The day after: Now what?

Conservatism is heading into a period of acute discomfort in which it will have to choose openly between standpatism (that is, sulking in its tent), reaction (that is, striking the tent and marching angrily into the past), and activism…. This cannot be a happy prospect for men of genuinely conservative temper and purpose … [I do not] mean to say that conservatism has no future, that the revival of the past several years is a last glorious burst to be followed by eternal night. I have simply thought it important to point out that this future may be grim and frustrating, and that fewer thanks than ever before will be offered by history to the thankless persuasion [of conservatism].”-Clinton Rossiter, 1964 1

In politics, you win some and you lose some. As Jonah Goldberg and Michelle Malkin note, we may have license to be dour and down-at-the-mouth for a few days, but we shouldn’t surrender to despair and alienation. 2 Cheer up, Stacy! But let’s face it: As John Hinderaker says at Powerline, “yesterday was a comprehensive disaster.” And as the National Review pithily captures it, the question is: What now?

Yesterday’s results are an alarm call. Gone are the days in which we could trust in the myth of the “silent majority” or the assumption that conservative ideas autopropagate. Hinderaker again: “that America is a center-right country … [is a belief] that we conservatives have cherished for a long time, but as of today, I think we have to admit that it is false.”

We are being throttled by complacency. Politico quotes an unnamed Bush 43 aide: “We’re in a demographic boa constrictor and it gets tighter every single election.” She’s right. We have failed to sell significant numbers of hispanics and blacks on conservatism, and as their share of the electorate increases, it becomes progressively harder for us to obtain enough votes to win. “Romney won handily among white Americans,” notes the Journal; “almost six in 10 of them—but lost by breathtaking margins among the nation’s increasingly important ethnic groups: By almost 40 percentage points among Hispanics, by almost 50 points among Asians, and by more than 80 points among African-Americans.” TPM reports—and despite their obvious bias I have no reason to doubt this number—that Obama won the Hispanic vote by 75-23. We can’t carry on this way.

We must now reevaluate what our core beliefs are, articulate them more carefully, figure out how to sell them in Spanish, de-emphasize those parts of the policy agenda that are peripheral, and shear off those parts of the policy agenda that are peripheral and alienate us to hispanics. My principal contribution in this post will be an attempt to clarify what must be held as core conservative principles.

I. The conservative psychology.

We should first skim over the pillars on which conservative principles rest. We’ll get to the professionals in a minute, but let me start with my own previous post The conservative premise (Jul. 2012), in which I muddied the waters with a common but infelicitous choice of words. The psychological taproot of conservatism, I wrote, is an “awareness of God and fear of change. From these precepts, the higher-order concerns flow.” We’ll come back to the “God” part a little later, but the “change” part was imprecise, because strictly-speaking it’s not a fear of change, per se, but of disruption, which causes turbulence at best and chaos at worst. Gradual, incremental, organic, and positive changes are welcome, 3 but sudden, large, and inorganic shocks to the system are not. Settled expectations should not be upended and thrown into turmoil. “We fear radical discontinuities in se, not merely their use to impose an unfortunate political agenda.” 4 I do, however, stand by the rest of that paragraph, in which I said that growing from these roots, “conservatism is a political response to a philosophical position on certain key questions of epistemology and prudence … which in turn arises from an intuition about the complexity and interconnectedness of everything and the capacity of individual comprehension….”

Several books have been written (by liberals, naturally) about liberal and conservative psychologies, but the Steve Pinker recently had this in the Times, including a fair, useful, and concise summary of the differing psychological worldviews of conservatives and progressives:

Conservative[s] … ha[ve] a Tragic Vision of human nature, in which people are permanently limited in morality, knowledge and reason. Human beings are perennially tempted by aggression, which can be prevented only by the deterrence of a strong military, of citizens resolved to defend themselves and of the prospect of harsh criminal punishment. No central planner is wise or knowledgeable enough to manage an entire economy, which is better left to the invisible hand of the market, in which intelligence is distributed across a network of hundreds of millions of individuals implicitly transmitting information about scarcity and abundance through the prices they negotiate. Humanity is always in danger of backsliding into barbarism, so we should respect customs in sexuality, religion and public propriety, even if no one can articulate their rationale, because they are time-tested workarounds for our innate shortcomings. The left, in contrast, has a Utopian Vision, which emphasizes the malleability of human nature, puts customs under the microscope, articulates rational plans for a better society and seeks to implement them through public institutions.

