Sunday, July 15, 2012

Contemplating Conservatism

As the biblical narrative turns its attention from Jacob to his youngest and favored son Joseph, this blogs turns it attention back to political philosophy.

As a professed conservative blog, perhaps some effort should be made to answer the question, exactly what is conservatism?

In its most general sense, conservatism is a temperament that holds an appreciation for “the way things are.” People with conservative temperaments seem overall content with their community and do not start their day anxious about the world's problems beyond their control. They recognize that changes come to their immediate world—they grow older, their children become independent, friends and neighbors come and go, the small, intimate church grows large, familiar shops and restaurants open and close. Even as they welcome some changes, they may feel nostalgia about the things that have been lost and desire a return to the “good old days.” In this sense, I think everyone has a little “conservatism” in them—even those city council members, county commissioners, and chambers of commerce who strive to make changes to enhance the beauty, promote the tourism, or increase the economic development of their community.

Conservatism as a social or political ideology that attempts to explain the world and make assertions about “how things ought to be,” however, seems to defy description. (Liberalism and other “isms” share the same difficulties to some degree.) Describing someone as “adhering to traditional ways “ or “resisting change” does not say very much. The cultural and temporal contexts in which people try to conserve traditional ways make all the difference. A conservative Muslim cleric in contemporary Saudi Arabia, a conservative member of the Politburo in 20th century Soviet Union, a conservative businessman in 19th century America, and a conservative feudal lord in 14th century France share very little in common. The differences between these so-called conservatives frustrate any attempt to construct a coherent account of a shared social or political ideology that might be called conservative. The reductionist definition of a conservative as a person who resists change to traditional ways is next to useless.

So as a preliminary recognition of this difficulty, the next posts will look at conservatism in the context of Western Civilization and it emergence as a coherent social and political ideology in the 18th century.


CW said...

I may be getting ahead here, since I haven’t skipped forward to your latest posts, but I personally thing conservatism as a political ideology has mostly to do with respect for the truth.

Liberalism/leftwingism/progressivism all rely on dishonesty and disception.

RightDetour said...

I think you are right. Most conservatives, of whatever stripe, seem to see things as "the way they really are" and adopt a healthy skepticism about progressive plans to inaugurate Utopia. But even a few of us can sometimes experience difficulties assimliating things that don't fit in our "political paradigm." And some can be downright dishonest, as in what David Barton does with history in his books and his affiliation with Beck.