Friday, April 29, 2005

Even more on the conservatism of doubt

It appears that mainstream conservatism isn't being fooled by Andrew Sullivan. Here's an excerpt from Jonah Goldberg's comments about "Crisis of Faith":
Which brings us back to the real role of conservatism. Sullivan nods to the fact that his division between conservatism of faith and conservatism of doubt is a bit unnatural and that most conservatives don’t fit into these “ideal types.” That should tell him something vital. If the actual humans we call conservatives in America aren’t in fact one or the other, then in an important sense conservatism in America isn’t one or the other. It’s both-and, not either-or. As much as I like doctrines of immutable truth, in the political context a movement is only what it believes and does. I agree with Sullivan that Republicans are straying a bit too much from conservatism and that conservatives are letting it happen too much and I think he offers important insights and useful suggestions on this score. But republicans are politicians and politicians promise to do things. Conservatives are people who — ultimately — explain why many things shouldn’t be done. As Hayek noted, “conservatives” in America are defenders of liberty because we wish to conserve those institutions that keep us free. This emphatically included the rich tapestry of moral traditions, dogmas, and precepts that have sustained Western civilization.

In the world we live in today, to be an American conservative requires two complementary forms of argumentation: skepticism about the new and faith in the old. You must have both to be a conservative of any stripe. Which new things you’re skeptical about and which old things you revere distinguish the kind of conservative you are. I think, unlike many readers, that by this criteria alone Sullivan is a conservative.
Another point that I made earlier was that the false distinction between conservatives of faith and conservatives of doubt gives Sullivan a convenient smear to use against anyone to his Right and a convenient term of approval for anyone he agrees with. As this excerpt from Sullivan's remarks about the Presidential press conference demonstrates, my point was exactly right:
Still, it was an impressive performance over all: at ease, in command, and effective. I doubt it will shift the public mood, which is souring on the Republican hegemony. But it certainly reassured me that [President Bush] is trying to tack away from the extreme right. Whether he can keep riding the tiger of religious zeal, while not falling off, remains to be seen. But in this press conference he struck me as a conservative of doubt more than one of fundamentalist faith.
It'll be interesting to see if President Bush becomes a conservative of faith again once the Federal Marriage Amendment returns to the public spotlight.

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