I was infuriated reading David Brooks' column today in the NYT. According to Brooks', "life is best organized as a series of daring ventures from a secure base". Allow me to paraphrase: "You are infants, and we will make sure we keep you away from power so you don't get hurt."
Conservatives have been infantilizing for as long as power has existed. But Brooks is somehow more irritating and corrosive than even Burke. Burke was obviously a member of an upper class that was truly blind to the world. He grew up in privilege, and the lens through which he saw the world was abject fear of chaos and disorder. No society for more than 1,000 years had survived without a monarch or similar, so his support for aristocracy had the same legitimacy as support for Newtonian physics until Quantum physics came alone - rigid power structures around religion and class did seem to promise more stability than constant tribal and small-state warfare.
But Brooks, this is the 21st century. We have the French and American revolutions, the emergence of democratic Europe from Fascism, the Internet, and countless other examples that prove that while the rule of law is essential for the prosperity and happiness, rigid societal order is not. You know better, but you promote worse.
Before we knew that men and women could prosper in liberal democracy, Conservatism was a legitimate theory - neither proven nor disproven. At this point, its predictive ability as a model is false, and like any theory that fails to predict real-world behavior, it must be abandoned.
Frankly, I think that Brooks' conservatism is as deep as market testing. He started with BOBOs then moved to Kansas. During his spiritual pilgrimage to the heartland of America he had a revelation like Paul of Tarsus - "Hey! Middle America is a much better market! They want someone who seems smart to tell them they are right and the West Coast is a bunch of superior you know whats"
But as he criticizes Conservatism in his editorial, he intellectual fatuousness just folds over on itself, lie over self-deception over delusion. For example, in his "two branches of conservatism" argument, he claims one branch:
Because they were conservative, they tended to believe that power should be devolved down to the lower levels of this chain. They believed that people should lead disciplined, orderly lives, but doubted that individuals have the ability to do this alone, unaided by social custom and by God. So they were intensely interested in creating the sort of social, economic and political order that would encourage people to work hard, finish school and postpone childbearing until marriage.Lets try to parse this - exactly who is it in the conservative party that believes "power should be devolved" to a lower level? Does he read what he is writing? Conservatives may believe that power is in patriarchy, because they need a father-figure. But the root of Conservatism is power - the Calvinist "chosen" - not in devolution. If a person cannot lead an orderly life alone, and requires social, economic, and political order, how is that devolution?
David, my sweet, sweet friend, read what you are writing. You cannot claim that you believe power needs to be devolved to the individual if you also believe that the individual needs a suffocating matrix of rules. Who, pray tell, writes and enforces these rules? What if the power, once devolved, becomes self-aware and realizes that the social structures like aristocracy and plutocracy, are actually parasites?
There is a place for structure and order, and Lord knows our primitive brains crave it, but it is an element of society, it is not society. Burke was honest - he just believed that everything should be in a rigid structure - a tree that grows for 100s of years with light pruning. Everyone knowing their place. He was wrong, but at least he was honest. David, you are in a position to actually read and understand modern history. Unlike Burke, you do not have to fear chaos when everyone is given the vote, because you can see that greater suffrage tends to lead to better outcomes. You do not have to yearn for the stolid hand of a father-figure, because you can see how children have created some of the most transformative technologies and young people have driven profound cultural change.
Conservatism isn't failing because of conflict with two branches of conservatism. Conservatism is failing because it can no longer contain its own contradictions. Like newtonian physics in a quantum world or a medieval cosmology in the age of the Hubble, its model has to face that what it imagined (and what it feared) as true was simply wrong, and the contortions required to keep it on life support are tortured, contradictory, primitive and wrong.