

John Michael Greer said...

Rob, I think a radical Burkean conservative would probably raise the bar for justifying change very, very high!

Yucca, exactly! One of the central points of Burkean conservatism is that disagreement is okay. Having different opinions is okay. Arguing like anything to defend your point of view, even when other people disagree with it, is okay -- and it's okay for them to disagree with you, too. Thus it isn't popular among those whose personal insecurities are so extreme that they can't bear the thought that someone, somewhere, might hold a belief they don't like.

Mister R, no argument there -- as long as you don't go around trying to make everyone else ostracise everyone who goes around trying to make everyone else do something... ;-)

Kuanyin, the policies that Trump supports aren't coming out of the blue. Backing away from the global economy, reducing US military commitments overseas, enforcing immigration laws, eliminating tax loopholes on corporate income -- all these were standard policy not that long ago, and they produced better outcomes than the neoconservative consensus that Clinton has pursued throughout her political career. I think we can discount her current campaign rhetoric, as that's no more relevant to what she would actually do in office than Obama's cynical sound bites about "hope" and "change," or for that matter George Bush Sr.'s equally cynical rhetoric about a "kinder, gentler America;" the policies she's supported in her career are all but indistinguishable from those of George W. Bush.

As noted in my post, one of the tasks of a conservative is deciding what is worth conserving, and the specific policies Clinton supports -- giveaways for the rich, punitive austerity for the poor, irresponsible military interventionism overseas, and the like -- are disastrous mistakes for which most Americans are already paying a bitter price. Thus rejecting the continuation of those mistakes in favor of a return to policies that worked better for most Americans is, I would argue, a thoroughly conservative thing to do.

As for the rest of your argument, you're projecting the same fantasies on him that Obama had projected on him by the frothing end of the Right, and that the Dems loved to project on George W. Bush in his time. Clinton's behavior does not lead me to think that she has any respect for the rule of law, any capacity to tolerate criticism, or any particular willingness to abide by the limits of the Constitution, so I could use exactly the kind of scare-language you've used here in talking about where a Hillary Clinton presidency could go, you know.

Deborah, granted -- there were always other options. Myself, I think that getting government entirely out of the marriage business is probably something to move toward over the long term, but it's a drastic step, and a simple extension of the right to marry to a population that requested that right was arguably the simpler and less disruptive choice.

Compound F said...

Insofar as reviewing the architectural response of prefrontal neurons to the effects of drugs and sucrose, Terry Robinson @ U Mich is the guy to begin with (His photomicrographs are all you need to know; the neurons look like a normal person (before) versus Schwarnegger (after). I'm sorry that our for-profit-only scientific publishing industry sucks, or else I'd provide you with an actual link to real knowledge.

I am ashamed of our species.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

I wasn't raised Orthodox, but AFAIK, a lactating woman can keep a kosher household, so there is no reason she could not shop at a kosher butcher. Judaism is an eminently practical religion.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

JMG, you wrote, "As for the rest of your argument, you're projecting the same fantasies on [Trump] that Obama had projected on him by the frothing end of the Right, and that the Dems loved to project on George W. Bush in his time."

In this one particular instance, I think that the fact that you never watch TV may be causing you to assess Mr. Trump's character very differently than people who have watched his demeanor at his rallies and during the GOP debates. I think he is a clever man, but he is not right in the head.

Emmanuel Goldstein said...

Thanks again, JMG, for another blog that leads to clearer thinking--
As NC Jim mentioned, there was a flap a few years ago about whether Pharmacists could be guided by their consciences when dispensing prescriptions. The two areas of contention were 'Birth Control' and 'Euthanasia' medicines. States came up with different approaches to this problem.
In Illinois, then-Governor Blagojevitch (sp?) mandated that all pharmacists must dispense all legal medications regardless of their consciences or beliefs, or have their license to practice revoked. Several pharmacists lost their licenses over this, thus never again providing prescriptions of any type to anyone.
Tennessee took a Burkean approach, in that private pharmacies were allowed to refuse to dispense one or another med based on conscience, but they had to post their restriction publicly (in the front window and/or at the counter), and were expected to refer a birth-control-pill-seeker to the nearest pharmacy that would provide services, if asked.
Walgreens and CVS, who currently control 99.4% of all prescription dispensing in the United States, require conscience-burdened pharmacists to declare their beliefs to management before any incident occurs. I worked for each of them for years, but never knew anyone who tried this route. Not sure if that means 99.4% of US Pharmacists have no beliefs on this, or if those that tried it mysteriously vanished from employment soon after..
Bottom line, Burkean Conservatism still makes an appearance every now and then, but certainly not as often as should be the case.

Albatross said...

Hello Mr. Greer,

Many, many thanks for putting in the effort of ten years to clarify the mysteries of living. I've been hanging around here since 2012 and I feel like mentally refreshed every Thursday morning when your essay arrives just in time for my early breakfast (5 am., timezone Stockholm). I was too preoccupied last week to find the moment to reflect on the gratitude I feel for being able to partake of the deep thinking you provide in both of your blogs. It's all so sensible. What you conclude from your analyses hits right on the mark for me. Thanks.

As is I ain't got a penny to my name, so there's nothing for me to put in yer tip jar. All I could do was to at least share your essay on Facebook.

Juri Aidas (Albatross, Long Distance Navigator)

Mikep said...

Well done JMG! You have once again stated what should be obvious to anyone with half a brain but which sadly has been almost entirely overlooked in recent years. I believe that it was Enoch Powell who said that Conservationism was a methodology not an ideology, although I can't find any evidence for the quote so it is possible that it was somebody else or that I imagined it altogether. In any event it always used to be the case that the British Conservative Party prided themselves on being wholly without ideology, that kind of thing being for the other side. In the view of many on the "New Right" or "Real Right" this lack of ideology on the traditional right has been a fatal flaw in the post World War II era where extreme prosperity and stability have allowed the ideological left to drive social change in the direction that they desire without the negative consequences taking immediate effect. Those negative effects haven't gone away, it's just that we won't become fully aware of what we have lost 'till we need it.
Perhaps it's time to give name to the opposite to the "Burkean" mindset. I would like to suggest "Yeswecanism" to which the reply will always be "yes we can, but should we?"
Yeswecanism is also the world view of Jack Russell terriers and other small yappy dogs.

lordyburd said...

An excellent exposition of Burkean conservatism Mr. Greer. I am currently reading Burke's "Reflections". It is a text demanding patience and attention, not to mention a dictionary! So far a few things jump out at me. One is the deep suspicion of revolutions and grand plans to overhaul society. Another may be summed up as "no system of government is better than the people that it is composed of".
Yet another worthwhile proposition is best written by Burke himself. "You will smile here at the consistency of those democratists who, when they are not on their guard, treat the humbler part of the community with the greatest contempt, whilst, at the same time, they pretend to make them the depositories of all power". I have and continue to see this contempt in my own country, Pakistan, in the proclamations of the upper middle class folks. They too, proclaim the virtues of truly representative democracy as long as the lower classes vote for their (middle class's) candidates. The poor are condemned for idiotically selling their vote to corrupt politicians. Apparantly, "true" democratic nations don't do this. I would love to visit such a land of milk and honey ;)

Mean Mr Mustard said...


"..conservatives who actually want to conserve are as rare as liberals who actually want to liberate"

And here in the UK, Labour doesn't work! ;-)



Karim said...

Greetings all!

I am going to take a risk now concerning gay marriage.

I have no anti gay feelings nor am I offended by same sex marriage.

When the French Government came up with the "Pact Social" some years ago that allowed gay couples to inherit from each other and so provide State protection to the remaining spouse, I thought it was a good idea.

My concern is about adoption of children. Although it is correct that up till now same sex or single sex parents have done as well or as badly as others, does it follow that we should let same sex marriage adopt kids?

JMG's argument that given nothing untoward has befallen these kids, thus we can let same sex marriage adopt kids is reminiscent of conducting social experiments on kids, in other words a violation of the precautionary principle.

Furthermore, although war, divorce create single parent families, these situations have not been created on purpose, they are the resultant of the messy nature of life on this planet.

Adoption by same sex marriages is creating a similar situation artificially and on purpose.

It is also saying that a father + a mother is the same thing as 2 mothers which is the same thing as having 2 fathers. A non - demonstrable proposition, unless we accept to conduct social experiments.

In view of the above, I favour the "Pacte social" without adoption. It is a fair deal, that would upset very few people. Exactly in line with the precautionary principle.

By the way, if same sex marriage is acceptable, what about polygamy or polyandry?

In view of the above I see no reason to limit marriage to a monogamous relationship (how monotonous!)

Why not multiple partner marriages, let us say 2 women 3 men, or 5 women 2 men?

The permutations really are multiple! We can even have temporary marriages, limited in time (automatic divorce after a mutually agreed period).

Now, please be nice to me in your reactions!

Thank you!

Daniel Najib said...

Not really relevant to this weeks post, but relevant to the blog in general: Yesterday I was in my final class on apocalypticism and terrorist violence (Sadly, none of your excellent books on apocalypse were on the syllabus) and we dealt with global warming, and how climate change is leading to destabilized coastal populations and contributing in part to the rise of Daesh and other groups. The conversations wound its way to alternative energy sources and technology, and when I brought up EROEI and the inability to maintain our current standard of living and industrial civilization. The two professors, one in his late 60s, the other 72, both agreed with those statements, but the overwhelming majority of the class (20-somethings) balked at that. References were made to Tesla cars, solar power, and the standard 'god of tech progress must save us!' rhetoric.

More to the topic of this weeks post: I normally read each weeks post a couple of times to digest it, but I feel like I need to read this through a bit more than twice. You make a convincing argument for Burkean conservatism, and I find myself drifting towards the same mentality over the last few years. Yet, I still find it hard to cast away entirely the Trostkyist, liberal ideals I held so strongly in my youth. Call it nostalgia, I suppose. I don;t know much about Burke, but Reflections on the Revolution in France is now next up on my reading list.

Phil Knight said...

Anybody worried about a Sharia Europe might find this interestingly counter-intuitive:

Greg Belvedere said...

I had my hands a little full last week (almost done with a draft of my spacebats story), so I did not get a chance to say how much I appreciate this blog and how much your work has helped me make sense of the interesting times we live in. Anybody who knows me has gotten used to me referencing it ad nauseam.

The people who get hung up about religious businesses not participating in their wedding remind me a bit of the people of color who get upset about getting barred from joining a country club. Sure, in a perfect world such things would not happen, though neither would golf courses outside of Scotland I guess. So why do they want to involve themselves with people who don't like them?

YCS said...

"William, and that's another feature of Burkean conservatism: it takes cultural differences into account. The consensus reached by one society concerning rights will not necessarily be the consensus of another society, and that's as it should be, because rights aren't abstractions -- they simply define what behaviors a given society collectively chooses to allow. "

I realised long ago that the triumphant assumption of western liberal values being universally correct are a standard way of thinking amongst the intelligensia. If you hear a bunch of university students, regardless of political view, most are absolutely sure that their worldview is some sort of divinely mandated rational humanist god's dictate.

The fact that rights are a social agreement that is actively negotiated amongst members of society, or that there isn't any objective view on rights that obviously conforms to THEIR exact worldview never passes their mind. The idea that many societies interpreted what they thought was the will of a god of nature and decided to form a society that worked towards those goals, rather than expounding a self-defeating load of tripe on how the universe was rational and so is everything inside it, is anathema.

In short, it's like Arthur and Dennis the Constitutional Peasant in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Two different groups existing separately in time and space speaking different languages. What happens though when these 'rational humanist' principles, which by the way exist in a world that is neither rational or humanist, face reality?

It shall be entertaining.


nati said...

You give the example of mixed race marriage which according to you had no catastrophic consequences. Endeed, by itself, no problem with that, marriage keep beeing the same old marriage, just with a small adjustment. But in my opinion when you add this change to all other changes to the marriage institution, it's functinality and it's place in our society that's a different story. And you can add this to other changes in definitions and perceptions of traditional values which occurred lately and it happend to be very consequencial, revolutionary consequencial!!
Those people of the french revolution at least were honest regarding their ideology and their goals, their budies in the present time are feeding us with all kind of aparently inocent small demands that are not supposed to have catastrophic consequenses while their real goal is a revolution, exactly the same kind of revolution you wrote against, one that wishes to invent a new human being and a new sociaty based in theoretical models that ignore reality.

David said...


I haven't caught up on all the comments yet, so others may have already mentioned him, but I personally have always thought that John Stuart Mill's "no harm" principle made for a good guideline. I don't know enough about the history of social/political philosophy to know where he fits in with Burke's thought overall, but there seems to be some similarity. Common sense would suggest to me that the best way to have a stable society would be to respect each other's differences rather than to push for conformity.

Professor Diabolical said...

As a further example, there was an essay by Salon writer and blogger winding through the well-meaning social changes in marriage up to now:

Her conclusion comes to, unlike the Archdruid, that minor, innocuous, well-meaning, and even self-evident changes to marriage since 1900 have instead created a great deal of social upheaval and open hardship. If one agrees that making sex-outside-marriage and divorce-for-bad-marriages easier has caused the destruction of marriage overall, and further that the decay of the family has made life harder on everyone, then you might follow by being even more leery of altering marriage further--or even reversing the former permissiveness. And note, opening up divorce to people who were being abused within an inch of their lives, or denying support to single mothers who were the most need-worthy people in society, was a VERY small, VERY obviously good change. (Caveat: this was primarily a social change, not a legal/governmental one)

This would set the Burkean standard of Conservative proof and humility far higher. ...Unfortunately for us, who have to figure out what to do, when even the most obvious good backfires.

Cherokee Organics said...


Hmmm, I'd be very interested to read your thoughts on the limits of tolerance. They do exist and it would be a fascinating topic to explore and whilst I'm a reasonably peaceable bloke, I do have limits as some people find out in the real world. As does everyone really.

Out of sheer curiosity - and you do know that I'm reasonably pragmatic and am thinking much further ahead than you have explored here today - but how does one take rights away from people in a way that is consistent with Burkean Conservatism? That would be a fascinating topic. I understand how it can happen in the rough and tumble approach involving horesman.



fudoshindotcom said...

As stated by another, your ability to dispense insight and reason far exceeds your ability to offend. If needed you can take solace from the fact that insight and reason are themselves offensive to many these days.

The definition given of a Spiritual Conservative being someone who imagines a life lived in an earlier time to be more worthwhile caught my attention. I don't identify as such, but am curious, as the difficulties we face become increasingly pandemic wouldn't a Spiritual Conservative find even more meaningful pursuits available today and the effort more worthwhile than in the past?

Thanks as always for a thought provoking post and comments.

Ahavah said...

You need to try harder if you want to offend us, lol. I actually have no problem with what you say, maybe not for the "right" reasons. I certainly agree that marriage is essentially a contract between consenting adults the govt should stay out of it. Yes, that means polygamy is OK. Same sex marriage is OK. And, gasp, polyandry. Not that I would do it myself, but frankly, it's none of my business.

My business, on the other hand, is also essentially a contract between consenting adults for me to untangle their bookkeeping and help them analyze their financial position, or keep track of their donors or customers or whatever, and help manage grants or events or programs or what have you. I don't see why govt should be able to force me to do this for organizations or businesses that are actively working against my interests, such as groups promoting racism, misogyny, intolerance, inequality, etc. I therefore very reasonably expect other business owners to have the same right. It is supposed to be a free market. If they can find enough racist, woman hating, prosperity gospel proponents of their own faith to support their business, great. But I doubt it.

I say this knowing full well there plenty of people out there who would refuse to do business with me because of my gender, religion, and social-political philisophy. I would rather know up front than be stabbed in the back. Forcing people to serve me won't make them accept me and I seriously question the quality of their work for me knowing they hate me. As someone said, why would you want someone who hates you to make you a cake in the first place?

Regarding health care, that is an area where I simply do not believe we should have a free market in the first place. We need a basic human right to healthcare (not health "insurance") which should include a non-profit single player system and govt provided clinics and hospitals accessible to everyone. As the insulin argument above shows, some things should not be left private business and IMO profiteering off the sick and letting people who can't afford treatment of medicine die is a violation of our constitutional right to life. And where you work should have nothing whatsoever to do with what healthcare you can receive. Medicine is a special case for many reasons. Other nations have recognized that. The US is throttled by monied political interests that won't give up their ability to profiteer without a fight. Maybe a literal fight.

There's no such basic human right to get a cake from whatever bakery you want. And a local Baker who refuses customers will soon find a competitor who will be happy to take their money. That is how a relocalized economy will work - no more Hobby Lobbys or other giant chains imposing edicts from on high. Just local businesses who either deal with their community or go under.

The sad fact is that going to legislate some things just doesn't work. It only driver them underground where you can't see what they're doing at first glance. SJWs were astonished by this political season and the issues coming out of the woodwork, and that racism and misogyny still exist, because they thought they had legislated them away. They they began using that fact to try and impose more legislation, which will only make the backlash worse. Things will only change when we as individuals stop feeding the beast with our time and money. Why does anyone still shop at Hobby Lobby? Either because they agree with their positions or they don't care enough to be inconvenienced by going somewhere else. Same for climate change... If we're not willing to put our time and money into doing things differently...well, you get it.

Scotlyn said...

I am interested in the work of conserving and also in the work of liberating. I am interested in the work of finding (or making) common ground. I believe there are both private goods worth defending and public goods worth defending. I haven't yet found my "best fit" label, though finding one is not really high priority. I have already worked out that there is no person or group with whom I can have 100% agreement or 100% disagreement, and that the best thing is to carry on with the work alongside anyone willing to carry on with it alongside of me.

