An instructive piece by Prof. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College (a Michigan liberal arts college that takes zero federal money), illustrates the American preference for and return to conservative thinking now that a Trump presidency has succeeded an overtly “progressive” Obama presidency. I assert as anthropological fact that it is our nature as humans, in families and organizations, to refer to past wisdom (or folly) to act in the world. Not to learn from past experience is, as Einstein observed, insanity, and high risk. My oft-stated corollary to his observation is that culture trumps economic and politics, and often (unfortunately) common sense.
I consistently obsereve that most thoughtful people act conservatively in their lives, even if they vote another way. So I offer Prof. Arnn’s piece to argue that in dealing with a constantly changing world we should not cavalierly chuck the past. Moreover, as we act to adapt to new conditions, I strongly suggest that a predisposition to reinvent the rules, to add to them without a mechanism to stop and change a new law, rule tax or institution, without reference to history, invites the failure upon failure of doubling down on failure.
I have excerpted from Prof Arnn’s essay which can be found in its entirety at Imprimis.
What is conservatism? It is a derivative term: it refers to something outside itself. We cannot conserve the present or the future, and the past being full of contradiction, we cannot conserve it entire. In the past one finds heroism and villainy; justice and injustice; freedom and slavery. Things in the past are like things in the present: they must be judged. Conservative people know this if they have any sense.
What then makes them conservative? It is the additional knowledge that things that have had a good reputation for a long time are more trustworthy than new things. This is especially true of original things. The very term principle refers to something that comes first; to change the principle of a thing is to change it into something else. Without the principle, the thing is lost.
If American conservatism means anything, then, it means the things found at the beginning of America, when it became a nation. . . . This means in turn that the Declaration of Independence, where the final causes of our nation are stated, and the Constitution of the United States, where the form of government is established, are the original things. . . . Taken together they are the longest surviving things of their kind, and under their domain our country spread across a continent and became the strongest nation on earth, the bastion of freedom . . .
Read the whole thing.