The Conservatism of Russell Kirk: Social Continuity

President Abraham Lincoln, an excellent conservative, described the probable destruction of the United States in his Lyceum address: “From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe and Asia…could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. No, if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we will live forever or die by suicide.” Our destruction is realized when we abandon our ways as Americans and neglect our social continuity.

Singing the national anthem before football games is a small example of social continuity. It reaffirms the state’s legitimacy and our bonds as brothers and sisters in nationhood. The movement to take a knee during the national anthem in football games is in practice a direct assault on the social continuity of the United States. With or without intent to attack the sense of American community, the movement to protest the national anthem is in practice a net loss to the country as a whole. Through intending to cast doubt or to end a socially contiguous ritual, citizens of the same state begin lose their similarities and distrust their fellow citizens. One can change policy without violating the social continuity, and must act accordingly or risk dismantling the state itself and constituting a state of destructive civil conflict.

The canon of social continuity rests on the idea that justice is not natural, but artificial. In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes defines justice practically as a result of law. Law is the result of the common powers over man, and the common powers over man arise as a means to end a state of conflict. Therefore, justice is an invention of man necessary in practice to maintain order over conflict and to facilitate prosperity. For thousands of years, people have gone through war and peace, trial and error, and have arrived at the rules and prosperity of today by learning from those sacrifices and hardships of the past. Social continuity is the call for continuing the true justice, forged in the trials by fire of our past, in order to continue in the security and prosperity of the state.

This canon of conservative thought is in danger of redefinition or outright abandonment. Today’s common ideal of justice based on personal morality and subjective truth is to blame for this push towards abandoning social continuity. If one believes in standards for correctness, one would likely believe in the merit of social continuity. The idealistic view of justice, where what any individual dreams as justice is so, naturally finds conflict with social continuity as personal morality can overturn it by virtue of one’s own personal taste. Social continuity is either redefined to fit personal morality, or is abandoned in some form of revolution to dismantle the structure entirely and erect an ideal state.

These challenges to social continuity ignore certain problems. First, sticking to the tradition of American ideals has allowed the individuals their present advantages, and even their ability to question the structure itself. It is difficult to justify the moral advantage of an alternate state when the present state of the United States is both flexible and fair enough, thanks to the preservation of American ideals. Second, transient causes should not define the United States, as transient causes are usually idealistic rather than practical and do not solve problems so much as create new ones. This haphazard factor is why transient causes are more detrimental than beneficial, and should not to be implemented for their own sake at the expense of destroying a necessary support to the state as a whole.

The rule of social continuity is mocked and trivialized in contemporary universities, especially in those fields which promote cultural relativism. In order to affirm that there are good ideas and bad ideas, right practices and wrong practices, one must have a standard to identify and judge ideas and practices. This standard develops in the social body of a nation. Cultural relativism destroys this standard, tears our social fabric, and goes against the practical Hobbesian definition of justice. The thousands of years of trial and error which have built our success become irrelevant under relativism. Defined, cultural relativism affirms that there are no such things as good ideas or bad ideas, right or wrong practices, in a vain effort to make every culture accepted. This is an idealistic rather than practical view of justice. Some ideas and practices are better than others, and the American social continuity is not only the best one, but is the standard which the world follows. The American development of ideals inspires the rest of the world, sustains its citizens, and has brought forth prosperity for generations; yet, it is mocked by relativists who would believe that all ideas are created equal.

The preservation of the state is an immeasurable gift to us, our children, and our world. Even if the individual does not find a clear conscience with the present society, it is far more beneficial to everyone if the union of a society is preserved. Without the power of social commonality, distrust and ambition would naturally cause conflict and there would be ceaseless war, and if there is no common power over people there will be no such thing as injustice as justice can no longer be affirmed. Only in this ceaseless war would people recognize its detriment and agree upon oaths with one another, call them laws, and enforce them in the form of a common power over people. In short, the state controls justice and justice is only possible if there is a state. The most disadvantageous peace is better than the most just war. The common bonds of society preserve the state. Social continuity is one of the state’s most integral supports not just because of its natural affirmation of the state’s legitimacy but because of its universal connection to all citizens in practice.

Social continuity, even if one disagrees with present policy, must not be violated because preserving the nation is an unquestionable good. For, through preserving the state, justice will continue to exist in contrast to a state of war. Social continuity creates a common bond between citizens and it is through this bond that shared values and trust is facilitated. Good ideas and practices tried and tested for thousands of years of recorded history have been taken into account, and as a result, prosperity and abundance have come to our advantage. Now that one of our greatest advantages has become subject to doubt and ridicule now is the time for conservatives to once more affirm the virtue of the social continuity. Preserving the social fabric of America would ultimately be an unquestionable good for the hundreds of millions of Americans and for the peace of the entire world.

Compassion, Truth, and Transgenderism

Editor’s Note: The following piece is a half of a point-counterpoint regarding libertarian and traditional conservative perspectives on transgenderism. Find the other half, written by Zach Neeley, here.