However, your Burkean conservatism strikes me as making you a neighbour that would not be hard to live beside, and on with whom much common ground could be found.

I note the word "community" that you used in your definition of rights has not received too much response, though I think it deserves it. Of course making community is itself a job of work...

GermanDom said...

Hello Mr. Greer, your moniker might be a political philosophy, but it's not a stance. It is neither a hope of conservation (classically the hope of keeping the system as it is) nor "progressive" (classically, changing stuctures and laws to fit modernity). It is not conservative in values (resurecting "old" moral values) but rather liberal as the Europeans and the founding fathers understand liberal: The government should have as little say (or rather use the power to regulate as little) as possible. Other than that, I would call it a political process attitude. And it is extremely reasonable.

Where I disagree is in your understanding of marriage as "something which is allowed." Nowadays it is understood as a contract between two people. This is neither the historical sense (rather it is thought of as a contract between two families and two members/status carriers of a tightly knit community) nor does it have to do with the consequences of marriage:

When one marries, she can combine her tax rate with that of her spouse and (partially) her children. This is a RIGHT (privelege) which is given the married couple.

The topic is erroneously categorized in the current discussion as a matter of sex. For that (and to have a common household or to change names, etc..) one hardly needs to get married.


Scotlyn said...

Oh, yes, following up on a response you made to me in an earlier thread, I now offer up my daily "waste" (my sisyphusian bureaucratic labours) to Eris, and can just about hear her chuckle in the background.

Chris Travers said...

First, great thoughts about Burke.

I wanted to wade into the Burke/SSM question a little because I think there is one key aspect to this which I didn't see in your write-up (if I missed it, I apologize) but that is the fact that an issue like this doesn't occur in the abstract. Rather it occurs in a context of already shaped and forms traditions and other aspects of a social order. So please take this as an expansion on your points.

From this perspective, things become a lot more nuanced. One can certainly see same-sex marriage in the West as effecting a certain incremental change as the interaction of families and the greater society interact. As Burke noted, we cannot really speak of universal rights in part because governance is an inexact science. But we can talk about things in a context.

I would argue that same-sex marriage is an issue that arises from the separation of marriage not only from reproduction but also (and more importantly) from economic production. This change has been happening (with frankly disastrous effects) for the last century or so. Now there is a lot to dislike about the separation of marriage from economic production -- this has head, for example, to a real hegemony by corporations over every area of the economy in the US and most other "developed" countries.

So I think a real fear a Burkean might have on the issue of SSM in the US is that it makes this very consumerist, industrial economy harder to dismantle and further entrenches these shiny ideas of rights. But on the other hand, things have been moved so far in this direction that it is hard to argue that the harms in recognizing same-sex marriage in the US are greater than the harms of not recognizing it. The harms of recognition are now largely abstract and the harms of not recognizing are very tangible for some people.

On the other hand, what of a different cultural context? What about the economic order where people still retire with their children, where family businesses hold strong against corporations, where hand-made crafts are still seen as status symbols, etc.? Where gender makes a useful way of dividing family responsibilities over the generations? In such a social context I think the question of harm goes very much the other way.

One of the problems of course with pointing this out is that people on both sides of the issue tend to designate the independent thinker as the enemy.

Dan Mollo said...

One of the major failings in popular American thought today (and there are many to be sure) is the failure to understand what "freedom" and "rights" really mean. As you have stated, it is important to bring meaning back into words, and when dialog between individuals and groups lack proper context for want of proper meaning, dialog breaks down irrational posturing. But as the saying goes, humans are not rational, but rationalizing creatures.

When words can only draw upon the realm of abstraction, and not from agreed upon norms of conduct and cultural tradition, they can mean absolutely anything. I think a powerful example is how Americans have come to perceive the constitution as an unchangeable, monolithic document, when it was always meant to be a fluid document that would change with the changing social norms and practices as well as the changing self image of society in general. When abstractions are heaped upon a document with clear wording and meaning, anything goes. You don't even have to read it! Amendments be damned!

blue sun said...

Public discourse being what it is these days, one practically needs a paragraph just to label one's self. It's a shame, really. You've gotten your political label down to 3 words, but I'm sure somebody out there will now go ahead and drag up some mistake Burke made in his youth and accuse you of hypocrisy because of it. (Aha! they'll say.) Then you’ll have to add another couple words.

Labeling becomes more interesting as the political drifts over to the religious. As for myself, it would be convenient to label myself as a "Conservative Christian" (cue the tomatoes headed at my face, yikes!) but that carries so much baggage in our culture today that it is incomplete as a descriptor, airborne rotten tomatoes notwithstanding.

In one sense, you have an advantage labeling yourself as a Druid, if only because there are fewer humans in recent memory carrying that banner. You certainly don't have the likes of the infamous Creflo Dollar or Benny Hinn up on stage waving the banner and screaming, "Look at me! I represent the movement!" (Or if you do, not as many.)

Then there is the curious double standard we see in our national discourse. You raise a very good point by using Orthodox Jews as an example. When an Orthodox Jewish baker, say, refuses to cater a non-Kosher banquet, there's not a peep from the media. Yet a Conservative Christian baker makes a similar convictions-based refusal, and it ignites a firestorm, prompting media denouncings, mocking skits on Saturday Night Live, and accusations such as "wacko" (apparently even from some of your readers).

Obviously there is a difference in that same-sex marriage is a hot topic at the moment, but I believe it goes beyond that. There seems to be this myth abroad (apologies, I mean 'myth' in the sense of a story that is not true) that the United States used to be a Conservative Christian nation.

As someone who's studied the Christian scriptures and read a bit of history, however, I'm not sure it ever was. I could understand why today's Conservative Christians would find the myth that the US was once a Christian nation convenient, and tend to use it.

What I find fascinating, though, is that the media also buys into this myth. Lock, stock, and barrel. Sure, it serves as an excuse to maintain Conservative Christians in their place as the media's favorite whipping boy, but I wonder if it doesn't also serve as a convenient explanation for our current national problems? I'm not sure I can explain how we ended up with this myth so firmly cemented in place.

Once again, the answer is probably Capital-P Progress. What's old must die. We must shed ourselves of our old (and therefore mistaken) notions. And thus, we ALL must have at one time in the past held said mistaken notions.

Don Plummer said...

What you have written here, John, resonates with me. I try to avoid applying labels to myself, however, as useful as that can sometimes be, simply because in the highly charged, finger-pointing atmosphere of current US politics, terms like "liberal" and "conservative," "left" and "right," are simply, to use a term you created and that I've since borrowed (thank you!), used as snarl words, hurled at political opponents without regard to their original meaning and without the user's even defining what he/she means by the term.

So much of our political discourse is also tied up in binary thinking, something you have discussed before: employing of false dichotomies and false analogies. But issues, people, and their viewpoints are far more complex than can be fit neatly into any ideological box. I probably myself have both a conservative and a liberal streak in me. Which streak would prevail in a given situation would most likely depend on the topic under discussion.

It's quite clear that most self-identified conservatives in the USA are hardly conservative at all. Thank you for making that point clear. It's difficult, though, to get people to understand why this is so.

I find it interesting that you would use same-sex marriage as the example of how Burkean conservatism works. Have you read Wendell Berry's essay "Caught in the Middle," published in his recent book Our Only World? Berry here discusses sexual politics, specifically abortion and same-sex marriage. He arrives at the same conclusion you do on "gay marriage," but his argumentation is different. Most relevant to your column this week is the way that Berry, simply and straightforwardly, deals with what you here call the “Ewww, gross!” factor: "One may find the sexual practices of homosexuals to be unattractive or displeasing and therefore unnatural. But anything that can be done in that line by homosexuals can be done, and is done, by heterosexuals. Do we need a political remedy for that?" (p 91).

Chris Travers said...

On the issue of premarital sex again my perspective (as one who has now lived on three continents) are fairly largely conservative but in a Burkean/Traditionalist direction, and I think that discussing this will also provide a window into how problematic these discussions often get in the West.

I think one thing JMG has said that I would agree with is that it is fairly disastrous for the government to micromanage the sex lives of members of the community. I would add also that this sort of micromanagement doesn't actually happen in conservative societies. For purposes of this I will say that the simplest test of what sort of society is conservative is that conservative societies usually expect people to retire with their children (and naturally this has implications for things like same-sex marriage). I want to talk more about the implications this has on premarital sex because I think it puts the issue in a different (and more complex) context than we see it in the West.

When parents retire with their children end up with a real interest in who their children marry. Consequently publicly snubbing one's parents' interests in this regard will get one nowhere, and parents will find ways to enforce their interests. On the other hand, you have the fact that if you don't have a counterbalance to the power parents have, children end up at their mercy. That counterbalance is usually family honor, and the prohibition of premarital sex plays into this. In other words, nobody wants their family to be known as the one where pregnancy preceded marriage, and so when this happens the parents will quickly make sure any objections they have to a given match are left at the door. Almost every culture where parents have a lot of influence have these safety valves for the children to essentially override a parental veto. Premarital sex is one of them and the condemnation is part of what makes it an effective override (because the threat of contageous shame is enough to get them to support the marriage).

Interestingly enough there is also a lot of evidence that bridal kidnappings in Greece and Rome also had a similar role with the brides often conspiring to be kidnapped, and even the brides parents being in on it if it meant saving face about a lack of dowry or the like.

Sometimes the condemnation is more functional than the prohibition.

Chris Travers said...

JMG One more point about Russel Kirk.

Not only was Kirk one of the giants of traditionalist conservatism in the US, but in 1942 he voted against FDR because he believed that FDR was leading the US into the role of empire. Did h vote for the Republican? No.

Russel Kirk, the great Conservative, voted for Norman Thomas, the candidate of the Socialist Party.

Eric S. said...

I loved this week, I went back and read through some of Burke’s writings when you first started talking about him a few years ago, and I’m glad you explored it in more detail here. The one area, though, where I find myself differing with you, using the same basic line of reasoning is the position you took on the bakeries. I can see where you’re coming from, and I agree that both sets of rights (the rights of the gay couples, and the rights of the people with religious objections) need to be taken into account, but I think the logic of Burkean Conservatism you’ve laid out could be used to draw the line in a slightly different place based on the place where existing laws draw those lines. The problem with businesses is that they fall under the heading of Public Accommodations, which would, in the process of extending the existing rights granted according to religion, race, gender, etcetera to the gay community would place those couples under the protection of the already existing Civil Rights Act of 1964, and would be upheld by the Heart of Atlanta Motel V United States supreme court case. Therefore, the legal line should be drawn according to what counts as public accommodation. That would mean, someone operating a bakery available to the public would be bound by the same laws that apply to all public accommodations, but that anything outside of that definition would be within legal rights to make its own decisions according to belief (thus, if it was a priest being asked to perform a wedding, or a church or other private institution that does not provide public accommodation being chosen as a venue the law would be on the side of the private institution, and the baker would only be protected if they were not running a shop open to the general public). It does seem like, even from a conservative approach to the legal system, religious accommodations should only apply to religious institutions. Is that fair? Or is it taking a different approach than the one you’re speaking of?

Unknown said...

JMG - I don't think I am. The trouble is that a religious minority (in terms of % of the country) is that it can easily clump together to make a religious majority in a particular area. The Christian Right may be a minority on paper but they own huge swaths of the south and would love the opportunity to make it impossible for gay people to live and travel there. And how would it work exactly, making those distinctions between a minority (free to discriminate against otherwise protected categories) and a majority (no)? You'd just have people manipulating what the definition of minority is so they would be free to discriminate. Again, we tried this pre-Civil Rights and the situation was intolerable for large sections of the population. It didn't work out the way you say it would - not selling non-kosher meat is not the same thing as saying we sell it but not to YOU.

- RTR (The Unknown who mentioned the Green Book)

redoak said...

JMG, I've made this recommendation before, but given your understanding of Burke you are really going to enjoy Leo Strauss. It could be said that Strauss expands Burke's thought to engage the problem and vast historical perspective of German idealism. Say the word and I'll happily send you a copy of Natural Right and History as a belated 10th Anniversary gift. He's quite a force, so if you read him be careful not to swallow the hook.

Johnny said...


I didn't write last week but I did want to congratulate you on 10 years of your blog and to thank you again for all your work.

I wrote you a couple weeks ago mentioning William James' Pragmatism lectures. Reading your post today I can see that Burke must have had a profound impact on James as the process you describe matches almost exactly what James proposes, except that James is applying the same thinking to the individual. James is also interesting, to me, in that he sees pragmatism as a tool to using ideas to make sense of the world, but also as a tool that you can use to judge the ideas you apply, so working inwardly and outwardly (hopefully that is making sense).

When reading James it occurred to me that his ideas seemed to be very much rooted in Darwinian thinking, but since Burke was writing a century earlier, do you think Darwin was possibly influenced by Burke? Or am I just imagining a relationship between these concepts?

ed boyle said...

You should be chief justice. Your practical realpolitik is undeniable. Of course I believe that any nonstandard sexuality is a sign of cultural decadence and eventual decay of said culture or civilization. That said, I need to use fossil fuels to live. This destroys the planet. He who lives in glass house should not throw bricks. When we are back in the stone age there will be little use for aberrance in any sense as every sexual act and most anything else will have to aid ultimate survival of the species. Now however with billlions of superfluous people and production of goods and services we have great leeway to live out our fantasies before armageddon surely occurs. Sex change (Wachovski brothers) perhaps. Join ISIS and see what it's like to cut out someone's heart and eat it. Become a wall street banker and destroy half the world from a desk job. Or travel the world with backpack learning all cultures and languages, enjoying drugs, love affairs, etc. 9-5 middle class walter mitty lifestyle with 2.1 kids, dog, surburban house perhaps is unappealing.

I think that Burkean conservatism may be good for boring times but difficult in radical times. The industial revolution has forced everyone since 200 years into ever more radical solutions to accomodate. China after Mao or even Mao himself. Russian revolution. German and Japanese industrialization. Only Amish are truly Burkean.

Even under natural conditions there are certainly times when Burkean principles would be maladaptive.Climate change, ice melt 12000 years ago. Earthquake prone Japan. Invasion prone Eurasia. Only England is so safe and isolated as to almost never have disasters or invasions. Burke is typical British therefore.

Of course the idea makes sense. 7 generations. Give back to your grandkids what you borrow from nature. This is hardly Eurasian history. North American indians had perhaps similar isolation to Britain. So the concept was similar. Chinese were quite practical and inparticular Egypt had such a multimilennial stabilty based on isolation. Culture generally is a fixed point based on nature, genetics, language in all regions. Violate this in extremis by upending culture, peoples, customs and you will violate Burke. Thailand, India, ghana, what have yu remain as they are. Experiments come and go. Industrialism, mass immigration, gay marriage are in this deeper sense Burkean nonsense. Traditional lifestyles have their deeper reasons.

wagelaborer said...

Huh. Apparently, I, too, am a Burkean conservative. Who knew?

I hang with the radicals, but I get aggravated when they announce that health care, or education, or water, is ''a right''.

No, they are services that society provides to our citizens. Or, should provide, in my opinion.

Also, I have friends that don't believe in participating in the political process, announcing instead that ''we need to take the streets and smash the state and have a revolution''.

Disregarding the obvious fact that ''taking to the streets'' doesn't lead to ''revolution'', I feel that using the existing structures, with the existing procedures, (even though they are very biased against third parties, such as the Green Party), is the best way to go about trying to change things for the better.

Yes, it is frustrating to deal with unequal ballot access laws, ignoring by the media, and lack of access to public debates, but the framework is already set up, so why not use it the best we can? So, there I am, out on the streets, asking for petition signatures. No one else seems to want to ''take the streets'' in such a boring and depressing way, but, so it goes.

Don Plummer said...

John, I have to respond to your response to Kuanyin; specifically, your comment about Hillary Clinton's support for "irresponsible military interventionism overseas." While I certainly agree with the likelihood that HRC would indeed continue that policy, it's far from unclear to me that any other candidate, Donald Trump included, would curtail that activity. In fact, Trump's own bullying nature, his slogan "Make America Great Again" (which must include, among other things, a sentiment toward preserving and increasing America's worldwide military prowess), along with his comment about seeking out and killing family members of terrorists, all suggest to me that he would not only continue our military interventionism, but that he would escalate it in a most perniciously heedless and reckless manner.

I don't even think Bernie Sanders would curtail the military overreach that America has been involved with over the past several decades. Our last real effort to dismantle the "national security state" (as writer Andrew Bacevich describes it), was, not surprisingly, during the Carter years.

Chris Smith said...


Excellent post and a fascinating analysis of how to think about apportioning and defining rights in a society. I'll be thinking about it for awhile. I disagree, however with your argument about bakers being allowed to discriminate based on religious belief.

I think the baker making a cake for a gay wedding is a bad example. I think pharmacists are a better example, at least in part that the refusal to fill a prescription can have far more serious consequences than refusing to bake a cake. A lot of states (Illinois comes to mind) allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions based on the their conscience. These laws were mostly enacted with a mind towards allowing conservative Christian pharmacists from being forced to fill prescriptions for birth control pills. But consider the following. The Church of Scientology does not recognize mental illness and disavows the use of psych drugs. What happens when a Scientologist pharmacist in Illinois refuses to fill a prescription for antipsychotics based on his or her religious convictions?

I think my response to the issue would be as follows. As a society, we have decided that businesses open to the public have to be open to everyone equally. We've been doing this since the 1960s with respect to race and sex, so it is not a new idea. If you have an objection to filling prescriptions or baking cakes for some group or groups then you always have the option of not going into those professions in order to assuage your conscience.

