Symposium: What Should We Be Conserving? - Intercollegiate Studies Institute: Think. Live Free.

Symposium: What Should We Be Conserving?

As Samuel Gregg stated in Politics, Ideas and the West, the Conservative movement would do well to return to its rich intellectual and cultural heritage in the interest of renewing unity and bettering its approach to modern day issues. After a careful study of Western thought, many will find a profound view of the human person emerging–one which sees him as a composite being—body and soul—and who has a transcendental desire which the things of this world cannot wholly satisfy. Aristotle, the foundation of many influential writers in Western Culture, stated just this, and following such a view is his account that the proper goal of politics ought to be the happiness and general flourishing of man. Now, whether your worldview is Judeo-Christian or not, it is easy enough to see that this conception of politics presupposes a certain dignity of man.

I’m sure this sounds idealistic—perhaps naïve—in light of our modern culture and the political climate. But is it, really?

If Mr. Gregg is right and conservatives ought to re-examine Western thought, this idea of man will take a prominent place. Further, this is exactly what ought to be presupposed as we move forward in bettering our approach to the world of politics. The alternative is frightening because of its foundation in a cynical and exclusively rational view of man. Even if it is not as explicit as the view outlined above, I do think a more positive view of man is presupposed in how Conservatives approach modern issues—we simply have forgotten to acknowledge it. As we argue amongst ourselves about Syria, marriage, the death penalty and everything in between, are we really asking any question except how to uphold our view of man: that he deserves happiness because of something in who he is? And that happiness will never, ever be fully reached by confining ourselves to the religion of empiricism or worse—relativism. In the words of Paul VI:

When a divine instruction and the hope of life eternal are wanting, man’s dignity is most grievously lacerated, as current events often attest; riddles of life and death, of guilt and grief go unsolved with the frequent result that men succumb to despair.

It is taking this view seriously and beginning to (re)develop a political system which reflects an appropriate wariness that will save us from the “soft despotism, nihilism, emotivism and rampant self-loathing” of which Mr. Gregg spoke.

This article is in response to Politics, Ideas, and the West” and is part of the symposium on “What’s Wrong with Conservatism?

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