25 February 2017

Conservatism's Wrong Turn

Or, should it be, the wrong turn that became remembered as conservatism.

As individuals seek a life of happiness or thriving by means of virtue, some will thrive to a higher degree than others. This includes material well-being. As Aristotle noted, wealth will often follow virtue. This results in economic inequality.

The connection between virtue and wealth, however, it not a necessary one. Sometimes the wealthy mistakenly claim that it is.

Aristotle noted the development of political factions based upon economic status.

"For one party if they are unequal in one respect, for example in wealth, consider themselves unequal in all; and the other party, if they are equal in one respect, for example free birth, consider themselves to be equal in all."

The faction that came to be known as conservative made the first error.

This party became, at least in Europe, the party of an artificial aristocracy. This aristocracy emerged through historical developments too complex to be detailed in a virtually unknown blog like this one. Suffice it to say, European states and principalities came to be dominated by Kings, Princes, Lords, and high church officials who claimed ruling authority from God Almighty and their own virtue. They encoded their authority in legislation creating hereditary monarchies, a entitled nobility, and legally established churches.

In Aristotle's scheme of things, such governments distorted or perverted the legitimate forms of government. Aristotle recognized a type of government called an aristocracy, in which the virtuous (usually--but not always men of wealth) ruled for the common good. He also noted its perversion--an oligarchy in which the wealthy (who may or may not have possessed virtue) ruled for the benefit of themselves.

These ruling authorities eventually faced a challenge during the European Enlightenment by men who sought to enlarge the influence of men of demonstrated virtue--an aristocracy of talent if you will. The ruling authorities resisted on "conserving" the traditional order.

Those who advocated opening public life to an aristocracy of talent in a sense embodied the spirit of Aristotle's conservatism. Those who defended the traditional order of Kings, nobility, and clergy represented a pseudo-conservatism that denied a role in public life for anyone. For them the political community was a realm of the monarch--and not a "public thing" or republic.

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