segunda-feira, 14 de fevereiro de 2005

The Utopian Conservatives

Joseph Sobran:

Since when is revolutionary a conservative compliment? Modern conservatism is usually dated from Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1791), a profoundly anti-revolutionary book that warned against an imprudent disdain for tradition.

Burke presciently argued that France’s hot pursuit of “the abstract rights of man” could lead only to violence and, finally, tyranny, probably under some strongman. He wrote this years before the world had heard of Napoleon Bonaparte.

France had just undergone a self-inflicted regime change, and after a year of observation from across the English Channel Burke found himself “alarmed into reflection” on the bloody events in Paris. He set down his thoughts in some of the most beautiful English prose ever written, a model for all future conservatives.

Burke stressed such principles as prudence, tradition, and a sense of limits, as opposed to utopian hopes for perfect political arrangements on earth. Political wisdom begins with the realization that man is a fallen creature whose passions need to be checked, not inflamed. Until recently, nearly all professed conservatives would have agreed.

But today the new conservative consensus seems to be that Burke’s principles are applicable when Democrats are in power but may be set aside when Republicans rule. Conservatives, in just a few years, have been transformed into utopians. (...)

Bush was straining for the same effect. America’s freedom depends on freedom everywhere. We will eliminate tyranny, everywhere, forever and ever! And just how do we do that? By expanding the War on Terror into a War on Tyranny?(...)

Did this mean that allies of the United States will henceforth have to be democratic? Or else?(...)

The inaugural address itself is just one of the rituals: The president is supposed to make idealistic JFK-type declarations about freedom and resolve that nobody takes very literally.

But in Bush’s case, you never know. He may mean every word of it, to judge by his policies. A global crusade for democracy is not out of the question. Or maybe he was just looking for a quick bump in the polls, as when, a couple of years ago, he came up with the idea of sending a man to Mars. That didn’t seize the public imagination as hoped, so we’ve heard no more of it.

What is clear, though, is that Bush is pretty nearly the diametric opposite of a Burkean conservative. Modern conservatives like Robert Taft, Russell Kirk, and Michael Oakeshott wouldn’t recognize him as one of their own.

His zeal for utopian language and utopian projects marks him as an alien to the breed. He shares the Napoleonic ambition to impose a new international order.

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