And, you know, there is no such thing as society.
There are individual men and women, and there are families.
— The Right Honourable Margaret Thatcher
Tory Prime Minister, United Kingdom,
31 October 1987
31 October 1987
I've been mulling over the headline in my local newspaper, The Ventura County Star, for 13 April 2017, "Local group kicks off in bid to empower conservatives" and recalled Aldous Huxley's comment in his preface to the 1946 re-issue of Brave New World, "For the last thirty years there have been no conservatives […]."
Huxley overstates, but he had a point about much of the 20th century, one still relevant today.
Conservatives reject the general statements "Change is good"/"Thrive on Change" and insist that change is inevitable and often necessary but "Continuity is good" as well, and "If it's not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change."
Conservatives insist on people as both individuals and members of societies and on "the continuity of the generations," where each generation is obligated to past generations and to posterity.
So, what are the great generators of change? Three are revolution, war, and capitalism. A real conservative is suspicious of all three. Others may praise "creative destruction"; real conservatives count the costs of revolutions, wars, and capitalism.
What are individuals' duties to society? They include contributing our fair share. And society's duties to posterity? Those including bequeathing our descendants a sound economic system, a livable world, and natural resources for them to use.
American conservatives face complexities since American tradition includes strong individualism, capitalism, revolution, and a religious mix with a lot of radical ideals on social justice that would make necessary many changes.
Some things though, are easy: conservatives should be for socially responsible environmental conservation and socially responsible public expenditures and budgets.
And since even the easy things are difficult for so many, it's understandable that there are few genuine conservatives.
* * *
Conservatives serve another useful purpose in balancing liberals and radicals on how they "image" society and government. Since the Enlightenment, what became the Left (for a while) saw the world in mechanistic terms whereas conservatives favored organic. If you talk of "checks and balances," you're picturing a mechanism — and mechanisms can be tinkered with. If you talk of "the body politic" and "head of state" and "members of society," you're thinking more biologically — and however careful you need to be tinkering with mechanisms, you need to be a whole lot more careful trying to tinker with living things.
So conservatives traditionally have held a kind of ecological view, where "Everything is connected to everything else" and (therefore) "You can't change just one thing." Even with machines but more so with organisms, it's hard to tell the final results of any change. With a drug, "There aren't 'side effects'; there are a range of possible effects, some of which you may not want." Even so, thinking in images of organisms keeps one cautious about change. With machines, indeed, "If it ain't broke, don't 'fix' it"; but less is at stake than with an organism, where messing up may result in death.
I see myself as a variety of conservative; many of my readers will see me on the Left. And we're correct: (1) See below. (2) In a nice irony, 19th-c.-style Radicals are part of the recent Right; as often as not, for a variety of reasons, American old-style conservatives are on the Left. And America needs more of us old-fashioned fogies.
Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind. — Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, "Manifesto of the Communist Party," 1848, chapter 1