Tocqueville on America’s Colonial Experience & the Seeds of Democracy ~ The Imaginative Conservative
Though diverse, the American colonists had more in common with one another than not. Overwhelmingly Protestant, they also spoke the same language, and “the bond of language is perhaps the strongest and most durable that can unite men,” Tocqueville claimed. Further, the colonists all came from the Reformational troubles of Europe, and they “were all children of the same people.” Finally, the wilderness of North America homogenized the colonists, and “their political education was shaped in this rude school, and you saw more notions of rights, more principles of true liberty spread among them than among most of the peoples of Europe.”
Equally important, the American colonies—both North and South—proved that colonization could happen successfully even when haphazardly planned, or even when there had been a complete lack of planning. Drawing upon the work of Adam Smith, Tocqueville continued, the imperial pursuit of mineral wealth had led to nothing but societal catastrophe. “At this time, Europe was still singularly preoccupied with the idea that mines of gold and silver constituted the wealth of peoples,” Tocqueville claimed. “This destructive idea has done more to impoverish the European nations that embraced it and, in America, has destroyed more men than war and all bad laws put together.”
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2020/11/tocqueville-america-colonial-experience-seeds-democracy-bradley-birzer.html
It should be remembered that 1938 had been a difficult year for Tolkien. While he had written much for his Hobbit sequel, he had suffered through deep depression in August and a nasty flu in December. Tolkien had also just finished the first several writing phases—as his son Christopher has labeled them—of what would become The Fellowship of the Ring, when he began research and thought regarding his proposed lecture, “On Fairy Stories.” He had hoped to deliver a paper on the same topic to an undergraduate society at Oxford in 1938, but that had fallen through. This would be his chance to rectify that, and with the added benefit of serious academic legitimacy. On the evening of March 8, 1939, Tolkien delivered his lecture at the University of St. Andrews.
To state that the lecture was important to Tolkien and, frankly, to the world of literary criticism, would be a gross understatement. Coming when it does in Tolkien’s writing career, “On Fairy Stories” reveals more about the mind and soul of the man than any other non-fiction work he produced throughout his lifetime. It is, to be certain, seminal and beautifully so. Like his own Stoic and mystical understanding of Faerie, his talk was, in turns, excellent, insightful, and brilliant. It also offers, at its most fundamental level, a counterrevolution of ideas, an image of the world directly counter to that held by the fascists, communists, and ideologues of all varieties of the twentieth century
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2020/10/tolkien-on-fairy-stories-setting-bradley-birzer.html
Of Edmund Burke’s (1729-1797) four Letters on a Regicide Peace—his final work, written while he rested on his deathbed—the fourth is, by far, the weakest. Unlike the other three, it was written out of order, and it is unclear whether Burke himself ever intended to include it. It was more of a personal letter written to Earl Fitzwilliam than it was a letter for the public. It did not appear in Burke’s works until after the author’s death, and so we are left with it as somewhat of an interesting mystery and enigma. Despite these caveats, though, it is a letter written by Edmund Burke, and this means, of course, that there are fascinating aspects to it.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2020/10/burke-monstrous-revolution-regicide-peace-bradley-birzer.html
Yet, as much as Tolkien kept the story a Hobbit story, unanticipated persons and scenes and moments inserted themselves into the story, as did Tolkien’s larger legendarium. “The sequel to The Hobbit has now progressed as far as the end of the third chapter,” the author informed Stanley Unwin, however, “stories tend to get out of hand, and this has taken an unpremeditated turn.” Tolkien repeated this news to various letter recipients over the next several months, recognizing that his own children—for whom The Hobbit had been originally written—had aged, and thus too had the storytelling. Somehow the sequel was growing in dark and perplexing ways. The whole story, he feared by October 1938, “was becoming more terrifying than the Hobbit.” Most worrisome, “it may prove quite unsuitable” as it becomes more and more “adult.” Clearly, Tolkien admitted, though never allegorical, the story of the sequel—and its depth and intensity—reflected the “darkness of the present days.” In particular, the Necromancer (that is, Sauron) was playing a much bigger role in the sequel, and he, by his very nature, “is not child’s play.”
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2020/09/tolkien-begins-sequel-hobbit-bradley-birzer.html
When we fail to understand the choice that God has given us with democracy—that is, a science to guide, attenuate, and hone democracy—the baser instincts will rise to the fore. “So democracy has been abandoned to its wild instincts; it has grown up like those children, deprived of paternal care, who raise themselves in the streets of our cities, and who know society only by its vices and miseries. We still seemed unaware of its existence, when it took hold of power without warning.”
As such, democracy, thus far, has grown wild and licentious, on the verge of untamable. Though this process is stoppable and alterable, it will take some doing to make it work. As of the 1830s, Tocqueville fears, the material changes of democracy had far outpaced any of the spiritual restraints, customs, traditions, norms, and mores that make a thing good and acceptable, especially when dealing with a way of life. Many critics, understandably, thus see only the ills that democracy brings, failing to note its higher qualities. Habits, especially, have shown throughout history, the propensity to limit the ills of a thing, to make it acceptable to a population and to the stability of society.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2020/09/tocqueville-new-science-politics-bradley-birzer.html
1And the word of the Lord came to me, saying: 2Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say to them: When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man, one of their meanest, and make him a watchman over them: 3And he see the sword coming upon the land, and sound the trumpet, and tell the people: 4Then he that heareth the sound of the trumpet, whosoever he be, and doth not look to himself, if the sword come, and cut him off: his blood shall be upon his own head. 5He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not look to himself, his blood shall be upon him: but if he look to himself, he shall save his life. 6And if the watchman see the sword coming, and sound not the trumpet: and the people look not to themselves, and the sword come, and cut off a soul from among them: he indeed is taken away in his iniquity, but I will require his blood at the hand of the watchman.
