The Wright Perspective: 3 Rs of Conservatism: Right, Reason and Reality

My latest us up at EveryJoe:

One of the most frequent criticisms leveled at Conservatives is that we lack ideals or guiding principles — that we are merely men of pragmatic character, asking not what is ideal in a perfect world, but only what is possible in an imperfect world.

Indeed, many a conservative quotes (with apparent favor) that conservatism “is not an ideology but a disposition.” By this they mean that we conservatives are disposed in favor of calmness, reason, civil order, civility, experiential knowledge gained painfully through centuries of trial and error, piety toward ancestors, reverence toward Heaven. Conservatism, by this definition, is merely a mistrust of ideological theory and a trust of precedent. Conservatism is disbelief in Utopia.

The criticism is not true; it is not close to truth; it is the diametric opposite of truth. The untruth seems plausible only when words are used for their emotional connotations, but never defined.

In truth, so-called Conservatives are revolutionaries who believe in the principles of the American Revolution: that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including the right to life, liberty and property; that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men; and when any government becomes destructive of those rights, it is the duty of patriots to rise up in arms and overthrow it, and create such institutions anew which will return their native rights to them.

They have faith in God.

The so-called Liberals or Radicals or Progressives or Morlocks or Whateverthefudge they are calling themselves this month are revolutionaries who believe in the principles of the French Revolution: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.

For those of you who do not speak French: Liberté means all men are slaves of the frenzied mob; Egalité means success is punished and failure rewarded until all outcomes are equal and all efforts are vain; Fraternité means all “comrade citizens” are wards of the Napoleon, the Fuhrer, the Lightworker, or whatever they are calling the Glorious Leader this month.

They have faith in Guillotines.

Read the rest here:


  1. Comment by Zaklog the Great:

    “For those of you who do not speak French: Liberté means all men are slaves of the frenzied mob; Egalité means success is punished and failure rewarded until all outcomes are equal and all efforts are vain; Fraternité means all “comrade citizens” are wards of the Napoleon, the Fuhrer, the Lightworker, or whatever they are calling the Glorious Leader this month.”

    Mr. Wright, you are not a nice man. I do not at all mean that you are not a good man, but you are not a nice man. I hope I never end up on the wrong side of your pen.

    I only would add that “Fraternite” also means a deep and lasting bond with your comrades which entirely dissolves the moment one of them needs to throw you over to the mob. The guillotine is a hungry beast.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Thank you for the compliment, but actually, I am a very nice man. I pet small children and smell flowers and sing as I walk in the sunlight.

      What I am is just while being saturnine.

      Justice applauds the American revolution, because we fought for the equal legal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and, until the Woodrow Wilson Administration we actually meant it. Justice holds the French Revolution in scathing scorn because the beautiful sentiments of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity were perverted and corrupted immediately, and gave rise to the Terror, to the spoilage of the Church, and to the rise of Napoleon. Every totalitarian regime of the modern age is merely a footnote to the French.

      We should hate and scorn what perverts the bright and noble, because the nobler the original, the more hideous its perversion. This is why sexual perversions are more disgusting than other perversions. This is why the devil was not the dimmest angel before he fell, but the greatest and most glorious.

      And Saturn enjoys an ironic sneer at the pretensions of the foes of God and man.

      • Comment by Zaklog the Great:

        I think you took my intended meaning, but just to be completely clear, I think “nice” is a grossly over-rated trait in today’s society. I fully believe Jesus was in every action, at every moment, good. It’s very clear from the Gospels, however, that he was not always “nice”. To offer a related, but not entirely similar, example, my favorite line from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is “Safe, who said anything about safe? Of course he’s not safe. But he’s good.”

        I am sure in the right situations, you are appropriately kind (which I think is distinct from nice). And yes, scorn is entirely appropriate in this case.

