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Enlightened Conservatism


Linking the Books - The New Legacy Update

When The New Legacy was first published in 1986, Texas Business magazine did a cover story called “Be The Best” and described it as a crucial new book that urges Texans to take the national leadership role in ethics, education, business, and statesmanship – before its too late. So when it was suggested that I update and revise the book for republication, I asked exactly what part of those original thoughts should I change? While a chapter of the book deals with the oil and gas, real estate, and banking decline in Texas in the late 1980s, it is still significant because it gives an insight to people in difficult times.

With the publication of my new book, The Language of Conscience, The New Legacy is not outdated, but rather better explained. Just like arithmetic lets you comprehend algebra in the hope that someday you can master calculus, the two books build upon each other. The origins of the values in The New Legacy are applied to life in The Language of Conscience.

A Fundamental Choice

All of life is a learning experience at graduated levels, and we determine our destiny by seizing the opportunities granted us. Like a hand of cards, fate may determine what cards we have, but we can affect the game by how wisely we play them. In The Language of Conscience, the analysis is very simplified – each of us has a fundamental choice in our approach to life. We can focus primarily on conscience or on convenience. Conscience is a concern for others, for family, for the future, and leaving the world a better place for our contributions within it. Convenience is much more oriented to the individual and his immediate or intermediate success with a very limited regard on the impact to others.

This is the fundamental question involving the nature of man. Is he inherently vil as Machiavelli and Hobbs viewed him where you must appeal to his weaknesses of convenience? Or is he redeemable as Christ, Aristotle, and Confucius saw him, such that he can care for others? The nature of man, which side predominates in the culture of the time, sets the environment for life and the future.

Each of us has both these factors within us because we have a natural self-interest, but it does not necessarily have to be to the extreme of greed. We have a natural morality that should appreciate the Golden Rule and the common good. We understand the big concepts of good and evil that might be represented by angels and devils, but we have a much harder time keeping in mind the critical balance between the smaller items that often rationalize conscience into convenience.

As we become more successful and move into the realms of political, cultural or economic power, the more we find that while individuals are dominated more by conscience, power is often dominated by convenience. As materialism and fame provide a pop culture, we often forget the fundamentals that are truly important.

Leadership and Culture

The future of civilization depends in great part upon the nature of its leadership, and the nature of that leadership depends to a great extent upon the values of the culture. The laws and their enforcement are no more than a reflection of those values. The nature of discipline within a society depends on the strength of these common cultural bonds. If you were to look at the tree of civilization, the leaves might be looked upon as the individual acts of courtesy, the branches that tie them together as the ethical system, the strong trunk as morality, but the most important ingredient of all, the root, as an understanding of conscience. It is by fertilizing and growing the root that the whole tree greatly expands.

It matters not just what we teach our children, but how we affect the culture that shapes them. If it is one of convenience it either puts them at great disadvantage or corrupts them.

New Approaches

At the beginning of a new century, we see that many of the old ideologies may not necessarily be appropriate to modern times. The world is looking for new and different approaches and often both society and nations divide themselves on areas of self-interest. The common good has to be appreciated in terms of self-interest for the stability and opportunity it provides. In the last century many of the visions were liberal versus conservative or rich versus poor. In the future it may be more appropriate to look at the distinctions being conscience versus convenience. Also trust is going to become a commodity of much greater value in the Internet age. The earlier Biblical warning to “Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain,” reflects that the unscrupulous always try to associate with the best of images. We have to find new ways to help establish credibility on a societal basis.

