Conservatism and Sociology

Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito

Conservatism and Sociology

Mark Wegierski, on the science of power

In George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, a central point is that semantics are critical for the  maintenance of a given social and political system. “Newspeak is Ingsoc, and Ingsoc is Newspeak.” The coherence or  incoherence (in terms of definition), and the positive or negative value (in terms of emotion), which are commonly associated with a political ideology, will tell one a great deal  about the strength of that ideology. The words and language which are used to describe social or  political phenomena, which Orwell called “the B vocabulary” in his Appendix to Nineteen Eighty-Four, constitute the primary instruments by which an ideology asserts itself in any given society. It should be noted that complex, multi‑layered political terms such as “conservatism” or “liberalism” or “socialism” conjure immediate images and emotional responses in most people’s minds.

In terms of the unstated emotive content of the term “conservatism”, these images and emotional responses, for a traditionalist  conservative, can range from a wistful remembrance of the beauty of a Gothic cathedral and the medieval Christendom from which it sprang  to a visceral distaste towards a middle‑aged WASP  corporate controller type luxuriating in his penthouse suite atop Manhattan, and the oppressive capitalist structure which he represents (for the archetypal Left-liberal).

Clearly, the term “conservatism” is today a veritable labyrinth of confused and contradictory meanings, many of them quite negative and pejorative. Even those who consider themselves “conservative” fail to appreciate a large part of that word’s possible deeper or more subtle nuances. It seems that many such persons arrive at an overly‑simple “pet definition” of the word, which they then arrogantly and intolerantly foist on their fellow “believers”. The ideological rivals of conservatism hardly need to exert themselves to introduce semantic confusion and chaos into the political battle‑ground. “Traditionalism” has to be restored and rejuvenated as a theory, before it can play any practical part in the future of conservatism, or of mankind.

Almost all conservatives, especially of the “traditionalist” variety, have too long shunned the methods and language of social science. The first goal of conservative theoretical endeavour should therefore be to establish a “new science of politics”. Among the first tasks of this “new science” would be the careful definition of certain terms key to political enquiry -‑ power, ideology, ruling group, etc. This, in many ways, would be a continuation of the work begun by Orwell, Pareto, Machiavelli, Michels, Mosca and Burnham, amongst others. [Editorial note; classical sociology, as elaborated by the aforementioned figures and also by Durkheim, Comte, Spencer and Weber, is predominantly conservative] 

The new science would make clear that every society is dominated by a narrow, exclusive circle of power‑holders, regardless of what it claims to be. The task of the political scientist is therefore to identify who are the effective (not only formal) power‑holders in contemporary societies; which ideologies are  prevalent among them; and how these ideologies are transmitted.

The question of competing ideologies, and the evaluation of their comparative strength in a given society, is pivotal. Political taxonomies or representations of the political spectrum should be drawn up. The making of careful distinctions, as between Western neo‑Marxists (socially liberal) and orthodox Eastern Marxists (socially puritanical), is imperative. Quantitative and empirical methodologies should be devised to more accurately measure the strength or preponderance of given ideologies.

Ideology, and the semantics of ideology, would be a principal focus of this approach. The real, as opposed to the formal  meanings of political pronouncements would be ascertained; the  ideological underpinnings and pre‑suppositions of modern political vocabularies would be laid bare; likewise, the unstated emotive content of political terms and discourse. The semantic tricks and devices which are employed by ideologists would not only be identified, they would be systematically classified, and applied to the current situation.

The methods by which ruling groups exercise their control  (coercive, utilitarian, and normative instrumentalities) must be  analyzed; common legitimating devices and techniques shown; “the  circulation of elites” -‑ the displacement of one ruling group by  another ‑-addressed; the types of possible dissidence identified (including pseudo‑dissidence).

This emergent, right-leaning “critical theory” would hopefully deconstruct and demolish the ideological underpinnings of contemporary liberalism, building up to a general description of  the over‑all “control system” and “shape” of our society. Contra neo-Marxism, this control does not constitute rule by a “corporate‑fascist‑authoritarian” elite but rather rule by an agglomerate of urban‑based corporate, media, and ad‑hoc minority  coalition groups, who impose their ideology on the virtually unrepresented and leaderless mainstream of society. The media group in particular is a  narrow, closed caste, existing above and beyond any public scrutiny or  “checks and balances” and able to impose its ideology on a hapless populace.

This truly critical, social‑scientific approach could rip open the ideological underpinnings, overweening pretensions, and self‑righteous hypocrisies of  contemporary liberalism, initiating a new type of political  struggle -‑ a struggle for “the heart and soul” of our society ‑-  not mired in petty issues, but played for the highest world‑historical stakes.

