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Hogarth judge

February 2018



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Hogarth judge

Words of good cheer for (real) conservatives

In your opinion, which Presidential campaign more fully embodied the virtues of temperance, prudence, and — for want of a better word — good taste?

These are the things conservatism is supposed to be about. There are important aspects of conservatism that have been forgotten by U.S. conservatives.

Human society is an organic entity. Attempts to prune and force it into a particular shape are likely to do harm. In Russell Kirk's words, we must respect the "proliferating variety and mystery of human existence". Attempting to reorder human society according to the precepts of the Book of Leviticus is not a conservative aim.
I take toleration to be a part of religion. I do not know which I would sacrifice; I would keep them both: it is not necessary that I should sacrifice either.

   - Edmund Burke
People who seek out education ought to be paid the natural deference owed to their intelligence. The existence of an "elite" is a necessary, inevitable, and in fact welcome part of society. Their opinions ought to be respected according to the natural honours due to their station and achievement, rather than scorned on the grounds that they have sought to elevate themselves above a mythical "common man" who is the salt of the earth and the sole source of all simple and honest virtues.
We fear God, we look up with awe to kings; with affection to parliaments; with duty to magistrates; with reverence to priests; and with respect to nobility. Why? Because when such ideas are brought before our minds, it is natural to be so affected.

   - Edmund Burke
Civilized society requires orders and classes.

   - Russell Kirk
So evolution is fact: get used to it. I too question the global warming brouhaha: but I do not attribute a sinister motive to the climatologists who have concluded that it is occurring, or that human activities are the cause. I don't even doubt any of that — I only doubt whether any attempts to affect its course at this stage will be too little, too late, and fail to justify the hardships they will bring. We would do better by preparing for the changes it will bring, since we are unlikely to avoid them.

John McCain's concession speech was, unfortunately, the high point of his campaign in my opinion. His words were full of grace, dignity, and genuine love of country. It is unfortunate that, like the consuls of ancient Rome, we could not simultaneously elevate both John McCain, a true hero whose great sacrifices for the country ought to merit high regard, and Barack Obama, a natural aristocrat who manifested thoughtfulness and eloquence from the beginning to the end of his long campaign.

Our institutions require instead that one or the other must be chosen. And unfortunately, John McCain fell among evil companions. The shrill nonsense he and his running mate were induced to spout (Obama is friends with a hippie! A radical hippie! From the 1960s!!!) did not help his credibility. At the time when the country faced a moment of economic crisis, harping on these themes seemed like attempts to distract. And frankly, people capable of being distracted by such things should not be encouraged to take an active role in government.

It is unlikely that he could have prevailed even had he received better counsel from his party. The Republican name is too tarnished at this point. The Republican party has strayed too far from its founding principles of fiscal prudence and disengagement from foreign conflicts to repair its reputation in this particular electoral cycle. The process of rebuilding that reputation may take decades, but American political memory is relatively short term, for better or for worse.

Real conservatives are not rustic yahoos carrying on about guns and Jesus. You don't want the guy who can't stop speaking the unknown tongue ringing your doorbell. And you sure don't want the fellow who can't shut up about his God-given constitutional right to handguns as the guy sitting next to you on the subway. (Real America is where the subways go. When you're outside the service area of mass transit trains, you're in the God-forsaken wilderness. In that wilderness, you'd better have a gun. There are bears. And tigers. And giant man-eating sloths.)

So Barack Obama's election is, if not a triumph of conservative principles, at least not a disaster for them either. Be of good cheer.