Non-Movement Conservatism

One thought that the right should consider more deeply: is the whole idea of a "conservative movement" an oxymoron? Austin Bramwell, whose piece I linked to before, thinks movements are overrated. I guess I'm relieved when I read someone else who actually seems to have understood a little about Oakeshott:

Michael Oakeshott...characterized conservatism as a mere dispositiona theory that negates the very possibility of a conservative “movement.” But Oakeshott wrote precisely in reaction to the more ideological understandings of conservatism like those the movement was beginning to develop in America. The conservative movement continues to pay lip service to Oakeshott, but his theory of conservatism, if accepted, would fatally undermine the rationale for having a movement in the first place. The practical, “cash value” of every other theory of conservatism is that the movement should pursue this or that set of goals and not others.

In short, conservatism is not a philosophy or approach to political affairs that inspires the set of institutions known as the conservative movement. Rather, the conservative movement is a set of institutions that inspires the ideology known as conservatism. In the absence of a movement, the felt need to develop a coherent understanding of conservatism would evaporate.

Of course, the movement is not going anywhere and debates as to the meaning of conservatism will continue. Suppose, however, one agrees with this or that position closely associated with the movement. Does it follow that one should engage in movement-building activities? No. Non-movement conservatives have arguably done more to advance conservative ideas and without the burden of fitting them into an ideological system or wondering how they may affect their standing within an ideological movement.

A non-movement conservative by definition has no meaningful affiliation with movement conservative institutions. He may not even care whether others call him a “conservative.” (Indeed, movement conservatives may be quick to denounce him.) But that needn’t limit his influence. On the contrary, consider the impact of these notable non-movement conservatives going back to the era of the movement’s founding.