All mental illnesses are painful in their spiritual, emotional, and physical manifestations—and in dealing with people who suffer from mental illness, ignoring the problem never leads to a solution. For example, if someone is suffering from the delusion that he is, in fact, a car, it wouldn’t be compassionate to just allow the person to run down the freeway. Rather, it would be compassionate to try to help the suffering person to get therapy or medication so that the incorrect thinking can be fixed.

However, in today’s culture, people are rejecting the fact that it is delusional to think one can change his or her gender. They even frame people who think that gender dysphoria should be treated as a mental illness as evil and unsympathetic to the problem. But this is irrational. If a person thinks changing one’s gender is impossible, then why is it evil of him to try to prevent someone else from delusionally trying to?

In fact, it would be quite the opposite of evil, as if someone thought that another person is suffering from a mental illness, then as I said earlier, one should not ignore the problem. To ignore the problem would be the evil, not to treat the problem for what it is.

That being said, one can clearly observe the pain transgender people experience. To go about life feeling like you are in the wrong body is a terrible tragedy. But one can have this sympathy without giving in to the delusion that the person is, in fact, the opposite gender of what he or she really is.

Just as any reasonable person would not let someone who suffers from the delusion that he is a dog pretend to be a dog, no one should ignore gender dysphoria. It would not be compassionate to them to go along with this delusion and help them to permanently mutilate their bodies. Instead of being fatalistic with the problem, one should try to help them reach out for psychological counseling.

Just because society says something is acceptable doesn’t make it so. For example, slavery was legalized for many years and there were certainly doctors who thought that black people were biologically inferior to white people. Now, just to address what you might be thinking, I am not equating slavery to the transgender problem in a broad way. My precise point is that people have held opinions on a wide scale which were later judged as morally unacceptable.

Similarly, just because there are many doctors who want to deny the reality of the human body and human genetics and the real differences between men and women, and just because it makes some members of society feel good to agree with them, doesn’t mean the biology of gender and the reality of man and woman are mere fantasies. Truth and moral goodness are independent from popular opinion.

Just think for a moment about how illogical the transgender worldview is: people who hold this view say that the real self, one’s gender, is something immaterial, or independent of one’s body. But at the same time, they embrace a reductive-materialist worldview where there are no immaterial realities.

They say that gender is a social construct, but then they say that a person can be stuck from birth in the wrong biological gender. They deny the differences between men and women, but then use gender stereotypes to argue that gender identity is real and the embodiment of the human person is not. The most irritating contradiction about the transgender ideology is that it stems from a radical individualism where truth and gender are relative, but a traditional view of gender is wrong in an absolute sense, not a relative one. This self-referential incoherence shows the bias and double standards of transgender activism. None of it makes any sense, and it only takes a couple of sentences to show this.

The problems with transgender delusion hurt everyone. They hurt individual members of society’s ability and willingness to use the intellect God gave them, and they hurt transgender people’s long-term well-being. I agree with Saint Thomas Aquinas, who states, “We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject, for both have labored in the search for truth, and both have helped us in finding it.”

While we must hear falsity to come to the truth, it is ultimately the decision of every person as to whether they would like to follow their own opinions or come to a real knowledge of the truth once it is sufficiently revealed. Are you going to just believe what some of your friends say or how you feel, or are you going to pursue truth? You must decide.

We Wanted to be Surprised by #MeToo

This article was co-written by Luke Ayers

When the stories of sexual assault, harassment, and general impropriety began to surface, often with #MeToo, neither of us were particularly surprised. We really, really wanted to be. We wanted to be shocked that figures representing films and television series we enjoyed could be guilty of such horrendous offenses, but we weren’t, not in the slightest.

It’s difficult to be surprised about #MeToo when we are living in a culture which does not encourage a respect for human dignity in sexuality. A culture which is saturated with things such as pornography and casual sex, diminishing the value of intimate relationships. This has led to people, especially men in positions of power, believing that they have the right to sexually take advantage of women without repercussions. If we don’t expect people to stand for human dignity in public, why should we expect them to do so in private?

By this point, if you’re someone who consumes pornography or has casual sexual relationships, or at least don’t think there’s anything wrong with these, you’re probably getting a little peeved (at the very least) and thinking we’re a couple of prudes who need to get our minds out of the 1300’s. While you aren’t entirely wrong on our preferred century, the problems with the attitudes that accompany a flippant use of pornography or consistent participation in casual sex are well documented. The harmful effects of pornography in particular are well documented by psychologists and behavioural scientists.

In case you’re doubting the truthfulness of this claim, we’ve selected just three of the worst effects that pornography has been shown to have. There are many, many more to be found.

1. Even non-violent porn makes men more likely to use violence, drugs, and alcohol to coerce women into having sex with them.

2. Porn is addictive in the same way that drugs are, because of the release of dopamine in the brain, sending users on a destructive path towards more and more dehumanizing porn to satisfy their addiction.

3. Porn contributes heavily to the sex trafficking business, with even many of the women who do consent often being coerced into doing things they don’t feel comfortable doing.*

These numbers do not represent fringe research. In light of this growing body of research, four states (Utah, South Dakota, Arkansas and Tennessee) have declared pornography a public health crisis, and Florida has similar legislation introduced at the moment. Virginia has passed a resolution recognizing porn as having harmful effects. Similar efforts are being discussed in Texas and other states.

