Monday, June 14, 2004

An Intellectual Basis for Conservatism

Wanted to share this quote from Hayek (from this article in Reason about gay marriage):

"It may indeed prove to be far the most difficult and not the least important task for human reason rationally to comprehend its own limitations. It is essential for the growth of reason that as individuals we should bow to forces and obey principles which we cannot hope fully to understand, yet on which the advance and even the preservation of civilization depends. Historically this has been achieved by the influence of the various religious creeds and by traditions and superstitions which made man submit to those forces by an appeal to his emotions rather than to his reason. The most dangerous stage in the growth of civilization may well be that in which man has come to regard all these beliefs as superstitions and refuses to accept or to submit to anything which he does not rationally understand. The rationalist whose reason is not sufficient to teach him those limitations of the powers of conscious reason, and who despises all the institutions and customs which have not been consciously designed, would thus become the destroyer of the civilization built upon them. This may well prove a hurdle which man will repeatedly reach, only to be thrown back into barbarism."

Much truth is contained in this, the primary point being: don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. The glue of civilization is the things we do (or don't do) without thinking about them. Things like waiting in line, where everyone is equal (most of the time, obviously rich people aren't as affected). One of those things used to be the definition of marriage, until recently. People have difficulty coming up with a reasoned objection to gay marriage because the definition of marriage is something that has been taken for granted for...ever, basically.

Unfortunately this is a logical extension of the path we have placed ourselves on a long time ago, with shortsighted policies like no-fault divorce. Even the Reason author (who later in the article comes down on the side of gay marriage) says:

"But when modern societies abolished the stigmas on illegitimacy, divorce, and all the rest, whole portions of the social structure just caved in."

Foolish dabbling with social policy has gotten us to this point. Change should not be pursued for change's sake. That's the point of conservatism.

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