Anthony Kennedy's Conservatism

Dahlia Lithwick homes in on why Justice Anthony Kennedy is such an important figure for the future of conservatism:

[I]n spite of the lofty intellectualism and the big words, this speech captures my imagination and that of the assembled crowd for its two quintessential Kennedy traits. The first is the vast sprawl of his imaginative world. He travels the planet and reads widely and he attends lectures on water purification. Then he applies all that knowledge to his conception of the law. And whether you like that expansive scope, listening to him is still a tonic to the smallness and smug certainty that has characterized our political leadership in this country for the past six years. It offers a welcome break from the hermetically sealed constitutional worldview of some of his detractors. Kennedy is a legendary agonizer. But his comments here reveal the extent to which that agony is not an end in itself. His sense of justice and equality is a work in progress, informed by what he learns from people all over the planet who know more than he does. There's something reassuring in his sense that the world is a fluid place.

That sense - of the fluidity and inconstancy of everything - is the mark of a particular kind of conservative, an Oakeshottian attempt to find balance in doubt, and freedom in the minimal constraints of a rule of law that is as neutral between varying claims as possible. It is so different from the theological certainty that now passes for conservative doctrine. But "conservative doctrine" is an oxymoron. The point of political conservatism as I understand it is that it offers no doctrine, just the wisdom of a tradition resting, provisionally, on doubt.