To bridge from psychology to operationalizable principles, I’d offer this, which I think is a brilliant exposition of the matter:

[Radicals] and liberals all assume that human reason is capable of understanding the nature of man and the nature of society. By pointing to an inconsistency between man’s nature and his social condition, they at least imply that reason is a largely-infallible guide in helping us to set things right. … From Edmund Burke’s perspective, this is exactly what the French revolutionaries of 1789 had assumed and attempted, and the resulting chaos, terror, and widespread destruction of property and loss of life were the inevitable—and predictable—result.

For the conservative, [by contrast,] reason is an aid but not an infallible guide to the understanding of the nature of man and society. There are too many imponderables, and there is too much complexity in the fabric of any given society for reason to be capable of fully comprehending what motivates men or how society works. The interaction of state, family, religion, language, race, class, and culture over time is different for every society, and what is thought to be appropriate for one is likely to be inappropriate for another.

The revolutionary or radical consequently deceives himself and those who follow hi when he pretends to know what ails society and how society can be healed. The results of a radical departure for the past and present are always unpredictable, but they are likely to entail more suffering and hardship than would a continuation of what exists. The conservative … does not deny that there is injustice in the world or that there may be substantial injustice even in his own society. He simply denies that his intelligence or the intelligence of anyone else is capable of understanding all the causes and characteristics of the injustice or of providing a foolproof remedy. 5

These enduring truths will come into sharp focus as we turn to consider:

II. The conservative first principles.

The challenge of defining Conservatism is that it’s not “so much a system of thought … as it is an instinct, a mood, a disposition; an attitude, says Lord Hailsham, or, to reappropriate Marvin Meyers’ phrase, a persuasion: It is, at root, a proclivity for what is over what might be, for stability over radical change, and for tradition over innovation. While conservatism by no means opposes gradual, evolutionary change in light of experience, it fears sudden, radical change, especially when the change is rooted in abstract theory rather than concrete experience.” 6 There will probably never be a “conservative manifesto.” 7 Nevertheless, from the great bulk of disparate writing, “a system of political principles at least as harmonious as … liberalism” emerges, 8 and theorists have labored to sift “first principles.” William F. Buckley and the founders of the National Review tendered seven. Russell Kirk, six. 9 Clinton Rossiter, 21. 10 Dean Smith, twelve. 11 Drawing heavily on Russell Kirk’s list, I want to suggest five such “first principles” that capture the “essence of our American conservatism” (Kirk’s words). It should be emphasized that I tender these as premises of American conservatism, 12 and of conservatism as distinct from our fellow-travelers standpatism, reactionism, populism, or libertarianism. 13

A. The transcendent moral order principle.

Conservatives believe that there is a design and purpose to the universe; we believe in the concomitant dignity of man and the value of life, and in the proposition that some things are universally and eternally true. 14 (One doesn’t have to be religious to be a conservative, 15 but most of us are.) All people and all societies have a part to play in that design. Accordingly, the conservative believes that an “eternal chain of duty links the generations that are dead, and the generation that is living now, and the generations yet to be born. We have no right, in this brief existence of ours, to alter irrevocably the shape of things, in contempt of our ancestors and of the rights of posterity.” 16 Politicians should seek to grasp and apply “the Justice that stands above statutory law,” 17 whence, among other things, our pro-life commitments. This is the conservatism of GK Chesterton and his “democracy of the dead,” which posits a society that transcends the instant in which we who compose it today happen to be alive:

[T]radition is only democracy extended through time. It is trusting to a consensus of common human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record. … [It] may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father. 18

B. The imperfectability principle.

Conservatives also believe, however, that humans are limited and flawed, and we doubt that government can do much about it. 19 We believe in the dignity and value imbued in all men and women by their divine creator, but we also believe in the fall and its consequences. 20 This is where Pinker’s comments come into play, and the collision of these seemingly-antithetical propositions leads us to several conclusions—among them, a distinctive understanding of equality. With John Adams, we ask:

Are the citizens to be all of the same age, sex, size, strength, stature, activity, courage, hardiness, industry, patience, ingenuity, wealth, knowledge, fame, wit, temperance, constancy, and wisdom? Was there, or will there ever be, a nation, whose individuals were all equal, in natural and acquired qualities, in virtues, talents, and riches? 21

And with Adams, we confess that “there are inequalities which God and nature have planted there, and which no human legislator ever can eradicate.” 22 We therefore believe that justice is not coterminous with that which was once called “levelling”–in today’s argot, we prefer equality of opportunity over equality of outcome. 23

C. The intellectual modesty principle.

Conservatives believe that society is complex (the world all the more so) and that individuals are not as smart as they think they are. We doubt that individuals, or even single generations, are capable of comprehending so complex a network and thus the ultimate consequences of pulling a thread. 24 With Burke, we are convinced that the individual is myopic but the species is wise, 25 and we accordingly have a distinctive approach to government (more on this in the next section), a distinctive approach to policy, and we trust and esteem tradition. 26

Because we are anxious to avoid disruption and turbulence (as mentioned in part I), to say nothing of avoiding outright shipwreck, “conservatives want a greater degree of outcome-certainty before allowing individuals to meddle, and we are skeptical about the capacity of individuals to acquire the necessary information, given the dense and often subtle interconnections that tie society together. The upshot is that we prefer incremental change over relatively long periods of time, and are dubious about proposals that empower individuals—especially individuals who are epistemological optimists—to make sweeping decisions.” 27 Whereas Liberals are “highly-optimistic about individuals’ capacities to obtain all the information relevant to a decision and perform adequate analysis of it,” 28 we scorn and “distrust[ ] the radical visionary and the planner,” who, in their arrogance (we think) “presume that men can plan rationally the whole of existence” and thus expose us “to a terrible danger from the collapse of existing institutions.” 29

Above all, though, the conservative places her trust not in change (not even in managed change) but in tradition. Conservatives are traditionalists. 30 “The best way to envision tradition, it seems to me, is as a mighty river—the aggregation of countless individual drops contributed over time …; tradition certainly doesn’t preclude development and decision, but legitimate development is always organic and incremental, and when one person or generation takes it upon themselves to change too much, there are telltale signs. The river starts to look like a canal.” 31 “While rocks in the river may have been thrown in by an individual, conservatives are happier once they have been washed clean and ground smooth by the approbation of tradition.” 32 Tradition “erect[s] a rebuttable presumption that grows stronger with the passage of time; even when the traditional solution is less than ideal, it at least has the virtue of being tried and tested, and its unintended consequences have already become apparent,” 33 whereas “[t]o alter any part of a densely-interlinked system is to set off reverberations that cannot be predicted with effects that may be undesirable, will likely become irrevocable, and may ultimately be deleterious—hence the familiar ‘law of unintended consequences.’” 34 “The deeper-rooted and more reticulated the thing that is proposed to be changed, the more instinctively skeptical I am, and the more I want change to be narrow, targeted, and based on a posteriori experience not a priori theorizing.” 35

To be sure, conservatives are not latter-day avatars of King Cnut; we “know[ ] that change is the rule of life among men and societies,” but, given our fear of disruption and our skepticism of the capacity of individuals to make non-disruptive change, we insist that change “be sure-footed and respectful of the past.” 36 We believe that “[t]he first test of whether a proposed action should be held a proper function of government … is whether we have always held it to be a proper function of government.” 37 We believe, with Justice Holmes, that the great teacher is not logic but history. 38 Accordingly, we prize tradition, and we prize experience; we urge deference—not absolute deference, to be sure—to the experience of past generations and that of those who are on the front lines of a problem. 39

This epistemological skepticism is why we prefer organic, incremental change, having “a feeling that it is unwise to break radically with political prescription, an inclination to tolerate what abuses may exist in present institutions out of a practical acquaintance with the violent and unpredictable nature of doctrinaire reform.” 40 It’s why we’re skeptical of regulation. 41 And it’s why we’re “suspicious of making sweeping public policy reforms based solely on abstract ideas.” 42 It’s also why conservatives have a distinctive attitude towards government, which we can capture in:

D. The Augustinian principle.

Conservatives believe in limited government. St. Augustine did not, in fact, say “in essential things, unity; in questionable things, liberty; in all things, charity,” but the aphorism attributed to him is good summation of the conservative attitude toward the power of the state. Because of our skepticism of fallen human nature and our skeptism of individual intelligence, conservatives have an “affection for variety and complexity and individuality” (as against the “uniformity and standardization of liberal and radical planners”) and a suspicion of concentrated power. 43 While libertarians either reject government outright or tolerate it as a necessary evil, to be kept, if at all, emaciated and on a short leash, conservatives accept the legitimacy and utility of government, even while viewing it with a suspicious eye. 44 We believe in law and order, and we believe in the importance of authority, both for their innate utility and because of their traditional role in Anglo-American society. 45 Clinton Rossiter captures our attitude in calling government a useful servant but a frightful master. 46 Accordingly, we believe that exercise of properly-governmental powers must be regularized and proceduralized (whence our commitments to constitutionalism and the rule of law), divided (whence our commitments to federalism and subsidiarity 47), and set it in opposition to robust private power (whence our seeming preference for private actors over governmental ones, although that is also because, as Mitt Romney accurately pointed out during the campaign, one can fire a private actor). 48

Thus, constitutionalism is perhaps the most visible feature on the map of second-order conservative principles, because it has for tributaries two independent first-order principles: Our views on tradition and our views on government. We defend such institutions not only because they are traditional but because they serve important goals. 49

E. The limits-of-rationalism principle.

Conservatives believe that our instincts are sound even when we can’t quite articulate the reasons. With Michael Oakshott, we confess that we are “averse from change, which appears always, in the first place, as deprivation.” 50 I said earlier that in principle it’s not exactly change but rather disruption that we fear, and that’s true, but in practice the distinction can be hazy, and when we look at proposed changes, we make a threshold gut call by intuiting “the disturbance they entail….” 51 But why is that instinct trustworthy? We know that “most men are governed … more by emotion than by pure reason.” 52 Since David Hume, even, we have known that reason is the slave of the passions! We are able to say this because we have confronted and accepted the ultimate irrationality of all political beliefs; we recognize that all such beliefs fundamentally rest on untestable moral axioms, and that the critical thinking framework—the scaffold of liberalism—rapidly breaks down as one approaches bedrock. Having fought this battle, we have come to realize the limits of reason, and to believe that these moral axioms and intuitions—long-simmered in our national traditions—may telegraph to us that something is a problem even before our conscious mind is capable of apprehending and articulating why it is a problem.

Recognizing the limits of reason, we “may not always be able to articulate why something is wrong, because of the limitations of individual wisdom or learning, but, soaked through with the traditions of Christendom generally and Anglo-American civilization particularly, we intuitively know a problem when we see it. When we get out of the river, we know it from the wind chill.” 53We often “hesitate or leap forward based on what, if we are honest, are instinctive or emotional concerns that we can’t quite articulate on an intellectual level; ‘what we call rational grounds for our beliefs[ ] are often extremely irrational attempts to justify our instincts.’” 54 With Burke, we confess

that we are generally men of untaught feelings, that, instead of casting away all our old prejudices, we cherish them to a very considerable degree…; and the longer they have lasted and the more generally they have prevailed, the more we cherish them. We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason, because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages. Many of our men of speculation, instead of exploding general prejudices, employ their sagacity to discover the latent wisdom which prevails in them. If they find what they seek, and they seldom fail, they think it more wise to continue the prejudice, with the reason involved, than to cast away the coat of prejudice and to leave nothing but the naked reason; because prejudice, with its reason, has a motive to give action to that reason, and an affection which will give it permanence. Prejudice is of ready application in the emergency; it previously engages the mind in a steady course of wisdom and virtue and does not leave the man hesitating in the moment of decision skeptical, puzzled, and unresolved. Prejudice renders a man’s virtue his habit, and not a series of unconnected acts. Through just prejudice, his duty becomes a part of his nature. 55

