Cicero's Legacy

Once a believer in the blessings of modernity and classical liberalism, Dutch philosopher Andreas Kinneging now considers himself a “convert” to traditional thinking.  He believes that the Enlightenment and Romanticism have brought “decline and deterioration, instead of progress and improvement.”  Today, public discourse, directed by shallow pragmatists, reveals an historically illiterate ruling class.  “Because we no longer consult our ancestors,” he notes, “our thinking in ethics and law has become perfunctory and superficial.”  Many of our current problems stem from the Enlightenment; these include a “form of hubris,” against which can be pitted conservatism, “a conscious defense of the Christian and classical legacies.”  At the heart of this conservatism lies the conviction that one’s happiness and freedom mostly depend “on a disposition achieved by an inner struggle against all sorts of primary impulses that lead him astray.”  To curb these inclinations, Enlightenment thinking can offer only the state, public opinion, and modern education, all of which seem to have failed.  Conservatism, by returning to time-tested ways, can correct these failings.  Although Kinneging’s enthusiasm is welcome, here in the United States conservatism has largely failed as a bulwark to Enlightenment thinking.  In fact, through the influence...

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