Right Minds – Gary Kavanagh – Burkean 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

Why I am a Burkean Conservative:

What I believe is, at its core, simple – and can be dealt with mostly by just giving it a name. I believe in the principles of Burkean Conservatism, which some would call Traditionalist Conservatism. More accurately I believe that liberty, in order to be real and sustainable, must be ordered inside a hierarchical society. That that order is best maintained by a combination of state and social forces, and that these forces not only are coercive, but that they must be coercive, or at least have the active potential to be so, in order to build a sustainable system.

It needs to be so because man has a nature, and that nature is of an amoral animal. Which is not to say that man is worse than other animals, he isn’t, but rather that he is equal to them in his capacity for great benevolence and great malevolence. I believe man is imperfect, and imperfectible. Or, as Marina and the Diamonds sang, ‘Murder lives forever, and so does war’

My primary concern politically is the concept of systemic fragility and resilience, which is an overly complicated way of saying that I care about the ability of a political system to actually last without inevitably either a) becoming a tyranny, or b) devolving into anarchy, and I’m not talking here about the fun kind of anarchy. I’m talking less Burning Man and more Sengoku Jidai here.

I think that systems like Marxism, anarchism, and (to an extent largely based on how far they want to go with it before finally just becoming anarcho capitalists) libertarianism are ‘perfect’ theories that cannot work in an imperfect world. That’s not to say I like them, or that I think they are in any sense a way to improve things, but rather that they are designed from a set of assumptions about mankind that do not match with the actual reality of man.

They resemble nothing so much as the sort of priceless china that everyone’s Grandmother seemed to somehow acquire; pretty to look at, because it was designed to be pretty to look at, and, because it was designed to only exist in a cupboard, prone to shattering at the slightest pressure. The issue here, of course, is that when political ideologies break, when societies break, they don’t just leave a little glass on the floor, they leave bodies. Sometimes tens of millions of them.

As to why I believe these things, I have to say I’m honestly not sure. I mean the easy answer is to say that I believe them because they seem to be the correct things to believe because they are true, and I do believe that to be the case, or that I came to them after a long study of different types of philosophy, and that is also arguably true, but I am generally a proponent of the idea that our political ideologies and personal philosophies are based more on our temperaments, personalities, and the cultures in which we formed ourselves, or were formed, than they are on things like ‘arguments’ or ‘truth.’

I don’t think there was any great moment in my life, some road to Damascus moment, which led me to my current beliefs. Looking back at what I can recall of my younger self, which is admittedly through a fairly strong haze caused by a combination of my terrible memory and rampant usage of powerful psychedelic drugs in my youth, I don’t think I ever really changed what I believed in, on a fundamental level, but rather that I learned more and gave it a more concrete form, sharpened the edges of it, and learnt how to discuss it, and defend it, with others more fluidly.

Most of my peers came to traditionalist conservatism through their religious faith, either a strong current faith or a previous faith which has waned but which they still respect, but I’ve never been one for religious faith, which is probably why I never became an atheist. My approach to religion is strictly one of apatheism. I do not care if there is a God or there is not a God.

Which is not to say I’m uninterested in religion, I am immensely interested in religion, its forms, its traditions, its various ideas of what a life worth living actually is, and of course its sociological impacts, but rather that I think the least interesting conceivable question about any particular religion is if the god[s] they worship exist.

I came instead to traditionalist conservatism through absurdism. A subject which doesn’t really fit with the rest of this essay and so I won’t be going into, but which is worth mentioning.

In Burke, particularly, I liked his acceptance of his own limits, particularly with regard to human knowledge. We seem to think now that existence, from the smallest to the largest, is a clockwork system which any person could, with enough training, take apart and put back together again without issue.

He understood that a perfect idea, imposed on an imperfect world, would lead only to ruin. He understood that the knowledge of any one person is a limited and pale thing, a single flickering candle in an infinite void. He distrusted abstractions, as he distrusted revolution as a means to an end.

I think at the end of everything, I am a Burkean Conservative because I think it is a political ideology that recognises the limitations of man, as an individual and as a species, but also recognises the great things both the individual and the group can achieve. It recognises the importance of institutions, the strength they can give to the individual and to the group, whilst also being painfully aware of how fragile these things actually are, and how little it would take for things we think are made of rock to turn to sand and collapse around us. And likely on top of us.

Beyond that, it seems to simply work as a means for organising a society over the long-term. Which means we can focus all of our attention on finding some other fool way to kill ourselves.