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The Meltdown on Bush's Watch Let's Ask for Forgiveness

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Conservatism in an AQAL Context

by Christopher Chantrill
March 25, 2008 at 12:24 am


I SUPPOSE that most folks around the integral world think that conservatism and AQAL are mutually exclusive. After all, we all know that conservatives are blue/amber or business orange, or even red power types. And they really have little understanding of any other levels/stages/spirals.

In the spirit of How the Irish Invented Civilization I would argue that conservatives invented AQAL.

The First Conservative, according to Huston Smith in The World Religions, would have been Confucius. In the Warring States period he devised a philosophy to deal with the unrestrained power-mad egos of the age. He proposed a conscious tradition of venerating the ancestors to replace the unthinking worship of the ancestors that had broken down, thus controlling the war-lords and their warrior retainers by constructing a self-conscious tradition of filial piety. He was building a blue/amber stage of rules to deal with the red power gods that had emerged from the ancient tribal purple culture of China.

In our European culture the first conservative was Edmund Burke. In 1790, three years before the Terror, he predicted that the French Revolution would end in tears. Against the enthusiasts for an Age of Reason he advocated for prejudice and precept.

We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason; because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages.

Burke was a reformer, but he insisted that the creative culture of reason should respect the inarticulate culture of tradition.

Conservatism, writes Roger Scruton, is a modernism. It is not an unthinking celebration of traditional culture; it emerges when the unthinking traditional society breaks down, when men and women start to question why we do things the way we do. It asks what would happen if we abandoned the old ways completely, and it steps back from the abyss. On this view, of course, conservatism is reasoning from a higher stage to understand and accommodate a lower stage. It insists that we cannot just throw over the traditional ways and replace them all with new creative answers to the questions of how to live. The new must build on and respect the old. Otherwise we get the disaster of 1793 and the Stalinist Terror of the 1930s.

But all along, conservatives have been critics of the Brave New World of progress. In 1922 when progressives were seeing the future in the Soviet Union and reporting that it worked, the Austrian Jew Ludwig von Mises predicted that socialism could not work because it could not compute prices. In 1944 his student F.A. Hayek predicted that democratic socialism would lead to a future that would not work because the man in Washington could not have the knowledge and flexibility of a million consumers and producers. David Brooks’ piece on today’s social entrepreneurs last weekend was pure Hayek:

The older do-gooders had a certain policy model: government identifies a problem. Really smart people design a program. A cabinet department in a big building administers it.

But the new do-gooders have absorbed the disappointments of the past decades. They have a much more decentralized worldview. They don’t believe government on its own can be innovative. A thousand different private groups have to try new things. Then we measure to see what works.

Then there is the enigmatic Eric Voegelin. In the middle of the twentieth century he attacked the truth vs. lie, knowledge vs. superstition way of comparing the modern era with the past. Humans advance by “leaps in being” he wrote, where we move from compact to differentiated knowledge. In this view, new knowledge does not so much sweep away old knowledge as superstition, but fills in the details of compact ideas and corrects their oversimplifications. You could call it “transcend and include.”

Voegelin’s most well-known idea was his critique of modern secular religions such as socialism, communism, and fascism. He faulted them for “immanentizing the eschaton.” That’s a fancy way of saying that you can never create Heaven on Earth. It is their knowledge of Voegelin that leads conservatives to be skeptical of the Obama phenomenon. Jonah Goldberg, author of Liberal Fascism:

Obamania is doomed to fail for the same reason all such movements are doomed to failure: You can’t create a heaven on earth. You can’t immanentize the eschaton. The perfect life, if it exists at all, must be found in the next life. But even though utopian dreams are forever out of reach, there’s no reason for us to assume that people won’t always strive for them. Such is both the audacity, and the folly, of hope.

Conservatives have of course, made appalling errors. One of them was a reluctance to embrace the civil rights agenda of the 1960s. Another is that the “daddy conservatism” of the last 30 years really did not speak to women conservatives. In my view the “social conservative” wing of the Republican Party and the so-called “Religious Right” are really a movement of conservative women reacting against the destruction of the culture of children and family in the last half century. Even though single “women with needs” are the primary supporters of the welfare state, it is my belief that the welfare state with its hierarchical bureaucratic model is profoundly anti-woman. You organize an army of male warriors with a vertical hierarchy. The community of women is a flat hierarchy where every woman demands to be treated with equal and reciprocal respect.

Conservatism is AQAL aware, although it does not speak in the language of Wilber or of Beck. It is different in another way. Whereas most integral types are interested in progress, in getting on up into second tier and experiencing higher states of consciousness, conservatives look downwards and backwards.

You might say that while most folks at Seattle Integral look to the sunny green uplands of higher consciousness and spirituality, conservatives are more interested in keeping the mountain roads in good working order, so that more people can find the way up out of the hot and dusty plain onto, e.g., the Road to the Middle Class. Most of them will not make it to the second tier mountain peaks, but they could benefit greatly from a well-marked trail into the alpine meadows of the first tier foothills.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing


[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm

Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust

Class War

In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status... Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher... The academics lost their power and prestige and... have been gloomy ever since.
Freeman Dyson, “The Scientist as Rebel”


Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority — the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says ‘we should...’.
Danny Kruger, On Fraternity

Conservatism's Holy Grail

What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph


“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh

Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism

Drang nach Osten

There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion


“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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