The Mistakes We're Prone to Make

by Conor Friedersdorf

Conservative wisdom is best demonstrated by instances when humans trying to remake the world back measures that do more harm than good. The rise of communism is perhaps the pre-eminent example.

But what about significant changes that do more good than harm? The right would do well to think more carefully about how to identify these instances, especially given the conservative predisposition to misjudge and oppose them. (e.g. the Civil Rights Movement.)

One striking thing about America's conservative coalition, with its affinity for the Founding era and its ties to Christianity, is that its members believe quite deeply in movements that radically remade the world, albeit in the distant past. Has a historical figure as radical as Jesus Christ ever existed? Did a political revolution ever remake the world as thoroughly as America's did? Even if these events are surpassed by one or two others, the point stands: Jesus Christ and the Founders shared a willingness to upend received wisdom by appealing to faith and reason respectively.

Edmund Burke is rightly read by conservatives today partly because he had the wisdom to support the American Revolution, and to harbor grave doubts about subsequent events in France. Is conservatism today capable of analogous feats of discernment? I haven't any particular failure in mind as I write this, merely a general conservative failure to grapple with what seems to me the most obvious way conservative thinkers might be led by ideology to the wrong conclusion.

Nor have I seen the left grapple with its own predisposition for erring in the opposite direction. Perhaps I am merely ignorant of some large body of political theory. In any case, it hasn't filtered out to the masses in the way that other liberal insights have.

Does anyone have thoughts on how either side might avoid errors in judgment in general, rather than in any particular case? Any recommended reading?