Vesta said...

Following on my earlier post. The process of incremental experimentation with emperical evaluation, in addition to reflecting natural processes, is a wisdom generator. Contrast this with systems based on application of first principles, which generate smarts. Which type of system should we look to to best inform our lives? Compare the outcomes of natural systems and wisdom-based societies, with the global hash we've made of things with our smarts.

Nastarana said...

Dear Mr. Greer, I offer a belated congratulations for ten ears of being a calm voice of sanity and wisdom

a voice in the desert, crying out

Andrew Sullivan, who was outed by the late and much lamented Media Whores Online for a gay username which can't be repeated here, a "Burkean conservative"? Really? I have always thought of him as a carpetbagger opportunist.

ShaneW, I once read a lovely reminiscence about a mid 20thC group of white lady conventioneers, League of Women Voters or some such, who checked out of a Boise,ID hotel en masse because of the hotel refusing to accommodate a Black family.

Dear thenotesthatdonotfit, I suppose you are aware that there are significant parts of the coalition of interest groups which make up the Democratic Party which do not want medicare for all ever to happen. All those nice jobs in insurance offices and HMOs, including bilingual jobs, would go away, or such is the fear. Back in 2008, Mme. Clinton's faltering campaign was revived, temporarily, over precisely that issue. Insurance companies were blamed for lack of "public option" in the eventual bill, which they did oppose but so did other factions as well.

barrymelius said...

Mr Greer,congratulations on another meaty topic. It appears that history may indeed have no direction,but it may be a little early to reach that conclusion. We only have reliable data going back a few thousand years to base that on,a limited view at best. Evolutionary science,or the study of long term physical change of species is based on admittedly sparse sampling but on a much longer time scale tends to show slow gradual improvement overlaying shorter term rapid advances and regressions. It also is littered with dead end species. May we live in interesting times.

Nastarana said...

Deaer Stacy, about Hobby Lobby, I think there is maybe a subtext which is being widely and deliberately ignored.

Three companies have been publicly targeted over their insurance policies: Hobby Lobby, Home Depot and Eden Foods. Is it just me, or is there not a pattern here which has nothing to do with sex or birth control?

Violet Cabra said...

Hi everyone! Just wanted to let y'all know first that I found a house and will start moving into tomorrow. Thank you again for all the positive energy and kind words.

JMG, belated happy decade posting (was overwhelmed last week)!! I found this blog 2 and a half years ago and it has changed my life profoundly. It hasn't provided a path (truth is a pathless land) but it has provided light to help me pick my way through the woods. Many thanks from the bottom of my heart.

Re Burkean conservatism: as I've mentioned before, this is essentially the political outlook I have (yes even as a trans person, eccentric etc) and I feel that it is heavily informed by my decade of gardening. I remember once while I was visiting a squat in New Orleans I would later live at, my friends were excited about gardening. There was an enormous lemon balm plant in the garden, which for some reason they wanted to take up to plant something else in its space. The beautiful melissa was dug up and then the main gardener of the house returned. She saw the melissa and got angry "why did you dig it all up??" she cried. They said they wanted to divide it, to plant some chives where it had been. It was promptly replanted and it promptly died.

Governments are similar to plants. They grow from specific seeds on specific soil. If they are resilient and strong they perrenialize and keep the "weeds" at bay (competing narrow interests of society). Spengler even talks about how politics arises from the plantwise nature of man. If the institutions of governance are violently uprooted then what's gonna grow? Crabgrass? Rocks? It appears historically that after violently uprooting political institutions out come the weeds which fight violently and then the old plant tentatively sends up a shoot from the deep roots that are still lodged in the soil. There is a lot of crying and gnashing of teeth. The garden is in disarray. A lot of people die in utterly idiotic ways. In the end nothing really changes, except there's a few more mass graves, more poverty and maybe the country is now under foreign dominion.

Also, as a trans person I feel that it is only decent that people who believe that my identity violates their religion have a right to keep me out of their religious spaces/institutions. I believe it would be indecent for me to, say, try to use the ladies room in a fundamentalist Christian Church. Part of the reason I choose to move back to New England from the South is that my trans is less of an issue here for the most part. When leftist queer people to try to push their values down someone else's throat it absolutely disgusts me. Sure, I believe we deserve to have our genders to be legally recognized, and with minimal hassle (my papers are in order and it was a year and a half of crying on the phone with government bureaucrats). But that doesn't negate a certain degree of sensitivity to other people's needs and principals. If I don't want people to destroy my identity what right do I have to try to destroy theirs?! Also more pragmatically I fear that by being insensitive to people's values around sexuality and gender we may be setting the stage for more explosive violence some years down the line. It frustrates me that many people with less vulnerable identities use trans issues as a way of politicking, I've talked with friends with other vulnerable identities (poor people, people of color, etc) and have found that my sentiment is shared by many. I'm interested, and reservedly hopeful, about the shifts in political life that are afoot. My sense is that a lot of allegiances are changing very, very rapidly.

wagelaborer said...

''Marriage'' law in the US is basically contract law. The religious ceremony, in which two people promise to love and cherish each other until death do them part, is completely different.

The government contract of marriage is designed so that when the two people decide they'd rather be dead than remain married, have the option of divorce, and it gives guidance to how they divide up their property, their house, their kids, their pets, etc.

It also grants certain benefits, like health insurance, Social Security, etc. This is why civil unions in certain states are not enough.

My friend has been in a relationship with his partner for over 40 years. About 10 years ago, his partner became seriously ill. His partner did not work and was not on my friend's insurance, because...not married. So they mortgaged their house, (which had been paid off) in order to keep him alive. And last year, my friend lost his job.

Life in America. I think that we can do better.

Obama used the ''why invent something new'' when pushing for his mandatory insurance company tithing bill, because, of course, we already had a lot of people who had such insurance through their employers. Of course, we also lready had Medicare, and wouldn't it have been much easier to take out two words "over 65'', then to pass a 1,600 page insurance company written bill? Or, expand community health clinics, which are public and usually free, and which we already have.

The mandatory vaccination thing is an attack on religious and individual rights, using scare propaganda. We already have well over 95% of children covered for dangerous communicable diseases under existing laws. The religious communities that refuse have their occasional outbreaks of diphtheria and whooping cough, but pose no danger to the vaccinated. Hepatitis B and HPV are not a danger to the Disneyland attending public. The flu vaccine, widely pushed, is usually said by the CDC, the next year, to have been disappointingly ineffective. Yes, we should be able to pick and choose, with religious exemptions for those who think that God wants them to have measles.

Lynnet said...

Whack! OK, I'll go smaller. Is there justification in the Bible for a Jewish-owned shop to refuse to serve a woman without head covering (your example)? Is this specifically prohibited in the scriptures, such that the proprietor is violating their religious principles by making a sale to such a person? If so, then I believe they are justified in doing so. If not, then the difference between insisting on head coverings and just not serving the non-Jewish woman becomes pretty small.

I'm not objecting to the Burkean principles _on principle_. I ask in the interest of finding out where the boundaries are (not to be a smartaleck). The easy questions are, well, easy. It's the hard questions that we need to work on.

RPC said...

Interesting that I would take your example and principles and come to a different conclusion: that some heterosexual couples who now enjoy the benefits of civil marriage should be excluded. My argument would be that government/society's interest in marriage is to create a stable environment for the rearing of children, so I would limit civil marriage to those ensembles of adults who biologically or legally found themselves with children for the duration of those children's status as minors.
The difference between a Burkean approach and the existing one would be that after the issue had been discussed and a solution reached, those differing would have some confidence that they could live with the solution.

David said...


You comment re acceptable disagreement brings to mind a conversation I had at work some weeks ago. Our chief accountant, who resides in one of the offices next to mine, is a big HRC support (went to a rally in Green Bay, got to shake her hand, etc.) whereas I am one of those Sanders supporters who will be expressly not voting Democratic this year (likely for Jill Stein and the Green party). During the (very polite) conversation, she mentioned that one reason she couldn't support Bernie was that she couldn't see giving nuclear launch codes to someone who didn't believe in Jesus. I pointed out that the Constitution expressly forbids religious qualifications for public office (in Article VI). She replied that the Constitution also allows her to vote for whom she wishes, so long as they otherwise qualify. I had to concede the point.

James M. Jensen II said...

It seems to me that Burke was opposed to both utopianism and political rationalism. Usually those go together, as with many socialists, but sometimes you can get one without the other: either the grand visions of World Enlightenment(TM) due whenever the Age of Aquarius(TM) gets around to starting, or some libertarians' advocacy of self-ownership as the One True Right from which every other right can be logically derived.

I flirted for quite a while with the latter camp after I ran across the work of Roderick T. Long. The last straw was when I realized that there is simply no good case for the Lockean theory of acquiring property. Locke, of course, argued that we acquire property through mixing our labor with unowned resources. Libertarians love this theory but the obvious counterargument is: why? Why isn't the labor simply expended?

The best case for it I've seen was by Roderick T. Long, a philosopher I admire quite a bit (he made me take Aristotle seriously). He argued that the Lockean theory explains why we own our bodies: since in eating we mix the materials of the food with our bodies. Analogously, when we mix our labor with resources, they become, in a sense, part of us.

That always struck me as silly: first, it suggests that eating something someone else owns is analogous to cannibalism. Second, and more damningly, it's completely superfluous: the much simpler, more obvious reason I have a right to use my body is that it's part of what constitutes me. In which case, self-ownership (if you want to call it that) doesn't help explain why you can own anything else.

This is, of course, the problem with all forms of rationalism: eventually you have to either make unjustified assumptions of the kind you claim to be avoiding, or you have to make really bad arguments for those assumptions.

over the hill and down the other side said...

I've never forgotten a situation recounted in an advice column (Dear Abby?) years ago. It has been a guide for me.

The mother wrote that her toddler was very attached to his pacifier. A woman relative, seeing this, was outraged. No child should be allowed to suck on a pacifier!

The child, seeing her upset, took the pacifier out of his mouth, and, holding it up, asked her, "Hurt you?"

Many things that appear to hurt us only hurt our favorite opinions!

MigrantWorker said...

Good afternoon mr Greer,

I reckon Burke would fit right in in Lakeland Republic!

Speaking of which - can we expect new instalments of Retrotopia at some point?


Sven Eriksen said...

A hot button issue competently handled in a thoughtful, pragmatic and dispassionate way, or in other words: Let's offend everybody! :-D

I must say, I find this approach to the political process very appealing. Thanks for sharing it and laying it out in such concise terms. Though it seems to me that what reliably happens once "Being offended doesn't count" is established, the offendable immediately begin summoning superhuman creativity to explain why That Which Offends is really detrimental to society as a whole, and as such officialdom must take action to prevent people from engaging in it. Often the myth of progress is invoked to insist that history is inevitably moving in the direction of a society in which That Which Offends no longer takes place. How does one best counter this without getting caught up in the quagmire of rhetorical handwaving that results?

I've been contemplating politics in light of your "Cimmerian Hypothesis", and I've come to think that these dysfunctions set in when people secretly believe that the political process is about creating an artificial environment whose purpose is to affirm the validity of its inmates' ideas by removing those parts of the human experience that aren't in accordance with them. With such a foundation, even though words like "liberty" and "diversity" is waved around by the self-righteous, a diverse population exercising actual liberties will be perceived as fundamentally threatening to those with any ideological agenda you'd care to name.

Bill Pulliam said...

The "No Shirts..." sign is a good example. Personally I prefer to only put a shirt on when I am required to, such as by the weather, a sign such as that, or clearly established societal convention. Though many claim otherwise, the shoes & shirt required thing is NOT mandated by state health codes for customers in the vast majority (possibly all 50) US States. Those laws only applies to employees who are handling food, hence the clothed staff in the bar & grill inside the nudist resort, serving all the nude patrons (who generally are required to sit on towels, of course). And as for a gym with a private membership that does not allow minors inside because of insurance limitations, that is not even a public space so there State law does not even require clothing AT ALL in there.

Around here, most gas station/convenience stores do not display a "Shirt & Shoes" sign. If a store does put one up, I simply take my business elsewhere. I have options, and I know it was the owner's choice to post the sign, even if he chooses to lie and try to hide behind misquoted "state health codes." And I avoid these businesses even when it is far too cold to actually go barechested.

I also will not use the local package shipping store because they display a lot of right wing militia paraphernalia. In that case it can present a hardship because there is not a competing similar business nearby, but they have their rights.

We have two print shops in town. One publishes the local paper than is full of overtly christian content on the front page (e.g. "He Is Risen!"). The other does not. Guess which one I use when I need photocopies?

This is what freedom looks like.

They can express their ppreferences, and so can I.

Of course, the pressure from the left to ban discrimination is resulting in a backlash from the right attempting to codify and institutionalize discrimination.

jeffinwa said...

Thank you very much for this post; a good road map to help find our way out of the swamp of abstractions.

To paraphrase the Stones "you can't always get what you want, but you just might find, you get what you need".

James M. Jensen II said...

I just thought of another case that yields easily to a a conservative analysis: the recent campaign to restrict the public to the use of the "correct" restroom.

First, is this an area where the government is already involved? Well, the government does set some regulations on public restrooms for health purposes etc. but these are regulations on the proprietor, not on the public's use. While there are things you aren't allowed to do in a public restroom, I can't think of any that aren't also forbidden in all other public spaces. So this does seem to be an extension of government into a new area. Not a good sign.

Second, this is a restriction, not a permission. The bar just got ten feet... err, I mean, a good bit higher.

Third, what benefits might accrue from the measure? The argument tend to center around the possibility of men pretending to be transgender women in order to perform various forms of sexual misconduct in the women's room, and women's fear of the same. The latter is a poor argument (on the level with being offended) unless the former is in fact a significant risk... which no one seems to have any evidence to suggest it is.

Finally, existing laws already penalize the various forms of sexual misconduct that might be engaged in.

All this strongly suggests that laws regulating who can use which restroom are inappropriate at this time. It's driven by the fear that people are suddenly going to start using a right they have always had to do something that is already illegal, and the only way to combat a sudden epidemic of criminal misconduct is to take that right away. That's... not reasonable.

ladyimbrium said...

Wait, so an adult can do as they please, alone or with consenting adults, as long as no innocents are harmed and no previously agreed-upon rules are broken? How very... reasonable. I'm not convinced we can handle the personal responsibility necessary to do this.

ladyimbrium said...

As a serious comment- and I apologize for the brain cramp which split the two into different posts instead of getting them both sorted out at the same time- this sounds much like the modern take on Libertarianism. Yet I sense that you would describe a difference between them if for no other reason than you went to the trouble of finding a different label- Burkean Conservatism, of all labels. I admit that political labels are not a language I speak fluently.

zach bender said...

With respect, JMG, a couple of points.

You say, "By and large, businesses that serve the general public are rightly required to serve the general public, rather than picking and choosing who they will or won't serve, but there are valid exceptions, and religion is one of them."

Even a Burkean conservative might question the validity of this exception. Why "should" the community allow or encourage people who enter the public marketplace to refuse goods or services on the basis of prejudices they can attribute to "religious" belief?

I was surprised to see the suggestion -- which you attribute to hearsay -- that New York allows businesses owned or operated by (for example) orthodox Jews to refuse service (for example) to women who do not cover their hair, and I have been unable to find anything to this effect in a brief survey of state law and local ordinances. Quite the contrary, actually.

As other commenters have pointed out, it is often not as simple as choosing not to patronize such a business, if (for example) it is the only game in a small town. The bigots can team up and effectively deny targeted groups reasonable access to goods and services.

Would also note anti-miscegenation laws were often grounded in ostensible religious belief about the mixing of races.

Glenn said...

On the subject of marriage in general, and why the government is involved. As observed previously, there are many benefits and legal obligations attached to marriage, some of which the government(s) provide or have jurisdiction over. Therefore, it is in the government(s) interest to define marriage. That is why the government is involved in marriage.

I would prefer the system they have in Canada, which is, IIRC, based on post-revolutionary French civil law. Civil unions _for all_, and you may have a church wedding and marriage as well in any church which is willing to do so. I agree with Deborah, that the current argument in the U.S. is precisely because of the loaded word "marriage" and the cultural status it confers. The fundamentalist religious right does not want "those people" to have that status, and whichever "those people" (formerly mixed race, now homosexuals or trans) of any particular time do want it. My proposal would likely result in the complaint from christian evangelicals that government was "stripping the right to marriage" from good christians. Future iterations involving more than two consenting adults might involve quite a large discussion and go on for a _long_ time.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

MIckGspot said...

Thank you again for an excellent history lesson linked to our world of now and how labels are so generally applied and used without context, precision or thought. After a couple years of crashing now to avoid the rush I'm heading back to get a job in corporate America to pay the bills and would like to report an interesting change in background checks. Today for a new job, I had to explain a Misdemeanor on my record from 2006, where it appears my now ex-wife left empty trash containers out to long at a home I used to own. I have no recollection of the event and apparently paid a $35 fine pleading guilty back then. So I pray for forgiveness and redemption and am working to turn a new leaf away from my criminal past. I am so thankful the report did not pick up the window I broke playing baseball in the alley back in 2nd grade, truly a low point in my life. Then I was able to blame my friend Billy for not catching the ball so perhaps his name is besmirched with that thoughtless act of terror.

Joel Caris said...


Thank you twice over--for such a thoughtful and illuminating essay, and for your mentioning and linking to Into the Ruins.

