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Monday, June 29, 2009

First Quote from Liberty and Tyranny

There is simply no scientific or mathematical formula that defines conservatism. Moreover, there are competing voices today claiming the mantle of "true conservatism"--including neo-conservatism (emphasis on a robust national security), paleoconservatism (emphasis on preserving the culture), social conservatism (emphasis on faith and values), and libertarianism (emphasis on individualism), among others. Scores of scholars have written at length about what can be imperfectly characterized as conservative thought.


To put it succinctly: Conservatism is a way of understanding life, society, and governance. The Founders were heavily influenced by certain philosophers, among them Adam Smith (spontaneous order), Charles
Montesquieu (separation of powers), and especially John Locke (natural rights); they were also influenced by their faiths, personal experiences, and knowledge of history (including the rise and fall of the Roman Empire). Edmund Burke, who was both a British statesman and thinker, is often said to be the father of modern conservatism. He was an early defender of the American Revolution and advocate of representative government. He wrote of the interconnection of liberty, free markets, religion, tradition, and authority. The Conservative, like the Founders, is informed by all these great thinkers--and more.
It can be difficult to define conservatism. Mr. Levin has done about as good a job in a short space as can be done, I suppose, though his brevity almost necessarily leaves what he has to say about the various factions within conservatism something of an oversimplification. Quite a lot of conservatives will scarcely admit that a Neocon is a conservative at all (I have to grit my teeth when contemplating the idea), for example, and personally, while I think that libertarians have many ideas that overlap with conservatism, libertarianism is not really a division of conservatism. Also, I think a good case could be made for an "emphasis on faith and values" being the means of "preserving the culture," which would mean that "social conservatism" and Paleoconservatism would not necessarily be as easy to distinguish from one another as Mr. Levin might make them out to be.

I do think that Mr. Levin is right in his basic idea, though, that "There is simply no scientific or mathematical formula that defines conservatism." Conservatism, in my opinion, is more a method, more an approach to the maintenance of a society than it is a laundry-list of popular positions. It proceeds largely from certain bedrock ideas and presuppositions, but it is far more flexible in application than many of its detractors think.

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