Every ideology is ultimately based on a theory of human nature or existence. It is only by formulating a unified theory of human nature, society, and history, that conservatism can achieve a sense of ideological consistency and rigour. One of the reasons why many persons were hitherto drawn to Marxism is that it offers consistent answers and solutions to the questions of social existence and the problems of society, however “wrong” those answers and solutions may be.

There are problems which “traditionalist” conservatives face in ultimately justifying their tenets to the modern world. Their most common lines of argumentation, based on religious, literary, and narrowly historical modes, no longer generally appeal. Their over‑written and over-flowery  arguments, with their ceaseless invocation of what have become meaningless code‑words like “right reason”, “virtue”, and “the Great Books”, have a certain staleness and sense of unreality about them.

Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987), which eschewed an overly traditional or scholarly approach to these issues, demonstrates the efficacy of that mode of social criticism. Tom Wolfe has also highlighted the inanities and stupidities of contemporary Western society, without necessarily being identified as a conservative. What needs to be done is to bring this approach into all areas of conservative theoretical endeavour.

Every ideology searches (or should search) for a theory or account of human nature which has “the resounding ring of truth”, and which is consonant with the praxis of that ideology. Theology or literary criticism or picayune historical analysis are hardly credible modes in which such theoretical work can be done, especially in the modern, super‑scienticized, super‑technological world. The extent to which the people of a given society (implicitly or explicitly) accept a given theory of human nature and existence  usually determines which given ideology is prevalent in the functioning of that society. Only by focusing on theoretical questions (i.e., by building on a solid foundation), rather than by fighting battles over petty policy issues, can significant social change can begin.

Sociologist Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer

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4 Responses to Conservatism and Sociology

  1. Robert says:

    I think you hit it squarely in the following quote: “Every ideology is ultimately based on a theory of human nature or existence. It is only by formulating a unified theory of human nature, society, and history, that conservatism can achieve a sense of ideological consistency and rigour.”

    Where I disagree is the use of the word ‘ideology.’ The word used should be ‘religion.’ Religion provides the under-pinning all knowledge: social, scientific and political. All knowledge is contained within and on an ideology based in a religion or religious system. The beliefs incumbent in the Christian Religion became the foundation of the western view, not only of man’s moral dilemma, and the solution to that moral dilemma; but they also provided the concept of physical laws that could be known, being upheld by a faithful God.

    The most succinct, accurate statement in Western History of this theory of “human nature or existence,” is to be found in the 1647 Westminster Confession of Faith. Such was the basic understanding of man, and government which under-girds our Federal system of government. Our society is collapsing because that foundation, (Biblical Christianity, net necessarily the Confession), has been replaced with a different faith system, upon which the weight of our society can not be supported.

    The furtherance and dissemination of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, and only that, will provide the moral foundation that is sorely needed for our culture.

  2. David Ashton says:

    Given the broad definition attached to “conservative” and the “intersection” (!) of sociology with anthropology, political theory and cultural history, I think we could at least add the following, great and small, to the list: Gustave LeBon, William McDougall, Talcott Parsons, Ludwig Gumplowicz, Raymond Aron, George Chatterton-Hill, Geoffrey Gorer, Pitirim Sorokin, Arnold Gehlen, Konrad Lorenz & Patricia Morgan (no particular order).

    Anyone starting an objective study of sociological theory would do well to start a bookshelf with the excellent Don Martindale, “Nature & Types of Sociological Theory” (2013), Pitirim Sorokin, “Sociological Theories of Today” (1979) & Franklin Baumer, “Modern European Thought” (1977). Useful “non-conservative” studies, among many, are Alex Callinicos, “Social Theory” (2007), and Dominic Strinati, “Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture” (2004).

    Sociology has been more contaminated than illuminated during the past four decades by “equality, diversity, inclusion” activists who have colonised the “upper strata” of western nations while non-western migrants have colonised the “lower strata”. A welcome counter is Charles Murray, “Human Diversity: The biology of gender, race, and class” (202o). Other writers to consider include Noah Carl, Ricardo Duchesne & Mervyn Bendle.

  3. David Ashton says:

    Further reflection on “conservative” sociologists reminded me of the maverick Anthony Ludovici, particularly because of his critique of English Puritans and his endorsement of Nietzsche’s view that New Testament factual incredibility undermines its authority regarding “morality”.

    This brings me on to Robert who cites the 1647 Westminster Confession as a guideline for a return to “Biblical Christianity” to prevent the collapse of western culture.

    One can surely wish the clergy would restore the influence of religion in reducing crime and vice, rather than indulge in a secularised self-abnegating altruism, exemplified by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s “apology” for past slavery, while making little effort to prevent it today (see e.g. Judith Bergman, Gatestone Institute, 14 August & 27 June 2020, online). We could also do without the new Archbishop of York’s nonsense that “Jesus was a black man” (Philippians 2.1o/BLM version).

