Sullivan Responds

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Last week, I shot Andrew an e-mail enclosing the two posts I'd written in response to his lectures and your comments. He was kind enough to read through them, offer a response, and take special note of Cynic'c comment which he thought, "gets it best." That last point will be news to no one. Anyway, a short excerpt is in order:


I've been thinking about these things for a long time, and I appreciate that it all looks absurdly esoteric or simply solipsistic to many. My conservatism is not today's American conservatism, although it could easily find a place in Cameron's Toryism. I have a libertarian streak as well - which puts me at the right end of Toryism. But I hold, following Oakeshott and Burke, that the critical conservative virtue in politics is coherence and balance and practical, prudential openness to change and reform. Remember that Burke, as a Brit, favored American independence.

 If you cannot see that as conservative in some sense then my arguments will be lost on you. And yes, it's wrapped up in religion, my inability to lose my faith and my attempt to grapple with what that means in today's increasingly fundamentalist world. That's why the core issue in the book is really Christianity, and why I increasingly feel I want to take some time out to explore these theological and spiritual questions with the time and silence they deserve. 

 As for conservatism in America, my own belief is that this, at the deepest level, is a philosophical struggle between the worldviews of Leo Strauss and Michael Oakeshott.

I think this will be the last time I engage Andrew on this question, mostly because I don't think I can access much more until I've read Strauss, Oakeshott, and Andrew's The Conservative Soul. It shames me that I haven't, and it shames me more that I don't know when I'll be able to. 

One of the unfortunate things about being ravaged by some object of my curiosity, is the accompanying inability to think long and hard about anything else. So for the past year and half, a large section of my brain has been occupied by the Civil War and Detroit. I'll be done with Detroit soon enough (one hopes), but this Civil War thing will be counted in years not months. 

This is why looking at anyone's book-list, or book shelf, and exclaiming "I can't believe you don't have xxxx!!!" will always--always--miss the point. There's too much out there to know. You can't possibly experience it all. For me this is more true. I have to leave space for my own stories, and guard against getting loss in someone else's.

I'm rambling now. But the point I'm trying to get to is this--whatever my disagreements with Andrew, he has my utmost respect as a writer and a thinker. I know what I think I think about his view of conservatism, but I don't know what I really think. Respect calls for the former and not the latter.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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