And indeed, this is the most common Enlightenment-rationalist depiction of constraint: In Hobbes’ , for example, it is the authority of the king that provides the necessary constraint in order to bring peace, order, and justice to a society that would otherwise tear itself apart.But there is another possible source for social constraint.
My intention here is not to defend any particular code of honor, such as those that were accepted among English gentlemen two hundred years ago.
Rather, I want to understand the place of honor in a traditional society—by which I mean a conservative society, one capable of conserving anything worthwhile from one generation to the next.
In his writings and National Conservatism conference, Yoram Hazony is playing a significant role in reviving the notion of nationalism in America. Vaughan Lecture he delivered at Harvard Law School on April 2, 2019, is preceded by Part I: Unfettered reason cannot conserve anything.
To ensure you don’t miss critique and discussion of this essay being published in our ongoing feature, “Has Conservative Rationalism Failed?
A competent political theory will always be devoted, in large part, to constraint. For example, my freedom to drive my car whenever I want depends entirely on the fact that countless other individuals refrain from stealing or vandalizing it or letting the air out of the tires.
And the same is true of every other freedom that I might wish to exercise.
But in the last three generations, this famous capacity for self-constraint has been disappearing. Because the British and American capacity for self-constraint was an inherited tradition, a tradition of how to think about things and how to live that was once called “common sense.” An individual who was guided by common sense enjoyed a broad range to think things through himself.
But his own originality and deviations from the way others spoke and behaved were always powerfully balanced by a thick matrix of inherited norms, which included gratitude toward, and duties to maintain and defend, the place of God and religion, nation and government, family, property, and so on.
They relegate the entire matter to an unopened box that is labeled “civil society” or “mediating institutions” or “little platoons”—on the assumption that while freedom needs to be endlessly discussed and vigorously defended, constraint will somehow arise of its own accord. It is both more difficult to understand and more difficult to carry out than freedom.
And a political education that does not focus on this critical point will not produce conservatives, but fakers with a sentimental attachment to a dying order, and no ability or will to do much to save it. To begin with, constraint creates the space in which each of us can be free.