February 12, 2003

More on Australian Conservatism

Since writing the previous post I have come across other responses to the Scruton article and reflections on conservatism in the blogsphere which I was unaware of at the time of witing.

A comment on the biographical part of Scruton 's article can be found at Chris Bertram's The moaning of conservatism These remarks are countered by Matthew Yglesias.

A more extended commentary can be found at Volokh Conspiracy by Jacob Levy (10.09 am). Jacob makes several good points.

He confirms my argument in the previous post that Scruton argues that conservatism is innately opposed to system-building and that it has historically being expressed as an extended argument with competing traditions, rather than as a habit of mind. The habit of mind theseis is very popular in Australia.

Jacob says Anglo-American conservatism has always been thin on the ground, because the British and American "traditions" have typically been understood as liberal. If the key figures in the conservative tradition are Burke and Oakeshott, then there's simply not much very conservative conservatism to go around. There is Adams, Calhoun, the southern conservatives, and Russell Kirk in the traditional canon of American political thought. Britain has Stephens, Carlyle, Ruskin. He says that these are all worth teaching, and reading, in some specialized contexts. But-- compared with a Continental tradition that includes de Maistre, Hegel, Fichte, Vico, Schmitt, Heidegger, etc--these just aren't dominant figures in the course of Anglo-American thought.

As always Leo Strauss gets forgotten despite his long critical argument about the crisis of modernity and the need to return to the Greeks. And where's the explosive Nietzsche?

The last point Jacob makes is that there are lots of conservative journals today and he lists them off the top of his head.

What we can infer from this is that Australian conservatives---and they do exist (eg. Australian Tory)--- haven't really done all that much to establish the importance or significance of conservatism to contemporary public issues. Thats what they should be doing. There are enough resources around for them to begin to do that. For an example see Eve Tushnet.

Eve also has a good post on the above discussion under CAN CONSERVATIVES THINK (Feb 6th). She emakes lots of good points.

She has two points that I concur with. First, Nietzsche has basically blown up the entire framework of the modern rationalist project... if you follow the premises of modern liberal (& marxist) thought to their conclusions the Enlightenment project begins to dissolve. We are then left with a dialectic of enlightenment-- that was response from the Marxist tradition by Adorno and Horkheimer to Nietzsche's explosion.

The other point Eve makes is introduce Madison's thesis that the US is "partly national, partly federal." ("Federal" = a confederation of strong states.) A more general version of this federalism based on separation of powers with its conflict between the states and the commonwealth would take us beyond the knee jerk state rights and the old, cliched ALP response that being modern requires us to dump the states and federalism. Federalism needs rethinking in a globalised world.

We have certainly transgressed the conservatism is a habit of mind understanding that is so prevalent in Australia. And Eve's many questions take us a lot furthe down the pathway of conservatism speaking sensibly about contemporary issues.

Do read her post. It is very good. It should be required reading for all those who are Australian conservatives. The address again is Eve Tushnet.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at February 12, 2003 08:26 AM | TrackBack

The basis for a social-democratic government is freedom of speech. How does this conflict with the fact that freedom of speech for facists is just, while they are lobbying for a government which oppresses free speech? This is a proven example that socialism ad democracy is weak, for it allows the very powers that wish to overrule it speak up and try to destroy them.

Posted by: Matt Howard on May 22, 2003 02:27 PM
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