It seems almost embarrassing to admit, but the concept of evaluating social changes in a very straightforward, pro and con sort of way is almost revolutionary (no pun intended!). Having grown up as a liberal and still considering myself one--though I'd say a combination of farming, being involved in local food systems work, and your incisive writing have all helped to instill quite a streak of Burkean conservatism into me--I have quite often fallen into the mode of grand statements about how things ought to be, rather than simply taking a hard look at the practical outcomes of policy. (Not that I always lost sight of those realities, but it certainly wasn't the basis of my rhetoric.)

I also really enjoy your explication of classic liberalism, as I have a very strong belief in that constant attempt to live up to ones ideals--both at a personal level and at a societal level. I deal with this struggle internally all the time, as I have some pretty high ideals for myself and, conversely, I am a man who very much enjoys comforts, many of which stem out of contradictions of my ideals.

We are a messy lot, humans. I think again of my favorite quote from Overshoot: "Using the ecological paradigm to think about human history, we can see instead that the end of exuberance was the summary result of all our separate and innocent decisions to have a baby, to trade a horse for a tractor, to avoid illness by getting vaccinated, to move from a farm to a city, to live in a heated home, to buy a family automobile and not depend on public transit, to specialize, exchange, and thereby prosper." It really, for me, perfectly summarizes the trap we've fallen into. We humans really never were designed to have access to so much and to so easily be able to make choices of comfort that lead to destruction. I don't think we're wired to make that choice right, most of the time.

Yet, that doesn't excuse us from the need to constantly attempt to make that choice right and to do it more often than not. That's the struggle I have within myself; I am very forgiving of human frailty, my own included, but I also don't think it's an excuse not to act right by the world. So in that way, I suppose I am a liberal. But I also firmly believe that limits are the only way to ultimately bring us into a better balance, and so I suspect that belief puts me in the conservative camp.

Still, I come back to this notion of social change in the context of pros and cons, and I can't help but love it. It's fascinating to see people take your cake baker example and extrapolate it to other situations that seem similar at first glance. But by taking a measured, pro and con approach and actually considering each case rather than wrapping it in soaring rhetoric of one side or another, you can actually burrow down into considered, imperfect solutions that may function in the real world.

Good gods, if I lived in that political reality!

I hope that as our political ecosystem continues to crumble around us, we can find the strength to reorient ourselves to a way of conducting our political lives more in that tradition. In the mean time, I have a lot to think about, and perhaps that process will help me to contribute to a new kind of political functioning in this country.

Steve Thomas said...

"Putting meaning back into the words can be a risky proposition, in turn, because so many Americans are used to waving them about as arbitrary noises linked to an assortment of vague emotions, the common currency of what passes for thought in so much of modern American life."

I tried to push this on the other blog, but at the risk of being annoying I'm going to try again here--

I wonder if you might do a post on thinking.

As I recall there have been a few nods in that direction over the years. You've explained the concept of "snarl words" and you regularly point out the ways in which people don't actually think. But I wonder if you might do a post, or at least a comment, which would describe the basic way you approach an argument.

I've found, observing myself, that I react to contrary opinions this way:

1. Emotional response -- "What this person is saying makes me feel uncomfortable."
2. Immediate leap to defense. Get angry at other person, lose track of what point I was actually trying to make.
3. Other person responds in kind; cycle repeats.

I think this is the standard pattern. I really do try not to do this. When it comes to analyzing a piece at leisure, I'm a little better. I can do a close-reading of an essay and figure out what the writer's argument is and whether it actually works. But you are able to do the same thing in real time, with comments that aren't neatly laid out in essay format, without leaping to an emotional reaction or losing the thread of your own thoughts. Maybe it's something that can't be taught, but if you have any pointers, well, I'd find it helpful and I imagine others would as well.

Jeff Kennedy said...

I find your arguments as compelling as ever, so I wondered if we might hear your thoughts on a couple details touching on your example. First, what do you think of the "right to deny service" argument as it applies to corporations? For all that we ostensibly hold them to legally be people, the idea that a corporation could hold religious beliefs has never sat well with me. Second, during the civil rights movement we had to legislate restaurants, for example, to serve African-Americans, overriding their right to deny service in order to counter-balance a pervasive and in some places ubiquitous cultural resistance to a legislated right. How would you contrast that situation with the gay marriage debate?

I really appreciate hearing your thoughts on this. Can't thank you enough for the time and thought you put into this blog.

FLwolverine said...

Re: Trump -

The law firms I have worked for represented real estate developers of various sizes and types, so I asked one of my former law partners if he thought our experience with developers had anything to tell us about Mr. Trump. Or (I asked) is he so sui generis that we cannot generalize? The response I received was: "Oh, Trump is definitely a developer. As such, he lies easily, is totally self-absorbed, and will not pay the final bill."

I thought this was both apt and amusing, and everyone I've told this story to agrees (admittedly, I've been selective in my audience). The problem (she says ruefully) is that the same thing can be said about politicians in general these days.

nephilimsd said...

Mr. Greer,

I've been reading your blog for a few years now, and while I haven't posted before, I've thought about it a few times. I admire your eloquence and clarity in untangling complex issues and putting words to vague ideas that are difficult to explain clearly.

In this particular case, I have a difficult time with the concept that religion should be able to be used as a foundation for any difference in treatment under the eyes of the law. By this logic, it should seem reasonable that any particular discrimination should be tolerable, so long as the discriminator cites a religious edict for doing so. Part of the problem I have with this is the definition of religion. If I were a card-carrying Satanist for example, should I be allowed to exclude anyone who seems overtly Christian (or any church-going religion for that matter) from my business?

To clarify, I'm not advocating that businesses should not be able refuse service to anyone, just that religion should not be made as a special-case for such exclusion. It seems like the law should either permit excluding customers on any basis they choose or they should not be able to do that. A pragmatic argument for the merits and costs of such a policy should be evaluated, and the consequences either way should be tolerated by all.

America Reforged said...

I've held a fairly practical view of rights for the past few years, probably informed by living in the post 9/11 US and watching the slow creep of the security state into more facets of public life over time. The only rights you really have are those which you can successfully assert against a force outside yourself saying you do not have that right. Membership in a higher social class is helpful in asserting perceived rights since that status confers more political, economic, legal power that can be brought to bear in defense of said perceived rights. Perhaps there should be a distinction between perceived, ideal, inalienable etc rights and realized rights.

Tomuru said...

I don't know if this thought pathway has been mentioned yet or if it's Burkean. Since overpopulation by humans seems to be the main cause of environmental problems wouldn't homosexuality be a ZPG type activity and supported by environmentally conscious countries? Allowing same sex couples to adopt could be seen as positive as it would be a negative population growth idea. Might a homosexual gene exist from an evolutionary standpoint to limit population growth since homosexuality has been with us a very long time??

ed boyle said...

I was thinking recently on how we differ from aniimals. They are Burkean as they lack abstraction, writing, complex verbalizationn and therefore live in the now. How to experience this? I work around a lot of people doing cleaning but like a servant am of a lower class. My commiunication is minimal. So I observe those above me like a dog his master. Read moods from face and body language, tone of voice, eyes. To me they might have no past, married, any kids, political opinions, even name unknown, just rapid fire instructions. Regardless or because of this one gets to know who they all are at a very basic level. I live 'now' amongst them. Like a dog guessing where its master is gone to when a certain person is not at work, pehaps sick, on vacation, quit, later shift. Humans live in their heads as they talk a lot, have opinions, abstract. I generalize about all the people, try to guess age, star sign, hobbies, family status due to behaviour patterns. We all make assumptions when we meet new people, generalize. Sexism, racism are built up on visceral feelings we get from group interaction, mostly in youth. In this sense we are burkean in our prejudicial behaviour towards friendships, marriages, grouping tendencies. See slow assimilation of ethnic and racial types.

Religions, social theories, science, philosophies come and go as these are peripheral concepts. An individual remains as is since birth. Each persn has a standard mood, capabilities which remain same. One is happier, another more sad, another more serious, etc. We can develop ourselves through training or ameliorate highs and lows through techniques like yoga, alcohol, social contacts, aerobics, etc. We adapt our potential to our environment. Animals do same. If you had pets you notice as with kids different moods as standard personality traits.

Being a wage earner, always running, more mute than communicative makesme more in tune with my animal, burkean self. Sitting all the time alone at a school desk, dorm room desk or office computer effected my social capabilities negatively. Not talking, just observing develops intuition.French and German or Chinese philosophers and social theoreticians were perhaps eggheads of sorts. Thatcher called EU treaty on single currency cloud cucko land. She is turning out to be right. The Fed and QE, NIRP is all crazy. Like Byzantium we will have to fall back to a simpler more common sense model based on real human behaviour. Trump and Bernie Sanders are tapping into common sense just like Le Pen and 5 star and Podemos. The more reality separates from theory the greater the backlash in politics, science, religion. Industrialism for example is based on theory. We can have it all. No price to pay. You can't have a free lunch. Brain cancer from mobile phones, skin cancer from sunny vacations, lung cancer from cigs, microwave ovens denaturating food. Ozone destruction by CFCs. Bees dying off due to pesticides. Antibiotics running out of effectiveness. Run off from agriculture.

Animal instinct plus human intellect drives shortsighted behaviour. If we want something, we go get it, like predators. Overeating, sex, addictions. Human intellect alows us to rationalize away our behaviour. Religion, politics make us to gods or servants of god. We are allowed as inspired by god or intellect to take everything, do anything.

W. B. Jorgenson said...

I had a very interesting discussion today about the precautionary principle, with a group of people who seemed to think it would have prevented the discovery of fire. I find it fascinating that the bar people think the precautionary principle sets is unattainable, while it strikes me as common sense. It's also interesting that arguing there's a range of options from change for the sake of change to total stasis induced by fear of change almost always gets blank stares. It's like people somehow can't understand that, but I can't understand why.

Oregoncharles said...

"The precautionary principle? That’s the common-sense rule that before you do anything, you need to figure out whether it’s going to do more good than harm. "
The principle deserves a more precise formulation than that. It is, that if there is a possible hazard, uncertainty dictates caution - that is, not taking the contemplated step. It is expressed precisely by the solid yellow line in the middle of the highway: there is a known hazard, oncoming traffic; and because you cannot see whether that hazard is oncoming, you must not cross into its path. (In general, traffic laws and practices express very practical wisdom, because the consequences of mistakes are so dramatic and immediate.)

You're right that Burkean conservatism, as described here, is equivalent. "Look before you leap," as the maxim says - and don't leap if you can't see what's there. There is also the first law of tinkering: save all the pieces.

I've long noted that conservationists are the only real conservatives these days. In fact, the "left" has been very conservative, notably in its opposition to "free trade." What we're really doing is trying to conserve the regulatory and welfare systems that make capitalism bearable. There is probably a better way, but "laissez faire" (an old term for "free trade") isn't it.

The bigger picture is that "liberal" and "conservative" have become grab-bags of proposed policies. There are overarching themes to each; the Green Party tries to make those explicit with its 4 Pillars and, in the US, 10 Key Values. But in practice the grab-bags are pretty arbitrary. This is the interesting thing about Trump: insofar as he expresses policies, he lands solidly on both sides of the usual line. Apparently the resulting blend is surprisingly popular, especially in such a defiant package, but Republican "conservatives" hate it.

pygmycory said...

JMG, you'll notice I said 'if enough places demand this'. At moment, in the US and Canada, this is a non-issue because of the small numbers involved. I'm really not arguing with you there. I guess it is when a minority religion becomes close to a majority that it becomes a problem, or if it includes the only grocery store in town.

As for the shirt and shoes, point taken. Trouble is, you could extend this argument to say that demanding niquab, burqua (or for that matter full plate armor or a clown costume) for service is just fine, and the logical structure would be identical. And that is getting to be a pretty hefty burden to place on part of your population when it is not asked of the other part. Armor is heavy, expensive, and a good way to get heatstroke in the summer, after all.

I suppose the above paragraph would fall in the 'slipperly slope category'. I guess I'm a bit leery because the niquab, burqua, hijab are actually required in various places around the world, and I don't want to wear them and don't think I should have to. I don't have to now, and I'd like it to stay that way.

James M. Jensen II said...

One more thing... I'm curious how many comments you've already had to reject for this post for being little more than rants about the evils of conservatism/liberalism or calling you a closet Republican/Democrat/homophobe/etc.?

Oregoncharles said...

And may I add: throughout the furor over super-Christians denying wedding services to homosexual weddings, I've wonder why on earth anyone would patronize a business that despises them. Asking them to make food that you'll serve to your guests seems downright self-destructive, as well as politically clueless.

I've long regarded the "Christian" fish on a business as a sign that they don't want my dirty money. Why this doesn't apply to wedding businesses is beyond me.

I agree that government should not be in the "marriage" business. Oddly enough, that actually happened in Benton County, Oregon, where I live (a very liberal place, in the current loose meaning of the term.) The commissioners saw the ban on same-sex marriage as a moral dilemma for them, so they ordered the county clerk to stop issuing marriage licenses. Bingo: everybody is getting a "civil union" - although unfortunately, I don't think that law exists in Oregon. After a while, the state ordered them to cut out the nonsense, ending that particular reform. But it's coming.

Nastarana said...

Dear Kuanyin, you might want to consider that it ain't over till it's over; it is still by no means certain that either Trump or Clinton will ever sit in the WH, or that, even if elected, either one will finish his or her term.

For one thing, the ongoing email investigation is beginning to resemble the Watergate affair the summer before President Nixon was elected. For another, many American women won't tolerate a third wife living in the WH, and that's not even getting into the details of just who Mrs. T #3 is and how, exactly, did she go about making a living pre marriage. Certain factions in the army, through certain generals, have let it be known they won't take orders from Trump--a rather circumspect statement about "duty to refuse unlawful orders" but one gets the picture.

Jill Stein of the Green Party has already approached Sen. Sanders about getting together to discuss issues and concerns we have in common. In other words, a third party Green Party maybe also including the Working Families Party (of which I am a member) coalition is being contemplated for the fall election. One Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska has promised to walk out of the Republican Convention; it remains to be seen how many he can take with him. Sasse is known to have Presidential ambitions himself. I consider it highly likely that there will be at least two major, believable third party challenges this fall, and that the election might well be decided in the House of Representatives. To that end, the Democratic Party is doing everything it can to stack the House with pro-Hillary conservadems, many of whom are former Republicans. A site called Down With Tyranny has the gory details.

Someone has now let it be known that Biden--by all accounts the backup choice if, or when, Mme. Clinton is indicted--would like progressive heroine Sen Warren for his VP choice. He would no doubt also like her out of the Senate during his (hypothical at this point) presidency.

Mike said...

It's like you're channeling Andrew Sullivan in this post!

M Smith said...

Rights, rights, everywhere "rights". I'll never forget an acquaintance bewailing the fact that a certain bar was not smoke-free. I reminded him that the bar owner who had risked his resources, including his hours on Earth, was in charge of that decision and had as long as smoking was legal, could allow it as part of running his business as he saw fit. My companion shrilled, "But what about my RIGHT to breathe clean air?!?" As we were both old enough to be grandparents I saw no point in telling him he didn't have to go into that bar.

Is anyone surprised that he also thought the leash laws in our intown neighborhood and picking up after his two leashless dogs were for everyone but him?

Yellow Submarine said...

I clicked on the link that blue sun provided and took the quiz. According to the results, I am a paleoconservative, with an 86 percent score. The results summary said:

You are a paleoconservative. You value a small government with little spending, strong immigration restrictions, decentralization of the economy and society, destruction of multicultural programs, and a nationalist and isolationist view on foreign policy. You uphold the traditional values of conservatism.

Of course, the quiz simply confirmed that which I have already known for a long time. This is not at all surprising when you consider that I count thinkers like Oswald Spengler, Glubb Pasha, Russell Kirk, Patrick Buchanan and William Lind as major intellectual influences.

Yellow Submarine said...

FL Wolverine said:

"The law firms I have worked for represented real estate developers of various sizes and types, so I asked one of my former law partners if he thought our experience with developers had anything to tell us about Mr. Trump. Or (I asked) is he so sui generis that we cannot generalize? The response I received was: "Oh, Trump is definitely a developer. As such, he lies easily, is totally self-absorbed, and will not pay the final bill.""

And how is this any different than the behavior of Bill and Hillary Clinton? Based on everything we know about their long and sordid history when it comes to politics and business, your former law partner's description of Trump fits the Clinton's pretty well...

NJGuy73 said...

Oregoncharles - the gay couple who called the Christian bakery asking for a cake did so knowing they'd be turned down. It was to set them up for a media pounding.

Adam D. Schneider said...

Hoo, boy, am I late to the party, and to think when I first read this there were 0 comments! My question is a simple one: what exactly does "proven to work" mean in the sentence, "They also have one feature that the abstraction-laden fantasies of world-reformers don’t have, which is that they have been proven to work."

Work to what end and for whom, is the question. For the starving peasants of France the Ancien Regime could hardly be said to "work".

Zachary Braverman said...

It's very gratifying to read your description of a "right." I've been trying to convince my well-meaning liberal friends for years that the "right" has the same ontological status as the "soul," but even though they are otherwise very intelligent, they can't seem to interpret this as anything other than me saying people shouldn't have any rights.

buzzy said...

As a long time shabbos goy and breastfeeding mom I've actually had cause to ask a similar question! Among the modern Orthodox families I know human milk isn't considered dairy, but is parve, i.e. it can be mixed with either dairy or meat. It is still recommended to avoid contact for the sake of appearances ( the same reason no rice on Passover, even if there's no specific prohibition).

rapier said...

