Right Minds – Michael O’Dwyer Connolly – Nationalist Conservative

Why I am a Nationalist Conservative:

I don’t actually like political labels. They’re restrictive, often poorly understood and regularly misinterpreted. All the same, if I had to label myself in simple terms, it would probably be that. In convoluted terms it would probably be ‘esoteric nationalist futurism with a strongly conservative ethos,’ but no one knows what that means, and very few probably want to know.

Politics, in my view, is simply the system we create for organising our societies. Obviously, we want productive, healthy, functional societies. Those that aren’t have a tendency to collapse. I’m a practical man, so to properly understand my political views, we have to engage with the very practical concept of civilisation as a linear progression.

We humans are creatures of flesh and blood, evolved from stardust and energy on a rock travelling the endless expanse of space. This biological life, and by extension the civilisation that it develops to give itself an order and a purpose, is a one-way street. You either reach the stars and spread among them, or your species eventually dies on its rock, either destroying itself or being destroyed via cosmic accident.

A civilisation advances through its eras of complexity. In our case; tribal, feudal, industrial, modern and so forth. There is no room for mistake, for regression or for subjectivity. You advance quickly or you exhaust your planet’s resources and die having lost the only race that ever mattered.

Where the hell does nationalism and conservatism come into all this?

It’s a surprisingly simple connection actually. Nationalism and conservatism are political ideologies, they are some of many ways in which we can organise our civilisation. If our civilisational goal is the advancement of ourselves and by extension humanity – as it should be – then those ideologies are the best way of doing it.

Nationalism is essential because without it, nations will simply degrade and fall apart over time. Nationalism is pride in one’s people, history, culture and the struggle for a better future for your country. It grounds people, gives them purpose, motivation. We see this very clearly now in Europe, whole countries lose sight of why they exist. They ask whether they even deserve to exist. The door is flung open for incredibly damaging and nonsensical philosophies to take advantage of a demoralised people.

The belief in your nation and your people with whom you share centuries, if not millennia, of history and culture – is absolutely integral to the long-term functionality of any society, any civilisation. Perhaps most importantly of all, it allows actions to be taken purely for the good of the nation as a whole. There are plenty of other arguments for nationalism, even spiritual ones, but that is simply my practical take on its necessity.

As for conservatism, it provides the healthy moral and social footing that is not necessarily inbuilt into nationalism, though they often come together. Nationalism can come in many forms, you can even get left-wing nationalism as strange as that may sound, which is why it is important to specify the conservative ethos of my beliefs.

I yearn for the future, as any biological organism should. That’s the principle this entire article is based around. However it is no secret that the future contains problems, dangers, and difficult questions. With the advancement of technology, things like abortion became possible. That is the role of the conservative side of this futuristic coin, to identify the new possibilities that emerge, and decide the morally sound course of action that will not harm society.

This will be a very important role going forward. Technologies like gene-editing, cybernetic augmentation and plenty of others are only around the corner. We’ll almost undoubtedly live to see them. If one is only concerned with technological advancement or national advancement, it is easy to overlook the societal questions that arise from them. Should we edit genes merely to destroy disease, or should we make humans faster, stronger and more intelligent than ever before?

You might think this a harsh outlook, a take on ideology and personal philosophy that is too practical. It’s probably the oddest of the Burke’s Right Minds series so far – and we’ve had libertarian anarchists. Yet I think it the most morally defensible ideology.

Caring about your nation, your people and your society, while at the same time working towards the advancement of all humanity is the only ideology that promises to exalt people, to let them reach the fullest of their potential.

Libertarian society will fail because it cares only for the individual. Religious society will fail because they care only for heaven. Marxist society will fail because… well, for a plethora of reasons. Conservatism alone will stagnate. Nationalism alone is simply not enough.

Put them together and look towards the future. Maybe then we’ll have something to work with.

Michael O’Dwyer Connolly is Director & Editor at The Burkean. You can follow him on Twitter @BurkeanMichael

Right Minds – John Waters – Progressive

Burke’s Right Minds is a project exploring and promoting viewpoints within the conservative intellectual sphere, jointly run by The Burkean and the Edmund Burke Institute

The sort of Progressive I am:

It seems that if you do not agree to be ‘left,’ you will be designated ‘right,’ without choice or requirement for consent. I have never liked any of these labels, and reject them all. Even the word ‘conservative’ has become contaminated by malodorous propaganda, even though, as Roger Scruton has observed, everyone is conservative in the everyday things: if you are looking for a midwife at four in the morning, a belief in the value of crystals asserted on a website or Golden Pages entry is unlikely to clinch it.

I don’t call myself ‘conservative,’ still less ‘right-wing’ or ‘right’. I am a progressive, which I will explain in a little while.

When I was a young man, I thought of myself as a lefty, but it was the soft leftism that comes from reading too many Billy Bragg interviews in the NME. I had also read my Orwell back to front, and was in no sense at a loss as to the facts. But being a lefty was de rigueur for a rock journalist seeking street cred, so I paid my dues and saluted in all the right places.