We talk of ethics and values, but the question I often ask is whose ethics and which values? Our universities look at teaching ethics at graduate levels, but I would seriously question whether a few speeches by businessmen on proper subjects could in any way offset the talented discourses of the techniques it takes to succeed in business.Universities have been shaped by the peer pressure of research to advance knowledge and they are losing the recognition of responsibility to society to advance civilization by developing the nature of man toward conscience.Success is the goal most focused upon as the key value. Corporate cultures may have books of ethical rules, and we may pass legislation and seek enforcement that punishes wrongdoers. However, Marcus Aurelius noted many centuries ago that a man should be upright, not be kept upright. A creation of a culture of conscience or of ethics needs to be sought. It is never going to succeed entirely, but if a preponderance of weight is given to those values it dramatically affects the culture. In an era where only two or three percent of the voters can make a difference in America, the fact that a limited number of people care about such issues has tremendous effect. If we are ever to get conscience into the realms of power that convenience dominates, then we must make it convenient for people to be of conscience, and the only way to accomplish that end is to change the nature of the culture where conscience is appreciated and convenience is understood.

Long-Term Change in Corporate Culture

A perfect example would be in today’s corporations. Even though we seek to pass much legislation and enforcement, the real issue is whether we make adequate long-term change in the perspectives of the corporate culture. The CEO is important because he sits at the top of the pinnacle. Yet he may not know all that happens below him in a major company. And the Golden Rule would not want any of us to hold him responsible for those things he does not know if he acts honorably. This is not often the case of retributive legislation and enforcement. In an effort to “be tough” legislation is often passed for image and is ill-defined so it seldom leads to convictions. We should balance that concept of punishment with an incentive to change companies and societies for the better, a trust building situation that supports positive futures for corporations.

The CEO and the company should be held responsible for what actions they take in establishing a corporate system of compliance and ethics. Oftentimes lawyers advise great care in setting up such systems because they create difficulties in bringing up problems and can have an impact on liability. However, what you seek, may not be a limitation of liability, but an enhancement of credibility. It may well lessen liability in the end. By putting in compliance systems where any employee is protected and has the vehicles by which they can bring any problems to senior management’s and the board of directors’ attention, you have the ability to have early warning systems that may save the company and give it credibility in the market. You also have a method and a technique by which you can judge the chief executive officer and the board of directors. Did they endeavor to create a true climate of ethics and compliance or did they not? It is an affirmative positive movement not a negative defensive one. The severity of punishment may well depend on which of these become evident. But two concepts are critical, effective cultures are all about ethical values and cultural climates either develop or deteriorate.

The creation of this type of environment on a broad base is a perfect example of what the concept of enlightened conservatism described in The New Legacy became in The Language of Conscience – not a political concept as much as an appreciation that education and cultural values have tremendous impact on the future of a society. It is best understood by the concept of a Chamber of Commerce seeking new business. By recruitment they go after targeted businesses and sell to them. Economic development is very different – you concentrate on creating an environment of education, taxes, justice, and culture that pull people in.

This example is much like a better magnet. It helps with recruitment, but it develops a force of its own. It relies on character and individual responsibility, as well as an understanding of the fundamental questions. In our example above, we may be mad at the abuses of a CEO, but where were the institutional watchdogs that had our money and the resources and ability to not only research governance of corporations, but put in shareholder resolutions for change. Perhaps seventy-five large institutions control close to forty-four percent of the stock market. Even though some are indexed, they still have great power to bring about affirmative change. Where was their commitment to a corporate ethics compliance system? We should not just be blaming the market and asking the government to punish, we should be asking the people we hire what they do when they invest and the questions they ask to manage our funds. State leaders could accomplish more asking state pension funds what their policies are and how they could affirmatively address the issue in the future through their investment policies rather than giving rhetoric on past evils. These types of underlying efforts can create that balance of an ethical culture on a group basis.

Children Learn by Example

"Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it."
Proverbs 22:6

But both books point to the fact that values of conscience versus convenience are often in place at a young age. Education, philosophy, and ethics training can enhance the differences, but fundamentally children learn quickly by example. The sounder that base of understanding, the more the child will react as a compass rather than a weathervane to the storms they face in an increasingly more complicated life. Monetary success may be important in life, but it seldom leads to true happiness. One’s goals often set one’s level of satisfaction. When one has risen in “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,” values gain in significance.

