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Richard Hooker: A Forgotten Father of National Conservatism

Richard Hooker: A Forgotten Father of National Conservatism

A statue of Richard Hooker in Exeter. Credit: Wikimedia

He was revered by Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, and C.S. Lewis, but few today have heard of him. At the founding of Jamestown and the founding of the American republic, his doctrines guided leading statesmen; at the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution, churchmen, jurists, and political theorists of every stripe vied with one another to claim the mantle of his authority. The shadow cast by the Elizabethan theologian and political theorist Richard Hooker is so long that we could be forgiven for failing to notice anymore that we live in it. But in an age of a waning conservative mind and a shrunken conservative imagination, it is high time to recover the thought of one of the most important conservative political theorists who ever lived. Indeed, as Anglophone conservatives grapple anew with the meaning of the nation, we would do well to learn from one of the earliest theorists of the English nation. 

A Forgotten Giant

Hooker wrote in the 1590s, that high tide of Elizabethan intellectual and literary culture, which defined the shape of our language and culture right down to the present. While Hooker was in London drafting his Laws, Shakespeare was on the opposite bank of the Thames writing The Taming of the Shrew (which has some interesting thematic parallels with the Laws, actually),and Spenser had just returned to Ireland after coming to London to publish and promote his Faerie Queene. Francis Bacon was a leading advisor at court, just beginning his literary career. Like these other men, the scale of Hooker’s achievement looms up out of the relative mediocrity of his predecessors with a suddenness that can baffle the historian. Stanley Archer observes, “It is no more possible to account for Hooker’s achievement than for those of Shakespeare and Milton, Spenser and Bacon.”

Like so many of the great shapers of culture and thought, Hooker was little known and less appreciated during his own lifetime. He never held any particularly high office, neither bishopric nor deanery, nor a mastership at one of the great colleges of Cambridge or Oxford. He died in a rural parish near Canterbury in 1600 at the age of only 46, esteemed by a small cadre of intellectuals and statesmen who were to play a leading role in the English church and society in the decades to come, but with only one published book to his name, and that one something of a flop. The book, uninspiringly titled Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, was an odd work, particularly by the standards of its time. It was a work of fierce polemic, but one that sought to persuade rather than discredit its adversaries. It was at the same time a work of sustained philosophical reflection, but written in English rather than Latin—albeit in a Latinate style that while “for its purpose, perhaps the most perfect in English,” was intimidating to readers then and now. It was a defense of the Elizabethan establishment, but constructed in terms that were deeply unsettling to the autocratic predilections of the Tudor monarchy. 

Hooker, whose conscious life almost entirely coincided with the reign of the Virgin Queen (he was five years old when she came to the throne, and died just two and a half years before she did), venerated his monarch as “God’s most happy instrument, by him miraculously kept for works of so miraculous preservation and safety unto others.” But he also knew that the glory days of Elizabethan England rested upon a fragile foundation indeed, and might “pass away as in a dream,” as he warned in the haunting opening sentence of the Laws. Writing in 1593, Hooker faced the same paradoxical task that was to draw forth Burke’s magnum opus two centuries later: to defend a revolution against revolutionaries. Hooker wrote to defend “the present state and legal establishment of the Church of England” against demands for change and reform—but cynics could object that this establishment was itself only a few decades old, the product of a series of upheavals unlike anything in English history since the Norman Conquest. 

The first such upheaval was Henry VIII’s dramatic Brexit in the 1530s, cutting the ties that bound the English church, society, and government to the international bureaucracy of the papacy. Although perhaps necessary to defend English sovereignty and, as I have elsewhere argued, far more conservative in its motives and procedures than is generally recognized, the Henrician reform still constituted a revolutionary rupture within the social, political, religious, and legal existence of the English people. The translation of the Bible into English was an epochal event that destabilized church hierarchies and transformed the English language. Henry’s ham-handed dissolution of the monasteries in 1538 constituted a radical redistribution of land and power that Burke later compared to that of the French revolutionaries. 

