November 25, 2017

THE RIGHT IS THE LEFT:

When We Say 'Conservative,' We Mean . . . (Jonah Goldberg, November 24, 2017, National Review)

 "What is conservatism?" Abraham Lincoln famously asked, "Is it not the adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried?" That's pithy, but it's less a definition than a rhetorical flourish.

Russell Kirk who, despite his brilliance and erudition, was never my cup of tea, offered "Six Canons of Conservatism." (I've edited them down, but you can follow this link to read them in their entirety.)

1. Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience. . . . True politics is the art of apprehending and applying the Justice which ought to prevail in a community of souls.

2. Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems; conservatives resist what Robert Graves calls "Logicalism" in society.

3. Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes, as against the notion of a "classless society." With reason, conservatives have been called "the party of order." If natural distinctions are effaced among men, oligarchs fill the vacuum.

4. Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked: separate property from private possession, and Leviathan becomes master of all. Economic levelling, they maintain, is not economic progress.

5. Faith in prescription and distrust of "sophisters, calculators, and economists" who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs. Custom, convention, and old prescription are checks both upon man's anarchic impulse and upon the innovator's lust for power.

6. Recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress. Society must alter, for prudent change is the means of social preservation; but a statesman must take Providence into his calculations, and a statesman's chief virtue, according to Plato and Burke, is prudence.  [...]

This reminds me of one of my all-time favorite meditations on conservatism from my friend Yuval Levin:

To my mind, conservatism is gratitude. Conservatives tend to begin from gratitude for what is good and what works in our society and then strive to build on it, while liberals tend to begin from outrage at what is bad and broken and seek to uproot it.

Gratitude captures so much of what conservatism is about because it highlights the philosophical difference between (American) conservatism and its foes on the left (and some of its friends among the libertarian camp). The yardstick against which human progress is measured shouldn't be the sentiments and yearnings that define some unattainable utopian future, but the knowable and real facts of our common past.

So-called liberals love to talk about how much they just want to do "what works," but it's amazing how often "what works" doesn't. Even more remarkable is how the mantra of "what works" is almost always a license to empower the "sophisters, calculators, and economists who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs."

In contrast, the conservative belief in "what works" is grounded in reality, not hope.

Gratitude is just one facet of love, which is why conservatism is so inextricably bound up in patriotism. To be patriotic, one must love one's country for what it is, not what it can be if only the right people are put in charge and allowed to "fundamentally transform" it.

Which is why Donald Trump and the Right are not conservative: they hate the America that actually exists.



Posted by at November 25, 2017 1:14 PM

  

« FROM THEIR PERSPECTIVE, IS THERE EVER A BAD REASON TO ATTACK A BLACK GUY?: | Main | »