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Symposium: Are We Slaves to Our “Freedom”?

Restrictions-applyThe modern Conservative, Mark Mitchell claims, is represented as an advocate of “pro-growth, pro-war individualism”. And if growth is some sort of motion or action, nobody in their right mind would posit that this is purposeless.

If this is true, toward what, exactly, are we moving?

Mr. Mitchell is pointing to the problem of the “limitlessness” evident in the modern conception of the Conservative movement. And he’s right. This is a sign of what is quickly becoming a norm in our culture: the embracement of uncertainty, agnosticism, and relativism. Implicit in all three is that limits and boundaries, or any sort of obligation, are out of the question. This has slowly stolen the traditional Conservative stance that limits are healthy for the individual and for society. Mr. Mitchell claims that this is evident in our lack of community, and this is manifest in its very notion: communities require families, roots and lasting relationships to truly be called such. This is exactly what we have moved away from (in the name of growth) in this new age. In The Quest for Community, Robert Nisbet argues this when he claims that our society’s primary problem is the total irrelevance and functionlessness of primary social relationships in light of the political order. The two now have different ends.

But I would also like to embrace Mr. Mitchell’s premise that we ought to take up “concrete realities and not abstract ideals” and pose the question: how do we convince our generation that limits are good and necessary? In light of the dominance among Conservatives and Liberals of this notion of limitlessness—as I’m sure you can all attest to—the idea of assenting to any sort of bounds which are being proposed will be, and are, actively resisted.

What is the answer? We need to convince them, as well as remind ourselves, that there is a slavery of sorts to the popular conception of the proper political and social order. Somehow they need to understand that those with the security—the limits—of walls have the courage and freedom to throw themselves against them, despite the canyon on the other side. But take away these walls, and they cower in fear of what lies beyond, and become slaves to it.

Freedom and limits are not incompatible. It’s time to rebuild these walls in the interest of true freedom.

This article is in response to Roots, Limits, and Love by Mark Mitchell and is part of the symposium on “What’s Wrong with Conservatism?”


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