        On an unrelated note, I just started reading The Golden Age. It’s been a while since I’ve read SF set in a world so alien to our own. I’d almost forgotten the feeling of projecting oneself into a world like that. (I simply cannot find good words to express what it is that an SF/F fan does when reading about a world so different from our own. I’m sure, however, that you know what I’m referring to.)

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          “(I simply cannot find good words to express what it is that an SF/F fan does when reading about a world so different from our own. I’m sure, however, that you know what I’m referring to.)”

          I do indeed. If there is a word for it, it would be the opposite of parochialism. The word would imply seeing strange sights with fresh eyes, being struck with wonder (or terror) at the strangeness, and have a hint of wanderlust, the craving to see the antipodes where no man of the known world has ever trod.

          • Comment by Sean Michael:

            I would like to suggest to Zaklog the Great that what he is trying to say in why really good SF grabs us is “the sense of wonder” we feel or see in it. For me, Poul Anderson was the SF author who most often allowed me to suspend my disbelief and gave me that sense of wonder.

            Sean M. Brooks

            • Comment by Zaklog the Great:

              Yes, both you and our kind host have offered nouns (or noun antonyms), but what I’m looking for is a verb. Science fiction writers do what we commonly call world-building, and we all understand the term (even if the process remains a mystery). But there is a parallel process which takes place in the mind of their audience, by which we place ourselves in a world distinctly different from ours, and learn to operate (imaginatively, at least) by a new set of rules. To speak by analogy, the writers give us the blueprints, but we have to build the house in our own minds.

              It occurs to me that, being used to this process, SF/F fans are probably good at understanding history as well, since that also is often a matter of projecting oneself into a world that operates very differently than what we’re used to.

              • Comment by John C Wright:

                Technically, I did not offer any term. I merely identified what the term should connote.

              • Comment by Sean Michael:

                Hi, Zaklog the Great:

                I think I understand what you are trying to say. Both Poul Anderson and JRR Tolkien created “worlds” which were so convincing to me that I found it easy to imaginatively place myself in their “subcreations.”

                And, yes, history also interests me!

                Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks

          • Comment by ConceptJunkie:

            I am reminded of a talent that is necessary when first being exposed to a new piece of software (from a development side, not really from a user side): There is an enormous amount of information that doesn’t make any sense, but you just need to file it away and piece it together when the context becomes revealed. Then the pieces start to fit into place. A person’s capacity to come up to speed in a new environment is related to how much stuff he can “learn” before there’s enough of a picture for it to make sense. Good developers have a higher threshold. Well-designed systems don’t push these thresholds.

            A good SF story will work in the same way (really, any good story will). It’s part of the “show, don’t tell” maxim. We are exposed to bits and pieces that don’t make much sense, but should be interesting enough to get us hooked… like the opening paragraphs of “Old Men Will Dream Dreams”. ;-)

        • Comment by Mary:

          “Good is not nice, polite, well-mannered, self-righteous, or naive, though good characters may be some of these things.”
          The Book of Exalted Deeds

          After the grief I’ve given the alignment system, sometimes you have to admit that even D&D gets things right.

      • Comment by Fail Burton:


        Natalie Luhrs [email protected] May 21Bwahahahahaaaaaa, John C Wright is gonna be at Balticon.

        Best Served Cold [email protected] May [email protected] Be sure to introduce yourself. Perhaps with a pie. To the face.

        Natalie Luhrs [email protected] May [email protected] I don’t wanna get kicked out! but OH TEMPTING.
        TheSteve [email protected] May 21

        @TheBarbarienne @eilatan Or a chocolate pie and a question as to whether he had seen that movie about house servants in the South…

  2. Comment by Chris McCullough:

    It doesn’t take much to notice that as they favor more the expanse of government, the Left seems to be getting angrier and more hostile to opposition, and more willing to justify violence and the threat thereof in the name of progress.

    Is it because, at it’s core, government is a violent institution, or is it that the people who make it that way are inclined towards using like that?