Three things changed me:

1. Alcoholism, which woke (hah!) me to the precise dynamic of my human mechanism, reminding me that I was a creature making his way through a given world, driven by a desire for something far greater than anything in a bottle or even a party dress.

2. Prague 1990. After the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, I visited Prague to cover the first post-Communist elections in what was then Czechoslovakia. A man called Ivan became my guide and, going around, we talked a great deal about politics and life. Then in my early 30s, I was still in conventional Paddy Radical mode. Ivan was having none of it. Remorselessly, he outlined what leftism had done to his people and his country, how socialists had terrorised and slaughtered, demonised and imprisoned, how they had stultified the life of Czechoslovakia and imposed upon it what the great dissident and soon-to-be president Vaclav Havel had called ‘a Biafra of the spirit.’

On the day of my departure, he came with me to the airport, and on his knees in the taxi nursed a cardboard box, refusing to tell me what it contained. At the departure gates, he solemnly shook hands, handed me the box and waited while I opened it. Inside were a dozen busts of the most infamous socialist top brass – Stalin, Lenin and some of the local Czech half-breed – made of candle wax. Ivan had been given the job of cleaning up an impromptu alter constructed at the spot where the Velvet Revolution had kicked off, and had found this rather quintessentially Czech way of disposing of the wax that flowed onto the sidewalk from the thousands of candles placed there by passers-by. Now, as we said goodbye, he looked me in the eye. ‘You must take to Ireland,’ he said, ‘the heads of the socialist murderers.’

The penny finally dropped. These guys were not cuddly-cool icons, but tyrants whose hands were stained with the blood of millions. It was time to stop posturing and join the human race.

3. Becoming a father in strained circumstance in 1996 and discovering that, whereas I was shocked to discover that a single father had virtually no legal rights to a relationship with his child, none of the social-justice warrior types with whom I’d been consorting over the previous decade or so could see anything wrong or strange about this.  Far from joining my posse, they tried to kick my head in every time I mentioned the matter.

These three events caused me to rethink everything – or, rather, to start thinking, in the words of Hannah Arendt, ‘without a bannister.’ Giving up drink helped in a different way too: I was no longer consorting with journalists in Dublin’s taverns of groupthink, and so began to enjoy watching my courage grow.

Today, I regard myself as a progressive in the C.S. Lewis sense.

In Mere Christianity, Lewis wrote:

“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be and if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. We have all seen this when we do arithmetic. When I have started a sum the wrong way, the sooner I admit this and go back and start over again, the faster I shall get on. There is nothing progressive about being pigheaded and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistakes. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.”

It adds up. What we call left-liberalism is really nothing like either of its alleged constituent elements, and is certainly not ‘progressive’. In fact, left-liberalism as we have come to know it in recent times is an ideology grounded in the falsification of equations of justice. It advocates stealing from Paul to pay Paulette, or, to put it Thomistically, to fail to give to each what is due. Left-liberal ‘justice’ is distributed on ideological lines, favouring listed victims over categories – under different headings – of deplorables: unborn babies, fathers, men, Christians, white men, white fathers, straight men, white straight Christian men, straight fathers, white straight fathers, white straight Christian fathers and their unborn babies of any colour, religion or inclination.

If ever there was a road to turn back from, this is it.

John Waters is a writer, the author of ten books, the latest of which, Give Us Back the Bad Roads, has just been published by Currach Press. If you enjoyed this piece, make sure to listen in to the podcast on The Right Side tomorrow that analyses these ideas in more detail. 

Right Minds – David Thunder – Confederal Republican

Burke’s Right Minds is a project exploring and promoting viewpoints within the conservative intellectual sphere, jointly run by The Burkean and the Edmund Burke Institute

Why I am a Confederal Republican:

“Live free or die,” asserts the official motto of the American State of New Hampshire. Such a motto may sound fanatical to our ears, but it reflects the perennial appeal of the value of freedom, which has spoken powerfully to countless generations of citizens since ancient times. Many people, especially in the West, see freedom as an essential element of a life worth living. For example, people feel they should be free to shape their own future, and not be dictated to by others about fundamental life choices. Many view their life as a personal project they are – or should be – free to direct as they will.

The meaning and value of freedom has been debated for over two millennia. The freeman, on the ancient Aristotelian-Platonic view, not only had rational dominion over his own inner life – passions, thoughts, choices – but the capacity to exercise rational dominion over the collective life of the community, through collaborative decision-making and public service. Furthermore, for the ancients freedom was vacuous if disconnected from objectively valuable ends, since these ends were what conferred meaning and worth on a human life. Only a life of virtue, embodying a sincere quest for truth and goodness, was considered truly liberating.

Many modern thinkers have abandoned the ancient notion that freedom is tied to human worth and nobility, and settled for a more formal understanding of freedom as the ability to do what one wishes, within certain legal and moral constraints. Thus, the connection between freedom and objective human flourishing, if not completely absent, has certainly receded from view.