In recognizing the limits of reason, Conservatives stand in sharp contrast to the rationalists of the left, who, while they can “imagine a problem which would remain impervious to the onslaught of [their] own reason” are not able to imagine “politics which do not consist in solving problems, or a political problem of which there is no ‘rational’ solution at all.” 56 Even if the conservative had more faith in the reasoning power of individuals (contra part II.C, above), our realism about the limits of even perfect reason would discourage us from placing great faith in haling “the social, political, legal and institutional inheritance of [our] society before the tribunal of [our] intellect.” 57

* * *

I suggest that our path forward from this disastrous election must begin with a period of reflection on these core values, followed by a reevaluation of whether our stances on policy issues are congruent with these values, and which issues are core versus periphery.

III. The existential imperative and its consquences

And when we have finished that period of reflection and reevaluation, we have to figure out how to convince hispanics particularly of their fundamental truth. While our conservatism developed as a peculiarly Anglo-American concept, 58 there is no reason why it should not resonate with Hispanics and blacks. Conservatism responds, at its taproot, to a universal anxiety: “Disruptive change upsets my calm, messes with my life, and threatens my expectations.” People are naturally, instinctively suspicious of change. Moreover, the vast majority of Hispanics are Catholics, and writing in the Post, Greg Sargent says that “[t]here is a growing body of evidence to suggest that Latino voters, despite their diverse backgrounds, act with a sense of linked fate….” It should not be difficult to convince such a person of the transcendent moral order principal. That’s a good start.

But none of that will be enough if we don’t discard the millstone around our necks. As the Journal says in the article cited above, Newt Gingrich “suggests that Republicans begin to address that problem by turning to Sen. Rubio and to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who nurtured strong ties to Hispanic voters in his state, to figure out how to improve the party’s message to minority voters. And Sen. Rubio undoubtedly will seek to revive his version of the so-called Dream Act that will give legal status to children of illegal immigrants who have studied in American schools or served in the military.” We have to become competitive with hispanics, and I see one immediate, concrete political change that has to be made: Yesterday’s defeat must break the back of opposition to so-called “comprehensive immigration reform” and the DREAM act. The GOP must, out of self-preservation if not ethical conviction, get behind these measures. 59

I recognize that there will be objections to this. The National Review‘s Heather MacDonald runs a lance through what is very nearly—but not quite—my position; I do not say that “[i]f only Republicans relented on [our] Neanderthal views regarding the immigration rule of law, … [we] would release the inner Republican waiting to emerge in the Hispanic population,” I say that if we don’t give way on this issue, we have no chance of winning significant numbers of hispanic votes. Heather argues that it isn’t sufficient; I argue that it is necessary. Both these things are true. It’s also true, as Heather says, that many hispanics simply reject conservative economics, and, for that matter, that it’s by no means certain that we can sell the principles that I’ve articulated in part II to hispanics. But I have two answers to such objections. First, no one said that we have to win all hispanics, just that we must be competitive. Second, the difference is that core principles are worth losing elections over; I might glibly suggest that that’s what situates an issue at the core. We can’t and shouldn’t jettison core beliefs, but immigration reform is peripheral: That’s one reason why I am urging us to reflect on the central tenets of conservatism and reevaluate what is core (and thus must be better-explained in Spanish) versus what is peripheral (and is thus susceptible to being jettisoned to win broader support). If a hispanic gives us a fair shake, free from the distortion of immigration policy, and yet decides that she still can’t vote for us because she disagree with core conservative beliefs on, say, life, or economics, we should let her go with our blessing. That’s politics; you can’t win ‘em all. But we should be very skeptical about the proposition that we ought to disappear into permanent minority status over peripheral issues.

Heather’s colleague Victor Davis Hanson says that the problem with my diagnosis on this point is that “there were plenty of good minority kingpins in the party—Condoleezza Rice, Marco Rubio, and an entire new generation of Hispanic and Asian governors and senators.” But that actually underscores my point: The mere existence of hispanic conservatives does not win the hispanic vote, and neither does their advancement to prominence and leadership roles. Conservatives who think that nominating Marco Rubio in 2016 will win the allegiance of hispanics have not heeded the lessons of Clarence Thomas.