The full-fledged Protestant reforms of Henry’s short-lived son, Edward VI (1547-53), and abortive Catholic backlash of his disowned daughter, Mary I (1553-58), had left England rattled, divided, and dangerously easy prey for greedy foreign powers. The greediest of these was surely Philip II of Spain, Mary’s spouse, who had seen England slip through his fingers on her sudden death, and was convinced of his divine vocation to help restore England to the obedience of the Pope. From the beginning of her reign, the devout but shrewd Protestant Queen Elizabeth saw the Church of England as a means of national conservatism in an existential sense: religious policy would decide the country’s survival. For the first decade of her reign, she re-established Protestantism but took a relatively lenient line against the Catholic holdouts among the nobility, until Pope Pius V decreed in 1570 that Elizabeth was a heretic and usurper, and called on Catholics at home and abroad to oppose her. Meanwhile, more radical Protestants at home—known to posterity as Puritans—complained that Elizabeth’s failure to fully purge idolatry from the land and wipe out all traces of Catholic faith and practice was an invitation for divine judgment. They also questioned the nationalism of Elizabeth’s religious policy, complaining that the Church of England did not conform itself to international models of what a reformed Protestantism should look like. Although the astounding defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 weakened the Catholic threat and temporarily muted the ferocity of Puritan dissent, Hooker knew that another wave of religious and political revolution could easily engulf England upon Elizabeth’s death. 

To defend “the present state and legal establishment of the Church of England,” Hooker had to articulate a vision of continuity amidst change, a vision of national particularism amidst universal norms, that remains profoundly instructive and strikingly relevant today. Although Hooker’s own writings have all but “passed away as in a dream,” they offer us a basis for a profound and compelling national conservatism for our own day.

Better a Minor Sore than a Dangerous Remedy

Hooker, who cut his teeth as the parish minister to the English legal profession (as Master of the Temple Church from 1585 to 1591), composed his Laws as a legal argument, taking his stand as counsel for the defense. From eloquent opening remarks to closing arguments, his recurring theme is the central conservative concept that now undergirds our legal system: burden of proof. The Church of England (and with it, the society and government of England, for in Hooker’s day, these were all but inseparable) was on trial, and the first question to be decided was who carried the burden of proof. On this question, Hooker was conclusive: “since you are trying to destroy something already in force and imposing on us something new…you must take the role of plaintiff and accept that the burden of proof is on you to show both that we must abolish our currently existing order and also that we must adopt yours instead.” 

Note that Hooker makes two points. First, society and its laws are, as it were, innocent until proven guilty: “Equity, reason, the law of nature, God, and man all favor maintaining the status quo until a definitive decision is made against it.” Laws may be changed, to be sure, but the burden of proof always lies on those who wish to change them; for the mere past and present existence of that which is established serves as a weighty argument in its favor (and the older, the weightier, as we shall see). Second, though, it is not enough to show that the current order of things is flawed, as progressives and revolutionaries in every era imagine. The conservative recognizes that almost any order is better than no order at all,and so merely negative arguments, however cogent, cannot win the day in political debate.

Republicans who agitated to repealObamacare forgot this conservative principle, unable even to agree on what they wanted in its place. The would-be reformer must offer not merely a plausible replacement, but a compelling argument as to why that replacement would be better than the status quo. Hooker thus rejected the proposed Presbyterian overhaul of the Church of England not on the grounds that episcopacy was divinely mandated (as future generations of Anglicans would argue), but because the Puritans had not yet proven that their system would be superior. Events during the English Civil War a half-century later, when the Presbyterians finally got their chance to govern, would thoroughly vindicate Hooker’s warnings, just as the unfolding violence of the French Revolution would vindicate Burke’s.

Indeed, Hooker’s conservatism goes even further: it is not enough to show that a proposed reform will be better in the abstract, for laws do not have the luxury of governing abstractions. Laws govern people, and people tend to respond poorly to sudden social or legal changes. Laws, however much people grumble about them, become familiar features of the social landscape, and if suddenly altered, people lose their practical and moral bearings. Indeed, the very moral authority that we seek to instill into our laws can backfire when they are changed too often. People may begin to wonder whether the moral law, too, is just as evanescent: 

When the people see things suddenly discarded, annulled, and rejected that long custom had made into matters of second nature, they are bewildered, and begin to doubt whether anything is in itself naturally good or evil, rather than being simply whatever men choose to call it at any given moment. …Thus, whenever we change any law, in the eyes of the people it cannot help but impair and weaken the force that makes all laws effectual.

Accordingly, Hooker recommends caution when amending or discarding flawed laws: “if the newer laws are only slightly more beneficial, we should generally conclude that to endure a minor sore is better than to attempt a dangerous remedy.”