    • Comment by ChevalierdeJohnstone:

      What you are seeing is a result of the self-defeating nature of “pure” liberalism. Liberalism’s purpose is to overthrow the corrupt and decadent. Properly applied in holistic fashion, this is followed by the adoption of better, less corrupt institutions. However when a society mistakenly becomes enamored of liberalism as an end in itself, the purpose of liberalism becomes twisted from its natural means-orientation. This twisted form of liberalism is “pure” and thus uncolored by reasonable social institutions which balance the revolutionary nature of liberalism itself. As this form of liberalism exists only to tear down and never to build up, the tearing-down becomes increasingly difficult as there is less and less of any existing social order to destroy.

      Put simply, the core adherents and proponents of pure modern liberalism, which we call sometimes call “the Left”, are correct when they cry out at being thwarted at every turn and at the greatly increased difficulty of advancing their cause in our modern society. This oppression which they rightly feel causes them to feel increasingly frustrated and they may lash out in violence.

      What they miss is that the reason everything is so difficult and frustrating for them is that they have already torn down so much of their host society that there is very little remaining. Their increasing frustration is is fed by the very success of their efforts.

      A possible correction: government is not, at core, a violent institution. In fact no government spanning any appreciably sizeable mass of land and people (say, a small town) and spanning any meaningful length of time (say a couple of generations) can possibly be based on violence. In libertarian circles we often here that government has a monopoly on force (for a certain definition of “force”). But this begs the question, who granted the monopoly?

      Governments are social institutions, not physical. They have physical powers, but these are a result of their social facets; violence, which is a physical act, is at most the result of government and not its cause.

      • Comment by Tamquam:

        The threat of violence is intrinsic to government. To govern means to control. At best it encourages and guides the cooperative, when that fails it threatens to compel and punish the uncooperative, and indeed does so.

    • Comment by ConceptJunkie:

      Or to put it more simply (and perhaps more accurately), the more success they have, the nastier they get. There’s a psychological significance there, but I’m not sure what it is.

      They are winning the cultural battle. They have made tremendous strides in past few decades towards their long-term goals. They are currently experiencing more and faster progress than they have had in a century, but they are getting angrier, nastier, more vindictive. Maybe they are just letting their guard down.

      The leftist must hide his true intentions or no person of any sense would accept his ideas. But, part of it is just, I don’t know, self-doubt, hatred of good… anger at the price of arugula?

      • Comment by Tamquam:

        Evil talks about tolerance only when it’s weak. When it gains the upper hand, its vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it. So it always has been. So it always will be. And America has no special immunity to becoming an enemy of its own founding beliefs about human freedom, human dignity, the limited power of the state, and the sovereignty of God. – Archbishop Chaput

  3. Comment by Boogeyman:

    “Progressives” see fairness as the highest good, for Conservatives it’s honor, and for Libertarians it’s freedom. Since fairness is the most subjective of the three, “Progressives” are the least rational in thought and argument. Please forgive any spelling errors. I’m very tired and I’m tapping this out on an old Kindle.

    • Comment by Mary:

      They’re generally of the Eugene Greenhilt persuasion too:

      Eugene: But. . . but that’s not fair.
      Deva: Yes, it is fair. And that’s why you’re upset.

    • Comment by Brian Niemeier:

      “Progressives see fairness as the highest good, for Conservatives it’s honor, and for Libertarians it’s freedom.”

      I’m inclined to agree with that assessment, and in it I see the root causes of our current social ills, for none of these goods is absolute.

      Fairness is inferior to justice and only gains meaning in relation to intrinsic goods.
      Honor at least is sought for its own sake, but it’s dependent upon the perfection of the recipient’s virtue and thus can’t be the highest good.
      Freedom is like moral currency. It’s worth no more or less than the best good to which it grants access.

      No spelling errors, by the way. Good job!

      • Comment by Tamquam:

        Progressives see fairness as a good when it advances their cause; otherwise not so much.

