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Conservatism Is About More Than Economics

Conservatism Is About More Than Economics

Roger Scruton was perhaps the greatest conservative thinker of the modern era, and like all great thinkers, he didn’t spare his own side from critique. For example, he often pointed out that modern conservatives are happy to cheer on capitalism, but they rarely say anything about conserving traditional ways of life—or the natural environment. Are conservatives just cheerleaders for business?

Scruton didn’t think so. While he saw the value of the free market, he also mourned the loss of beauty, silence, and seriousness that characterizes the modern era. For example, Scruton spoke eloquently of the “tyranny of pop music,” which dominates most public spaces today.

But in many instances, conservative-leaning people don’t even know what they are trying to conserve. In the present day, so few American traditions remain intact that it’s hard to know where to look.

History does give us some clues. Many see the Industrial Revolution as an age when the innovative potential of capitalism finally tore down the stale traditions of aristocracy. And so it did. Yet while the Industrial Revolution was a time of great material progress, all of us should mourn many of the traditions that it destroyed.

The family is just one institution that was forever changed by industrialization. Until the industrial era, grandfathers, fathers, and sons worked together in the fields while grandmothers, mothers, and daughters labored in the home. Children were in constant contact with several generations of relatives. It was in this environment that the culture and values of the past were transmitted to future generations.

The Industrial Revolution splintered the family unit. When they moved to cities, fathers and sons worked in separate factories, as did mothers and daughters. But even when child labor was outlawed, children didn’t return to the home—if they had two working parents. The home no longer existed as anything more than a boarding house, and children were sent to public schools.

Today, it isn’t unusual for American children to spend seven hours in school each day. After school ends, they may participate in organized sports, organized scouting, organized music courses, or organized after-school programs. By the time their parents pick them up, it’s evening. Dinner, a bit of television, and bedtime follow.

Where is the family in all of this? Externally organized activities have carved it up until there is very little left. And if the children do play sports, even the weekends are sacrificed to the system.

So while we can champion the individualism of the market, we should always be critical of the negative ways that it shapes American life. After all, the true basis of individualism lies in the ability of every person to live according to his own plans and values. In other words, individualism and self-government go hand in hand.

Is the average American self-governing? Does he have the ability to live according to his own plans and values? Or does he spend his days completing tasks that have been assigned to him by distant strangers?

These are the questions we all need to be asking.

Image credit: public domain

Adam De Gree
Adam De Gree

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  • Avatar
    Mark Wynn
    June 20, 2024, 10:23 pm

    Useful food for thought …

    • Avatar
      Deborah Harvey@Mark Wynn
      June 20, 2024, 10:59 pm

      Conservatism is high moral standards
      Clean living informs standards of business and finance, things not found in Bernie goetz or black rock, among others


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