Monday, March 12, 2007


Brad De Long and I have an exchange over at his site. I'm not at all sure that I understand Brad's post, or what it has to do with my Wolfe-Berkowitz post at Open University which he takes as his point of departure.

Anyway, an extract form my side of our subsequent e-mail exchange, in case anyone cares:

'What conservatism is,' is as complex as what liberalism is, or what socialism (not communism, which aspires to simplicity) is. It's a multistranded set of particular policy commitments, normative principles, decision rules and guides for action, and sociological theories about the way the modern world works.

Finally-- and borrowing from Walzer-- even a traditionalist has to do just as much work as anyone else at figuring out levels of abstraction. Just like a Kantian has to figure out what counts as a maxim, a traditionalist has to figure out what counts as a tradition (what we did yesterday, or last year? The particular thing we've always done, or the reason we thought we had for doing it, or the rule under which we did it but which to which we now notice it was an exception?) Common law judges do that kind of work-- the body of precedent builds up rules and principles, not just holdings, and sometimes a holding gets overturned in light of the rules or principles. Burke did that kind of work too, and you rough him up for it, saying "but he didn't affirm X holding!"

Andrew Sullivan follows up.

No comments: