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The Twilight of Conservatism?

It’s been almost 60 years since Michael Oakeshott published his seminal essay “On Being Conservative,” just three years after Russell Kirk’s equally seminal book The Conservative Mind first appeared. In the essay, Oakeshott famously laid out his theory that conservatism is “not a creed or a doctrine, but a disposition.”

The conservative disposition, Oakeshott argued, is characterized by two things. Firstly, it is a joyful affirmation of things as they are, of the existing order. The conservative mind has “a propensity to use and to enjoy what is available rather than to wish for or to look for something else; to delight in what is present rather than what was or what may be.” What is esteemed by the conservative is “the present; and it is esteemed not on account of its connections with a remote antiquity, nor because it is recognized to be more admirable than any possible alternative, but on account of its familiarity.” Oakeshott writes:

To be conservative … is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss. Familiar relationships and loyalties will be preferred to the allure of more profitable attachments; to acquire and to enlarge will be less important than to keep, to cultivate and to enjoy.

Roger Scruton adds greater specificity to the idea that the conservative disposition is rooted in the enjoyment of existing things, arguing in his work The Meaning of Conservatism that such a disposition is grounded in a primal attitude of piety toward the social order:

We are apt to think of children as having a responsibility towards their parents, a responsibility that in no way reflects any merely contractual right, but which is simply due to the parents as a recognition of the filial tie. This sense of obligation is not founded in justicewhich is the sphere of free actions between beings who create their moral tiesbut rather in respect, honour, or (as the Romans called it) piety. To neglect my parents in old age is not an act of injustice but an act of impiety. Impiety is the refusal to recognize as legitimate a demand that does not arise from consent or choice.

The conservative disposition originates in the subconscious recognition that the political bond is essentially an outgrowth of the familial bond. It is a “transcendent” bond arising “in the manner of the family tie” and therefore “outside the sphere of individual choice.” It is not a “social contract” entered into by a previously unconnected mass of free and autonomous individuals. It is a “transcendent” bond involving a sense of allegiance “transferred by the citizen from hearth and home to place, people and country.” The ancient Romans in fact had no distinct word for what we now call “patriotism” or love of country and society. The concept of pietas described a disposition that the virtuous had toward their parents, their country, and their gods. It included not merely the intellectual apprehension of duties toward these entities, but an affective sensibility in their regard. Pietas in its fullest sense was a well-ordered passion.

Secondly, Oakeshott argues, conservatism is “averse from change, which appears always, in the first place, as deprivation.” The conservative understands that change is inevitableindeed change can be necessary and desirable precisely in order to conserve the things the conservative cares aboutbut even desirable change is appropriately confronted with a certain disposition of mourning. The conservative is aware that even positive change “generates not only the ‘improvement’ sought, but a new and complex situation of which this is only one of the components.” The sum total of the change “is always more extensive than the change designed; and the whole of what is entailed can neither be foreseen nor circumscribed.” Even positive change involves both loss and gain, and the loss of what is loved, even when it is suffered willingly for the sake of a greater gain, always involves mourning.

If Oakeshott is right, then the peculiar enemies of conservatism are not, as often alleged, socialism or liberalism per se. Many socialists, particularly during the early stages of modern socialist theory in the 19th century, were driven by an overriding concern to conserve traditional ways of life threatened by the turmoil of the industrial revolution, with its attendant social chaos and vast displacement of rural populations. Some theorists and statesmen also advanced socialist ideas precisely because they believed that permitting the laborer to take an equitable share of the capital he helped to create was, in the long-term, the only humane way to stave off the threat of a workers’ revolution that would overthrow the entire political order. Moreover, insofar as socialism is simplyas the Oxford Dictionary defines it“the political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole,” then obviously it is wholly compatible with the conservative disposition wherever particular means of production are already communally owned and operated, or where the change involved in a movement toward communal ownership helps to stave off less desirable changes to the political order.

Similarly, although liberalism is incompatible with conservatism if by liberalism is meant the philosophical theory that the political bond originates in a “social contract” rather than in pietasand that humans are not fundamentally political animals but only contract to live in society for their individual benefitcertain forms of political liberalism are nevertheless compatible with the conservative disposition. The conservative’s enjoyment of existing things extends to his enjoyment of his traditional liberties, which will be all the more jealously guarded precisely to the extent that political liberty is recognized to be what it is: the end result of a long historical process involving much blood, sweat and tears, and not a “natural” state to which humankind reverts whenever the political garden is left untended.

