The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

December 11, 2018

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Why I Am a Conservative: Campbell, William F.
William F. Campbell (from MA 49:3, Summer 2007) - 06/11/08

For the Episcopal Church, this spirit of tolerance is built into its very fiber. It stemmed from the tradition of the indifferent things, or adiaphora, on which men can reasonably disagree—color of vestments, hymn music, and the order of service. But, by definition, if there are “indifferent things” there are also the essentials of orthodoxy that C.S. Lewis would call Mere Christianity. The clearest formulation which affirms both the truths of the Gospel and the occasional need for change can be found in the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer written in Philadelphia, October 1789, under the watchful eye of Bishop William White. It is a formulation worthy of Edmund Burke.

After teaching for thirty-two years at LSU, I retired and took a full-time position as Secretary of The Philadelphia Society. I am often asked about the nature and purpose of The Philadelphia Society, and it is worth saying a few words about it by way of explanation. Founded in 1964 by Don Lipsett, The Philadelphia Society was conceived as a strictly academic and social society—the American counterpart to the Mont Pelerin Society. The Philadelphia Society focuses on principles by inviting speakers to present papers that provoke conversation and, often, spirited debate. The Society does not take party positions nor does it promote specific policies. The policy implications are left through a wise division of labor to organizations like The Heritage Foundation, run by Don’s close friend, Ed Feulner. And the battle in the colleges was left to ISI.

Don Lipsett was so crucial to the formation of The Philadelphia Society because he personally knew and was trusted by Milton Friedman, Bill Buckley, and Russell Kirk. Libertarians and traditional conservatives could all fit within the rubric of “ordered liberty” which has been the hallmark of the Society. Although the Society was broader in scope than the Mont Pelerin Society, Don modeled it as the American counterpart to Mont Pelerin.

When Don was dying in the summer of 1995, I was approached about the possibility of becoming Secretary. Don was the “permanent Secretary” from its founding in 1964 until the fall of 1995—thirty-one years of devoted service. Although his unique personality and abilities could not be replaced, I shared with him his Hoosier roots and devotion to midwestern conservatism. Perhaps my best quality to serve as Secretary of this important Society was the fact that I continued to hold in tension the balance between freedom and virtue.

The privilege of working with a wide variety of Presidents of The Philadelphia Society has been something that I would not change for a minute. Each President has contributed to my understanding of the conservative movement. Space prevents me from listing the names and unique insights of each of them, but I think that they would agree that the man who most steadfastly preserves the essence of American conservatism is M. Stanton Evans. I had known Stan from my Hoosier days when he was editor of The Indianapolis News. He not only played ping-pong with my father, but he also roomed with Don Lipsett in Indianapolis. In addition to his irrepressible humor, I would challenge anyone to find a statement or policy position of Stan Evans that has been wrong.

Let me conclude by returning to family and to its importance in forming my conservative disposition. I take great pride in the fact that my family is the only three-generation family in The Philadelphia Society. My father, Al Campbell, was both a charter member in 1964 and a Distinguished Member. I was also a Charter Member of The Philadelphia Society and was fortunate enough—through the good auspices and guided democracy of Don Lipsett—to serve as President from 19861987. My daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband, David Corey, have continued the family tradition by becoming members of The Philadelphia Society, and I have high hopes that my grandchildren, Anna Katherine and John, will follow in their parents’ footsteps.

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