Day By Day

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Goldberg on Conservatism and American Exceptionalism

Jonah Goldberg recently published a short piece in which he criticized Western feminists for their apparent indifference to the plight of women in the Muslim world. It's an excellent and well-reasoned argument, but it has roused a storm of criticism from people on the Left. In today's NRO Corner he responds to his critics and in doing so makes some very perceptive observations regarding American conservatism and how it differs from European varieties.

America is ideologically and politically syncretic. What is fundamentally American is a mix of ideas that are both on the “right” and “left” in other countries. A French conservative might hold positions shared by an American leftist, and a French liberal certainly holds positions shared by American conservatives. To say that conservatism must, of necessity, reject anything, anywhere, solely because at a specific point in time it can be dubbed “leftist” is absolutely ridiculous. So many ideas born on the left have come to be embraced on the right and for good reason. We on the right now champion governmental colorblindness, for example.

Conservatism isn’t about teams and hoarding ideological chips. It is about figuring out what is right and wrong, discriminating between the enduring and the transitory. This means, as Lincoln said, that conservatism will tend toward adhering to the old and tried over the new and untried. But eventually the new and untried become the old and tried, and there’s no reason for conservatism to reject ideas proven by time simply because of their embarrassing leftist parentage.
As I’ve been writing here for years (with all credit due to Friedrich Hayek and Sam Huntington), American conservatives are the only self-described conservatives in the world who defend a classically liberal revolution. That means something very special, indeed it is a great wellspring of American exceptionalism. A conservative in America doesn’t conserve theocracy or monarchy. He conserves the institutions of liberty. Perhaps not solely, for there are other things worth conserving as well. But a conservatism that does not conserve those institutions is not worth conserving. And in that fight, foreign and domestic, the Right should look for allies wherever it can.

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