The real foes of conservatism are not socialism and liberalism, but the reactionary and innovating mentalities. Neither the reactionary nor the innovator share the joie de vivre of the conservative mindits natural inclination to rejoice in and savor what is. They are restless and tormented if things are not in a state of perpetual flux, if “progress” is not being made either backward toward an imagined age of innocence, or forward toward an imagined age of future liberation. If nothing is changing, then nothing is happening. Reactionaries and innovators eschew what Oakeshott calls the conservative mind’s “cool and critical” attitude toward change, advocating instead a radical overhaul of society and its refashioning in the image of a golden age which is either imagined to have existed in the past or lusted after as a possible future.

Several indications, however, point to the fact that the “conservative” as described by Oakeshott, Kirk, Scruton, and others is in danger of becoming an extinct species, and that we are in fact living in the twilight age of conservatism.

Firstly, although the conservative political movement is alive and well, it is at best tenuously linked with what I have described here as conservatism, and more often is in outright opposition to it. Today all politics, including what passes for conservative politics, is almost completely given over to the thirst for innovation, and the conservative movement is increasingly characterized by a quaint mix of reactionary and innovating opinions and sentiments. Of particular note here is the bewitching of the modern conservative movement by the ideology of the market. For, in the final analysis, what is this ideology if not a vast scheme to upend existing institutions and completely remake society in the image of a free-market Brutopia in which the enjoyment of existing things will be ruthlessly suppressed in favor of devotion to the laws of never-ending “economic growth?” As Oakeshott points out, the activities and enterprises to which the genuinely conservative temperament finds itself most readily disposed are “activities where what is sought is present enjoyment and not profit, a reward, a prize or a result in addition to the experience itself.”

Secondly, there is the fact that many of the things that conservatives have traditionally been disposed to savor and rejoice inthe family, the nation state, the arts, religious institutions, local communities and their lovable idiosyncrasiesare now themselves in a process of disintegration. The conservative mind is not, as some contemporary moral psychologists have argued, simply a physiological state that occurs haphazardly as a natural variation in the brains of some members of the human species. It is a specific cultural product. As the conservative journalist Peter Hitchens has pointed out, genuinely “conservative politics and sentiments exist only in those unusual countries where contentment isor rather wasa natural state of being.” Where existing things are not such as to be worth rejoicing in, there will simply be no conservatives rejoicing in them. Conservative pietas exists only where there is a social order worthy of invoking the sentiment of piety. Elsewhere, there may be reactionaries, or free market ideologues, or military juntas, or some kind of “right-wing” politics. But there will not be conservatism.

If genuine conservatism is to survive, then, it cannot succumb to the modern politics of misery that characterizes almost all political discourse today, including on the Righta discourse that proceeds by presenting a list of bitter complaints about what is wrong with the world and then offering in response to its own grievances either a selfish assertion of “my rights,” or else a vision of a social utopia that is all the more depressing because everyone knows it is pure fantasy. This does not mean that we cannot be keenly aware of what is wrong with the world. But conservatism must rediscover a greater sense of what it is for and a sense of enjoyment for such things. It must recover the conviction articulated by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (who himself wrote during an age of flux and decline) that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God” and that “though the last lights off the black West went,” there still “lives the dearest freshness deep down things”little “things” that are very much worth conserving amid the ruins. Misery may be infectious, but joy is more so.


Readers are invited to discuss essays in argumentative and fraternal charity, and are asked to help build up the community of thought and pursuit of truth that Ethika Politika strives to accomplish, which includes correction when necessary. The editors reserve the right to remove comments that do not meet these criteria and/or do not pertain to the subject of the essay.

  • Dennis Larkin

    Christopher Dawson wrote an essay pertinent to this one, something like Catholicism and The Bourgeois Mind. He contrasts the bourgeois with the saint, who possesses the erotic mind, the soul who doesn’t calculate the cost, whose theme is “All for love, and the world well lost.” Dawson and Oakeshott are right; Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are wrong.

  • Elias Crim

    An excellent reminder of what we have allowed to slip away–and now need to restore to the public conversation. Thanks, Mr. Taylor.

  • Jason Suggs

    “For, in the final analysis, what is this ideology if not a vast scheme to upend existing institutions and completely remake society in the image of a free-market Brutopia in which the enjoyment of existing things will be ruthlessly suppressed in favor of devotion to the laws of never-ending “economic growth?”

