Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Sense, Sensibility, and the Art of Conservative Realism

In thinking about criticism that might be rendered of the current social and cultural order, we are, I think, remiss if we immediately translate its finer points into political consequences. Hanson's post and my linking to it was never an exercise in "reclaiming conservative pessimism" or engaging in "conservative whining." Rather, it was an attempt to highlight one of the more unintended consequences of the enormous economic comfort and opportunities that have happened in our country over the last 30 years. This is the complacency of comfort and the endless choices it fleetingly promised so many. American life, characterized from the beginning, as the search for God and mammon, both being held in a delicate balance, seems to have forgotten the former in crucial ways. We wanted endless prosperity. Instead, we might be in a period of reversal of fortune. Of course, American conservatism, with significant exceptions, has for understandable reasons defined itself in terms of offering more choices, opportunites, and comforts if its policies are given an opportunity. This is not to deny the authenticity of the claims, claims that I agree with wholeheartedly. But it must not deny larger consequences that issue from life lived on these terms without contact with firm moral realism and the awareness of how fragile our situation is.

Hanson's thoughts on the dread 20somethings, or on the bobos of Palo Alto, are intimately related because both groups are quite divorced from the moral, philosophical, dare I say religious, and labored grounding of a great republic. I think it obvious that Hanson comes not from a place of "whining" but the cool reasoning and observation that flowers from a life spent in the classics. From his perspective, we are woefully lacking in the firm stuff of civilization, and thus we continue to fretter away our advantages. Cut off from the generational reserves of virtue and mercy, we seem peculiarly unable to insist on the imperatives of a free society. Ms. Ponzi is, of course, exempted from this claim.

We are in the condition of a great freedom but without the moral authority and guidance necessary to its fruitful consequences. To note these glaring instances that exist most prominently in university towns, or in the multiplying instances of economic inpatient care amongst recent graduates, is of imminent value. This does not lead to the "ought" of pessimism and retreat from the public square, but does help the public intellectual understand the evolving terms of engagement. In many ways, the rush to condemn cultural observation because it does not comport with needed political narratives is terribly unwise. Shortened intellectual time horizons are unbecoming in an intellectual movement whose task is to make real in our time the enduring truths of our constitutional order. We must have all the information and be fully aware of the moment. Otherwise, we are doomed, doomed!  

Categories > Conservatism

Discussions - 2 Comments

My criticism with Hanson's narrative is, precisely, that it is a narrative--and a detached one, at that. As Hanson is one who has studied to good effect and much success the wisdom offered in the classics, it is not unreasonable to suggest that he ought to be uniquely situated to consider the greater and vaster wisdom offered by dialogues . . . This is not abstract philosophy practiced in an ivory tower with no consequence attached to it but the greater wisdom and intellectual pleasure of the thinker. It is political philosophy and a political philosophy that, moreover, is practiced in public. All who would engage in it would do well to remember that. I do not call for that "glib and oily art, To speak and purpose not" . . . or to say what the people want to hear so as to earn their meaningless and useless affection.

The times and the citizens of today are no better an no worse than they have been at any other time in the history of our nation. The issues that confront us, though different in particulars, are not materially different from the issues that confronted any other generation. Again, it is well to understand the particulars and to consider the ways in which those particulars make making the case for virtue and liberty more difficult than it might be in a vacuum. But it is foolish to speak as if one were in such a vacuum. Prudence in deed and prudence in word is what I counsel. Hanson--though clever--should read his words with younger eyes if he wishes to be counted wise.

VDH's observations are I think solid. While I am not trying to think "conservative" thoughts, I think these observations explain the possibility of liberaltarianism which others seem quick to dismiss, largely because they don't comport with needed political narratives, or perhaps even worse with a sort of rigid syllogistic understanding.

The observations of VDH's paint a different and more complex version of what happens fictionally in Atlas Shrugged. Lacking in Rand howhever is any productive muslim or christian. Assuming for the sake of arguement that there are marginally objectivist, highly productive and innovative people, there are nevertheless a large number of quasi-libertarian people who comport with the general ad hominem on Rand's readership. Which ultimately means that there is a lot of sheep clothing. In fact the amount of sheep clothing might have reached a tipping point. But why is there so much sheep clothing? Admittedly it is a fine fabric.

But in all seriousness many who adhere to the bible have had some rather drastic life experiences. That is sometimes you really have to be lost before you are found. I suppose that what you find largely depends on what or why you think you lost. (Thus it is not suprising that a great deal of politics is answering and persuading why x happened or y failed to occur) (That is I like your sentence on condemning cultural observation because it does not comport with needed political narratives...but how unwise is it, when it is also tied up with the nexus of persuation? very unwise, therefore one should be a skeptic?...the whole of your essay is tied up in this sentence, but the joke at the end about being doomed is also good, and thus true:)

While Hanson and Marshall are well read in the classics it seems that they have forgotten the difference between words and things, or to put it into a question: Why should we listen? This is maybe the most important question asked of Socrates. But can you persuade us, if we refuse to listen to you?

That is that the whole art of persuation starts with the observation that folks would rather persuade than be persuaded. Those who are trully lost are the Kobe's and Lebrons' when you are persuading or coaching in basketball, and certainly being an NBA coach must be difficult.

In this sense the Bobo's are lost, but 20 somethings are in general not so well off that they are lost...albeit certainly with any understanding of standing and actual harm in the authentic sense a large government can contradict libertarian intellectualism without being a direct detriment to a great majority of these. That is a great majority of 20 somethings are liberaltarians.

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