Thrones and Dominions

The American writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once opined that,

“The two parties which divide the state, the party of Conservatism and that of Innovation, are very old, and have disputed possession of the world ever since it was made. This quarrel is the subject of civil history. The conservative party established the reverend hierarchies and monarchies of the ancient world. The battle of patrician and plebeian, of parent state and colony, of old usage and accommodation to new facts, of the rich and the poor, reappear in all countries and times. The war rages not only in battlefields, in national councils and ecclesiastical synods, but agitates every man`s bosom with opposing advantages every hour.”

Emerson`s prophetic words seem especially acute in the current political and social climate. The voices that advocate for conservatism are often met with a fevered denunciation by the voices that clamour for revolution. The former cling to tradition and order, whereas the latter seek modernity and necessary disorder.

We understand this philosophical schism in broad terms as right versus left, which originates from revolutionary era France. At that time the monarchists sat on the right side of the parliamentary building and the radicals sat on the left. The left wing revolutionaries believed that disorder was necessary to recreate their modern vision of how society should operate. However those on the right were more religious and desired a certain level of continuity with the old orders and hierarchies. The left believe that they were vindicated as revolutions deposed old rulers in return for some semblance of freedom. The right believe that this freedom has come with a heavy price, and simply replaced one form of oppression for another.

In truth no system is perfect. It is a natural human desire to seek individual fulfillment but also to participate in a functioning society. Pure individualism leads to selfishness, avarice and cruelty. An overbearing conformist state just crushes individuality and ultimately condemns people to an unending cycle of poverty.

Throughout history it seems that every single attempt to correct human society through political means has ended in misery and death. It is impossible to fashion heaven on earth, to force people to behave equatibly while simultaneously divesting those things that make us individually human. It is a laudable aim to improve humanity, but humanity is flawed. The only meaning that we can possibly derive from all of this is that there has to be something greater than humanity that awaits us.

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