Conservatism’s Essential Element Is Experience
November 18, 2015 7 Comments
This is really well thought through, and it highlights something that is important. Conservatism, especially the American kind, is based on doing things that work. It is a supremely practical matter, informed by history, which is perhaps why the progressives do their best to pervert and suppress history itself.
I’m going to extract the main points, but their justification and the reasoning is in the linked article
Ultimately, if one is to understand conservatism, one must begin with its essential element: not the mind, the heart, nor the soul, but experience.
Yet, also unlike so many of its competitors in the world of political ideas, American conservatism remains a philosophy, not an ideology—a way of looking at the world and making decisions in it, rather than a rigid set of prescriptive commands. While American conservatism draws from a variety of sources, it is ultimately about drawing on the wisdom of the human experience of the largest possible number of people over the longest possible period of time.
In many ways, that informs not only our politics, but how we do our jobs, our lifestyle, 9our religious beliefs (if any), everything we believe and do, in fact.
Some argue that the core of conservatism is the intellect, the use of reason. These tend, by and large, to be the economic conservatives, doing constant battle with the Left’s efforts to repeal the laws of economic reality in the name of “equality” or “fairness.” Or the legal conservatives, struggling to hold the line for the consistent application of the rule of law in the face of appeals to “progress,” “empathy,” or a “living Constitution.” (The economic-analysis-of-law movement sits neatly at the intersection of both). Or, at times, the national security hawks, arguing for more cold-eyed realism and fewer appeals to the self-abnegating moral vanities of the moment.
Reason is critically important, but reason alone will indeed lead one far astray, as can be seen from many examples in the world around us.
The failings of intellectuals give rise to the opposite argument: that the weakness of liberal-progressivism, which conservatives must remedy, is precisely that it is a sterile intellectual creed, reducing man to his wants and his biological imperatives and neglecting what really animates the human animal: pride, anger, fear, and love of family and country and all that is dear and familiar.
[…] Students of patriotism know that men will fight for their homes in ways that they would never fight for international abstractions. Students of culture will tell you that all the studies and programs in the world are no substitute for what a man will do for his family if government stops trying to substitute itself for his role. Critics of abortion will tell you that the cold utilitarianism of the “pro-choice” movement and its clinical approach to the most powerful emotional force known to humanity—a mother’s love for her child—leaves women who make that fatal choice with an emotional wound they may never entirely salve. Critics of big government argue that central planning and the rule of experts is doomed to grief because it passes the point where a man is willing to be nagged.
You know all this instinctively, you will fight much harder to defend your family than for much of anything else, but most of us also know that this can lead us even farther astray than overreliance on reason.
A further school of thought is that the core dividing line between conservatives and liberals is faith. Mind and heart alike may be powerful tools, but they can only be properly guided by an informed conscience, which is a gift from God.
For me, this is simply a given, although some others see it differently
Reason, emotion, and faith are all important. But the crucial and distinctive element of conservatism is experience. There’s a reason why people in general tend to grow more conservative as they age: partly because they have more responsibilities and pay more taxes, yes, but also because they have seen more of life. That process is only a microcosm of the broader conservative belief in tradition: not tradition as nostalgia or fear of the unknown, but rather tradition as the proving ground of human experience, the ultimate laboratory of humanity. Experience, as the saying goes, is the school of mankind, and he will learn at no other.
Translating Experience Into Policy
The conservative preference for reliance on life experience manifests itself, procedurally, in four major ways: a preference for democracy and the rule of written law over rule by judges and other “experts”; a preference for free markets over centralized planning; a preference for federalism and deliberative democracy over one-size-fits-all centralized government, direct democracy and pure majoritarianism; and respect for tradition in all things.
In many ways, it comes down to, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”
When coupled with the separation of powers, democratic governments are also, whatever their periodic failings in this regard, less likely to make dramatic changes generally and specifically less apt to toss away long-recognized rights of the citizen and long-established forms of common sense. As George Orwell wrote in explaining the deficiency of government by so-called experts:
The immediate cause of the German defeat was the unheard-of folly of attacking the U.S.S.R. while Britain was still undefeated and America was manifestly getting ready to fight. Mistakes of this magnitude can only be made, or at any rate they are most likely to be made, in countries where public opinion has no power. So long as the common man can get a hearing, such elementary rules as not fighting all your enemies simultaneously are less likely to be violated.
[…] Thus conservatives prefer the opposite dictum, as famously explained by G.K. Chesterton:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’ […]
At the end of the day, what makes conservatism both distinct and viable is not the castles it builds in the air, but the roots that hold it deep in the ground. The essential element of conservatism is that by learning from experience and tradition, it reflects the world as it really is.