This post my have partly been my doing when I stated that conservatism meant supporting an aristocracy or small entrenched ruling class. I know full well that doesn't cover all of conservatism including Burkean but it does cover a lot especially in relation to the functional effects of 'conservatism' and its motives, as practiced in the West. Practiced but not understood that is.

There used to be mentions of Burke quite often in the heady early days of Reagan and 'movement conservatism' but that passed long ago. I will hardly be the first person to point out that capitalism, especially today's version of money manager capitalism is anathema to older fashioned conservatism and the headlong rush into technology, fueled by endless well springs of credit too make a mockery of older versions of conservatism.

Anyway points well taken on Burkean conservatism and perhaps one day that older version of conservatism will rise again. However it borders on the impossible that any such conservatism will take root by the choice of the people or the elites.

I'm not sure I made a real point here. Just rambling.

W. B. Jorgenson said...

I recently found myself alienating both sides of the debate over gay marriage. Someone I know was arguing the supreme court overstepped its powers when they legalized it nationally. I agreed with her, it was a dangerous precedent. This annoyed someone else who then turned and tried to argue it was a "right" and thus morally it should be legalized. When I agreed with him, it should have been legalized, both cut me off and in sync asked "Who's side are you on?"

I think that question sums up everything wrong with politics today, although I hadn't realized it at the time. I think I may have made them forget their disagreements if I had...

Iuval Clejan said...

I think Karl Popper had similar views regarding social change as Burke? Still, there are times in history where reform is not sufficient and conserving certain human values trumps conserving the existing social order, because the existing social order (and in some cases the existing economic order) tramples these values. But the change does not have to happen on a massive, political scale. The founding of religious orders is an example I have in mind. Sometimes these lead to economic and social changes as well.

My frustration is that I don't have religious charisma and so can't found such an order myself. If I could, I would gather up a few hundred people, and plan a self-contained economy in a particular spot where land is cheap yet fertile, and where the government does not interfere much with how people choose to live. It would be about conserving nature, conserving creativity and freedom in work, conserving reason, and conserving small interdependent communities. And it would have the religious belief that though we are not that smart, we are not children either, and have the capability to plan for ourselves on a small scale, without the sticks and carrots of big Government, God, the Market, or other abstract, omnipotent and invisible entities.

Yellow Submarine said...

David Goldman ("Spengler") explains why he will support Trump against Hillary, even though he dislikes Trump and has serious misgivings about him.

I am reminded of that old Arab proverb: my brother and I against my cousin, but my brother, my cousin and I against the outsider. I think we are already seeing the return of nationalism and tribal politics in the West, thanks in part to the racial and gender politics of the Left, as well as the rise of Caesarism. Let the wars begin and may the most worthy be victorious!

whomever said...

So, as a New York City resident, I'm going to make a slightly tangential comment about the religious aspects of this based on both our esteemed host's writing and also the post by blue sun. New York is very interesting (and unique in the US) in that we probably have christian fundamentalists (since we have everyone), but you never hear from them. We've got the Jehova's Witnesses, but no one takes them seriously (and they are now fabulously wealthy due to owning a large chunk of now super-Hipster downtown Brooklyn). We've got muslims of course; my last encounter with one was my old next door neighbor, who chased away a known bike thief from my bike, so I owe him one, and he always left his "Happy Ramadan" signs up way after Eid, just like the people who never get around to taking down their christmas trees and showing that human nature is universal.

The place where religion gets political is, bluntly, Judaism (and I hope no-one accuses me of anti-semitism here). The ultra-orthodox can, honestly, be pains in the neck. What's interesting is the people I see who are the most anti-Satmar are other Jews. My old boss is Jewish and he once went on a rant abut them that from a gentile would be seriously unacceptable (and I've heard they are even more hated in Israel because they are exempt from military service). But the conflicts are at a relatively low level of heat, because, lets be clear, who can imagine NY without Jews? (bye by bagels, pastrami and so much else). No one seriously thinks that anyone is going to cart them off, anti-semitism is pretty socially unacceptable (at least among most classes). But you've seen conflicts over things like bike lanes (which they object in their neighborhood due to "indecently dressed" women), the last Brooklyn DA was primaried out due to credibly evidence he'd covered up sexual abuse in their community, theirs the occasional scandal around one of their "neigborhood watches" beating up people, etc etc. I've got multiple woman friends who've bought things at their stores and rolled their eyes at some of the things (they usually have a less-orthodox jew on staff to talk to women). But it all sort of works out and people are mostly pretty level headed. So it gives me hope that it's possible.

The other big difference is of course the power dynamic: They don't have enough power that they will seriously ever challenge anyone. Whereas there are parts of the country where it really does seem like there is a minority that wants to turn them into a christian version of Saudi Arabia.

John Michael Greer said...

Compound F, many thanks. I'm not particularly ashamed of our species; what could you expect from just one more species of social primates?

Unknown Deborah, or a good actor. We'll see.

Emmanuel, and to my mind all three of those were valid approaches. It depends entirely on where a given community chooses to draw the line.

Albatross, you're welcome and thank you.

Mikep, I don't know that anybody's yet done a poll to determine the political affiliations of small yappy dogs, but I tend to think you're right. ;-)

Lordyburd, we get to see the same "democratists" all the time among the American left, who wax rhapsodic about the poor and underprivileged while abusing store clerks and restaurant waitstaff, and if the poor and underprivileged don't vote for the people that elite liberals want them to vote for -- oh, then you get to hear a very different tune. That is to say, nothing has changed since Burke's time.

Mustard, funny.

Karim, the "experiments," if you want to label them as such, have been happening for many decades -- and no, it doesn't matter that some single-gender families get that way involuntarily; the results still apply. Since you've failed to offer any actual reasons to think that harm accrues to children adopted by same-sex couples, I would argue that you don't have a case for barring same-sex couples from adopting. "But what if something bad happens?" is a pretty weak argument!

As for polygamy, I see no reason why that should be outlawed, either. It's not something I would engage in, but again, if legally competent consenting adults want to manage their marital affairs that way, is it anyone else's business? I fail to see why it should be.

Daniel, it fascinates me to hear how utterly committed to the status quo so many young people are -- especially in college. It used to be the case that college students liked to ask hard questions about where their society was headed, but I gather that this has gone out of fashion.

Justin said...

Whomever, there's the rub. Very few people, including myself, care about the behavior of a few extremist Jews in New York, but at the same time are bothered by the idea of living in a society where those extremist Jews (insert any other religion here, this has nothing to do with Jews in particular) are a majority.

It does seem to me that there is a natural impulse to allow a minority to impose rules upon others in a limited way and a competing impulse to restrict the ability of majorities to impose rules on minorities. I think that a school of thought that relieves these tensions would be quite an achievement.

Clay Dennis said...

JMG, Burkean conservatism certainly makes a lot of sense whem it is applied to the gradual evolution of a society or government, or to respond to ordinary feedbacks. I question this type of thinking when confronted by a rapid and significant change of circumstances, as might be confronting us in the form of rapid climate change or resource depletion. I am not saying that humans are smart enough to invent to systems or structures from scratch, that is usually a disaster as you point out. But perhaps there might come a time when we must abandon our current structures and paradigms wholesale and fall back on some other system that has proven to respond better to such extreme circumstances. Of course the gold star in anthropology would go to the one who could identify such a culture. Perhaps with what is coming down the pike, the Pirate Societys of the Caribbean might be a good model, or maybe the orginazational structure of Genghis Khan.

pygmycory said...

I grew up in a family where one-half was a gay couple and the other was a straight couple. Of my four parents, the one I was closest to, learned most from, and think was the best parent, was the gay trans individual.

Just a single data point, but illustrative, never the less. Sexual orientation doesn't determine parenting ability.

John Michael Greer said...

Phil, fascinating. I wonder whether a lot of the pro-Sharia types in Europe went there precisely because the folks back home weren't interested.

Greg, with regard to the country clubs, keep in mind that it's hard to play golf without a golf course, and if nearly all the golf courses in your state are the property of segregated country clubs, you've got a problem. Since the people owning the country clubs weren't religious minorities, for whom special accommodations have traditionally been made in America, it wasn't unreasonable for people of color who wanted to play golf to press for access to the country clubs.

YCS, it shall indeed. You've made an important point, though -- the stunningly parochial thinking of those affluent liberals who can't imagine that anyone might have a valid reason to disagree with them.

Nati, the changes in marriage didn't happen because of changes in government policy. The government policies changed, bit by bit, because millions of Americans were dissatisfied with older notions of marriage, and altered their own marriages accordingly. I'm part of that process; my wife and I have been married for 32 years, and it's been a happy marriage precisely because we negotiated (and renegotiated) the terms of the relationship rather than accepting the frankly dysfunctional models of marriage our culture and our families presented us. If you want to see that as a revolution, by all means -- but remember that Burke supported the American Revolution...

David, John Stuart Mill is one of the great names of classic liberalism, and yes, he put a lot of effort into coming up with an ideal that would be generally accepted and could thus be used to guide public policy. As I noted to A Post-Millennial earlier, that sort of thing is the natural complement of Burkean conservatism, and if you find classic liberalism more to your taste, by all means.

Professor D., that only follows if you ignore the immense harm that was being caused by the Victorian approach to marriage, fixate solely on the harm that's been caused by the current version, and redefine the replacement of the older form of marriage by the current form amounts to the "destruction" of marriage. None of those seem valid to me. I can't speak for your circle of friends and acquaintances, but I know plenty of people who are more or less happily married, so it's a bit much to claim that marriage has been "destroyed" -- I'd say, rather, that it's changed, and the problems that have followed the change are inevitably different from those that preceded it.

Cherokee, how do you take rights away? By the same process that brings them into being. If a community, acting through its institutions, says, "This right no longer exists," then that right no longer exists. We do this all the time; when a judge sends a criminal to jail, the judge is saying in effect, "The community has decided to deprive you of most of your rights, in response to the crime you've committed." Bang! The rights are gone. Since a right is simply an agreement on the part of a community to permit some behavior, that's all it takes.

Fudoshin, oh, granted, the Traditionalist approach becomes very appealing as a society runs into increasingly serious trouble, and I expect to see a lot of that sort of thing as industrial civilization winds down. Sometimes it's a good idea, as when hearkening back to older traditions allows for the preservation of worthwhile things that would otherwise be lost. Too often, though, what you get is a sort of roleplaying game at gunpoint, where everyone is required to pretend that they live in some supposed golden age of the past. More on this in an upcoming post.

zaphod42 said...

Good sir,

Enjoyed your estimable ramblings today. Especially where you commented that
“...when human beings insist that the tangled realities of politics and history can be reduced to some set of abstract principles simple enough for the human mind to understand, they’re wrong. Another is that when human beings try to set up a system of government based on abstract principles, rather than allowing it to take shape organically out of historical experience, the results will pretty reliably be disastrous.”

I agree with your premises, and would remark that, at this time men become dogmatic. Their “principles” become immutable, inflexible and “holy.” When this happens, unless it be undone, it is over for that particular society, which can only end in collapse.
Later your reiteration of your oft stated belief about the wrongheadedness of many ‘technocrats,’ describing
“…the myth of progress, the bizarre but embarrassingly widespread notion that history is marching ever onward and upward, and so anything new is better just because it’s new,…”
And, isn’t it the case that there is, as stated in the Bible, “…nothing new under the Sun.”? And that, even were that not true, there is nothing inherently better about newer than about older. So that folks who hold that position (like my first-born and namesake) are doubly mistaken. And, make no mistake, it is next to impossible to dislodge them from their fantasies. I promise that I have made every effort to dissuade CW from virtual fantasies, to no avail.
And finally, your discussion of “rights” was wonderful. Should I ever be arguing an appeal involving related or congruent topics, may I infringe on your copyrights?

Wonderful posting, Enjoyed immensely.


John Michael Greer said...

Ahavah, I won't argue; there are plenty of ways to manage health care, and the way we do it in today's America is far and away the worst in the industrial world (and noticeably worse than in some Third World countries). A single payer system has its problems, but even at their worst, they're better than the corrupt and dysfunctional mess we've got at the moment.

Scotlyn, I'd agree that there are both private goods and public goods worth, shall we say, conserving! One of the pleasant features of Burkean conservatism is that it does tend to make for good neighbors, as negotiation, compromise, and a lack of interest in rigid ideological positions comes with the package.

Germandom, er, whatever; you seem to have some very narrow definition of the word "stance," which is not the one I'm using.

Scotlyn, delighted to hear it. Are you getting the occasional bursts of absurd good luck yet?

Chris, I fail to see how same-sex marriage has any connection to the abandonment of the household economy; I know same-sex couples, one member of which is a stay-at-home housewhichever, and in at least one of those cases he makes a pretty fair contribution via the household economy. I've spoken before of the massive benefits of restoring the household economy to its former importance, and where that's concerned, it seems to me, any family -- however constituted by gender -- could make that choice.

Dan, exactly. The US Constitution is a set of agreements about how the states and the people will manage their political destiny together. It's been amended many times, and quite a few of those amendments were for the better; it could quite frankly use some more amendments right now.

Blue Sun, oh, we have them in Druidry; they just don't get as much publicity. As for the mythology, of course -- affluent liberals are deeply into the myth of progress, affluent pseudoconservatives are deeply into the myth of decline from a golden age, and both have cooperated in spreading the fantasy that the US used to be a conservative Christian nation, in the teeth of the evidence. How many people remember that John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, was a Swedenborgian missionary, and that Thomas Jefferson wrote up a version of the Gospels from which, as he put it, every statement that would not be accepted as evidence before a modern jury had been deleted? This has been a country of religious radicals, eccentric beliefs, freethinkers, occultists, and bona fide nutjobs since about fifteen seconds after the Mayflower sighted land, and I wish people would stop pretending otherwise.

Don, no, I haven't read that Berry essay, and clearly I'll have to remedy that. Of course he's quite correct; technically speaking, the one difference between gay sex and straight sex is that straight couples have one additional option, which can sometimes result in pregnancy.

Chris, and those cultures will have their own decisions to make about what counts for appropriate behavior, of course. Thanks for the anecdote about Kirk!

Eric, and that's exactly the sort of debate that's involved in settling where the line is going to be drawn. That you'd draw it further to one side than I would is simply one of the things that has to be hashed out via public debate and, eventually, legislative and judicial action.

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown RTR, once again you're taking a particular case -- expecting conservative Christian bakeries to participate materially in an activity they consider sinful, e.g., same-sex marriage -- and trying to turn it into a straw man by stretching it into something it's not, e.g. carte blanche to discriminate against gay people in every imaginable context. As I noted in my post, "reasonable accommodation should be made to religious minorities when this can be done without violating the agreed-upon rights of others." Those last thirteen words are there for a reason, you know.

Redoak, hmm. I tend to shy away from anybody recommended by neoconservatives, and I know that Strauss is one of their favorite philosophers, but it's quite possible that this isn't his fault. Sure, I'd be happy to have a look at it.

Johnny, it's entirely possible that Darwin was influenced by Burke; a lot of people in 19th century Britain read and discussed Burke, so direct and indirect influence are both possible. As for Dewey, he's one of the philosophers I've been meaning to get to for a while now; as I think I mentioned a while back, I tend to study philosophers one at a time, and fairly intensively, but his turn is coming.

Ed, granted, there are times when things become so chaotic that conserving much of anything becomes all but impossible. That said, the effort's often worth making.

Wagelaborer, the people who insist that they're going to "take to the streets, smash the state, and have a revolution" -- do they ever actually do anything about that shopworn fantasy? Or do they just sit around with their hands in their shorts daydreaming about the subject? The soi-disant revolutionaries I've met have all belonged to the latter category. Of all the classes and categories of people in today's America, they pose the least threat to the status quo.

Don, Trump has also talked at length about normalizing relations with Russia, getting our allies to do more for their own defense, and focusing on rebuilding here at home instead of overthrowing governments overseas. I think there's some chance that, if he's elected, he would be less likely to get us into yet another round of useless wars. Clinton? Based on her record, a vote for her might as well be a vote for George W. Bush. I'm not a Trump fan; I find some of his policies and a good deal of his posturing very unwelcome; but if it comes to a choice between him and Clinton (and I hope it doesn't come to that; I still think Sanders has a chance) I really do think he's the lesser evil.

Chris, okay, let's take a look at what you're doing. You're shifting the discussion from wedding cakes to pharmacies, and why? In order to find a general principle that you can apply to all such cases. (That's what I get from your discussion of both as "examples." Examples of what?) This is exactly the sort of thinking I reject. It's been said that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, but it might be said with even more truth that consistency is the mother of bad laws. Rather than finding some grand abstract principle that will inevitably yield injustices on one or the other end of its application, the Burkean approach is to treat each case on its own merits: i.e., since nobody ever died from not getting a professionally baked wedding cake, wedding cakes involve different issues and different constellations of rights and responsibilities than pharmacies do, and reasonable accommodation can quite readily apply to one but not the other.

Vesta, nicely phrased. Accurate, too.

FLwolverine said...

@Yellow Submarine - "And how is this any different than the behavior of Bill and Hillary Clinton? Based on everything we know about their long and sordid history when it comes to politics and business, your former law partner's description of Trump fits the Clinton's pretty well..."

I believe I (ruefully) acknowledged that the description applies to politicians in general these days. Sorry if that was too subtle.

