Ever since Edmund Burke invented conservatism as an idea, the conservative has styled himself a man of prudence and moderation, his cause a sober—and sobering—recognition of limits. “To be conservative,” writes Michael Oakeshott, “is to prefer the familiar to the unknown. . .the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant.”
Yet the political efforts that have roused the conservative to his most profound reflections—the reactions against the French and Bolshevik revolutions, the defense of slavery and Jim Crow, the at - tack on social democracy and the welfare state, the serial backlashes against the New Deal, the Great Society, civil rights, feminism, and gay rights—have been anything but that. Whether in Europe or the United States, in this century or previous ones, conservatism has been a forward movement of restless and relentless change, partial to risk taking and ideological adventurism, militant in its posture and populist in its bearings, friendly to upstarts and insurgents, outsiders and newcomers alike. While the conservative theorist claims for his tradition the mantle of prudence and moderation, there is a not-so-subterranean strain of imprudence and immoderation running through that tradition, a strain that, however counterintuitive it seems, connects Sarah Palin to Edmund Burke. (...)
As the forty-year dominion of the right begins to fade, however fitfully, writers like Sam Tanenhaus, Andrew Sullivan, Jeffrey Hart, Sidney Blumenthal, and John Dean have claimed that conservatism went into decline when Palin, or Bush, or Reagan, or Goldwater, or Buckley, or someone took it off the rails. Originally, the argument goes, conservatism was a responsible discipline of the governing classes, but somewhere between Joseph de Maistre and Joe the Plumber, it got carried away with itself. It became adventurous, fanatical, populist, ideological. What this story of decline—and you see it on the Right as well as the Left—overlooks is that all of these supposed vices of contemporary conservatism were present at the beginning, in the writings of Burke and Maistre, only they weren’t viewed as vices. They were seen as virtues. Conservatism has always been a wilder and more extravagant movement than many realize— and it is precisely this wildness and extravagance that has been one of the sources of its continuing appeal.
In an influential essay, Oakeshott argued that conservatism “is not a creed or a doctrine, but a disposition.” Specifically, he thought, it’s a disposition to enjoy the present. Not because the present is better than the alternatives or even because it is good on its own terms.
That would imply a level of conscious reflection and ideological choice that Oakeshott believes is alien to the conservative. No, the reason the conservative enjoys the present is simply and merely because it is familiar, because it is there, because it is at hand.
Oakeshott’s view of the conservative—and it is widely shared, on the Left and the Right—is not an insight; it is a conceit. It overlooks the fact that conservatism invariably arises in response to a threat to the old regime or after the old regime has been destroyed.
Oakeshott is describing the old regime in an easy chair, when its mortality is a distant notion and time is a warming medium rather than an acrid solvent. This is the old regime of Charles Loyseau, who wrote nearly two centuries before the French Revolution that the nobility has no “beginning” and thus no end. It “exists time out of mind,” without consciousness or awareness of the passage of history.
Conservatism appears on the scene precisely when—and precisely because—such statements can no longer be made.
Monday, October 04, 2010
Publicada por Miguel Madeira em 14:04