Saturday, October 17, 2015

Quick Take on the New Foreword to What Is Conservatism?

For the thoughts of random taxi drivers there’s Thomas Friedman, but otherwise the best columnist going is Jonah Goldberg. If you don’t get his NR after dark G-File, sign up here . His new foreword to the re-released What Is Conservatism is typically interesting. However, I think he slightly misses the mark in his conclusion when he writes “Fusionism is a failure if one looks to it as a source for what to think. But it is a shining success if one sees it as a guide for how to think.”

Now in what follows there lurks a rather glaring contradiction. In arguing that a book of this kind which doesn’t tell you what to think is not really a failure I am inevitably telling you what to think. And since I have no idea how to resolve this contradiction, I’m just going to pretend that it doesn’t exist.

But in what I take to be a work of political philosophy I’d argue that how to think is the correct criteria. One thing I’ve taken from reading Oakeshott is that the conclusions of a philosopher are less important and of less interest than how the philosopher arrives at those conclusions. Like math lessons, there’s no credit if you don’t show your work. And I am reminded of the many Firing Line answers given by William F. Buckley in the form of “for the conservative there is a presumption in favor of…………”

To be sure, we don’t start from zero, and it is safe to say we can eliminate communism, fascism and their like from consideration. But for 99% of our political discussions it strikes me that truth statements are of the asymptotic [still borrowing from WFB here] variety. In that range, how to think is more conservative, as I understand it, than what to think.

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