My Uni-Dimensional Book?

This blogger has a very smart critique of my book:

Sullivan and many others misdiagnosed the disease back in the 1980s: like Margaret Thatcher, they thought that there was no such thing as society, identified liberalism Tcscover_5 with socialism, and concluded that everything apart from conservatism should be flushed down the drain. What we can now see is that conservatism without liberalism cannot stand: it is too easily warped by the forces of reaction, just as it has been for the last two hundred years.

The challenge is simply this: how do we restore the creative balance between liberalism and conservatism: between compassion and prudence, between idealism and skepticism, between inventing the future and learning from history? Andrew Sullivan has grasped part of this.

I don't actually disagree with this general analysis. Oakeshott's genius was in understanding that society requires both impulses to function correctly: what he called "civil association" (involving individualism, skepticism and prudence) and "enterprise association" (suggesting collectivism, compassion and idealism). But Oakeshott's sympathies in the middle of the twentieth century - after the horrors of fascism, the threat of communism, and the suffocation of big government liberalism - was with civil association. My own sympathies right now are the same - but, for me, the great threat to civil association is collectivist fundamentalism, both at home and abroad. Even worse, at home, this collectivist fundamentalism is calling itself conservative. Hence my distress.

The book is simply an attempt to remedy that by reminding conservatives of something some of them have forgotten: that conservatives have historically been much more leery of enterprise association than civil association. And in this administration, we have one of the most controlling, certain and dangerous manifestations of that tendency since Nixon.

And I might add that this balancing act as a whole - sometimes favoring reformed liberalism, sometimes favoring chastened conservatism - might itself be called conservative in a philosophical sense because it rests on a prudential judgment as to what is right at any particular moment in a particular time and place. I.e. it is not a fixed ideology. It is about prudence or practical judgment. Which is, at root, a conservative insight.