Lastly, on NPR this evening, Steve Camarota said that “[t]here’s no question if immigration is allowed to continue, including in amnesty, that will put an end to the Republican Party.” If he’s right, we’re doomed, and we can do nothing to save ourselves. That being so, we should assume that he’s wrong, and proceed on the assumption that it is possible for us to win a reasonable share of the latino vote.

At any rate, here’s the deadline—and I do mean dead. Once Texas flips to majority Hispanic, which—don’t kid yourself—it will during the 2020s, the GOP will either have become competitive among latinos, or it will have abandoned conservatism entirely, or it will be incapable of winning the Presidency. It’s that simple. If it was  hard to count to 270 in this election cycle, try the math with Texas as a lock for the other side.

IV. One more observation.

The election unearthed two ugly realities up to which conservatives must now face. The demographic constrictor is the most pressing (so to speak). The other has been reserved until the very end because, Conor Friedersdorf having so comprehensively expounded it, it requires very few words of mine. Conservatives must read Conor’s piece; your instinct will be to reject it, but almost all of it is correct. 60 Conservatives are being ill-served by the alternative media that we have built; there is a great deal to be said for building an alternative infrastructure to counterbalance and correct the liberal media, but there is nothing whatsoever to be said for living in a delusional echo-chamber. As tough as election night was on me, going into it with a fair degree of confidence that we would lose, it was even harder on a number of my friends who had spent the last several months living in a make-believe world in which Mitt Romney was cruising to a broad victory notwithstanding the complete lack of evidence in the polls. It used to be that conservatives grumped about the media’s bias and treated it with healthy skepticism, but in recent years, a number of us have moved from skepticism to neuroticism. We cannot reject out-of-hand any news that doesn’t fit our preferences and models simply because it doesn’t fit them; a conservative media that cossets conservatives from hard truths is failing on every level, and a conservative who voluntarily lives in such a bubble is failing on the most basic level expected of participants in society. Two examples come to mind:

  • First, the hostility toward fact-checkers, especially Snopes; it’s expressed as a concern for bias, but it’s plainly motivated by something more basic: If you prefer the myth to the truth, the mythbusters are a thorn in the paw. One notices that no matter how many times the accusations of bias are multiplied, not a single example of error is tendered. Snopes may or may not be biased, and their funding may or may not come from left-leaning sources, but those concerns should lead us to take Snopes with a grain of salt, not to reject them out-of-hand.
  • Second, the dogpiling of Nate Silver; there was no coherent basis for questioning Silver’s numbers, but some conservatives convinced themselves that those numbers couldn’t be true simply because they didn’t like them.

This is a recipe for disaster. On election night, I was asked why I was watching PBS rather than Fox, and the reason was and is simple: Fox news is where one turns for high-decibel hysterics and partisan cant. I don’t need to be told what conservatives think; I am a conservative so I already know what I think! I prefer PBS, notwithstanding its left-leaning bias, because I prefer its tone, I trust its reliability, and above all because they tell me hard truths that I would rather not hear. Unless we believe that flying a plane blindfold is a smart play, Conservatives cannot be addicted to a cosy bubble of conservative media.


  1. Clinton Rossiter, Conservatism in America 249 (2d ed. 1964).
  2. Cf. MP: The day before (Nov. 5, 2012). On FB on election day morning, I reiterated the concerns of that post and added: “Be kind in victory. Be equanimous and upright in defeat. This country’s civic heritage was inherited from Britain; all of us, by virtue of our citizenship, are heirs of that noble stock. Fix, then, in your minds “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley:

    Out of the night that covers me, black as the pit from pole to pole,

    I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud.

    Under the bludgeonings of chance, my head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears looms but the Horror of the shade,

    And yet the menace of the years finds and shall find me unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll.

    I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

    What happens is not under your control; how you react to what happens, however, is.”

