A Credo for Authentic Conservatives and Other Sane People

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I. The Politics of Human Nature.

Morality and politics are a reflection of and extension of our nature which is not infinitely perfectible or subject to reinvention. This is not to say that social, cultural, and technical improvements are not valuable, only that they do not override the basic facts of life.

A Human beings are not born as rootless individuals but as members of a network of relationships rooted in genetic kinship and marriage. Our natural responsibilities to other humans, while they may vary in degree and type from one society to another, are proportional to this relationship. Thus I owe more to a mother, sister, wife, daughter than to an aunt, cousin, sister-in-law, or niece, and owe more to an aunt, cousin, sister-in-law, or niece than to an unrelated person.

B Males and females are different, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and, although there is a great deal of overlap in these qualities, these differences are at the basis of differing sets of responsibilities.

C Sexual “dimorphism” (B) combined with genetically based responsibilities constitute the natural foundation of the single most indispensable human institution, the family.

D In any society larger than an extended family, the bonds of love and friendship (Greek philia, a love that unites parents and children but also genetically unrelated friends) are indispensable to maintaining order.

E. Human beings under most circumstances quite naturally seek to survive, thrive, and propagate, but they also protect the ability of their family members and friends or social allies (socii) to do the same.

F Survival and propagation require a steady and insured access to basic elements—food and shelter at the minimum. Thus they must, in their families, have a sufficient economic autonomy to maintain their existence and provide for the next generation. Thus, while it is idle to speak of “natural rights,” we do have natural necessities and duties that require us to have a home and an income, whether that income is in the form of food or of symbolic bits of metal or paper with which we can secure food and shelter.

G Marriage and family are natural institutions fulfilling human needs; and, since each presupposes a hierarchy of authority, not only society itself but also social and political authority are natural, in the sense that they are the outgrowth of human nature and natural necessities. Thus there has never been a state of nature, much less of natural equality. In the most nearly natural human societies of which we have any knowledge, females defer to males, children to parents, young to old.

H The origins of the commonwealth, then, are much as Aristotle, Cicero, Thomas, and Althusius supposed: a progression from the “dyad” of the marital pair to the extended family to the village or tribal community to that confederation of different lineages, tribes, villages that is the commonwealth. Each society, of course, has its own history, but the general outline is clear enough.

I Since the commonwealth is an extension of marriage, family, and community, and since it exists, at least in part, to provide for the needs less perfectly supplied by lower forms of association, it can be viewed as relatively legitimate whenever it assists families and communities in their never-ending quest for food, shelter, and stability, but when it deprives these lower associations of the necessary economic autonomy to survive and propagate, takes away homes, or interferes in the relations between parents and children, husbands and wives, promotes adultery and abortion [Nota bene: I am not saying tolerates], it is acting illegitimately. Such infractions do not necessarily render a government illegitimate, but a systematic pattern of abuse—e.g., the liberation of wives and children, seizure of private property, confiscatory taxation—the legitimacy of such a government must fall under suspicion of acting tyrannically, far more so than when it merely deprives citizens of such civil rights as the franchise, jury duty, etc.

J From these considerations flows the principle of subsidiarity, which is often misstated or misunderstood.  Although the word is of fairly recent origin–the first use I can find refers to it as “Well-known”–but the idea is not.  Since authority flows from the primary institutions (family and kinships) to intermediate (community, tribe, village, province) to the commonwealth or state, the higher levels of authority should not invade the lower provinces and drain them of their energies.  While some transfer of authority and responsibility is inevitable in a complex society, the village or town, in principle, should not be invading the authority of the household except in extreme cases, e.g. murder and harsh violence, and even then it is better to turn to some  intermediate institution, such as a family council.  Similarly, the state (in the US) or province should not meddle in the internal affairs of the village, city, or town nor the national state in the affairs of the province.  Of course, every commonwealth has its own history and biases.  For example, states mean a great deal in the American and German traditions, but not so much in England.  The Roman Empire, though it was made up of provinces,  was more a confederation of  city-states than anything else.

Another name for subsidiarity is federalism, but both terms have been abused to mean a top-down power structure in which the rulers at the top generously concede some authority back to the lower levels of association.  Such was the so-called “New Federalism” of conservative Republicans, and such is the concept of subsidiarity that Pope John XXIII seemed to have in mind.  These neo-federalists and neo-subsidiarists may well be well-intentioned, but their unitary understanding of sovereignty–going back to Bodin and Hobbes–deprives families, communities, and provinces of their existential authority.

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