The Clare Spark Blog

January 23, 2015

What is an organic conservative?

Gene  Wilder as young Frankenstein

Gene Wilder as young Frankenstein

I congratulated a well-known moderately conservative (?)journalist for bringing up “multiculturalism” as an obstacle to defeating jihadism. His response shocked me, for he declared that he was defending a “common culture” against the divisiveness of “multiculturalism.” Some organic conservatives (including “liberals”) will agree with admirers of Edmund Burke (in his Tory response to the French Revolution) and to Russell Kirk. For who does not long for “order” and a route to uniting divided families, polarized political parties, and the fragments of our memories and consciousness? The longed for “union” is glamorous, even glitzy.

Such responses, however, alarm me, for I had taken it for granted that this conservative journalist would prefer intellectual and religious pluralism/diversity to the implicit racialism that underlies the term “multiculturalism.” I don’t know if he sees the racialist underpinnings of the now hegemonic pseudo-solution to racism, one that was advanced by [covertly racist/German nationalist] German Romantics in the late 18th century to stave off the “mechanical materialism” they saw looming in the French Enlightenment. The French pox was an epistemology that led inexorably to worship of the Goddess of Reason that noted academics condemn today, irrationalist social democrats that they are, despising Jacobinism and its guillotine, you know, the guillotine that to the Gothic mentality resembles a printing press. (I am not nostalgic for Jacobins, but rather favor Condorcet, the Girondist, who was hounded to death by Jacobins.)

German printing press, 1811

German printing press, 1811

But America already has a common culture, and we didn’t need Edmund Burke to invent it, nor the Frankenstein monster to scare us half to death. That common culture is embodied in the social contract that separates church and state, and that guarantees the freedoms in the First and subsequent Amendments to the Constitution, not to speak of the property rights that enable economic growth and equal opportunity. Indeed, the very structure of the American Constitution, with its checks and balances, its separation of powers, enables us to agree to disagree. For conflict is normal and productive, unlike the dogma of “tradition” (unless that tradition favors literacy, numeracy, skepticism and close reading of texts). (Perhaps that is what the conservative journalist meant by a “common culture.” I sent him this blog and he agrees with me: his notion of a common culture is “secular and civic” and he firmly stands behind the First Amendment.)

Standing apart from these vanguard institutions are the dragons devised to scare us by less attractive conservatives like Mary Shelley, the author of the timeless Gothic thriller, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Her message, typical of all reactionaries, is reiterated in the popular Showtime series Penny Dreadful, where Victor Frankenstein is an actual character intended to remind us that the evil within us is too powerful to achieve the goals of the American and French Revolutions with respect to human rights. (See https://clarespark.com/2014/06/25/penny-dreadfuls-sinister-significance/.)

Frontispiece to 1831 edition of Frankenstein

Frontispiece to 1831 edition of Frankenstein

It is not only far-Right conservatives who prefer the Terror-Gothic style of social organization, wherein mystical bonds are the source of social cohesion, not the rule of law and individual human rights, including property rights. Social democrats and even revolutionary socialists are just as eager to resuscitate Edmund Burke when it suits them. (On Edmund Burke’s frantic response to the French Revolution, inverting freedom and obedience, see https://clarespark.com/2011/09/17/edmund-burkes-tantrum/.)

Consider the abandonment of class or gender interest as an analytic category by today’s academic leftists. Gone with the wind are the days when revolutionary socialists forbade any social analysis that ignored “class struggle.” We are all multiculturalists now, Trotskyists and Stalinists alike. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/26/race-class-and-gender/. Underneath that shift to social democratic tactics is organicism brought about by the worship of the administrative state, the one that brought us permanent divisiveness and opened the gates to barbarian hordes.

All we fallen angels have to look forward to is the apocalypse. Goodbye Areopagitica; goodbye Paradise Lost. When I was a small child, I made a crayon drawing of a “happy harem girl” lacking sharp elbows. Perhaps I was more clairvoyant than Clare Spark.

Amazon ad for Frankenstein

Amazon ad for Frankenstein

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September 17, 2011

Edmund Burke’s tantrum

Marie-Antoinette in Muslin dress

Today, Constitution Day in the United States, brings back the chief ideas of the American Revolution, an exceptional event that partly inspired the French Revolution, the latter upheaval said by its critics to be the blueprint for 20th century totalitarian states. On my Facebook page yesterday, I quoted Burke’s line “…the age of chivalry is gone.” Readers took it to mean chivalrous behavior by men toward women today, and generally did not recognize the quote, nor did all but one show concrete knowledge of the nature of feudalism and its knightly practices, made hollow by the Inquisitions and constant war/anarchy. Most did, however, distance themselves from 1970s feminism. So I quote the context of Burke’s lament, and note that Burke saw a written constitution based on universal human rights as an offense against Nature herself. Note the inversion of deference to established authority and “exalted freedom.” Orwell, anyone?

Before reading the Burke quote, here are two links that fill in some history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Antoinettehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declaration_of_the_Rights_of_Man.

[Burke, writing about Marie Antoinette* after the natural rights/natural law doctrine embodied in the  Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789), and four years before her execution by guillotine]:

“ It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in—glittering like the morning star, full of life and splendor and joy. Oh! What a revolution! And what a heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream, when she added titles and veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace in her bosom! Little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor, and of cavaliers! I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more [Poe’s “The Raven”?CS] , shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom! The unbought grace of life, the cheap defense of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise, is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil by losing all its grossness!….” [footnote: The quoted paragraph “has been called a landmark in the beginning of English literary romanticism.”][i]

Is there any doubt that Disraeli was writing about the Austrian noblewoman in his first novel? See https://clarespark.com/2011/05/04/disraelis-captive-queens/?

Declaration of the Rights of Man


[i]
Edmund Burke, “Impractical Zealots,” The French Revolution: Conflicting Interpretations, ed. Frank A. Kafker, James M. Laux, Darline Gay Levy (Malabar, Florida: Krieger, Fifth Edition, 2002), 87-88. This was an excerpt from Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), famously answered by Thomas Paine in a controversy that remains timely today.

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