Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Russell Kirk and the Tyranny of the More Energetic Natures

Russell Kirk sets out two principles in setting out "the general lineaments of the kind of government which seems reasonably consonant with the general welfare." (Kirk has never a man to use 10 ordinary words when 20 words with a few archaisms thrown in would do.)
The first principle is that a good government allows the more energetic natures among a people to fulfil their promise, while ensuring that these persons shall not tyrannize over the mass of men. (33)
It's this last phrase that is of interest coming from an American conservative. With their libertarian bent, they find it impossible that "energetic natures" could "tyrannize over the mass of men"; only governments can tyrannize by definition.

Kirk later adds that "not only should a just government recognize the rights of the more talented natures, but it should recognize the right of the majority of men not to be agitated and bullied by these aspiring talents....there have been ages in which the aristocracy, natural or hereditary, has usurped the whole governance of life, demanding of the average man a tribute and an obedience which deprive the majority of their desire to live by custom and prescription..." (34) He thinks that natural aristocracy is not a problem in his time (1964), though, because it is the era of the mass man, of Ortega's revolt of the masses.

I think Kirk was missing the creation of an oppressive aristocracy right under his nose. Not the aristocracy of businessmen or capitalists that leftists might perceive. Aren't our new aristocrats the masters of the media, of Hollywood, of television, of popular music, even of newspapers as long as they're still around? From the time a child is sentient, they surround Kirk's fortresses of custom and tradition and besiege them with a 24/7 barrage of cultural and moral decadence. They ensure that those opposed to their rule must fight a guerilla war against a hostile culture in every area of life. Especially noxious is the insidious influence they exert over children, insistent upon asserting their control from the time they are first sentient. Unless parents or church or experience protect or rescue them, their worldview will be formed by their media overlords and they will be tyrannized by them until their dying breath.

And a tyranny is something that exists to be overthrown and destroyed.

(Quotations from "Prescription, Authority and Ordered Freedom" in Frank Meyer, What is Conservatism? (Toronto: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964) 23- 40. Frank Meyer was the great apostle of "fusionism", an attempt to find, in philosophy, a dialectical synthesis between traditionalist and libertarian conservatism, and, more practically, to stop these two factions from destroying each other. I'm reading this collection of essays by folk such as Kirk, Kendall, Hayek, etc. to see if it has any relevance to the war going on today between libertarians and social conservatives.)