The Cato Debate

A reader writes:

I just watched your opening speech without taking notes - but in case you'd think it a useful measure of how well you hit your targets, this is how I'd sum it up in a few words:

1) Doubt is the essence of conservatism because, man being born to err, any certainty whatsoever has a chance of being error, and error enshrined in power is dangerous; therefore what conservatism "conserves" is a bulwark against, an escape route from, and an impediment in the path of, all certainty.

2) The distinctive embodiment of conservative doubt in the American constitution consists chiefly in its dispersal and balancing of power, and not in any positive assertion of a particular good, truth or virtue.  The assumption is that any one branch, state, party, or office-holder is likely at one time or another either to fall into an erroneous certainty, or to betray such ideas of good and virtue as might be shared, and that therefore the essential function of constitutional government is to allow any of its constituent parts to be frustrated, to let none be sure of prevailing, and yet to guarantee to each the possibility of fighting again another day after a lost skirmish.

3)  The problem of fundamentalism is that it ascribes the moral powers and rights of absolute truth to certainties that cannot rightly be so regarded, that are instead likely (as all certainties are) to include error, and that grow in their potential for harm in proportion to the degree that they are not examined by a skeptical, doubting conscience.  From this contradiction between the valorization of certainty and the valorization of doubt springs an inherent enmity between fundamentalism and conservatism.

Did I get that right?

Too right. You should write a book. But if you want to read one that makes this case as carefully as I could, you know where to find it. The official launch date is next Tuesday, but you can pre-order on Amazon now.