Conservative Colloquium

An Intellectual Forum for All Things Conservative

Posts Tagged ‘Virtue’

Don’t “Be Yourself”

Posted by Tony Listi on October 17, 2010

I hate the cliche “be yourself.” It’s terrible advice. Instead, be your true self, which is the self that God wants you to be. There can be no true self apart from the Being who created us. We can never be happy if we create a self in opposition to our Creator.

How can we achieve this true self? Practically speaking, by pretending, as C. S. Lewis advises us: “Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already.”

We tell children to act a certain way in order to form good habits in them. When we tell ourselves to act in a certain way, we exercise self-discipline in order to form ourselves in good habits, in virtue. We become what we pretend to be. The intention is not to deceive others but to change ourselves into our true selves.

Perhaps some saints aside, I don’t think we ever become our true self perfectly until we are in total communion with God after death. Life is a process of more closely discovering and putting on our true selves in Jesus Christ.

Posted in American Culture, Moral Philosophy, Religion and Theology, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Frank Meyer, Libertarianism, and the Family

Posted by Tony Listi on July 24, 2010


Frank S. Meyer

Frank S. Meyer’s book In Defense of Freedom and essay “Freedom, Tradition, Conservativism,” are must-reads IMO. His critique of Russell Kirk in his essay “Collectivism Rebaptized” is also insightful and persuasive. Kirk and Meyer have been the most influential thinkers on my own political views but Meyer most of all.

In his essay “Freedom, Tradition, Conservativism,” Meyer argues his belief that conservatism and libertarianism derive from the same Western political tradition and merely represent two different but complementary emphases that have always been in tension:

I am well aware that what I have been saying can be criticized as eclecticism and attacked as an effort to smother principle. But it is not the laying aside of clear belief, either by the libertarian conservative or the traditionalist conservative, in order to present a front against contemporary collectivist Liberalism, that is here conceived. Rather it is the deepening of the beliefs which each holds through the development of their implications in a dialectic free of distorting narrowness…a dialectic in which both sides recognize not only that they have a common enemy but also that, despite all differences, they hold a common heritage….

[E]ach side emphasizes so strongly the aspect of the great tradition of the West which it sees as decisive that distortion sets in…. [T]he complementary interdependence of freedom and virtue, of the individual person and political order, is forgetten.

Moral order, tradition, liberty, and individualism need not be in conflict in a free society though a healthy tension exists among them.

Notably for contemporary disputes among conservatives and libertarians, in his book In Defense of Freedom, Meyer affirms the exceptional and necessary character of the institution of the family (emphases mine):

To this completely voluntary character of associations proper to the free nature of men, there are only two exceptions–the state and the family. Neither can be voluntary because of the human condition itself…. The family is the institution into which children are born and under which they develop as human beings. As far as they are concerned, it is not voluntary…. As far as their parents are concerned, the family is, however, entered into voluntarily; marriage is, in a free society, originally a mutual voluntary act of two individuals–voluntary, even though any marriage worthy of that exalted name is an unbreakable compact and though the family, proceeding from marriage, creates morally indissoluble bonds of parental obligation.

The family is the most important form through which virtue is inculcated in children. But it is not the institution of the family as such that inculcates virtue; it is the persons who constitute the family–father and mother and other close relatives–who in actuality decide the issue of the moral and intellectual direction that children take…. The family as an institution cannot guarantee the raising of the young in the paths of virtue, although the family is a necessary form; only individual persons, acting through the form of the family, can do so.

Frank Meyer embodies my political philosophy: an Austrian libertarian who recognizes the necessary and exceptional nature of marriage and children. Libertarians would do well to temper their ideology of liberty with the same recognition of the unique nature of the family. One cannot expect limited government and liberty in a society where the institution of the family is weak, if not completely destroyed.

Posted in Abortion, Conservatism, Government and Politics, Libertarianism, Marriage, Political Philosophy, Quotes, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Milton Friedman on Greed and Capitalism

Posted by Tony Listi on January 12, 2008

Every society runs on greed. It is inescapable. Attempts to legislate against mere greed make things worse. Political self-interest is no better than economic self-interest.

Posted in Budget, Spending, and Taxes, Economics, Government and Politics, Moral Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Poverty | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Moral Case Against Big Government: How Government Shapes the Character, Vision, and Virtue of Citizens

Posted by Tony Listi on October 14, 2007

By Ryan Messmore

To advocate good government is to recognize the indispensable role that political authority plays in a healthy community. To advocate limited government is to understand that not everything necessary for a community to be healthy is the responsibility of government. A good but limited government is one that serves its citizens by exercising well its particular task and refraining from other tasks. Essential to government’s particular task is ensuring that other social institutions are free to exercise their own particular tasks.

Identifying the proper tasks and limits of various social institutions is bound up with a society’s understanding of the good life and the good community-its moral vision of its defining goods and purposes. The case for good, limited government is therefore incomplete if it proceeds only in terms of the effects upon individual freedom or the fiscal implications of expanded government programs. Governing is a moral task, and the size and scope of government have moral implications for society, including its members’ ability to fulfill their ethical obligations to one another.

The primary task of government is administering judgment according to standards of justice. Because law by its very nature concerns moral judgments, a government that stands under the rule of law presupposes the existence of a moral order, expresses the social concept of that order, and in turn encourages the fundamental moral principles of a society, particularly regarding justice. Citizens’ assumptions and expectations of government therefore shape not
only their national character, but also their approach to issues like poverty and economic justice. Moreover, our assumptions about government influence the formation of the social bonds required to cultivate virtue, and thus sustain freedom, as well as the way citizens think about and relate to neighbors in need.

Sustaining limited government and freedom turns on the question of how virtue is cultivated and which communities and institutions are most appropriate for this task. Local forms of association, especially the family and religious congregations, generate the thick, personal bonds that unite and motivate individuals toward the good for themselves and others. The proper exercise of political authority articulates a society’s understanding of good through law and enacts judgment upon those who violate it through certain acts of wrongdoing. Citizens thus render a proper level of trust and appreciation for the crucial role that good government plays in a healthy society.

As government assumes greater political authority, however, it is more able to shape the terms of public discourse and draw to itself expectations and levels of trust beyond those appropriate to good government, often at the expense of smaller institutions of civil society.
Such a shift in the public’s attitude toward expansive government can weaken democracy, given that diversification of authority among local associations is a strong check against government tyranny. Moreover, not only does unhealthy reliance upon government social programs discourage genuine compassion and personal relations between wealthy and poor citizens, but the cost of funding such programs actually threatens future generations with unsustainable debt. A good but limited government will thus acknowledge that other social institutions are better able to cultivate virtuous citizens, care for those in need, and further
true democratic freedom while exercising its own crucial responsibility to protect its citizens and social institutions from injustice.

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Posted in Budget, Spending, and Taxes, Government and Politics, Politics and Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »