Conservatism proper is a legitimate, probably necessary, and certainly widespread attitude of opposition to drastic change – F.A. Hayek, from his essay “Why I Am Not A Conservative.”
In my last post, I shared a quote from Russell Kirk’s essay “The Essence of Conservatism.” I’ve since revisited some of his other observations in that piece, along with related commentary from others on similar themes such as the one expressed above, and found more than a few worth sharing.
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.
Asking the 1% to make contributions to the society and governing system which provided them the means to attain their great wealth and success should not automatically be viewed from the tint of ideological frames as punishment, nor is it a blind handout to the lazy. We just need to recognize that conditions (including our own assessments and hopes for the future) have changed dramatically and in many cases have been diminished far beyond our worst fears. An unfortunate but understandable consequence of our great progress and the complexities of modern society….
Kekes * argues that ‘the fundamental aim of conservatism is to conserve the political arrangements that have shown themselves to be conducive to good lives’. And, he continues, ‘the conservative view is that history is the best guide to understanding the present and planning for the future because it indicates what political arrangements are likely to make lives good or bad’.
*John Kekes is currently a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the Univ of Albany [NY]. The reference above is from his article “What Is Conservatism?”
Traditionalism and hostility to social innovation were central to Mannheim’s … sociological analysis of conservatism. Rossiter … too, defined situational conservatism in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences as ‘an attitude of opposition to disruptive change in the social, economic, legal, religious, political, or cultural order….’ He added, The distinguishing mark of this conservatism, as indeed it is of any brand of conservatism, is the fear of change [italics added], which becomes transformed in the political arena into the fear of radicalism….’ Consistent with this notion, Conover and Feldman … found that the primary basis for self-definitions of liberals and conservatives has to do with acceptance of, versus resistance to, change. [Citations and references in original quote]*
In a rapidly-changing and evolving world, leading the way seems to be a better tactic than trying to hold back the tides of change. Conservatism has much to offer, and a more cooperative approach to policy and problem-solving will afford the Right a more meaningful role to contribute rather than merely obstruct.
‘[I]t is reasonable to hypothesize that individuals who are physiologically and psychologically responsive to negative stimuli will tend to endorse public policies that minimize tangible threats by giving prominence to past, traditional solutions, which assumes those options are adequately suited for the newer challenges by limiting human discretion (or endorsing institutions, such as the free market, that do not require generosity, discretion, and altruism), by being protective, by promoting ingroups relative to out-groups, and by embracing strong, unifying policies and authority figures.
As the … research suggests, conservatism is largely a defensive ideology — and therefore, much more appealing to people who go through life sensitive and highly attuned to aversive or threatening aspects of their environments.