March 20, 2012


Conservatism Properly Understood: A review of Conserving Liberty, by Mark Blitz (Robert P. George, March 19, 2012, Claremont Review of Books)

What is it, exactly, that contemporary American conservatism seeks to conserve? What should it conserve? What is worth conserving?

How about liberty?

Most American conservatives would applaud that proposal, which shows, among other things, how far the American Right is from the "throne and altar" conservatism of old Europe, with its class system and devotion to hierarchy and stability. American conservatives are, in truth, old-fashioned liberals--in the tradition of the American Founders, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Abraham Lincoln. Because American conservatives prize liberty, they might be described--as Mark Blitz describes them in his new book, Conserving Liberty--as "conservative liberals."

A professor of political philosophy and the director of the Henry Salvatori Center at Claremont McKenna College, Blitz points out that just as contemporary American conservatism differs from European conservatism, it differs, too, from contemporary liberalism with its "affirmative action, gender politics, and ethnic spoils and sensitivities that affirm such groups." American conservatives believe in equality, to be sure, but theirs is the God-given equality of the Declaration of Independence, not the equality of results or the "equality"--based moral relativism promoted by many contemporary liberals.

Although the book's title might sound like a brief for libertarianism, Blitz quickly sets the reader straight. It is not that he opts for "big government conservatism," but rather that he recognizes that liberty is valuable not so much for its own sake as for the sake of something larger, namely, human excellence or human flourishing. And he understands that liberty is sustained--if it is sustained at all--by virtues that themselves must be transmitted by healthy institutions of civil society, beginning with the marriage-based family and communities of religious faith.
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Posted by at March 20, 2012 6:33 AM

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