30 October 2020

The Ten Principles of the Orthodox Conservatives - 1. That Freedom Is Impossible Without Order

The First Principle of Conservatism, from the Orthodox Conservative website. 

From Orthodox Conservatives

1. That freedom is impossible without order. (The line between individual and community is one that ought to be walked with consideration.)

1That freedom is impossible without order

When the conservative speaks of freedom, he does not mean that same thing as the liberal, who imagines freedom as non-interference, or in John Stuart Mill’s historic pronouncement, that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant”. Neither does the conservative imagine freedom to be non-domination, as is the dream of the republican (see On the People’s Terms, by Philip Pettit) – all society is built from hierarchy, and the reality of any legal system is that power lies in reserve, waiting until it might be authoritatively used.

So what, then, does the conservative truly mean by ‘freedom’? After all, no political philosophy that exists only in repudiation, in denying that which others talk of, will last long – especially if it cannot engage with the real world. This is the age-old problem of conservatism; it has spent so long fighting against ideas, it has forgotten the ground it stands on, and seems anti-intellectual in itself.

What the conservative means by freedom, is the freedom to become the best version of oneself. This idea involves multiple elements, but the first and most easily identifiable is that we have many desires naturally arising within us, that must be tempered and controlled in order to live in that civilisation JS Mill thought of as so important. We do not pretend here that biological drives – those most essential to survival – are bad, merely that there is such a thing as excess; and the received wisdom of centuries have proven that you can have “too much of a good thing”.

Those of us who surrender to every whim and desire that arises within us are not free, because we cannot escape the dictates of the most permanent thing in our lives – ourselves – and the ability to gain discipline over yourself is the most important cause of all, because it is only through internal discipline that you gain the capacity to follow rules and laws.

But not only is the constant satisfaction of each desire as it arises a poor display of discipline – it lends itself to an unsatisfied mind, seeking to satisfy every desire as it arises immediately, and becoming agitated in oneself from the inability to provide that satisfaction leads to the constant pursuit of excess, overloading oneself with stimuli until only the largest possible dose of pleasure registers. Once each desire is satisfied, another immediately arises, and that is satisfied immediately, after which follows another desire, and so on until you are caught in an endless cycle of self-satisfaction that does not allow for the cultivation of the good life. This agitation carries over into the social world, where satisfaction is not derived from the appreciation of others as they are, but for what they can do for you – or what they can satisfy in you.

Of course, this freedom from animalism is not the only ‘freedom’ necessary for good social order: so too is that freedom provided by the security of civilisation. We would not consider, for instance, a child dropped in the centre of the Sahara ‘free’, because he would have no parents to protect him, no walls to keep out the heat, no roof to block away the sun, and no infrastructure to provide him with the water and food he so desperately needs.

With this in mind, it is the firm belief of the conservative that, though they may seem antithetical, freedom cannot exist without a stable, peaceful and secure order underpinning it. It might seem that the order necessary for this freedom is one that impinges on liberty, but the truth is that we do not emerge into the world as complete and separate individuals but as children who need structure and guidance in order to show us how to achieve this freedom, and in that respect provides us with the self-discipline necessary in order to fully utilise the liberty we feel as a natural impulse. Without the self-discipline capable for pursuing this liberty, we risk falling into the inseparable twin of liberty, that of license; we are incapable of recognising those desires that will improve ourselves and our lives from those that will be damaging. If we are incapable of disciplining ourselves, we will call a foreign body in to discipline our lives for us – this is, inevitably, the State.

I recall here Edmund Burke: “I pride myself that I love a manly, moral, regulated liberty”.

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