A Conservatism of Love


What is a conservative? One who conserves something. Conserves what? Conserves enduring principles thought by common consent and reason to be essential to society, politics, religion and the economy. Why should principles need protection or conservation? What is the danger? The danger is illegitimate innovation, bastard liberality that would waste and divert resources toward miscreations, and draw attention away from founding principles. Conservatism protects society from losing anchor and running adrift.

Constitutional government is a form of conservatism. The principles of the constitution are preserved, consulted, clarified, and applied. Practices and policies are not merely compared and contrasted with one another – ‘horizontally,’ as it were – but are analyzed ‘vertically’ in relation to that invisible object of reason called principle. Reason is important here. The U.S. Constitution is the child of the European Enlightenment, a cultural efflorescence that followed the emancipation of reason during the Renaissance. The founding principles of the Constitution – justice, equality before the law, liberty, freedom of expression, etc. – did not underlie the theocracy of the dark ages. The feudal system and the Church’s rule were found to be arbitrary, irrational, superstitious and oppressive according to the light of reason. Likewise, the imperial reign of England over colonial America was also found to be an arbitrary and unjust ordering of society, when assessed by reason.

Conservatism, then, is not the mere preserving of form, but of principles that are the roots of form. A conservative might well be antagonistic towards illegitimate practices and policies, and would therefore not wish to preserve them. He might judge that they violate and obscure fundamental values and principles; that they are like weeds sprung from carelessness and invasion. He would note that these policies and practices have their own advocates, those who wish to preserve them. These advocates might well take the name ‘conservative,’ but this would be a false conservatism. False conservatism is a holding to circumstance, not a regarding of principle. The false conservative wishes to preserve the status quo when it arbitrarily favors him; ‘arbitrary’ meaning without regard for the principle of justice. The false conservative, then, holds only to the principle of self-interest, and preserves circumstance only as it favors him. He may rationalize his behavior according to loftier ideas and motives, but he is essentially selfish in conviction and practice.

The false conservative is unable or unwilling to make the distinction between moral good and personal interest. In preserving the latter, he blurs, glosses or dismisses the former. He may do this in two ways. First, he might deny outright the existence of the moral order. What does not exist can make no claim on him. All is self-interest, and the essence of nature and human society is ‘might makes right’. Social Darwinism makes plain what is obvious to everyone, however much sentiment or fancy might wish otherwise. The second way is to equate the moral good and personal interest, recasting the former in the image of the latter. This is self-righteousness. What I own and do is totally consonant with principle, and beyond reproach. Therefore I need make no adjustments. I have nothing to learn and nothing to sacrifice.

The true conservative, then, is absolutely conservative with respect to principle, but is only relatively conservative with respect to circumstance. He promotes practices and policies that can be justified, but he does not conserve what cannot be justified, even where his self-interest is at stake. “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” ‘Eternal vigilance’ characterizes the unchanging faithfulness of the true conservative. This absolute stance, in regard to principle, may necessitate a liberal or revolutionary expression in circumstance. That is, the holding and extension of principle requires, by turn, sometimes a holding, and sometimes a changing, of forms and practices. Thus, in the realm of change, the true conservative is known at one time as a ‘conservative’, and at another time as a ‘liberal’. What makes him a conservative is his faithfulness to the unseen, but thinkable, reality of reason.

Now, the most fundamental principle known to human kind, universally, is Love. By Love I do not mean merely personal affection or erotic emotion, though these may under the right circumstances be expressions of Love. By Love I mean what is known and expressed variously as unity, harmony, cooperation, justice, equality, dignity, and liberty. Again and again, through long ages and various cultures, celebrated individuals, honored for their wisdom and vision, have enunciated and urged the principle of Love. Without a relatively widespread recognition of this principle, the American Revolution would have been impossible. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense would have made no sense. The self-evidence of “We hold these truths . . .” in the Declaration of Independence would have been without witness. As the truest conservative is the one who reaches and holds to the most enduring and fundamental principle, the person who clings to, protects and extends Love is the true conservative. He realizes his good is bound up with the good of others. He does not shrink from this fact and its implications. He refuses to settle for a lesser equilibrium. He refuses all forms of self-enclosed ignorance, or self-justified inertia. He does not seek peace in separation, nor justification through condemnation. To the contrary, he sees himself as the trustee of the latent light of Love in all human hearts, and counts no cost too great for Its emancipation. He understands well Emma Lazarus’ reference to the “imprisoned lightening” (Statue of Liberty), and recognizes this release within the human heart as the true Work of these States.

