Conservatism meets liberalism

03b July 20, 2015 -- (cogitatio)

In an issue of "The American Spectator" from early 2010, Roger Scruton presents an article stating the basic values and principles of both liberalism and conservatism and then attempts to argue the latter's superiority. While many of the points there are valid, the essay's overall defense is rather poor, at least given what you'd normally expect from a well-known philosopher; partly because of various confusions, e.g. between liberalism in the general sense and social liberalism as a current in the US, and partly due to the romanticization of the average conservative, which is unnecessary, if not harmful, given the current political context.

It may be only Scruton, or it may be that Western philosophy has given birth to a bunch of strawmen that often tend to have little connection with reality. Not only is political correctness inherently harmful, but ideology and politics are themselves (supposedly necessary) evils. Given that science is necessarily incomplete, and moreover, given that it's very time-consuming, people need a logical framework in which they can make decisions efficiently -- read: fast -- in order to solve outstanding problems. Additionally, given that decisions may turn out to be bad, people need to assume responsibility and pay for their choices one way or the other.

While this framework supposedly used to work in the past, nowadays it seems utterly broken. Blame it on the technological disruptions, or blame it on nowadays' politicians smoking too much weed in the '70s if you will. Blaming may be easy, but it doesn't change the fact that ideology as a set of sets of guiding principles doesn't work anymore, and that it needs to be either patched or completely rethought. It's not that "conservatism" and "liberalism" have inherent issues, but rather that -isms in general are inherently problematic.

Socialism for example has shifted from solving hard social issues to a state-driven mechanism for interference in individuals' private lives. This doctrine works under the faulty basic assumption that adults are not capable of making their own decisions; or maybe the situation has become so dire that people are not capable of making individual decisions anymore, so everyone sees the state as a parent who caters to their prolonged infancy. This massive emotional retardation is what has ultimately given birth to Western issues or non-issues such as "microaggressions", "trigger warnings", "social justice" and other such absurd phenomena. In fact the only pressing issue is that today's 30-year-old (and growing) children are soon going to be given the reins of power and they'll have absolutely no idea what to do with them, bringing all of civilization into the new age of religiousness1.

The problems with conservatism and liberalism are strikingly similar. People who are otherwise well-educated hurry to label themselves as "conservative" or "liberal", or worse, "libertarian", thinking that this would make any difference in the world. Meanwhile, there are still basic principles upon which the world goes round, regardless of what various schools "of thought" impose upon their followers: for example, most people still have the freedom to choose what's best for themselves, whether the state considers it's "moral" or not. Thus most people still have abortions and they still do hard drugs, and if some of them kill themselves in the process then that's fine, because it was their choice. This is a universally liberal view of life, relying not upon the concept of rights as upon that of freedoms, and upon the idea that "your freedom ends where my nose begins". It's your right to choose between this and a boot stamping on a human face, forever.

At the same time, humans have the freedom and the right to defend these basic freedoms. This includes, but is not limited to the absolute necessity of offending people, which states that I have the freedom to say anything, even things that I don't believe in, as a prerequisite for free thought and understanding of things. As opposed to "social justice", which will disappear in at most a generation or two, free thought will still exist as long as there is humanity in its truest sense, and as long as there are still humans to perpetuate it. Defending this precious trait of "being human" therefore denotes a conservative view of life, relying upon the basis that bases must be relied on, history must be remembered and principles must be upheld in order to quickly find the tar pits of civilization and avoid them.

It happens, although completely uncoincidentally, that these two views of life are not mutually exclusive. This only goes to show that everyone is as liberal to their own well-being as they are conservative to others' attempt to suppress that well-being. You may of course be aligned with Christians' views regarding homosexuality or with anarchists' views regarding the state, and while this may be helpful to your personal affairs, interests and beliefs, it does not make you more of a "conservative" or "liberal" in the broadest sense of the words.

Scruton's article is of painful actuality and he is right in arguing against what he calls the Western "totalitarian sentimentality", essentially a form of neo-fascism disguised politically as a movement to help oppressed groups. His words are however embellished with conservatist mumbo-jumbo about family and morals; and however interesting this may look to the average reader of "The American Spectator", it contains not even a hint of insight into how the West's ideological crisis could be resolved. This, I suppose, is left as an exercise for the reader.

  1. So the only thing that can save us now from the impending doom of theocratic socialism is Chinese post-communism. Great. Just great.