Thursday, July 6, 2017

Whither classical conservatism? Part IV: Problems in the modern world

The trouble with classical conservatism in the modern world is, essentially, the struggle between Burke and Oakeshott.  In Part II, I wrote about Burke's view, which was essentially a traditionalist and aristocratic view of the world, and in Part III, I wrote about Oakeshott's perspective, which was really just one of caution and aversion to change.

In a world that still adheres to the "traditional" structure that Burke adored, Burke and Oakeshott would advocate the same courses of action-- inaction.  If everything is fine because the aristocrats are in charge, as they should be, then don't do anything 'cuz everything's cool.  The further you get from whatever system the Burkean conservative wants, though, the more Burke and Oakeshott diverge, and that is where classical conservatives find themselves divided in the modern world.

In a lot of ways, modern liberalism has won.  It doesn't feel like that right now, with Trump in office, but in the grand scheme of things, liberalism has done far better over the long haul.  The welfare state has expanded dramatically over the last hundred years, and while Republicans might be able to peel back some of Obamacare, even if they peel back some, they won't do a full repeal.  I'll link back to what I wrote in January about the fact that using budget reconciliation rather than the nuclear option meant that Republicans were choosing not to do a full repeal like the chicken shits they are.

This introduces the broader problem with classical conservatism and modernity.  The Burkean conservative was attached to notions of aristocracy that, well...  Think about notions of traditional hierarchy from the 1950's.  Think about the... demographics of the people who use the slogan, "I want my country back!"  Have you ever heard a black woman say that?  No.  Why not?  Because there was never a point in history in which the country could conceivably have been claimed by black women, when you've got race and gender working against them.  Add sexual orientation and you've got the trifecta.

So, we have the conflict in the modern world between two types of classical conservatism, derived from Burke and Oakeshott.  Burke's opposition to the French Revolution was not merely an opposition to revolution, period.  He, after all, had some different views about what happened here in the colonies.  Rather, he had some specific views about the value of tradition.  Oakeshott was merely averse to change, and deeply cautious.  So, what happens when the system becomes untraditional?  The cautious one accepts it, but the traditionalist balks.

Yet, here is the problem for the traditionalist.  Yearning for the old, glory days sounds great in the abstract, to some, but as the GOP is seeing now, taking away someone's paid benefit is harder to do in practice.  That's why no major entitlement program has ever been repealed.

Here is where classical conservatism found itself tied in knots.  The ideology, if we can call it that, is one of either traditionalism or aversion to change, and we live in a dramatically changed world.

What does that mean for conservatism as it has developed in the post-New Deal era?  That's where I'm going with this series.  Then again, Trump is sounding like he might nuke North Korea, so maybe I won't get the chance...

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