Thursday, June 19, 2008

Conservatism as a practical principle not a philosophy
An anti-ideology or wherever legitimacy is

Brad DeLong:
Conservatism is the practical principle that the pieces of furniture you have that suit and are comfortable should not be thrown away.
Very sensible.

As Paul Fussell wrote more than 25 years ago only witless people with no culture throw everything away and invest heavily in the styles and trends of one period. (Disco Stu’s got a lesson for you.)

Ross Douthat:
I think a better way of putting it would be to call it an approach to political and social controversies, under which the fact that a given piece of furniture (i.e. a policy or institution) has suited in the past — and the fact that it is your piece of furniture, which belonged to your father and grandfather as well — gives the case for keeping it greater weight that it might enjoy if you simply tallied the chair or sofa's good qualities and compared them to the really fabulous, amazing, but still-hypothetical qualities of the fancy new one that might replace it. Now certain political philosophies may be effectively conservative in certain times and places, because they function as defenses of the existing furniture — thus Lockean liberalism is an effectively conservative philosophy in contemporary America in a way that it wasn’t in the 17th century, and thus many contemporary American conservatives consider the Enlightenment, at least in its Scottish and English manifestations, to be the patrimony that they’re charged with defending. But conservatism itself (again, under my admittedly idiosyncratic definition) is not a philosophy or an ideology; it’s an approach, a bias, or a political style.
DeLong on Burke:
Edmund Burke does not believe that Tradition is to be Respected. He believes that good traditions are to be respected.
IOW there are absolutes and traditions aren’t necessarily them.

Douthat again:
It’s precisely because conservatism isn’t a rigorous philosophy that it makes sense for conservatives to take a man like Burke as their hero — a practical politician who left behind no Second Treatise on Civil Government or Social Contract or similarly programmatic exposition of his views (in this vein, it isn’t a coincidence that Russell Kirk’s conservative canon includes very few programmatic thinkers), and whose conservatism manifested itself not in an ideologically consistent resistance to change of any kind, but in an famously eloquent revolt against a particular noxious form of change, which threatened not only to replace a few pieces of furniture but to burn down the entire house in order to build a new one in its place.

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