Of course, if this were all that Hooker had to say about the task of reform, he might seem to be little more than a reactionary indeed, and he might as well have abandoned the defense of the Church of England and converted to Rome. The order Hooker sought to defend was itself the product of a dramatic overhaul of the relationship between church and state and the public exercise of religion. Thus, while sounding a cautionary note about the revolutionary temptations of reform, he emphatically argued that there was nothing sacrosanct about the status quo. In fact, he went out of his way to demystify it: most features of the current church order in England were simply a matter of positive law, and it is the nature of positive law to be changeable. Laws are “instruments to rule by, and…instruments must always be designed not merely according to their general purpose, but also according to the particular context and matter upon which they are made to work. The end for which a law is made may be permanent, but the law may still need changing if the means it prescribes no longer serve that end.”

In fact, it was precisely the Puritan revolutionaries who did not seem to appreciate this point. Although they were eager to raze the current regime, the one they planned to erect in its place was to be for all time, since it was authorized by God. This fanaticism of revelation would exhibit startling similarities to the fanaticism of reason two centuries later, as Eric Voegelin observed in The New Science of Politics. Both, he argues, were species of what he called Gnosticism: a claim to a new kind of knowledge, hidden to past ages but able to penetrate past the vagaries of human experience to the true trajectory of history and thus the proper shape of society. At the root of political radicalism, Voegelin argues, is an epistemological error: a false confidence bred from a quest to reduce the contingencies of history to the certitude of faith. Against such fideistic politics, Hooker protests, “There is no reason in the world why we should consider it necessary to always do the same things, just because it is necessary to always believe the same things, since everyone knows that the object of our faith always remains the same, whereas the objects of our action change from day to day.”

A Conservative Epistemology

It should not surprise us, then, that the heart of Hooker’s Laws is a sustained meditation on epistemology: what can we know? What can’t we? And why are we always so determined to claim to know more than we really can? Hooker was no skeptic, to be sure, and certainly not in matters of religion. He would have had little patience with the epistemological demolition crew that was to appear over the following century: Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, and their followers. Hooker begins his Laws with a profound meditation on the eternal law of God, the changeless and transcendent union of the good, and the truth that anchors all morality and guides all of history. He speaks at length of the fixed laws of nature and reason that brook no contradiction and declares his firm confidence in the timeless truth of Scripture and the way of salvation it reveals. 

But he was keenly aware of the chasm separating these changeless norms of nature from the changing conditions of human society. While we might aspire to share the changeless eternity of God, for now we must plot our halting course through the realm of mutability. Law is not amoral; it must be ordered toward the basic moral ends that reflect the realities of human nature. But even as we keep these ends in view, our paths toward them will never look identical in two different times or places.

For this reason, we can be grateful, says Hooker, that the natural law is not merely “mandatory, showing what must be done,” but also “permissive, declaring only what may be done; or else advisory, revealing what is most prudent for us to do.” The task of human law is to take these three strands and weave them into a fabric strong enough to guide a society toward its common good and supple enough to respond to new insights and new challenges. 

This process is, of course, fraught with uncertainty. Hooker thus invites us to steer our course “whichever way greatest probability leads,” as determined by an attentive study of human nature. Hooker models such attention in the penetrating Preface to his Laws, where he acutely traces the paths by which idealistic reformers gain the allegiance of disaffected masses and fall prey to ever more wayward flights of self-delusion. Such delusion arises from misplaced self-confidence, the claim to a unique insight into the “cause of all the world’s ills” and to a unique program promising “a comprehensive solution to all these problems.” Every age will have to cope with its share of deluded utopians, but the framers of law, Hooker argues, must resist this temptation and have the humility to be guided by the wisdom of others. 

Hence arises the conservative respect for tradition. When it comes to law-making, the wisdom that is gleaned from long study of human nature is indispensable. Good lawmakers will recognize that much more than one lifetime is needed for such wisdom. Tradition, for Hooker, is simply the accumulated wisdom of centuries, which we would be foolhardy to ignore: “Neither may we in this case lightly esteem what hath been allowed as fit in the judgment of antiquity, and by the long continued practice of the whole Church; from which unnecessarily to swerve, experience hath never as yet found it safe.” We rightly respect the wisdom of the aged, who “for the most part are best experienced, least subject to rash and unadvised passions.”We ordinarily trust their judgments above those of the young, simply because they have had more opportunity to gain knowledge of the world. Just so on the larger stage of history: although age-old beliefs and customs are certainly fallible, they are less likely to steer us wrong than newly hatched schemes and intellectual fads. 