    The problem with this article is not that it is poor analysis, but that the author is offering an analysis of distorted cartoon version of conservativism. The above quote is so out of left field, literally, that it renders the article practically useless. Worse, it is a kind of hack piece disguised in a cloak of high mindedness.

  • Thomas Storck

    As someone who for a long time has advocated that Catholics should be neither conservatives nor liberals, I must admit I’m puzzled by both the term and the concept. Certainly there is nothing wrong – indeed often something good – about being content with what one has, “to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the
    untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the
    unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the
    superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to
    utopian bliss,” etc. Such a tendency is one of the preservatives of marriages, friendships, neighborhoods, etc.

    So as a personal temperament I see much good in this. But it has nothing to do with a political program, it can hardly be a “movement” or anything more concrete than a private disposition that surely has a proper place in any well-ordered soul, along with many other proper dispositions. I don’t even see how one can self identify as a conservative, using this definition of it, any more than one would self identify as one of the many other things traits, dispositions and virtues that ought to characterize us.

    And when one begins to think on a large scale, it won’t do. The apostles didn’t think that, yes, indeed, things as they were were just fine, and so we’ll just stay in Jerusalem and enjoy life. Indeed, since things are always in flux, both personally and socially, to be a conservative as I understand you to be using the term means what? To embrace the new on the grounds that “whatever is, is right”? Or to resist the new? All the new? Or only some of it? If only some of it, then obviously there is a principle at work beyond simply preserving what is.

    If you are primarily seeking to distinguish yourself from the contemporary American liberal political movement that for some odd reason likes to call itself “conservative,” then I understand what you are up to. Any sensible person wants to distance himself from that. But still, I can hardly understand why just because, say, I have a conservative taste in clothes or whatever, I should pick that term and identify myself by it. Perhaps you can explain to me why so many are attracted by the word and seek to define themselves as the “true” or “real” conservatives.

    • Aaron Taylor

      The claim that the conservative temperament is a good thing which helps to preserve “marriages, friendships, neighborhoods,” but cannot possibly have anything to do with a “political program” is — to use Jeremy Bentham’s phrase — “nonsense on stilts.” Certainly there is no single political program that qualifies timelessly as *the* conservative program, but to accept your claim, we’d have to believe that there can never possibly be anything worth conserving at any level of society that rises above the neighborhood, and that, therefore, the political temperament to, say, defend a centuries-old national constitution rooted in Christian principles is just as good as the temperament that inclines to destroying it, because, apparently, the temperament to conserve has nothing to do with political programs. We’d have to say that, say, the desire of European conservatives in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries to preserve the *political* privileges of the Church was just as good as the desire of those who sought to rend asunder the relationship between Church and State, because conservatism is just a “personal temperament” that has no political application.

      Of course, where things aren’t worth conserving, we shouldn’t conserve them. And that was, in fact, part of the point I was making — that the cultural tendency to produce people of conservative temperament is a barometer of the health of the social order. My argument is that where things are less worth conserving, conservativism declines, and that conservatism is in decline today precisely because many things are not worth conserving, so no, obviously I am not saying that “whatever is, is right.”

      And no, the Apostles of course didn’t sit around chilling out in Jerusalem. Neither were they trendy innovators obsessed with “change for change’s sake” like so many bureaucrats in both the political and ecclesiastical hierarchies these days. The problem in modern life since the 1960s hardly seems to me to be that we have too few people interested in change, too few who understand the fact that “things are always in flux.”

      • Thomas Storck

        Mr. Taylor,

        You may have thought that I was attacking you or your position, but in fact I am trying to understand it, and to understand why so many feel the need to choose that one particular disposition – conservatism – and elevate it to the name of their program, movement, or what-have-you. As I said, I don’t disagree that the instinct to be conservative is often praiseworthy and necessary, but what I don’t understand is why it should be – apparently – regarded as the key to all one’s other beliefs or attitudes or positions, so that one says, I am a conservative, i.e., chooses that to label oneself.

        You wrote, “Of course, where things aren’t worth conserving, we shouldn’t conserve
        them.” But doesn’t that imply that it’s not the conservative tendency or disposition that’s fundamental, but rather the common sense notion that if something is good we should keep it? Thus it’s not the conservatism per se that’s fundamental, but the good thing or things we desire to preserve. E.g., anyone (I suppose) who adheres to a religion that he considers to be true wants to preserve or conserve it, in himself and in others. But why? Because he thinks it’s true. If you call this a conservative attitude, I suppose that’s a defensible use of the word, but I find it odd, for in such a case it’s not conservatism that at bottom accounts for this attitude, but rather thinking that the religion is true.

