Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What Conservatism Isn't.

2Blowhards is shutting up shop. Which is a shame since it was one of the best culture blogs out there. I must of been one of the last to know but Michael Blowhard's real name is Ray Sawhill. I think he has a great blog and recommend that you visit it. I don't agree with all of his views but his opinions are intelligent and informed unlike 99% of the blogosphere.

Whilst browsing his blog I stumbled upon a piece by Michael Oakeshott entitled, "On Being Conservative". I had briefly skimmed upon some of Oakeshott's writings in the past but they failed to capture my imagination, but I put in the effort on this piece and sadly, it was wanting.

Oakeshott's contention is that Conservatism is a disposition, a resistance to change. Valuing things for the way things are and and as such not wanting to meddle with them. Basically Oakeshott's reiterates the view of the Progressives, that conservatives are people who unthinkingly resist change by virtue of their temperament. They are the treacle in societies progress; the dead weight inhibiting change. Timidity and anxiety their virtues.

Bullshit.

And this is all the more depressing that this opinion comes from a man who was professor of philosophy at the London School of Economics. If conservatism is "Intellectually light" its because of rubbish such as this.

Oakeshott's conservatism is by nature "value light", in that man can have a conservative disposition in all sorts of social political circumstances and by his definition called a conservative. According to Oakeshott's view, an elderly British colonel tending his roses and Russian bureaucrat in the Brezhnev Soviet union (a time when the communists were loathe to change anything) could both be considered " Conservative". Nazi's who resisted policy changes by the party could also be considered " Conservative". What matters is not what you believe in, but on how prepared you are to change. Stupid people, who take a long while grasping new Ideas could then be considered de-facto conservatives.

Who's side is he on?

Firstly and foremostly, Conservatism is not a disposition: it is a weltanschauung, a world view, a metaphysical system. Conservatism is not a resistive disposition, rather it is a metaphysical system which believes that there is a reality, truth or good which man bases his life on. Be that Shiva, Jesus, Allah, Science etc.

Conservatives of all stripes have ideas on what constitutes the good. And in the words of an Australian commercial, "When your on a good thing, stick to it". We don't resist change for the sake of it, rather change is resisted when thing are changed for the worse. And frankly over the last 100 years or so a lot of the social changes have not been for the best.

Conservative are right to resist change when it is from good to bad, but they're moronic if they resist change which is an improvement on the bad, something people disposed to reject change are liable to do. In a sick or corrupt society, it's the Conservatives which are the radicals agitating for change, wanting to change the way things are to the way things should be.

Sometimes I really despair.

17 comments:

Thursday said...

Conservatism isn't focused on the true, but on the useful. All conservatism says is that if something that has lasted for a long time, it probably has a use and ought not to be changed without extreme trepidation.

Take religion. It really makes no difference to a conservative whether Christianity or Hinduism or whatever is true, the point is that it is creates a better society for people to live in. It is useful.

(Now, people may have to believe it to be true for it to be useful, but it doesn't actually have to be true for it to be useful.)

David said...

See my post liberals and conservatives and the ensuing discussion.

The Social Pathologist said...

Thanks for both of your comments.

Firstly David:

The post seems to reiterate Oakeshott's view that conservatism is a resistance to change based on fear. The Chemical Engineer and the MBA may have been right and production and may have soared safely but as a plant manager I would want to be damn sure that the chemical engineer knew what he was talking about. I would of wanted some tests before hand, etc. I would have wanted to be confident in the judgment of my engineer before I took his word.

Indeed "Vader's" comment, quoting Chesterton is the correct conservative approach. Change is permitted only after a thorough understanding of the subject. The tradition must be understood before it can be changed. If tradition was wrong we change, but if tradition was right it stays the way it should be. Change, even rapid change is permitted provided it is directed towards "the good". Conservatism is not about the rate of change, rather it's about living in reality.

The liberal on the other hand wants to change without understanding, or more importantly, refuses to acknowledge valid rebuttal to his argument. Facts be damned, the vision is more important. That's why liberals constantly practice truth evasion. IQ and race for instances aren't even allowed to be discussed in the public sphere. Political correctness is all about suppressing inconvenient facts to maintain the Liberal facade.

