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Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
08-25-2015, 07:32 PM
http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2012/08/conservatism-defined-sort-of.html

Conservatism, philosophy, politics and poetry.--Tyr

Burke and De Tocqueville



Much of the effort over the past six decades to define, delimit, and shape a conservatism tangible for the modern and post-modern western world has rooted itself in the works and thoughts of Edmund Burke and Alexis de Tocqueville. Each received new attention immediately following the allied victory in World War II, and the importance of their respective thought to conservatism has yet to wane. Burke, famously, not only defended American independence and the right of Americans to possess all of the traditional rights of Englishmen but he also offered the first real opposition to the French Revolution and what it unleashed upon the western world, the concept of what would be called “ideology.” In his philosophy, politics, and aesthetics, Burke’s overriding concern was the upholding of the dignity of the humane, whether for the American colonials, the Irish, Asian Indians, or Roman Catholics. In a similar fashion and in the vein of Burke, de Tocqueville too analyzed the western world, especially America
and France, with an eye toward the humane. As de Tocqueville perceptively noted in his Democracy in America, no liberty has ever existed anywhere unpurchased by some sacrificial exertion. Equality comes slowly but meaningfully, while liberty appears only from time to time. Still, as de Tocqueville claimed, no matter how natural or God-given a right, a person must somehow claim what is his or hers. Burke and de Tocqueville each sought to pursue Justice in this world through a proper, Aristotelian form of community as natural to the greatest longings of the human person. Flawed man can, according to this view, only attain his highest gifts and ultimate end, in a community. To live outside of community, each argued, a human ceases to be human.

Conservatism, though appealing to Burke and de Tocqueville, also viewed them as carrying on, or perhaps best exemplifying, all that had come before them in the western tradition. Never shy about selectively reading the past, conservatives over the past six decades have identified a lineage of ancestors, dating from the pre-Socratic Heraclitus, philosopher of the Logos, forward. Others in this line of thinkers include Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, Cleanthes, Cicero, Livy, Virgil, Seneca, St. John, Marcus Aurelius, St. Augustine, the Venerable Bede, Alcuin, Alfred the Great, Thomas a Becket, St. Francis, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas, Petrarch, Dante, Erasmus, and St. Thomas More. For many conservatives of Kirk’s generation, the West had slowly developed its ideas of the humane—domestically and abroad—but civilization floundered profoundly around the time of Machiavelli. As Kirk believed the situation to be, the Socratic West ended with the writing of The Prince and the acceptance of power over love as the primary motive force in world affairs. Sometime during the Renaissance, according to many conservatives, the world entered a new dark age, an age that resented tradition and, by necessity, men. The Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation attempted to undo the damage of the Renaissance, but failed, leading to the Enlightenment and the secularization of the West. The failures of the French and English Enlightenments led directly to the age of ideologies, a dark age within a dark age but intensely dangerous and brutal as well. Many conservatives saw the so-called “liberalism” of the seventeenth and eighteenth-centuries as a mere stage between the humane promoted by Christendom and the terror espoused by the Nazis and the Soviets. As T.S.Eliot put it in one of his choruses:

But it seems that something has happened that has never happened before:
though we know not just when, or why, or how, or where.
Men have left GOD not for other gods, they say, but for no god; and this has never happened before
That men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first Reason,
And then Money, and Power, and what they call Life, or Race, or Dialectic.
The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what have we to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards
In an age which advances progressively backwards?”
In sum, Eliot asserted in 1936, “If you will not have God (and he is a jealous God), you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.” Such was the bleak view from the few remaining and stubborn islands of civilization in the 1930s. It was this view, then, that many carried with them as they watched the U.S. government intern Americans of Japanese descent during WWII and the atomic annihilation of two Japanese cities in 1945. These horrors, perhaps more than any other events of the day, shaped conservatism, proving to a whole generation that the “colossal” in government, unions, and corporations would never allow for the humane.

