If This Is “Reactionaryism,” Where Do I Join?
Roger Scruton takes aim at J.S. Mill, his utilitarianism and his advocacy for the “sovereignty of the individual,” as well he should. Predictably, Andrew Sullivan does his best George Will impression as Guardian of Conservatism and coins a new, ugly word (reactionaryism) to define what Scruton and most traditional conservatives have always thought about Mill, utilitarianism and individualism. Mr. Sullivan reminds us that liberal attitudes and assumptions have become customary and now form their own tradition, which every thinking conservative (particularly Mr. Scruton) already knew, without giving any consideration to the problem of whether those attitudes and assumptions are reasonable and consonant with the nature of man and society. The principles of 1789 may have their own tradition, but it does not follow that anyone should feel obliged to follow in that tradition.
When Mr. Scruton speaks of “the sacred and the prohibited,” he has clearly set up the counterpoint to the false conceit of permitting everything that does “no harm,” when we know perfectly well that individual willfulness, disregard for public morality in one’s “private life” and contempt for traditional authorities are not harmless or limited in consequences to the individual. If an individual embraces the profane in his own life and transgresses social and cultural norms that embody what a people holds as sacred, he is collaborating in the dissolution of those norms and the confusion of his society.