Opinion

The Conservatism of Russell Kirk: Social Continuity

President Abraham Lincoln, an excellent conservative, described the probable destruction of the United States in his Lyceum address: “From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe and Asia…could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. No, if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we will live forever or die by suicide.” Our destruction is realized when we abandon our ways as Americans and neglect our social continuity.

Singing the national anthem before football games is a small example of social continuity. It reaffirms the state’s legitimacy and our bonds as brothers and sisters in nationhood. The movement to take a knee during the national anthem in football games is in practice a direct assault on the social continuity of the United States. With or without intent to attack the sense of American community, the movement to protest the national anthem is in practice a net loss to the country as a whole. Through intending to cast doubt or to end a socially contiguous ritual, citizens of the same state begin lose their similarities and distrust their fellow citizens. One can change policy without violating the social continuity, and must act accordingly or risk dismantling the state itself and constituting a state of destructive civil conflict.

The canon of social continuity rests on the idea that justice is not natural, but artificial. In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes defines justice practically as a result of law. Law is the result of the common powers over man, and the common powers over man arise as a means to end a state of conflict. Therefore, justice is an invention of man necessary in practice to maintain order over conflict and to facilitate prosperity. For thousands of years, people have gone through war and peace, trial and error, and have arrived at the rules and prosperity of today by learning from those sacrifices and hardships of the past. Social continuity is the call for continuing the true justice, forged in the trials by fire of our past, in order to continue in the security and prosperity of the state.

This canon of conservative thought is in danger of redefinition or outright abandonment. Today’s common ideal of justice based on personal morality and subjective truth is to blame for this push towards abandoning social continuity. If one believes in standards for correctness, one would likely believe in the merit of social continuity. The idealistic view of justice, where what any individual dreams as justice is so, naturally finds conflict with social continuity as personal morality can overturn it by virtue of one’s own personal taste. Social continuity is either redefined to fit personal morality, or is abandoned in some form of revolution to dismantle the structure entirely and erect an ideal state.

These challenges to social continuity ignore certain problems. First, sticking to the tradition of American ideals has allowed the individuals their present advantages, and even their ability to question the structure itself. It is difficult to justify the moral advantage of an alternate state when the present state of the United States is both flexible and fair enough, thanks to the preservation of American ideals. Second, transient causes should not define the United States, as transient causes are usually idealistic rather than practical and do not solve problems so much as create new ones. This haphazard factor is why transient causes are more detrimental than beneficial, and should not to be implemented for their own sake at the expense of destroying a necessary support to the state as a whole.

The rule of social continuity is mocked and trivialized in contemporary universities, especially in those fields which promote cultural relativism. In order to affirm that there are good ideas and bad ideas, right practices and wrong practices, one must have a standard to identify and judge ideas and practices. This standard develops in the social body of a nation. Cultural relativism destroys this standard, tears our social fabric, and goes against the practical Hobbesian definition of justice. The thousands of years of trial and error which have built our success become irrelevant under relativism. Defined, cultural relativism affirms that there are no such things as good ideas or bad ideas, right or wrong practices, in a vain effort to make every culture accepted. This is an idealistic rather than practical view of justice. Some ideas and practices are better than others, and the American social continuity is not only the best one, but is the standard which the world follows. The American development of ideals inspires the rest of the world, sustains its citizens, and has brought forth prosperity for generations; yet, it is mocked by relativists who would believe that all ideas are created equal.

The preservation of the state is an immeasurable gift to us, our children, and our world. Even if the individual does not find a clear conscience with the present society, it is far more beneficial to everyone if the union of a society is preserved. Without the power of social commonality, distrust and ambition would naturally cause conflict and there would be ceaseless war, and if there is no common power over people there will be no such thing as injustice as justice can no longer be affirmed. Only in this ceaseless war would people recognize its detriment and agree upon oaths with one another, call them laws, and enforce them in the form of a common power over people. In short, the state controls justice and justice is only possible if there is a state. The most disadvantageous peace is better than the most just war. The common bonds of society preserve the state. Social continuity is one of the state’s most integral supports not just because of its natural affirmation of the state’s legitimacy but because of its universal connection to all citizens in practice.

Social continuity, even if one disagrees with present policy, must not be violated because preserving the nation is an unquestionable good. For, through preserving the state, justice will continue to exist in contrast to a state of war. Social continuity creates a common bond between citizens and it is through this bond that shared values and trust is facilitated. Good ideas and practices tried and tested for thousands of years of recorded history have been taken into account, and as a result, prosperity and abundance have come to our advantage. Now that one of our greatest advantages has become subject to doubt and ridicule now is the time for conservatives to once more affirm the virtue of the social continuity. Preserving the social fabric of America would ultimately be an unquestionable good for the hundreds of millions of Americans and for the peace of the entire world.

1 comment on “The Conservatism of Russell Kirk: Social Continuity

  1. Tyrone Jiminés

    “In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes”

    Did you know that a Leviathan is a big whale who eats people in the ocean? And no I’m not talking about your menopausal lesbian literature teacher. Why are you talking about such a violent creature in this article? You need to back up your claims with evidence, proof, and more evidence. No pictures is no story. Mayb e you shoudl have learned that in journalism school?

    Liked by 1 person

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