THE PLANK FEBRUARY 6, 2009
This super-pragmatism with a long-term preference for expanding freedom and limiting government is how I see the conservative temperament. At what point does it simply become me-tooism for liberalism? It does imply a constant long-term defeat, as cultural and social liberalism make their in-roads, or even as Christianism and Islamism wax and wane as neurotic religious responses to modernity. But conservatism's genius is to be cheerful and imaginative in managing defeat; and conservatives can always hope that the increasing complexity of modern society will make libertarian and federalist approaches more appealing, because they are the only ones capable of keeping such a multi-cultural polity in one piece.
Can this work in America? Or is America a creedal nation, immune to Burkean management and governable only by religious or populist or utopian appeals? You can see my debate with David Brooks about this here. A nation with pragmatists like Truman and Eisenhower and even Clinton in its recent past can, I think, generate conservative leadership which is shrewd and practical - and successful. And part of the work is already done in America by the constitution itself: a document that sets up a system of government deliberately resistant to massive change or concentration of power. The very framework of this country is conservative in the Burkean sense, as Burke himself recognized.