Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I'm not a conservative, but...

I liked this column a lot (David Brooks again!): "Two Theories of Change". I happened across it from a post in Greg Mankiw's blog, entitled "Modesty, Gradualism, Balance" (I don't claim these are qualities or approaches I exhibit -- merely that I appreciate), which also has a very small-c conservative ring. Mankiw applied those words, taken from Brooks' column, to his own style of "libertarianism", which I would agree with largely, but with a proviso that I'll get to:
I described myself as a "libertarian at the margin." By that, I meant that given our starting point today, I believe more reliance on individual liberty and less on governmental solutions is usually a step in the right direction, but I often recoil at more radical libertarian positions.
Brooks' column itself had a wider reach -- he began by talking about the two versions of the Enlightenment, one being the much better known French or continental Enlightenment, the other being the lesser known but no less important Scottish/British Enlightenment of Hume, Burke, Adam Smith, and others. And "...if the members of the French Enlightenment focused on the power of reason, members of the British Enlightenment emphasized its limits." -- which relates to an important part of the "Theme" of this blog. Brooks relates the two versions of Enlightenment to two styles of politics that continue to contend today -- he ends his column thus:
The children of the British Enlightenment are in retreat. Yet there is the stubborn fact of human nature. The Scots were right, and the French were wrong. And out of that truth grows a style of change, a style that emphasizes modesty, gradualism and balance.
And that too I'd largely agree with. But -- this is my proviso and the reason why in the end I'm not really a conservative -- we need more than a style of change. We need a direction. And a reason. And once we have those, we need actually to make change, modestly, gradually, pragmatically, and with balance.

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