Conversational Conservatism: An Incomplete Look At An Incomplete Subject
November 6, 2008
I haven’t done too terribly much reading these last few days, so I don’t know who’s been saying what, other than McCain staffers are going after Sarah Palin and there was some borderline-creepy “Heads of the Five Families”-esque meeting in D.C. about the “future of conservatism.”
But I’m going to put myself out there and say that if this “rethinking” of conservatism does not seriously and truly acknowledge that the year is now 2008, and that the problems of 2008 are not the problems of 1980, or 1994, or even 2000, it will not successfully reestablish itself. The problems and times are both different, which means that we need age-appropriate solutions: from the same framework, yes, but not (necessarily) off the same grocery list we’ve heard for the last fourteen to twenty-eight years now.
This is why I’m partial to thinking of conservatism as a (political) disposition more than a political movement. Our only “grocery list” should be those things which are appropriate to now and the problems of now. It will change frequently; some items will fall off and others come aboard; many will merely slide up and down the ladder of priority.
Any conservatism that is not in constant conversation with itself will ultimately go stale—and, I daresay, do so faster than a progressivism/liberalism. They are not so much disposition-based ideologies; unlike conservatism, they do not choose Oakeshott’s “present laughter [but] utopian bliss.”
It is not a “betrayal” of conservatism to admit the policies of Reagan and Thatcher may not be appropriate to the moment, but that their dispositions may be. We need to return to why we have favored the policies we have favored, and from those dispositions and beliefs draw solutions and policies for the coming decade(s), and for now.
I like this metaphor I came up with earlier, so I’m stealing it for this subject as well: Conservatism does not have the character of an oracle, but of a billion-headed rabbi. Conversation within it and without it are essential to its continuing competence and political relevance.
I don’t have any solutions right now, and it should be said that the more abstract things are, the more excited I get—practicality is not always my strong suit. I just think that the first thing we should be doing right about now is figuring out where, exactly, we are. Then where we go from there.