April 12, 2008

The title of this blog comes from Edmund Burke:

“To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind.”

Burke wrote this passage in Reflections on the Revolution in France, a classic critique of those who have no patience for tradition and who presume to create civilization anew. As the quotation above suggests, Burke believed that the little platoons that citizens belong to (family, churches, schools, etc.) help to form good citizens. This development of citizenship is preferable to the alternative – the active involvement of government. If these little platoons fail to maintain social order, then something else – much less personal and much more authoritarian – will replace them.

Further, these little platoons carry on those traditions that have maintained the ordered liberty that we now enjoy. The phrase “ordered liberty” may sound like a contradiction in terms. It is in fact a great paradox. Absolute freedom is neither possible nor desirable. Some rules – those that have stood the test of time – actually enhance liberty.

G.K. Chesterton (a great fan of paradoxes) reaches a similar conclusion. In his classic work, Orthodoxy, Chesterton explains how the Catholic Church’s rules allow people the freedom to enjoy their lives:

     “Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground. Christianity is the only frame which has preserved the pleasure of Paganism. We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased.”

The ideas that have protected our liberty have stood the test of time. People adhere to these traditional ideas and practices because they are good ideas and practices. There are exceptions, of course. Not every old idea is a good idea, and not every new idea is a bad idea. Burke recognized this as well, but he insisted that new ideas be used to improve (and not replace) the great civilization that has been bequeated to us: “A disposition to preserve, and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman.”

It is with these ideas in mind that I venture into the world of blogging.  (There may be a comment or two on my beloved Cleveland Indians along the way. Go Tribe.)


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