Sunday, March 22, 2009

Conservatism, Twaddle, and the Child-Like

Andrew Sullivan quotes Stewart Lundy for the latest bit of nebulous twaddle on the nature of conservatism:

Conservatism is “formless” like water: it takes the shape of its conditions, but always remains the same. This is why Russell Kirk calls conservatism the “negation of ideology” in The Politics of Prudence. It is precisely the formlessness of conservatism which gives it its vitality. Left alone, the spirit of conservatism is essentially what T.S. Eliot calls the “stillness between two waves of the sea” in “Little Gidding” of his Four Quartets. Conservatism is both like water and the stillness between the waves—the waves are not the water acting, but being acted upon; stillness is the default state of conservatism ...
Surely. Conservatism is all that and a bag of chips and a double-scoop ice cream, including an adorable fuzzy puppy to finish off anything dropped on the floor. In the face of this insipid onanism, John Cole is roughly as impressed as I am:
I am so sick and tired of these “esoteric” discussions about the flawless, formless, and timeless beauty of conservatism. It is utter nonsense. We got unchecked “conservatism” the past eight years, and instead of water, it felt more like urine, as they pissed all over us. Conservatism brought us an expanded surveillance state, intervention into a man’s marriage, unchecked budgets, war of aggression, torture, a rejection and mockery of both science and the rule of law, the unchecked executive branch, and on and on and on. The conservative standard bearers are now Sarah Palin and Eric Cantor and Rush Limbaugh and Joe the Plumber.
For those of us who have been trying to forget it, this serves as a reminder that Joe the Plumber continues to exist and to be taken seriously in the circles of really-existing conservatism:

Notwithstanding the mention of "a condition of complete simplicity" in the closing lines of Eliot's "Little Gidding," anyone who reads the poem and is reminded of Joe the Plumber or Sarah Palin is, at best, succumbing to a very fundamental confusion.

While there's something to be said for the qualities of simplicity, humility, and that which is most basic and precious, it does not follow that every instance of willful simple-mindedness is a good. The veneration of home, family, and enduring things can originate from a child-like stance, and can be perfectly laudable; lying on the couch bellowing for more candy can also come from a child-like pose, and it is not laudable.

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