The second attitude that contributes to the acceptability of sexual offenses like those highlighted by #MeToo is the prevalence of hookup culture and an assumption that sex can or should be casual. Admittedly, some of our issues with extramarital sex are religious in nature, and to hide that would be disingenuous. However, even allowing for sex outside the context of marriage, the fact remains that hookup culture approaches a person as a mere means to an end. It degrades a human person to simply a tool that provides sexual pleasure. While these fleeting relationships do have the important aspect of consent, no amount of consent to an activity can change the attitude with which one or both parties approach it.

There is a whole host of issues that come with our generation’s hookup culture, in which 80% of today’s college students take part. According to the Kinsey Institute, having a high amount of previous sexual partners is one of the top five factors leading to infidelity in adults. It also increases your chances of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, which is one of the reasons that 23% of American adults have some form of HPV. Consequences of having casual sex spill out into your emotional life as well—as a study from Durham University shows that 80% of men had overall positive feelings the morning after a one night stand, while only 54% of women felt satisfied.

By participating in this culture, young men and women open themselves up to brokenness and falling away from the original purpose of sex. “Lust and sin increase the rupture between body and spirit. When we use our own and others bodies as objects for pleasure or to fill the emptiness inside us, there is an increased break,” says Katrina Zero, who is the coordinator of the John Paul II Resource Center for Theology of the Body and Culture.

It is for this reason that hookup culture has frankly eroded the morals of our generation. It has created an environment in which one night stands are not only viewed as normal but also as healthy, as was shown in a popular article from babe.net, an up and coming young women’s lifestyle site. The same site that, ironically, that posted the non-sexual assault story about Aziz Ansari. It is true cognitive dissonance that a publication can discuss the negative consequences of a poorly thought out hookup, while at the same time lauding casual sex as a necessary and positive thing for women.

Rape and other violations of a person’s bodily autonomy ultimately originate because the perpetrator does not truly believe in the dignity of the person they are attacking. This is not to say that everyone who uses porn or has casual sex will be a rapist—neither logic nor the statistics supports this. However, the prevalence of these two things, among our age group and in society as a whole, certainly do not help decrease the number of these violations. Moreover, the statistics surrounding the higher propensity towards a lack of concern for consent among men who use porn, and the commodification of the human person that occurs with pornography and hookups make it clear how someone could go down the road to justifying more and more egregious offenses against the individual.

Offenses against the dignity of one person are offenses against the dignity of all—we should all take issue with the way that women and men are portrayed as mere vehicles of sexual pleasure, if we wish to truly be a society that cares about the rights of each person. One of our country’s founding values is individual liberty, which means that respecting the basic human decency of our fellow man is paramount to who we are as Americans. This must extend to our culture in regards to casual sex and pornography, as these are the things that are holding us back from eradicating the problems of sexual abuse and harassment in the times of #MeToo.

*Sources for Pornography Statistics:

  • Boeringer, S. B. (1994). Pornography and Sexual Aggression: Associations of Violent and Nonviolent Depictions with Rape and Rape Proclivity. Deviant Behavior 15, 3: 289–304
  • Check, J. and Guloien, T. (1989). The Effects of Repeated Exposure to Sexually Violent Pornography, Nonviolent Dehumanizing Pornography, and Erotica. In D. Zillmann and J. Bryant (Eds.) Pornography: Research Advances and Policy Considerations (pp. 159–84). Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
  • Hald, G. M., Malamuth, N. M., and Yuen, C. (2010). Pornography and Attitudes Supporting Violence Against Women: Revisiting the Relationship in Nonexperimental Studies. Aggression and Behavior 36, 1: 14–20
  • Berridge, K. C., & Robinson, T. E. (2016). Liking, Wanting, And The Incentive-Sensitization Theory Of Addiction. American Psychologist, 71(8), 670-679. Doi:10.1037/Amp0000059; Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography Addiction—A Supranormal Stimulus Considered In The Context Of Neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, 3, 20767. Doi:10.3402/Snp.V3i0.20767; Pitchers, K. K., Et Al. (2013). Natural And Drug Rewards Act On Common Neural Plasticity Mechanisms With DeltaFosB As A Key Mediator. Journal Of Neuroscience, 33(8) 3434-3442. Doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4881-12.2013; Salamone, J. D., & Correa, M. (2012). The Mysterious Motivational Functions Of Mesolimbic Dopamine. Neuron, 76, 470-485. Doi:10.1016/J.Neuron.2012.10.021
  • Peters, R. W., Lederer, L. J., and Kelly, S. (2012). The Slave and the Porn Star: Sexual Trafficking and Pornography. In M. Mattar and J. Braunmiller (Eds.) Journal of Human Rights and Civil Society 5: 1-21.
  • U.S. Department of Justice. (2012). Two Men Sentenced to Multiple Life Sentences for Enticing Women to South Florida to Engage in Commercial Sex Acts and Distributing Date Rape Pills. Press Release, Feb. 17.