Great Moments in Conservatism

This American moment looks strikingly similar to the early days of the Trump cult. Much as we saw in early 2016, people who formerly seemed reasonable and reasonably “conservative” are being peeled away from their reason and into media-stoked lunacy over this virus outbreak, and suddenly turning on anyone who dares to espouse the principles in regard to this issue that they themselves claimed to espouse — until two weeks ago.

I have literally had people reply to me directly (to paraphrase closely, with no exaggeration), “Yes, we all believe in freedom, but in a crisis like this we have to put aside freedom to get through it together.” 

In other words, they are saying, exactly as they have been trained for decades to say, and as progressives for generations have been saying, that freedom is just a convenient “system” for easy and comfortable times, whereas in difficult or challenging times, tyranny is more helpful and effective.

This attitudinal shift, among the last (supposed) defenders of the idea of liberty, is indicative of a true crisis, or rather collapse, of modernity. For the modern political project, right from its philosophical glory days in the seventeenth century, was grounded in the idea that government is instituted by men in response to natural conditions in which they perceive, through practical reasoning, that they could not live felicitously without a system of laws, due to the dangers of unprotected property and life, i.e., that they need government due to the natural inevitability of “difficult times.”

Does it not follow from modernity’s “state of nature” view of the foundations of government, once we accept the new pragmatic view of liberty as a mere convenient arrangement for non-critical times, that unfreedom, i.e., tyranny, is the natural default system of government?

“Oh, what does that have to do with anything?” these new pragmatic conservatives reply to my concerns. “This isn’t a moment for theoretical arguments, but for emergency action!”

Is that not exactly the view of political decision-making that would have been categorized as progressive, and therefore essentially anti-conservative, until two weeks ago?

We live in an age of continual watershed moments, epochal shifts in tone and temperament happening right under our noses. But everyone is so anxious to leap into precipitous action in self-centered fits of terrified self-protectiveness — that is, everyone’s soul is so deep in the state of nature, in the Hobbesian sense — that no one has either the time or the intellectual wherewithal to properly observe these shifts, and to grasp their historical significance.

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