Conservatives and Radicals

A conservative is a person who knows, and never allows himself to forget, that all humans live in the fog, straining to see beyond their immediate surroundings, and therefore always susceptible to the error of assuming that the world within their sight and reach is more real, more essential, than whatever might lie beyond.

A radical, also known these days as an activist or progressive, is a person who has committed that very error of mistaking the fog for a real limit on reality’s extent, and is therefore inclined to act on the presumption that what he can see and touch is both unqualifiedly certain, and exhaustive of all there is.

The conservative, then, knows that he does not know, and therefore regards the agitation of the man of action with irony, or sometimes disdain. The radical, meanwhile, believes that he knows, and therefore also believes — given that the world, which he believes he knows, is apparently so limited, changeable, and paltry — that knowledge as such is meaningless, and only action real. Hence, he perceives the man of quiet circumspection as insane, and also as an unconscionable obstacle.

The conservative is thus skeptical of grand schemes and “ultimate answers,” seeing how much one would need to know in order to apply such notions to experience, and at the same time seeing how little we do in fact know. The radical, by contrast, admitting no reality beyond the immediate and present, can abide no outstanding questions, no waiting until tomorrow; everything is urgent.

The conservative lives most deeply in Time, which is to say he is immersed in the continuum, and yet due to that very depth has little interest in Time’s superficial vagaries, as he wends his way patiently toward the mystery beyond the fog; he is thus almost free of Time. The radical, a child of the Now, barely experiences Time (the continuum) at all, being in that sense almost eternal, as an infant is eternal; and yet, in his incessant urgency, he is enslaved to every tick of the clock.

In general, Ancients vs. Moderns. In specific, Greeks vs. Germans. In particular, Socrates vs. Marx.

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