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Conservative Movement R.I.P.?

WICK ALLISON

When one is asked about the future in the context Chronicles has set, the obvious response is to talk in political terms. But conservatism is not a political phenomenon. I have always been uncomfortable with references to the "conservative movement" when I read the political press or some of my favorite columnists. It seems like an oxymoron.

Conservativism is a philosophical attitude. To be a conservative is to accept the fallibility of man and the imperfectibility of human institutions. It is an odd kind of skepticism, because it is a skepticism based on, finally, faith. If God created man to be the creature he is, then it is not for us only to accept man as he is but to try to understand man as he is—and to understand joyfully. That requirement for joyful understanding gives the positive dimension to conservatism. In fact, it makes it kind of fun.

The Founders, despite their differences, were almost uniformly conservative in contemporary terms. Their knowledge of history was deep, and therefore they were not optimistic about the construction of a government that would both preserve liberty and promote the growth and expansion of the common wealth.

In some conservative circles today their lack of optimism translates into pessimism. I would argue there is a profound difference. Pessimism is a surrender of faith, a spiritual shrugging of the shoulders. But the Founders,...

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