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What is Conservatism? Part V

February 6, 2009

What is Conservatism? Part I
What is Conservatism? Part II
What is Conservatism? Part III
What is Conservatism? Part IV

As one who identifies with “postmodern conservatism” defined here and reasoned here, I would like to jump in briefly to some worthwhile conversations. First, Sam Tanenhaus writes, well and provocatively, that conservatism is dead. (Some responses are here.) Second, Peter Berkowitz argues for a “constitutional conservatism” and Yuval Levin considers the intersection of populism and elitism in our current landscape. These and many other pieces, however, assume an acceptance of the modern, liberal, Enlightenment project. Following Phillip Blond, however, there is an alternative: a stand against the seperation of power and person. Conservatism will never be dead; and it will never be ascendent (T.S. Eliot: there is no such thing as a gained cause because there is no such thing as a lost cause). As long as there is localism, the family, the transcendent, and the organic community, there will be conservative sentiments.

A constituted community of conservatism, an invitation for readers and hearers to share in assumptions and conclusions, is based upon and reactive to notions of such large and complex terms as equality, justice, freedom, and virtue. By selectively and interpretively taking from the past and existing in the present, “invented” is the meaning of conservatism, which is why it may be defined as the “negation of ideology.” Its pratical application is an audience of association with the like-minded and the persuadable. Through a plausible (if at times unique and isolated) interpretation of historical figures, events, and even the constitutions that form governments, there is, for example, a sentimental “party of order” against a “party of the state of nature.” A critique of modernity is contained in the consistent, deliberate use of one word in place of another: “person” rather than “individual.” This constitutive community, for example, downplays the influence of John Locke upon the American constitution. As such, there is a loose “anti-Lockean” and “anti-Rousseauian” community. And through a determination to not reduce the beautiful to the useful, the “actual-ness” of society, organically and locally cultivated for more than utility, the ends of happiness ultimately found in the transcendent are reflected in the small spheres of home, family, and immediate community. Existence in the modern world is incorporative, not transformative. Natural law and permanent things are not a formula for pure reason. Sentiments of proper order entail traditions of custom that shape morality. Future considerations will elaborate further on the meanings and definitions of the modernist project that push against such sentiment.

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One Comment
  1. Sarah Kathryn permalink
    February 8, 2009 6:26 pm

    Although a frequent reader of Vox Nova, I rarely comment; however, since your “What is Conservatism?” and “Postmodern Conservatism” have received such little attention, I just wanted to voice my thanks for your excellent examinations. I look forward to future installments.

    “As long as there is localism, the family, the transcendent, and the organic community, there will be conservative sentiments.” Indeed.

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