Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Levin Defines Conservatism

As any responsible writer will, Mr. Levin, within the first several pages of Liberty and Tyranny spends some time defining his use of the word "conservatism". Levin traces the philosophy of modern conservative to, along with the philosophers mentioned in my last post, Edmond Burke, a British statesman and thinker. Burke believed in the "interconnection of liberty, free markets, religion, tradition, and authority."

The Founding Fathers believed, and according to Levin so do modern conservatives, in God-given natural rights. That's a whole other discussion. In what sense do we have have God-given rights? But for the sake of an intact summary of Levin's definition, I'll post separately on that at a later time.

Levin continues his definition by noting a conservative's recognition of a harmony of interests. This is a phrase used by Adam Smith to refer to the "spontaneous order" I wrote of in my last post. The idea is that societal rules have gradually evolved to promote peaceful and productive co-existence. Levin includes three other terms that describe this, terms he continues to use throughout his book: ordered liberty, social contract and civil society.

Within this civil society, according to Levin, a conservative acknowledges and operates under certain assumptions.
The individual... is a unique, spiritual being with a soul and a conscience. He is free to discover his own potential and pursue his own legitimate interests, tempered, however, by a moral order that has its foundation in faith and guides his life and all human life through the prudent exercise of judgment.
An individual within a civil society, Levin continues, has a duty to respect the idea that the above mentioned rights also apply to other individuals. One may not behave in such a way as to trespass upon these rights of others.

The right to pursue the acquisition of private property is also a necessary corollary of liberty. An individual's property "represents the fruit of his own intellectual or physical labor." Usurping one's right to private property "enslaves him to another".

A civil society must also ascribe to a rule of law which is "just, known, and predictable, and applied equally albeit imperfectly." Such rule of law serves as "a check against the arbitrary use and, hence, abuse of power."

Levin summarizes his definition of modern conservatism, "the civil society has as its highest purpose its preservation and improvement."

All the above italics are Levin's.

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