Besides the disconnect between freedom and flourishing, another significant shift away from ancient views is the notion that individual freedom is consistent with the surrender of major decisions affecting the structure of social life to an elite class of rulers and economic ‘gurus.’ From an ancient Greek perspective, this does not make sense, for it assumes that a person can be free while operating within a socio-economic framework designed and imposed unilaterally by other agents.

To sum up, many modern theorists presume to isolate the value of freedom from the achievement of a flourishing life, as well as the right to participate actively in the construction of social order. Public discussions of freedom, as well as modern political institutions, seem to follow suit.

As far as I am concerned, these are the two pressure-points where modern political theory and practice go badly wrong. Discourse about freedom sinks into unintelligibility when freedom becomes unmoored from human flourishing. Furthermore, when our capacity to actively shape our collective life is usurped by highly centralized ‘representative’ bodies, under the pretext that they protect private freedom, liberty is reduced to the ability to exercise a profession and hobby of one’s choice, express one’s opinions, practice one’s religion, choose one’s marriage partner and associates, and engage in economic exchange without undue interference.

Of course, this is a lot more than is granted in totalitarian societies. However, it is perfectly compatible with political and economic servitude, that is, a state in which citizens surrender collective self-government and a large chunk of their income to a distant representative body, with extremely crude and limited mechanisms for holding such a body answerable for its actions.

And so, to distinguish myself from modern liberals, who think people should do what they feel like within the law, and are happy to delegate community governance to a centralized political and economic elite, I happily assume the label, ‘confederal republican.’ I am a republican – of a classical Aristotelian hew – insofar as I believe that freedom finds its perfection in the achievement of a rational and virtuous human life, which in turn requires inward self-dominion but also active and meaningful participation in the shaping of community life.

My peculiar brand of republicanism is partly inspired by 17th century German political philosopher and jurist Johannes Althusius, who conceived of politics as the “art of associating…for the purpose of establishing, cultivating, and conserving social life.” In my view Althusius took this principle in an excessively hierarchical direction, and was insufficiently attentive to the dangers of abuse and the need to build robust checks and balances into the system. Nevertheless, his emphasis on consensual associations as the building blocks of political order is salutary from the perspective of republican freedom, because it has the potential to take us far beyond the hierarchical and unitary model of the ancient polis.

A contemporary adaptation of Althusian principles entails that citizens can opt in and out of a wide range of associations, each with its own functionally and/or territorially limited authority, and these associations can delegate limited grants of authority to super-associations entrusted with coordinating the common affairs of many different associations. This fits with the etymology of confederal,con (together) and foedus (league, treaty), which suggests a complex and multilateral partnership rather than a consolidated union with power concentrated in a ruling center.

Confederal republicanism is not just a set of principles of institutional design, but a set of assumptions about governance and political order that need to be reflected in the mindsets of citizens and rulers alike. It has the potential to break the monopoly of states, political parties, and multinational corporations over public finance, welfare, public services, culture, taxation, and economic regulation, and create unprecedented opportunities for grassroots associations to play a more active and meaningful role in solving social and economic problems from the ground up.

Admittedly, this multilateral and de-centered paradigm of political order requires a high level of voluntary cooperation and a widely entrenched commitment to constitutionalism. Consequently, it is not a panacea for the problems of domestic and global governance in a world many parts of which lack a developed culture of freedom and constitutionalism. Nevertheless, under the right social conditions, it offers a very promising framework for the practice of republican freedom, with significant advantages if compared with the statist framework we currently live under. Indeed, even where its enabling conditions are lacking, confederal republicanism may still serve as a valuable regulative ideal for avant-garde political, legal, and cultural reforms.

Professor David Thunder is a researcher and lecturer at the University of Navarra’s Institute for Culture and Society in Pamplona, Spain. He is author of Citizenship and the Pursuit of the Worthy Life (Cambridge University Press, 2014). Twitter: @davidjthunder

Right Minds – Gerard Casey – Anarchist Libertarian

Burke’s Right Minds is a project exploring and promoting viewpoints within the conservative intellectual sphere, jointly run by The Burkean and the Edmund Burke Institute

Why I believe what I do about Libertarianism

I have to confess that I haven’t always been a libertarian; mea culpa, mea culpa, mea ultima culpa! I came to libertarianism relatively late in my life when I finally realised that it was the only political position that took the freedom of the individual human being seriously. (The clue is in its name!)

Libertarianism is based on the belief that individuals have an inalienable right to live their own lives as they see fit so long as they observe one limiting condition. This limiting condition can be expressed in the zero-aggression principle, the acceptance of which makes you a libertarian, the rejection of which puts you outside the libertarian fold.

Zero-aggression principle (ZAP): No one may initiate or threaten to initiate the use of coercive physical violence [aggression] against the person or property of another.

But one might reasonably object that freedom isn’t the only human good. Indeed, freedom is not the only human good nor indeed is it even the most important substantive good; it is, however, the foundation and guardian of all other social and political goods.

