Monday, March 27, 2006

A Conservative Intellectual's Temptations


In my search for something high-falutin' to say about our current Canadian dilemmas, I have been re-reading George Grant. He doesn't disappoint, and is high-falutin enough on the subject to turn me off it for a while. But before I get into that, I had a thought about conservative intellectuals generally.

Conservatives rightly (and we now know, scientifically) think of human nature as essentially fixed through time. And they also (again I think rightly) think of the good as eternal and trans-historical. Finally, they understand that part of any plausible idea of the good is loyalty to one's own. A person whose virtues could all be deduced from utilitarian principle couldn't even be normal, let alone good.

The trouble is that one's own is inherently fleeting, and bound by time and space. The temptation is to try to grab hold of something --Platonic philosophy, patristic Christianity -- that can plausibly be both one's own and eternal.

Neoconservatives must mean many things by "cultural relativism." Some of those things are indeed shallow or nihilistic. But the basic recognition that what is one's own can never be absolute, which is perfectly compatible with love for it anyway, is wise. Ratzinger, a very subtle man, seems to think that the choice is between nihilism and the identification of one tradition as the tradition of the absolute. But the absolute relativizes everything, even its own traditions.

One of the good things about Canada is that it is a bit difficult to take seriously, let alone identify with the absolute.

1 comment:

Matthew Shugart said...

This post reminds me of one of my favorite political quotations:

"The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that
determines the success of a society.
The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself."
- Daniel Patrick Moynihan