Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Basic Difference Between the Left-Liberal View and the Conservative View

Does your emphasis on authority give any substance to the claim, so often found on the lips of liberals, that conservatism is repressive and dictatorial?
Max Goss asks Roger Scruton during his interview (in two parts) with the author of The Meaning of Conservatism.
To describe an obligation as transcendent in my sense is not to endow it with some kind of oppressive force. On the contrary, it is to recognize the spontaneous disposition of people to acknowledge obligations that they never contracted. There are other words that might be used in this context: gratitude, piety, obedience -- all of them virtues, and all of them naturally offered to the thing we love.

What I try to make clear in my writings is that, while the left-liberal view of politics is founded in antagonism towards existing things and resentment at power in the hands of others, conservatism is founded in the love of existing things, imperfections included, and a willing acceptance of authority, provided it is not blatantly illegitimate. Hence there is nothing oppressive in the conservative attitude to authority.

It is part of the blindness of the left-wing worldview that it cannot perceive authority but only power. People who think of conservatism as oppressive and dictatorial have some deviant example in mind, such as fascism, or Tsarist autocracy. I would offer in the place of such examples the ordinary life of European and American communities as described by 19th century novelists. In those communities all kinds of people had authority -- teachers, pastors, judges, heads of local societies, and so on. But only some of them had power, and almost none of them were either able or willing to oppress their fellows.

…The example of the hunt master is a good one, since it shows both the spontaneity of authority and the willingness of people to accept it, when they see how intricately it is connected to their own well-being and to the well-being of their community. To put the point in the arid terms of game theory: authority is a spontaneous solution to problems of coordination, and may be the only solution available. In all matters when discussion, voting and bargaining would delay the decision beyond the point when it must be made, the artefact of authority is the rational solution to problems of collective choice. This is obviously so in the military, but the principle extends through all society.

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