As Mr. Martin mentioned in passing below, the philosophy of the ancient world, (and the philosophy of Christendom, once the former was, as has been said many times, baptized by Christian thinkers, culminating in the great Aristotelian synthesis of the Dumb Ox, Saint Thomas Aquinas) hinged upon the parallel between order in the soul and order in the commonwealth. This was an insight into the political character of man that was not lost on our more immediate ancestors, here in America. Their literature abounds with quotations emphasizing the folly of trying to erect a tolerable commonwealth upon the sifting sand of human vice or appetite
Yet a whole vital thrust of Liberalism — indeed, perhaps its most vital and enduring thrust, considering the plain popularity of a philosophy that addresses itself to the desires and passions of man — has always been the emancipation of appetite. Indeed, we can say with some authority that the emancipation of the acquisitive passion, the desire to possess, to master, to control, was at the very root of Liberalism in its initial revolt. Grounding human politics upon acquisition, as opposed to piety, or justice, unity, or similar pre-modern preoccupations — this was the original Liberal project. Its success is visible everywhere we look. The two primary forms of political economy, which have dominated modern politics for nearly a century, Capitalism and Socialism, share the assumption that the purpose of politics is to liberate men to prosper, to relieve their material privation. They both make virtue or holiness or community secondary to material advancement.
Recognizing this is not to demand an immediate overthrow of the Liberal order. Though I think his influence on the American is quite overstated, still it cannot be fairly denied that Locke and his acolytes were high on the minds of quite a number of the Framers. Liberalism has roots in America, undoubtedly; and no Conservative can contemplate the shock that would ensue upon some sudden excision of this tradition.
What we aim at instead is, in Michael Oakeshott’s fine phrase, the politics of repair. The emancipations of Liberalism, which began very sanely in the desire to alleviate brute destitution, and in an instinctual revulsion to the bloodlust of the Wars of Religion, were carried along by their firm logic to the madness we see today: Madness such as a conference at Princeton dedicated to the defense of “voluntary amputation” of “oppressive limbs”; or, more dreadfully still, the legal regime we suffer under which makes sexual emancipation embrace a ironclad right to execute the unborn.
Our political world may be observed as the wreckage left in the wake of Liberalism’s logic; and as Conservatives our duty must include a patient effort at repair.
We are fortunate, indeed, to have so rich a heritage of thought and action upon this head. Even Americans who had drunk deeply of Liberalism, such a Jefferson, were yet torn away from it by more humane concerns for community and justice. And the Preamble to our very Constitution sets forth for us six purposes, none of which falls neatly into the Liberal rubric. Willmoore Kendall once argued, even, that these purposes were “pretty clearly cribbed” from mediaeval scholastic philosophy. That is cause for hope. And there are other signs of hope, which is why we here at WWwtW say that we repudiate the “fashionable sin” of despair.