Human laws and institutions, then, rest upon a foundation of tradition, experience, and trial and error. Beneath these, to be sure, is the deeper bedrock of transcendent moral order, but only the long, hard work of human reason and ingenuity can adapt this order to the needs of each society. While law as such carries divine sanction, the authority of particular laws rests chiefly on human authority. Though imperfect and uncertain, such authority is, for Hooker, sufficient. “If we labor to defend such authority as far as the truth will bear, let no one think that we are wasting time on something trivial”; without it, every social, religious, and political institution will crumble before the leveling forces of reform-turned-revolution. 

Yet we must be equally careful not to defend this authority further than the truth will bear. “We all tend to fall in love with our own ideas, and when others contradict them, this only fans our love into a flame and makes us all the more eager to contend, argue, and do everything we can on their behalf.” Thus it is that political schemes that might have begun as very sensible ideas are elevated to the level of dogma, brooking no contradiction. Indeed, it was just such confusion of human and divine law in the medieval Catholic Church that lay behind the Protestant Reformation. Many Protestants were prepared to consider many of the trappings of the medieval church, from liturgical customs to papal prerogatives, as plausible policies resting on human authority and potentially suited to the edification of the church; but they resisted the insistence that such customs could acquire the binding force of divine law, to be imposed on every nation by a global super-sovereign. The Church of England, thought Hooker, had rightly asserted her independence, while sensibly deferring to the wisdom of the past in matters of church government and liturgy. Now it was threatened anew by a Puritan internationalism that similarly confused the contingent and the necessary, the local and the universal, the human and the divine. 

The Humility of Particularity and the Necessity of a National Conservatism

The epistemic modesty of conservatism leads inexorably to the necessity of local forms and independent nations. If the universal certitudes of nature, revelation, and abstract reason elude us, we must accept an experimental approach to the pursuit of the common good. If the authority of law rests on a foundation of local custom and accumulated practice, we must accept that its authority applies to particular communities. Such laws will fall well short, of course, of the abstract ideal that animates Gnostic revolutionaries, but they will have the benefit of matching the history and temperament of each people, and of being open to ongoing tinkering and reform in light of new experiences. Hooker recognized that even God himself did not attempt to legislate civil laws for every time and place. The laws of Moses, he notes, 

were established with careful thought for the places and persons to which they applied, as all good positive laws must be. Given that not all nations are the same, and God prescribed these laws with such an eye to the particular needs of Israel, how could we think that the fact that God made these laws unchangeable for one people means they should govern all nations forever. 

The English Reformation had grown in large part out of the assertion of national freedom against what was seen as the overreaching universal aspirations of the papacy. Ironically, Hooker thought he sniffed out the same universalizing impulse in the Puritans, who asserted, “just as the churches of Christ should be as dissimilar as possible from the synagogue of Antichrist in their use of indifferent ceremonies, so they ought to be as similar to one another as possible.” The Puritans were a bit like modern globalists: idealists who thought they knew the best way to run things and wanted all countries to follow that same model. Hooker responds like a good nationalist: what’s best for Switzerland or the Netherlands may not be best for England. Hooker’s defense of the Church of England was framed as a defense of national sovereignty, of the freedom of each particular Christian community to determine the form of its corporate life. 

The Puritan demand for international uniformity, he argued, rested on three confusions. The first, which Hooker has already addressed, was the idea that polity and ceremonies were essentially matters of divine, rather than human, law. The second was a flattened view of human nature that ignored history, politics, and social context: if an institution or practice was good for one people, Cartwright reasoned, then surely it must be good for all. Third, Cartwright proposed this international uniformity, as internationalists of every age do, as a peace program: Christians of every nation will dwell together in peace and unity if they all have the same laws and customs. Hooker wastes no time in exposing the folly of the second confusion:

They have not yet proved that just because foreign churches have done well, it is our duty to follow them, or that we must forsake our own course (otherwise well suited to us) just because it differs from that of other churches…[T]hese churches surely cannot think that they have discovered absolutely the best ceremonies that the wit of man could ever devise; rather, if they recognize that they are naturally partial to their own ceremonies simply because they are their own, it is only fair for them to recognize that we too will be partial to our own. Thus we are released from the burden of being forced either to condemn them or imitate them…This we can do without in any way criticizing our reformed brethren abroad; on the contrary, we approve their practices as well as our own.

