The other week someone called me a “traditional conservative.” I had to look it up to see what exactly he meant. The Wikipedia page was a bit messy but it did lead me to a dense essay called Classical Conservatism (pdf). It reveals that I share some beliefs with the ideology. Here are the essay’s highlights…
The traditionalist conservative’s first feeling, the intuition that constitutes his or her moral source, is the sense of loss, and hence, of nostalgia.
While in possession, we take our good for granted and thus often fail to recognize it. But in the face of loss, the human good is vividly revealed to us. We lament the loss of goods, not the loss of evils, which is why lament illuminates. Is it not striking that whereas antebellum Southern writers championed both the economic and moral superiority of the “peculiar institution,” postbellum Southern conservatives typically did not lament the loss of slavery? Rather, the latter lamented the loss of gentility, gallantry, domesticity, and the virtues of yeoman agriculturalists.
The traditionalists’ touchstones for the human good all lie in the past, not in some glorious visionary future.
…no one would disagree that Wal-Mart and free trade spell lower prices and often greater choice for Americans as consumers. But, to take the case of Wal-Mart, is not something lost, some kind of social capital, when the proprietors of a small town’s chamber of commerce are “converted” into corporate employees? Is not something lost, as well as gained, in the proliferation of broadcast media? Is more choice always better? Does life in a consumer society perhaps promote superficial “lifestyles” structured by purchases and ephemeral fashions rather than “ways of life” structured by lasting commitments?
The sun too will set on the era of American exceptionalism. When it does, those who have placed their fondest hopes in the promises of ideological politics may feel themselves dispossessed and demoralized; but those who have hearkened to the teachings of the traditionalists may find themselves, at last, at home.
Traditional conservatives can be boiled down into believing that not all change is good. They look to the past for what was lost and how to recapture it while liberals look to the future for what more can be gained in the form of expanded rights, new privileges, birth control subsidies, and dole money. Both offer a counterbalance to society, with one side hitting the brakes while the other hits the gas.
I think it can be argued that in the past 30 years all we’ve done is hit the gas, with very little thought of how that progress impacts human behavior. The pedal is now to the metal while we all race down the highway in the dark of night without wearing out seatbelts. Traditional conservatives highlight the deadly accidents and say, “Look at this, we need to slow down!” while the left yells, “Fuck it, we need to keep going!”
The line for me was drawn with smartphones, a disruptive technology that came about in my late twenties. I was able to see first-hand how this invention degraded society, not just in America but later in Eastern Europe. I then began to think: what else has had a negative effect without us realizing it? How has pair bonding eroded with each new innovation or policy that have been heralded by our corporate masters?
While I don’t place as much concern in the evaporating family unit like mainstream tradcons, I do believe they understand what it takes to create a stable family unit. The left has done a great job in labeling them as gay-hating crackpots, ensuring that the brakes won’t be applied anytime soon.