During the last sixteen years since the publication of The New Legacy, we have seen several cycles economically and politically. We have seen the Berlin Wall come down and a new era of economic growth. We have seen the dot com bust and corporate scandals that very much parallel the Texas oil and gas and real estate decline of the ’80s. The question is, “What can we learn as we move forward in a very different global world?” The Internet is going to permit each of us individually to play a far greater part. In The New Legacy I talk about three areas of power – economics, politics, and media. The advent of technology, and the information that it provides, create changes to economics and politics and perhaps an increasingly dominant force – culture / media. No longer do we have the broadcast networks and other institutions as the sole sources of information. With the narrowcast abilities of numerous magazines, the Internet, and other sources of communication, the individual seeks his source of entertainment or information where he wishes. The financial impact of this is significant on media and will work its way into politics and economics.

The Internationalization of the World

The internationalization of the world is going to have tremendous impact economically and politically. Rather than countries being adversaries on historical and economic grounds, there will increasingly be battles within each country as which area of thought, conscience or convenience, will dominate that individual culture. That will set the stage more for national relationships. It will be tied to economics and politics, but globalization requires more international interaction. This may be in cooperation on the environment, trade, disease prevention, terrorism or any number of issues where strong cultural bridges are now a necessity. Whether conscience or convenience wins in a culture will determine a great deal of its economics. Free markets, while under current attack, have still been proven to be the best allocators of resources. The problem is that we do not have free markets in most cases. A true free market has the highest levels of competition. It is that competition that makes it operate effectively. When you do not have morality in the market – and you have corruption, insider trading or other circumstances that dissuade people from participating – you cannot have the most effective markets.

However, it is important to note that while there is often a discrepancy between the wealth of the rich and poor, the great excess is the problem. The very nature of markets in rewarding work and talent will make a significant distinction and should if it is to bring innovation that helps all. The purveyors of class warfare often ignore the fact that a strong economy that creates a need for labor and then competitively bids it up, delivers far more in the form of wages and salaries than dividends. If you try to take out the benefits of incentive, you hurt all. The most critical issue is not the disparity of the difference as much as it is whether the workers are well treated and satisfied. Modern excessive greed was often at the expense of both workers and shareholders. This is why there has to be morality in the system. The system has to build a strong middle class and provide opportunity.

The stability of society is a key to optimum long term growth whereas excess destabilizes. But if we penalize risk taking rather than crooks, we change the fundamentals of the system. The secret is in the distinction between them and that the distinction is recognized in law and by the people. Crooks should be severely punished as an example, but it should not be at the expense of incentives to work. It should be built upon the credibility of the merit of performance. You should not condemn the concept of the bus that transports many people if the driver tries to make a few personal bucks by buying cheap gas that clogs the engine.

Often markets and deregulation and a great host of other similar concepts are like the old example of the people being told by their leaders of a great dessert they tasted called strawberry shortcake. The people wanted strawberry shortcake, but the system was such that aggressive salesmen sold alternative ingredients to the baker. He ended up using radishes for strawberries, sour cream for whipped cream, salt for sugar, and cornmeal for flour. The final result looked similar, but certainly left the people wondering why the people thought this was such a good idea.

The Future Depends on Enlightenment

Our future depends on our degree of enlightenment in recognizing these differences and in finding and developing methods by which such analysis and perspective can be gained. Enlightened conservatism, as it is described in The Language of Conscience , is no more than a title given to the interrelationship of a number of ideas so they can be considered as a package. Character and individual responsibility are the core traits of perspective from which it begins. Character is nothing more than conscience over convenience. And you affect character by creating an environment dominated by a respect for individual dignity, often expressed by courtesy. Also people must understand the common good and how it affects them. They must develop an intense appreciation of how cultural values affect the direction of society and how they must not only be understood, but focused upon. They need to understand that concepts need to be clear in a global world.