But don’t we need a state to maintain law and order and justice and to provide basic social services? It is true that in the contemporary world, the state is considered necessary for the provision of many things but most of all for the provision of peace and security by means of its powers of law-making, law-adjudication and law-enforcement. It is widely believed that without the state there would be widespread disorder, violence, and chaos in society.

When it comes to the question of the state and its role, libertarians come in two basic types. Those who accept a minimal night-watchman state, its functions limited exclusively to justice and law enforcement, are minarchists; those, like me, who believe that all that human beings need for their social and political flourishing—including law, justice and security—can be provided by the free interaction of individuals and groups, are anarchists.

Apart from its provision of justice and security, the contemporary state does many other things. It provides extensive financial support to a large segment of the population (at a considerable cost to yet another segment of the population); it organises and pays for the education (or, at least, the schooling and certification) of the masses from elementary school to university; in many countries, it organizes and pays for the health services that most people have access to either at no cost or minimal cost to users (but at a staggering cost to the taxpayer); it provides roads, sewage and refuse services; it regulates business, industry, agriculture, and so on ad nauseam.

Some people may be prepared to accept that education and health and roads and sewage and so on could be provided for by the free interactions of individuals and groups but what, they ask, will happen to the poor and the incapable? Wouldn’t they suffer in a libertarian world? Doesn’t the modern state provide a minimal safety net for such people?

Well, yes – but badly and at an enormous financial and social cost. Here, as everywhere else, the state is part of the problem, not part of the solution. When libertarian anarchists propose dismantling the state, most people think that what we will have is exactly what we had before, without the protection of welfare. But this is not what libertarian anarchists have in mind at all.

What we will have when the state is deconstructed is a society in which all are encouraged to work for themselves, their families, their friends and their communities, to produce and to dispose of their production without having a huge portion of it confiscated by the idle ruling class and diverted towards welfare, whether of the individual or corporate variety. Individual welfare is the latter-day equivalent of bread and circuses and corporate welfare is the latter-day equivalent of largesse distributed to courtiers and wealthy merchants.

In institutionalising (relative) poverty, the state creates and maintains a client underclass which it can count on to vote for it when needed. The members of this underclass are infantilised and systematically deprived of the opportunity to escape from their spiritually crippling condition. The tragedy is that they all too readily believe that those who infantilise them are their benefactors.

One thing that will, however, disappear in the libertarian world is the institutionalised poverty of the welfare state and its segregated underclass together with an increased capacity for philanthropy by the many who can dispose of the wealth they create in ways that serve the needs of those with less than they need.

Will the libertarian anarchist world be a paradise? No. No matter how you structure society, there will always be some who are less able, less energetic, less competent than others. The issue is not one of creating the perfect society but creating the conditions for a better society.

So, what to do? First, get the state out of all involvement with the provision of services, such as mail delivery and the like. There is no reason why the state should be involved in such enterprises. Second, get the state out of the provision of health, education and welfare (all welfare, corporate welfare as well as individual welfare).

In all these areas, the state operates incompetently and expensively, and that’s not even to consider that its involvement in education is a major plank in sustaining its own supportive ideology. Third, get the state out of economics, economic planning and regulation. Apart from having no authority here, it also has no competence.

When all this has been done, the only area remaining is that of law, order, and defence. And at this point, you can chose to be either a minarchist or an anarchist, unless, of course, you reject the ZAP. In which case, you had better be prepared to justify your willingness to use physical violence against the person or property of another. Think about it.

Right Minds – David Quinn – The Social Conservative

Burke’s Right Minds is a project exploring and promoting viewpoints within the conservative intellectual sphere, jointly run by The Burkean and the Edmund Burke Institute

A few years ago I was addressing an audience along with Michael McDowell. I described myself as a ‘conservative.’ He winced a bit and wondered why I would use a term like that. Almost no-one, not even people who are genuine, bona fide conservatives, are willing to describe themselves as such.

It is because of the baggage that is attached to the label. Conservatives are attached to worn-out customs and traditions. Worse, they have defended oppressive and authoritarian systems of Government. Time and again, history has shown them to be in the wrong.

Why, therefore, would anyone call themselves a ‘conservative’? Isn’t it much better to be a reformer, a liberal, or better yet, a radical? If you do that, you are pretty much guaranteed praise, or at least a quiet life. You can see why even conservatives are reluctant to self-identity as such, even to themselves.

I call myself a conservative because that’s what I am, both by temperament and philosophy. A conservative is suspicious by default of demands for sweeping social change. We want the need for change to be demonstrated. Like the defence team in a trial, we want a certain burden of proof to be met and we believe the burden of proof rests with those who have declared the status quo to be guilty of some deficiency.

When we look at a tradition, which is to say, a practice that has evolved over time in the white heat of human experience, we tend to think it is there for a reason and you should think long and hard before changing it, never mind overthrowing it completely.

Marriage is an excellent example of a universal social custom. Yes, it does vary from place to place and time to time. In some cultures, there is polygamy, for instance, and in others divorce is harder or easier to obtain.

