Counting My Blessings

Alex Massie and James Joyner say some very kind things about me and this blog. Johann's profile which prompted them is also a very generous one, largely because he did me the great favor of reading my stuff from the very beginning and trying to see it from the inside out. That's rare:

Sullivan is often accused of flip-flopping according to political expediency, but it’s revealing that almost all the later tensions in his thought are prefigured in his writings about Oakeshott from his early 20s, recently published as “Intimations Pursued”. In 1984, he wrote that Oakeshott offers “a conservatism which ends by affirming a radical liberalism”precisely the charge against Sullivan since 2004.

The reason I am such a bore on Oakeshott is because reading him and thinking deeply about him at the  end of the 1980s was a breakthrough for me. Until then I had struggled badly in trying to reconcile a deep philosophical conservatism with the modernity I had come to enjoy and that had been so kind to me. (Any Tory in love with America would feel the same cross-currents, I suspect. And any gay man unaware of the OAKESHOTToutsidecaius blessings of the contemporary West needs a lesson in history and geography.)

I can't say my reconciliation has been without complication or some rough edges, but whose hasn't? And one feels a little less self-contradictory in this regard because most of the really interesting conservative icons I revere - Hobbes, Hume, Burke, Oakeshott and Hayek come to mind - show that liberal strains are intrinsic to sophisticated conservatism. (One recalls also, of course, that the founder of English Toryism was an Irish Whig. And the greatest statesman of the last century, Churchill was both a Liberal and a Conservative - can you imagine the ridicule he'd face today on Fox News for his flip-floppery? And the greatest conservative statesmen of the nineteenth century, Disraeli and Lincoln, advanced modernity more than their more liberal peers.) But their lack of political monochrome is not, I think, a function of weakness or expediency, but of being instinctive conservatives in a civilization constructed on liberalism. And the epistemologically conservative defense of classical liberalism - the Oakeshottian riddle - is the place I ended up by a process of elimination and a few years of care-free study. Such a conservative liberalism pushes at times against an emotional impulse to correct injustice and punish cruelty, but this tension is an adult one and I see no reason to abandon it now.

Recommended Reading

And what I love about the free-form unfinishedness of blogging is its capacity to embrace these various strains, sometimes one, sometimes another, in response to a fluid world and an evolving soul. To do it alongside others, however, is the real joy of this medium - with fellow bloggers and writers and above all readers. For Oakeshott, the ideal human interaction is conversation; and I know no form better designed for it than this one. And so I am, in a way, lucky to have stumbled upon this idiom in this time and place because it suits me, and teaches me, and reproves me in ways no other can, and allows contradictions to become internal and external conversations.

Where it ends I cannot know. Which is one reason to carry on.