Personally, what I'm concerned about with Trump is that nothing will get done if he's elected because neither Republicans or Democrats in Congress will support him, yet he will veto legislation that he doesn't like or agree with. Result: more stalemate. I can see the same thing happening with Hillary Clinton if there is a Republican House and/or Senate, and I think it unlikely Democrats will win both houses.

Although I suspect the Donald will cause a lot more turmoil and upheaval if he doesn't get his way than Hillary would cause if she doesn't get hers.

Golocyte Golo said...

A great post. With Burke (and Mr Greer) I see that history shows the terrific and brutal power that governments can command, often by people with good intentions who all too often feel forced into grim decision by necessity. It seems wise to accept a priori limits on such power, and think hard before deploying it.

But of course this means that government can't grant all petitions, redress all grievances, or set the shape of society. Society under such a government must have its discontents, and even some left behind completely, and the people in charge will have to be able to tell them "too bad; sometimes we can't just change things."

Is anyone really ready to accept that?

I'm fatalistic about it. A basically steady-state government structure seems out of reach now. Cultures are larger than governments, as they say, and as a culture we're tumbling. Society always has divergent views, but we seem to be in a place where views have moved past the disagreement stage and gone straight to the stage where people can't communicate with each other, even enough to disagree.

Imagine three people sit down, in all sincerity, to discuss government policy: a 60-something church-going religious conservative who barely used the Internet except email at work and exchanging the occasional picture of his granddaughter, an old school McDworkinite anti-porn down-with-the-Patriarchy radical feminist, and a non-religious libertarian electrician who owns his own truck and has two younger employees with whom he is always frustrated and complains that they don't show up on time (likely due to drug problems).

These people would not disagree on policy issues. They wouldn't even be able to discuss policy issues. The conservative and the libertarian would agree on lower taxes, but that would sound like code for racism and privilege to the feminist. The feminist and the libertarian would agree on certain social issues, but that would sound like Satanic destruction of society to the conservative. The conservative would favor the privileging of heterosexual marriage, which would sound like female slavery and white-male oppression to the feminist, and like moral authoritarianism to the libertarian.

Where do we go with Burkean conservatism when society is atomized and divergent to the point where we can no longer talk? Where reigning systems are intolerable to so many, and the proposed changes are odious to so many more?

nuku said...

re dress codes and other restrictions on “freedom“:
there’s a UK case now of a woman hired as a temp office worker who was fired on the first day because she refused to wear high (2” or higher) heels for her receptionist position. She’s suing the company on the grounds she should have right to wear “comfortable” flat shoes. If she wins her case, should this right be extended to all those poor white collar guys forced to wear suits and ties to work on hot days. Why can’t they be allowed to work in more comfortable shorts and flip flops? Is this the beginning of the slippery slope?
Just an example that the line is always hard to draw and depends on the circumstances.
I can understand and sympathize with your aversion to wearing a black tent with eye slits, but you are ok with some women having the right to do this in your neck of the woods (even if its not really their personal choice but something they are forced to by their culture)?
On the other hand, if you found yourself in a country with Sharia law, Islam as the state religion, and a traditional patriarchal culture, your right to appear in public in shorts and low cut top might not exist, or if it did, it would only be applied to “crazy Western tourists who bring us lots of hard cash and only flaunt themselves around the fenced-in swimming pools of expensive hotels“.

I think there is a tendency in most of us to want clear-cut simple solutions to all the problems of society. The difficulty is that LIFE IS inherently WET AND MESSY (and that’s why there will always be slippery slopes). We all know where the quest for the FINAL SOLUTION ends up don’t we?

The moderate Burkean Conservatism outlined by JMG appeals to me precisely because it recognizes that final solutions don’t work and aren’t final and that life is an on-going process of making temporary accommodations to changing circumstances. This can be hard work and there’s always that old limbic brain flight or flight response lurking in the background: either run away or clobber the problem into submission.

kuanyin said...

JMG, thanks for a thorough answer and a lively debate. I didn't mean to use "scare-language," at least not in the sense of using language to scare people. I just wanted to discuss some actual fears of my own, and get your take on them. I'm willing to consider that these fears might be projections. Certainly Trump seems to be good at attracting projections of all kinds from all directions, like a lot of skilled entertainers. Still... those sensible policies you list in your reply to me, those are the "abandoned center" that Fred Halliot was supposed to take up, right? And "Make America Great Again"? Well anyway, we'll see. And if we really do see, I hope you're right! (I still wonder why, though, you seemed more alarmed by him at one time. I remember something like "the strongest invocation of fuhrerprinzip since 1933." Kind of scary, just sayin'!;) I certainly have no interest in defending Hillary. Like you, I'm hoping that Bernie still has a chance. All the best!

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Greg and JMG, the reason why people pay exorbitant dues and initiation fees to join country clubs is not for access to the athletic facilities. It is for social access to the other members. It's to gain the opportunity to make up a foursome with wealthy and powerful individuals and make business deals while playing a round of golf.

When Jews, nonwhites or women are excluded from membership in the elite country club of the area, it impedes their careers and puts them at an economic disadvantage compared with the people who are allowed to join the club.

Karim said...

As I said, there is no evidence that same sex or single parent families do any better or worse at parenting, that is at present a given.

Note that however I said that adoption by same sex parents is effectively saying to the kid that 2 fathers is the same as 2 mothers which is the same as mother and father.

This is a fiction. Most of us know, by direct experience, that a father is not the same as a mother. From direct and common experience a mother is worth much more than a father to a kid.

The question is, are we, as a society, ready and willing to deprive a kid intentionally and permanently of a mother by allowing 2 men from adopting a kid just because the empirical evidence is neutral?

If I were a legislator, I would be extremely reluctant in doing that. It very much sounds like children rights are not being fully respected at this point.

Laws need to rest on fundamental principles, not on empirical evidence. In my understanding of human nature, the supreme need and thus right of a child is to have, at a minimum, a caring mother and thus it follows that any argument that circumvents that need and right is spurious.

Having said that, it follows that adoption by 2 women would be acceptable. I think so, at this point in time.

In my understanding, adoption by same sex marriages rests on shaky and slippery grounds from a perspective of children rights principles.

Now, note that none of the above is meant to prevent single parent families of either sex from raising their own biological kids.

All of the above is said with the greatest of respect to druids, gay people, married or unmarried, single parent families and so on. It is not my intent to show contempt to any of my fellow human beings.

Peace be upon you all.

The Court Jester said...

JMG, just a short note to congratulate you on 10 wonderful years of the Arch Druid Report. There is a dearth of good conversations but you provide a ray of hope. You have certainly "expanded my mind which now will never return to its original dimensions". Greatly appreciated!
Just a quick thought to share: You know the quote: "A country gets the government that it deserves". Put another way: A government cannot exceed the quality of its people. So if a country wants a better government, the people must up is game. The fact that world politics is dysfunctional, this is merely a reflection that the people are dysfunctional. South Africa, my home country, is a prime example of this.
With kindest regards.

aiastelamonides said...

(1 of 2)


Commenter Yucca took the words out of my mouth, but I'll add a couple more things on the theme of (moderate Burkean) conservatism as a method, not a doctrine:

1) The obvious analogy is to science and the scientific method. The kinship is more than analogical, in fact: the conservative method, as you might call it, should draw on the results of the social sciences as well as history (though the various social scientific doctrines have to be evaluated by their performance in the real world – as should the conservative method itself). The sciences have many virtues: besides being better than other methods of investigating the world, they encourage people to ask the right questions and to tolerate doubt and disagreement. Science can become haughtily dogmatic, especially when it contradicts common sense. Behaviorism is the first example that springs to mind. But behaviorism was defeated much more easily than the ideologically-rooted pseudoscience of, say, the Nazis and Soviets. Science – and presumably imaginative Burkean conservatism – is as capable of producing bad ideas as anything else, but it is usually better at destroying them.

2) One of the big problems for the social sciences is how to categorize things. That is what adjusting for confounders is all about, but that only works if you have a large enough sample size. To the extent that conservatism draws on history, it will often have to choose between adjusting for confounders and having a reasonable sample size. Furthermore, although there are conventional confounders to control for in studies of individuals, it isn't clear what confounders there are for societies. Often it will be unclear on which side of a binary (or where on a spectrum) a country should go. In the case of Latin American immigration, for example, reasoning from all the historical cases of mass immigration will produce an unhelpful mess. They are too dissimilar. You could narrow it down by working with cases of immigration into democracies, or cases of immigration into declining great powers, or cases of immigration in which the immigrants were relatively culturally united (e.g. not 19th century mass immigration to the Americas), or cases of immigration into the US Southwest (e.g. the Chinese, the Dustbowl refugees, the Sunbelt migration). If we had more historical cases than we do, we could treat all of this scientifically, and get results of the same (doubtful) quality as those of the social sciences. As it is, we don't have much to go on as to which of these measures is best. The USA has been pretty good at assimilating immigrants, but falling civilizations have been pretty bad at it. Working from economic data will provide an equally uncertain position. At this point, the method falters. Recourse to something beyond it is necessary in order to make a decision. I think the usual conservative answer would be to do what is less risky, but this does not seem to be required by the method.

aiastelamonides said...

(2 of 2)

3) Obviously, it's good for a belief system to be fluid. Any account of the world, especially one simple enough to work as a political platform, will generalize about the world in ways that correspond well enough to reality at one time, but become increasingly detached from it as time goes on (this account included?), so it is important to continually overcome old dogmas. And it is good to encourage disagreement. Without it, whichever dogma has a momentary advantage will solidify its position and stop requiring rigorous arguments of itself. The lower the standard of argument, the longer until it becomes clear that the old system has stopped working. It is necessary, however, for a political movement to actually have political positions. The tension between these two goods seems to have collapsed in favor of the second, creating the modern conservative movement. A better solution might have been to acknowledge that any particular conservative movement's endorsed positions may be wrong, but also that it is necessary to take a position in politics and defend it against people whose methods are theoretical and ideological. This is a rather weak hand politically, unfortunately.

4) It seems that all political thinkers could and should be conservatives of this kind (just as all physicists should be scientists), including political radicals. Violent revolutionaries couldn't be conservative, but someone trying to create a fundamentally different social order could go about in a consensual, reversible manner. I know that some radical circles stress building alternative institutions now, within the old system, with the hope that they will be able to function better than their official counterparts, and thus attract enough of the population that the eventual transfer of power would be relatively easy and the new government relatively stable. This seems to me like a reasonable conservative course of action. This is sort of what happened in the American Revolution, or so it seems to me. It's not clear that it could work in a non-colonial situation, though federalism seems to allow for it in a smaller way (as in the history of women's suffrage).

Vaguely on topic, since you mentioned the religion of Progress and I have mentioned failures of science: a friend tells me that satellite designers have realized that much of their work could be done with sophisticated hot air balloons orders of magnitude more cheaply. I don't know enough to speculate about the implications for deindustrial technology.

John Michael Greer said...

Nastarana, thank you.

Barrymelius, by the same logic, you might want to wait another million years or so before suggesting that history does have a direction. To my mind, any claim that history is going somewhere in particular is mythology -- and all things considered, if I want to read mythology, I'll pick up the Mabinogion or a volume of Ovid.

Violet, congrats on finding a new place to live! Thank you, and kudos as well, for a clearly expressed statement of one of the least common virtues these days -- the recognition that even people who don't like you have rights, too.

Wagelaborer, exactly -- there are crucial differences between marriage in civil law and marriage as it's interpreted by many of our American religious traditions. If two people want to have a religious interpretation apply to their marriage, great -- here again, the marital choices of legally competent consenting adults are nobody's business but their own -- but the state has no business forcing some particular religious interpretation on everyone.

Lynnet, it's specifically in the Talmud, which is the core body of Jewish religious law. You'd have to discuss the matter with an Orthodox rabbi if you want to know more, though. But you're right, of course: it's a matter of figuring out where to draw the boundaries. The point where something is specifically prohibited in religious law is one workable choice, when larger issues aren't involved.

RPC, to my mind, you'd have to justify the claim that society's interest in demanding a particular kind of childrearing environment supersedes the right of individuals to manage their own private affairs, including the raising of children. I'd be very slow to accept the claim that government can be trusted with the right to decide how children are to be raised, outside of very basic health and safety issues; consider how badly the Federal government has messed up education in this country by zealously pursuing a set of fashionable theories!

David, exactly. I really do have to do a post here on the separate-spheres doctrine at the heart of the political philosophy of liberty, don't I? Your co-worker has the right to let her religious beliefs shape her political opinions, because the one place that the religious and political spheres can be allowed to overlap in a free society is in the individual conscience. More on this later on.

James, excellent! Yes, utopianism and rationalism tend to run together -- it's so tempting to think that you can rationally play out a society and have it come out perfect. The mere fact that this has been tried countless times, with reliably disastrous results, never dissuades the true believer. There are, as I see it, two flies in the ointment; the first is the issue you've raised here -- the hard fact that no logical system can prove its own first principles, and so you've always got some degree of Garbage In, Garbage Out rising from the foundations. The second is that the universe is not a rational phenomenon -- or, put another way, what we call "reason" is simply the set of habitual ways of data processing that turned out to be that little bit more successful in keeping our ancestors fed, mated, and out of the jaws of cave bears than the alternatives. Reason is not the truth about the world, and trying to make the world follow rational patterns always ends in disaster.

John Michael Greer said...

Over the Hill, thank you! That's a great anecdote -- and it's refreshing to hear that at least one member of the younger generation understands what Clark Ashton Smith called "the ultra-civilized art of minding their own business."

MigrantWorker, yep -- I'm planning on a new Retrotopia installment next week.

Sven, the only thing I know of that can protect society against the superhuman creativity of the butthurt is what Druid teacher Philip Carr-Gomm calls the three special senses of Druidry: common sense, a sense of proportion, and a sense of humor. As for the link between these points and the Cimmerian hypothesis, hmm! I hadn't thought of that, but you're right -- it's the mental equivalent of a wholly built-up environment in which nobody has to worry about nature intruding.

Bill, exactly. I don't patronize stores with the Jesus fish on the signs or the advertising, either.

Jeffinwa, you're welcome and thank you.

James, no argument there. I thought it was very telling that the moment the pseudoconservative right lost the fight against same sex marriage, they basically ran out and found something else to get offended about -- it's as though they've become addicted to a state of moral panic. When they lose this one, maybe we can get them to fly off the handle about naked dogs in public -- after all, innocent children might be traumatized by seeing a dog's bare genitalia. Oh, the horror!

In addition to the points you've made, I'd point out, first, that transsexual people have been using bathrooms corresponding to their nongenetic sex for as long as there have been transsexual people, without causing any of the consequences the pseudoconservative right is shrieking about these days; and second, that if we want to pass regulations to keep people from perpetrating sexual acts in bathrooms, we should logically start with those most likely to do so. Congressmen have been caught far more often engaging in sex acts in public bathrooms than transsexuals have -- thus, if the actual point of the exercise is to decrease the likelihood that children are exposed to sex acts in public bathrooms, passing laws banning Congressmen from using public bathrooms would seem to be a much higher priority. I expect to see the defenders of America' precious bodily fluids proposing such legislation at once.

John Michael Greer said...

Ladyimbrium, oh, granted, but it's probably less risky than letting governments make the same decisions! The difference between what I'm suggesting and standard libertarianism is that libertarians try to ground their arguments on grand abstract principles, and so end up proposing extreme views mandated by those principles, instead of trying to work out pragmatic compromises based in history.

Zach, oh, good -- I was hoping that somebody would fall into that trap. Why should American law and custom allow reasonable accommodation for the beliefs of religious minorities? Is there some grand abstract principle that justifies that? Nope. It so happens that most Americans have tended to agree that this is a good idea, and from the standpoint of Burkean conservatism, that's all the justification it needs.

Glenn, and that's also an option, though I don't know that it's the best one -- again, all we have to do to make same sex marriage work in the US is to change a few words in a few places in the laws governing marriage, and there you go.

MickGspot, I'm not at all surprised. Since the supply of labor so vastly exceeds the demand at this point, all kinds of silly things will be popping up to decrease the number of job applications that human resources departments have to process, and that's one of them.

Joel, you're welcome and thank you. The thing is, we live in a society in which the political institutions were designed with that kind of back and forth in mind, and they could still be used for that purpose. What's needed is a relearning process by which a significant number of Americans start thinking of politics, not as a place to park extremist fantasies, but as the process by which people of many different opinions figure out how to live together in peace. I think that's possible; if I didn't, I wouldn't have posted this essay.

Steve, hmm. It wouldn't be a single post; it might have to be an entire sequence -- but I'll think about it. (So to speak.)

Jeff, the drastic and extremely unwise innovation by which corporations have been given legal personhood needs to be reversed; one of the amendments to the US constitution I'd support soonest is one that restricts the rights of personhood to natural persons, i.e., actual human beings. That's my response to your first question. As to the second, I've already addressed that. As I noted in my post, the rule of thumb I'm invoking here is that "reasonable accommodation should be made to religious minorities when this can be done without violating the agreed-upon rights of others." The Jim Crow laws were not reasonable accommodation to a religious minority, and they did violate the agreed-upon rights of others, so they were rightly thrown out.

FLWolverine, that last comment of yours, to my mind, sums things up pretty neatly -- because I'm quite sure we can expect that sort of behavior no matter who becomes President next January.

Nephilimsd, that sort of demand for consistency is very common; the problem is that any rule applied consistently ends up producing injustice at one or another end of its application. It's customary in American law to provide reasonable accommodation should be made to religious minorities when this can be done without violating the agreed-upon rights of others. Is that inconsistent? So long as it helps people of different beliefs live together in relative peace, I don't see that consistency matters at all.

