December 27, 2005

A Syllabus of Contemporary Conservative Errors

Jeffery Hart, Professor Emeritus at an unlikely place (Dartmouth), has long been one of our important conservative writers.

In this piece, he summarizes the key featues of post-WW II American conservatism, and makes a pointed critique of current political "conservatism."

Among his points are these:
  • Conservation. Although the free market has great merit, we should not make a utopian fetish of it. In particular, the glories of nature are part of the "unbought grace of life." The preservation of the environment should not be the sole province of liberal Democrats.

  • Wilsonianism. This, to Hart, is a dangerous and destructive form of utopia. By implication, Hart, at the very least, would not make the spreading of democracy by force, as in Iraq, a centerpiece of our foreign policy. Perhaps, given what we now think we know about the lack of an imminent threat from Iraq, he would not have had us go in at all.

  • The Republican Party. Although this party was the main home of conservative politics. But Hart observes:
    The most recent change occurred in 1964, when its center of gravity shifted to the South and the Sunbelt, now the solid base of "Republicanism." The consequences of that profound shift are evident, especially with respect to prudence, education, intellect and high culture. It is an example of Machiavelli's observation that institutions can retain the same outward name and aspect while transforming their substance entirely.

  • Religion. Hart distinguishes, in religion, between faddish enthusiasm and "traditional forms of religion--repeat, traditional, or intellectually and institutionally developed, not dependent upon spasms of emotion." The latter is likely to be ephemeral, but the former is one of the bases of Western civilization.
Finally, Hart posits that a knowledge of history is essential to policy, and knowledge of the great books of our tradition is essential to its preservation.

Food for serious thought.

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