What Conservatives Believe: Variety and the Allure of Equality - Part 1
Updated: Jun 20
“Conservatives pay attention to the principle of VARIETY.” Russell Kirk – Ten Conservative Principles*
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld is looking forward to a future where we no longer have to decide what to wear each day. “Anytime I see a movie or a TV show where there’s people from the future, or another planet, they’re all wearing the same thing.” He observed, “Somehow they decided, ‘this is going to be our outfit: one piece silver jump suit, v-stripe, and boots. That’s it.’”
Visions of the future are often replete with uniformity not (currently) seen on earth. Star Trek foretells a future in which barriers of culture, religion, class, nationalities, and politics have given way to global unity at times extending beyond even the human race. The conservative recognizes that such a world wouldn’t be one of living long and prospering, but an authoritarian dystopia obliterating the varieties that make civilization a possibility.
The conservative is a wet blanket on starry-eyed fantasies of a world where distinctions in currency, class, and cultures melt away. The conservative is that dreary realist in the room crushing dreams of a society in which human equality has been extended to both outcomes and incomes. The conservative is a killjoy who scoffs at notions of a government capable of administering perfect social justice. But, in the end, it is the conservative who defends with his dying breath Beauty and Virtue in danger of succumbing to some radical’s ideological vision of a cold, narrowing world of equality.
John Adams, America’s second president and a founding father whose accomplishments are too numerous to enumerate here, was a firm believer in the principle of variety, stating:
“Nature, which has established in the universe a chain of being and universal order, descending from archangels to microscopic animalcules, has ordained that no two objects shall be perfectly alike, and no two creatures perfectly equal. Although, among men, all are subject by nature to equal laws of morality, and in society have a right to equal laws for their government, yet no two men are perfectly equal in person, property, understanding, activity, and virtue, or ever can be made so by any power less than that which created them.”
While here Adams attributed mankind’s inequalities to “nature,” he elsewhere evoked an even more authoritative source: “The equality of nature is moral and political only, and means that all men are independent. But a physical inequality, an intellectual inequality, of the most serious kind, is established unchangeably by the Author of nature.” That is, our inequalities are woven into the very fabric of humanity by our Creator.
Notice that the conservative is not denying certain equalities within humanity. Namely, the conservative confirms two specific equalities: moral equality and juridical equality. Moral equality implies morality and moral duties should be applied equally and that we will all stand before our Creator as equals on Judgment Day. Juridical equality implies each has a right to what belongs to them in the eyes of the law, and that justice done under the law should be administered equally. This idea is commonly expressed as the rule of law. If murder is deemed unlawful it does not matter what class, occupation, nationality, or influence a person has. Justice should be administered equally. These fundamental equalities should be protected and promoted by government. The rest are outside the scope of government.
I’m not arguing this is how things ought to be. I’m not suggesting I revel in the idea some people are more disadvantaged or less capable or less intelligent or weaker or poorer than others. I’m by no means saying we shouldn’t, as individuals, do our part to improve the lot of those less fortunate than ourselves. Rather, I am arguing that this is the lot humanity has been dealt and behaving as if it is in our power to undo what our Creator has done is foolhardy at best and destructive to the pulling down of civil order at worst.
All ideologies that promise to right some perceived social injustice to the extent humans will be afforded not just equal opportunities, but equal outcomes, are destined to destroy the glue of variety that holds civilization together. This is easily observable in authoritarian regimes who crush all individual liberties for the sake of some promised greater good. It is less visible but just as destructive in its more benevolent form of progressivism. The progressive’s militant celebration of diversity renders levity herself an intolerable offense. The progressive’s striving for social equality comes at the heavy cost of bringing us all down to the lowest common denominator. The progressive’s demands for denial of traditional societal roles leads to punitive thought policing. And in the end the causes progressives wish to enhance are no better off.
Take, for example, the treatment of women by men. The Philosophical Conservative blog observed:
“The Classical Conservative endeavors to cultivate respect for women by teaching men to cherish them. The Academic Leftist seeks to manipulate men into merely displaying respect for women by creating fear of negative social consequences for not doing so. One approach attempts to shape character while the other attempts to modify behavior. The fruit of the second approach over the last several decades has been the emergence of a general culture in the West that exhibits a remarkable level of disrespect toward women. You can never instill genuine respect for something through pressure or fear.”
Surely, if there is one lesson the election of 2016 taught us it’s the degree to which insulting people with motives and labels like “homophobe”, “racist”, and “deplorable” results in them doing precisely the thing they have been condescendingly told not to do. This facet of human nature can easily be seen on college campuses where men are bombarded with messages of “male privilege” and made to feel guilty for the act of existing. Men are not taught to respect women as women, but to fear the punitive consequences of societal shaming and possible legal action for disrespecting women. Does condescension like this make men respect women? Our blogger continues:
“Any person that is responding to a pressure to behave a certain way in relation to “X” is not actually responding to “X”, they are simply responding to the source of the pressure. Meanwhile, their attitude toward “X” remains unchanged and undealt with. A person who is taught to cherish “X” on the other hand, will both have and show a respect that is a direct response to them. This option however is not a valid one for the Academic Leftist. He is stuck with trying to modify behavior rather than teaching in terms of concepts. Why? Because in order for him to teach men how to define their relationships with women, he must employ at least some basic definition of “men” and “women”, and this is a requirement that he cannot accept.”
But if terms like “men” and “women” are nothing more than social constructs rooted in the flimsy and fluid grounds of one’s self-declared “identity”, then we have no basis to assign unique roles or responsibilities to them. If, on the other hand, there is something inherently distinct about men and women then suddenly standards as antiquated as “husbands, love your wives; wives, submit to your husbands” become something more than a misogynistic viewpoint rooted in a male-dominant culture. It becomes the basic blueprint for how humans are to behave towards one another. The surest course toward teaching men to respect women is to teach them to respect women as women, not as social construct for which they have no natural, biological proclivity or duty to respect.
In part 2 we’ll turn our attention to the progressive’s idea of social justice and how it impacts our response to human inequalities.
*The “What Conservatives Believe” series was inspired by Russell Kirk’s “Ten Conservative Principles”. As a diligent student of conservatism my aim in this series is not to improve upon his manifesto—a task for which I’m hardly qualified—but to restate his ideas in a more digestible manner for the political layman who’d like to know what it means to be a conservative without having to read an academic paper.