Thursday.

With all due respect it's a disturbing comment.

Useful for what?

I'll try and illustrate what I mean by a few silly examples.

If for instance you honestly think that Jews are a threat to society then liquidating them would be useful for society's well being. Then a rabid Nazi could be considered conservative.

On the other hand suppose you think communism is a good thing, publishing lies which support your position and are hence "useful" whilst at the same time suppressing truths which are not useful would be the hallmarks of a conservative in a communist society.

A thing's "usefulness" is contingent to it's concordance to the teleology by which it is judged.
Wicked acts are useful to the pursuit of wicked ends. A Conservatism based on usefulness is not really conservatism but a pragmatism. Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the KGB, knew how to run an effective security apparatus. By this definition he was a conservative.

There is obviously something seriously wrong with a definition which can attribute the same moral quality to say Ronald Regan and Felix.

The Social Pathologist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Social Pathologist said...

Thanks for both of your comments.

Firstly David:

The post seems to reiterate Oakeshott's view that conservatism is a resistance to change based on fear. The Chemical Engineer and the MBA may have been right and production and may have soared safely but as a plant manager I would want to be damn sure that the chemical engineer knew what he was talking about. I would of wanted some tests before hand, etc. I would have wanted to be confident in the judgment of my engineer before I took his word.

Indeed "Vader's" comment, quoting Chesterton is the correct conservative approach. Change is permitted only after a thorough understanding of the subject. The tradition must be understood before it can be changed. If tradition was wrong we change, but if tradition was right it stays the way it should be. Change, even rapid change is permitted provided it is directed towards "the good". Conservatism is not about the rate of change, rather it's about living in reality.

The liberal on the other hand wants to change without understanding, or more importantly, refuses to acknowledge valid rebuttal to his argument. Facts be damned, the vision is more important. That's why liberals constantly practice truth evasion. IQ and race for instances aren't even allowed to be discussed in the public sphere. Political correctness is all about suppressing inconvenient facts to maintain the Liberal facade.

The Social Pathologist said...

Thursday.

With all due respect it's a disturbing comment.

Useful for what?

I'll try and illustrate what I mean by a few silly examples.

If for instance you honestly think that Jews are a threat to society then liquidating them would be useful for society's well being. Then a rabid Nazi could be considered conservative.

On the other hand suppose you think communism is a good thing, publishing lies which support your position and are hence "useful" whilst at the same time suppressing truths which are not useful would be the hallmarks of a conservative in a communist society.

A thing's "usefulness" is contingent to it's concordance to the teleology by which it is judged.
Wicked acts are useful to the pursuit of wicked ends. A Conservatism based on usefulness is not really conservatism but a pragmatism. Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the KGB, knew how to run an effective security apparatus. By this definition he was a conservative.

There is obviously something seriously wrong with a definition which can attribute the same moral quality to say Ronald Regan and Felix.

Thursday said...

All your objections apply to truth as a standard too. The Communist thinks that communism is true, the Nazi thinks Nazism is true, and the liberal thinks liberalism is true too. Putting up truth as a standard is basically meaningless.

Second, you completely ignore the fact that never said conservatism could be reduced to set usefulness as the standard. It is also a process by which one finds out the useful. That process is tradition. (Conservativism is above all practical, that is concerned with practice.) For example, if a belief has been long held in a particular society we can reasonably infer that it probably fulfills some function in that society. But as you well know that has does not tell us much about the ultimate truth value of that belief. Using tradition to find out the purely factual truth of something seems extremely dubious. Examples are so numerous I will leave you to think of your own.

The end goal in all moral systems is either happiness or nobility or some combination of the two, so useful is always defined as tending to make people either happy or noble. There are all sorts of complications to consider, but those are the basics.

Anyway, I'd suggest reading James Kalb on these issues. I like Oakeshott a lot, but he does have his problems. Kalb is really the strongest thinker on what it means to be a conservative since Burke. He is very good. There's lots of good stuff on his website, but I'd also strongly recommend his The Tyranny of Liberalism.

