Thursday, February 21, 2008

Conservatism and Trust

This is picking up on a comment that Al made here. Al argues that "Conservatives like short sharp shocks, prison and capital punishment" and "Trusting properly is of course a huge ask. You might end up getting nailed to a tree. But I think it's clear that that is what the Gospels ask us to do. And politically they ask us to tend away from punishing and towards liberalism."

My trouble with your perspective, Al, is that you have defined the terms to suit your argument. A conservative is, by your definition, someone who does not trust; they are therefore deficient in some way (not quite fully enlightened); and their position needs more psychoanalytic treatment than reasoned argument. (You're describing what I would call a reactionary.)

There is no reason on earth why a conservative shouldn't embrace carrots as much as sticks - whatever works is good, that's a very pragmatic (=conservative) approach.

It's a bit like a race that everyone's invited to, but then the rules are revealed saying that only those who can place their feet on the ground one after another can win, so all those in some way handicapped (as just defined by those rules) get excluded from participation. There aren't enough steps between there and the gulag for me to feel comfortable.

As for trust, I think the issue isn't about whether one side or the other is trusting or not, it's about where the emphasis of trust is placed. Conservatives place their trust in local and customary relationships, emphasising the face to face and the personal virtues. Progressives (at least if I can also indulge in something of a caricature) trust the representatives of a well-meaning state ideology to 'do good' on behalf of other people. What conservatives actively distrust is that those latter people are all too willing to use force to achieve their point, and that their well-intentioned interventions often accomplish more harm than good.

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