Thursday, May 09, 2013
Conservatives: Master Brake Operators
I have heard, and even said myself that it is hard to distinguish between liberals and conservatives these days. Perhaps myself and others have misspoken, but fortunately Hayek is here to eliminate (at least minimize) the confusion with his essay Why I Am Not a Conservative.
“It is that by its very nature [conservatism] cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. It may succeed by its resistance to current tendencies in slowing down undesirable developments, but, since it does not indicate another direction, it cannot prevent their continuance. It has, for this reason, invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of its own choosing.” (Hayek, 1-2)
Conservatism, as defined by Hayek in this essay, is an "attitude of opposition to drastic change".
Part of what Hayek is trying to highlight in this article is that based on that definition, conservatives political positions will inevitably be in constant flux. If I am in opposition to drastic changes in the status quo, yet despite my opposition, drastic change occurs, then a new status quo will emerge. If I remain steadfast to my conservative position, I will still be opposed to drastic changes to the (new) status quo, which entails taking a position that I was opposed to before the last shift in the status quo. Thus, conservatism is not founded on any particular set of unwavering values, and is subject to relativistic change in response to the outside world - what Hayek called being "dragged along a path not of its own choosing".
Following Hayek's dissection, conservatism cannot be seen as an effective political strategy. This is made particularly obvious when he states "The tug of war between conservatives and progressives can only affect the speed, not the direction, of contemporary developments"(Hayek, 2), thus implying that a conservative really serves no function other than to slow down the progress of the liberals - in whatever direction they might be headed.
Therefore, Hayek determines that the most likely source for political change is the progressive party - whether their values are currently based on liberty or not, for they are the politicians who desire most to change the status quo and move us to new places, figuratively speaking. Conservatism, he concludes, for its lack of "guiding principles", is not equipped to "influence long-range developments", and has only really retarded the progress of liberals over time, for better or for worse.
Following Hayek's analysis, it would seem that in a nation founded upon liberty, true liberals and true conservatives would both be advocating to maintain the original system. How then, has our nation moved from its original political position fixed upon liberty is another story, but certainly one worth investigating; it seems the root of this problem comes from the liberal party's deviations from the principle of liberty as their absolute standard, and it seems that part of Hayek's vision was to restore liberty to liberalism.