The Social Pathologist said...

Putting up truth as a standard is basically meaningless.

No it isn't. The problem with liberalism in all its forms whilst the liberal may believe his beliefs true, he refuses to countenance facts which refute his beliefs. Political correctness, sentimentality, thought-filtering are mechanisms by valid rebuttal of his thoughts are quashed. The whole cognitive enterprise of liberalism requires that inconvenient facts are kept at bay. Belief in liberalism requires evasion from the truth.

On the other hand Islam Hinduism, Judaism are faiths, i.e. beliefs which cannot be rationally deduced. These systems of thought don't deny empirical reality and incorporate it within their systems of belief. These guys may fight about what goes on in heaven, but they agree upon a what goes on Earth.

Indeed the "usefulness" hypothesis of Conservatism is a "values-lite" version of conservatism. There is no right or wrong, only what is useful. You become a Heather McDonald type of conservative someone who could justify, abortion, euthanasia, empire building on their "usefullness". Incidently, this values-lite conservatism leads directly to Neo-Conservatism, a perhaps it's values light nature is what attracts atheists and non-Christians to it.

Finally Western Conservatism is ultimately a Conservatism based on Christian truths. Ultimately the reason why we don't kill each other is not because each is not because it isn't useful, many times it is, it's because God told us so.

Thursday said...

These guys may fight about what goes on in heaven, but they agree upon a what goes on Earth.

This is quite wrong. I don't agree much with Richard Dawkins, but he is quite right that religions frequently make claims about empirical reality, often quite obviously wrong claims about empirical reality. I disagree with Dawkins in that the NOMA idea is perfectly possible in theory, but it is not how religions actually operate in this world.

I'll make an example that really cuts close to home: the perpetual virginity of Mary. A de fide doctrine, it is contradicted by the use of language in the New Testament which speaks of Christ's brother. Since the writers would, as was common practice, have referred to step brothers or cousins by the terms for those kinds of relations, most scholars, including Catholics like J.P. Meier, conclude that they were almost certainly Jesus' full brothers. Yet as a conservative, I'd still be extremely reluctant for the Catholic and Orthodox churches to change the dogma as changing such a major doctrine would tend to decrease the confidence of people in the faith and set a really bad precedent on other dogmas.

Similarly, in Protestantism, the creationism, of whatever variety, that is the default position of most conservative churches is certainly wrong. Yet, even though I'm a convinced evolutionist, again I'm reluctant for those churches to rush into changing their faith, for the simple reason that modernists have been trying to force all sorts of changes on conservative Protestants and changing things too quickly might set a very bad precedent.

(On a similar note, Samuel Johnson, an extremely devout Christian, and a conservative remarked that the old Roman aristocrats who resisted the spread of Christianity were right to do so. Christianity, though true, had something to prove before it replaced the old ways. I agree with him.)

P.S. Heather MacDonald is no conservative. As evidenced by her attacks on religion, she obviously has little enough use for tradition and sees science as more or less making it obsolete. She's more of a chastened right liberal than a conservative.

The Social Pathologist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Social Pathologist said...

Thanks for your considered reply.

I disagree with Dawkins in that the NOMA idea is perfectly possible in theory, but it is not how religions actually operate in this world

Bizzare, but I actually agree with him. The faith can't contradict empirical reality if they are to be considered true. If a religion makes a claim that is proven false empirically then the religion is false.

The ever virgin status of Mary clearly offends common experience, but the Church regards the whole birth of Christ as a rather exceptional event, not one which you can base text books on Gynaecology and Obsterics. The Church clearly states that the event was a one-off and completely exceptional and freely admits it doesn't understand how it was done.
It is an event beyond human experience and clearly belief in it an act of faith, not rationality. Now if you believe that the claim is wrong then the Church is wrong, simple as that: It's a false religion.

A far better example is the whole Galileo saga where the Church came within a bees dick of falsifying itself. Faith can't be contradicted by reality, it's a seamless garment.

