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Tyranny of Liberalism 5

In a chapter called "Blind Alleys," Kalb discusses various responses to liberalism. I'll be posting a bit from each of them. Here is what he calls "simple conservatism."

Simple procedural conservatism is a view for moderate worldly men attached to what is established but willing to accomodate new developments that seem sensible or inevitable. It aspires to a sort of mixed society, in which there is a place for the most helpful aspects of liberalism as well as nonliberal tradition. On ultimate standards, however, it is agnostic, with no final reference point other than what people do. As a result it tends to drift, and when social tendencies are liberal it becomes hard to distinguish such a stance from the moderate wing of liberalism....

However, such an outlook is not self-sustaining and cannot be relied on to keep liberal tendencies from going to extremes. Its lack of definite principles is its downfall. Simple conservatism is not seriously concerned with truth. It treats all social understandings, even the most basic, as negotiable interests. ...

The simple conservative is not impressed by philosophical claims. He reduces religion to a combination of traditional observances and optional private belief.... Simple conservatism is therefore unable to find a place to make a stand....

Simple conservatism has been unable to prevent the triumph of increasingly radical forms of liberalism. It has accepted the creation of a radically secular public order that treats substantive appeals to anything other than human will and scientific reason as irrational and oppressive.... It can no longer think or act coherently, because it cannot sustain substantive arguments at odds with those of its opponents.... Simple conservatism grumbles, drags its feet, and tries to moderate the disruption caused by implementing liberal demands, but it cannot argue against the justice of those demands or deny them ultimate victory. The most it can do is to try to delay and cushion its own defeat.

This is the sort of establishment conservatism which is a pretty powerful element in the Republican party, the element which is scorned by the more committed right as being just like the Democrats, but less; or as promising to reduce the speed at which we approach the cliff's edge. And the criticism is justified. It is also the kind of conservatism that accounts for some large percentage of that large percentage of Americans who describe themselves as "conservative," especially in my region, the South. And it is, tellingly, the element which earns praise from liberals for being "pragmatic" etc. I have a little sympathy for it--I've hoped that we might find "a place for the most helpful aspects of liberalism as well as nonliberal tradition." Recent developments, having to do with, for instance, same-sex marriage and religious freedom, incline me to think that the hope was misplaced. As Kalb says:

In recent decades the great compromise at the heart of American political life has unraveled. In spite of resistance, liberal principles came to be understood and applied more and more comprehensively, until social unity could no longer be based on vague Protestant moralism and religiosity and on the moral authority and halfway liberalism of those long-dead white male propertied slave owners, the Founding Fathers. A destructively pure form of liberalism became authoritative in American public life. Ruling elites came to understand conservatism as simple resistance to the plain demands of public morality and therefore as a threat to any tolerable public order.

The key period in the transformation was the sixties....

With that breakdown of the American compromise, the link was snapped between government and American tradition as a whole--and between government and the people. The American public order has consequently entered an enduring state of crisis that features a combination of anarchy and soft totalitarianism.....

The result of such developments was the appearance of a broad-based explicitly conservative movement for the first time in America.

More about that in another post, but I think it is insufficiently recognized that the rise of the religious right and other conservative movements in the 1970s was in great measure a defense of threatened goods, a response to the attack on all existing institutions by the radical movements of the '60s, not the mere reaction to loss of power, as it's generally described by the official recognizers.

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Well, here we go:

http://www.albertmohler.com/2013/10/01/george-and-barbara-witness-a-wedding-when-a-private-act-sends-a-public-message/

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He was a very capable man in the business world and in domestic life, but there was that odd opportunism and deficit of public dignity; always something missing.

I'd heard about this a week or two ago when it happened, and wasn't at all surprised. A perfect example of simple conservatism, a particular WASP sub-species. A very decent man, I'm sure. But as Kalb says:

"On ultimate standards, however, it is agnostic, with no final reference point other than what people do. As a result it tends to drift, and when social tendencies are liberal it becomes hard to distinguish such a stance from the moderate wing of liberalism..."

It's not only that the old guard was defeated: much of it allowed itself to be transformed.

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