Something has gone terribly wrong in politics. It’s not primarily the content that I refer to, but rather the language in which it is being conducted. On the one hand, it often seems entirely meaningless, and on the other devoid of manners.
Edmund Burke knew what made Western Civilization strong, he knew also, the loss of it would lead this civilisation into a time of great conflict; chivalry, found and expressed in ‘the spirit of the gentleman and the spirit of religion.’
Burke’s Reflections contains a section on manners, which starts with his famous remark that Marie Antoinette is similar to the morning star. In this section he writes that ‘There ought to be a system of manners in every nation which a well-formed mind would be disposed to relish. To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.’ The job of making a country lovely requires a communal effort.
The communal effort to make a country loveable is summarised by the two spirits Burke spoke about, that of the gentleman and that of religion. The first does not refer to a well-groomed man, but rather to a spirit of well-mannered conduct in society, in which individuals treat each other as ends and not as means only. The second ‘spirit’, whereby the society is strengthened by its shared set of values, strengthens this form of conduct.
With the emergence of the modern mind ‘all the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off,’ and behind that drapery we find the fallen state of humanity, which it is the distinguishing feature of conservatism to point to. Conservatives know man is fallen, but nevertheless a shared set of values and well-mannered conduct can guarantee that a country can be made into more than an area with boarders, and become a home.
We also know of Burke that he had a great interest in America. If we turn to the election just a few days away, what could be said of the conduct of the country thus far in the campaign? Certainly, rude comments and negative campaign ads have been a part of American presidential campaigning for a long time now, but might not this election be the worst run campaign in regards to conduct? Neither side, despite the Democrats call to ‘go high when they go low’, has been exemplary in their conduct toward each other. And if the conduct at the highest levels of society, among those who are supposed to represent us is rude, lying, scheming, corrupt and vicious, what hope is there for the rest of us? Perhaps the reverse is true; we have decided that decency is passé, and our representatives merely mirror our actions. In his Thought’s on the Cause of Present Discontents, Burke wrote that the ‘temper of the people amongst whom he presides ought therefore to be the first study of the statesman. And the knowledge of this temper it is by no means impossible for him to attain, if he has not an interest in being ignorant of what it is his duty to learn.’
Whichever way the relation goes, it is clear that something must be done to regain a standard of well-mannered conduct, before the decent drapery of life is torn off entirely and reveals how nasty we really can be.
Karl-Gustel Warnberg is an Intern at the Bow Group