The following excerpt comes from George Fitzhugh’s essay “The Conservative Principle; or, Social Evils and Their Remedies” which appeared in the April 1857 edition of DeBow’s Review.
“Society requires “reversed action.” All its chords are unstrung; they must be screwed up to greater tensity. Visionary schismatics and speculative philosophers seized upon the reformation, and have been busy ever since in converting what was intended for salutary and moderate reform, into revolution, and conducting revolution into anarchy.”
George Fitzhugh’s conservatism is the polar opposite of liberalism. Instead of tearing down the social order and dissolving society in the name of the abstract principles of “liberty” and “equality,” he proposes “reversed action” to tighten the social fabric and restore social cohesion.
“Luther excommunicated as freely as the Pope, Calvin burnt Servetus, and Henry the Eighth, defender of the faith, with admirable impartiality, sent Protestant and Catholic to the stake on the same hurdle. But those were days of law and order – days when society had rights as well as individuals – when men were punished, and justly punished, for violating the peace, good order, and security of society, no matter what the pretence. The right of private judgment, liberty of speech, liberty of the press, and freedom of religion, were not absolute, unlimited, unconditional rights, but only so far to be enjoyed and exercised as not to conflict with the institutions, the usages, the established moral and religious sentiments, and the laws of the country.”
In between the Reformation and the Enlightenment, the individual acquired rights in Protestant Europe, but society had rights as well.
“The “sovereignty of the individual” was not yet dreamed of. Locke first dreamed it, and was ingenious enough to pass off his monstrous vision as a sober reality; for his social contract presupposes the sovereignty of each individual, or party, to that contract. This was a monstrous stride toward anarchy; yet, it admitted that men had given up some rights, and that government had some functions to perform.”
Elsewhere in The Revolutions of 1776 and 1861 Contrasted, George Fitzhugh describes John Locke as “the father of all modern infidelity – infidelity in religion, in morals, in everything.” Locke’s theories undermined the foundations of the social order and began the unraveling of our culture.
“It remained for Adam Smith to define the duties of that government, which Locke had emasculated. This task Smith performed with a master’s hand. The whole business, function, duty, and office of government, he discovered, is to “let alone” (Laissez-faire) to do nothing. Simpler than Zekiel Bigelows churn; simplicity recommended it to general favor and acceptance – anybody could govern on this principle, and all might aspire to be governors. Here was at last a philosophical panacea, a moral rule, that satisfied all the social, ethical, economical, and governmental wants of men; men love simplicity, and have been following quacks, as well as in medicine as in philosophy, from the earliest dawn of history to another quite as surely, if not quite as fast, as one quack medicine gives way to a new one. Men change the fashion of their thoughts, as women change the color and the form of their bonnets. It is quite time, that this destructive and radical philosophy, beginning with the reformation, and culminating with Adam Smith, should decline, and be succeeded by an opposite system, that of conservatism.”
It was Adam Smith who created the intellectual hegemony of political economy and its maxim “every man for himself” which cultivated an ethic of universal selfishness and proclaimed it to be the common good and the national interest. Both liberalism and free-market capitalism which are the same thing are solvents which dissolve organic cultures to prepare them to be plundered by the wealthy.
“We think we see in the ridiculous excesses of the Red Republicans of Europe, and the -isms of the North, the beginning of that decline.”
In his book Cannibals All!, or Slaves Without Masters, George Fitzhugh argued that liberalism or “free society” naturally begets thousands of -isms and sought to explain why the American North of his time was being convulsed by so much unhappiness and social revolution.
A brief detour:
THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE ISMS – SHEWING WHY THEY ABOUND AT THE NORTH, AND ARE UNKNOWN AT THE SOUTH.
“The exploitation, or unjust exactions of skill and capital in free society, excite the learned and philanthropic to devise schemes of escape, and impel the laborers to adopt those schemes, however chimerical, because they feel that their situation cannot be worsted. They are already slaves without masters, and that is the bathos of human misery. Besides, universal liberty has disintegrated and dissolved society, and placed men in isolated, selfish, and antagonistic positions – in which each man is compelled to wrong others, in order to be just himself. But man’s nature is social, not selfish, and he longs and yearns to return to parental, fraternal and associative relations. All the isms concur in promising closer and more associative relations, in establishing at least a qualified community property, and in insuring the weak and unfortunate the necessaries and comforts of life. Indeed, they all promise to establish slavery – minus, the master and the overseer.”
“In the first place, the character of the enemy we have to contend with prevents anything like regular warfare. They are divided into hundreds of little guerrilla bands of isms, each having its peculiar partizan tactics, and we are compelled to vary our mode of attack from regular cannonade to bush-fighting, to suit the occasion.”
“Why have you Bloomer’s and Women’s Right’s men, and strong-minded women, and Mormons, and anti-renters, and “vote myself a farm” men, Millerites, and Spiritual Rappers, and Shakers, and Widow Wakemanites, and Agrarians, and Grahamites, and a thousand other superstitious and infidel isms at the North ? Why is there faith in nothing, speculation about everything? Why is this unsettled, half demented state of the human man mind co-extensive in time and space, with free society? Why is Western Europe now starving? and why has it been fighting and starving for seventy years? Why all this, except that free society is a failure ? Slave society needs no defence till some other permanent practicable form of society has been discovered. None such has been discovered. Nobody at the North who reads my book will attempt to reply to it; for all the learned abolitionists had unconsciously discovered and proclaimed the failure of free society long before I did.”
The hallmark of free society is that it is constantly generating revolutionaries who seek to overturn the liberal paradigm. There is something profoundly wrong at the heart of the system. Liberal societies are never satisfied and are always in flux and moving on to the next social revolution.
“They are the practical “reductio ad absurdum” of the theories of Locke and Smith. Yet they are but corollaries from those theories. The social contract involves the idea of the sovereignty of the individual, and “let alone” begets and justifies free-love and no government.”
Indeed, free love (my body, my choice) has already triumphed in the United States because it was an obvious corollary of liberalism. It is difficult to remember now but sexuality used to be tightly regulated until the late 20th century. We are currently progressing toward both atheism and anarchy.
“Mr. Andrews has demonstrated this in a masterly way, and no follower of Locke or Smith can consistently censure him, nor any other leader of the -isms of the North. Mobs, riots, revolutions, famines, superstitions, infidelities, are the order of the day, outside of slave society.”
A picture is worth a thousand words:
“Mr. Carlyle’s description is poetical and truthful. “But in the days that are now passing over us, even fools are arrested to ask the meaning of them; few of the generations of men have seen more impressive days. Days of endless calamity, disruption, dislocation, confusion and more confounded; if they are not days of endless hope too, then they are days of utter despair, for it is not a small hope that will suffice, the ruin being clearly, either in action or in prospect, universal. There must be a new world if there is to be any world at all!”
After the events of the last month, who among us does not feel this way? If there is to be any world at all, there must be a new world. We can’t go on living like this in a state of perpetual social decline.
“You, conservatives, North and South, must usher in, and inaugurate this new world. Adopt the slavery principle, vindicate the institution in the abstract, tighten the reins of government, restrain and punish licentiousness in every form, scout and repudiate the doctrines of let alone, and “Pas trop gouverner,” and govern much and rigorously. This is the new world that we want.”
Fitzhugh issues a call to arms to reject conservative liberalism. He calls for a new reactionary Reformation to attack and rollback liberalism in morals, economics and politics.