Mercurius Pragmaticus Redivivus

Category: Conservatism

Russell Kirk on Human Rights

Radicalism at the end of the eighteenth century expressed its case in terms of “natural rights”. Ever since Paine’s Rights of Men was published, the notion of inalienable natural rights has been embraced by the mass of men in a vague and belligerent form, ordinarily confounding “rights” with desires. This confusion in definition plagues society today, notably in the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” drawn up by the United Nations Organization: thirty articles, and a somewhat greater number of “rights” defined therein, including the right to free education, the right to “enjoy the arts”, the right of copyright, the right to an international order, the right to “the full development of personality”, the right to equal pay, the right to marry, and a great many more which actually are not rights at all, but merely aspirations. The conservative adage that all radical “natural rights” are simply, in substance, a declaration of the Right to be Idle is suggested in Article 2: “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.” This lengthy catalogue of “rights” ignores the two essential conditions which are attached to all true rights; first, the capacity of individuals to claim and exercise the alleged right; second, the correspondent duty that is married to every right. If a man has a right to marry, some woman must have the duty of marrying him; if a man has a right to rest, some other person must have the duty of supporting him. If rights are confused thus with desires, the mass of men must feel always that some vast, intangible conspiracy thwarts their attainment of what they are told is their inalienable birthright. Burke (and after him, Coleridge), perceiving this danger of fixing upon society a permanent grudge frustration, tried to define true natural right and true natural law.

~~Russell Kirk. The Conservative Mind : from Burke to Eliot. (1985), pp.47-48.

Quotation of the Week – Robert Dabney on Conservatism

It may be inferred again that the present movement for women’s rights will certainly prevail from the history of its only opponent, Northern conservatism. This is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution; to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt bath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted? Its impotency is not hard, indeed, to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It intends to risk nothing serious for the sake of the truth, and has no idea of being guilty of the folly of martyrdom. It always, when about to enter a protest, very blandly informs the wild beast whose path it essays to stop, that its “bark is worse than its bite,” and that it only means to save its manners by enacting its decent role of resistance. The only practical purpose which it now subserves in American politics is to give enough exercise to Radicalism to keep it “in wind,” and to prevent its becoming pursy and lazy from having nothing to whip. No doubt, after a few years, when women’s suffrage shall have become an accomplished fact, conservatism will tacitly admit it into its creed, and thenceforward plume itself upon its wise firmness in opposing with similar weapons the extreme of baby suffrage; and when that too shall have been won, it will be heard declaring that the integrity of the American Constitution requires at least the refusal of suffrage to asses. There it will assume, with great dignity, its final position.

~~R. L. Dabney. “Women’s Rights Women

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