From the perspective of many in the post-war era, Burke, Adam Smith, and Alexis de Tocqueville represented the culmination of the highest of western thought, with everything coming after them merely a rearguard action, a rout at best. In this way, the conservatives of the twentieth century assumed that Burke, Smith, and de Tocqueville represented the West, coming at the end of an era, or, perhaps, an epoch, in the way that Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle came at the end of classical Greece, or Cicero at the end of republican Rome, or St. Augustine at the end of imperial Rome, or Sir Thomas More coming at the end of the English Catholic spring. For whatever reason, the greats of the Western tradition seem to have come at the end of an era. In the twentieth century, prior to the 1950s, those carrying on the conservative tradition were Irving Babbitt, a scholar of French literature at Harvard, Paul Elmer More, a classicist at Princeton, Albert Jay Nock, a quasi-anarchist and proponent of the liberal arts, Christopher Dawson, an English convert to Roman Catholicism, and T.S. Eliot, the Missourian turned Englishman and perhaps the greatest poet of the age.

What to Conserve? 



Though conservatism never achieved, nor wanted to achieve, coherence or conformity, it is possible for the modern scholar, with some trepidation, to define it broadly through a set of principles to which most conservatives adhered. The most important question a conservative must ask is: “what is to be conserved?” Numerous traditions, of course, promoted the destruction or degradation of the human person. Institutions such as slavery, for example, must be abolished. The conservative, then, must prudently and justly judge what is to be maintained, what is to be rejected, and what is to be reformed within any society. Opposing all systems and ideologies, the conservative is always and everywhere a dogmatist in the proper sense of the term. The true dogmatist promotes a series of “good little truths” without reifying all knowledge as absolute or absolutist, recognizing the importance and humility of partial understanding of things. One man, finite but finite in a manner different from every other finite man, sees A, B, and D. Another sees C and E. Yet, another—the poetic mind—sees the connection from and between D and E. Perhaps, no one has yet discovered G, but every one easily sees F. This is simply the life of a finite person (or people) at any one point in history.

The first principle, then, of the conservative is the preciousness of each
individual human person, each an unrepeatable center of dignity and freedom.
Though deeply flawed or, in religious terms, fallen, each man carries some
unique thing or things into the world, each born in a certain time and place,
each bearing the unique image of the Infinite mind and soul of the Creator. To the modern mind, this sounds as though it must be Jewish or Christian. But, the ancient Stoics, such as Zeno and Seneca, embraced a universal Creator, the Logos, as well. From this observation, a man best knows his own place within Justice. “I may assume that the awful Author of our being is the Author of our place in the order of existence,—and that, having disposed and marshalled us by a divine tactic, not according to our will, but according to His, He has in and by that disposition virtually subjected us to act the part which belongs to the place assigned us,” Burke explained in 1791. “We have obligations to mankind at large, wh..............................

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Pay close attention to this part designated by me as (1)--Tyr



1. The fourth principle of the conservative is the recognition that the most
important knowledge is poetic knowledge. In 1978, Kirk wrote “Images are
representations of mysteries, necessarily; for mere words are tools that
break in the hand, and it has not pleased God that man should be saved by
logic, abstract reason, alone.” Such images, he continued, “can raise us
on high, as did Dante’s high dream; also it can draw us down to the abyss. . . .
It is imagery, rather than some narrowly deductive and inductive process,
which gives us great poetry and scientific insights. . . . And it is true of
great philosophy, before Plato and since him, that the enduring philosopher
sees things in images initially.” Owen Barfield, one of the most important
of twentieth-century thinkers, explored similar themes in his 1928 book,
Poetic Diction: “Our sophistication, like Odin’s, has cost us an eye; and
now it is the language of poets, in so far as they create true metaphors,
which must restore this unity conceptually, after it has been lost from
perception. Thus, the ‘before-unapprehended’ relationship of which Shelley spoke, are in a sense ‘forgotten’ relationships. For though they were never yet apprehended, they were at one time seen. And imagination can see them again.” Through such Stoic and Christian insights, the person can recognize truth dogmatically, rather than systematically. These ideas also allow us to know our place in the order of existence: for each person is “an allegory,” J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to his former student, famed poet W.H. Auden, “each embodying in a particular tale and clothed in the garments of time and place, universal truth and everlasting life.”