Johnson's support of the Romans is precisely what I was getting at. Johnson could see that from the Romans frame of reference, Early Christian teaching was evil and to be opposed. Johnson didn't support the Romans because it appeared useful to keep the empire going rather Johnson would have expected the good man to oppose evil (Even though he may be wrong about what constitutes good or evil). Johnson and the Romans both shared the same metaphysics if not the same faith. Johnson could get into a Roman's head because he thought like them too.

What Johnson, the Romans and I all agree upon is that there are non-empirically verifiable truths which are important to man's existence and the only way in which man could optimise his happiness was by living according to them. That is the conservative mindset. Any man who claims that this earth is all there is, is not a conservative.

I'm afraid though that a ulititarian conservatism leads directly to McDonald. She's ditched religion because she feels it's not useful for society, an impediment to society's progress. In her opinion, religion may of served its purpose in the past but science has more "use" to society and religion has past its used by date. She doesn't attack religion out of malice, rather she sees it as an impediment to human progress, something which is not useful to the human condition. McDonald is a true utilitarian conservative in valuing that which is useful for human beings and rejecting that which is not.

BTW, Kalb seems to be more aligned to my view than the utilitarian view.

From 2 Blowhards interview:

"The ultimate concern after all is with the good, beautiful, and true rather than with tradition itself."

Thursday said...

Johnson and the Romans both shared the same metaphysics if not the same faith.

So sure about this, are you? Roman pietas was more concerned with practice than metaphysical truths. As are many religions around the world. See here.

The ultimate concern after all is with the good, beautiful, and true rather than with tradition itself.

You quote that out of context.

Here is the full quote:

". . . there are important aspects of human reason that have considerable autonomy with respect to tradition and can lead us to modify or break with some aspects of it. The ultimate concern after all is with the good, beautiful and true rather than tradition itself."

In other words, conservatism does not contain all truths. (And I would say doesn't deal with whether something is metaphysically true at all.) Modernity, in general, and liberalism, in particular, contain many truths, but they are not conservative truths. Throwing everything good under the label conservative really tells you nothing.

The ever virgin status of Mary clearly offends common experience

Irrelevant. We aren't arguing about miracles here. I never said it was false because it contradicts ordinary experience, I said was false because it contradicts the Biblical text.

It's a false religion.

But is it an essential part of a system that makes them happier and more noble? Is it worth tweaking that knob?

-----------------------------

I just don't see conservatives as being much better about ignoring or suppressing evidence. It all depends on whose ox is being gored. Is Larry Auster being unconservative when he ignores mountains of evidence that evolution by natural selection is true? He's wrong of course, but it is possible that his is, in fact, the more conservative position.

In fact I see you quoting Jim Kalb out of context, making false statements about Roman religion, and badly misrepresenting me. Does that make you unconservative? Of course not.

The Social Pathologist said...

Um... from the wikipaedia site on Roman religion

Participation in traditional religious rituals was a practical and moral necessity for Romans of every class and occupation, and was embedded in personal, domestic and public life. Cult could be offered any deity or any combination of deities, as long as it did not offend the mos maiorum, the "custom of the ancestors," that is, Roman tradition. Piety was the correct application of ritual and divine honours, especially in the form of sacrificial offerings. In return, the gods were likely to benefit their worshipers. Impieties such as religious negligence, superstition and self-indulgence could provoke divine wrath against the State

The Roman's didn't practice religion for the sake of it, they practiced it to seek the favour of their Gods. The ritual was not an end in itself. Their religious orthopraxy came about as a result of their religious orthodoxy. Sure, the orthodoxy wasn't a Christian Orthodoxy but it was a Roman one, an orthodoxy which which permitted many Gods and practices.

I said was false because it contradicts the Biblical text.

Yep, you're absolutely correct if you interpret the Bible literally, and the claims of Catholicism by that logic are false. But then again, some people don't interpret the Bible literally.

You quote that out of context

I don't see how I have quoted that comment out of context.

