"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Russell Kirk's embrace of diversity over egalitarianism

One of the more interesting phenomena on the post-60's Left is the embrace of diversity as an ideal while at the same time insisting on a deadening political & social uniformity that brooks no dissent. It is precisely this concept of diversity, so prominently on current display in many humanities & social science departments in our nation's universities (see, e.g., Megan McArdle's pieces here & here) that Russell Kirk sought to counter in his expositions of conservatism. In Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles (1993), his statement of the fifth conservative principle includes a powerful statement in support of a conservative approach to diversity, what he calls "the principle of variety":
Fifth, conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety. They feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems. For the preservation of a healthy diversity in any civilization, there must survive orders and classes, differences in material condition, and many sorts of inequality. The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law; all other attempts at levelling must lead, at best, to social stagnation. Society requires honest and able leadership; and if natural and institutional differences are destroyed, presently some tyrant or host of squalid oligarchs will create new forms of inequality.
For Kirk, instead of a egalitarianism of squalor, conservatism proposes diversity of modes of life, a type of diversity that upholds equality before God and the law, but which also accepts & celebrates differences in lifestyle & outcomes. The right to succeed requires the right to fail, and not every human being is possessed of the same talents and abilities. In such a world -- a good world Kirk would insist -- differences of talent and skill result in differences of ability, which in turn results in differences in outcome. This process is not manufacturered by government but rather is organic & spontaneous in nature. This is a key aspect of the conservative approach to social issues and questions of social justice. To Kirk, organic & spontaneous differences are to be celebrated, not viewed as problems to be resolved by government social engineering.

1 comment:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Egalitarianism as multiculturalism is also the enemy of excellence. When everyone is special, no one is.

Some things are better than others.