June 1, 2012

"The motto of the liberal"

Althouse, on NYC Mayor Bloomberg's plan to ban large sugared drinks...

...Elsewhere, "all over the United States," they "are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’” but not in New York. In New York, they are doing something.

Do something — what a wonderful concept, often heard in the old cry for help: "Don't just stand there; do something."

It's the the motto of the liberal. The corresponding motto of the conservative is: First, do no harm. Or to put it in the form that I thought up (in another context) and have adopted as a kind of a personal motto: Better than nothing is a high standard...

"Do something." Or, "First, do no harm." Well, the second one is a bit wiser in general. But it isn't really asking the right question. Because, paradoxically, for conservatism to conserve things, it has to change them—that is, keep adapting them to changing times. You have to keep thinking and working on the things you want to preserve. For instance, "Freedom of speech" means something different now than when I was a boy. Then I was in a culture that had many traditional norms on the limits of speech. Now we have torrents of high-octane porn available at a mouse-click. Even words, like "freedom," have changed their meanings.

So liberals and conservatives are both changing things. So both face the problem of "Inertial Navigation." (Which I wrote abut here.)

...When I ascribe this double phenomenon in Church history, of resistance and subsequent assimilation, to the conservative principle of the Church, I may at first appear to maintain a paradox. It may be urged that the first attitude—of opposition to aggressive novelty—is an exhibition of the conservative principle; but that the second—the subsequent assimilation of portions of what was rejected—is not. To this I would reply that to identify Conservatism simply with the rejection of what is extraneous and new in form is to identify it with a principle of decay. To preserve a building we must indeed resist those who would pull it down; but we must also repair it, replace what is worn out by what is new, and fit it to last in the varying conditions of life. True conservatism involves constructive activity as well as resistance to destructive activity. Periodical reform and reconstruction belong to its very essence...
    -- Wilfrid Ward, From his essay The Conservative Genius of the Church

I like, by the way, Ann's line, Better than nothing is a high standard.

Posted by John Weidner at June 1, 2012 6:00 PM
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