Conservatism is about living rightly, but what is right is determined by reason/experiment and or revelation. The conservative is therefore prepared to alter his views and opinions depending upon what is the knowledge of right. With science, philosophy and religion, a conservative's position will change with moral, spiritual and intellectual development. That's why societal innovations(even rapid ones) are compatible with conservatism. Traditionalism on the other hand is concerned with keeping things the way they are and putting the brakes on innovation, even if those innovations are good.

The Social Pathologist said...

Thursday part 2

In other words, conservatism does not contain all truths. (And I would say doesn't deal with whether something is metaphysically true at all.) Modernity, in general, and liberalism, in particular, contain many truths, but they are not conservative truths.

You're absolutely correct, except that I would would modify your comment to "that Modernity contains many truths that are not traditionalist."

Conservatism is a metaphysical system that asserts that there is such a thing as truth, it is universal, and that it is non-contradictory with regard to reality. Conservatism does not tell us what is true, but what it presumes is there is such a thing as truth and that a man has got to live by it. The liberal position is to subordinate truth to "the vision". Or to put it another way, conservatism is a particular intellectual approach to interpreting reality.

Look, you and I both disagree on how to interpret the bible,but both you I do agree that there is a correct interpretation of the bible. You and I may both slug it out about which one is true, but we both agree that there is a correct or interpretation of the bible which is true to its intended meaning. Furthermore if acting in good faith, we will not discount or suppress evidence which is factually correct but not contingent with our view. This is not the liberal or traditionalist position. This is what Chesterton meant by the comment, that the role of conservatives(traditionalists) is to prevent change whilst the role of progressive is to ensure that the wrong changes get implemented.

The unfortunate thing is that the terms traditionalist and conservative have been used interchangeably and admittedly there is an overlap (a lot of what the traditionalists say is true, but some of it is outright bullshit), clarification of the matter needs to be made.

The Social Pathologist said...

Thursday 3:

I want to given you another practical example of what I mean that is close to home.

You and I both believe in the body of knowledge that goes by the name of "Game". You and I both know that it works and others have reported the same. We have both had practical experience of it and can vouch for its veracity. You and I have both written on how Social Conservatives(Traditionalists) have gotten it wrong about female sexuality and yet both of us would consider ourselves conservative. Now notice that the haters of Game come from both the Liberal and Traditionalist ranks. Both have a vision of female sexuality that is at odds with reality and both would rather attack the truth than modify their views.

Finally, help a brother out. Where have I exactly misrepresented your views?

Elizabeth said...

''Both have a vision of female sexuality that is at odds with reality and both would rather attack the truth than modify their views.''

Not really. The traditionalists that object to Game do so because of it's biological reductionism

www.amnation.com/vfr/archives/006061.html

www.amnation.com/vfr/archives/016825.html

I believe in original sin. I think that humans in general (both men and women) are corrupted. What I tend to object is nihilism that bioligal reductionism may lead to.

The Social Pathologist said...

Thanks for dropping by Elizabeth.

Game essentially consists of a body of knowledge of how to attract and seduce women. That it works is not up for contention, why it works is.

The biological reductionist views of Roissy and his compatriots are a logical consequence of his Atheism. The biological reductionist explanations are the only ones available for people who think there is not such things as an afterlife, nature, God etc.

The other explanation, is that Game works because women have a nature, and this nature will express itself in the appropriate circumstance. It would not be incompatible with the Christian religion to assert that God meant for women to get horny under appropriate circumstances. Their sexual response is not part of their fallen nature but there by design. The fact that women fail to elicit self control in these circumstances is a different matter.

Personally, I don't subscribe to the Evo-bio approach because as a theory, it's very difficult to falsify. Every thing that exists must have had an evolutionary advantage otherwise it wouldn't have existed. Circular logic.

In My opinion, Game works because that is how God designed women to respond. What's implicit then with this view is that God expects men to have a pair.

The fact that Traditionalist and liberals are unable to distinguish between the facts of game and the theoretical explanations of it leads me to conclude that either both are:

1) Stupid
2) They do not want to admit facts contrary to their world view.

As Auster, et al clearly are not morons I'll take the second view.