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    Quotables: The Roots of American Order

    May 2, 2012 by Brandy Vencel
    The Roots of American Order
    by Russell Kirk

    [T]he Thirteen Colonies, only of minor significance in England’s growing political and mercantile ascendancy throughout the world, were left to their own devices ordinarily. Accustomed from the first to virtual autonomy, the colonists developed their character as a people and their social institutions under England’s protection, but without England’s express direction. {p. 303}

    [N]early all the permanent settlers began as relatively or absolutely poor emigrants… Economic advantage, rather than political freedom, was their first object. Freedom, nevertheless, grew out of Britain’s “salutary neglect” of those hardscrabble territories. {p. 304}

    To the challenge of the harsh environment, they responded courageously: American health and longevity soon exceeded English health and longevity. Their birth-rate became phenomenal, higher than any rate ever before attained by any European people…The life of the large majority of Americans remained austere…and even the upper classes usually worked hard and rarely accumulated fortunes that would have made much show in Britain. {p. 304}

    The first black slaves were sold to Virginians in 1619…Thus began the troubling paradox of chattel slavery in a land politically free was England, and in most ways closer to social equality than any European country of those times. {p. 305}

    [The] ready availability of land worked against the growth of cities, or even of large towns…The individual farm and the hamlet became the common patter of early American society. {p. 306}

    Full civil liberty, even-handed justice, and broad toleration are the exception, rather than the rule, in human societies…Colonial American needs to be judged by it successes, rather than its failures, in these concerns. {p. 309}

    [T]he colonial society was neither a particularly harsh nor a particularly violent society, in the light of seventeenth and eighteenth-century practice…[T]he desire to live by the rule of law was genuine. {p. 309}

    until George III’s reign, the British government did not attempt to impose taxes upon the Americans. {p. 311}

    [N}early all parsons came out to the colonies from England. {No clergymen were ordained in American, and few young Americans studied in England with the hope of being ordained.} {p. 312}

    Democracy in American was made possible by the growth of a colonial aristocracy. That is not really a paradox, for {as Solon knew, and Aristotle} no democracy can achieve much, or even survive long, without a body of able leaders. {p. 312}

    “Few men will deny that there is a natural aristocracy of virtues and talents in every nation and in every part, in every city and village.” –John Adams {p. 312}

    Talent tends to join itself to property, and out of that union comes aristocracy, which tends to perpetuate itself. {p. 313}

    “By natural aristocracy, in general, may be understood those superiorities of influence in society which grow out of the constitution of human nature. By artificial aristocracy, those inequalities of right and superiorities of influence which are created and established by civil laws.” –John Adams {p. 315}

    The American gentlemen, like the common people of the colonies, desired no superimposed artificial aristocracy. {p. 315}

    [T]he colonists were suspicious of political abstractions. {p. 316}

    “I am an aristocrat: I love liberty, I hate equality.” –John Randolph {p. 318}

    “The word ‘gentleman’ has a positive and limited signification. It means one elevated above the mass of society by his birth, manners, attainments, character and social condition. As no civilized society can exist without these social differences, nothing is gained by denying the use of the term.” –James Fenimore Cooper {p. 322}

    [O]ne man is not as good as another, and a society without sound social distinctions is a miserable society, and a republic requires leaders with a sense of honor. {p. 323}

    Parliament left the Thirteen Colonies so much to their own contrivances that when the Revolution was at hand, the Patriots would argue that only the king, and never the British Parliament, had any claim to sovereignty over North America. {p. 323}

    “Those Viriginians who helped draft the Federal Constitution had lived under a quasi-federal system in colonial Virginia. They had seen the advantages of strongly-fortified local positions during conflicts with the king’s representatives at Williamsburg.”–Charles Sydnor {p. 328}

    [T]he county tended to be the basic unit of government in the southern colonies and later in those states strongly influenced by the states of the southern seaboard. {p. 328}

    Anti-Christian feeling was one of the forces that would explode in Paris in 1789, and thereafter would sweep across other European nations. Men must believe in something more than themselves; and if the Christian churches seemed whited sepulchres, men would seek another form of faith. So it was that during the first half of the eighteenth century, in England and America, the mode of thought called Deism made inroads upon the Christianity of the Apostles’ Creed. {p. 337}

    Deism was an outgrowth of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century scientific speculation. {p. 338}

    For the Christian, the object of life was to know God and enjoy Him forever; for the Deist, the object of life was private happiness. {p. 337}

    Although [the] aim [of John Wesley and his friends] was the ordering of souls, rather than the ordering of the state, one effect of their preaching in Britain and American was to avert in those countries the rise of a kind of pseudo-religion of fanatic politics, which would occur in France near the end of the eighteenth century. {p. 339}

    “You can’t turn back the clock,” we are told. Yet [Jonathan] Edwards did just that…The New England mind, which had been sliding into Deism, returned under Edwards’ guidance to its old Puritan cast. {p. 340}

    Virtue is the beauty of moral qualities, in harmony with the being of God. Goodness consists in subjugation of one’s own will to God’s good-will. {p. 341}

    [I]t was not in “Nature’s God” that the American people generally believe, by the end of the colonial period: they believed in Jonathan Edwards’ absolute God, the source of all goodness, the being of beings. {p. 343}

    American Christianity said little of angels, and neglected the calendar of saints, preferring the direct relationship of the individual to the Lord. {P. 344}

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