As if actively trying reach ever lower levels of intellectual seriousness, Sullivan quotes this “all progressives are really conservatives who are really progressives who are really…” article, which says:
Since America was founded on enlightenment liberalism, conservation of the status quo meant a vigorous defense of meritocracy, individual freedom and free markets. This stands in contrast to European conservatism, which was pushed forward by Agrarian landholders seeking to defend aristocracy from the radical concepts of democracy and capitalism.
No, not a defense against democracy and capitalism! What could they have been thinking? They were trying to defend aristocracy, but they were also trying to defend an entire social order and a set of moral and political values that they believed were integral to the flourishing and well-being of their country. The dismissive tone in the TCS article is amusing, but Sullivan’s “analysis” is priceless:
Except that British conservatism in the age of Thatcher decisively broke with that tradition, and became a more American model. And American conservatism under Bush has retreated to a more pre-enlightenment, European model. Exhibit A: theoconservatism. I have no idea which party will represent the small-government, individual freedom model of post-modern society. I once thought that the Republicans would always have the edge in this fight against the statist left. Now, I’m not so sure. Which is why this election, and the many brands of liberalism and conservatism on offer is such a pivotal and fascinating one.
The bit about conservatism under Bush is just so very painfully wrong in every possible way. They pay him to dish out these pearls, do they? Theocons as agrarian reactionary radicals? I must have missed the issue of First Things in which Michael Novak denounced democratic capitalism as the ruin of the mixed constitution! But who can forget when Bush spoke so movingly of Filmer’s defense of the prerogatives of the Crown? Who doesn’t remember Rick Santorum’s moving rendition of Wha wadna fecht for Charlie? Aye, those were the days!
What does “pre-enlightenment European” model even refer to? European conservatism scarcely existed as a coherent political persuasion before the French Revolution. Very basic “King and Church” Toryism as a political view was roughly coeval with the early English Enlightenment and the Tories became, by the time of Bolingbroke, the side interested in conserving the gains of 1688 while combating the concentration of power, abuses and excesses of the Whig oligarchy and the moneyed interest. To the extent that Americans were following the Old Whigs and Bolingbroke together, they were attempting to conserve an agrarian and constitutionalist order; to the extent that they were following primarily Bolingbroke, they were not following “Enlightenment liberalism” but the reaction against it and its philosophical assumptions. If American conservatism follows in the tradition of Burke, it also stands much more in the tradition of Bolingbroke than Locke; we, as conservatives, do not ever have to doff our cap and bow before pure whiggery out of some false sense of indebtedness to certain English philosophers.