Kirk And Variety

Conservative Republican philosophy went off the tracks in the last election.

There were several things that weighed down Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, but only one thing that sunk it. It was the following statement he made:

“47% of the population will vote for the president no matter what. . . (they) are dependent on the government; (they) believe they are victims. . . They pay no income taxes. I’ll never convince them to take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

The problem was not that Romney was misquoted, it was that he actually believed what he said. Worse, he was merely reciting elements of “the modern conservative” play book.

If a statement like this continues to be part of conservative political philosophy, the Republican Party will never win a national election, and will continue to witness a decreasing base of support. The party will cease to be a worthy opponent in the great debate over ideas designed to impact the hearts and minds of Americans.

The Fifth Principle

Modern conservative political philosophy is the product of political theorist and writer Russell Kirk.

Kirk wrote the Ten Principles of Conservatism. His fifth principle supports the idea of “variety”. To Kirk, equality is a false notion. Besides equality at the judgment bar, and before a court of law, equality does not exist, and any attempt to make it so is wrong.

Inequality is natural and appropriate, he says. There’s inequality in athletic ability, intellectual capacity, and economic capability. Allowing these inequalities to manifest themselves causes leadership to emerge. Talented leadership, not systems of equality, is what makes a nation great. Kirk calls this the power of “variety.”

Wrong Headed

On the surface Kirk’s idea appears to be reasonable. But, dig a little deeper and you will find very shallow roots to support his position.

One of the reasons for the creation of democracy throughout Europe and America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was the unsustainable idea of class distinction.

One of the assumptions upholding class distinction was the idea of superiority. Royal families, for example, believed they were superior to commoners, hence more capable of leading. More pathetically, commoners believed they were inferior to monarchs, and thus less capable of leading.

Inequality was seen as an enduring reality and a social good.

However, with the dawning of democratic ideals this assumption was challenged. One of those ideals was penned by Thomas Jefferson in June of 1776 in the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

An awakening to the “self-evident” possibility of human equality had taken root.

By contrast the idea of “variety”, at least as explained in modern times by Kirk, seemed wrong headed and deeply flawed.

Kirk, who passed away in 1994, would probability take exception to my critical analysis of his idea of variety. Although, I don’t know why.

After all, it was Kirk who was critical of the creation of the public state college system in the 1950’s, saying it was a waste of money trying to educate the masses in an attempt to engineer and create equality in post war America.

He was also critical of the post WWII GI Bill that allowed returning military personnel the opportunity to attend college for virtually no expense to them personally.

To Kirk, trying to bring equality of education to the masses was a failed notion. Implementing artificial systems of equality creates “social stagnation” and a “deadening egalitarianism.” (Egalitarianism: the right of all people to pursue social, political, and economic equality.)

Evidently, Kirk never realized that in large measure the greatest middle class in history was created from those social experiments? Even Romney admits that the middle class has to be brought back to full strength.

Try To Improve

I think conservatives in America need to rethink their political philosophy. If not, the debate of great ideas in America falls short.