Many Christians may not agree with Hooker’s Protestant conviction that issues of church polity and ceremonies are indeed so free for regional adaptation, but his larger point surely stands: just because one nation has a good way of doing things, other nations need not follow suit. The good is pluriform; even in the abstract, there may be more than one equally good way for a community to organize its common life, and when we take into account social and cultural differences, this will almost certainly be the case. Hooker no doubt surprised some of his Puritan adversaries by admitting right in the Preface to his Laws that what Calvin did at Geneva, “I do not see how even the wisest man could have improved upon this course of action.” But what was good for the church of Geneva was not necessarily best for the Church of England. Let each national church glory in its own customs, says Hooker—only allow England to glory in her own as well! Cartwright had insisted that the one family of God ought to all wear matching clothes, as it were, but Hooker demurs. The various national churches are more like distinct nuclear families within the one larger family of the universal church: “Just as one family does not lose its liberty to wear gray just because another family wears brown,” just so the policies of one nation should not put pressure on its neighbors to conform.

Finally, though, it does not follow that internationalism is the best route to peace. Quite the opposite, Hooker contends, especially when the internationalism in question sees its policies as divine: “By doing this, they guaranteed that each church, if it found it differed in any way from its neighbors, could hardly help but accuse them of disobeying the will of Christ.” Unable to brook compromise or to back down from such grandiose claims, continental Protestant polities found themselves locked in interminable conflict. Indeed, Hooker could look out in the 1590s over a Europe “aflame with conflict in all its leading nations at once,” and give thanks for his own nation’s moderation: “[God] used His providential hand to restrain the eager affections of y6tsome, and settle their resolutions on a more calm and moderate course, so that it might not happen in England as it has in many other wide and flourishing dominions—that is, that one part of the people should become enraged, and act as only desperate men do, seeking only the utter oppression and extinction of their adversaries.” This, says Hooker, is precisely because of the wisdom of earlier English reformers; however dramatic some of the disruptions had been during the Henrician and Edwardian reform, statesmen like Cranmer deserved credit for resolving “to remove only those kinds of things that the church could do well enough without, retaining the rest.” 

Hooker did not approach international relations as a xenophobe or isolationist. He observes that our naturally sociable nature does not end with our immediate companions or even our own nation, but displays a “desire for universal fellowship,” which is evidenced by our “wish to know the affairs and dealings of other peoples and to be in league of friendship with them.” From this arises the law of nations—like other laws anchored in an unchangeable moral foundation, but specified by particular agreement and treaty. All nations, for instance, must practice “hospitality towards foreigners and strangers,” but in an age when England guarded against infiltration by seditious Jesuits, this did not preclude prudent border controls. Conversely, while England’s moderation may have enabled her to steer clear of the conflicts engulfing the Continent, she was obliged to use this stability to “offer assistance to its co-religionists in their conflicts.” Hooker envisions England as a broker of peace on the Continent, an example for others to follow, helping to steer less tolerant nations toward religious settlements modeled on England’s own moderation. 

Hooker’s Long Shadow

Richard Hooker’s legacy as a father of the English and American conservative tradition is incalculable. For the first few decades after his death, amidst England’s tense religious politics and struggles between Crown and Parliament, Hooker was a controversial figure, and often an influence best left uncited. Those who followed him in defending the Anglican establishment often wished that he had been more emphatic and full-throated, trumpeting the divine right of kings and the divine right of bishops, instead of modestly appealing to tradition, custom, prudence, and human law. Indeed, Hooker’s greatest piece of political theory, his nuanced analysis of relations of Crown, Parliament, and church in Book VIII of the Laws, remained unpublished until the height of the English Civil War. But he was not without influential disciples, not only among theologians and churchmen but also leading statesmen.