      • Comment by Boogeyman:

        Now that I’ve had a little sleep and have access to my computer I guess I should elaborate a bit. Fairness, honor, and freedom are of course not absolute goods. My point was their subjectivity or objectivity, and how that forms the coherence of the various political outlooks arguments.

        Freedom is a pretty objective thing. It’s a straightforward process to determine if a policy, law, or practice enhances or erodes personal freedom. This fairly simple straight line course of reasoning could also explain why libertarianism tends to be attractive to those who might register somewhere on the autism-asperger scale.

        Honor, while subjective – A samurai’s honor is different than a crusading knight’s is different than an Aztec warrior’s – could be considered to have a fairly objective quality within a given culture. So while honor is a subjective thing, it tends to have internally consistent rules within the bounds of its own culture and only changes at the usually glacial pace of that culture.

        Fairness is the most subjective of all. Fairness can only have meaning to the individual and who ever he might get to agree with him at that moment. What is fair today is an outrage tomorrow.

        For a Libertarian anything that diminishes freedom is automatically unfair. For the Conservative, honorable actions are the closest we can get to freedom or fairness. For the Progressive, unused to following rigid logic or strict rules of honor – because fairness only has meaning in relation to ones own feelings – the Libertarian and Conservative’s arguments seem alien and harsh, even evil. After all, they are arguing against fairness, and only someone working for the dark side could want something like that.

        And so I’ve mostly given up arguing with people about this crud. When I do, it’s not to argue over a particular law or aspect of culture, but rather I press them to explain in painfully clear logical terms why the thing they are for is fair. Since fairness is subjective they can’t, and so there is usually anger and confusion. I’ve come to accept that this is the most satisfaction I’ll ever receive from politics. Being a bit of a sadist, it’s almost enough.

    • Comment by The Deuce:

      Naw, fairness isn’t their highest good, just their favorite rationalization.

  4. Comment by basx:


    Good post. Just let me add an observation, their Most Catholic Majesties of Spain, Portugal France and Austria helped pave the way for the French Revolution.

    They were so keen to implement the Enlightenment’s policy of raising the population from ‘ignorance’ they never bothered to win over the population. The prime ministers viewed their population with contempt and complained how ignorant and stiff neck were the people. The population in turn resented the imposition of the Enlightenment values since the case had never been made properly that EVERYTHING in society was based on willful ignorance or bad faith backwardness.

    The biggest mistake the kings and their prime ministers made was to suppress the Jesuits because they represented a credible opposition that could’ve slowed down, moderated or even stopped some dead of the policies. Also the Jesuits would’ve successfully countered the more absurd and dangerous ideas that the intellectuals were advocating

    The suppression of the Jesuits provided the more radical elements of the Enlightenment a precedent of how to get rid of anyone opposing a policy/ an ideas or implementation of either.

    de Tocqueville in his Ancien Régime et la Revolution makes a very cogent case that centralizing and absolutist tendencies that started during Louis XIII also facilitated the latent totalitarianism in the subsequent Enlightenment.


  5. Comment by Martel:

    Your assessment of the Frog Revolution is spot on, but I define the principles of conservatism somewhat differently. My handy acronym is GIA.

    G: God is what God is. He exists and is the source of the Moral and the Ideal. There are objective ethical standards and ideals as set forth by Him. We might not always be able to discern what’s right, but there’s still an objective Right. Our courts might never attain perfect justice, but Justice exists nonetheless. There’s more to life than molecules, brain synapses firing, and equations.

    I: I am what I am. Each individual is held responsible before God, equal before Him and the Law (to the fullest extent possible). We’ve no right to co-opt others for our own ends, and although we’re by no means equal in ability, we ARE equal in our right to not have to live to for the sake of others.

    A: A is A. As ugly as reality may be, it neither can nor should be ignored. Human nature, the laws of physics, economics, and math exist, and they’ll exist no matter how hard we try to pretend they’ll go away. Forgoing a correct assessment of what is in favor of what should be leads to the French disaster you describe. We can only bring things closer to “G” is we understand and accept “A” first.

