Rationalist Conservatism

This has been quoted all over the place, but I just ran across it. It makes me nostalgic for intellectual, secular conservatism. It’s a perspective from a wholly other “George W” …

George Will in Newsweek, May 2005:
The Oddness of Everything – Newsweek Columnists – MSNBC.com

the greatest threat to civility—and ultimately to civilization—is an excess of certitude. The world is much menaced just now by people who think that the world and their duties in it are clear and simple. They are certain that they know what—who—created the universe and what this creator wants them to do to make our little speck in the universe perfect, even if extreme measures—even violence—are required.

America is currently awash in an unpleasant surplus of clanging, clashing certitudes. That is why there is a rhetorical bitterness absurdly disproportionate to our real differences. It has been well said that the spirit of liberty is the spirit of not being too sure that you are right. One way to immunize ourselves against misplaced certitude is to contemplate—even to savor—the unfathomable strangeness of everything, including ourselves.

This is much closer to the mindset held by the people who founded this country.

Andrew Sullivan discussed a similar divide back in April, between the “conservatism of faith and the conservatism of doubt .”

Edited to add: I meant to mention … Sullivan’s article is terrific. He makes it very clear how the GOP essentially fell asleep next to a body-snatcher pod and has turned into something quite different. (My metaphor, not his … but you get the drift.)

The way he describes the traditional “conservatism of doubt” actually sounds a hell of a lot more like my own politics than what many conservatives think of as “liberal” … I think many conservatives especially (and middle america in general) hear “liberal” and what pops into their heads is ideologue/atheist academic hippies and activist gays in tutus. And while those people are all kind of fun to watch in a parade, and while I love it that America is diverse enough to contain them all, they’re not necessarily the people I think are balanced enough in their perspectives to run our country. What I mean is that we have to watch out for wild-eyed fundamentalists of any stripe.

Editing again to add!:

A friend pointed out to me that an activist who likes tutus isn’t necessarily unreasonable. So, yes, mea culpa, I overgeneralized. Lots of very reasonable people are eccentric or non-mainstream in their appearance and social style. I was meaning militant/fundamentalist-activist, not just people engaged on activism. (PETA vs. the Humane Society, perhaps? Though, heck, somebody will probably disagree with that too.)

What I was trying to get at was I’ve met people from all different walks who are so narrow in their views, and militant, that it would be a bad idea to put them in office. Whether gay or straight, Christian or Atheist, liberal or conservative.

Essentially, anyone who favors less diversity of thought over more, or who would make everyone follow their ideology if given the chance, doesn’t “get” our country well enough to be entrusted with leading it. The Constitution makes it clear that the only ideology that’s “sacred” is protecting the rights of people to think and say what they want (without endangering people or lying for personal gain, etc). Otherwise, what is this “liberty” stuff anyway?

But are they allowed to run for office? Sure. Can people vote them in? Absolutely. Which is yet another reason why the separation of powers and checks and balances are good things. People with extremist agendas can be slowed down long enough to vote them back out when the populace comes to its senses (we hope and pray).

Author: Andrew Hinton

I use information to architect better places for humans. More at andrewhinton.com.

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