Gratitude: A conservative virtue

Too Right
A regular column by John Black
The Black Sheep Blog

The essence of the conservative attitude is perhaps best illustrated by G.K Chesterton?s metaphor of the fence. Imagine a fence across a road. A progressive (or ?reformer? as Chesterton has it) says ?I don?t see the use of this. Let us clear it away.? The conservative stays his hand, arguing that someone must have put the fence there for a reason, and it should not be removed until that reason is known.

So caution then, and a conviction that ?our fathers were not fools? is what Chesterton sees at the heart of conservatism.

Not wishing to try and improve upon Chesterton (that would be presumptuous and not ?conservative ?at all) I would just like to offer a modest addendum. The conservative is also thankful for the effort taken to erect the fence. That someone, possibly no longer living, went to the trouble to improve things in the world that benefits us here today.

Conservatism is about gratitude.

Gratitude for the struggles and achievements of those who have gone before us.

On Anzac day, New Zealanders regardless of their political leanings, unite in a shared gratitude for those who have fought to defend our country and its interests. Most of us feel we have a debt we can never repay. Often a personal debt. For myself, I think of my grandfather. I never knew him. He passed away when I was a toddler, his death in his early fifties hastened by the terrible toll of what he had been through. The Sherman tank he was driving was shelled at the battle of Casino. Of the three man crew he was the only one to survive. He left the battle field with burns covering a third of his body and wounds of the spirit that were to last a lot longer.

Now they call it PTSD. Back then it was ?shell shock?. Once in the middle of a storm my grandmother found him hiding behind a couch, covering his head and trembling. The sound of thunder had been a little too reminiscent of the battlefield. Therapy was not the thing back then. Cigarettes, drink and hard work helped, but they had their cost.

A fatal heart attack at 54.

Another Anzac day has passed and with it our brief recognition of the sacrifices past generations have made for our freedom and security. More usually when we look back at people in our collective past, they are found wanting. Through the prism of our enlightened times they are seen as incorrect on race, gender and sexuality. More often than not they were. That they had moral qualities that we just as starkly lack is rarely mentioned. That in peacetime just as in war, they sacrificed to create the physical infrastructure and prosperous and free society we enjoy is similarly avoided.

Let this be a difference in political terms. Conservatives should seek to make ANZAC day not an aberration in our calendar but the pinnacle of a gratitude that should always be there.