26 May 2010

The Three Faces of Rush... Not

“Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains.”

No, it is not Churchill, though I have seen it attributed to him. But I suppose it was because he was a liberal prior to being a conservative. It fit, as it were.

Why mention this? Because many a soul did this, and we generally think that means they changed. As I grow older I see something else: that one becomes more complex. Likewise, liberal and conservative are more complex than I once thought. This notion came to me while reading David Brook’s latest column in the NYTimes.

I agreed with most of it, as I do with most of his writing. Brooks is a conservative. So that must make me conservative, right?

Not if conservative or liberal are not simple things. As I get older I sense my liberalism getting more complex and my conservatism (yes we all have both in us). For the purposes of a blog post I will limit my thoughts to conservatism, and posit that there are three kinds of conservatism, and they are not what you might first think.

1. Ideological conservatism. This is what we hear about all the time, usually expressed as social or economic theories that apply to government and its role. Ideological conservatism is a platform of policies and principles. To be one is to espouse them and promote them.
2. Philosophical conservatism. This is the Scottish Enlightenment in Brooks column, dominated by David Hume, which was is not about policies but about a scrupulously empirical approach to human nature.
3. Temperamental Conservatism. This is a psychic and moral state, that appears as modesty and manners, in those to whom respect and virtue are standards of personal and social value.

I have always been a temperamental conservative, as my belief in things like the ‘boy scout law’ attests. Virtue and honor matter.

Over time I have become more philosophically conservative, meaning skeptical of human claims to knowledge and aware of the failures of even noble causes with good intentions.

But I am even more hostile to ideological conservatism than I ever was. The moral hubris of it offends my temperamental conservatism. The intellectual arrogance of it offends my philosophical conservatism.

In other words, ideological conservatism is not truly conservative. It is merely ideological, which is why it is more like Lenin than Burke, more like Robespierre than Voltaire. Lacking intellectual rigor and moral fiber, it is ultimately a political thug; a bully for whom power is all that counts, and getting it all that matters.

It is Joseph McCarthy all over again, and everyone knows it. But where is Edward R. Murrow?


Bill Baar said...

It would help if you would clarify just what's on your mind under the label of ideological conservative.

Conservatives in the sense of people who respect history and tradition are really anti-ideological. They support traditional marriage because it's their tradition. Marriage as a right is profoundly ideological to them. It's a right based on a ideologue's finding of justice, regardless of traditions or history.

Considering I knew a left that a few decades ago considered marriage a kind of bondage that the left know views as a right, there's a certain logic to the Conservative's disdain for Liberal malleability. The ideology fits the agenda of the moment and can changes as the ideologues sees fit.

Anyways, as for your Churchill quote, it's false, and typically quoted using Socialist instead of Liberal (which would make more sense for Churchill to say as Liberal in his context means something different).

I heard it as a young Socialist from my Dad who attributed it to Clemanceau and that seems pretty acccuarte

via google answers http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=374518

The phrase originated with Francois Guisot (1787-1874): "Not to be a republican at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head." It was revived by French Premier Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929): "Not to be a socialist at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head."

WFW said...

Hi Bill,

I duly noted that the quote is mis-attributed to Churchill at the top of the post. My source spelled Guizot with a 'z' though.

I wished to observe that some of those who most claim the term conservative are not conservative in every sense. Much of free enterprise platform is rather rosy about the rationality of markets for example. Hardly the stuff of Hume or Burke.

Both liberal and conservative are large words that I fear are being tied down to very specific notions that then force people to make either/or, black/white choices where they may be a range of choices.

I am conservative in ways, and glad of it. I am liberal in other ways, and glad of that. And I think these are not hypocritical or paradoxical either.

WFW said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill Baar said...


I am conservative in ways, and glad of it. I am liberal in other ways, and glad of that. And I think these are not hypocritical or paradoxical either.


Only dead fish swim with the stream. ~Malcolm Muggeridge

keep muddying the waters...