Episode 86 – Perfect Bedrock
Josh takes a break from the guests to cover a little conservatism 101. Russell Kirk’s pithy list Ten Conservative Principles: begins with what Kirk called an enduring moral order: “The conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.”
The full implications of this idea—not to mention the arguments in favor or disapproving of this view or the thorny business of trying to agree upon a working definition of “moral order”, “human nature”, or “permanent truths”—is precisely what makes this so challenging to untangle. But untangle we must for, if we ever hope to understand conservatism, we must first understand the foundation conservatism rests upon.
It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance of order. It’s not some idea relegated to trivial conversations amongst people with a lot of time on their hands, it is quite literally the glue that holds reality together. “Either order in the cosmos is real, or all is chaos,” explained Kirk, “In a vortex of chaos, only force and appetite signify.” Everything conservatism defends as worth conserving rests on the idea that there exists some standard by which we can truthfully distinguish what things have value from mere popular preferences. Our ability to make these distinctions is important, but such efforts would be utterly hopeless if order did not exist. In that case all we could say is that some people prefer some things while other people prefer other things; we couldn’t make actual truth statements about those things.
Edmund Burke put it more succinctly: “Good order is the foundation of all good things.” The connection between order and foundation is key. The existence of order—that is, something that is fixed, absolute, immutable, and completely outside of humanity’s ability to create or destroy—is precisely what grounds reality. Without it, all that’s left is chaos and appetite. Humans don’t submit to the gods they create; and if we come to believe there is no truth greater than whatever “truth” we create for ourselves we shouldn’t act surprised when a spirit of benevolence and comradery is insufficient to hold barbarism at bay. Without order, we don’t have a basis for justice or a universal argument for natural rights and liberty from coercion.
If Kirk’s assertion of the existence of an enduring moral order is true, we’re faced with an abundance of questions, such as:
Can we define this moral order, or at least discern it? If so, how?
What is the relationship between societal order and the order within each individual in society?
Where does this order come from? Is it spiritual in nature?
What political and legal implications does a moral order impose?
Doesn’t the flirtation with ideas of a moral order quickly descend into authoritarian theocracy? How does the conservative guard against that?
What implications does this have for politics or the state? Or is this a matter of faith that should be left out of political considerations altogether?
What is the relationship between order and liberty? Are these ideas in conflict or can they be reconciled?
Josh tackles all that and more in this episode