It’s difficult to associate anything good with conservatism.
It’s a massive problem for me as I associate myself with conservatism and yet consider myself not to be an entirely horrid and morally dubious person. It’s a conflict that I can only resolve by distinguishing between conservatism as it is practiced and identified and conservatism as an abstract, intellectual pursuit.
The result is probably unsatisfactory. It’s no doubt the reason why I’m a swinging voter…
But back to the start. I conceive of there basically being two kinds of ways to engage with political thought: the first is to argue that all things need to be justified moment to moment; the second is to argue that the status quo has a privileged position. The difference is whether or not you think that the society we have gets a bit of a free kick when it comes to justifying itself (or, more strictly, that ‘It is currently so’ is a bonus point on the evaluation scale). This links conservatism to an older, more noble tradition than merely the French and English conservatism commonly identified: the mos maiorum has an intrinsic value and should — at least as a starting point — deserve some respect.
Politics is increasingly becoming a domain of economics (the part of economics which believes that it can make normative claims): arguments about politics are being reduced to which brand of voodoo economic witchcraft is most popular, common, and vulgar at the time. Despite conservatism being increasingly linked to a particular economic theory (**cough, cough** libertarianism **cough, cough**), ‘liberating’ the market seems to devalue our current social system and demand that State expenditure (such as welfare) be justified on its own merits. I’m not that kind of conservative.
At the same time, it rejects quite a lot of the nihilism of modernity. For example, the ‘progressive’ response to the elitism of education was to remove barriers to entry. Instead of providing a first rate education to everybody, the ‘progressives’ devalued the importance of education to economic considerations: now we try to get as many people as possible to hold tertiary degrees. And so on and so forth. A better response would have been to reduce the ‘elite’ control of education without devaluing it: some obscure conservative thinkers have shown ways this could be possible.
I guess this strikes at the heart of the problem. Imagine my counterpart from the universe next door arrives in this universe. Universe Next Door Mark is a progressive. We can both agree that the likely economic position of a person when they’re 35 should not be easily predicted at their birth. We can both agree that it shouldn’t be the case that a white male child is more likely to end up in a better position than a minority. What we can disagree upon is the method in which we achieve the outcomes. Universe Next Door Mark believes that the current system needs to be destroyed and rebuilt. This Universe Mark believes that radical changes are unnecessary.
There’s a smaller problem: the term ‘progressive’. The term implies that there’s some utopian future towards which the ‘progressives’ are trying to drag the world kicking and screaming, and that they’d succeed if it weren’t for the cabal of conservatives who block their progress.
On the other hand, I don’t live in a fairy land. Conservatism today is populist gutter politics. Appealing to the worst aspects of society — fear and indignation, mostly — has become the calling card of ‘Conservatism’. Society is short-changed by a conservatism which doesn’t pull its weight.
So there you have it: a loose and vague explanation of my conservatism and why it doesn’t make me a horrible, dreadful person.