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.
I was born in 1969, less than a generation after the death of Hitler and sixteen years after that of Stalin. Mao was still on the throne in China having starved thirty five million to death and introduced cannibalism to the Chinese countryside, but the Cultural Revolution still had another seven years to go. Pol Pot wouldn’t be leader of Cambodia and author of the murderer of his own people for another seven years.
Of course I am a conservative. I remain unironically baffled that anyone still alive and paying attention who was born in the twentieth century can be anything but a conservative.
It is also true that I was born into the worst of all the reactionary or counter-revolutionary classes, son of small farmers and shopkeepers. My Mother was the child of a dressmaker and a policeman. My father was the child of a cattle dealer and a confectioner.
Truly an ugly collection of very petit bourgeoisies. I was raised with all their bourgeois values and religion too. Although in the interests of transparency all my grandparents were members of revolutionary organisations and both grandfathers did time at his majesty’s pleasure.
I have taken those tests which Jonathan Haidt developed to predict political persuasion on the basis of temperament, and they get close-ish but that’s about it. However I do believe that I am temperamentally disposed to a conservative worldview.
Does it work? That is what I have always asked (since starting to ask such questions), when presented with a schema or theory. Intentions in policy have never interested me as they obsess the progressive left. The Tory is cursed to be dully practical.
A young person’s intellectual and political development is also to a degree the subject of blind luck and happy chance. When I was in my late teens I met and became friendly with Richard Miller, the founder and long term benefactor of The Edmund Burke Institute.
Richard never lectured or preached. He conversed. Worse, he gave me books, journals and collections of essays from disreputable sources like the IEA and the Social Policy Unit. By the time I was finishing my degree he had me reading The Road to Serfdom and the Constitution of Liberty.
Now a lot of that good work could have been undone had I been exposed to the progressive monoculture that is the unfortunate environment that many students endure at third level today. I was magnificently lucky to study philosophy under Professor Matt O’Donnell. A canon of the Diocese of Galway and an enthusiastic admirer of Robert Nozick and his seminal work Anarchy the State and Utopia.
Matt gave a full semester length course on that book – and he was brilliant, insightful and very funny. The Wilt Chamberlain thought experiment in response to Rawls was a firework of brilliance then and still convinces me today. Joe McBride taught me about Camus and communicated his love of that most liberal and humane of all the French left in stark contrast to Sartre et al. Harry McCauley was witty and brilliant and part of the great British liberal tradition. The lone Marxist in the faculty was a very nice man indeed but so very dull. I was in my education a very lucky boy.
Conservatives know certain things for certain. One is that every child is born a barbarian and every generation a potential barbarian horde ready to topple the high towers of our civilisation. I feel sad that such opportunities to encounter the wisdom of the ages that I had are increasingly rare for young people today.
It is some small consolation to reflect that it will not be the young who will fry and hop on the hobs of history’s hell but rather it will be those parents, teachers and politicians who refused to undertake the hard work of civilising them that is the duty of every generation.
If you enjoyed this piece, make sure to listen in to the podcast on The Right Side tomorrow that analyses these ideas in more detail.