Monday, December 12, 2005

The National Review Is Fun

The 50th Anniversary issue especially has some real gems. Like Ramnesh Ponnuru arguing for the coherency of conservatives in that....wait for it....conservatives take the American Founders seriously. Not that there is any particular piece of wisdom we can learn from the past, but that conservatives engage in a conversation with the Founders. Sure they may emphasize different things, but what's important is that they respect the Founders. Now this has the slight problem that suddenly American conservatism has been defined to be entirely distinct from conservatism in every other country -- and in fact has nothing in common with conservatism in any other country, which is odd, to say the least. And trying to differentiate this from liberals is rather strained. Plus it is just odd: I've always understood conservatism to either be a statement about human nature or a respect for tradition. Tradition not in terms of what some random dead dudes wrote down, but as in what has worked in society before -- and what is perceived to make it work today. Anyway.
It would be foolish, because futile, to seek to impose an artificial conceptual unity on the Right. Whatever holds the conservative coalition together, it is clearly not any of the most intense passions that immediately motivate its factions. Conservatives are not held together by the Christianity of the social Right or the free-market faith of the libertarians or the aggressive nationalism of the hawks.

Yet I think that most American conservatives, of whatever stripe, cna reasonably be described as engaged in a common enterprise, even if the fact that it engages them in common sometimes eludes them. That enterprise is the conservation of the political inheritance of the American Founders.

It is also an enterprise that divides them. Different types of conservatives have different understandings of what that inheritance is, emphasize different aspects of it, and reach different conclusions about what conservation practically entails. This may be a paradox but it is not a contradiciton. The enterprise consists in important part of a continuing conversation about what it means to conserve that inheritance.

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