[percy-l] Percy, liberal or conservative
Karl M. Terrell
kterrell at stokeswagner.com
Thu Oct 8 23:01:46 EDT 2015
Interesting comments, Michael. Thank you. I agree with your observation on the root of conservatism: "... the belief that there is an objective moral order and that society is best when it conserves whatever has been learned (or revealed) about that order and tries to live in harmony with it." William F. Buckley, Jr. once colorfully expressed it thusly (paraphrasing): "A conservative stands astride the horse of so-called progress, and hollers, Halt!"
But I respectfully take issue with the characterization of the "root of liberalism" as lying within the "belief that there is no objective moral order." I'll comment further ... but I should, first, address this issue as it relates to our man Percy:
Percy was a son of the Old South, and a beneficiary (in material terms) of an Old South patriarchy. But he came of age in one of the iterations of the so-called New South, and so identified himself (writing once, somewhere, as evidence of this, that his "earliest memories" were of a "golf course"). In short, he was of his times, and he certainly wasn't oblivious to the 'conservative vs. liberal' issues of his day (i.e., preservation of the ways of Jim Crow vs. civil rights). That said, it appears to me, this particular divide didn't interest him all that much. He did use the contretemps of the day, however, as comic fodder in Love in the Ruins, and in some of his essays (comic and otherwise). As I read these efforts by Percy, though, he endorsed neither the conservatives of his day (racists, on the whole) nor the liberals of his day (which, I think, he viewed as boats without a mooring).
He was also a convert to Catholicism, certainly suggesting a conservative bent. But, I don't believe Percy adopted that particular faith with a view toward preserving, or in adoration of, "an objective moral order." The so-called "objective" standard has been concocted by man. Percy was highly suspicious of man's ability in this regard. Those more knowledgeable than me of Kierkegaard's brand of existentialism, I am sure, could add to this.
As for the root of liberalism ... my understanding, for what it's worth: It is the belief that mankind, through learned experience, can improve. This belief doesn't reject or negate an "objective moral oder" (whatever that might be). Liberalism, in fact, seeks this out - and tries to take it into account - while considering also other evidence. In my humble opinion, this is what Percy was up to.
Thanks for reading,
Karl Montague Terrell
From: Michael Larson <larsonovic at gmail.com<mailto:larsonovic at gmail.com>>
Reply-To: "Percy-L: Discussion" <percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org<mailto:percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org>>
Date: Thursday, October 8, 2015 at 7:55 PM
To: "Percy-L: Discussion" <percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org<mailto:percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org>>
Subject: Re: [percy-l] Percy, liberal or conservative
I think it depends on how one defines the terms, "liberal" and "conservative." Modern Americans tend to define that continuum based on positions taken with regard to certain divisive moral issues--like abortion and gay rights, at present (though the issues have been different at different times)--and leave it at that. The root of conservatism, however, lies in the belief that there is an objective moral order and that society is best when it conserves whatever has been learned (or revealed) about that order and tries to live in harmony with it. The root of liberalism lies in the belief that there is no objective moral order and that therefore the will of the individual or, when there is conflict between individuals, the will of the greatest number of individuals, is best for society.
By these definitions, at least, Percy was a conservative.
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