Ten o’clock on Monday night, I sat across the table from my beautiful wife in a local tavern talking about our plans for the upcoming year. I mentioned that I thought I would write a “resolutions” post for Conservative Donnybrook and she reminded me of my oft-repeated proclamation during my late political campaign for State Representative that I hated politics. And she expressed surprise that I had waded back into the mire so quickly after the campaign by resurrecting the website.
She is correct that, toward the end of the campaign, the last thing on earth I wanted to discuss was politics. It is quite clear to me that I am not cut out to be a candidate. That being said, there were parts of it that were an absolute blast – candidate forums in particular were fun (wish we’d had more of those). But there are different levels of politics and retail politics is not the same as what we do here (or at least to what I aspire to do here). I hope we resist devolving to the level of a Sean Hannity on this website, in which politics is simply code talk for apologia for the Republican Party.
Today, when I think of politics, I am thinking of the Aristotelian definition of the term as a partnership of citizens working together to promote the virtuous life in the citizenry. As time goes on, I am more and more convinced that this view of happiness – that is a life lived in accordance with virtue – is the correct one as it becomes clearer with each passing day that material wealth or the maximization of license does not bring happiness. It is through our relationships with friends, family, and neighbors, and the achieving of excellence through the practice of virtue that we find the true purpose of our existence.
It is through these interactions that we first learn, then support, exhort, confirm, and correct the formation of virtues like courage, duty, justice, integrity, charity, and so on both in ourselves and in those around us. The practice of these virtues corresponds to our creation in the likeness and image of God and is, therefore, proper to the human person. To the extent that we embrace and exhibit these virtues, we apprehend happiness.
In this new year, I resolve to develop these virtues to the best of my ability. That seems fairly abstract. Whatever does developing these virtues mean in actual life? In all candor I am not entirely sure. But, I believe the goal to developing any virtue is to convert the behavior that conforms with the virtue into a habit. Each day, upon rising from bed, I have been reminding myself that it is my resolution to live a virtuous life (I’ve thought about putting a Fighting Irish-esque sign above my bedroom door that says “Be Virtuous Today” that I would dutifully tap as I passed under the lintel).
No one can know what the day ahead may bring, what opportunities there may be for the exercise of virtue. But, one can always review at the end of the day whether the opportunities that were presented were met with virtue or if the opportunity was missed. This retrospective assessment, I believe, is crucial in achieving a current awareness of and expectation for virtue in real-time, so that when subsequent opportunities arise, more times than not, we are in a position to recognize them and to capitalize on them. If we begin to do so consistently, the virtues will eventually become habits.
In so resolving, it necessarily means that my notion of these virtues must be properly formed. What does it mean, for instance, to practice justice? Justice is one of those words that in modern life has begun to lose any meaning. So even as I strive to inculcate these virtues in myself, I will be simultaneously forming and honing my understanding of them.
Those who know me on Facebook know that I got all excited about my former professor, Bruce Frohnen’s, article on The Imaginative Conservative, in which he stated that “we will not ‘take back’ our culture and way of life, or even preserve room within which to lead lives of decency and virtue, through any grand political effort to construct a national political coalition.” I think this is correct. It is precisely this fact that has brought me to the conclusion that it is through individual conversions and commitments to virtue that large-scale change will be had, one heart and mind at a time.
How then does politics enter into it? I am but one person who commits to live my life in the upcoming year according to these permanent things. As politics is a partnership of citizens each helping the other to live these virtues, I will commit my writing on this blog to exhorting our readers to embrace the permanent things, to develop a love for them, and a desire to see them bloom in their communities. It is, I believe, through just such a revitalization of virtue in neighborhoods and communities that America can be lifted from the abyss. This happens one person at a time, one family at time, and one neighborhood or parish at a time. As communities begin to develop habits of these virtues, before we know it, radical change will be upon us.