2. The fifth principle conservatives uphold is an embracing of the classical
and Christian virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude, faith, hope,
and charity. Plato wrote of the first four, the classical virtues, in his
dialogue, the Symposium. Jewish culture adopted these in the deuterocanonical
Book of Wisdom, and St. Paul added the latter three in his first letter to the
peoples of Corinth. These virtues, along with allied ones, form the strongest
character of a person and, thus, serve as the surest guide to order in the soul
and in the commonwealth. The conservative, therefore, never views history as
progressive, but, instead, as revelatory. That is, history reveals when and
where the virtues have become manifest and where the vices have predominated.
With human nature as a constant, man neither becomes better nor worse, he merely
restrains or not, creates or not, embraces the virtues or not. In his highest
capacity, man embraces the greatest virtue, love, a willingness to surrender
oneself for the good of another.

Finally, the conservative tends to distrust all large organizations and
concentrations of power—corporate, educational, labor, bureaucratic, and political
—as hostile to the dignity of the individual person. While rejecting an abstract
and atomized individualism, conservatism does demand a non-conformist society of
talented and eccentric persons, each contributing his or her particular gifts
and talents to the various communities to which the person belongs. A person
understands himself best through community, conforming to the Natural Law but
not necessarily to man’s law. In this way, the conservative seeks long-term
change through the slow and deliberate art of literature, religion, education,
and culture. Politics, at best, sustains a community, protecting it from
immediate disorders, but rarely can it do more than restrain the evil within man.
When politics attempts to shape, it almost always fails, creating distortions
in human persons and communities. While this is true of all large power structures
, such corruption empirically seems particularly dangerous in political
organizations and bodies.

Tyr-Ziu Saxnot
08-26-2015, 05:03 PM
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/181746


The Politics of Poetry
BY DAVID ORR
Shortly before Ohio's Democratic primary, Tom Buffenbarger, the head of the machinists' union and a supporter of Hillary Clinton, took to the stage at a Clinton rally in Youngstown to lay the wood to Barack Obama. "Give me a break!" snarled Buffenbarger, "I've got news for all the latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, trust fund babies crowding in to hear him speak! This guy won't last a round against the Republican attack machine." And then the union rep delivered his coup de grace: "He's a poet, not a fighter!"

Ouch.

Fortunately, this insult to the sacred mysteries of Poesie didn't go unanswered—within a few days, the poet John Lundberg angrily riposted at the Huffington Post, declaring that he "would be happy to step outside" with Buffenbarger to show him that poets can indeed mix it up. (Smart money is on Lundberg, as Buffenbarger appears to have lost several dozen battles to the combined forces of Little Debbie and Sara Lee.) Yet what was most interesting about the Clinton supporter's remarks wasn't their inaccuracy or intemperance, but the way in which they neatly summarized two assumptions often made about contemporary American poetry and contemporary American politics. Loosely speaking, these are:

1) That poetry is passive, swoony, and generally not in the business of "doing things."
2) That politics is active, gritty, and comparable to war.

Many objections can be made to these assumptions, but it's important to note first that poetry and politics are both matters of verbal persuasion—that is, both have strong connections to the art of rhetoric. Admittedly, poets and politicians are typically trying to persuade us of very different things, yet the two worlds have far more in common with each other than either does with, for instance, the world of Brazilian jujitsu. In light of that, one would think poets might get a little more respect from political speakers, and that political speakers might refrain from comparing their purely verbal existence to the decidedly non-verbal world of physical violence.

But they don't. Instead, the relationship between American poetry and American politics is confused and confusing, with politicians sometimes describing the highest moments in political life as "poetic" ("I have a dream"), and other times offering up poetry as a symbol of empty talk. And of course, American poets are even more conflicted. Rare is the poet who doesn't view himself as deeply invested in political life, and yet the sloppy, compromised, and frequently idiotic business of democracy—which is, for all its flaws, the way most political changes occur in this country—rarely attracts the attention of our best poets. Is this the inevitable order of things? Or are all the talkers simply talking past each other?

