This was a very interesting and thoughtful comment of yours. It gives one much to think about. However, one reaction strikes me right away. You seem to view conservatism as a break on the excesses of a liberalism which you basically accept. My question is: According to what principle does your conservatism put limits on your liberalism? That is, where and why does it draw its line and say, Enough! And can you come up with a convincing reason why someone else should not draw his line elsewhere, i.e., restrain his liberalism either less or more than you are inclined to do?
Well, that is (those are) the million-dollar question(s), aren’t they? Briefly, though: my principle of course is Catholic teaching. I would like to think that it’s possible for others of good will to agree with many Catholic teachings via a sort of natural law approach. And maybe a dose of common sense. It’s not a completely absurd hope, as we once had something that was a lot closer to that kind of agreement than we do now, although it’s a small one.
Well, I’m wondering, Maclin, if one accepts liberalism as one’s basis, and then determines to restrain its excesses, whether that is not an inherently subjective project. That is, while it might seem obvious to you that such and such a line shouldn’t be crossed, others might see their lines as equally obvious. If this is so, then, I’d like to suggest a different foundation, and to the extent that America (meaning the U.S. polity) has liberalism as its foundation, it needs to be rethought, not simply restrained.
I add, for the sake of anyone who might come across my thought for the first time, that in criticizing liberalism, I am not making myself a conservative, especially as that word is used today in the U.S.
Yes, I thought that was what you meant, and the subjectivism you’re talking about is precisely the problem. I’m expressing a probably quixotic hope for enough agreement on objective principles to keep us from going over the edge. (Where the edge is, I’m not sure–arguably we’ve already gone over it and all this is moot.) Although that’s a less quixotic hope than rethinking the foundation.
I’m certainly not accepting liberalism in the philosophical sense, by the way, in case that needs to be said. I made that clear in one of the earlier posts in this series, but not in this one.
My simple understanding of this is that the liberal understanding of freedom takes it to be ‘freedom from’ and the Catholic understanding takes it to be ‘freedom for’ (the good, God etc). Perhaps there has always been more of a feedback loop between the two than either admitted, with liberals in practice admitting that law should track people toward morality (freedom for) and Catholics or conservatives admitting in practice that the act of choice is in itself a good thing. What the conservative or Catholic would then need to defend is the fact of the feedback loop.
Just to clarify my last comment: I don’t mean that it’s a waste of time to re-think the foundations as an intellectual task–that’s very much worth doing–I just mean that it’s not a program for reform in a down-to-earth way. More of a plan for what might be aimed for after the existing order has passed, I would think.