In being neither fully quietist nor fully activist, the PhilCon is a realist. By carefully considering where society is and where they believe society should be, the chiliastic realists will work where they can…
Building onto the work already done on outlining the key differences between Political Conservatives (PolCons) and Philosophical Conservatives (PhilCons) by Cato Minor in his blog here, I hope today to expand the terminology used in the discourse, by adding the quality of chiliastic realism.
But first, it is important to make a note of what Cato says in regards to the key differences between PolCons and PhilCons. From reading his work it is clear to see that the dividing line between the two camps is portrayed in temporal terms. PolCons are focused on a set of morals and ideas captured in a specific time frame, whether the 1950s or the late 1800s, or even yesterday. Political Conservatives seek to hold onto what is in front of them — what they have touched, felt, and experienced, or, what was touched, felt, and experienced at certain moment in history.
However, the PhilCon takes a much broader look at history, searching for the eternal truths. “The PhilCon desires to conserve and nourish good and healthy things, those quite real norms which govern the human experience through all ages.” The Philosophical Conservative takes the long view and holds onto the plumb-line of history.
As Cato goes onto mention, the PhilCon does have that reactionary streak in them: their ability to fight for the Good and Permanent Things once their patience with the world has ended and institutions are devoid of their principles — that is when they will fight against the tide.
This reactionary moment is really what I want to discuss, and which I believe is perhaps the most interesting aspect of Philosophical Conservatism. The ignition of this fire of justice that powers the PhilCon to take their stand, is something worth analysing and evaluating, because at the correct moment and under the correct circumstances it can be society-altering.
I want to throw a term into the ring with which to describe this reactionary moment of the PhilCon — chiliastic realism, which on first reading would sound potentially both verbose and contradictory. How can an idea be both chiliastic and realistic?
Chiliasm is simply the belief in a form of paradise that is to come. Even for rationalists and sceptics, all forms of ideology and religion are actually based in chiliastic concepts of the creation of the good. In British Political Conservatism this might be hedged in ideas of Empire, or free trade, or the Queen. In the US it would be wrapped up in 1776, the Constitution, or the interventionist foreign policy of the late 20th Century. For a Philosophical Conservative, it will be a society of the Good and Permanent things pruned and moulded (over time) according to the knowledge passed down through history.
So then what do I mean by Chiliastic Realism?
In striving for a chiliastic realisation, there will always be a tension — between quietism and activism. Take communists and socialists as an example: among the schools of thought that want to see an end to capitalism, there are those who think capitalism will collapse in on itself in time, and we need not worry and there are then those who believe that such a scenario is only possible, if the proletariat rises up in revolution. One has an almost fatalistic view of our economic system and the other sees the need for human agency.
Applying this to PhilCons, we see that PhilCons can fit neatly into neither quietist nor activist boxes. The PhilCon is active in the pruning of society, in the weeding of the institutions, so that only the pure wheat of Good and Permanent principles remain but they are not overly active in their pruning or their weeding, so as to rip out the field, the tree, and start again — only when the farm is overrun with weeds and disease will they burn the fields and orchards to the ground.
Furthermore, the PhilCon is quietest in the way they view society as the garden that needs to be left, to a large extent, to its own devices, that it is the way it is for a reason and doing doing too much can ruin the carefully balanced eco-system, resulting in more harm than good but they are not overly quietest in recognising that a healthy garden, or field, or tree, can be improved by human aid. By pruning, weeding, and keeping the borders intact, the Philosophical Conservative hopes to prevent the overgrown mess that happens once the balance is tipped over, which is actually destructive to the overall well-being of the garden.
In being neither fully quietist nor fully activist, the PhilCon is a realist. By carefully considering where society is and where they believe society should be, the chiliastic realists will work where they can, to prune and weed institutions (both physical and inter-human). But having a realist understanding of human limitation, as Cato mentions, the PhilCon will not take devastating swings at the root of a tree that still shows signs of life.
Therefore, the PhilCon may work in nominally, (Politically Conservative) conservative parties, or even in the labour movement, recognising the importance of these institutions for certain Good and Permanent principles. At the same time they are willing to create community mutual aid initiatives and local allotments or fight alongside eco-anarchists against the destruction of a forest.
In conclusion, a PhilCon will weigh up each potential action in relation to Good and Permanent Things and when they find it is time to act — they will do so “with sword and justice”. In this way, chiliastic realism remains at the heart of Philosophical Conservatism and its interaction with the world around it.
I leave you with the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes 3:1–3, which I think encapsulate a little of this chiliastic realism:
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build.