Thursday, March 17, 2011

More on Neoconservatism

I already mentioned one review of the new collection of Irving Kristol's essays, but allow me to mention another. All the reviews I have seen emphasize how much of Kristol's "conservatism" boils down to simple nostalgia, and Noah Millman does as well. But Millman notices something else. As a young man, Kristol wrestled with big ideas and tried different solutions, from revolutionary socialism to authoritarian conservatism. Then he settled into a groove that he never left:
So what are young conservatives—or liberals or political agnostics—who read this book going to get out of it?

What they will learn, and it is a terrible thing, is that the questions that we ask in our youth—in our twenties—may be the only ones we ever really ask. Kristol, from the very beginning, is asking himself only a handful of questions. Stalinism having been rejected as abhorrent, is there a coherent left? How can a democratic society be made virtuous? (He seems from the beginning to be more interested in this question than in how it may be made prosperous, or free, or equal.) And what did being Jewish mean to a man in the modern age—given that it clearly did mean something to him, from the first, and given that fidelity either to Jewish tradition or to Jewish nationalism was not what it meant?

That is terrible enough: that we will spend the rest of our lives asking the same few questions from our twenties over and over. But if the bulk of the book is any indication, the greater risk is that we will think we have answered them.

I am determined not to become a stereotype of myself, but for a man nearing 50 it is not easy. I try to approach new works of conceptual art with an open mind, even though it is almost guaranteed that I will not like them as much as painting of the 19th or 17th century. I try to be skeptical about scientific claims, especially the ones that seem backed by political consensus. My basic political principles are pretty well fixed, I suppose by my temperment: to seek a balance between order and freedom that tilts toward freedom, and between liberty and fairness that tilts toward neither, to consider all deaths in war as terrible and preventable, and to refrain from condemning the things other people choose to do with their lives, as long as they are doing little harm to others. But I try not to get attached to particular solutions, parties, or politicians, and to be pragmatic and open-minded about what is the best we can do in our particular circumstances.

I do not wish to ossify and become a fossil before I have even died. Whether I can achieve this while still maintaining my dignity and some sort of consistency remains to be seen.

No comments: