Sunday, January 29, 2012

Conservatism and Change

Dancing Revolutionaries 

Many regard conservatism as opposition to all forms of change.  They see conservatives as hidebound preservers of the status quo.  Conservatives are old-fashioned traditionalists and intrinsically reactionary. Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil's Dictionary defined "Conservative" thus: "n. A statesman who is enamoured of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wished to replace them with others."

Unsurprisingly, I do not happen to share this view of conservatism.

Consider what Ronald Reagan said in his farewell address on January 11th, 1989...

"We meant to change nation and, instead, we changed a world."  These were no mere empty words.  The Welfare reform of the 1990's which had the support of a Republican congress and a Democratic President (Bill Clinton) would not have been possible without the Reagan revolution.  Nor is this welfare reform even controversial from the perspective of 2012.  The Reagan administration changed not just the Republican party but its opposition as well.  Bill Clinton was a different kind of Democrat than Tip O'Neil.  On the international front, it was only a matter of months after Reagan spoke about changing the world that the Berlin Wall was reduced to a heap of rubble (Berlin Wall opened November 9th, 1989).

Thatcher in the UK also changed not only her own party and Britain.  Her success also changed fundamentally the nature of the opposition Labour party.  Tony Blair and New Labour would never go back to policies of nationalisation and complete trade union domination.

Consider what Daniel Yergin wrote about Thatcher recently in the Wall Street Journal...

'Yet her true impact has to be measured by what came after, and there the effect is clear. When Tony Blair and Gordon Brown took the leadership of the Labour Party, they set out to modernize it. They forced the repeal of the party's constitutional clause IV with its commitment to state ownership of the commanding heights of the economy.

They did not try to reverse the fundamentals of Thatcherite economics. Mr. Blair recognized that without wealth creation, the risk was redistribution of the shrinking slices of a shrinking pie. The "new" Labour Party, he once said, should not be a party that "bungs up your taxes, runs a high-inflation economy and is hopelessly inefficient" and "lets the trade unions run the show.'  Daniel Yergin, WSJ, January 26th, 2012.

For his full article check out...

If you seek a quick "un-devilish" definition of conservatism, Reagan summed it up pretty well in his same farewell address...

 "I hope we once again have reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There's a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts."

If government has grown bloated, corrupt and inefficient, then a conservative has a duty to become an agent of change in reforming it.

G.K Chesterton, the great English mystery writer (Father Brown mysteries) , was a strong conservative, a devout Catholic and a traditionalist.  He offered a great explanation of the conservative's proper attitude towards the spirit of reform and change...

English writer G.K. Chesterton in "The Thing" (1929):

"There exists . . . a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it." . . .

G.K. Chesterton
Some person had some reason for thinking [the gate or fence] would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. . . . The truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served.

But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion. . . . This principle applies to a thousand things, to trifles as well as true institutions, to convention as well as to conviction."  From WSJ Notable and Quotable 12/30/11.


1 comment:

Adam said...

Hmm, President Reagan was critical of the USSR for having waged proxy wars in the 1970s. I guess he's no conservative!