Roger Scruton, in Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition, makes this observation:
Many accuse conservatism of being no more than a highly wrought work of mourning, a translation into the language of politics of the yearning for childhood that lies deep in us all.
Conservatism is more than nostalgia. It is, as I have written,
a disposition, that is, a temperament or tendency….
The conservative disposition is cautious, but not stuck in the mud. As Michael Oakeshott puts it,
a disposition to be conservative in respect of government would seem to be pre-eminently appropriate to men who have something to do and something to think about on their own account, who have a skill to practise or an intellectual fortune to make, to people whose passions do not need to be inflamed, whose desires do not need to be provoked and whose dreams of a better world need no prompting. Such people know the value of a rule which imposes orderliness without directing enterprise, a rule which concentrates duty so that room is left for delight. [“On Being Conservative” in Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, New and Expanded Edition]
A conservative (by disposition) will respect — or at least inspect — the views of others. A conservative’s default position is to respect prevailing social norms, taking them as a guide to conduct that will yield productive social and economic collaboration. Conservatism isn’t merely a knee-jerk response to authority. It reflects an understanding, if only an intuitive one, that tradition reflects wisdom that has passed the test of time. It also reflects a preference for changing tradition — where it needs changing — from the inside out, a bit at a time, rather from the outside in. The latter kind of change is uninformed by first-hand experience and therefore likely to be counterproductive, that is, destructive of social and economic cohesion and cooperation.
Yes, childhood is often remembered as a golden time. But I doubt that golden memories of childhood, or even mourning for its passage, are unique to conservatives. Take Paul Krugman, for example. He is a “liberal” in the modern, fascistic sense, and he waxes nostalgic for the 1950s, when he was a child.
Krugman’s nostalgia is probably rooted in golden memories of his childhood in a prosperous community, though he retrospectively supplies an economic justification. The 1950s were (according to him) an age of middle-class dominance before the return of the Robber Barons who had been vanquished by the New Deal. This is zero-sum economics and class warfare on steroids — standard Krugman fare.
There is, nevertheless, something to the idea that the years between the end of World War II and the early 1960s were something of a Golden Age. (See this post, for example.) But it was that way for reasons other than those offered by Krugman.
Civil society still flourished through churches, clubs, civic associations, bowling leagues, softball teams and many other voluntary organizations that (a) bound people and (b) promulgated and enforced social norms.
Those norms proscribed behavior considered harmful — not just criminal, but harmful to the social fabric (e.g., divorce, unwed motherhood, public cursing and sexuality, overt homosexuality). The norms also prescribed behavior that signaled allegiance to the institutions of civil society (e.g., church attendance, veterans’ organizations) , thereby helping to preserve them and the values that they fostered.
Yes, it was an age of “conformity”, as sneering sophisticates like to say, even as they insist on conformity to reigning leftist dogmas that are destructive of the social fabric. But it was also an age of widespread mutual trust, respect, and forbearance.
Those traits, as I have said many times (e.g., here) are the foundations of liberty, which is a modus vivendi, not a mystical essence. The modus vivendi that arises from the foundations is peaceful, willing coexistence and its concomitant: beneficially cooperative behavior — liberty, in other words.
The decade and a half after the end of World War II wasn’t an ideal world of utopian imagining. But it approached a realizable ideal. That ideal — for the nation as a whole — has been put beyond reach by the vast, left-wing conspiracy that has subverted almost every aspect of life in America.
Fred Reed, “Decline in the Fall (or Late Summer Anyway): by Fred Gibbon“, Fred on Everything, August 15, 2018
Gilbert T. Sewall, “1968: Freedom without License“, The American Conservative, August 16, 2018
Related pages and posts:
Social Norms and Liberty
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
America: Past, Present, and Future
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The View from Here
The Culture War
O Tempora O Mores!
A Home of One’s Own
Surrender? Hell No!
1963: The Year Zero
How Democracy Works
How Government Subverts Social Norms
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?
Society, Polarization, and Dissent
How America Has Changed
Red-Diaper Babies and Enemies Within
Death of a Nation
Down the Memory Hole
“Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”
Mass Murder: Reaping What Was Sown
“Democracy” Thrives in Darkness — and Liberty Withers