Let, then, nominal conservatives take stock, and measure themselves by the principle of Love, and its demanding courage. Let them discover if their houses are built upon shifting sand or enduring stone. Let them reach beyond temporary labels of ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ to find brethren of the heart behind diverse masks of party, gender, race, and association; and find others, too, who have forgotten that they are also of the heart, yet may be reminded through respect and patient example. The two great conservatives of the 20th century are Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., for they were faithful to Love, and to Love’s presence in both friend and foe. To be conservative is to be inwardly faithful, and outwardly kind. Love is the real core of our being, and any abandonment or betrayal of Love is a failure to conserve what really matters.

True conservatism must be in mind, heart, and discourse. If I spread fear and distortion through discourse, in order to summon outrage in others, I fail to be a conservative. For I have failed to conserve Love, the ultimate principle. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love is the casting out of all fear.” I may set mass action in motion, but it will have no lasting relevance. I have only confused others about the objects of loyalty, and therefore I have impeded their growth as true conservatives. In their confusion, they will identify with and promote something less than fundamental, and their efforts to build on that basis will be undone by time. Justice will in time correct their distortions, for justice faithfully works from the real foundations of Love. This is because Love is Reality. “God is Love.”

Joseph Miller
Santa Barbara, CA

Walt Whitman, Radical Patriot

I’ve posted now to YouTube the full length “Walt Whitman, Radical Patriot”. Below you may find YouTube links. There is also an audio interview from KCBX radio that plays directly from this page.

This play was first written and performed in 2004, as a free cultural event at the Santa Barbara Central Public Library. This filmed performance took place in 2005 at Victoria Hall Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA, due to generous support from Karuna Foundation and the Institute of World Culture. Special acknowledgment to Alison and Ernie Tamminga for videography and editing, and without whom there would be no living record of this event. Special thanks goes to fellow thespians Peter John Duda, Maria De La Vega Delgado, & James Colbert, who trusted me, and profoundly imbibed the exhilarating words and heart of a great American. “Walt Whitman, Radical Patriot” was honored with a Santa Barbara Independent Theater Award in 2006.

YouTube links:

Walt Whitman, Radical Patriot, Part 1

Walt Whitman, Radical Patriot, Part 2

KCBX interview with Joseph Miller, hosted by Marisa Waddell: Central Coast Forum, October 19, 2005.


“Walt Whitman, Radical Patriot” is a celebration of the life and words of
the American bard, coinciding with the sesquicentennial (2005) of the publication of “Leaves of Grass” (1855). Staged for four actors and multimedia, the play uses drama, humor, song, choral recitation, and movement to evoke Whitman’s great heart and sweeping vision. A collage of poetry and prose recitations is threaded together by a narrative line that follows his childhood, youth, artistic awakening, burst onto the literary scene, involvement in the Civil War (as a nurse), impressions of Lincoln, and broad views on faith.

Camerata Pacifica at Hahn Hall, Friday evening, November 18.

Clay pots and electronic loops – what’s chamber music coming to?

Bach stitches it all together, old and new

Review by Joseph Miller

Artists are always stretched by a tension between past and future, known and unknown. When an artist’s work meets acceptance, the temptation is to capitalize on that form, to repeat and stay with what is safe. Aging rockers become tribute bands to their own glory days. And in the classical music world, we tend to view Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Bach as fixed constellations in an unchanging heaven. No one dreams of improving the night sky, nor of exhausting the wonder it arouses. But, as contemporary astronomy reveals, there is nothing fixed about the stars; celestial objects are not only diverging and receding, but accelerating in that expansion.

Ani Aznavoorian, Ji Hye Jung (David Bazemore)

Ani Aznavoorian, Ji Hye Jung (David Bazemore)

It’s trite to say, of course, but even the music of J.S. Bach was once new. And with this audacious program, Camerata Pacifica’s Artistic Director Adrian Spence seemed intent on storming the museum and freeing Bach from the glass case where he’s been suffocating. Not only was Bach’s music juxtaposed to modern compositions, but instrumentation ranged from harpsichord to clay flower pots, and even finished with live electronic looping.

The concert began gently and accessibly with harpsichordist Paolo Bordignon playing 2 Part Invention in F Major, a short lead-in really to Bach’s Trio Sonata in G Major, which added flute (Spence), oboe (James Austin Smith), and cello (Ani Aznavoorian). The Canadian-born Bordignon, whose far-ranging career includes principal harpsichordist with the New York Philharmonic, is one of the world’s experts on the instrument. He has graced the Camerata stage before, memorably at the Brandenburg Concerti climax of the 2014-15 season. For the Sonata Aznavoorian played from an upraised platform, that amplified the cello’s sound while doubling the basso continuo line. Woodwinds paired and sparred like twirled DNA strands above the steady stepping of cello and keyboard.

