Order, The First Need of All

“This book emphasizes certain institutions and customs and certain ideas and beliefs which continue to nurture order in the person and order in the republic, down to our time.”

Ok, I was just going to participate in Cindy’s latest book club on Russell Kirk’s Roots of American Order by reading along as best I could and commenting on other people’s posts, but the first chapter of the book sparked my writing itch. There is no way I can write summary-style posts on 40-page chapters, but I was struck with “my angle” while reading the first chapter. Establishing order not in governments and society, but in our own little micro-society of individual families is a topic I try to explore often, because I know it’s as important as Kirk says it is, but it’s so hard.

Others will write summaries, political or social commentary, or their own tangents. I will write on individual- and family-level order, and I’ll keep it short. :)

Order is important.

“The human condition is insufferable unless we perceive a harmony, an order, in existence. […] Before a person can live tolerably with himself or with others, he must know order.”

The first person we live with is ourselves and our first society is our families. It is from that starting point that we go forth into the world and make further associations. Our family life establishes our patterns of relating with other people and our expectations of what living in harmony with others looks like (or even if it’s possible). A society made up primarily of broken or disordered homes will be a broken and disordered society.

Roman men and Roman justice had declined together. It is so still.

The “inner order” of the soul and the “outer order” of society being intimately linked, we discuss in this book both aspects of order. Without a high degree of private moral order among the American people, the reign of law could not have prevailed in this country.

What is order?

“This word ‘order’ means a systematic and harmonious arrangement — whether in one’s own character or in the commonwealth. Also ‘order’ signifies the performance of certain duties and the enjoyment of certain rights in a community.”

Order, then, is made up not of laws, but of responsibilities and rights. It arises out of inner character; it is not imposed externally by rules. Laws are a manifestation of the order. The laws help preserve it, but they do not create it.

In a family, this would mean that rule-mongering will not solve chaos. Hearts and consciences need to be addressed, cultivated toward a love of order, peace, and justice. As C.S. Lewis said:

“St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful.”

Pursuing order.

And, Kirk points out, we cannot learn to make those right responses unless self-control, self-discipline, self-government is part of our aim:

“Order is the first need of the soul. It is not possible to love what one ought to love, unless we recognize some principles of order by which to govern ourselves. Order is the first need of the commonwealth. It is not possible for us to live in peace with one another, unless we recognize some principle of order by which to do justice.”

The key to living at peace at home (and with ourselves) is to have a principle of justice, rather than a principle of selfishness. Our concern needs to be to do right by others, not to get the most for ourselves.

“The good society is marked by a high degree of order, justice, and freedom.”

When people — whatever the age — are growing in self-control, they can and should grow in freedoms at well. They are proving themselves trustworthy. When there is order, self-control, and a principle of justice, then freedom can replace rules.

The point of having an orderly household is not so individuality is squashed, but rather that individuals can freely flourish.

Perhaps order isn’t always what we assume it to be, then. According to Kirk, it is a “harmonious arrangement.” That is, not lock-step, not rote, not strictly rigid. It means different elements working alongside one another to create a blend, a blend that shifts and swells and quiets, that accommodates flats and sharps, that is something greater together than each is separately or if all were exactly alike.

Harmony, not monotone. Dance, not parade marching.

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  1. Order in the home is by far the foundation for order in the state, but I think you already know that, Mystie.

    When my children with very young, I had the time and energy for only one philosophical read per year, but it undergirded my being, kept me going, if you will, and helped maintain sanity. Kirk’s essay kept my background in order.

    Glad you’re on board.

  2. I am also glad you are on board and it was perfect for me to take all week to read your summary as it refreshed my memory. I would have read it sooner but I had company and then was in Birmingham, AL which was gorgeous over the weekend.

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