Proper Order

I’ve started reading Russell Kirk’s Enemies of the Permanent Things.
From the introduction:
[On political issues] Kirk takes….the long view…This is political philosophy, not polemic.  Indeed, the author spends the first half of the book talking not about politics but about literature.  Here he is developing one of his central ideas, the “moral imagination.”  Kirk borrows this evocative phrase from Edmund Burke and develops it into an aesthetic theory that is also a moral and political one.  Of course Kirk is not claiming that this is a new theory of literature (heaven forfend!); it is a restatement of an old theory that has been forgotten by many.  It is the common sense idea that a fundamental purpose of literature is to teach us the norms of human nature: “The aim of great books is ethical: to teach what it means to be a man.”

…Throughout his writings, Kirk speaks again and again of : “order in the soul and order in the commonwealth.”  In this book he explains the source and significance  of this central idea…The prime source is Plato’s Republic, where Socrates outlines a parallel between the inner order–in which the reason rules the emotions or spirited part and the emotions rule the physical appetites–and the civil order, in which the guardians rule the warriors, who rule the workers.  The analogy suggests that a healthy polity is possible only when there is proper order both in the community and in most of the persons who are part of it.  Kirk’s emphasis on education and literature derives from his belief that no political system will work if the people are not moderately virtuous.

    The necessity of personal morality in a thriving community is denied by the enemies of the permanent things, who do not believe that there are permanent standards of behavior or indeed an unchanging human nature, and who seek to create political systems that will make everyone happy without much effort.  [T.S.] Eliot captures this liberal mindset well when he describes these modern political theorists “dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.”  Of course this is a pernicious fantasy….


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