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July 29, 2015



Thank you for taking my request seriously. As a reader without the benefit of a formal education in political history, your frequent use of the term "pseudoconservatism" has been baffling. Your explanation makes perfect sense and I'll be able to follow your thinking better in the future.

You're correct some objection is not satisfied. The means and pace of change as pertaining to beliefs generally held by the body politic have transformed significantly. These might have left the ability of those with a psychologically conservative bent unable to accept social change with good grace. Websites and Twitter have accelerated actions by significant groups and put pressures on political systems that never existed before. Tipping points seem to serve a more prominent role. Except for a few "early adopters" like Sullivan, the bulk of conservatives seem to have withdrawn into a bubble of confusion, anger, assumed persecution and defiance. Possibly this won't be long lived, but when "establishment candidate" Jeb is still beating the dead horse of Medicare destruction it leaves plenty of room for doubt whether past assumptions about conservatism can hold up.

Peter G

The translation I read of Tolstoy's work was titled What Then Shall We Do, and his argument was powerful. The distinction seems minor but the We is important for the collective pronoun implies a great deal. It implies a consensus is needed for action where action is required. And that, I would submit, is the essential element for controlled incremental and acceptable change.

And yet change sometimes requires large steps and Manichean choices. Examples would be the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage and gay rights to marriage. If I might borrow an idea from evolutionary biology, punctuated equilibrium is perhaps a better model for how change occurs. It proceeds by fits and starts. I've always thought the progressive end of the political spectrum is where the ideas for change originate. They are the people who ask why? And proceed to why not do this? The ideas and policies generated are not always wise or even possible but that is where the good ideas originate. Proper conservatism, to my mind, is the devil's advocate, questioning the wisdom of policy proposals and acting as a brake on abrupt change and the unforeseeable consequences that always attend change. This is how it works in many places in this world but, sadly, conservatism in the US has devolved into the purely reactionary.


I agree Peter. I also should have pointed out that Sullivan is a Brit immigrant and probably doesn't have the knee-jerk disdain for democratic socialism so predominant in The States.

brave captain of industry

Nature is full of examples of fast change and slow change. When danger is nigh, or injustice afoot, change should come quickly. When stakes are lower, change likewise may be slower...Incremental change is fine, except when it's not.

The Raven

This is addressed in Corey Robin's *The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin* ( ). He takes a very different view of the matter, and points out that the the Burkean sort of conservative turns easily into the Palin sort of conservative when stressed. I am not sure I agree, however, but I have not done anything like enough reading to be entitled to more than an uninformed opinion on this matter.

Myself, I take a postmodern position and view terms like "conservative," "liberal," and "socialist" as somewhat like islands in a turbulent sea of ideas and policies, where the next wave or whirlpool brings ideas to and from the islands. Partly because I have not the time for the extensive reading people like Robin or our host do, I prefer to set in a smaller simpler place. I sail my little coracle, avoid the storms as best I may, and if charged with having no solid ground, reply that the sea is where the life is.

I am also fond of saying that I want to conserve the land and the people. Naturally, this makes me--in terms of other people's systems of classification--a flaming green! To myself I seem conservative.

On another subject, let me point out that Dawkins, when writing about religion and philosophy, seems to me to rediscover ideas that are millenia old and proffer them as new discoveries. That is why I, as well as many religious people, do not think well of his work in this area. The ground problems of philosophy are hideously difficult, progress in them is hideously slow, and it is nearly impossible for any single person to add anything new to the discussion; that takes long centuries.

The Raven

BTW, the idea of "punctuated equilibrium" appears to have one source in Marx's dialectical materialism. Stephen Jay Gould, it turns out, was brought up by a Marxist father, though he was not himself a Marxist.

(While confirming that I stumbled across Gould's essay on Kropotkin and evolution, which makes for fascinating reading. It's at .)


Dawkins gets a bad rap because he sometimes can't resist being imperious and dismissive. The same goes for Sam Harris. Hitchens was famous for attempting to dispatch opponents with barbed wit. The fourth "horseman" is the most even tempered. Daniel Dennett isn't a good speaker, but his book 'Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon' makes a straightforward argument. He's a philosopher and cognitive scientist.

David & Son of Duff

By coincidence, I am reading (slowly, because it's so bloody heavy to lift!!) Ehrman's biography of "The Younger Pitt". The shifting, and shifty, maneuverings of the various cabals and cliques that followed the collapse of the King's and North's Tory party (because of you 'damn Yankees'!) is like following the rats in some lab experiment. It is fascinating to see the 'progressive' forces behaving rather like Monty Python's 'Galilean People Front' whilst the Tories, having been humiliated by a lost war are left to lick their wounds. Not too dissimilar from your situation 'over there' today.

The Dark Avenger

The War of Independence was lost because of the folks across the English Channel financed us to the hilt, David. Your quarrel is with the House of Bourbon, not with George Washington and the like.

I'm sorry you buy into the myth of fierce resistance by the Patriots being the major factor, as is believed by the conservative over here, but there it is.

David & Son of Duff

DA, do try and lighten up! My remark was in brackets and ended with the 'irony alert' of an exclamation mark. In other words , not to be taken seriously. I have no particular views on your War of Independence not knowing very much about it.

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