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Conservatism

by on October 23, 2010

Conservatism is both a political and non-political philosophy.  I want to concentrate for a moment on political conservatism – and I’m not talking about Tea Party stuff.  Tea Partyers are mostly [in my opinion] nutjobs that think solutions are immediate and easy (build a wall!  bomb the suckers!  no taxes, no healthcare, but leave my medicare alone!), but there’s a sane conservatism.  The eloquent modern British conservative Michael Oakeshott says it well:

To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss. Familiar relationships and loyalties will be preferred to the allure of more profitable attachments; to acquire and to enlarge will be less important than to keep, to cultivate and to enjoy; the grief of loss will be more acute than the excitement of novelty or promise. It is to be equal to one’s own fortune, to live at the level of one’s own means, to be content with the want of greater perfection which belongs alike to oneself and one’s circumstances. With some people this is itself a choice; in others it is a disposition which appears, frequently or less frequently, in their preferences and aversions, and is onto itself chosen or specifically cultivated.

I’ve pointed out before that while I’m not a political conservative as America would currently define it, this sort of conservatism is rational, eloquent, and appealing.  I imagine you can see easily see how this conservatism sometimes appeals to you – the desire to maintain what you have, rather than risk change.  There are times, frequent times, in my life that I am more inclined to keep things the way they are, because I do not know the outcome of a possible change.  Think for a moment of relationships, finances, jobs; all of these you might be more inclined at some level to maintain than to change, for fear of the unknown.  That’s what rational conservatism is.
Or, as Andrew Sullivan, another modern (more modern) British conservative – living in America – says,

Times change. Conservatism is defined by an ability to change prudently with them, and respond to emergent social problems with pragmatic, if cautious, reform. It is not defined by rigid ideology (no tax hikes ever) or denial of reality (climate change is a hoax; freedom is on the march in Iraq; deficits don’t matter).

That’s rational conservatism.

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