  3. Cf. SF: Admissions against interest (Apr. 2009) (“[We can] think of [conservative and liberal] mindsets as turtles and hares: Turtles are plodding but careful, sure-footed, &c.; hares are wont to race off, to be reckless and to believe things will work themselves out, to be confident in their ability to fix ‘on the fly’ whatever problems should arise”); accord Rossiter, at 6. Admissions against interest and all the SF posts cited herein will be available in Simon J. Dodd, Overthinking It (forthcoming 2013).
  4. SF: Care and feeding of your conservative (June 2011).
  5. Rodee, et a, Introduction to Political Science 103-04. (4th ed. 1983); cf. Rossiter 21-22.
  6. Care and feeding, supra; accord Rossiter, at 11-12 (the conservative’s “natural preferences are for stability over change, continuity over experiment, the past over the future”).
  7. Cf. Roger Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism 20 (1980); Michael Oakeshott, On Being a Conservativebut cf. MP: The conservative premise (July 17, 2012).
  8. Rossiter, at 21.
  9. See Russell Kirk, A Program for Conservatives 41 ff. (1962).
  10. See Rossiter, at 64-66.
  11. See Dean Smith, Conservatism 34-35 (1963).
  12. The relationship of the American branch of conservatism to the classical liberalism and conservatism of Europe is a complex story into which we shall delve at a later date.
  13. Rossiter, at 13 ff., 24 ff.; see generally Care and feeding, supra; but cf. Peter Viereck, Conservatism from John Adams to Churchill 11 ff. (1956); Rossiter, at 18.
  14. See Rossiter, at 64-5; Kirk, at 41-42; cf. CCC ¶¶ 1701 et seq. and 1929 et seq.
  15. See Care and feeding, supra.
  16. Kirk, at 42; cf. Scruton, at 21.
  17. Ibid.; cf. Robert Bork’s comments here.
  18. GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy, ch. 4 (1908).
  19. See Rossiter, at 65; Kirk, at 41; cf. Care and feeding, supra (“[T]he conservative doubts ‘that government could make over the social pattern or cure the dominant social evils’” (quoting Dexter Perkins, Conservatism in America)).
  20. CCC ¶¶ 387 et seq.; Viereck, supra, at 13 ff.; cf. Rossiter, at 25; Oakeshott, supra (“it is said that a disposition to be conservative in politics reflects what is called an ‘organic’ theory of human society; that it is tied up with a belief in the absolute value of human personality, and with a belief in a primordial propensity of human beings to sin”).
  21. Adams, Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States (1787).
  22. Ibid.
  23. Kirk, at 42; cf. Burke, Reflections on the revolution (“those who would level never equalize”); Disraeli, The conservative concept of equality in The Conservative Tradition in European Thought 225 ff. (Schuettinger, ed. 1970); cf. Rossiter at 24 ff.
  24. Here is a small-scale illustration of the point. We recently made a change to our active directory structure, and before making it, three of us sat down and worked through the implications of the change to make sure that nothing would break. Considered as a network the universe in which we were working has a small and finite number of nodes, and so every possible consequence of any possible change is, theoretically, calculable. We thought it through, identified and elided some potential obstacles, and made the change. An hour later, we discovered that a major system was broken. And that didn’t happen because we’re dummies, it happened because even on a small scale, it’s very difficult for people to understand how networks fit together—which pieces depend on other pieces working, or depend on those pieces working in a particular way. Now think of a societal-scale network, where the number of nodes and interconnections are almost infinite. Just how confident in the power of reason to comprehend and prescribe can we be?
  25. Speech on the Representation of the commons in Parliament (1782) in Edmund Burke: Selected Writings and Speeches 398 (Stanlis, ed. 2009).
  26. Cf. MP: Traditional government functions (July 17, 2012).
  27. Philosophy of philosophies, 1 MPA 144, 145 (2012); accord MP: Caution and conservatism (Sep. 12, 2012).
  28. Philosophy of philosophies, supra.
  29. Kirk, at 43. As Walter Bagehot observed, great nations “may at last fail from not comprehending the great institutions which they have created”; what a mean fate it would be for the great experiment of the American Republic to end not in conquest or the failure of its essential premises, but rather unravelled by the mistakes of well-meaning but short-sighted dullards.
  30. See Rossiter, at 65; Kirk, at 43; cf. MP: Judicial Conservatism and the Obamacare Cases. By contrast, our opponents hold tradition in open contempt, believing that “each generation, indeed, each administration, should see unrolled before it the blank sheet of infinite possibility. And if by chance this tabula rasa has been defaced by the irrational scribblings of tradition-ridden ancestors, then the first task of the Rationalist must be to scrub it clean.” Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics.
  31. SF: Modernism in Politics (May 2011).
  32. Care and feeding, supra.
  33. See SF: Who Fired First? (Jan. 2007) . By contrast, to our opponents, “nothing is of value merely because it exists (and certainly not because it has existed for many generations), familiarity has no worth, and nothing is to be left standing for want of scrutiny.” Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics. Elsewhere, Oakeshott puts it like this:

    To be conservative… is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to Utopian bliss. Familiar relationships and loyalties will be preferred to the allure of more profitable attachments; to acquire and to enlarge will be less important than to keep, to cultivate and to enjoy; the grief of loss will be more acute than the excitement of novelty or promise. It is to be equal to one’s own fortune, to live at the level of one’s own means, to be content with the want of greater perfection which belongs alike to oneself and one’s circumstances. With some people this is itself a choice; in others it is a disposition which appears, frequently or less frequently, in their preferences and aversions, and is not itself chosen or specifically cultivated.

    On being a conservative, supra.

  34. SF: Sub nomine curiæ (Aug. 2007).
  35. SF: AMA v. Obamacare (June 2009).
  36. Rossiter, at 12; cf. Oakeshott, supra (“Changes, then, have to be suffered; and a man of conservative temperament … cannot be indifferent to them”).
  37. Traditional governmental functions, supra (emphasis added).
  38. See Holmes, The Common Law 1 (1881); New York Trust Co. v. Eisner, 256 U.S. 345, 349 (1921).
  39. Cf. AMA v. Obamacare, supra (“The upshot of this focus on practical experience in framing reforms is that in most circumstances, I believe that we should give a great deal of deference to the professionals in a given field—the people who are hands-on, the people on the front lines. [Where health policy is concerned,] Doctors, for example.”); Young, Institutional Settlement in a Globalizing Judicial System, 54 Duke L.J. 1143, 1150 (2005).
  40. Kirk, at 43.
  41. See SF: Regulation (Apr. 2009).
  42. SF: AMA v. Obamacare (June 2009).
  43. Kirk, at 42; cf. Rossiter, at 21 ff.
  44. See Rossiter at 32-35; cf. Reagan, First Inaugural Address (1980); Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws (1752) (“The political liberty of the subject is a tranquility of mind arising from the opinion each person has of his safety. In order to have this liberty, it is requisite the government be so constituted as one man need not be afraid of another”).
  45. Rossiter, at 65; Burke, Reflections on the revolution (“good order is the foundation of all good things”). The libertarian would likely lament, although not necessarily dispute, Lord Hailsham’s observation that nations “are continuously formed by [their institutions] or under their influence.” Granada guildhall lecture, Nov. 10, 1987. The conservative merely shrugs her shoulders and considers it the way of the world.
  46. Rossiter, at 35.
  47. See, e.g., Barry Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative 18 ff. (1990 ed.)
  48. See Kirk, at 42; cf. Rossiter, at 74-75.
  49. Cf. Rossiter, at 17.
  50. Oakeshott, On being a conservative.
  51. Oakeshott, supra.
  52. Kirk, at 43.
  53. Modernism in politics, supra; cf. Judicial conservatism, supra.
  54. Modernism in politics, supra (quoting 3 Thomas Huxley, Life & Letters 94 (2007)).
  55. Burke, Reflections on the revolution.
  56. Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics.
  57. Ibid.
  58. Cf. Rossiter, at 17.
  59. Some may leave if we do it. That’s unfortunate; it will be harder for us to win without them. But it’ll soon be impossible for us to win if we don’t.
  60. We should mull carefully Nick Kristoff’s related comments in the Times, too, notwithstanding that we should reject most of them.