Freedom Folks

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

KD In Response To DT

Earlier today our long lost fellow writer dt posted a piece on the demise of conservatism. One of my favorite writers, Katie's Dad was good enough to leave this in comments in response...
I usually agree with Farah, but in this instance I think he misses the point. He suffers from a common misconception that plagues those of us who think conservatively and stands in the way of our being understood. This is not the first time (or the tenth) that "Conservatism" has had its eulogy published and it will not be the last.

The problem started when Conservatism was framed as a political ideology. I suppose that it was a natural counterbalance to Liberalism, which is solely a political ideology, but "Conservatism," in Western Civilization is not a political ideology at all. It is an intellectual starting point for thinking about stuff that happens, at least it is if you believe that Edmund Burke is the primary driver of Conservatism in the West. And most intellectual conservatives today give Burke his due in this respect.

Rather than go on a long diatribe about how Farah is wrong, I think I can get my point across with one example. Farah writes:

"George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and John Adams were not conservatives. These men risked everything in the hope of changing the status quo. They fought a War of Independence from the Old World. The fought a revolution against the assumptions of the past."

This is absurd. And it's refutation is very simple. It is as simple, but as misunderstood as the difference between the American Revolution and the French Revolution.

The American Revolution was not fought to "change" anything. It was fought to "conserve" what 175 years of colonization by Brits in America had created: The seeds of America's traditions, or what I like to call "The American Kernel."

Our revolution was a reaction of conservation to the crown's starting to exercise its authority over people it had generally left unfettered for generations, its attempts to bring to heel, its impositions, its changes to and curtailments of freedom. Our revolution, while radical, was indeed conservative, mindful of tradition and concerned with stewardship for what those who came before had done. At the end, there really was not much that changed for the average American's life after he went from being a British citizen to an American citizen.

On the other hand, France's revolution was one intended to be a radical imposition to destroy tradition, impose the untried, depend on the untested and, Burke intimated, create a government that was a dangerous experiment disconnected from the realities of human nature and congenial society.

Americans did not fight "against the assumptions of the past." They fought against the royal impositions of the present. It was the French who fought against the assumptions of the past, and they still haven't gotten it right.

Conservatism as a political ideology doesn't really exist except in nomenclature. Those who call themselves "fiscal conservatives" are usually just pro markets (above all else, even if it kills tradition) and anti-big government.

Those who call themselves "social conservatives" generally are not concerned about stewardship for tradition; rather, they are concerned about one or two issues within the realm of morality. Tradition usually does engage their hearts and stewardship is usually a foreign concept to a pure "social conservative."

Then, there are the neo-conservatives, who are really just liberals who do not consider themselves "progressive" as it is currently defined. I expect that eventually these folks will rejoin the left after some period of time in this bad marriage of ideals.

Those conservatives who come closest to what Burke conceptualized are those most often derided as paleoconservatives, but that still presupposes that conservatism is a political ideology, not a starting point for thought grounded in the belief that the sum knowledge of Western humanity is a better guide for what we do next than employing every contemporary innovation simply because it is new, or cool, or fuels flights of fancy and imagination.

The French were very imaginative...and then there was the reign of terror.
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