Chris Travers said...

JMG, you said you don't see how the demise of the household economy is linked to same-sex marriage. I have lived in both corporate and household economic orders and it is easy to underestimate the way in which this distinction shapes every other level of society. Our current approach to family, retirement, and government is made possible by corporate hegemony over the economy. For example if most people were self-employed and few W2/1099 forms were filed, income taxes would be largely unenforceable (ad in fact they are unenforceable in Indonesia, where I lived for 4 years).

Without income and corporate employment, both corporate pensions (and similar plans like 401k's) and public pensions (like social security) become out of reach for most people. So the alternative means of support is to retire and live with one's children and help them raise one's grandchildren. Family businesses thus achieve the same sort of immortality that corporations currently enjoy in the current social order in the West.

So those are two huge differences. This then leads to the points I made about premarital sex and family honor. Having a *functional* condemnation of premarital sex only works when you have functional family honor because this allows pregnancy to have political power in the family politics of marriage.

What these things then mean is that marriage ends up being an institution which is largely framed in terms of one's social duties to one's parents rather than one's own quest for personal fulfillment. And one has a duty to one's parents to get married and have children of one's own if one is able to.

Another thing is that in these cases you have some other problems to deal with that you don't have in a corporate economy. How do you spread around the means of production to the next generation? In my wife's culture, men inherit the business and women inherit the family responsibilities. Hence men marry into family and women marry into business.

This is not to say one could not imagine a family household business economy where same-sex marriage was recognized. But when you start looking at actual such economies today, one tends to see a lot of things that would have to change to make same-sex marriage actually attainable and that means you have some real harm arguments which don't apply in the West. After all, it is one thing to argue for SSM if nothing else needs to change. It is different to argue that everything else can change to accommodate such a purported right. So on one hand, that's something which ties SSM as an issue to reduction in birth rates (because having children is no longer conducive to retiring in a good lifestyle), and so also the harm issue across this divide.

BTW and as an aside this gets to what I think a lot of Americans don't understand about Third World countries. The term of course comes from the idea that these countries were non-aligned in the cold war but people in the US, because they see a force of history going in one direction, think they are in the process of becoming like the US, but in fact developing nations have many different critiques of Western social and economic order and don't want to follow us. They see a culture of isolation and loneliness.

Chris Travers said...

(In case it is not clear, I am talking about what happens when *most* businesses are household businesses, not that some businesses can be household businesses, and how that affects social structures of government and family.)

John Michael Greer said...

Reforged, or we can accept the idea that a right only exists when it is agreed upon by a community, and use a term like "opinion" for abstract notions of rights that various people believe they ought to have.

Tomuru, I haven't the least idea. How much of human behavior is genetic is an exceptionally complex question, and to my mind it's not really relevant to the issue of whether consenting adults should have the right to engage in private acts without interference from government.

Ed, The Eagles sang it a long time ago:

"We satisfy our endless needs
And justify our bloody deeds
In the name of destiny,
And in the name of God."

WB Jorgenson, of course. The religion of progress is based on the idea that innovation is always good, so anything that stands in the way of innovation is sinful, and should be shouted down by thoughtstoppers like that one. I'll talk in a future post about the blindness to the middle ground that pervades contemporary American culture.

Oregoncharles, of course! I could easily spend a whole post on the precautionary principle. You're quite right, by the way, that a good half of Trump's appeal is his refusal to accept the various prepackaged sets of political ideas -- most Americans are sick to death of being told that they have to accept ten bad policies in order to get three good ones, which is basically what both mainstream parties have been saying for years now.

Pygmycory, if you don't want to wear plate armor, then it's up to you and people who agree with you to organize politically in order to establish and maintain that right. That's true in any case; Burkean conservatism simply makes explicit what talk about rights as abstract universals tends to hide.

James, so far, nothing from the right; several pieces of trolling from the left, but even those were kind of vague. I think most of the professionally butthurt on both sides of the line simply had their brains dribble out their ears on reading a conservative argument for same sex marriage, and crept away whimpering. ;-)

Oregoncharles, as I mentioned to Bill further up, I do the same thing with businesses that have the Jesus fish on the signage. Since their faith tells them they can't serve God and Mammon at the same time, I figure it's an act of kindness to keep my money away from them, so they won't be tempted to worship it!

Mike, I'm not at all familiar with Sullivan. I mostly read things written by dead people these days.

M Smith, been there, seen that. The confusion between rights and a sense of entitlement is pretty widespread these days.

John Michael Greer said...

Adam, good. In this case, "works" can mean anything from "prevents a society from descending into failed-state conditions" on up. In any specific example, you need to figure out what's completely broken, what's malfunctioning but could be repaired with a bit of maintenance, and what's purring away just fine. As I noted in my post, France on the eve of the revolution had a government that was as incompetent as it was despotic, and serious changes needed to be made -- but the result of the Revolution was not an improvement on the Bourbon regime, unless you think economic collapse, mob rule, mass murder, the effective abolition of civil rights, and the rise of a tyrant for whom France was just one huge arsenal to feed his military ambitions count as an improvement!

Zachary, part of the problem is that word "shouldn't." It's astonishing how few people these days grasp the difference between a statement of fact and a value judgment. More on this in a future post!

Buzzy, thanks for the info!

Rapier, yes, your comment was what kicked this off, for which thank you. I use the term "pseudoconservative" deliberately for the post-Reagan movement; the current right wing in the US is as starry-eyed a bunch of utopian fantasists as you can find anywhere -- they've just taken their abstractions from Ayn Rand and an assortment of cherrypicked Bible passages rather than from Karl Marx. Will that last? I suspect it won't -- but we'll see.

WB Jorgenson, when people ask me that, I tend to say, "Neither. Why do you insist that there can only be two sides?" Then their brains melt and dribble out their ears...

Iuval, a hint: nobody "has" religious charisma. You get it from a deity, and you get it not for the purpose of doing what you want, but so that you can do something the deity wants. Don't think of it as an instrument; when it appears, you are the instrument.

Submarine, I'm in a similar situation. I'd much rather see Sanders get the nomination, as I could vote for him with a fairly clear conscience -- I disagree sharply with some of his positions, but not that many. If it's Trump vs. Clinton, though, I'll have to vote for Trump.

Whomever, an overdeveloped sense of entitlement is by no means restricted to affluent white goyim, sad to say!

Clay, au contraire. In times of extreme crisis, it's all the more important to fall back on what people are familiar with, because there's no time to innovate a new social structure in the midst of chaos. That's one of the reasons I consider it so important to get the tools of democratic process into as many hands as possible, so that as crunch time hits, people have an effective and familiar way to organize collective action as needed.

Pygmycory, I'd agree with that, having seen plenty of similar cases.

John Michael Greer said...

Zaphod42, I don't have a copyright on that concept of rights -- it was old long before I was born -- and even if I did, I'd turn it loose in the hope that it would get some distribution. By all means pick it up and run with it.

Golocyte, fortunately, most people in today's America aren't religious conservatives, radical feminists, or libertarians. My hope is to start a conversation among those who aren't committed to dogmatic extremes of any kind, and eventually the three people in your dialogue will notice that something different is going on and, if they want to get in on it, they need to learn how to communicate courteously with those who disagree with their ideologies.

Kuanyin, you're quite right that Trump is astonishingly good at attracting projections -- better even than Obama was, and the latter was no slouch. Half of Clinton's problem in getting the nomination is that she only seems to have that skill with affluent white women of liberal leanings; for everyone else, it's a matter of hold your nose and turn the lever on the voting machine. But we'll see how it all turns out.

Unknown Deborah, that's also an issue -- but I happen to know some Japanese-Americans whose interest in getting into a country club, when it finally dropped the color bar, was the opportunity to play golf on a really nice course!

Karim, when you say "laws need to rest on fundamental principles," you're claiming something that I've specifically rejected. Whose principles? Yours? Mine? Someone else's? The whole point of this post is that trying to base laws on fundamental principles, instead of simply paying attention to what works and doing that, is a bad idea. With all due respect, your opinions about who should and shouldn't be able to adopt are thus beside the point.

Court Jester, that's a very important point, of course. Radicals on both sides of the political landscape are constantly trying to use government to make people more virtuous, and it never works.

Aias, excellent! Yes, yes, and yes. I'm glad that somebody's thinking about balloons again; as the satellite belts head toward an inevitable Kessler syndrome, a fallback position like that is good to have.

Chris, I should have specified -- in contemporary America. I've already noted that each society is going to come up with its own way of sorting out conflicts between various rights; furthermore, I've said here repeatedly that I don't offer any particular guidance to people in other countries -- the last thing they need is one more clueless American telling them how to run their lives. In today's America, given the specific set of social conditions we have today and will face in the predictable future, the revival of the household economy can be done just as effectively by same sex couples as by cross-sex couples, and so the history and prospects of the household economy are irrelevant to the current discussion.

Scotlyn said...

JMG you've made several references to a legacy of sexual repression and its hangovers (which I assume includes the habit of regarding the watching of other people performing scenarios crucially lacking in one's presence, the presence of the person one's sexual attention has been riveted upon and fun, as "sexy").

This rinds me that I once recommended the Barbara Kingsolver novel "Prodigal Summer" to someone as "dripping with sex"... and so it is... there is reference to some human jiggy, though not much by way of play-by-play, but the whole novel (three storylines) drips with awareness of what I might call "sexual attentveness" throughout nature... animals, plants, humans... it struck me as one of the most amazing clean & living turn-ons...

Chris Travers said...

One more Burkean point, regarding corporate personhood.

It is worth starting from a point of understanding what corporate personhood used to mean, and where it is going now. The doctrine starts in a case involving Dartmouth College where it basically means that a corporation is an artificial entity and therefore only has certain rights, and the job of the court is to determine which rights it has and which rights it does not have. John Marshall's opinion in that case was that the state could not just dissolve the college because they didn't like the board of trustees. In essence corporate personhood started out as a way of restraining corporate rights, because the corporation did not have all the rights of the owners.

When we look at Citizens United and Hobby Lobby, it is fairly clear that the court is moving away from that view and seeing corporations instead as just a collection of individuals, so the individuals' rights must be respected and the corporation doesn't get different rights just because it is incorporated. Citizens United is based on the premise that you cannot regulate speech by regulating money, and you cannot threaten to throw corporate officers in prison for their role in speech. Hobby Lobby is based on the idea that corporate owners don't lose their rights to live a religious life merely because they incorporate a business. In many ways these cases are a step away from corporate personhood. In other words, the corporation as a person no longer matters, only the natural persons involved.

So the question is what replaces corporate personhood. Do we say as a society that the federal government can regulate anything by regulating corporations (because incorporation signs away individual rights, and because that is the entry price to running a business)? Do we destroy the balance of power by saying only natural persons have rights and that such natural persons' rights include without question the full rights of the owners, directors, and officers of the corporation (in which case Hobby Lobby and Citizens United look rather minor in comparison to what we will get)? To my mind that is a cure worse than the disease. Or do we try to go back to what worked in the past, where economic power was far more decentralized, where small businesses were favored over large businesses (by very high marginal taxes on corporations etc)?

Those are uncomfortable questions in our current economic order. And I think careful application of a precautionary principle is very important in looking at how we restore justice to our economy.

James M. Jensen II said...

Re: Russell Kirk voting Socialist... It occurs to me that socialism in the US has actually had a not-insignificant conservative streak due mainly to the influence of Eugene Debs. American socialists (with some exceptions like the wackos in the Communist Party) tend to be anti-authoritarian and friendly to religion, if nothing else.

This is a marked contrast from the authoritarian, religion-hostile socialism one sees in Asia, or the religious but authoritarian socialism in countries where Simon Bolivar is the main hero.

Greg Belvedere said...

Of course they should. I just have a distaste for the game and the country club culture that turns that biases me against ever joining one and assuming that others would see the same thing.

Unknown Deborah, yes. Again, I find that kind of thing a big turn off. Perhaps it comes from my dad. He grew up working class, but worked his way up into a job where it would have been beneficial to join club. But he never did because he had the same distaste for what he perceived as snootiness. But to each their own.

Anyway, sorry for the digression. Really enjoying this discussion of Burkean conservatism. I find myself getting more irked with some of my friends on the left lately and this helps me understand why a bit more.

Chris Travers said...

JMG, just for me to clarify too and I would add I don't see much where we actually disagree.

What I am *not* saying is that same-sex couples are excluded from a household business economy or that restoring one necessarily means changing the direction the US is going on this issue. One of the points I usually make (that I had assumed was more implicit in this conversation but I guess not) is that we don't *know* what the impact will be on SSM regarding reasserting a household business economy. We cannot say necessarily how society will evolve to support this and how it will affect same-sex couples. But we cannot rule out the US as re-establishing such an economy in a way that is inclusive of such households. In the end, I am sure, we will see less government intervention in marriage and more community intervention and that may not all cut in the same direction across the entire country even.

But again, my point is that the whole shape of modern marriage in the US is shaped by the corporate economy. This also includes gender roles to a large extent and one can see feminism as a reaction to women being stripped of power by industrialism (domestic power is work a whole lot more when most economic production takes place in and around the home). In a culture where one has not had that history of corporate economics it is hard to find parallels to same-sex marriage as it exists in the US.

I think our disagreement is less than our agreement, and I think we both agree that social and economic orders are products of their own history. That history is not the same in Utah as it is in West Virginia. It is not the same in Malaysia as it is in Indonesia. It is not the same in Sweden as it is in Germany.

As corporate collapse eventually happens in the US, SSM will be apart of the legacy of social structures that comes into play. It makes it harder to look to the past purely for models that accommodate everyone at such a point. But at the same time communities will make organic decisions about the shape of family as needed for their own survival. As I am sure you would agree, not every community will likely come up with the same answers.

So how we got here is part of the question. How it affects where we go is another one and that is murkier.

Ursachi Alexandru said...

JMG, I can't call myself a Burkean conservative just yet - I have to read more about him and his ideas - but the principles you've outlined here are in perfect tune with my own views. And this whole "left-right" dychotomy just isn't my thing.

Cherokee Organics said...


Yes, no doubt the objections would be audible from the moon! ;-)! That is funny.

Thank you for the answer in relation to the removal of rights. I must confess that I was hoping that it would be otherwise. But of course, opportunity often knocks, but sometimes it is dressed in overalls and looks an awful lot like hard work.

You may be aware of the inflating housing bubble here. The bubble is inflating to absurd heights.

One of the politicians, I believe it may have been the opposition leader (but please someone correct me if I'm wrong), was reported to be touring a suburb today in Sydney where the median house price is - I believe - AU$1.5m (that's US$1.09m) and it wasn't a high end suburb. What was absurd was that the politician was spruiking policies for the forthcoming Federal election and promising to address housing affordability, whilst also promising to pursue policies that grow house prices.

Such claims are absurd because it is patently obvious to everyone (including Blind Freddy) that pursuing contradictory outcomes is simply not possible. It cannot be achieved. I mean you can't make houses both cheaper and more expensive at the same time. It is a ludicrous claim. But no one seems to have called him out on that.

Unfortunately, from my perspective so many people want to pile onto the gravy train of ever increasing house prices that I'm seriously unsure whether there is the will within our society to actually address this problem. My gut feeling is that I'm seeing an expression of greed on a massive scale, and I worry about that because it is primarily the young that are excluded and if a person only owns one house then it also becomes a meaningless gain (unless that person is increasing their debt as a result of house price inflation). It ain't good and it worries me.

I am patently unsuitable for an entry into politics as they stand today. I am much more predisposed to personal relationships with agreed to costs, benefits and obligations. And such things seem to be brushed aside nowadays in politics and that circus would drive me bananas and there would be the ever present temptation to brush the imbeciles aside.



Karim said...

Greetings all!

I'd like to modify what I said a little bit as I have been thinking about the whole affair over the morning.

As I see it, fundamental principles are spin offs of a very careful examination of what tends to promote peace, justice and harmony within a society (the assumption being that we value these things, I agree that what one society considers to be peaceful, just and harmonious might not be universal but let us assume that we all more or less agree on those things).

So for example the enforcement of fundamental principles of democracy, free speech and the rule of law have the tendency (at least where I live) to promote societies that are fairer and nicer than otherwise.

Similarly the evidence that kids place mother (female figure) above father (male figure) systematically (but not always) does indicate to me that mummy is much more important than daddy (that might be a constraint of biology, but I am not sure).

Hence I would say that a family ought to be centred on a mother/female figure, hence it becomes a fundamental principle of family life.

So it follows that adoption ought to be centred on a female figure (+ another spouse as it becomes so much easier to raise kids that way, if I may say so).

So to correct what I said earlier, fundamental principles evolve out of a careful evaluation of what tends to promote peace, justice and harmony, assuming that that society values these things.

Of course, in a democracy if the majority so decides that a mummy is the same as a daddy and acts upon it, so be it, irrespective of what I say or do.

Once more, nothing in the above should be construed as an attack on single parenthood.

PS: I don't want to appear aggressive, obnoxious or otherwise. So I promise not to reply a 3rd time on the same issues.

fudoshindotcom said...


I will look forward to your take on a supposed "golden age".

What I meant to express was my thought that a Spiritual Conservatist would find more meaningful work now, rather than in an earlier era, as conservation becomes ever more important to our survival. Or did I misunderstand why they imagined living in an earlier time more worthwhile? Not trying to beat a dead horse here (or anywhere for that matter) but now that we're on the shadow side of the peak I would think the efforts of Conservationists become increasingly valuable.

"There are two types of people, those with guns and those who shovel.You shovel"

latheChuck said...


