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

It is a cliché to say that your wife is your better half. In my case, Helen is my better two-thirds. The other third is Julie Flick, the steadfast secretary of The Philadelphia Society since the early 1990s. Helen, like my mother, is more reliably conservative than I am. In the grand scheme of things, men are too often similar to the America that appears in the quote beloved by Albert J. Nock, “American society is the only one which has passed from barbarism to decadence without once knowing civilization.” Helen has been my civilizing influence.

While men may be good at dealing with abstract ideas (which can too easily become strict ideologies or second realities), women do the important work of the world as they manage all those “little platoons” of Edmund Burke’s fervent imagination. Their basic instincts are conservative—preserving, nurturing, and cherishing the permanent things without qualification or equivocation.

As I have emphasized throughout this essay, family, friends, and teachers have all been instrumental in forming my conservatism—both explicitly, by instruction, and implicitly, by example. Conservatism is not exhausted in abstract principles. The true conservative experience of the world is one rooted in particularity: in people and places that are meaningful to an individual and unique to that individual. As such, they cannot be reproduced but only documented for others to observe. Indeed, such an understanding has long stood at the center of the conservative intellectual movement in America, and so it has in my own experience as a conservative.

  1. I have described the importance of my father and my conservative family upbringing at greater length in “An Economist’s Tribute to Russell Kirk,” in The Intercollegiate Review, Fall 1994; it can be found online at the ISI website, or at The Philadelphia Society website,
  2. For my relationship with Don and Norma Lipsett, I expanded on this relationship in my “Tribute to Don Lipsett, Founder of The Philadelphia Society,” in the Program for the Fortieth Anniversary Gala, 1964–2004.
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