        • Aaron Taylor

          I grant that you are not attacking my position, I just find your line of questioning utterly bizarre. Where do I say that the conservative tendency or disposition is a “fundamental” reality that underlies everything else? Where do I say that its “the key to all one’s other beliefs or attitudes or positions”?

          Its as if you wrote one of your articles about distributism and then I asked you to explain why on earth you thought distributism provided an explanation for the origin of the universe and the meaning of life.

          • Thomas Storck

            OK, let me try a different way to make my point. Suppose I’m a monarchist and want to preserve the monarchy where I live. Now, is it better to call myself a monarchist or a conservative? In other words, if I want to conserve something because it’s a good thing, isn’t it better to identify myself by the good thing I want to preserve than by a term which (it seems to me) is unclear. Why do I say it’s unclear? It doesn’t really stand for anything in particular. Anyone who wants to conserve the status quo can claim to be a conservative. Thus, if you remember, at the breakup of the Soviet Union those Russians who wanted to keep the old communist order were termed (at least by the U.S. press) conservatives. So if this usage is understandable, conservative becomes simply a temperamental disposition which has no particular content aside from a particular place and time.

            My second objection, is that anyone with a positive program necessarily wants to make changes in things. That’s why I said at the outset that the term “conservative” wouldn’t do when we started talking about the social order. Of course I accept what Aristotle said about the danger of making too many changes too fast, but that’s not the point here.

            I’m sorry if this seems like quibbling to you, but I’m as puzzled as you must be why there is such a desire to claim and define the term “conservative” As a Catholic, for example, I want to implement a particular positive program in pretty much every area of culture and society. Unless one happens to live in a functioning Catholic culture, I’d presume that a Catholic would be more interested in changing things than in preserving things as they are, that (in the words of Pius XI), he would want to “reconstruct the social order conformable to the precepts of the Gospel.”

          • Aaron Taylor

            I don’t think you are quibbling, no, I just find the line of questioning odd. Why need I choose between being a “conservative” and being a “monarchist”? They are not mutually exclusive.

            Now, you might answer that by saying, “because identifying as conservative doesn’t tell me anything about what you believe in addition to your identification as a monarchist. Its superfluous, since conservatism is just ‘a temperamental disposition which has no particular content aside from a particular place and time’.”

            There are several possible rebuttals to your objection here. The most important is simply that your assertion is false. The type of conservatism I’ve outlined here is not merely a “temperamental disposition.” I don’t think that Oakeshott’s description of conservatism as a temperament is in itself adequate, which is why I supplement him with Scruton. So, the “conservatism” I’ve outlined contains definite beliefs (propositional content, if you will) concerning the nature and origin of society, and concerning the nature of the political bond that keeps the social order together. Those beliefs don’t comprise a political “program” in the sense of telling you what the tax rates should be and how you should run the railways, but they do have definite political consequences in different societies.

  • paultunes .

    interesting piece with many a valid point me thinks. my problem with conservatism as i have known it through the years is that it generally has seemed to be more in the reactionary mode. i must also say having a passing familiarity with history and current events makes me wonder about such statements as ,”the conservative disposition is rooted in the enjoyment of existing things.” i know many people were in fact happy with the status quo in the Jim Crow era despite the fact it was a morally repugnant time. what existing things do you suppose the populace of the Middle East is currently enjoying? of course if you are in the elite 1% of any society you have much to be happy about and seek to preserve. as for the rest of a society maybe not so much but there’s always heaven.

  • Dylan Pahman

    Great article.

    Two thoughts:

    1) You could nuance your definition of the market a bit. Certainly upholding economic liberty to the exclusion of all others and while ignoring the importance of moral market actors to sustain it would be destructive as you have described. But is there no room for economic liberty to be included in the conservative’s “enjoyment of his traditional liberties”? For the American, at least, property rights and freedom of trade were consistent reasons cited for the American Revolution (they complained about seizure of property and foreign trade being limited to Britain alone, rather than Britain being their primary, but not exclusive, trading partner). These, too, were things defended with “much blood, sweat and tears.” An American conservativism, at least, might justly include some form of economic liberty. And given that they expected these liberties, in part, by virtue of being British citizens, one might argue the same for British conservatism as well.