But at its heart, as a social institution, it has always been the sexual union of male and female directed ultimately towards the generation and rearing of children, even if a given couple is infertile. Only a very unusual society pretends the sexual union of man and women is of no special consequence and would therefore drastically alter the definition of marriage the way we have.

Other traditions can and should be overthrown, for instance the radical separation of the sexes into the world of work and the domestic world, even though the separation was often not half-so-radical as we are now led to believe.

Aside from a willingness to give tradition and social custom the benefit of the doubt, conservatives are very suspicious of all utopian schemes. That is because we have a realistic view of human nature. Humans are imperfect and imperfectible. Indeed, that is often why we have certain traditions; so as it rein in some of our worst impulses.

This is also why conservatives tend to be a bit suspicious of the State. The State can become too powerful, destroying social customs and mediating institutions in the name of either freedom or equality thereby leaving the individual alone against the State because the family has been weakened, religion has been weakened, the community we call the nation has been weakened.

To put it another way, we don’t like an overly powerful State because we like the various communities that help to give our lives shape, and we tend to like time-honoured ways of doing things because they are often very civilising and very realistic.

If I had to boil my politics down to a few precepts, I suppose they would be as follows: don’t overthrow a tradition without very careful thought; reject all utopian schemes; look after marriage; and one I haven’t mention here, look after the money. Highly indebted societies invariably run into trouble.

Do we conservatives have a proper political home in Ireland currently? No. Instead we have political parties that have never seen a tradition they don’t want to overthrow, that believe open-ended personal freedom will lead to utopia, that confuse family breakdown with ‘family diversity,’ and which love to spend money they don’t have.

The job of the conservative might be very unglamorous, but it is also very necessary. The loss of an effective conservative voice in Ireland means we are now a car that is all accelerator and no brakes. We don’t see the point of brakes when all that lies ahead of us seems to be ‘progress,’ no matter how many dangerous turns and cliffsides there are waiting for us.

Right Minds – James Bradshaw

Burke’s Right Minds is a project exploring and promoting viewpoints within the conservative intellectual sphere, jointly run byThe Burkean and the Edmund Burke Institute

Political self-descriptions are hard, and the road which one must travel before arriving at a comfortable destination is long and winding. At least it should be, if you think about things seriously.

For my own part, the journey began during my youthful infatuation with republican socialism. That flame burned brightly before fading away, leaving nothing but several bookshelves furnished with titles including the acronym IRA.

It is hard to pinpoint a specific time when I became disillusioned with “the cause.”

The process was gradual: as I devoured more history books, it became harder to accept that in the future socialism would create wealth or happiness, given how in the past it had resulted in nothing but poverty and despair.

My nationalism also withered over time, as my interests broadened beyond the previously absorbing question of whether Ireland should be one jurisdiction or two.

Thus, I entered my voting years shorn of leftist leanings, but unsure of where my sympathies lay.

I was not a socialist, of that I was sure. Was I, therefore, a conservative? The general appeal of the term was clear enough, especially for one who no longer wanted to fundamentally transform society.

But the late 2000s was not a time for embracing the past or defending institutions which had so obviously failed us.

More importantly, neither Fine Gael nor Fianna Fáil could articulate a vision of what role the state should play, or how society should be organised. I was in search of a coherent political philosophy, and neither of these parties were offering one.

It was in this environment that I discovered libertarianism.

Thankfully, the first libertarian philosopher whose arguments I examined in detail would also prove to be the most enduring influence to this day: Professor Milton Friedman.

Like many modern students, I came across him on YouTube, by watching the ten-part ‘Free to Choose’ series which was released along with his landmark book in 1980 (you can watch the first episode here).

Friedman’s arguments – and his manner of delivery – captured and held my attention.

This small, mild-mannered economist, born to a poor Jewish immigrant family in New York, could seemingly explain any point with ease while demonstrating a breadth of knowledge which appeared superhuman.

His stance was refreshingly independent.

“I’m not a conservative. A conservative is somebody who wants to keep things the way they are,” he said. “The word ‘liberal’ means of and pertaining to freedom. I believe in freedom, and a true liberal is somebody who believes in freedom.”

Liberalism in the American context had already become completely intertwined with statism, as it soon would in Europe also. Friedman, in contrast, called himself a libertarian – and if he were one, I was one.

There were many other political guides whose writings influenced me as I continued to study libertarian thought.

John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty provided a profound argument against the majoritarian tendencies which I saw all around me, and which I knew had been ever-present within the Ireland which my parents had grown up in: different bullies, using the same means, to dissimilar ends.

The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich von Hayek was extremely useful in explaining how the totalitarian roots of Nazism lay within the Left, and his essay on ‘Why I am not a conservative’ provided a neat summation of the problems within the conservative worldview: namely the fact that often times a “conservative does not object to coercion or arbitrary power so long as it is used for what he regards as the right purposes.”

By my early 20s, I was confident that libertarianism contained within it the correct prescriptions for how a government in a free society should be allowed to operate.