Key among these latter was Edwin Sandys, who, as son of the Archbishop of York, had been sent to study under Hooker’s mentorship at Oxford in the 1570s and 1580s. The relationship deepened into one of friendship and collaboration, and the Laws reflected Sandys’s detailed editorial input throughout. After Hooker’s death, Sandys not only continued to promote his work, but became a leading member of Parliament, clashing repeatedly with King James in defense of the staunch constitutionalism he had learned from Hooker. By 1619, Sandys had risen to become director of the Virginia Company, helping to ensure the success of the colony, where generations of Anglican lawyers and clergymen, trained in Hooker’s Laws, would begin to shape the religious and political contours of a new nation. Meanwhile, in England, Sandys became a close associate of the great English jurist and polymath John Selden, who would go on to profoundly shape the Anglophone political tradition, as Ofir Haivry has recently argued. Although Selden never discloses any direct dependence on Hooker, Selden’s immense synthesis of natural law and common law, divine norms and human prudence, Crown and Parliament, and church and state, strikingly resembles Hooker’s doctrines at nearly every point.

By the late 17th century, citations of Hooker were becoming ubiquitous in English theology, ethics, and politics, with both the absolutist Robert Filmer and the liberal John Locke trying to conscript his authority in support of their political views. In reality, Hooker’s own empiricist account of the foundations of political society supported neither of their legitimating myths, although it did contribute some key conservative elements to Locke’s otherwise novel synthesis. While used in service of rival agendas, Hooker’s work gained almost canonical status in the Oxford and Cambridge curricula, ensuring it a dominant place in the intellectual life of both England and America throughout the 1700s. As the century closed in an age of revolution, Hooker continued to exert a powerful conservative influence on political thinking and discourse. Burke held him in highest esteem and developed Hooker’s national conservative principles into his famous philosophy of prescription, while the great Founder James Wilson, in constructing the foundations for the study of law in America, declared, “Let us listen to the judicious and excellent Hooker: what he says always conveys instruction.” 

Although Hooker began to disappear from university and seminary reading lists in the 20th century, he continued to exert a powerful influence on both sides of the pond through disciples such as Russell Kirk and C.S. Lewis. And despite the radical changes in society (not least in the relations of church and state) between Hooker’s day and ours, he continues to offer us an intriguing vision for a national conservative politics. Faced with the need to preserve a religious and political settlement only a few decades old, Hooker sketched a principled yet pragmatic conservatism that welcomed change and reform, while also cautioning against the disruption it can cause. He thus offers a powerful portrait of how conservatism seeks to conserve: gratefully receiving the legacy of the past and creatively adapting it to the needs of the present. He championed deference to the past not because of anything sacred in it, but because of his keen awareness of human fallibility. 

He thus offers us the outlines of a conservative epistemology: that we must be modest in our judgments, and especially our prognostications about the future; that we must credit the wisdom of others as well as ourselves; that we must be relentlessly empirical, devoted students of human nature and observers of the world, ready to revise our judgments and plans when necessary. Yet for all this, conservatism refuses a flat empiricism or hollow relativism, convinced that beneath our half-baked plans lies a providential hand and that above our time-worn institutions stand transcendent realities; these provide us with purpose while warning us not to trust too much in our own purposes. Conservatism thus refuses both the certitude of the fanatic and the nihilism of the skeptic.

Political decisions can rarely move beyond the realm of probability, but we should at least prefer the greater probability of the time-tested to the untried schemes of the revolutionary. The worst feature of the revolutionary mind, recognized Hooker, was its false certainty, its confidence that it has at last discovered the meaning of history, the hidden will of God, the solution to society’s ills. Armed with this confidence, the revolutionary runs roughshod over any established institution that he does not value, not recognizing that continuity is itself a great social good. The revolutionary also thinks that, having once discovered the ideal course, it is his task to export it to the whole world. 

Hooker counters this ideological vision of politics with a national conservatism that recognizes the value of particularity while also remembering that we are part of a family of nations. The best service that any nation can render to humankind, recognized Hooker, is to first conserve itself, its heritage, and the sovereignty of its own laws, and then let time and experience prove their value or remedy their faults. The common objects of our love worth conserving will always be particular, rooted in specific places and people, traditions and laws. They deserve defending chiefly because they have been given to us to protect, not because they are perfect. National conservatives such as Hooker can teach us how to glory in the inheritance we have received without making an idol of it. They can teach us, in short, the forgotten virtue of gratitude, which cherishes a gift because it has been given without first demanding an abstract calculation of its utility.

Brad Littlejohn is a senior fellow for the Edmund Burke Foundation.

Published at Wed, 23 Sep 2020 04:01:54 +0000