Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Conservatism is in the Middle of a Web

There is a web of values which we have inherited from our ancestors, a large set which form the moral substance of the ways of life which we love and which make for good and decent lives. They hang together in mutual support in the way that a the strands of a spider web do.

Unfortunately, some of the strands may be pursued monomaniacally. Fetishizing one value over the rest, away one goes off on a tangent away from the central network. One leaves the other strands behind, gives them short shrift, allowing one's preferred thread to trump all the others. Libertarianism is an example of this monomania. Go to a local libertarian meeting. Half the room will turn out to be anarchists. Liberty is a trump, so government is not allowable.

Some of the strands do not fit in with the rest of the web. Moral and political debate is supposed to ferret out these elements and discard them, just as one discovers and erases whichever of the entries in a crossword puzzle is incoherent with the rest.

Some people make fetishes out of an improper strand instead of properly discarding it. An example is the effort to redistribute wealth. There is no justice in the redistribution of wealth. It also does no good. It is a bad value. Yet many base their political points of view on it, fetishizing it, making it trump all the other values in the web. They, too, end up far away from the central cluster of values, out on a tangent. But, unlike the libertarian, they sacrifice all else to a bad value, not a good one.

Conservatism is the intent to preserve the cluster, to prevent any drift of one's morals or of the body politic in any direction away from the center. The cluster is worth preserving. None of the strands in the cluster, whether proper or improper, is more valuable than the entire set.

So-called moderates? They are people who drift from the center in whichever direction, only not very far.

This is a decent picture of conservatism and its alternatives. As I've argued in previous posts, the left-right spectrum is a very poor model.