Conservatism’s perpetual identity crisis under liberalism
December 11, 2015 § 92 Comments
Conservatism is a derivative political doctrine. That is, conservatism asserts that we ought to conserve something or other, but it doesn’t specify what that something-or-other happens to be in particular. The ‘in particular’ is necessary in order to tell just what it is we are trying to conserve.
I’ve summed this up before by suggesting that conservatism has no stable essence, although that isn’t strictly true. Conservatism is the tendency to respect the wisdom of our particular ancestors and to resist critical attack on the wisdom of our particular ancestors. In practice this resistance often implies a tendency to just stop thinking about things and move on with life; and to insist that other people should stop stirring up trouble and move on too.
This tendency to respect our ancestors and traditions, to assume that there is something wrong with criticisms directed against them even if we don’t immediately see why that criticism is wrong, is a good thing generally speaking. The burden of proof is on the critic, that burden is a very high bar indeed, and that is just how things should be. Conservatism is, generally speaking, a wise and prudent approach to the political life of the community. We can’t take the time to think everything through to its foundations personally, and if we are going to let others do our thinking for us then our ancestors have at least as much credibility as living persons with an agenda, if not much moreso. What I have found myself is that when current generations attack the wisdom of past generations, they are almost always attacking straw men.
Usury is an example I have written about quite a bit: the ignorant, often unconscious contempt heaped upon Aquinas and the medieval Magisterium on the subject is ironic in the extreme. Aquinas and the Medieval magisterium had a far clearer and healthier understanding of financing business ventures than any of the modern financial anti-realists; financial anti-realists who literally cannot tell or pretend to be unable to tell the difference, whose economic theories actively and malevolently suppress clear understanding of the difference, between property – which can be alienated from a person, possessed, repossessed, bought, traded, and sold, and the use of which may thus be sold for profit (as “rent”, “interest”, etc) – and personal IOU’s, which cannot be alienated from the person who makes the promise and do not exist as actual property ontologically distinct from the person who makes the promise. Centuries of contemptuous arrogance on the part of new generations, directed against ancestors who are not here to refute the armies of ludicrous straw men, has made these new generations – has made us – so stupid that we cannot see or refuse to see what is obvious right in front of our faces.
So the conservative tendency in politics is a good thing, a wise thing, a normal human thing. It should not be disparaged, but should be valued.
The problem with our current situation, though, is that our most immediate ancestors, going back the past few centuries, were liberals. This turns modern conservatism into a self-destructive, self-hating, ignorant tendency to protect and preserve earlier iterations of liberalism.