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Conservatism's Structural Defect

Reader comment on item: Conservatism's Hidden History

Submitted by John W Howard (United States), Jul 31, 2018 at 12:03

I agree with the thesis, generally, but have argued for a conservative project that goes beyond Burkean limitations. Burke and his progeny have defined a conservatism that is inherently transactional and reactionary and that is the inherent (and tragic) weakness of the movement. Because Burke's argument was essentially that things should evolve and change only incrementally and when necessary to address changes in society (a sort of political common law), conservatives have never bent to the project of developing a coherent philosophy that defines what government should be.

As a result, when "conservatives" (and I use the term advisedly, when describing political figures) take over government (as they have at least 3 times in my lifetime) they have no idea what to do. They do not dismantle liberal depredations because to change things is to go against the fundamental animating principle Burke articulated. So liberalism become inexorable. And so it has.

They don't fundamentally change government because they have never defined what government ought to be. They do not know what it should do.

All they say is that they are not going to do what liberals do.

That's not a philosophy. It is hardly even a political impulse.

Burke's approach has also sapped the energy of what could be a robust political philosophy by ladening it with religiosity and social impulses, making it self-contradictory by arguing, on the one hand, for individual liberty and, at the same time, for a social orthodoxy as a matter of politics. They are self-cancelling and that explains why Americans are so confused by the message. One cannot argue for freedom and, at the same time, tell me what to do with my personal life, as a matter of politics.

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Daniel Pipes replies:

You point to the very real fact that conservatives are skeptical of government and focus on other topics, compared to liberals. Overcoming this difference will be a major challenge for conservatism.

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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