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Socialism As A Critique On Conservatism

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Socialism is a critique of the French Revolution and by extension Conservatism. Whereas conservatism supports individual agency, socialism completely refutes it. Conservatism is made of four key claims which support the rampant capitalism after the French Revolution. Edmund Burke argues that government is a practical science in which exists a natural aristocracy. Joseph de Maistre posits that governments are not abstractions but are rather reactions to specific issues. Michael Oakeshott declares that governments are built on dispositions instead of ideologies. Ronald Reagan promotes minimal government and individual action. In contrast however, Socialism is a critique of the French Revolution which is based on three claims by three different authors. Albert Einstein reasons that each citizen is indebted to society. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels argue the importance of usurping society’s means of production. Bernie Sanders propounds that economic rights are innate human rights.

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Burke argues that governments need to be more pragmatic and realistic. He believes that as time changes, the government must also adapt to the growing needs. However, he hopes to solve these growing conflicts through the reaffirmation of old traditions in a new environment. In Burke’s essay, “Reflections on the Revolution in France”, he writes:

The science of constructing a commonwealth, or renovating it, or reforming it, is, like every other experimental science, not to be taught a priori. Nor is it a short experience that can instruct us in that practical science; because the real effects of moral causes are not always immediate; but that which in the first instance is prejudicial may be excellent in its remoter operation; and its excellence may arise even … from the ill effects it produces in the beginning.

In this quotation Burke equates building a government to conducting multiple science experiments. He rations that similar to the scientific field, it is impossible to create a hypothesis in this case a government, without testing it. In Burke’s profound realization, he also decides that for government to function there is a natural aristocracy. Burke writes “A true natural aristocracy is not a separate interest in the state, or separable from it. It is an essential integrant part of any large body rightly constituted. It is formed out of a class of legitimate presumptions, which, taken as generalities, must be admitted for actual truths”(Burke He argues that only few people have the capabilities to lead, and by not allowing these certain people to have power one is doomed to fall victim to their innate selfishness and greed. Each citizen is force fed their life’s path based on a set generalizations and prejudices. Burke’s views reinforce conservatism’s values of hierarchy and individualism.

Maistre professes that a government is a product of the surrounding ethnic and cultural influences. He believes that governments should be institutions which are molded around the specific issues of society. Like Burke, he believes that society should be more pragmatic in its approach to forming a government. Maistre writes “A constitution which is made for all nations is made for none; it is a pure abstraction, an academic exercise for the mind, modelled after some imaginary hypothesis, and must therefore be addressed to man, in whatever imaginary place he dwells. ” Maistre impugns society’s ability to form a constitution that works for an entire people because the tribulations they face are different. In his system each community has a different system they are accommodated for. Interestingly despite Maistre’s overarching view of individualism, he also believes in a “national soul. He defines the national soul as “. . . a people’s useful prejudices”. He then states that:

Government, like true religion, has its dogmas, its mysteries, its priests. To subject it to individual analysis would destroy. It has life only through the national soul, or political faith, i. e. , its creed. Man’s main need is that his tendency toward [individual and independent] reason should be restricted in two respects: it should be stifled and it should submerge itself in the national soul, so that it exchanges its individual existence for an alternative communal existence, in much the same way that a river flowing into the sea still exists in the larger body of water, but without being distinct from it.

In this quotation Maistre use a nature metaphor to describe the identity of a paragon world. He equates the ocean to the world which encompasses a multitude of smaller the segment. Then he corresponds individual nations to a sea with multiple rivers flowing into it. The rivers represent the citizens which when in unison give the nation life. Maistre uses the national soul theory to support the growing capitalism after the French Revolution. Capitalism allows individual nations to be powered by a group of working people in a communal existence. The workers which Maistre views as unfit to lead give up part of their freedom toward a shared goal of advancing the state. Maistre’s ideas reinforce conservatism’s virtue of being different but together.

Oakeshott argues that conservatism is not a set of lofty values but rather a disposition towards certain conduct and situations. For instance, he claims that being conservatism means being aware enough of the faculties we have so that one cares about losing them. Essentially, a disposition of cherishing old traditions and acknowledging current conditions. In Oakeshott’s essay “On Being Conservative”, he writes:

To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss. Familiar relationships and loyalties will be preferred to the allure of more profitable attachments; to acquire and to enlarge will be less important than to keep, to cultivate and to enjoy; the grief of loss will be more acute than the excitement of novelty or promise.

In this quotation Oakeshott emphasizes the importance of complacency. To him being conservative means staying with what you know and making the best out of it. He challenges efforts to ameliorate society be he is seized in a state of fear. For conservatives, the strive to improve not only your own life but also the lives of people less fortunate endangers the validity of your own relationships. In the French Revolution this appears as keeping capitalism because on the surface it improves the standard of living and quality of life for the bosses. Oakeshott’s work helps strengthen the role capitalism plays in the conservative movement.

Reagan redefines conservatism into set of economic practices, religious beliefs, and adamant nationalism recognized as Modern American Conservatism. Regan defines this movement saying, ‘The first theme is fiscal conservatism, low taxation, and minimal government; the second, the importance he attaches to Americans adhering to Christian beliefs and values ; the third, a retrospective look at these themes and an added emphasis on what he calls “the new patriotism” prized by him and by many other conservatives”(TBD). Reagan’s conservatism focuses firstly on economic practices. Firstly, he argues that citizens should have autonomy over how their money is spent; he argues secondly that corporations should have greater autonomy over how they operate. President Reagan fulfills these views by implementing an economic strategy called fiscal conservatism. Fiscal conservatism is the belief that money is best spent without government involvement. Reagan goes about this through cutting government regulations on businesses. Modern American Conservatism opts for lower public spending which in turn allows taxes to be lowered. Reagan introduces Christianity as a basis for the protection of liberties and freedoms. By connecting liberty with God, any attack on liberty now becomes an attack on God. It also gives the nation something to hold on to while the country undergoes massive reform for the white and wealthy. Reagan also popularizes Maistre’s national soul in what he calls “the new patriotism”. He revitalizes the importance of a shared identity under a unified nation.

Albert Einstein argues that each citizen is indebted to society due to the contributions of every other citizen. Einstein calls this obligation one’s social being. Whereas John Hobbes believes there is only solitary being, Einstein reasons that each individual has both which compete for control. He writes:

Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society.

31 October 2020

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