* * *

We might first ask: Why are they talking about each other at all? We don't spend much time wondering what poetry has to do with neuroscience or television writing or college basketball, yet these are important areas of American life that involve assertions about truth, form, morality, and the nature of culture—all subjects regularly claimed as poetry's turf. Yet the connection between poetry and politics interests us in ways that the arguably more obvious connection between poetry and linguistics does not. Why?

The ideal answer to that question would involve a painstaking analysis of the political inclinations of several hundred years' worth of English language poets, and it would take a proper scholar at least two books to outline. That answer would also be dull, so let's instead consider two quotes, one famous, one slightly less so. The first is from Shelley:
The most unfailing herald, companion, or follower of the awakening of a great people to work a beneficial change in opinion or institution, is poetry. . . . [Poets] measure the circumference and sound the depths of human nature with a comprehensive and all-penetrating spirit, and they are themselves perhaps the most sincerely astonished at its manifestations; for it is less their spirit than the spirit of the age. Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

And the second quote is from Auden:
All poets adore explosions, thunderstorms, tornadoes, conflagrations, ruins, scenes of spectacular carnage. The poetic imagination is not at all a desirable quality in a statesman. In a war or revolution, a poet may do very well as a guerrilla fighter or a spy, but it is unlikely that he will make a good regular soldier, or, in peacetime, a conscientious member of a parliamentary committee.

Although Auden is usually in the business of undercutting Shelley, it's interesting to notice the ways in which these very different statements are based upon similar assumptions. Poets, Shelley tells us, are "the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present"—in other words, they aren't just people who think of ways to write new poems, but people who imagine new ways of being and perceiving. It might at first be hard to see how Auden's wry description of "the poetic imagination" as a jumble of thunderstorms and explosions matches up with this conception. Yet Auden's gentle mockery begins from the premise that poetic thinking is essentially apocalyptic; that poetry involves a kind of totalizing vision to which everything, even the poet himself, becomes subordinate. Shelley thinks this vision is to be trusted; Auden thinks it should be resisted. But both believe that this is how poetry works.

It's also how democratic politics is sometimes thought to work, at least when we're thinking of "politics" in its more abstract incarnations. Here, for instance, is how Franklin D. Roosevelt viewed the job to which he devoted much of his life:
The Presidency is not merely an administrative office. That's the least of it. It is more than an engineering job, efficient or inefficient. It is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership. All our great presidents were leaders of thought at times when certain historic ideas in the life of the nation had to be clarified.

To say that you're personally necessary in order for "certain historic ideas in the life of the nation . . . to be clarified" is only a few hyperventilating breaths short of calling yourself "a mirror of the gigantic shadow which futurity casts upon the present." The link again is the concept of totalizing vision. And this concept—dramatic, romantic, wildly generalizing—is one that politics and poetry don't share to the same degree with activities like neuroscience (which focuses on particulars) or television writing (which tends to emphasize craft). Indeed, the only other areas of American life that have similar inclinations are probably religion and philosophy. Religion is no longer attractive for many poets for reasons that are historical and beyond the scope of this essay. Philosophizing remains a popular endeavor in the poetry world, but only so long as it's a poetic sort of philosophizing (Nietszche, Heidegger) and not complicated, logic-y stuff that involves formulations like ◊∃xφ→∃x◊φ. Since Anglo-American philosophy has been dominated by the latter sort of thinking for decades, it's no surprise most poets don't go in for it.

Which leaves politics as the most favorable non-artistic arena for a certain type of poetic sensibility. In his essay "Absolute Poetry and Absolute Politics," Michael Hamburger argues that this sensibility, which he connects with the Romantic-Symbolist tradition, "presuppose[s] a high degree of isolation or alienation from society." Hamburger believes that poets who work in this vein have "a private religion, a religio poetae irreconcilable with the exigencies of the public world," and that such writers consequently are attracted to "absolute political creeds, mistaking their monomania for a dedication akin to [the poets'] own, and seduced by promises of order." It's an interesting point, but we can be satisfied with a more modest related argument: any brand of politics—"absolute" or not—has a vision that supports and sustains it, and in which some poets may find reflections of the structure they seek in their writing. Even a responsible American citizen-poet has a flicker of the old Romantic-Symbolist fire in his belly, and this may cause him to feel a connection to contemporary politics that is often no less intense than Pound's affection for Il Duce. When Jorie Graham takes on global warming, that's more or less what's going on.

