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Moral Imagination, Humane Letters, and the Renewal of Society

Vigen Guroian

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Heritage Foundation Lecture held on April 29, 1999

"Four reformers met under a bramble bush. They were all agreed that the world must be changed. `We must abolish property,' said one. `We must abolish marriage,' said the second. `We must abolish God,' said the third. `I wish we could abolish work,' said the fourth. `Do not let us get beyond practical politics,' said the first. `The first thing is to reduce men to a common level.' `The first thing,' said the second, `is to give freedom to the sexes.' `The first thing,' said the third, `is to find out how to do it.' `The first step,' said the first, `is to abolish the Bible.' `The first thing,' said the second, `is to abolish laws.' `The first thing,' said the third, `is to abolish mankind.'"
Robert Louis Stevenson, The Four Reformers

From the very start of his long and illustrious career as an essayist and social critic, Russell Kirk warned that late liberalism is transmuting America into the egalitarian and anti-human society relished by Robert Louis Stevenson's four reformers.

Forty-five years ago, in an article entitled "The Dissolution of Liberalism," Kirk named this social philosophy "brummagemism," a local vulgarization of Birmingham in England, where during the 19th century cheap and inferior knock-offs of finely crafted articles were manufactured. In that article, Kirk argues that contemporary liberalism is hawking a shoddy imitation of humanistic politics. Brummagemism "tyrannizes over the soul of man" by imposing an "equality of condition [and] uniformity of life and thought" through "pervasive state regulation," says Kirk. In the meantime, utilitarianism and pragmatism bridge the transition from the old liberalism, whose moral vision was still deeply indebted to biblical faith, to a new Machiavellianism "founded upon self-interest and creature comforts."

Under the new brummagemian order, radical moral skepticism evacuates the culture of the last remnants of religious sentiment that inspired the concept of a free society. The sole dogma is that a truly enlightened and progressive society needs no dogma. The result, Kirk advises, is "a society which would deny men the right to struggle against evil for the sake of good, or which simply cease[s] to distinguish good and evil."

For the complete article go to the The Heritage Foundation website.



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