Posts tagged with: conservatism

In the hubbub surrounding Brexit, many conservatives have cheered the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, hailing it as a win for freedom, democracy, and local sovereignty.

Yet for those who disagree, support for Brexit is painted as necessarily driven by fear, xenophobia, and protectionism. Although fear of immigrants and narrow nationalism have surely played their part, such sentiments and attitudes aren’t the only drivers at play, and they mustn’t be heeded if Brexit is actually going to succeed.

Indeed, for conservatives in the vein of Edmund Burke, the reasons for supporting Brexit are necessarily different. Political withdrawal from the EU needn’t, nay, mustn’t mean isolation from outside markets or a freeze on the movement of labor.

As Hannan outlines in a marvelous speech given prior to the vote, this isn’t about protectionism, but about preserving a tradition of freedom and democracy. It isn’t about a fear of outsiders, but about a basic belief in the principle of subsidiarity.


Margaret Thatcher“Economics are the method,” wrote Margaret Thatcher in 1981, “the object is to change the heart and soul.”

Guided by her Christian faith, the prime minister believed that the welfare state was not only harming her fellow citizens but damaging the moral fabric of the United Kingdom. As Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite explains, Thatcher’s fears about the welfare state were twofold:

First, she and her advisers thought that generous collective provision for unemployment and sickness was sapping some working-class people’s drive to work. Second, they feared the corrupting influence of what Thatcher’s close ally Keith Joseph called ‘the Father Christmas state’ on the middle class, who were thought to be in danger of relying increasingly not on their own hard work and thrift, but on collective action through trade unions and state hand-outs. Thatcher wanted to re-establish an economic and legal framework and a cultural ethos which rewarded what she saw as the ‘Victorian’ or ‘bourgeois’ values of thrift, self-reliance and charity among all classes.

“The aim was not to abolish the welfare state entirely,” adds Sutcliffe-Braithwaite, “but to chip away at it, leaving social security as a last resort for the very poorest minority, and making it irrelevant to those on middle and high incomes, who would choose private provision instead. In this, Thatcher was successful.”

But not everyone believed that Thatcher’s efforts were rooted in a moral concern. In 1985 the Church of England released a document authored by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Urban Priority Areas. The controversial report blamed the spiritual and economic malaise largely on Thatcher’s economic policies.

Now, thirty years later, the Church of England is admitting that perhaps Thatcher was right after all:

cracked-flag-fragment-america-dividedThe fabric of American society is tearing at the seams. Whether witnessed through the disruptive insurgencies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders or the more mundane fissures of pop culture and daily consumerism, Americans are increasingly divided and diverse.

Yet even in our rash attempts to dismantle Establishment X and Power Center Y, we do so with a peculiar nostalgia of the golden days of yore. You know, those days when institutions mattered?

This is particularly evident in the appeal of Mr. Trump, whose calls to burn down the houses of power come pre-packaged with a simultaneous disdain for the power of bottom-up diversity and the liberty it requires. Once the tattered castle on the hill is torched to the ground, we’re told, we will receive a greater castle on a higher hill with a far more deserving king. The scepter will be yuge, and with power restored to the hands of a man shrewd enough to exploit it, surely we will “win” again. (more…)

Conservatives and liberals both tend to believe that they alone are motivated by love while their opponents are motivated by hate. How can we solve problems with so much polarization?

In a recent TED talk, AEI president Arthur Brooks shares ideas for what we can each do as individuals to break the gridlock. “We might just be able to take the ghastly holy war of ideology that we’re suffering under and turn it into a competition of ideas,” says Brooks.

Blog author: jsunde
Friday, January 22, 2016

OneNationUnderGod_CVRChristians continually struggle to find the right approach, balance, and tone in their political witness, either co-opting the Gospel for the sake of political ends or retreating altogether out of fear of the same.

In their new book, One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics, Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo pave a fresh way forward. Though I haven’t quite finished it, thus far the book offers a refreshingly rich assessment of political ideology as it relates (or doesn’t) to the Gospel and Christian mission.

In a piece for Canon and Culture, Ashford whets our appetites on this same topic, providing a clear overview of how Christianity differs from conservatism and progressivism, as well as where and how we might engage or abandon each.

From my own experience, Christians seem to have an easier time discerning these distinctions with progressivism, most likely due to its overt rejection of or disregard for permanent truths. With conservatism, however, we tend to forget that without a particular focus on transcendence, conservatism languishes in its own shortsightedness and folly. (more…)

Russell Kirk

Russell Kirk

At The Public Discourse, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg reviews Bradley J. Birzer’s new book Russell Kirk: American Conservative. The book, Gregg writes, amply shows how “Kirk’s broad scope of interests was matched by genuine erudition that enabled him to see the connections between, for instance, culture and American foreign policy, or the significance of moral philosophy for one’s commitments in the realm of political economy.” More from Gregg:

The picture of the American conservative moment that emerges from this book is one characterized by surprisingly deep fractures that, in many respects, have never been resolved. Some may be beyond resolution. This makes it all the more ironic that one of the most revealing aspects of Birzer’s book is the degree to which Kirk worked with and even promoted people with whom he had intellectual disagreements.

Traditionalists may be surprised, for example, to learn just how much Kirk admired Leo Strauss’s thinking. “Even as late as 1990,” Birzer writes, “on the eve of an implosion of even a semblance of unity within intellectual conservatism, Kirk continued to praise Strauss.” Kirk was particularly taken with Strauss’s conception of natural rights. Certainly, the two men disagreed in their interpretation of Burke, and Kirk strongly disapproved of some of Strauss’s followers. None of this, however, impaired what Birzer describes as the positive influence exerted by Strauss on Kirk’s thought.

Other friendships developed by Kirk with figures such as the sociologist Robert Nisbet, the novelist Flannery O’Connor, and the political philosopher Eric Voegelin were characterized by a similar pattern: affirmation of many points in common and recognition of a mutual seriousness of purpose, accompanied by clear but civil disagreement about other important issues.

Read “A Conservative’s Odyssey: Russell Kirk and Twentieth-Century American Conservatism” by Samuel Gregg at The Public Discourse.

Also see “Inside the Conservative Mind,” Religion & Liberty’s interview with Bradley Birzer in the Summer/Fall 2014 issue.

On November 5th, 2015, the Acton Institute was pleased to host Dr. Bradley J. Birzer for a lunch lecture and book launch celebration for the release of his latest book, Russell Kirk: American Conservative.

Russell Kirk has long been known as perhaps the most important founding father of the American Conservative movement in the second half of the 20th century. In the early 1950s, America was emerging from two decades of the Great Depression and the New Deal and facing the rise of radical ideologies abroad; the American Right seemed beaten, broken, and adrift. Then in 1953, Russell Kirk released his masterpiece, The Conservative Mind. More than any other published work of the time, this book became the intellectual touchstone for a reinvigorated movement and began a sea change in Americans’ attitudes toward traditionalism.

Brad Birzer’s new biography recounts the story of Kirk’s life and work, with attention paid not only to his writings on politics and economics, but also on literature and culture, both subjects dear to Kirk’s heart and central to his thinking.

Dr. Bradley J. Birzer holds the Russell Amos Kirk Chair in History at Hillsdale College, and also serves as an Associate Professor of History. We’re pleased to present Dr. Birzer’s presentation for your edification here on the PowerBlog.

(After the jump, I’ve included the latest edition of Radio Free Acton featuring Brad Birzer, as well as some audio and video highlights of Russell Kirk’s appearances at Acton’s first Annual Dinner, and as part of the 1994 Lord Acton Lecture Series.)