14 October 2006

Until Tomorrow

Geoffrey Stone, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School has published a completely anodyne list of things liberals believe. Other commentators have claimed that the list is not particularly useful: liberals believe in things that are good. But I think that the list is honest; liberals really to believe in puppy dogs, warm spring days, wild flowers in green meadows and fluffy little bunnies. Conservatives believe that winter is coming.

The real stunner is that, seventy years after the New Deal, Stone can convincingly get around to defining liberalism. It's not that liberalism hasn't been defined before. It's that every day brings its own liberalism. Liberalism is about never having to say, "I was wrong yesterday" because today's liberalism is entirely different and not at all responsible for those reactionaries who used the name yesterday.

On the other hand, according to liberals today's conservatives are responsible for the Dark Ages, the Inquisition and Joe McCarthy. Conservatives tend to agree.

Stone challenges his readers to come up with their own tenets of conservatism. Conservatives, of course, don't have to keep inventing ourselves. Those who obsess about these things generally accept Russell Kirk's six canons of conservatism:

(1) Belief that a divine intent rules society as well as conscience, forging an eternal chain of right and duty which links great and obscure, living and dead. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.

(2) Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of traditional life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems.

(3) Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes. The only true equality is moral equality; all other attempts at levelling lead to despair, if enforced by positive legislation.

(4) Persuasion that property and freedom are inseparably connected, and that economic levelling is not economic progress. Separate property from private possession and liberty is erased.

(5) Faith in prescription and distrust of 'sophisters and calculators.' Man must put a control upon his will and his appetite, for conservatives know man to be governed more by emotion than by reason. Tradition and sound prejudice provide checks upon man's anarchic impulse.

(6) Recognition that change and reform are not identical, and that innovation is a devouring conflagration more often than it is a torch of progress. Society must alter, for slow change is the means of its conservation, like the human body's perpetual renewal; but Providence is the proper instrument for change, and the test of a statesman is his cognizance of the real tendency of Providential social forces.


Duck said...

On the other hand, according to liberals today's conservatives are responsible for the Dark Ages, the Inquisition and Joe McCarthy. Conservatives tend to agree.

It doesn't work in reverse, though. Yesterdays conservatives wouldn't recognize today's conservatives as such.

Hey Skipper said...


How is it that liberals are such somnambulant writers? There are Krispy Kreme donuts that have less glaze on them then my eyes did at the end of the first para.

Which hampered my analysis somewhat, things being blurry and all. But if you strip out the same thing said different ways, I think he tops out at 6.

As for your list, I think you can get to the same end more economically through the following observations:

1) Human nature is, within human time scales, immutable.

2) Humans are social animals.

3) Property and freedom are inextricably linked.

And these axioms:

1) Moral symmetry

2) Equality of opportunity is desirable, and possible to approximate

3) Equality of outcome is impossible.

If I may be so bold, I think your (1) contradicts itself.

Peter Burnet said...

A cute joke from Fr. Neuhaus in the current First Things:

"He was so conservative that if he has been around at the creation, he would have voted for chaos."