Saturday, January 14, 2006

Generalized View of 'The Metaphysics of Conservatism'

Edward Feser has written another dandy piece of chaw on which to ruminate, published in TSC Daily. He traces the roots of conservatism back from Aristotle, Plato, to the Middle Ages, and modern times. It's somewhat of a long article, but not nearly long enough. I have included only one paragraph from the body of the article and his concluding paragraph. I recommend that it be read in its entirety-- and more than once.

"...I have already described Realist Conservatism as committed to the existence of timeless and unchanging essences from which derives a natural law that applies to all human beings in all circumstances. Reductionist Conservatism, then, might be defined as a variety of conservatism that agrees with Realist Conservatism in affirming that there is such a thing as human nature and that it is more or less fixed, but which would ground this affirmation, not in anything like an eternal realm of Forms, but rather in, say, certain contingent facts about human biology, or perhaps in the laws of economics or in a theory of cultural evolution. The Reductionist Conservative is, accordingly, more likely to look to empirical science for inspiration than to philosophy or theology. He is also bound to see grey in at least some areas where the Realist Conservative sees black and white, since facts about economics, human biology, and the like, while very stable, are not quite as fixed or implacable as the Forms. But he is less likely to see grey than is the Anti-Realist Conservative, who might be characterized as someone doubtful that any relatively fixed moral or political principles can be read off even from scientific or economic facts about the human condition. Whereas Realist and Reductionist Conservatives value tradition because there is at least a presumption that it reflects human nature, the Anti-Realist Conservative values it merely because it provides for stability and order. The closest thing we have to an objective moral order, in the view of the Anti-Realist Conservative, are whatever principles happen to be embodied in the history and practice of a particular society. Since those principles can change, though, the conservative ought, in the view of the Anti-Realist, to be willing to change with them..."

"...My own view, for what it is worth, is that Realist Conservatism is true, and that this is the main reason to support it. But establishing that thesis is something that would require a book, and not just an (already overlong) essay. So let me end by citing another, and more practical, reason someone with truly conservative instincts ought to favor the Realist brand of conservatism over its rivals -- namely, that it isn’t clear that the other versions are really versions of conservatism at all, any more than nominalism or conceptualism are versions of realism. For the Anti-Realist Conservative, as I’ve said, does not really oppose liberal measures per se, but only their overhasty and excessively disruptive implementation. Historically, the pragmatists, politicians, and others who exemplify Anti-Realist Conservatism have merely served to consolidate the gains of liberalism -- hence Newt Gingrich’s famous dismissal of Bob Dole as the “tax collector for the welfare state”; hence Prof. Hart’s desire to put a Burkean imprimatur on Roe v. Wade. And Reductionist Conservatism, to the extent that it risks collapse into Anti-Realist Conservatism, seems threatened with the same unhappy fate. Moreover, even the best writing done by Reductionist Conservatives -- and some of it is very good indeed, and important -- seems too beholden to purely social-scientific categories, and light on serious engagement with fundamental philosophical or moral issues. The farther a conservative gets from the Realist inheritance, the more he talks in terms of “costs and benefits,” “trade offs” and the like -- and the more he thereby approximates the liberal technocrat and the “sophisters, economists, and calculators” so despised by Burke. Communists, it used to be said, are liberals in a hurry. Conservatives need to be wary lest their creed degenerate into something indistinguishable from a leisurely liberalism."

1 comment:

Al said...

"Communists... are liberals in a hurry."

I haven't heard that saying. It reminds me of my own saying that Government programs are the institutionalization of impatience.

This essay sounds like something I need to read.