The conservative uncertainty principle, or Schrodinger’s propositions
December 12, 2015 § 12 Comments
Conservatism just is the tendency to conserve: to tend what is conserved, to protect it from attack and disease, and to cultivate its healthy flourishing. In the political domain this means to conserve (among other things) communities, institutions, culture, and ideas. In this post I am going to focus on conservation of ideas; but it may be worth noting that most of the things we work to conserve are not ideas. Communities, for example, are not bundles of propositions.
In the realm of ideas specifically, conserving them means that criticism is assumed to be invalid even when it exhibits surface plausibility. Conservatism means that critique of a conserved idea faces a very high standard of proof. Conservatism means having faith, trust, that there are good answers to criticisms of ideas which were important to our ancestors even when we don’t have those answers immediately to hand ourselves.
In a banal sense everyone is a conservative in the realm of ideas. We are finite beings and are not omniscient. The number of ideas we can subject to explicit critique before we die is finite; the remainder, including but not limited to new questions raised by the answers, infinite. So our intellectual worlds are necessarily dominated by faith that answers exist, that the ideas in which we have faith are valid and true, even when we do not have snappy answers to every critique.
Ideas within the conservation area are ideas protected from criticism, so it makes no sense to attempt to critically define what is conserved. In a Heisenberg-Schrodinger kind of paradox, opening the box kills the cat and measuring the particle turns it into something else.
On the other hand, criticism has its place even when it comes to sacred ideas. Conservatism may properly set a high bar for the potential critic, and it is impossible to completely specify all propositions which are consistent with the truth. But when particular ideas become manifestly destructive, heresies must be condemned. Certain ideas must be subjected to critique, recognized as pernicious and false, and condemned as such.
My argument is that we have reached and passed this point with the political doctrine of liberalism specifically. Men of Chesterton’s and Belloc’s generation might be forgiven for being somewhat and sometimes equivocal when it comes to the core doctrines of political liberalism. But somewhere around the 100 millionth corpse, somewhere around the time when criticizing men for chopping off their genitals and pretending to become women became vicious bigotry, somewhere around the time when simply maintaining the integrity of a community by limiting the volume of immigration became hateful exclusion, somewhere around the time that humanity became a rabble of bonobos in the sexual domain and criticism of this became considered the height of wickedness — somewhere in there the critical bar was reached, when it comes to the political doctrine of liberalism specifically.
So we have subjected the political doctrine of liberalism specifically to criticism and discovered that it is unequivocally a lie: an incoherent lie from the pit of Hell, which destroys the good, true, and beautiful as standards and replaces them with Will. That it hides behind the fact that sometimes people of good will do good things, and when they give credit for their good will to liberalism this shores up the lie. That it makes chumps out of conservatives who attempt to conserve it.
If we condemn the political doctrine of liberalism as heresy, that obviously leaves a great many things under the conservation dome, even if we are just talking about ideas.
But don’t ask me to explicitly define the contents, because that will kill the cat.