May 15, 2014


A Conservative's Case for Moderation (Peter Berkowitz, May 15, 2014, Real Clear Politics)

One benefit of the decision by St. Augustine's Press to reissue "The Meaning of Conservatism," written by British philosophy professor Roger Scruton, is to call attention to the varieties of conservatism and the tensions between them. First published in 1980 and then revised in 2002 to take account of Margaret Thatcher's tenure as prime minister, this short, bold book sparkles with passion, purpose, and discernment. As a young scholar in the 1960s, Scruton had "rebelled against the prevailing ethos of rebellion." Writing at the dawn of what would become the Reagan-Thatcher era, his aim was to explain "the conservative view in politics and in the course of doing so to show the possibility of subscribing to them."

Like many conservatives, Scruton argues as if his version of conservatism is the true and only one. At the same time, he presents a striking alternative to the forms of conservatism that dominate in Britain and America, which see conserving liberty as the goal of politics. In contrast, Scruton sees freedom as a vital means, but still only a means, to the preservation of society and the state.

His account of conservatism's characteristic instincts, attitudes, and principles converges with what in the United States was once called traditionalist conservatism and overlaps considerably with what are today called social conservatism and paleoconservatism. In the years following World War II, Richard Weaver, Peter Viereck, and Russell Kirk set forth traditionalism's tenets and themes and explored its sensibility. Venerable magazines Modern Age and The University Bookman continue to provide forums for its ideas. And organizations such as the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the Philadelphia Society cultivate its spirit.

Such a movement shares much with the conservatism of Edmund Burke, but alters the delicate balance struck by the 18th century British statesman: Whereas Burke emphasized the services tradition renders to liberty, Scruton stresses the services that liberty renders to tradition.

Accordingly, he places maintaining public order and honoring duty ahead of the protection of rights. This would be apostasy to libertarian-leaning Republicans such as Rand Paul -- who sometimes sound as fearful of government as they are of terrorism -- and unacceptable to most other conservatives.

Scruton would further worry many American conservatives by arguing that it all starts with society rather than with the individual. He holds that "citizens are bound to each other and the state" by a "web of obligations." This brand of conservatism recognizes the utility of rights, but emphasizes "the constraints on freedom" that "arise through the law's attempt to embody (as for a conservative it must embody) the fundamental values of the society over which it rules." Freedom, thus, is inseparable from traditions of thought concerning its limits and the social and political institutions that define its scope.

Which is literally what it means to be republican.
Posted by at May 15, 2014 3:53 PM

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