Monday, June 8, 2009

Conservative Common Sense

Candidate Obama got all the way from the US Senate to the White House on the strength of "Hope" and "Change." Hugh Hewitt's tame ad guy, Bear in the Woods, thinks that we can and should learn from the president.

I've written a lot here about the need for an encompassing mantra that can accommodate the range of conservative positions, yet at the same time speak to individual, single issue niches.

Bear tries out a few notions, like "Truth" and "More Than a Feeling," but he settles on "Common Sense."

Common Sense speaks to reason, wisdom, and truth. Common Sense has broad appeal, and applies to conservative positions on every single policy. Common Sense tells us you can't get out of debt by spending more, you can't alienate achievers and hope to achieve, you can't protect from a position of weakness, and you can't improve the efficiency of anything by applying more government. Common Sense has strong roots in history, and is a strong statement of purpose for conservative values today. Common Sense makes sense, across the board.

Absolutely. Modern conservatism starts with Edmund Burke and his critique of extreme rationalists, "sophisters, economists, and calculators," he called them. It is well to recall exactly in what terms he excoriated them,

The age of chivalry is gone. -- That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold a generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom.

He is, of course, celebrating a certain degree of hierarchy. And in the two centuries since he wrote you can see his point. It is all very well to design all human institutions according to a rational administrative model. But you don't really get rid of hierarchy in your thirst for equality. What you do is strip hierarchy of its reciprocal obligation. You make it into a mechanical thing.

But now all is to be changed. All the pleasing illusions, which made power gentle, and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland simulation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the super-added ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of her naked shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.

This is not to say that traditional society does not have its oppression and its cruelties. Of course it does. But we can certainly see that the modern era, with its vast bureaucratic, rational, administrative state and its huge corporations, is no stranger to oppression and cruelty.

What Burke argued for was a moderation in the march to the future. In other words, he argued for Common Sense. And so do we.

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