TAG | conservatism
I was always one skeptical of the “Arab spring.” My skepticism is modulated and qualified. I think Tunisia has the prospects of becoming a normal nation-state to a far greater extent than Libya, for example. But I was of the opinion that these “revolutions” were mostly elite-driven, and, that they didn’t address the reality that there’s a major structural problem with any possible economic growth in these autarkic economies. Whenever I brought up the example of Iraq as an example of what mass democracy in a Middle Eastern nation can do to religious minorities I would have people (often Western liberals) complain that this was too pessimistic, jumping the gun, while Egyptian commenters would accuse me of being delusional and not representing the reality.
My most pessimistic concerns have no arisen, thank god (though I think Syria is probably the “best” candidate for a major social meltdown in the wake of revolution because of its pluralism). But it has not been calm after the storm. The New York Times reviews the situation and hints at the tensions in Tunisia and Egypt, what is crystallizing in Libya, and the fears of minorities in Syria.
Societies are complex, contingent, and organic things. Just as human nature is not a “blank slate,” so a culture can not be reconstructed on totally different foundations de novo after a revolution. Even the most extreme attempts, such as that of Mao and Pol Pot, have failed in the long term. It is one part of human nature to be optimistic, and long too the upside of things. But another part is to be caution, worry, and yell “stop!” I’m not going to cease playing my part.
So argues Kevin Gutzman in There is No Authentic American Right – and a Good Thing, Too. In What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 there is some coverage given to the attempt by some early Federalists to create what might be termed a Tory party. They failed. In many ways both the pro-business and development Whigs and populist Democrats who crystallized during this period were liberal parties. Though it must be added my understanding is that most liberal parties in the world are generally clustered on the Right more than the Left in the public imagination (e.g., German Free Democratic Party).
Larry Arnhart is surely the best proponent of Darwinian Conservatism, and not just because he has a blog with the same name. In his view, an evolutionary biological account of nature properly captures our intellectual and moral capacities, the emergence of consciousness itself, and grounds a political and cultural conservatism by demonstrating our natural limits as political and social beings. Does this count as a species of postmodern conservatism? It might fail as appropriately conservative since nature is made all too dynamic–if our current human condition is nothing other than the latest stage in a train of evolutionary developments then on what basis can we privilage this one as the final one? Does Darwinian conservatism require an End of History, some kind of final eschatology? Also, does evolutionary biology do justice to the real human person as we experience ourselves or is there something about our characteristic resistance to nature and eros for transcendence that eludes Darwinian categories of explanation? If the heart of postmodern conservatism is an experiential realism that rescues the real human person from modern abstraction, Darwinian conservatism might fail by identifying human nature too closely with our bodily selves, with nature as such. So is Darwinian Conservatism insufficiently postmodern and insufficiently conservative?
Nature is dynamic, but very fast evolution works on the order of tens of generations. I perceive political orders as the possibilities of the present. What is conservative in one age varies from what is conservative in another age. Why demand of Darwinian Conservatism what one does not demand of conservatism writ large? Darwinian Conservatism does not do justice to the human individual, but it is much more serviceable in addressing human populations, what we might term societies. The true interlocutor which Ivan is looking for is “Psychological” or “Cognitive” Conservatism, which might focus on individuals as natural phenomenon which develop over a lifetime.