    2) Could you flesh out more by what standard one ought to work for change? Others seem a bit confused as if you are championing, or think the conservative should champion, the status quo at all times. I didn’t get that from your article, but I am unclear on what constitutes a change worth working for, given the assumption that “[e]ven positive change involves both loss and gain”—how is one to know beforehand whether the gain will outweigh the loss? If one cannot know beforehand, when and on what basis is one warranted to hope?

    • Satori

      The economic climate that existed in the colonial period can’t be compared to modern America. A man living in 1780 could go to the frontier to get land, or start a farm in one of the more established areas if he had the resources. He would then be able to live an independent existence as a “yeoman farmer” with his own property and community. In the modern economy this mode of existence has essentially been destroyed by industrialization, corporate farming, and other factors. One consequence of this is that most people need to sell their labor, and they are therefore at the mercy of those with capital in a way that they were not during the colonial period. A man can’t just go to the frontier and start a farm if he wants to have a good life. There is no frontier, and even if there was he can’t compete in the marketplace due to economy of scale. Concerns like this are what lead many Catholic thinkers (eg Chesteron) to embrace philosophies like distributionism, and those policies are more “Conservative” than free market libertarianism is if you adopt the definition used in this article.

      • Dylan Pahman

        The point I made was about property rights and foreign trade and directed to the author of this article.

        But since you commented, no one, in fact, could simply “go to the frontier to get land” in colonial and post-colonial America as if that land was not already inhabited by anyone (e.g. the Native Americans). This land had to be purchased or stolen from those who were already there, either privately or through the government. Sometimes this land was purchased fairly, sometimes not and tragically so. Furthermore, the “yeoman farmer” homestead was not destroyed by industrialization but by the combined limitations of space, population, and desire. Not everyone desires to live on a homestead, and not everyone could even if they did. There is not enough land for the 8.3 million inhabitants of New York City, for example, to each have their own homestead, nor would most want such a thing. Incidentally, these 8.3 million people can eat, however, due to industrialization and the elimination of subsistence farming. Nor is it a tragedy to me that this increase in population was not prevented by famines that the pre-industrial could not endure as we can today. Also, economies of scale is not some iron law that dominates all others. Small businesses can and do get started and compete due to competitive advantage: even if their products cost more, people prefer to buy them for a wide variety of reasons (ethics of production, quality, local loyalty, and so on). The biggest hurdle they face (other than their own limited means and competencies) is over-regulation in favor of established firms—i.e. *restrictions* on economic liberty. Lastly, my whole point was that the definition of the market in this article needs nuance, not to adopt it. I don’t know what you mean by “free market libertarianism,” but I suspect it would be roughly equivalent to “upholding economic liberty to the exclusion of all others and while ignoring the importance of moral market actors to sustain it,” which is manifestly *not* what I think an American conservative could affirm.

    • Aaron Taylor

      Good questions, thank you.

      1) There are certainly Americans who are conservative, but one can ask the question whether its even possible for an “American conservatism” to exist in the way I’ve outlined it here if we mean a principled defense of the founding principles, given the contractarian underpinnings of the founding. Russell Kirk obviously thought it was possible. I’m not making an assertion that he was wrong, or indeed making any assertions. That’s not really a question I had in mind when writing. I don’t know enough about the debates at the time of the founding, and about how conservative philosophers (including Kirk) have subsequently addressed that question. I’m just pointing out that the question exists and others have raised it in the past.

      Re: economic liberties, yes, I think there are room for those. From a conservative point-of-view I think the problem is more with the idea that the overall health of the economy must be measured in terms of continuous overall “growth” rather than how effectively its allocating goods. Since “growth” is a form of change, its effectively abandoning the critical disposition toward change and prescribing perpetual change as *a priori* desirable without assessing whether specific changes are actually good or not. Sometimes, the good of the participants in an economy might be better served if it just stays at its current level of output. But the problem isn’t that markets are “free” as such.

      2) On assessing the value of change, Oakeshott outlines, in the essay I quote from, five formal criteria which I think are immensely helpful here:

      (a) “innovation entails certain loss and possible gain, therefore, the onus of proof, to show that the proposed change may be expected to be on the whole beneficial, rests with the would-be innovator.”

      (b) “the more closely an innovation resembles growth (that is, the more clearly it is intimated in and not merely imposed upon the situation) the less likely it is to result in a preponderance of loss.”

      (c) “the innovation which is a response to some specific defect, one designed to redress some specific disequilibrium, is more desirable than one which springs from a notion of a generally improved condition of human circumstances, and is far more desirable than one generated by a vision of perfection.” “Small and limited innovations” are to be preferred to “large and indefinite” ones.

