Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ancient versus Modern Ethical Systems and Conservatism

Kathrine Dalton, over at Front Porch Republic, (one of my favorite blogs), has a great post on Thomas Flemming's book on the superiority of ancient to modern ethical systems. It begins:

"Those of us foolish enough to call ourselves “conservative” are forced to admit that culturally and politically at least we live amidst less and less worth conserving. We can and should continue to mind our own business, and tackle daily life as cheerfully as possible, but some days one wants to take up the fight for the reformation of this bloated and addled culture of ours. Where to find a cudgel? With a culture on the skids, the regressively-minded must acknowledge that it is not enough to look back a decade or two, or a lifetime or two, for what we would restore and retain. We have to look back a good deal further than that.

While Thomas Fleming is not the first or the only to make this argument, he has long been making it, and it is one that comes naturally to a Greek Ph.D., a traditionalist Catholic, and the longtime editor of the paleoconservative magazine Chronicles. The central argument of his 2004 book, The Morality of Everyday Life: Rediscovering an Ancient Alternative to the Liberal Tradition, is that the traditions of the ancient Greeks, Jews, Romans, and Medieval Christians (as well as Eastern cultures) can provide us with tools for sorting through the moral dilemmas of daily life much better than what Enlightenment ethicists and their modern children offer us."

She notes that he is right that the individualistic and rationalistic ideas of the "Enlightenment" arose largely in opposition to orthodox Christianity and she also notes that: "In opposition Dr. Fleming cites Greek philosophers, Roman law, church fathers and Jesus Himself to support the argument for personal ties and particularity—what most of us would call common sense and common humanity." The whole post is worth reading.

But I confess that what struck me most was the way Flemming and Dalton both take a very straight-forward and matter-of-fact stance against modernity as a whole as constituting real conservativism. This is the kind of thinking in which we need to engage if we are to get our heads around the real issues we face. Conservatives are not just liberals who are not in a hurry; they are serious about rejecting much of what passes for conventional wisdom and incontrovertable facts of life.

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