    Each of these corresponds to one of the Desert Temptations. “Man does not live by bread alone” (G), don’t jump off buildings just because God loves you (A), and Christ’s refusal to rule the world by force (I). Also, the Declaration of Independence was a bold declaration of Ideals (G), the Constitution demonstrated a keen awareness of human nature and the lust for power (A), and the Bill of Rights made special effort to preserve individual liberty (I).

    Each principle is reflected in a “wing” of the conservative movement. G are the religious right, “I” are the libertarians, A are those who care most about foreign policy and/or criminal justice. However, within each wing are idealists, realists, and individualists.

    All three principles need to be held in balance. Too much G at the expense of A leads to idealistic policies that cause far more harm than good (“but at least we’re doing something!”). Too much A at the expense of G and we become cynical, lethargic, and too willing to accept what could be changed (“you don’t understand how Washington works”). Too much “I” at the expense of G leads to hedonism, and too much “I” at the expense of A results in banging your head against reality like Eliott Rodger.

    I could go on for days, but I just wanted to present this food for thought.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I like your three principles very much. I am reminded of my proposal for an alignment system:

      Your G-swamps-A is like my ‘Ideologue’; your A-swamps-G is like my ‘Pragmatist’; and your I swamps G is my ‘Mystics’ (if mysticism of pleasure is considered mysticism); I am not sure what your I-swamps-A is because I don’t know who Eliott Rodger is.

      • Comment by Martel:

        Thank you. Rodger is the guy who just stabbed and shot a bunch of people in Santa Barbara. He was a narcissist who couldn’t accept reality and therefore erupted.

        Also, leftism is often merely a misapplication of the principles. For example they see Faith (G) as delusion (A), Marriage (G) as nothing more than a patriarchial system of oppression (A), believe that conservatives hold no ideals other than stupidity and naked self-interest, and see corruption behind every ideal. What should be G, they see as A.

        Conversely, “reproductive rights” (A) are a spiritual quest (G), nature (A) is Gaia (G), politicans (A) can be spiritual saviors (G), adherence to political leftism (A) defines your moral worth (G), etc.

        Their conflations of “I” are reflected in that post about the Anointed, Entitled, and Benighted you linked a while back. The Entitled believe that what’s good for them is what’s Objectively Best, they are superior: I=G. The Benighted see themselves as little more than the product of luck, genes, and the oppression of others by their forebears: I=A. The Entitled simultaneously believe that they have the right to other people’s stuff (I=G) and that they’re hopeless victims who’ll have no chance at life unless they get it (I=A).

        I agree with your assessment regarding Pragmatists and Mystics, although I think that some of the other categories also fit in. For example, Zealots seem like their G swamps A. However, it would take a bit of time to analyze the others.

        In any case, I’m glad you liked it. Any questions or objections are more than welcome.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Well, gee, now I want you to write a book, where the whole scheme is laid out in precise detail. You can use this as a taxonomy for every heresy and false philosophy ever devised.

          • Comment by Martel:

            LOL. There’s plenty of info to work with–it’s Biblical roots, gradual adoption by Western Civilization, the way it’s been attacked by philosophers (most significantly Rousseau, Kant, and Nietzsche), how it applies to civilizations, governments, ideologies, organizations, and individuals, how the left warps it, the way tensions on the right reflect the emphasis on one or the other principles, etc.

            However, I’ve no experience embarking on a something so elaborate before and feel a bit overwhemled.

            Are you aware of any posts, books, articles or anything that might serve as a good guide to get something like this organized? I can verbally ramble on about this stuff for hours on end (and have), but I suspect that stream-of-consciousness non-fiction probably wouldn’t work very well.

            You obviously know how to do this sort of thing, but thus far I don’t (or at least I don’t think I do). Any pointers or hints as to where to find them elsewhere would be valued.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          In that case, your I-swamps-A is what I call Nihilism, the belief that life has no meaning except what man imposes on it by force of will.

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