I continue to believe in it. I believe that the vast majority of economic activity should be conducted within the private sector; that free trade should be practiced between nations; that government should be constitutionally limited; that ‘victimless crimes’ are no crimes at all; that prostitution, gambling and drug use should be legal; and that the state has a responsibility to protect people from others, and absolutely no business in protecting people from themselves.

Yet there was something lacking, and there always will be.

Freedom is not an end in itself. It can only be a means to an end: and that end is to live a worthwhile and noble life, while respecting your neighbours’ right to do the same.

While the ascent of freedom has continued in recent centuries, and with great benefits, history demonstrates the industrial-scale horror which educated, sophisticated people can inflict upon each other.

It is deeply unfair to blame the darkest chapters of modern history on the advance of what used to be known as classical liberalism, but the loss of that sense of community which conservatives often decry has clearly played a key role in humanity’s recent difficulties.

Faith in political institutions has declined, and a widespread ennui afflicts Western societies where people never been wealthier in material terms, and yet where they remain poor in spirit, and dissatisfied with their lot.

The conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet’s seminal work, The Quest for Community, demonstrated how the alienation of modern life created serious problems, most notably the tendency for people to seek to solve the problems of atomisation by adopting statist solutions, no matter how absurd or abominable they might be.

The leading conservative philosopher Yuval Levin has built upon these ideas more recently, as has Patrick Deneen, whose best-selling book Why Liberalism Failed can be seen as an indictment of libertarianism as well.

Has their work – or recent events – shaken my faith in libertarianism?

No, but it has reminded me of the importance of continuity and community, without which no civilisation can endure.

That is why I remain a libertarian in practice, but a conservative in philosophy. I wish to preserve freedom, but I know that it is an ordered liberty that I seek.

As Burke wrote, society is a contract between the living, the dead and those yet to be born. The preservation and passing on of freedom should be the most important responsibility within that contract.

For conservative libertarians, it usually is.

The Right Mind Essay 2 – Michael Way [Students for Liberty]

Burke’s Right Minds is a project exploring and promoting viewpoints within the conservative intellectual sphere, jointly run by The Burkean and the Edmund Burke Institute

I am a Libertarian.

First, dear reader, I will surprise you. You and I have more in common than that which separates us. I am not the radical ideologue many would wish me to be. My opinions are considered, developed, and ultimately deeply held. I say we are not that unalike, as I presume that reading his eponymous magazine you are a child of Burke. I am too.

Since sixteen years of age, the past seven years of my life, I have been a member of the British Conservative and Unionist party. I embraced the charisma of David Cameron, and through my secondary school education became an avid reader of Burke and eventually Benjamin Disraeli. Through Disraeli’s writings, both political and fictional, I evolved my first political conversion. I became a One Nation Conservative.

Indeed, for most of my political life, I was a One Nation Conservative. I believed in the enterprise of the middle class and their ability to generate wealth, and I believed that we as successes had a duty to at the very least mitigate the suffering of those who were losing the game of life. I believed in a minor, state provided safety net. I am sure that many of you still do.

All this changed when I attended Ulster University at Coleraine. There, surrounded by a dark sea of Left-wing demagogues, I managed fortuitously to meet one of the very few fellow capitalists on campus. I met a PhD student named Mark Kyle, who specialised in the writings of the once very popular Herbert Spencer.

There, in his office on the third floor of the now demolished South Building, we spent many precious hours of life discussing the finer details of politics, and where we as individuals differed in our viewpoints. In the sinking sun of a late November evening, when I was proselytising the duty of the middle to look after the working, Mark posed me a question which changed my life forever. The question he asked was “What exactly is your fair share of what someone else has worked for?” (A question I would later learn was the genius of Thomas Sowell).

I was quite frankly, in the most literal meaning of the word, speechless. I have always prided myself in my ability to talk. In fact, I have often been able to turn my own ignorance on a topic into several minutes of linguistic gymnastics, successfully selling airy trifles of little substance to my audiences as principled points. I could not. I stumbled. I told him that a flat tax could work, say 20%. He asked, “Why 20?”

We ran out of time. I went home and in one of my first dark nights of the soul I found myself in a philosophical waking nightmare. I could not sleep. I realised that Mark’s main point was that any level of taxation I advocated was, in essence, a point of arbitration. Why 20? Why not 19, or 21? Or 80? I decided in that moment to read Herbert Spencer. Mark gave me a very old edition of The Man Versus The State and I began to read.

I found in his works the wonderful dictation that ‘all socialism involves slavery.’ I realised he did not mean slavery in the literal sense of chains and canes. He meant it the way Sowell, and by extension Mark, had. By forcing people to work for the betterment of others, we make them slaves. It was that day when I became a Libertarian, not necessarily because I had all the answers (many of which I am still searching for), but rather because I believed it to be inherently more moral than my Conservatism.

I still advocate helping those less fortunate or successful, not through coercion, but as Spencer’s great friend Andrew Carnegie established in his article ‘Wealth,’ through philanthropy and charity, through voluntary action. That is the only moral form of social welfare.

