What proceeds is an argument for conservatism. Often in ecclesiastical, political, and social contexts it is often unknown what conservatives actually believe, or what motivates them to do what they do. I wish more people understood conservatives; but, alas, they wish not to. The spirit of this post will not be particularly related to conservative Christians, but it is written in this spirit. In other words, why do conservative Christians , particularly among the Reformed, do what we do? In this post, I hope to answer that question with the equal hope that it will motivate conservatives in their denominations to continue to hold fast. This post is an adaptation I wrote in which I defend conservatism more broadly, but hope will be taken up by conservative Reformed Christians.
Providing the Argument.
What does it mean to be a conservative? I wish to point out that being closed-minded is not always serving one as an intellectual vice. To be sure, being resistant to the change around me may be understandable, but there may be those who would argue that it is not a good thing. So, why does one feel this way? I first want to argue, along with Roger Scruton, that if one loves life then they will love what has given them life (1). It is the duty both to self and to society that is what gives one the “will to live” in order to maintain that which one is given (2). It is the attachment to one’s immediate surroundings that establishes one’s passionate feelings to one’s home, one’s livelihood, one’s family, one’s community, and so on. These attachments are what Edmund Burke calls “little platoons.” He writes, “To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind” (3). In regards to the common man, his primary concern is for his own little platoons. If one were to feel this is threatened, it is natural for one to recoil. This recoiling reflects a natural tendency among all of human beings. Societies naturally carry with them privileges and benefits that either are not or cannot be adequately shared among all those within a given society (4).
Secondly, it must be said that any time change may come in society, not only are such privileges unable to be equally distributed, but it shrouds out self-preservation. Thus, membership in something beyond oneself is gravely important. If social membership, free association, is taken away then so goes social cohesion (5). Hence, why Burke argues that if “civil society is the offspring of convention, that convention must be its law”(6). This is indicative of a sense in which Burke believes convention to be a matter social knowledge, which society cannot be governed without (7). Thus, it is actually gravely important that one be resistant to change at certain points. However, what those points are must be determined separately, not wholesale.The changes in one’s situation is more than just a nostalgic feeling of a bygone age, but one that was sufficient for social cohesion between himself, his family, his religious communities (should he have one), and so on.
Lastly, I hope it is clear that there is a sense in which allegiance to one’s communities, or “little platoons,” and the traditions they uphold is more than a mere matter of opinion; it is a matter of self-preservation. Hence, why conservatives are often portrayed as closed-minded, and are the ones who maintain a spirit of delay for change (8). However, this is not a vice. The idea of being against change when one feels their own self-preservation, the preservation of one’s local and national loyalties, is at stake does not strike me as an intellectually vicious attitude. It is important to remember what intellectual vices are, i.e. those dispositions that make us bad thinkers (9). Indeed, intellectual vices may have the exact effect of false beliefs or prevent one from achieving true beliefs. However, the determination of whether closed-mindedness serves as an intellectual vice is determined on a case-by-case basis (10). Closed-mindedness is not always an intellectual vice, much in the same way that open-mindedness is not always an intellectual virtue. In the common man’s case, that he is against change in terms of self-preservation, I would go so far as to say being open-minded would actually be an intellectually vicious. To consider and be willing to change to something that would upset social cohesion, thus interfering with one’s established way of life, would be an incredibly foolish thing to do. It would strike at the heart of what someone is trying to do, which is to uphold a way of life that was difficult to create but may easily be destroyed. This is especially true when it comes to the “good things that come to us as collective assets: peace, freedom, law, civility, public spirit, the security of property and family life, in all of which we depend on the cooperation of others while having no means singlehandedly to obtain it”(11).
1.) Roger Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism (South Bend: St. Augustine Press, 2002), 10.
2.) Ibid., 10.
3.) Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1790), 47.
4.) Roger Scruton, Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition (New York: All Points Books, 2017), 50.
5.) Ibid., 51.
6.) Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1790), 59.
7.) Roger Scruton, Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition (New York: All Points Books, 2017), 51.
8.) Roger Scruton, A Political Philosophy: Arguments For Conservatism (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006), ix.
9.) Heather Battaly, “Closed-Mindedness and Dogmatism,” Cambridge University Press 15, no 3 (2018): 20.
10.) Ibid., 21.
11.) Roger Scruton, How To Be A Conservative (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014), viii.