James C. Banks

Sufficient to Stand

In Uncategorized on February 17, 2011 at 4:53 am

“Why should any young man want to be a conservative, on a globe where so much needs changing?” asked Peter Viereck rhetorically in one of the founding essays of the post-war Conservative Movement.  That was 1940.  Today, the question might be rephrased as “Why should anyone want to be called conservative, on a globe he so much wants to change?”  Half-a-century ago, calling someone a conservative might ignite a libel suit, but today it might win him an election.  Back then, conservatism was defined by nothing but the generally negative disposal of public opinion toward it.  Today, far more Americans identify as “conservative” rather than “liberal” or “moderate”, but, as with other modes and formulas for political identification (“pro-life” “libertarian”), little consensus exists as to what a “conservative” is.

While the Conservative Movement benefits from a highly dynamic and engaging blogosphere (represented by websites like ””Postmodern Conservative,” “Front Porch Republic” and “The Corner“), it has been in media like radio and (with the advent of the News Corporation) television and newspapers that “conservatism” has become the new mainstream.  No abstract definition can be invoked, indeed conservatism is largely a reaction to abstraction, but the culture has developed a broad opinion as to what constitutes “some sort of conservative.”  This broad opinion could be summarized in bullet points: limited government, free enterprise, generally pro-life politics, and formidable defense exercised in the national interest form the backbone of the current establishment which describes itself as “conservative”.

These ideas and the policies they generate may connect at a level of first principle, but it is often difficult for any conservative to articulate why this is the case.  It is for this reason that conservatives need new forums to discuss and debate not only principles but also prejudices and the line between the two necessary modes of judgment, especially as these pertain to the triumvirate of civic life—politics, religion and culture.  To do this takes more than a set of first principles oriented toward political action (or inaction in many cases).  It takes a broad understanding of the limits, capabilities and nature of humanity.  No conservative is a humanist (at least as that phrase has been used in the modern era), but every conservative has a love of humanity.

In acknowledgment of this point, the blog takes Jonathan Swift’s work for its namesake.  Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, is paradoxically highly celebrated without ever having been claimed by conservatives, even while conservatives have welcomed men of the Left such as Huxley or Mill into their pantheon.  Swift foresaw that extremist attempts of the “enlightened” lead to the guillotine (in the 18th century) or the gas chamber (in the 20th) before even a single pamphlet had been circulated or a word had been spoken of the Volk, and, as much as he disdained humanity’s shortcomings, he saw the alternative as leading only to fantasy and despair.  Gulliver’s Dispatch continues a legacy that began more than 250 years ago, asking of its authors and commentators neither consensus nor dogma, but only appropriate respect for the pillars of civic life.  

Because conservatism does not embrace revolution, new conservative associations will often justify themselves by claiming that the movement needs to return to its prelapsarian state; that, somewhere along the line, the movement fell from grace and was cast out of its Eden—perhaps when riots broke out in Baghdad, or Newt Gingrich surrendered the Speaker’s gavel or George H. W. Bush broke his “no new taxes” pledge.  But this sort of language—“We came to change Washington, instead Washington changed us”—is more Rousseau-ian than conservative, and it is for this reason that this blog does not have as its stated purpose the goal of “getting back to the basics.”  The fault lies not in our institutions, but in ourselves.  For this reason, we prefer to serve as a voice for the conservative core that has always existed, to one degree or another, as part of American discourse.  No set policy agenda falls from conservative thought—and, as such, policy will not be our emphasis—but, as conservatives, we maintain our respect for human nature as it is, but also our skepticism of its ability to overcome its contradictions and conflicts.  This is an appropriate disposition for conservatism and, though these instincts may occasionally lead conservatives to the wrong conclusion, it is sufficient to stand in a fallen world.

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