These goals to be achieved are directly affected by the strategic drivers of three areas of power – economics, politics, and culture / media. Technology enhances power in each. These strategic drivers have to be fully understood by three methods of analysis. The first is a gaining of perspective from which they can be judged – more like standing on a mountaintop and overseeing a forest than trying to fight through it tree by tree. The second is by analysis to be certain that we understand the right questions more than just seeking answers. And the third is by noting trends and directions so we can see where we as a society are headed. Those approaches and interrelationships are what are discussed in The Language of Conscience. The New Legacy is a much more fundamental book because it builds the base for that perspective. You start with character, conscience over convenience, as the place at the table where you sit. And you normally find where you stand on issues depends a lot on where you sit at the table. The New Legacy emphasizes what these values are and how they can be taught. The family is where they must originate.

In the intervening years between The New Legacy and The Language of Conscience, my Mother died. We placed in her obituary in 1992 the saying that she had long used and taught each of us. Character is what you do when no one but God is watching . Early one morning as I took her to the hospital emergency room, she emphasized to me not to worry if anything bad happened. She had lived a very good life. A burst aneurysm apparently took her life shortly thereafter. It had for her been a very interesting life. Both her parents were dead by the time she was sixteen. And she had raised her two brothers, still caring for one even at the time of her death. While she and Dad had been successful financially, that never mattered to her except what they could do for us and that she could send support to kids in orphanages and help others locally. Hers had not been an easy life through the depression, World War II or the later years. However, she had enjoyed all of it because her perspective was to live life through her family and church. Even her last thoughts worried about others.

It was this attitude of hers, and my father’s, that was the cement that made the concrete of our family. All of the other ingredients of concrete were there, but the cement was what bound it together. It was what tied the core values, and what was taught and assimilated from a family base. The New Legacy is the concrete foundation that better explains The Language of Conscience and other writings. Over the last fifteen years a lot of water has passed through the Grand Canyon going to the ocean, but the appearance of the gorges, the pillars of the reality of life, look very much the same now as they did then. So The New Legacy is a book about the fundamental pillars of life, not the fast rushing water that we face each day, and as such we have reprinted it exactly as first issued. Distinguishing between the fundamental pillars and the rushing water is far less simple than it sounds when applied to modern life. Culture is constantly evolving. Modern technology and globalization constantly tests the time derived values of existing culture. The balance of these forces successfully depends on gaining a perspective that not only aids in the success of life, but gains satisfaction.

Building a Framework to View Life

Like the scientific method, a process of thought to build a framework of how to view life is essential. Simply in recognizing the forces and options, we enlighten ourselves by climbing a mountain to look at the distance rather than fighting through the trees in the valley. This view requires a very conscience effort and a general framework by which you can organize thoughts. What is important is not the depth of philosophy, but the wisdom to recognize who you are individually and how the inherent conflicts and choices in the world can be viewed and categorized – that requires a balanced perspective. Enlightened conservatism does not give answers as much as it raises the right questions. Each person’s answers to the same questions might be different depending on background and circumstance. One of the most important concepts to understand is the natural human desire to be right. It is often more powerful than self-interest. It shapes how we see issues by immediately seizing upon that which supports our view. In a world where diversity is encouraged because the individual is not given due accord, we form groups to gain that respect – by ethnic origin, by class, by the geography of nations, and many others. We look at facts with a perspective from our group or groups, where if we looked from the perspective of an individual led only be conscience, the Golden Rule, the common good, and “being in the other man’s shoes”, the facts might appear differently. It is quite possible to be of conscience on opposite sides of an issue. Equity versus excellence in school funding depends on where your constituents’ interests lie. The Language of Conscience or the creation of an ethical environment where the differences can be evaluated constructively is the ultimate goal not only for perspective but method. Thinking about the core issues can pull all men closer together as they recognize the strength of the Golden Rule in life and the benefits of the common good. The Discipline within society is then a solid balance, fair to all, because we rediscover the link between rights and responsibilities that are incumbent to understanding both.

Tieman H. Dippel, Jr.
August 2002
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