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?