Burke’s Right Minds

Burke’s Right Minds is a project exploring and promoting viewpoints within the conservative intellectual sphere, jointly run byThe Burkean and the Edmund Burke Institute. This essay has been written by Paddy Manning.

I am a Conservatarian

Being gay made me a libertarian, being a child of the 20th Century made me a conservative. I came of age, gay, in an Ireland that that criminalised sexual contact between men. Dirty, disgusting sodomy was not just a criminal offence, to ‘importune’ a man for such activity was as criminal. The state believed it had the right and the power to make me moral, to make me straight. Every fibre of my being screamed otherwise, that as a human I had the right to be who I was, to choose for myself.

The State’s attempt to terrorise me into chastity or heterosexuality  had the effect of making me doubt that the state had any rights over me. If it was wrong of the state to decide whom I slept with then was it not wrong for the state to decide whom I paid, whom I lived beside, what I ate, drank, injected, said or thought? Why could the state’s possession of force justify its rule over my life?

I struggled with these notions in the absence of ideas or philosophy. I had left school at 16 and Ireland was (is still) not a place where ideas are easy to come by. Involvement in party politics did not help. Party politics is not about ideas but about process. A political party does not care about the relationship between the citizen and the state but how the citizen can be persuaded to vote for the party by promises to manipulate the state. The better I got at process, at canvassing and training canvassers, at helping candidates present themselves, the worse I got at thinking.

In Fine Gael I was an outsider in a party which worships the power of the state like a eunuch fetishizing sex. I had my own reasons for doubting Fine Gael’s sacred cows. Memories of my arrest, under the Victorian 1867 Offences Against The Persons Act, late at night, by a burly Garda, in a sting operation, left me with a horror of moral police, an insight into the corruption of the Stasi mentality and a profound doubt as to the effectiveness of law as a tool to govern personal lives.

I was a libertarian without knowing the word but I had a problem with my nascent beliefs. The 20th century is the story of break down, of the rise of appalling totalitarian states that in which everything good, decent, protective that civil society had created collapsed and was immolated. Millions suffered and died in gruesome misery.

I read Solzhenitsyn’s ‘Gulag Archipelago,’ Levi’s ‘The Drowned and the Saved,’ ‘If This is a Man’ and ‘The Periodic Table.’ Those were history, but in Northern Ireland men broke the legs of a young father and strapped him in a v

an with a bomb telling him they would kill his children if he didn’t run that suicide mission. Man was unaccountably, polymorphously evil, and I had no answer as to whether we could be free and not fall prey to our darkest urges. How were we to be protected from the savages, from our own savagery?

I was lucky to meet a man whose irritating certainty in the correctness of his conservative and free market convictions aroused my contrarian instinct to argue with him. I couldn’t win an argument with Michael Dwyer and never have, but he became my best friend and opened a world of ideas and thinkers, including Edmund Burke. Burke laid a basis for conservative thought that sees society, civilisation, as an inheritance from the dead to be passed to the yet unborn, drawn from his horror at the French Revolution.

If Michael helped shape my beliefs so too did the Great Irish Crash direct both of our thinking. For me the personal disaster and failure were harrowing and ruinous. I needed to understand how so many got it so wrong. Capitalism had failed to die despite the constant, confident predictions of the Marxists and the mainstream Keynesians seemed to be the problem but there were economists who had a coherent explanation for credit bubbles and cyclical economic crashes.

Mises, Hayak, Rothbard and other Au

strian Economists had written cogent explanations of the virtues of the free market and the effect of low interest rates and economic bubbles long before the Great Irish Crash. Better again their views on the state either tended towards, or were fully fledged libertarian and many of the living writers were concerned with integrating their free-market economics with their Catholicism, a faith I had returned to after a 25 year wander in the atheism wilderness.

When David Cameron made his Conservatives for Same Sex Marriage speech in 2012 I had become concerned at the lack of debate for a change that was being forcefully pushed internationally. No good idea requires silencing, censorship and name calling to succeed and changes to something as fundamental, evolved and central as marriage required real debate. By the time proposal became an issue here I was opposed to the idea.

The only way I was going to be allowed take part in the national debate was if I talked of my own life, using identity politics to fight identity politicking. The experience of the Marriage Referendum, the thuggery, bullying, death threats and attempts to silence opposition convinced me that if social conservatism was to matter it would have to be stubborn, unapologetic and unashamed of its positions.

As a conservative I believe we need evolved institutions and cultures to form human society and mediate between us and the worst of ourselves, as a libertarian I believe those institutions and cultures should be voluntary. If I have no right to use force to bend others to my will, then neither have others the right to use force on me for their ends. I am utterly optimistic that free we can create mutual prosperity but profoundly pessimistic that a changed or designed society will be better than our imperfect present.

I am a conservative libertarian, a conservatarian.

