Friday, May 20, 2005


"More and more I find myself thinking that a conservative is someone who regards this world with a basic affection, and wants to appreciate it as it is before he goes on to the always necessary work of making some rearrangements. Richard Weaver says we have no right to reform the world unless we cherish some aspects of it; and that is the attitude of many of the best conservative thinkers. Burke says that a constitution ought to be the subject of enjoyment rather than altercation. (I wish the American Civil Liberties Union would take his words to heart.)

I find a certain music in conservative writing that I never find in that of liberals. Michael Oakeshott speaks of "affection," "attachment," "familiarity," "happiness"; and my point is not the iname one that these are very nice things, but that Oakeshott thinks of them as considerations pertinent to political thinking. He knows what normal life is, what normal activities are, and his first thought is that politics should not disturb them....

"He who is unaware of his ignorance," writes Richard Whately, "will only be misled by his knowledge." And that is the trouble with the liberal, the socialist, the Communist, and a dozen other species of political cranks who have achieved respectability in our time: they disregard so much of what is constant and latent in life. They fail to notice; they fail to appreciate.

For some reason, we have allowed the malcontent to assume moral prestige. We praise as "ideals" what are nothing more than fantasies--a world of perpetual peace, brotherhood, justice, or any other will-o'-the-wisp that has lured men toward the Gulag. The malcontent can be spotted in his little habits of speech: He calls language and nationality "barriers" when the conservative, more appreciatively, recognizes them as cohesives that make social life possible. He damns as "apathy" an ordinary indifference to politics that may really be a healthy contentment. He praises as "compassion" what the conservative earthily sees as a program of collectivization. He may even assert as "rights" what tradition has regarded as wrongs".

More (much more) here. It might be noted that it is a common finding from survey research that conservatives are happier. See e.g. here. One might perhaps ask how conservatives could be both wary and happier but I think that to ask that question is almost to answer it. Wary people are more likely to avoid the heartbreaks and disappointments that overconfident people experience. And who is more overconfident than a Leftist with his insouciant prescriptions about how the whole world should be re-organized? Because they tend to be better at dealing with the world realistically, conservatives are happier with the same world that deeply dissatisfies the Leftist -- who blames the world for his own failures at comprehending and dealing with it.


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