The conservative disposition
Jason has just given you the liberal-libertarian disposition, so I thought I’d try my hand at explaining why I’m sometimes drawn to the conservative alternative.
My knowledge of political philosophy is almost nil, so I’ll avoid name-checking prominent thinkers. Instead, I want to explain where I differ from Jason’s historical perspective.
Jason views society as a dynamic construct that changes dramatically over short periods of time. I can’t really dispute this. Aside from an aesthetic attachment to older things, I don’t have any deeply-felt connection to American conservatism. My parents are over-educated cosmopolitans. I was raised abroad. I don’t profess the Christian faith, I don’t believe in “natural law” (whatever that means), and I have absolutely no idea what “ordered liberty” is supposed to look like.
So society changes, and I’m OK with that. But here’s where my dispositional conservatism kicks in: The United States and a few other, mostly Western European, countries have stumbled across an amazingly successful form of social organization. But recent history suggests that our system – basically, capitalism plus safety nets plus limited, constitutional government – is very rare, very fragile, and not easily exportable. We don’t know why the United States and Western Europe won the global lottery and ended up with such comparatively excellent economic, political and social outcomes. But we do know that somewhere along the line, we got things right.
That’s my essential view American history: some alchemy of dumb historical and cultural luck, geography, and the occasional farsighted statesman have made us the luckiest primates in the history of our planet.
So what does this have to do with conservatism? I think it should remind us to be wary of hasty or dramatic social, political, or economic changes, lest we unwittingly dismantle some critical strut that under girds the American polity. This is not to say that change is bad, or that major transformations are always undesirable. But I think it helps explain what a secular, prudential conservative disposition is all about.