Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Change and Pervert the Natural Order of Things

The levellers only change and pervert the natural order of things...
- Edmund Burke

Quotes here within are from the introduction to Corey Robin's The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin.

Historically, the conservative has favored liberty for the higher orders and constraint for the lower orders.  What the conservative sees and dislikes in equality, in other words, is not a threat to freedom but its extension. For in that extension, he sees a loss of his own freedom. (p.8)

Despite the very real differences between them, workers in a factory are like secretaries in an office, peasants on a manor, slaves on a plantation - even wives in a marriage - in that they live and labor in conditions of unequal power. They submit and obey, heeding the demands of their managers and masters, husbands and lords. They are disciplined and punished. They do much and receive little. Sometimes their lot is freely chosen... but its entailments seldom are. What contract, after all, could ever itemize the ins and outs, the daily pains and ongoing sufferance, of a job or a marriage? Throughout American history, in fact, the contract often has served as a conduit to unforeseen coercion and constraint, particularly in institutions like the workplace and the family where men and women spend so much of their lives. Employment and marriage contracts have been interpreted by judges, themselves friendly to the interests of employers and husbands, to contain all sorts of unwritten and unwanted provisions of servitude to which wives and workers tacitly consent, even when they have no knowledge of such provisions or wish to stipulate otherwise.

McCall Homemaking Cover

Until 1980, for example, it was legal in every state in the union for a husband to rape his wife. The justification for this dates back to a 1736 treatise by English jurist Matthew Hale. When a woman marries, Hale argued, she implicitly agrees to giver "up herself in this kind (sexually) to her husband." Hers is a tacit, if unknowing, consent "which she cannot retract" for the duration of their union... As late as 1957... a standard legal treatise could state, "A man does not commit rape by having sexual intercourse with his lawful wife, even if he does so by force and against her will." If a woman (or man) tried to write into the marriage contract a requirement that express consent had to be given in order for sex to proceed, judges were bound by common law to ignore or override it. Implicit consent was a structural feature of the contract that neither party could alter. (4-5)...

Edmund Burke:

The occupation of an hair-dresser, or of a working tallow-chandler, cannot be a matter of honour to any person - to say nothing of a number of other more servile employments. Such descriptions of men ought not to suffer oppression from the state; but the state suffers oppression, if such as they, either individually or collectively, are permitted to strike... (8)
Holding strikers in check, Lawrence, Mass. (LOC)

During the Seattle general strike of 1919, workers went to great lengths to provide basic government services, including law and order. So successful were they that the mayor concluded it was this, the workers' independent capacity to limit violence and [chaos]*, that posed the greatest threat:

The so-called sympathetic Seattle strike was an attempted revolution. That there was no violence does not alter the fact... True, there were no flashing guns, no bombs, no killings. Revolution, I repeat, doesn't need violence. The general strike, as practiced in Seattle, is of itself the weapon of revolution, all the more dangerous because quiet... that is to say, it puts the government out of operation. and that is all there is to revolt - no matter how achieved. (7)
Elizabeth Cady Stanton:
Here is the secret of the opposition to woman's equality in the state. Men are not ready to recognize it in the home.
Schooled in the Enlightenment, John Adams believed that "consent of the people" was "the only moral foundations of government." But when his wife suggested that a muted version of these principals be extended to the family, he was not pleased... Abigail wrote him, "In the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do no put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could."...

Adams was clearly rattled by this appearance of democracy in the private sphere. In a letter to James Sullivan, he worried that the Revolution would "confound and destroy all distinctions," unleashing throughout society a spirit of insubordination so intense that all order would be dissolved... No matter how democratic the state, it was imperative that society remain a federation of private dominions, where husbands ruled over the wives, masters governed apprentices, and each "should know his place and be made to keep it." (14)...

Workers at a hat factory, St. Paul

Conservatism, then, is not a commitment to limited government and liberty - or a wariness of change, a belief in evolutionary reform, or a politics of virtue. These may be the byproducts of conservatism, one or more of its historically specific and ever-changing modes of expression. But they are not its animating purpose. Neither is conservatism a makeshift fusion of capitalists, Christians, and warriors, for that fusion is impelled by a more elemental force - the opposition to the liberation of men and women from the fetters of their superiors, particularly in the private sphere. Such a view might seem miles away from the libertarian defense of the free market, with its celebration of the atomistic and autonomous individual. but it is not. When the libertarian** looks out upon society, he does not see isolated individuals; he sees private, often hierarchical, groups, where a father governs his family and an owner his employees. (15-6)

James Fitzjames Stephans:
To obey a real superior... is one of the most important of all virtues - a virtue absolutely essential to the attainment of anything great and lasting (17).***

*Here, Robin uses the word "anarchy". But it seems to me that they were acting anarchically - the people were acting as their own government.

**American libertarians seem to publicly ignore the power paradigm while benefiting from it, as if the only thing keeping them from being in epochs of their own power were the limits placed upon them by government and government's collusion with corporate interests (that's only IF they think that corporations can be limiting, rather than just limited). But a problem I have here is that they tend to want to do away with social group distinctions that actually serve to protect people. In my understandings, they largely fail to acknowledge that People of Color are discriminated against en masse, and if so, only as a result of the War on Drugs or the War on Terror. Their disapproval of the "statist" Civil Rights Act only further proves that they are not interested in minority groups being empowered, but whatever limitations they could possibly find themselves in. It's a very WASP way of thinking, unfettered by other (to their minds') murky perspectives.
EDIT: Huh. I may have to change that...

*** I am certainly no longer a conservative by any means or measure, really. But I still have a conservative's temperance for following leaders and Messiahs. It's a struggle to give that up for a truly egalitarian practicum.

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