Public ideas

Are there any conservatives left in the world?

Once upon a time the terms  “conservative” and “centre-right” referred to much the same groups of people. Progressives and conservatives, particularly Burkean conservatives, tended to agree on where society should be headed while disagreeing on the pace of change. The “left” and “right” had different views on collective and individual action, but their views on what constitutes a decent society tended to converge.

David Brooks, writing in The Atlantic, asks What happened to American conservatism? He provides a rich history of public ideas guiding “western” political thought, going back to the Reformation and the ideas of the Enlightenment thinkers to trace what he calls the core principles of conservatism “epistemological modesty, or humility in the face of what we don’t know about a complex world, and a conviction that social change should be steady but cautious and incremental”.  He praises Burkean conservatism, which was “about soulcraft, about how we build institutions that produce good citizens – people who are moderate in their zeal, sympathetic to the marginalized, reliable in their diligence, and willing to sacrifice the private interest for public good”.

But conservatism in America (and by extension in Australia) evolved into something else, embracing racism and the brutal economic philosophy of valorising individual greed. The “conservatives” of our era are held together by hatred of the other. “The rich philosophical tradition I fell in love with has been reduced to Fox News and voter suppression” he writes.

Pope Francis on refugees

The American Jesuit magazine America has published Pope Francis’s address on his visit to the migrant camp on the Greek island Lesbos. His main message:  

History teaches us that narrow self-interest and nationalism lead to disastrous consequences. … It is an illusion to think it is enough to keep ourselves safe, to defend ourselves from those in greater need who knock at our door.

He stresses that we should address the conditions that cause people to flee from their homelands, rather than subjecting them to persecution and indignity – often to achieve political ends. “The remote causes should be attacked, not the poor people who pay the consequences”.