— Read on biblehub.com/drb/ezekiel/33.htm
Both Nisbet and Nock find this sad state of affairs very human, but also very counter to the American tradition of strong societies that take care of alcoholism, crime, homelessness, and mental illness. In its expanded role, the State becomes a kind of Nanny, a mothering hen. Further, as the State grows, it reshapes the rules of society, giving itself the advantage in all conflicts with parts (or wholes) of the population. As Nock understood it in the 1930s, and Nisbet in the 1960s, the State desired—whether it openly admitted this or not—to assume all power over society and thus render society—and its myriads of conflicting authorities (in and through which the human person found freedom)—obsolete in the long run. Indeed, the State wanted to take the place of the Church as the only glue that holds all together. This was just as true, both Nock and Nisbet feared, in collectivist societies, whether they called themselves republican, fascist, or communist.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2020/09/nock-nisbet-society-state-bradley-birzer.html
Stewart: One of the goals for your book is to rescue the term “humanism” for Christians who are suspicious of it based on the dominant strand that traces its lineage to the Humanist Manifesto of 1933. You offer five “canons of humanism” in order to recover an alternative variation of the tradition. Briefly, humanists are bonded by the following: 1) belief in human dignity; 2) defense of liberal education; 3) affirmation that humans are irreducibly spiritual and material; 4) citizenship in the Republic of Letters; 5) belief in “a power of some supernatural order” (1-11). What have Christians lost by holding this word in suspicion? Has suspicion of the word itself prevented the tradition as well?
Birzer: Great question, Matthew. Words matter, and, of course, as has happened so often in the English tradition, words evolve. Humanism became a serious “god-like” term—equivalent to liberty, democracy, etc.—in the nineteenth century. It became so popular by the 1890s and early 1900s that everyone wanted to claim humanism for their own. Like our current use of democracy, it had come to mean “everything that is good.” The height of such cultural capture of the term came in the late 1920s, when a wayward Protestant minister adopted the term for his own form of “religion.” That form of religion—devoid of anything supernatural and really, frankly, not so kind to the natural—eventually evolved into the powerful Humanist Manifesto of 1933, which its professions of desired secularism. Simply put, the writers of that manifesto captured the word and have held it in captivity—by their allies and their opponents—for nearly a century now. At its most simple definition, being a humanist means believing in the humanities, the liberal arts. At its most simple definition, then, being a Christian means being a follower of Jesus Christ. A Christian humanist, properly understand and at the most fundamental level, means being a follower of Jesus Christ and being a lover of the liberal arts. Of course, the implications for these things are immense, especially when one starts getting into the Word and the Incarnation
— Read on www.frontporchrepublic.com/2020/09/brass-spittoon-bradley-birzer-on-christian-humanism/
Several years ago, I read Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France and offered here at The Imaginative Conservative seventeen separate essays (observations) on that grand work. I now propose—over the course of the next half year—to do the same with Alexis de Tocqueville’s masterwork, Democracy in America. I will be reading it from page one and proceeding through both volumes. If you’d like to follow along, I’ll be using the two-volume 2012 Liberty Fund edition, available in a print edition as well as (free) in a download PDF/ebook edition.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2020/09/reflections-tocqueville-pervasiveness-equality-bradley-birzer.html
As the man pleaded his case, Father Maximilian Kolbe came forward and offered his life for the one pleading. The German commandant of Auschwitz—probably rather shocked—agreed, and Kolbe, with nine others, stripped naked and entered the 3-foot high concrete bunker… (essay by Bradley J. Birzer)
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2010/08/sacrificial-love-saint-maximilian-kolbe-bradley-birzer.html
Many high schools and colleges across America canceled in-person graduations during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, but Hillsdale College decided to host an in-person ceremony a few months late. The college approached state and local authorities, worked with the local health department and four epidemiologists, and hosted a crowd of roughly 2,000 people on July 18. More than two weeks later, no new coronavirus cases have been traced to the ceremony.
— Read on pjmedia.com/culture/tyler-o-neil/2020/08/04/hillsdale-college-had-graduation-during-covid-and-the-black-plague-of-death-didnt-descend-n733768
Jump now to the time of Corona, in the year of our Lord 2020. “Conservative is kind of a meaningless word now,” a young and skilled writer (one I like to read, Brad Polumbo) recently stated on social media. Meanwhile, over at the venerable Intercollegiate Studies Institute, an institution charged with promoting conservatism within higher education, another young and gifted writer, Gracy Olmstead, writes: “I am loath, in fact, to embrace the label ‘conservative’ myself—in part because of the ways most people define it, and in part because I am unsure whether any political label fully defines my beliefs.”
I suppose it must be age and, perhaps to some extent, ego, but I find such statements to be as mystifying as they are unsatisfying. While I agree that conservatism is not, nor ever should be, a political label, I am far less certain that it should be loathed or dismissed so readily. I also fear that in this age of Trumpian populism and soft authoritarianism, conservatism is all too readily confused with populism.
The most important question for any conservative remains: what should be conserved?
— Read on www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/theres-no-real-definition-of-conservatism-and-thats-a-good-thing/