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    Quotables: The Roots of American Order

    June 1, 2012 by Brandy Vencel
    The Roots of American Order
    by Russell Kirk

    In every age, among every people, disorder rises up in one shape or another. {p. 441}

    [T]he common man of nineteenth-century America sought less earnestly after salvation of his soul than had Bunyan’s Christian. {p. 443}

    The growing danger to American order during that era was not political, primarily: rather, practical political measures were the mirror of an increasing confusion in the moral and the social order. {p. 443}

    Both Henry Adams and T.S. Eliot, in the twentieth century, would write that the America which their families had represented had ended with the election of Andrew Jackson. {p. 443}

    Commercial acuteness often was confounded with wisdom and integrity; community became “real estate,” for sale at a profit; the jerry-built new cities and towns commonly were dismal enough; even the sacrament of marriage was corrupted into “copartnership.” {p. 445}

    “It is their mores, then, that make the Americans of the United States, alone among Americans, capable of maintaining the rule of democracy; and it is mores again that make the various Anglo-American democracies more of less orderly and prosperous…Europeans exaggerate the influence of geography on the lasting powers of democratic institutions. Too much importance is attached to laws and too little to mores.“–Alexis de Tocqueville {p. 448}

    When Lincoln gave orders from the White House, this wry humor of his would become an element of the high old Roman virtue; it was comitas, or the relief that seasons gravitas–that is, the sense of heavy responsibility. {p. 452}

    And the virtue of pietas, too, became his, in the old Roman sense: willing subordination to the claims of the divine, of neighbors, of country. {p. 453}

    Here was a man; and as the best of life is tragic, and as the highest reward of virtuous life is a good end, so this man was fortunate in the hour of his death. {p. 454}

    “Among the lessons taught by the French Revolution there is none sadder or more striking that this, that you may make everything else out of the passions of men except a political system that will work, and that there is nothing so pitilessly and unconsciously cruel as sincerity formulated into dogma.” –James Lowell {p. 454}

    Having risen from very low estate, he knew the savagery that lies close beneath the skin of man, and he saw that most men are law-abiding only out of obedience to routine and custom and convention…[H]e held that the unity and security of the United States transcended nay fanatic scheme of perfectibility. {p. 455}

    [T]he Emancipation Proclamation, he undertook as a measure of military expediency, not as a moral judgment. If he could have preserved the Union, short of war, by tolerating slavery, he would have done so, he said: he was no rash transformer of society overnight. The maintaining of order, as expressed int he Declaration and Constitution, was his steady aim. {p. 455}

    In Lincoln there was no presumption; much, he knew, must be left to Providence. {p. 456}

    Virtue, however, he did possess; and from that soil of virtue there sprang up dignity… {p. 456}

    Probably he read no political thinker except Sir William Blackstone… {p. 456}

    Orestes Brownson…is intellectually one of the most interesting of all American… {p. 457}

    Lord Acton…though that Orestes Brownson was the most penetrating American thinker of his day… {p. 457}

    Brownson always believed that if a principle were sound, there could be no danger in pushing it to its logical consequences. {p. 459}

    Brownson came to perceive that somewhere there must reside an authority, in the original Latin meaning of that word–a source of moral knowledge, a sanction for justice and order. {p. 459}

    Brownson told Americans how even they, in their seemingly triumphant materialism and swaggering individualism, could not long endure without knowing the meaning of Justice. {p. 4690}

    In the North, the zealots for Abolition, bent upon the destruction of one evil at the risk of aggravating other social afflictions, mistook social surgery for Justice. {p. 461}

    Justice, he said, requires Authority–not the authority of soldier or policeman, but the authority of religious truth. No people can enjoy a just society without some standard of judgment superior to the mood of the moment. {p. 462}

    The humanitarian, or social democrat…is by definition a person who denies that any divine order exists. {p. 463}

    “The attempt to obtain wise and equitable government by means of universal competition, then, must always fail. But this is not the worst. It, being a direct appeal to selfishness, promotes the growth of selfishness, and therefore increases the very evil from which government is primarily needed to protect us.” –Orestes Brownson {p. 464}

    “It is shallow sophistry to say that government is a necessary evil: government is no evil, but a device of divine wisdom to supply human wants.” –Orestes Brownson {p. 465}

    The rootless are empty of hope, because disordered, and therefore they grow angry and destructive. {p. 474}

    To live within a just order is to live within a pattern that has beauty. {p. 474}

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