On the blasphemy referendum

Last week we, the electorate, were asked to delete a single word from the constitution on the grounds that it is dangerous, that it gives reason to imprison and kill dissenters in Islamic countries and that the deletion will, in some manner, make us modern.

That was as much as we’ve had in debate for the proposal to delete “blasphemous” from the material covered by article 40.6.1of the constitution and not only is this not a debate, it is the exact opposite, it is the negation, the avoidance, the hiding-in-terror from anything that might resemble debate.

We are not allowed a debate in Ireland on any topic where the government notices the sinister bony hand of the Catholic Church reaching down from the past or the Palace to thwart the great project of the People’s Secular Revolution. The Government Commissars have, of course, the support of journalists and publishers in the great work. After the Abortion Referendum it was Irish journalists (journalists!) who called for the future suppression of dissent, of civic opposition to the Governments agenda. The Matt Coopers and Una Mulallies don’t want debate, they want progress, movement towards the utopia. Debate delays the revolution.

Some revolution. There has never been a prosecution or arrest under this constitution for blasphemy. Ever. The last prosecution in Ireland was in 1855, 163 years ago. Different laws. A different state. Yet the word is so dangerous that we must rush a referendum to remove its toxic influence from a constitution that now explicitly permits the Oireachtas to legislate for the killing of a class of humans.

This referendum is cosmetic, a puerile nonsense thought up by a group of immature cabinet ministers attempting a permanent revolution of distraction. Look, look, lovely referendum scourging bad Church, no don’t look at the housing crisis or the health service or just how useless every single cabinet minister is at their brief. We are given a permanent Revolution of Distraction because those in government have no idea how to solve complex, multi-faceted problems. Ministers are mining the 1937 Constitution for referendumable phrases as good news stories.

We should be wary of politicians bearing Reform banners particularly those who profess incomprehension that the laws or practices they wish to reform exist. Debate on reform issues should be rabbinical, if the reformer cannot state the reason for the law we should not let them enter the fray to have it removed.  Chesterton put it beautifully in his catch on reformers. “There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

Blasphemy is an old-fashioned crime, like heresy, an attempt by the state to prevent rifts, dissents and fractures on issues so deep that those breaks could endanger the state itself and to protect all the citizens from the danger of a God angered by human outrage. That is no longer the God in which the agents of the state don’t believe. Those of us who still believe do not necessarily do so in a God so small he needs protection from human utterances. Wisely the Catholic hierarchy have made a statement to this point, refusing the temptation to give Varadkar boogeymen to fight.

There are conservative Christians, (Conservative Christians believe in God, Minister…) for whom the removal of blasphemy from the constitution is the evidence that the government wishes to remove God from the constitution, law and the public sphere and who are battling the referendum to preserve what they see as a last protection but they are very wrong on both counts.

The government doesn’t want to remove God, it wants to replace him. For Varadkar’s cabinet the Christian Christ is dead, he is being replaced with a figment of Josepha Madigan’s and Catherine Zappone’s tortured imaginations, and with the very state itself. Christ is merely to be the son of the state, endorsing the government in its compassion. With the horsemen banished compassion is the sales point of choice. As to protection, Piss Christ* is a work of art, Piss Mohammed a death warrant but the constitution and the 2009 legislation don’t matter to either.

Blasphemy should be removed from the constitution but not this way, not this now. Article 40.6.1 gives the government the basis for sweeping powers over all media and speech, power that no government, especially this group of infantile chancers, should have. Free speech should be robustly enshrined in the constitution, to prevent nonsensical attacks on it masquerading as protection for the vulnerable. There is a grave danger that this government will advance Hate Speech Legislation, secular blasphemy, with far more likelihood of prosecutions than one 163 years ago.  Peter Casey would have been arrested and prosecuted under such a law and his words will be used to advance the case for the bill. With no opposition in the Dáil this will pass at high speed. On its passing we can expect the members of the Dáil will rise and give themselves a standing ovation, as has become their habit.

We don’t need a blasphemy referendum, we need an American style First Amendment, unequivocally defending our right to offend God and man should we in any way chose. That the ECHR has, in the case of an Austrian lecturer, judged that describing Mohammed as a paedophile does not come under the ambit of free speech for the purposes of the European Convention of Human rights makes such constitutional protection a matter of urgency.

This referendum was a wasted opportunity to defend free speech, but it still gave voters a chance to send the Government back to do just that.

*Reference is to a 1987 award winning work by artist Andres Serrano in which a small crucifix was immersed in the artists urine and photographed. Serrano is, of course, a Catholic.


Interview with Professor Patrick Deneen

Earlier this week we sat down with Professor Patrick Deneen, of Notre Dame University, to discuss his new book ‘Liberalism Has Failed’. Professor Deneen, who lectured at both Georgetown University and Princeton University before moving to take the David A. Potenziani Memorial Chair of Constitutional Studies at Notre Dame University, talks at length about his conception of liberalism, what alternatives to liberalism are actually possible, what it means for a human to be free, suicide and existential despair, and how he imagines the future of the West will be.

The interview can be heard, in full, at the link below.