Monday, January 25, 2010

Latin: Conservo vs Liber

Conservo, conservare: to conserve, preserve

Libero: free

Over the last few months I have been putting up occasional posts about the origins of modern conservatism in the political and economic tumult of late 18th century Britain, and I stick by that you can understand much of the conservative movement by realizing they still take their leads from Edmund Burke. But understanding that political Conservativism can be seen simply in reaction to demands for democracy and workers rights doesn't quite explain modern Conservatism and its central conundrum from the Liberal point of view: Why do so many objectively working class people go against their clear class interest and support conservative leaders?

I put up a post or two awhile back deriving from Fustal de Coulanges "The Ancient City". And if we revert to that world to the era-of pre-Classical Europe we find an economy and a society centered around the householder and his proprietary rights. A modern expression that captures some of this is "A man's home is his castle" (another is "You kids get off my lawn!"). In the world of the "Ancient City", the head of the household however humble is king and literally high-priest. And within the house, Latin 'domus', the householder holds dominion over all other inhabitants from wife and children down to servants and slaves, if any.

While households can exist in isolation with the house surrounded by its own fields surrounded in turn with its own wall and perhaps separated from the next by some distance, as for example was typical of Settlement Iceland, generally households are clustered in groups in villages, towns, and cities and so had a need for collective decision making. For most purposes this decision making fell into the hands of the householders, each speaking for his own house, which meant leadership by the fully aged, in Latin 'seniores' hence Senators.

But parallel to this was another structure. In time of danger it was not only householders who were called to duty, instead that fell to a larger group of tribesmen, or villagers or townholders, those who were called in Latin the liber homines, the free men. In most other aspects of social, economic and religious life they might fall under the ultimate and unquestioned rule of the head of household, but war requires a different structure and one that is by nature more communitarian.

So I suggest that Conservatism as its name suggests is always rooted in property rights of householders not only from enemies beyond the wall but over everthing within them. While Liberalism as its own name suggests is always rooted in the community interests of the whole aggregate of liber homines, the free men.

Liberals generally have a difficult time understand why so many working class people stick with conservative leadership and conservative parties even where doing so means going against their own clear economic interests, and often look to answers in the form of inherent subservience to authority or simple stupidity. Instead I suggest that social, economic and political conservatism might all have their roots in the desire to maintain property rights over your own household and its contents, including its human contents. From that perspective everything from father-daughter Purity Balls and 2nd Amendment Absolutism falls right into a coherent package. And BTW not one motivated by malice, most everyone understands the principle "Not in my house".


Lyle said...

Following this thought the Us Constitution is a very conservative document. At the time the conservative property owning class (property both human and non-human) were the only ones able to vote. The Federalists supported this concept. It was the time of Jackson that universal manhood suffrage came about.
The US never had the traumatic experiences of Europe in the 20th century (WW I and II) which changed their mindset, to one of social democracy, when folks realized that it was awfully easy to loose material goods, as well as life.

Mark said...

Very astute analysis. Thanks for the deep think.