Dispositional conservatives can and do disagree about the particulars of nearly every policy and political choice. But they are unified by their orientation to social change: They counsel humility, because people are fallible and the world is complex, and therefore urge a healthy respect for evolved social practices and institutions. Tempered by these insights, conservatives can encourage prudential reform to address our society’s problems in ways that are well suited to our society’s character. . . .Conservatism has the most to offer societies that have much worth conserving yet run the risk of dissipating their inheritance through wrong-headed, sweeping changes or stubborn inaction. In many ways, this is America’s current situation. On the one hand, some progressives champion a vision characterized by government-centered technocratic expertise, arguing that the current system is weighed down by half measures and unnecessary complications. But by doubling down on centralization and technocracy, these progressives would exacerbate the very problems that have made the system ungovernable and make them permanent. On the other hand, some on the right seek to break with the past in a very different manner — repudiating 80 years of institutional development and reinventing America as a nation that rejects a substantive role for regulation or a social safety net. Though they are often labeled as “conservatives,” their ambitions, and especially their rhetoric, emphasize the need for a sharp break with many features of our current governing institutions. Whatever the merits of that position, it represents a clear divergence from the conservative intellectual tradition.
July 27, 2015 at 12:15 PM EDT