Friday, October 30, 2009
'All Fundamentalists are conservatives, but not all conservatives are Fundamentalists. The best conservatives can...give lessons to the liberals... '
Fosdick, blast from the past: "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?"
There are conservative ideas I find attractive, albeit ripped out of context to serve other purposes. True religious and political conservatism, not the weird amalgam of libertarianism, fundamentalism, and market absolutism that currently goes by that name, has multiple virtues, not the least of them being what is embedded in the name - to conserve, to keep safe. While Isaiah Berlin had issues with Edmund Burke, my own reading of Burke clashes with Berlin on one key hermeneutical point (which I find ironic considering Berlin's political liberalism and philosophical pluralism) - Burke was not a mystic at all in his discussion of the relationships among the dead, the living, and the not-yet-born. Rooted in the simple, verifiable, and unremarkable reality that our current moment is just a blip in time, Burke was unmoved by the insistence that a new age with new wonders and new ideas was dawning if only we could toss off the shackles of tradition and prejudice.
As Berlin was himself a victim of those who preached these ideas, I would think he would be, at the very least, sympathetic to the general flow of Burke's critique, both in his Reflections on the Revolution in France and his various Letters on a Regicide Peace.
This is why, at heart, I try to steer a middle course between the Scylla of the ancien regime and the Charybdis of revolution, and am quite happy to insist that, for all its flaws, occasional backslides, and even royal f-ups, American democracy is not only the best alternative, but the only alternative. Precisely because it manages to way all things - the good, the bad, the occasionally wonderful and horrific - in the balance and move forward with both caution and hope, we as a nation do manage to pick ourselves up, dust the crap of our bad decisions off our collective life, and actually do some good. Whether it is passing a hate crimes bill, ending unjust and destructive wars, or some little thing, I would rather suffer the occasional bout of national self-doubt that leaves us with George W. Bush than try to change things so that we only, ever end up with people who look and think like I do.