      (d) The conservative “favors a slow rather than a rapid pace, and pauses to observe current consequences and make appropriate adjustments.”

      (e) The conservative “believes the occasion to be important; and, other things being equal, he considers the most favorable occasion for innovation to be when the projected change is most likely to be limited to what is intended and least likely to be corrupted by undesired and unmanageable consequences.”

      Hope that is helpful.

    • Aaron Taylor

      P.S. In addition to (1), in my other comment, I do have some specific thoughts, based on Francisco Suarez’s political philosophy, about how the organic view of social origins Scruton outlines can be reconciled/synthesized with the social contract view you see in the American founding. But they are too long to put into comments. Maybe another article another time.

  • Satori

    Interesting article. One of the things I have noticed about modern conservatism is that has abandoned the Burkean idea that some problems cannot truly be solved. A Burkean conservative is fully aware that there is no magical set of government policies that will eliminate all of our problems and create some sort of utopia. Modern “reactionary” conservatives seem to think that they could create some sort of free market utopia with limitless economic growth if they could only take control of the government. Their ideology is even more utopian than progressiveness IMHO.

  • Ralph Coelho

    right wingers, etc. are seen as those who cling to old and outmode ideas. Some for
    these outmoded ideas are seen as primacy to market forces, order in hierarchy.
    They are sought to be replaced by “human rights” and democracy.

    another context a Sister for the Catholic Church writes it is time for the
    Church to drop the conservative thinking about sin and punishment and combine the
    passion for the right brain with the logical thinking for the left brain to arrive
    at better solutions today.

    that, in this science and technology dominated age; none speaks for finding the
    truth for why man is born!

    bewitching of the modern conservative movement by the ideology of the market”
    is even today held in high regard even after the 2007 economic global meltdown. Many talk for human rights and equality but
    not of truth and justice. How many realise that if there is equality then there
    is no place for filial, fraternal, paternal, even parental relationships.

  • Truth

    I have to say when I think of “innovative conservatives” Mr. Taylor’s tedious mewling about “Can One Be Gay and Christian??” comes to the top of my mind. Better deranged radicals or fire breathing reactionaries over effete conservatives like Mr. Taylor any day of the week.

  • JamesonC


    Thanks for the interesting article. How does the conservative disposition, as you’ve articulated it, relate to say virtue or grace? If one delights in the present or the current state of goods possessed, does this mindset conflict with the demands of perfecting habits of thought/action and the quality of the soul? Or is it primarily directed to exterior or social goods (as Oakeshott’s criteria you quoted below seem to indicate)?


  • Nyte

    I guess this argument works if one ignores those other aspects of conservative thought.
    Traditional spiritual practice rooted Judeo-Christian understanding, belief and practice.

    The value of order such that human existence is moved forward still guided by the value of stability, continuity . . .
    Let’s take the current pet project of liberal, progressive and libertarian thought, the peculiar contend for same sex marriage. The choice to engage in homosexual activity breeds no nothing to the extension of human kind. Such a contend is wholly contrary to the conservative mind. That is serves as a model for societal maintenance or growth . . .
    well, one gets the picture. And the picture is one that makes hay of the shrift self serving definitions understanding by the author.

    “The conservative is concerned, first of all, with the regeneration of the spirit and character—with the perennial problem of the inner order of the soul, the restoration of the ethical understanding, and the religious sanction upon which any life worth living is founded. This is conservatism at its highest”. – Russell Kirk

    “The disposition to be conservative is, then, warm and positive in respect of enjoyment, and correspondingly cool and critical in respect of change and innovation. The man of conservative temperament believes that a known good is not lightly to be surrendered for an unknown better. He is not in love with what is dangerous and difficult; he is unadventurous; he has no impulse to sail uncharted seas; for him there is no magic in being lost, bewildered or shipwrecked. If he is forced to navigate the unknown, he sees virtue in heaving the lead every inch of the way. What others plausibly identify as timidity, he recognises in himself as rational prudence. (pp 172-173).

    Hence discussions about inviting a mind altering substance into the marketplace minus any understanding of the consequence would not be embraced by Oakshott.

  • Great article. I suggest however that the reason “the family, the nation state, the arts, religious institutions, local communities and their loveable idiosyncrasies” are disintegrating is that socialism and liberalism (i.e. progressivism) are forces designed to destroy those things. All their loveable innovations and experiments have triumphed and conservatism has been unable to offer its own reactionary and innovative response.