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Enlightened Conservatism



The second item in the lower triangle is the concept of goals that work to create that environment of concern for others. There could be a very significant number of considerations, but I have tried to drop them into three main categories.One goal needs to be enlightenment , which is really an evolution of civilization aided by the concepts of education and opportunity with technology as a tool. I connect them because education without opportunity has limited impact. But the two concepts together spread a concept of enlightenment because they allow growth economically and culturally. One of the people from whom I learned a great deal in life was Dr. George Kosmetsky who founded many companies but the IC2 (Institute for Constructive Capitalism) was most on point. Enlightenment as a goal embodies new technology, he probably said it best in singling out what has the greatest economic impact:

“Today’s generation must understand that its legacy is to chart its own course. This generation must understand and accept that there is no existing road map for its future – and embrace the responsibility to develop its own. The generational resource is science and technology, which needs to be nurtured and better understood. Effective science and technology commercialization is the key to political and economic power – and to individual quality of life. How this generation manages and utilizes this resource will determine the degree to which it is possible to achieve shared prosperity at home and abroard.”

But, generally, enlightenment is the process of civilization moving forward to positive ends under positive leadership. And it embodies the techniques and tools to bring about that education and convey it. These are complex issues but at a fundamental level not that difficult. The issue is about what students learn more than about teaching. We all favor and seek excellence and equity, but we avoid the question of how limited resources can be divided between them for the best possible result. The effort is to take these big issues, find the fundamental questions from that perspective of character in society, and what we all need to learn about responsibility to each other and society. Leadership is the critical issue that then emerges. If leadership exists it may well avoid crisis, if it does not exist we govern through crisis. Compromise often comes only with crisis. But consensus is becoming increasingly difficult in a partisan division that loses confidence in individuals and institutions, and consensus is critical to a democracy. So new forms of leadership and process must emerge.

Leadership is the critical issue that then emerges. If leadership exists it may well avoid crisis, if it does not exist we govern through crisis. Compromise often comes only with crisis. But consensus is becoming increasingly difficult in a partisan division that loses confidence in individuals and institutions, and consensus is critical to a democracy. So new forms of leadership and process must emerge

When we concentrate on what a student learns rather than what is taught, we can see a difference in the teaching of ethics as a concept that may be a single course or worked into other materials and the recognition of conscience. The recognition of conscience is a much broader concept that plays a part in the perspective of life and drives the trend of economics, politics, and culture. The students will learn the values taught if they are relevant and important to them. We need not just teach what is right in situational ethics in a narrow scope, but why conscience affects all of their lives and their choices. It is the difference in the proverbial example of the cowboy showing the Indian the rifle and trying to explain how it works. You can talk all day, but shooting one buffalo explains a lot. If a course teaches conscience as a life choice with many future implications on all parts of life, it is different from a specialized discussion or right and wrong that in many cases cannot be put into context. We change society with each generation by what we pass down. We convey the values we most value and respect, and those are the values we teach. The point is, teaching ethics and teaching conscience, in the sense provided, are not the same and the appreciation of the relevancy to life and the future is a critical point.

The second great goal is closely combined and is an appreciation of personal dignity. There are many different rights that an individual has. From civil rights, to property rights, to the fruits of his labor, and many others, they are embodied in a respect for the personal dignity in this concept. When you recognize another man with true respect, you encompass a concept of equality from the Golden Rule. Courtesy is a simpler form that begins the process. If you learn to play checkers, you can graduate to chess. It is expressed on a cultural basis by the respect that others show. The discipline within society that insures common rights depends upon the understanding that each man has as to a rule of law and a respect for others, which is in effect a guarantee of their own security.

Another example is the modern concept of diversity. When minorities do not gain respect as individuals they fight for that respect in groups. But once the groups command respect, they have to be cautious because the ultimate goal is to have the same respect for all men regardless of sex, race, color or creed. Distinctions should be on a man's character and whether it is good or bad. That means that after separating into groups for diversity, we must find common cultural values such as character that can bridge us back together or we have defeated the purpose that was sought. Just as cultures must show each other respect by recognizing the uniqueness of each, they need to come together on the key issues where they are similar if civilization is to advance in an orderly fashion in a global world.The diversification into any group – ethnic, race, historical or geographically influenced, or many others, shape our perception of the world because we process our view of it from a unique viewpoint with the natural human desire to be right. So we need to move even beyond diversity to look at people from the perspective of their character. Dr. Martin Luther King had his faith in the ultimate goodness of man and probably said it best on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964: “I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up”. Our goal of personal dignity, to be achieved, requires all of us to shape our perspective of judgment to a man’s character and conscience. In his famous “I have a dream” speech, it gave the same message: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

The third set of goals is an appreciation of cultural values. This is often a unified concept of the values of society. The appreciation of the common good is more appropriate here because the codification of the beliefs of all of the individuals determine the laws under which the society is governed, the economic system under which it operates, and the political system that puts these values into place. All issues involve a balance of morality and economics, and cultural values set that balance at that time. It is important to distinguish the cultural arts from cultural values. The best example is the ancient Greek practice of building a temple and a theatre at the highest point on the island. The wind provided the acoustics as it blew back the words, and the beauty of the scene set the stage for the great tragedies. Few remember that the theatre was the mandatory education of the people. It showed the values and teachings of life. The theatre was the cultural art, the perspective, and the education it conveyed formed the values. Since the French concept of “art for art’s sake” and the change in nature of modern entertainment, we have lost much of this appreciation of how values are formed.

While they are very broad concepts, they are fairly easy to understand in that as civilization moves forward you have a balance between the individual and the combined society. That often might be looked upon as a balance between the individual and government. In some cases, personal dignity and its accumulated rights become much more dominant. In other cases the combined cultural values are changed to give the group more of a dominance over the individual. Enlightenment tends to balance the nature of change just as today we have technology battling culture. Ongoing enlightenment helps keep the two in balance so that society understands what is best for it and the balance is maintained. Much of The Language of Conscience covers thirty years of observations of this balance between government or the consolidated values of society and personal dignity (the rights and responsibilities of the individual). In a world of the future, where terrorism has major impact on daily life, this balance needs to increasingly be examined to preserve the best possible relationship with the options given. The discipline within society, which most affects the balance between these two considerations, will be a very important point in this century. However, if you use the character analogy, the decisions in this balance and the decisions made in each of these realms can be much more consistent maintaining a greater level of rights for the individual and more security for society. Common trust is the goal to be sought, but that requires significant education and commitment by society and individuals. If there is trust in the fairness and integrity of the system just like in the financial markets much more is gained for everyone. The Language of Conscience deals with how these considerations can be balanced from the character viewpoint to maintain that idividual responsibility. The New Legacy emphasizes how they begin in the home.

This affects not only market economics and politics. But also as individual character is lost, the individual looks to others - prinicipally, government - to slove his needs more easily. That leads us to the internal destruction of democracies such as Athens as was described by the Scottish philosopher and historian Professor Alexander Tyler (circa 1787) who noted:

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can exist only until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, (which is) always follwed by a dictatorship.


Gandhi noted close to the same in a different culture when he listed his seven deadly sins of a society:

Politics without principle
Wealth without work
Commerce without morality
Pleasure without conscience
Science without humanity
Work without sacrifice
Education without character

In a more modern quote attributed to President Abraham Lincoln (but by some historians to his biographer or others) the same sentiments re-emerge and certainly represent Lincoln’s beliefs.

“You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. You cannot further the brotherhood of many by encouraging class hatred. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn. You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man’s initiative and independence. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.”

Tieman H. Dippel, Jr.
August 2002
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