You write as if the care-givers of orphan children have the opportunity to choose between adoption into a family with
1. one male and one female parent, or
2. two same-sex parents.

In many cases, the choice is between
1. institutional care (a succession of more-or-less well-meaning but transient care-givers) up to age 18 (and then what?!), or
2. a stable home environment (with one or two full-time, permanent parents, of arbitrary gender). Only in the case of healthy white infants is there enough scarcity to make fine distinctions: age, siblings, race, wealth, location, gender, etc, and why would gender be a deal-breaker?

nuku said...

A friend told me she divides people into EOs=easily offended, NEOs=not easily offended. I usually try to avoid spending much time with the former.

Nathan Donaldson said...

JMG, I believe that the gist of what you are saying is that as a Burkean Conservative the idea is to go with the flow, and if society is on the declining path than not to put up too much resistance and enjoy the Toboggan ride down. That doesn't mean, however, that one shouldn't point out that the animatronics are ridiculous. Or perhaps that's just a Juvenal attitude I have.

donalfagan said...

Like some other folk here, my mind turned to Andrew Sullivan. On his Dish blogs, he claimed inspiration from Oakeshott, but mentioned Burke from time to time. If not for that, I would have taken him for a moderate liberal. He was widely criticized for supporting the invasion of Iraq, but I stopped paying attention when he joined the media chorus against Edward Snowden.

I'm glad to see a specific discussion of the Burkean position, because I'm so tired of the incredibly elastic positions of self-described conservatives and libertarians.

Mark Homer said...

In the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights protects certain minority rights against the majority.
You seem to have slid over the issue of: when does an issue to be decided by Congress become a compelling right to be granted by the Bill of Rights? Or when does a minority have a right to be protected from the legislative majority by the courts?
At what point does the majority have the right to say, "Hey, not so fast, you Harvard/Yale Law School elitists." We want to still decide this by legislative means? Even if one agrees with the Supreme Court, their taking over the right to decide an issue is not necessarily one to be accepted without comment.
As William James suggested in his "Varieties of Religious Experience," when some people find their lives work better if they believe in an old man in the sky telling everyone what to do, that is a religious truth for them, and, usually, a legal right to be protected by the First Amendment. Notwithstanding a frequent state of war between the groups, it seems to work for them. The fact that it may short-circuit thought may even be a plus, if it allows them simply to get on with their lives. "Who asked you to butt in?" may be a legitimate constitutional argument.

Eric S. said...

“And that's exactly the sort of debate that's involved in settling where the line is going to be drawn. That you'd draw it further to one side than I would is simply one of the things that has to be hashed out via public debate and, eventually, legislative and judicial action.”
Ok good, so it’s in the ballpark, just drawing the line in a different place (and of course, the idealists would have to deal with the fact that the place where I drew the line protects the rights –to draw in disputes discussed in the other blog- of all those pesky heterocentric Gardnerians, gender absolutist Dianics, and Folkish Heathens to have their rights to draw their boundaries where they please, so long as they aren’t providing public accommodation.

Up above, I saw you mentioning that you’re going to be exploring the nature and limits of the virtue of tolerance at some point in this series. I ran across this article a few days ago that relates really strongly to the themes that have been unfolding in this blog lately, exploring the various parallel cultures in the American political landscape, the failures of the American Left, and the various code words used to denigrate the working class, and it also explores the virtues of tolerance and self-criticism, and the lines on which prejudices in the American landscape are unfolding so it seems right up there with something worth discussing on this blog (It’s also one that needs to be read through to the end to get the real impact of what it’s saying). But if you’re exploring the virtue of tolerance, it might be worth a peak:

Phil Harris said...

I have not read enough Burke though I am sure you are right that he is useful in understanding 'conservatives'. I understand your dismissal of 'Ayn Rand fantasists' who stand opposed to pragmatic older traditions of history-based political conservatives. Some of the fantasists seem to have hijacked the views of our own conservatives here in Britain.

When you are talking about the value of the 'moral fabric' of collective action I could not agree more. I wonder in this context what you think about the future specifically of the Republic, and how it can secure a moral fabric within its present Constitution?

Burke of course had attached caveats to 'Democracy' while at the same time retaining ‘Monarchy’. I wonder therefore whether his support for the American Colonists was more designed to keep them within a 'reformed' monarchy? An incompetent incumbent monarch apparently could be seen as a glitch rather than as a reason to destroy and attempt to replace the monarch and associated historical collective moral fabric with 'rational written principles'.

The Republic as it turned out was to be a modern restoration of a very old idea - there were not too many republics around yet in Burke's day. I suppose arguably the Constitution has kept the continuity of moral fabric in what became the USA. Burke though had a curious notion of future Empire. Was he speaking as a voice in the English Parliament for the Colonists, as an active politician or a philosopher for his vision of a new power in the world with his own take on creating a transcendent English destiny?

One can see Burke’s appeal to Churchill the British conservative aristocrat (ref. Rapier comment this post) with an American mother. Churchill was romantic about the British Empire and the USA, and history.

Burke as you say is a model for arguing rationally the treatment and respect due to minorities and of Catholics at that time within Britain. (I suggest however that Burke as protagonist for a Catholic settlement within British Law was not a singular endeavour: it was ‘in the air’ for sometime I think? I think perhaps for example of William Cobbett the journalist politician who also stood as a conservative critic at the doorway of modern political economy and at the same time retained something more than nostalgia for the pre-Reformation and the lost mediaeval institutions and the background of rural household economy.)

Phil H

RPC said...

Oh, I'm not wedded ;) to my proposal - I came up with it on the spot. My point was that the moderate Burkean method is recursive: it can be used to evaluate competing proposals as well as to come up with them in the first place. (BTW, a criterion I'd suggest be added to the pot is "which is these is easiest to back out if it turns out to be a Really Bad Idea?")

Roger said...

There's the sucking of meaning out of words, as you call it, to obscure the astounding heist of income and wealth of the many by the few. And I agree that both political parties are in on the scams.

There's also the absurd distortion of meaning, for example of the term phobia - homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia - in mis-characterizing views with the aim of diminishing and mocking and inciting the fury of those being mocked. It's not mere distaste or disapproval, no, it's PHOBIA.

Or, for that matter, of the term "war" as in "war on women" or "war on the poor" or "war on immigrants". This "phobia" and "war" nonsense is a tool used especially by the left but no side has any monopoly on the coarsening of public discourse.

No matter which side it comes from it's all to ramp up the rage-o-meter. Say certain words and the banners unfurl and tribal drums start beating. It's to the barricades.

And while we're preoccupied on the barricades the kleptocrats feed undisturbed.

Karim said...

Hi lathechuck,

I am quite aware that care-givers have a very difficult time finding stable homes for orphans as in my line of work (optometry) I come across lots of kids and some from orphanages or from very difficult familial backgrounds.

At this point we are only having a discussion about same sex marriages and adoption from a conceptual perspective, i.e trying to find out what could be best for orphans in view of what we believe is fair and good.

My understanding is that kids need a female figure much more than a male figure.

In that sense the choice ought to be between a male/female couple or a female/female couple.

I would be extremely wary/ reluctant of sending off kids to a male/male couple due to the absence of a female/ mummy figure. In my understanding that would be an infringement of children's rights.

Now I am NOT saying that I am right and that everybody else is wrong or that my logic is unassailable, it is simply the way I feel and think about the issue.

The contingencies of actual real life certainly works in favour of same sex marriage and adoption, as after all it is better for kids to be in a stable male/male family and cared for adequately than to be into institutions. No doubt about that. But should this type of arguments be used to justify adoption by same sex couples. I don't think so.

Anyway, I'd like to thank you for your civility, lathechuck! and that of JMG too!

As I said earlier, I was very apprehensive of expressing my views on the matter on an open forum as it is clear that the tide in favour of adoption by same sex couples is unstoppable in the western world and even in Mauritius which is a fairly religious and traditionally minded country, the tide is turning among the younger generation.

For instance, my kids think that it is curious and incomprehensible that I oppose same sex marriages and adoption for instance. They think I am no longer with it! Basically a goner!

Peace to all!

pygmycory said...

Fair enough.

over the hill and down the other side said...

I have had little interest in history--One Damned Thing After Another--but the ADR has led me to explore books and links that have been tremendously enriching.

I have been a Michael student for many years. Also a fan of Manly Palmer Hall and Tom Campbell (
Basically, the approach is that Consciousness creates the world. Consciousness is not an epiphenomenon of the material world. The world is a "learning lab" in which we are able to experience cause and effect. (Campbell states this in geek language as "virtual reality").

Having been raised in a household with a Confederate patriot mother and a father proud of his descent from Mormon pioneers, I always thought of history as a collection of stories told to support a cause and a cast of "heroes".
Maybe this dismal view led me to embrace the Michael teachings because it offered a cosmic vision of life as a grand learning experience in which all experience--"good" or "bad"--leads to development as successive waves of humanity/creatures "go through school."

The notion of "Progress" that you so legitimately seek to demolish, seems like a degraded materialist version of this. Egalite, Fraternite, Liberte (the values of Love) seen as equal access to more and more stuff.

Alex Blaidd said...

Thank you for clearly explaining what it means to be conservative in its truest sense as I had no real idea until you mentioned Burke recently. Perhaps you could do a similar post on the original intent of classic liberalism and how they might approach something? Though I learned enough from your interaction with A Post Millennial above what to expect I think. It seems that there is too, a balanced left, and that if the right and left were to 'play their roles' then we could achieve balance.

What's happened of course is that neoliberalism has taken over both sides of the political spectrum.

Here's a question I have. What if the change in question is actually about returning to a state that has a long tradition? So instead of necessarily proposing something new it's about proposing to go back to the way things 'always were'? In my mind that would be seen as Burkean conservatism. For example, Corbyn's Labour want to re-nationalise our country's utilities and rail (well those in his party who don't want to put him out to dry that is). As they have been under national control for the vast majority of their existence, could that be considered conservative? Does this also mean that the idea of being exclusively either a liberal or conservative party has been abandoned by the political mainstream?

This question interests me also with regards to agriculture. If I am to explain to a farmer the benefits of a traditional grazing system, as opposed to the current practice, and I suspect that farmer to be conservative, as is usually the case, then I would be better appealing to his reverence for tradition than say in the latest published data about why traditional systems are more effective (and thus an evolution, as I might put it if I were talking to someone who was more liberally minded).

Finally may I ask if you took the systematic points of your argument with regards to equal marriage rights from a particular book?

David said...


Your presentation of an empiricist approach to social governance as opposed to an idealist (abstractionist?) one is fascinating. I have a definite attraction to abstract, first-principles thinking, but I am (slowly) learning that it is simply a construct rather than reality. This discussion has opened some more mental doors for me (not an unusual by-product of reading your posts, by the way). Thank you.

Golocyte Golo said...

Golocyte, fortunately, most people in today's America aren't religious conservatives, radical feminists, or libertarians. My hope is to start a conversation among those who aren't committed to dogmatic extremes of any kind, and eventually the three people in your dialogue will notice that something different is going on and, if they want to get in on it, they need to learn how to communicate courteously with those who disagree with their ideologies.

It just seems like, in the circles I travel in (University circles; admittedly not representative) people are becoming more ideological, not less, and moderate voices are feeling more social pressure (and sometimes professional pressure) to take a side or keep quiet. Discourse in the media, too: I couldn't think of a leftist NYTimes commentator who doesn't explain Republican success with working class voters by saying the Repubs appeal to voters' racism in order to stay in power, where they can serve their rich masters. Similar demeaning, dismissive assertions come from the right. Views like this, which seem both common and firmly held, preclude meaningful dialogue.

I sincerely hope rational attempts at dialogue, such as appears here, can succeed. I hope you are right and I am wrong.

John Michael Greer said...

Scotlyn, hmm. I haven't read the Kingsolver book, and I think my sense of the consequences of two millennia or so of sex-hatred may be somewhat different from yours; still, it's an intricate subject.

Chris, I think you're drawing the matter too broadly. The issue under dispute is not whether corporations have a distinct legal identity, separate from that of their CEOs, stockholders, etc; the issue is whether constitutional rights assigned to persons may be applied wholesale to corporate "persons." Those are two different issues, and it's the latter that I'm discussing.

James, a good point!

Greg, well, I'm not a fan of golfing either, and I've also had the interesting experience of being involved in Freemasonry, which used to be as nose-in-the-air and exclusive as your average country club, but has had to deal with coming down in the world over the last five decades or so!

Chris, fair enough.

Ursachi, no need to borrow the label! The only reason I use it is that it makes it easier to clarify, in this kind of public forum, what I do (and don't) believe in.

Cherokee, oh man. That's a classic. I suppose the candidate is also a firm proponent of vegetarian carnivores and celibate prostitutes, and promises to paint every house in town with light-colored black paint right after the election.

Karim, that is to say, you have an opinion. So noted.

Fudoshindotcom, thanks for the clarification. Yes, that makes sense -- though it's a recurring pattern in history that those who try to turn to the past often end up innovating the most! More on this in a future post.

Nuku, that sounds like a very good strategy!

Nathan, definitely a Juvenal attitude! Funny. But of course it's not a matter of going with the flow; the work of the conservative is to pump the brake pedal and slow things down, so the liberal whose lead foot is shoving down the gas pedal doesn't run the car into the ditch.

Donalfagan, you and me both.

ed boyle said...
john, this link worked with great visuals. I like your quote and the last line 'you call some place paradise
kiss it goodbye'

I was thinking about sexuality as a mental construct. Like butch, queens, jocks, etc. British heterosexual males could seem 'queer' to a latino. Cultural attitudes affect our programming of how we give and take aggession andaffection. Take snow leopards. Mild mannered sign in same culture has similar effects which makes it so exciting. My Leo wife is so dominant and butch and I as youngest son and pisces am passive-aggressive clown.

And in straight or gay relationships, regardless, of course the personality roles take over and gay straight takes the

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Love this post, and admire your ability to put out a meaningful post every week. I have not read the previous comments so this may be a repeat. I have long wondered whether the right of free association includes the right of exclusion. The recent gender bender agonies pose some delicious quandaries for feminists. I never did get it together to do a blog post but may one of these days. I have some conservative and sincerely religious friends, whose right to not be forced to serve same sex wedding cake I am inclined to support. But then, what about the Woolworth lunch counter? That was a private business. By the same reasoning, should a Southern store be allowed to refuse service to people of different melatonin level? Some times clarity comes from substituting one minority for another. Finally, I am tired of the "But it's my religion!" argument. I live in hope that a group of fundamentalist pagans will demand the right to dance naked around a Maypole in the public square. Or better yet, have a public orgy in the fields just before planting.

Art Deco said...

Hello JMG and All,
This comment is actually related to last weeks post, where you asked your readers how we found you, and what effects your posts have had. But since there were already over 250 comments on the post when I found it, and this one is heading the same way, I figured you could use a break from the "Happy Anniversary" type posts ,and this certainly could wait.
I don't know what led me to this blog exactly, but it was probably a mention of the long emergency or the catabolic colapse that turned up via a google search on cheery topics like "the decline of the United States" or "the fall of cililizations", since I had just read "Collapse" and "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jerad Diamond. And although I recommend both books, I thought they were a bit light weight. I never really followed the peak oil or the global warming scenes on the net, because, after all, "They will think of something". An error that your blog has pointed out rather sharply.
I am sure that it wasn't a comment that led me here, because until I read your blog , I never read comments - like a true elitist , I had trained myself to not even look at comments, under the assumption that they were all worthless. A second error underlined by the quality of the discussions here.
Fifteen years ago, I bought a standard all electric fixer-upper house (with a well) in an old suburban neighborhood within walking distance of the university. The surrounding area is all agrcultural, and has a lot of Amish and Anabaptist farms so horses and buggys, farmer's markets, and craft beers are common here. We have decided to stay here come what may.
Since I started reading your blog about five years ago, I've insulated and air sealed the entire house, added a woodstove that heats it well (and a woodpile that ate about 500 sq ft of my back yard), a small vegetable garden that took another 500 sq ft of backyard, and a rainwater catchement system that feeds a lilly pond and waters the garden. I have had the existing apple and pear trees pruned and fertilized in hopes of making hard cider in the fall, and added solar panels on the roof. My electric bill is now tiny, and my diet is much improved.
These are all positive effects of your writing, but you have made it clear that they will not be nearly enough - without fossil fuels for the chainsaw and jeep I'd never be able to process enough wood for the winter, and the garden would need to be at least four times it's current size to provide a basic diet for a couple. So be it - I'm certainly ahead of where I was (and where my friends and neighbors are) as regards our physical resilience. I thank you for that.
On psychological/spiritual resilience, I am no Druid, but I have been studying my ancestor's old stories and lore about the Celtic civilizations that existed before the Romans took over Europe a few thousand years ago, and I believe the preindustrial iron age could have actually provided a pretty good life for most people, so I have less/little fear for my decendants at the end of the current empire. Perhaps the end of the Kübler-Ross denial and anger phases; but I don't think so - I am still mad as hell at my generation(Boomers), but I'm working on getting over it. I thank you for that too.
Finally on this weeks post, I don't imagine that wedding cakes for same sex marriages is really a big issue for most of your readers - it is a non issue for me as both my grown children are in long term committed relationships (complete with mortgage and children) but are not married. Next time you feel like offending a lot of readers consider abortions or gun control here in the US - both, after all involve killing humans and will certainly stir up trolls.

ArtDeco at

«Oldest ‹Older   1 – 200 of 337   Newer› Newest»