Quote For The Day II

"Conservative skepticism has its place; it can be a valuable corrective when government goes flabby and corrupt or engages in wild neo-colonialist fantasies abroad. Any new legislation--or any new war--needs to be carefully vetted by those who would question its assumptions or who can put it in a larger context. Those who believe that government can act more ably than free individuals and markets in all--or even in Oakeshottcover most--circumstances are not patriots, but fools, and the same is true of those who only believe in the supremacy of the market," - Joe Klein, Swampland.

For me, conservatism is defined by skepticism of government, of rationalism, and of change - but it is not an ideology opposed to all government and reason and change. One of my mentor Michael Oakeshott's great insights was that all politics can be seen in the West in modern times as a battle between the politics of faith and the politics of skepticism. He was a dogged defender of skepticism in an era when hubristic liberal rationalism was at its height. But even then, he recognized the necessity and recurrence of the politics of faith in the West as well. For him, a true conservative sought balance in accordance with the times. Occasionally, liberalism was needed - not for too long, but sometimes as an agent of change, or as a respite from corruption and degeneracy elsewhere. Occasionally, a true conservative can endorse even radical change - as Burke supported American independence, as Disraeli expanded the franchise, as Reagan slashed taxes and sought to abolish nuclear weapons. And this pragmatism between skepticism and faith - this attempt to keep both in precarious balance for the sake of social and political coherence - is the true conservative position.

I don't expect the avatars of the American conservative "movement" to embrace this definition of the c-word. Many are principled ideologues or religious enthusiasts who hold that their ideology and theology is always the answer to every practical question. But the pursuit of the intimations of our time is the Oakeshottian calling. I do not believe that today, the kind of conservative I have in mind would want to reward the Republican party for its recent recklessness, utopianism and bile.