Adrian Spence, James Austin Smith (David Bazemore)

But this was all prelude to the night’s heavy-hitter, Elliott Carter’s Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello & Harpsichord (1952). Spence reported from stage that Carter always insisted his music was very simple. “It is simple,” Spence quipped, “there just happens to be lots of simple.” He advised the listener to step back from the music a few paces for perspective, and even permit the attention to wander. I took that suggestion to heart, attending to the phrases and contours rather than the notes, and verified indeed that Carter has a point. Still, it is easy for the diatonically-minded to be unsettled by broader tonalities; a surprising dunk in cold water, which assaults while it invigorates. From the musicians’ side, the Sonata is a demanding work that frequently places the harpsichord in dialogue with the ensemble, which then answers in tightly arranged outbursts. If the sound of harpsichord instinctively calls up baroque associations for you, this work goes miles in updating that mental file.

Then percussionist Ji Hye Jung and bassist Timothy Eckert joined Smith and Bordignon for Les Citations for Oboe Harpsichord Double Bass & Percussion by Henri Dutilleux, which “cites” or quotes composers Benjamin Britten, Clément Janequin and Jehan Alain. The work began with a beguiling plaint on Smith’s oboe, but soon textures thickened and tensions ratcheted. One compelling section featured solos by Eckert and Jung, and moved with the loose logic of free-form jazz.

The first half concluded—in obvious features at least—as it had begun: Bach for solo harpsichord. But after the Carter and Dutilleux, the ears were ready for a very different face than the one communicated in the Trio Sonata. Bordignon handsomely tackled the wild Chromatic Fantasy & Fugue in D Minor with all its roving key centers and irresolution. Spence’s programming intention seemed clear: it’s not a question of how radical was Bach, but how radical is Bach! And, of course, there was the rare pleasure of hearing the work articulated on harpsichord rather than piano. This might ordinarily have felt like a ritual concession to “authenticity”; but after the Carter and Dutilleux it simply became the right color and texture for the piece.

The second half of the program featured Jung in three duets by young composers. But first the percussionist wowed the audience with her solo marimba arrangement of the Fuga from Bach’s Violin Sonata No.1 in G minor—the most stunning translation of Bach to my ear since Edgar Meyer modified the cello suites for double bass. Aznavoorian then joined Jung for Caroline Shaw’s whimsical Boris Kerner for Cello & Flower Pots. Shaw, who is the youngest composer ever to win the Pulitzer Prize, is impressively conversant with styles and daringly open to unconventional sounds. Jung knelt on a mat before 9 clay flower pots which she played with drum sticks. The introduction was a quarter note walk on the cello through scaler figures and intervals that resembled a dance from a Bach sonata, before the pots burst out in with rapid-fire rolls. The aural colors of ceramic flower pots are unlike anything found in the conventional percussion arsenal, some bordering on wood blocks, others as delicate as glass bells. Spence joined Jung for the most lyrical and soft moment of the night, Japanese composer Naoko Hishinuma’s duet for flute and percussion, On a Full Moon Night. Finally, the program concluded with the very unusual upbeat work, 21 for Marimba and Cello by Caribbean steel drum virtuoso and composer, Andy Akiho. Not only did Aznavoorian and Jung master the impossible polyrhythms, but they made it look like fun. The opening measures were digitally recorded, and then looped back at several points for extra texture. Amping-up the concept of multi-tasking, Aznavoorian played the foot-pedal bass drum and cello simultaneously, while Jung added to her marimba a foot-controlled tambourine and the electronic loop petal. The result was a sense of four or six distinct musicians on stage. And to top all, Bach stitched together this second half as well: Akiho’s 21 was inspired by the sequence of harmonies in the 21st measure of the Fuga that began the set.

We can thank Camerata Pacifica for a very unusual night of cutting edge music, old and new; one that certainly would have pleased a progressive artist like Bach.

Audio Interview with Fariba Enteshari 5-13-16


The Sufi Inspiration in Rumi’s Poetry

Presenter: Fariba Enteshari

Saturday, May 21, 2016 from 4:00 – 6:00 pm

The Institute of World Culture 1407 Chapala Street, Santa Barbara CA

Information at IWC website  805-966-3941

This recitation of and commentary on the poetry of the 13th century Sufi teacher, Jala ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, offers entry into a universal path to self-discovery and healing. By exploring the images, symbols and messages in Rumi’s poetry and stories, one can develop inner knowledge, spiritual insight and health, mental and physical.


Audio Interview with John Mead 5-1-16

John Mead taught college-level music for 20 years – and at art academies in Italy, in Greece and in Chicago where, born to be a compulsive explainer, he developed skills in demystifying the intricacies of music to non-musicians.  His love of 16th century music started with ecstatic experiences as a cathedral chorister at age 14. His formal education included classics studies at a preparatory level, then studies in composition with Leo Sowerby (Pulitzer Prize, 1937 and the Prix de Rome,1941).  John’s mentor and teacher for conducting, et al, was William Ferris, twice nominated for a Pulitzer.   John has held positions as organist and choirmaster – while concurrently teaching high school mathematics and then later working in IT.  His association with Buckminster Fuller (1971-72) in Greece had a profound influence on his life including spiritual matters and completion of the M.Sc.

