Saturday 7 July 2018
Not so long ago I had a reunion with an old college friend, who knew my parents quite well. Slapping me on the back, as some old boys like to do, he reprimanded me and asked how it was possible that I became such an “old liberal” when my parents were so “ultra-conservative.” I told him I thought such labels applied to neither my parents nor me. I said drop the labels and talk about the issues, please.
Terms like “liberal” and “conservative” can be very confusing and distorting these days when so much of our language seems increasingly disconnected from reality. My parents valued accuracy, truthfulness, and critical thinking. I as well. In many ways they were traditionalists. I as well, because all genuine theological research and reflection is anchored in tradition, biblical exegesis, and contemporary faith experience. Tradition is not only important but essential.
Tradition gets interpreted, and that is where the discussion/dialogue should start.
An article in today’s International New York Times caught my attention because the author is Roger Scruton, an English philosopher and writer, well-know for his “traditionalist conservative” views. Scruton first came to my attention when I read his 2017 book Conservatism: Ideas in Profile.
Roger Scruton’s New York Times article was titled: “What Trump doesn’t get about conservatism” and I — the “old liberal” — found myself resonating with much of his viewpoint.
“I have devoted a substantial part of my intellectual life to defining and defending conservatism, as a social philosophy and a political program,” Scruton writes. “Each time I think I have hit the nail on the head, the nail slips to one side and the hammer blow falls on my fingers…..
In the current president “…. we encounter a politician who uses social media to bypass the realm of ideas entirely, addressing the sentiments of his followers without a filter of educated argument and with only a marginal interest in what anyone with a mind might have said…..
“Institutions, traditions, and allegiances survive by adapting, not by remaining forever in the condition in which a political leader might inherit them. Conservative thinkers have in general understood this. And the principle of adaptability applies not only to law but also to the economy on which all citizens depend…..
“Conservative thinkers have on the whole praised the free market, but they do not think that market values are the only values there are. Their primary concern is with the aspects of society in which markets have little or no part to play: education, culture, religion, marriage, and the family. Such spheres of social endeavor arise not through buying and selling but through cherishing what cannot be bought and sold: things like love, loyalty, art and knowledge, which are not means to an end but ends in themselves.
“About such things it is fair to say that Mr. Trump has at best only a distorted vision. He is a product of the cultural decline that is rapidly consigning our artistic and philosophical inheritance to oblivion. And perhaps the principal reason for doubting Mr. Trump’s conservative credentials is that being a creation of social media, he has lost the sense that there is a civilization out there that stands above his deals and his tweets in a posture of disinterested judgment.”
My point this week end is not so much to critique the current president — worth doing of course — but to stress the importance of evidence-based dialogue. “Conservative” dialogue. “Liberal” dialogue. “Traditionalist” dialogue.
Dialogue with everyone without slipping into the barrel vision of contemporary labels
Ultimately, as history demonstrates, the only alternative to dialogue is war.