Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

American Conservatism?

Joseph’s post below raises some interesting questions about the "traditionalist" stool in America’s conservative coalition. In particular, it is interesting to note how he goes back and forth between "virtue conservatism" and "traditionalists."

There’s an interesting tension there. Any given tradition may or may not be supportive of virtue. Men being creatures of habit, prudent statesmen must respect tradition. But seventy-five years after FDR’s election, the American tradition ain’t what it used to be.

In short, are our "traditionalists" truly traditionalists? Or might there be a better label for them.

To push this line of thought a bit further, or perhaps in a slightly different direction, might there be a difference, perhaps only of focus, between the conservatism of Edmund Burke, and that of my namesake--John Adams.

Burke defended English tradition, and as such opened the door to historicism. Adams’ situation and his approach were somewhat different. Viewing the French Revolution (an event that he predicted, as early as 1789 would cause substantial bloodshed), Adams suggested that the error was not, strictly speaking, disrespect for tradition, but rather disregard for the enduring truths about the human condition (among which was that men are creatures of habit, and thus it is very hard to change a nation). But perhaps that’s simply an artifact of Adams living in a county that made revolution in 1776 on the basis of natural right. The appeal was not so much to tradition, as it was to higher law.

Discussions - 8 Comments


Thanks for raising the question. I wasn't as precise as I sould have been in characterizing that leg of the stool. You're right that it isn't a undefined or ill-defined "traditionalism." But "social conservatism" (yet another term, I know) does seem to emphasize virtue (and a political and social order supporting and embodying it) a little more than liberty simply. And it's hard to hold such a view without holding to something like natural law (in its--dare I say it--"traditional," not liberal, form), or to an even more explicitly theistic equivalent (either "common grace" or "Law").

I forgot to add a word of welcome and thanks for joining our happy crew.

Any given tradition may or may not be supportive of virtue.

By definition they are all supportive of virtue. They may differ as to what is virtuous of course. "Natural law" is simply one (rather poorly defined) effort at describing virtue.

Ditto on the "welcome aboard!"

If there are any Francis Canavan students who read the post, I suspect they'll weigh in on whether Burke is adequately characterized as "defend[ing] English tradition, and hence open[ing] the door to historicism."

"But seventy-five years after FDR’s election, the American tradition ain’t what it used to be."

Amen to that. Traditionalists in America should at this point be reactionaries.

Don't you mean radicals? Liberals are reactionaries.

Well both. By reactionary I mean someone who wants to "turn back the clock." Someone who almost reflexively denounces innovation and novelty. (Not necessarily technical innovation.)

Thanks for the comments, and for the welcome.

All fair points.

Leave a Comment

* denotes a required field

No TrackBacks
TrackBack URL:

Warning: include(/srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/sd/nlt-blog/_includes/promo-main.php): failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/2008/03/american-conservatism.php on line 610

Warning: include(): Failed opening '/srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/sd/nlt-blog/_includes/promo-main.php' for inclusion (include_path='.:/opt/sp/php7.2/lib/php') in /srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/2008/03/american-conservatism.php on line 610