    There are, however, several crucial problems with Robert’s Westminster Confession “faith system”:-

    1. It takes the Bible as its sole and sufficient basis for belief, as the inerrant word of God. Jesus personally left no written work. But this “book” is actually a library of writings, whose selection was not finalised until 397 – by the Catholic Church which the WC called Satanic. Nothing therein justifies Sola Scriptura.
    2. Christian scholars themselves have shown that the Gospels are not an entirely reliable source of information, and that too many New Testament passages are capable of contradictory interpretations. Reformation Calvinism is challenged by I Timothy 2.3-4 & 2 Peter 3.9, and Lutheranism by James 2.24.
    3. God himself is composed of three distinct “persons”, a Roman Catholic doctrine not easily demonstrated from the NT itself.
    4.The WC assumed that, some 5,700 years previously, God created a man and woman from whom all subsequent human beings descended, albeit with a taint that caused their death and damnation (except for individuals saved by God). Then about 2000 years later God killed everyone on earth, except for one small family from whom the entire population descended, to start again though with the same inherited taint. Finally about 1600 years before the WC was written, one of the three persons making up God became a human who, for a few years during his adult life, offered salvation from damnation on certain conditions (Mark 16.16), for some other humans, doing exorcisms and miracles, teaching in parables and proclaiming an imminent government by God which was not, in fact, fulfilled because he was killed.
    5. “Though infinitely powerful, compassionate, and wise, [God] could think of no other way to reprieve humanity from punishment of its sins…than to allow an innocent man (his son, no less) to be impaled through the limbs and slowly suffocate in agony. By acknowledging that this sadistic murder was a gift of divine mercy, people could earn eternal life. And if they failed to see the logic in all this, their flesh would be seared by fire for all eternity” (Steven Pinker).

    Does a totalitarian 17th-century Puritan WC rigmarole provide an alternative to the “masochistianity” offered by the current crop of ecclesiastical pathocrats?

  4. Robert says:

    Your knowledge of textual criticism is lacking, sorely lacking. The ‘book’ as you call it, is what you say, a compendium of writings; I would add, of the messengers of God himself. As to the New Testament writings, they were distributed across all of Asia, Europe and Egypt, for three centuries, and as such give testimony to their veracity on a scale that no other literature in any civilization can approach. They have been vetted over and over again down through the centuries, and even the minor distinctions of the Byzantium and Alexandrian texts that we have today, in noways cast doubts on any of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian religion.

    The statement that these writings were not ‘finalized’ until the year 397 is a half truth. The majority of our current Scriptures were accepted as Canon in 170 AD as the Muratorian Canon, and included all the current books except Hebrews, James and 3 John. Before that the writings were copied and distributed between the different geographical regions to the churches. The Church at that time was divided geographically, and persecuted until the conversion of Constantine in AD 312. So when the Church was finally accepted as a legitimate institution in the Roman Empire, the Scriptures were collected and compared from the vast reaches of the Empire to determine what was and what was not accepted into the canon, at the Council of Carthage in 397. The books of Hebrews, James and 3 John were then included in the canon. Thus, that after almost 400 years, the Scriptures were collected from different parts of the world, and compared to determine a final canon, only confirms the veracity of the canon, not otherwise. There are no other writings anywhere that have near this level of verified testimony (excepting the Old Testament Scriptures). Your point about the Catholic Church is ridiculous. The Catholic church developed into what we know today, over a millennium. There was no ‘Catholic Church’ in AD 397.

    Point 2: An unfounded statement. Of course there are those that try to undermine the veracity of the Scriptures. You are one of them. However, no one has ever “shown that the Gospels are not an entirely reliable source of information.” That is a faith statement which confirms my previous comment, that all knowledge is religious. The rest of the point is a continuum of faith statements that are unfounded, and not worthy to be addressed in this forum. I suggest you study the Westminster Confession and its Scripture proofs before commenting on it ignorantly.

    Point 3: Yes, the Trinity is a Roman Catholic doctrine. And it is a Presbyterian, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, Pentecostal, Methodist, and other Christian sect doctrine. What’s your point? To say that the New Testament does not confirm the Trinity is a statement of colossal ignorance.

    Point 4: A summary of Christian doctrine. Your statement “on certain conditions” is woefully wrong but I won’t analyze it here; study the Doctrine of Justification. My previous suggestion applies: read that which you are commenting on and comment knowledgeably. Your last sentence “… was not in fact fulfilled,” is another faith statement, proving once again my point in my first comment, knowledge is religiously founded.

    Point 5: I will title point 5 “The incompetence of God”, and leave you with a quote from Romans 9:19-24 “You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.”

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