* * *

That connection is both enhanced and complicated by the persistence of the lyric as contemporary poetry's dominant mode. The modern lyric may be fractured, tweaked, or warped, but essentially it remains a self-enclosed world created by a singular voice (which isn't always the same thing as a single subject called "I"). That voice is often speaking to itself in meditative solitude, yet even as the lyric insists on privacy, the act of insisting necessarily implies that there's someone to be insisted to. This puts the lyric in a potentially awkward position relative to the larger political world. As W.R. Johnson writes:
The absence of a real audience and the failure of performance engender an anxiety, a kind of bad conscience, a sense of the poet's irrelevance, impotence and unreality—a frustration of function that the printed page . . . can only intensify.

For American poets, the central dilemma of the modern lyric is remarkably similar to the dilemma that's often described as central to America itself: the question of individualism. As Tocqueville tells us, "thus not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants, and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever upon himself alone, and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart." That solitude can be poignant. Consider the beginnings of three recent books, picked more or less at random:
Toward evening, the natural light becomes
intelligent and answers, without demur:
"Be assured! You are not alone...."
—From Descartes' Loneliness by Allen Grossman


Dress of dreams and portents, worn

in memory, despite
the posted warnings
sunk deeply into the damp
sand
all along the shore. (The green

tragedy of the sea
about to happen to me.)
—From Lilies Without by Laura Kasischke


I don't know what kind of man I am.

I know it was not hate I felt;
It was not the disgust and the stone in my belly.
—From Rift by Forrest Hamer

Yet just as America has (mostly) avoided the trap Tocqueville feared, American poets find ways to reach outside themselves, however tentatively. Yes, there's a great deal of loneliness in the quotes above, but there's beauty too, and much of that beauty stems from ambivalence and ambiguity: an uncertainty about what might be said, whom it might be said to, and how it might be taken. And ambivalence isn't refusal or rejection. If poets are unsure whom to address—and by extension, unsure of their relationship with society—the modern lyric still wants to address someone. As a result, our poets edge toward politics, they edge away from it; but either way, they are conscious of an existence outside themselves. The path to a richer political poetry is still open.
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And the second quote is from Auden:

All poets adore explosions, thunderstorms, tornadoes, conflagrations, ruins, scenes of spectacular carnage. The poetic imagination is not at all a desirable quality in a statesman. In a war or revolution, a poet may do very well as a guerrilla fighter or a spy, but it is unlikely that he will make a good regular soldier, or, in peacetime, a conscientious member of a parliamentary committee.

Although Auden is usually in the business of undercutting Shelley, it's interesting to notice the ways in which these very different statements are based upon similar assumptions. Poets, Shelley tells us, are "the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present"—in other words, they aren't just people who think of ways to write new poems, but people who imagine new ways of being and perceiving. It might at first be hard to see how Auden's wry description of "the poetic imagination" as a jumble of thunderstorms and explosions matches up with this conception. Yet Auden's gentle mockery begins from the premise that poetic thinking is essentially apocalyptic; that poetry involves a kind of totalizing vision to which everything, even the poet himself, becomes subordinate. Shelley thinks this vision is to be trusted; Auden thinks it should be resisted. But both believe that this is how poetry works.

It's also how democratic politics is sometimes thought to work, at least when we're thinking of "politics" in its more abstract incarnations. Here, for instance, is how Franklin D. Roosevelt viewed the job to which he devoted much of his life:
The Presidency is not merely an administrative office. That's the least of it. It is more than an engineering job, efficient or inefficient. It is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership. All our great presidents were leaders of thought at times when certain historic ideas in the life of the nation had to be clarified.