“We are reformers in spring and summer; in autumn and winter we stand by the old—reformers in the morning, conservatives at night. Reform is affirmative, conservatism is negative; conservatism goes for comfort, reform for truth.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
From Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary- Conservatism: Conservative principles; the disposition and tendency to preserve what is established; opposition to change.
While I applaud Ralph Waldo Emerson’s sentiments, I believe he was wrong about conservatism and comfort. Instead, I suspect that conservatism stems from fear, especially the fear of change. But change is a constant. Desperately whining and grousing will not-- cannot prevent change. All social advances, including science and the humanities were brought about by people who changed things—reformers in the spring and summer, not those who stood by the old.
What I am: Hybrid Idealogue
All horrendous tyrannies were also brought about by change, trumpeted & spearheaded by reformers. If you happen to be able to think, you ought to consider that 'Social advance' presupposes that you know that change is change for the better, which means that you know the good. If you only judge what was good change & what was bad change retrospectively, you lie to yourself about what it means to advance... In a very pretty way, your account of change ignores that change only means one thing ultimately: Death.
Yes, conservatism is born of fear. Fear of death is reasonable for all mortal creatures. Arrangements to deal with the problems of our mortality may be said to be wrought of fear, but then again all prudence is. It is insanity to suggest that there may come an age when prudence would no longer be necessary. Let me quote to you Madison writing in Federalist #51: It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
"In a very pretty way, your account of change ignores that change only means one thing ultimately: Death."
You lost me there.
This happy-go-lucky fellow talks about change as if it's always good, or at least good most of the time; he talks as if the future inevitably works for the best. Really, in the future you die. That's it. If you are even vaguely aware of yourself, you are aware of your powers, of being alive--that is how you think of yourself--but soon you will grow weak & die. That's what change means. That's what we want to avoid. There's no need for safety measures, medicine, & dreams of world peace unless you understand that you are bound to die, & do your damnedest to avoid dying.
Okay, yea, the future ultimately brings death. However, I don't believe the association of all change to death is a fair one. In many cases, change prolongs life. So to correlate conservatism with fear of death is kind of silly.
The way you talk about change is like a guy telling you some disease that will kill you next week could save you from a disease that will kill you tomorrow. That buys you a week. Then you die anyway.
Change is the same as saying that all being is being in motion. The motion of the human beings is to death. Sometimes slower, sometimes quicker, but that's what it is. If there is no being that is the same always, then the illusion of anything being in any other way than unto death is merely the hope that hides the ugly truth.
Tell me, if people did not fear death, how could gov't work--there would no longer be any compulsion! What use would police & armies be? Extermination? Even that requires fear of death on the part of the exterminators... If fear of death did not lead people into the arms of modern science, who except the pathologically curious would care about science?
I'm more talking about change (powered by fear of death as you said) that increased the human lifespan by about 40 years. Or change that improved quality of life for people before they met their inevitable end. Changing and adapting to our environment is how we got to where we are today.
What you are talking about has nothing to do with being a liberal or a conservative. There isn't much of an argument here for conservatism being the fear of death and there never being a need for reform because it only masks the horrendous truth that we all die.
I take it we are agreed that the engine of science & of law is the fear of death. I have proven half of what I intend to prove then.
Fear of death is not in itself sufficient to create modern science. Further assumptions are needed--fear of death would only supply the effectual truth of modern science: That it must avoid death at all costs, so to speak.
Reasoning is also required in order to fight the necessity behind death. The requirements of reason in science are the requirements of experimentation & observation, which assume that things are always & everywhere the same; that there are fundamental unchanging things, like laws of nature. So we have come to a contradiction: Is being always being in motion--or are there fundamental truths that point to beings that are unchanging?
When we remember that it is finite, mortal human beings that have dreamt up dreams of immortal laws of nature, we remember that it is all a dream. The effectual truth--more powerful weaponry, longer lifespan--does not require the theoretical ambitions of science. Longer living human beings are no better able to prove that there is anything immortal than they were before. Objectivity is merely the illusion that hides the ugly truth.
Conservatism is grounded in an awareness of the limits of human powers that latter-day liberalism avoids. Latter-day liberalism is historicist, believing each new age present fundamentally new problems & insights, but it is too superficial to understand what problems this radical view of change creates. It is the conservative insight into our weakness, essentially our finitude or mortality that was brought up by Nietzsche & Heidegger, who showed that if man changes radically through the ages, he is fated, & powerless to know himself. The ages change the illusions, but that's it. I have yet to see latter-day liberalism stare into the abyss caused by talk of progress & explain it away... Conservatism is a more sober teaching; it insists on self-knowledge, not the hope that the future may be perfect; it admits that human life may be tragic.
"So we have come to a contradiction: Is being always being in motion--or are there fundamental truths that point to beings that are unchanging?"
I'm sorry but the wording there is throwing me off and I'm not quite sure what you are getting at.
As far as immortality goes, I'm not sure there is any scientist (of merit) who truly thinks we can gain immortality. However, if we only have one life to live, why not make it last as long and make it as fruitful as we can?
Maybe I am misunderstanding you, but what I get from your posts is that life sucks, we all die, and we shouldn't do anything to change anything in between. I don't think conservatism need be that pessimistic, nor do I think liberalism require someone to have their head in the clouds. Should nothing ever be changed?
As someone mentioned earlier, American conservatism is really a result of European liberalism. If we want to be truly conservative, should we revert back to the beginnings of mankind?
Maybe it would be easier to make myself understood if I gave you a bit of background & examined your crucial objection to my presentation.
Fear of death as a ruling passion was introduced by Hobbes & accepted by Locke. Hence its connection to American politics, to modern liberalism, including its conservative wing. It's never disappeared, Heidegger was the last to bring it back as a philosophical problem.
Over against this, you suggest that maybe we should make life fruitful. What would that mean? What is the fruition of the human being? To what can a human being aspire to compensate for the inevitability of death? What except effective lies could compensate for that?
Okay, I am starting to see where this is going. We have gone much off of the political realm and deep into the philosophical one (although I agree they do intertwine). Unfortunately, I am just now studying Hobbes in my Intentional Relations class so I am unable to intelligently speak about ideals.
As for the fruition of human beings, I think we all have our own ideas of what that is and live our lives in a manner reflective of that.