Sunday, September 25, 2005

Three schools of Radicalism

I'm a gadfly I know, introducing a new topic that I don't intend to get into anytime soon and which I shouldn't even raise until I've tackled what's still on the table, but before I put Kirk's The Conservative Mind back on the shelf, I want to get his paradigm of radicalism--the three principal schools of radical thought into which various other radical ideas more or less fit--into my blog. Someday, as I (or, more properly, "if I") continue to test the extent to which labels like "conservative" or "progressive" are useful in describing the non-doctrinal currents that have been pushing the visible, human structure of Holy Mother Church over the last decades, I may want to come back to them:

1. The Rationalism of the philosophes.
2. The romantic Sentimentalism of Rousseau and his disciples.
3. The Utilitarianism of Bentham.

Also, we'll throw in for later ruminations, the six tenets of 18th century radicalism which Kirk boiled down:

  1. If there is divine authority in the universe, it differs sharply in its nature from the Christian idea of God: for some radicals, it is the remote and impassive Being of the deists; for others, the misty and new-modeled God of Rousseau
  2. Abstract reason or (alternatively) idyllic imagination may be employed not merely to study, but to direct, the course of social destiny.
  3. Man naturally is benevolent, generous, healthy-souled, but in this age is corrupted by institutions
  4. The traditions of mankind, for the most part, are tangled and delusory myth, from which we learn little.
  5. Mankind, capable of infinite improvement, is struggling upward toward Elysium, and should fix its gaze always upon the future.
  6. The aim of the reformer, moral and political, is emancipation--liberation from old creeds, old oaths, old establishments; the man of the future is to rejoice in pure liberty, unlimited democracy, self-governing, self-satisfying.

(The Conservative Mind, 7th ed. p 26-27)

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