Renaissance Music

This conversation was in anticipation for John’s presentation The Genius of Renaissance Music in collaboration with Adelfos Ensemble, at The Institute of World Culture in Santa Barbara, CA on May 7, 2016.

Poem: When you come to the river crossing of Death

Albion's Dance - Blake

Albion’s Dance – Blake

When you come to the river crossing of Death, don’t
bring your wallet, credit cards, cash. Pictures of your beloved,
leave those too. Don’t wear a cross around your neck.
Your family’s Koran leave closed on the shelf. Don’t come
expecting pet views and peeves to amount
to anything more than moments of Sun on
the glinting surface of Be.

When you come
to the that still and moving Body of Omniscience,
unclasp your clothes, let them fall. Cut
your hair to the scalp. Know then the smallness
of your life’s speech, the vanity, the noise, the
irrational tangle of gaggle and gasp. Only then
will you know the truest Word was God
riding your breath in the surrendered silence
of dreamless sleep. Recall then
what the unlearned body never forgot.

Joseph Miller, Virginia Cyn, August 2015

Anoushka Shankar audio interview 3-31-16

Interview with Anoushka Shankar by phone to Washington D.C. on March 31, 2016, the day before the beginning of a month-long tour for her new album Land of Gold, inspired by the current refugee crisis. The varied elements of Land of Gold grew “from the ground up,” says Shankar, and represent a new level of artistic strength and truth. At foundation is the quartet of sitar, double-bass (Larry Grenadier), shehnai (Sanjeev Shankar) and hang drum (Manu Delago). Vocal appearances include M.I.A. in an electronica-rap track; singer-songwriter Alev Lenz with lyrics and voice for the title song; and actress Vanessa Redgrave delivering a powerful reading of a new poem by Pavana Reddy about belonging and resilience. Shankar brought her quartet to Campbell Hall on Monday April 11 at 8pm, courtesy of UCSB Arts & Lectures.

Ian Ruskin audio interview, Feb. 2016

This week on DirecTalk Radio: Actor and writer Ian Ruskin as Thomas Paine speaks with Joseph Miller.

Anglo-American actor IAN RUSKIN trained at Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and performed in England for 15 years. He came to Los Angeles in 1985 and worked primarily in television; usually guest starring as the intelligent bad guy in shows such as “Murder She Wrote”, “Scarecrow and Mrs. King” and “MacGyver”. This work paid the rent but did not in any way fulfill his dream as a student at RADA – to work in plays that would affect an audience.  A pivotal moment arrived in 1994 while playing the lead in Rob Sullivan’s Strike Story: The Harry Bridges Story. A rehearsed reading before the ILWU, the renowned labor leader’s own union, was capped by a ten-minute standing ovation. Some years later Ruskin put his hand to writing and recording radio documentaries and one-man plays, including From Wharf Rats to Lords of the Docks, which was eventually directed and filmed for PBS by the legendary Academy Award-winning cameraman, the late Haskell Wexler.

In 2010 Ruskin received a COLA [City of Los Angeles] Fellowship to write To Begin the World Over Again: the Life of Thomas Paine, and has toured over 60 performances to date, including Harvard Law School, The American Philosophical Society, the ACLU, and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. What’s more, a film adaptation (Wexler’s final project, before passing away at 92), narrated by Elliot Gould, is now complete and will be featured on PBS nationwide later this year.  Ruskin brings his play to Santa Barbara on Saturday afternoon February 13 for one performance at the Faulkner Gallery at the Central Public Library. The performance is free, and hosted by The Institute of World Culture.

Equality and Exceptionalism

stock-illustration-60962316-justice-greek-goddess-themis-equality-a-fair-trial-law-Our country suffers from a peculiar schizophrenia when it comes to the notion of equality. In idealistic moods we want to affirm it; in practice we often trounce it. We readily defer to the words of the Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal,” but what this means exactly is not very clear. Is this some sort of inherent equality? Some invisible metaphysical dimension? Obviously the statement is not supported by empirical evidence. Or is this really an ethical principle—a guideline for how we should frame rights and duties—no special privileges based on class or wealth; no special access to the law? Men judged not by their wallet, ancestors or skin color, but by “the content of their character.” It’s that ‘judging’ business—equality erases differences; judging defines them.

Political equality is a concept with enough sentimental force to compel assent, and enough obscurity to guarantee controversy. The ideal was never articulated with all implications spelled out. Like a seed, it has required root and growth to take shape; and so the slow sequence of political awakenings in civil rights, universal suffrage, workers’ rights, child labor laws, environmental laws, etc. Justice means fair dealing. Equality is justice in practice.

And yet, a strong stripe of American character loves inequality; believes, in fact, that inequality is essential to the meaning of America. Continue reading