Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Why Roger Kimball is a Conservative

Thanks to Jeff Hodges for bringing my attention to "Conservative and Libertarian Intellectual Philosophy and Politics." (One wonders about the force of 'intellectual' in this description.) The current issue features an interview with Roger Kimball in which, among other things, he explains why he is a conservative. The blue highlighting is my addition.

RK: I am a conservative because I am a liberal. That sounds glib, but it is true. (I take the formulation from Russell Kirk.) What is a conservative? A believer in freedom who understands that civilization, the precondition for liberty, is a fragile achievement won at great cost and preserved only at the expense of unceasing vigilance. A “liberal” in the contemporary sense is often someone who is willing to barter freedom for the sake of some utopian dream, someone who discounts the reality of human imperfection and the constant temptation to evil and chaos, someone who trusts in “planning,” “rational solutions,” and “education.” I ended my book Tenured Radicals with this passage from Evelyn Waugh; it sums up one important reason I am a conservative: “Barbarism,” Waugh wrote in 1938,

is never finally defeated; given propitious circumstances, men and women who seem quite orderly will commit every conceivable atrocity. The danger does not come merely from habitual hooligans; we are all potential recruits for anarchy. Unremitting effort is needed to keep men living together at peace; there is only a margin of energy left over for experiment however beneficent. Once the prisons of the mind have been opened, the orgy is on. There is no more agreeable position than that of dissident from a stable society. Theirs are all the solid advantages of other people's creation and preservation, and all the fun of detecting hypocrisies and inconsistencies. There are times when dissidents are not only enviable but valuable. The work of preserving society is sometimes onerous, sometimes almost effortless. The more elaborate the society, the more vulnerable it is to attack, and the more complete its collapse in case of defeat. At a time like the present it is notably precarious. If it falls we shall see not merely the dissolution of a few joint-stock corporations, but of the spiritual and material achievements of our history.