Sunday, November 13, 2011

Conservatism As A North Star

National Review has a post written by a self-professing liberal professor, Carl Bogus, who is writing a biography on William Buckley. Bogus' research leads him to read the written canon of conservative thinking. His conclusion:
Q. What is different between conservative and liberal literature?
A. One striking difference is that the iconic conservative works are about ideology. By contrast, the most influential liberal books of the era are about policy issues. Those works are Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962), The Other America by Michael Harrington (1962), The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963), and Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader (1965), which helped launch the environmental, anti-poverty, feminist, and consumer movements, respectively. Some prominent liberal books of the time were about ideology — such as The Vital Center by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (1949) and The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith (1958) — but these are exceptions to the rule.

Why the lack of symmetry?
A. Conservatives have big appetites for ideology; liberals don’t. There are, of course, taxonomies of conservative schools of thought. People on the right classify themselves as libertarians, neoconservatives, social conservatives, traditional conservatives, and the like, and spill oceans of ink defining, debating, and further subdividing these schools of thought. There is no parallel taxonomy on the left. Maybe, in part, it is because a central tenet of liberalism is that ideology should be eschewed in favor of the supposedly enlightened, pragmatic approach of making ad hoc judgments about issues. But on this conservatives are more realistic. Ideology is inevitable; we all have an ideology, whether we are aware of it or not. First of all, ideology is about values, and we can’t decide how we wish to solve policy issues without having a firm grasp on the values we are seeking to advance. Second, the world is too complex for us to make informed judgments about all of the issues that confront us. We need a philosophy to serve as a north star. One way I’ve been enriched by reading the great works of conservatism is that I’ve come better to appreciate how central ideology is to thinking about matters of governance and public policy.
Ezra Klein categorizes it as a dichotomy between conservative philosophers and liberal policy wonks. He also has a more cynical version of the difference between conservatives and liberals than does Bogus. I am inclined to agree with Bogus though. In fact, I think that Bogus, a liberal, offers a better defense of conservative ideology than do many conservatives today. I believe that if Republicans today had a better grasp of the foundation for conservative thought (particularly Edmund Burke - my hero), they would not find themselves so often in policy pit holes or they would be better able to explain why sometimes ideology trumps empirical evidence.

Anyway, a thought-provoking post from National Review. I encourage everyone to take a look.

Please check us out on Facebook and If you like what you see, please "Like" us. You can find us here.

No comments: