The conservative tradition I have in mind may not satisfy purists. It doesn’t rise to the level of qualifying as anything so grandiose as a coherent philosophy. It’s more of a stew produced by combining sundry ingredients. The result, to use a word that ought warm the cockles of any conservative’s heart, is a sort of an intellectual slumgullion.
Here’s the basic recipe. As that stew’s principal ingredients, start with generous portions of John Quincy Adams and his grandson Henry. Fold in ample amounts of Randolph Bourne, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Christopher Lasch. For seasoning, throw in some Flannery O’Connor and Wendell Berry—don’t skimp. If you’re in a daring mood, add a dash of William Appleman Williams. To finish, sprinkle with Frank Capra—use a light hand: too sweet and the concoction’s ruined. Cook slowly. (Microwave not allowed.) What you get is a dish that is as nutritious as it is tasty.
What Dr Bacevich gets at is a conservative vision that focusses on the small and achievable rather than the grandiose and utopian. In so doing, he aims at several things which the misbegotten intellectual offspring of Max Shachtman and the Fountainhead fundamentalists have long ago misplaced; a value beyond the monetary and not amenable to cost-benefit analysis, set upon: received wisdom over fads, family over the consumer, the long-term common good over the private quarterly bottom line. He evinces with clarity the classical conviction that human beings are by nature ‘inherently ornery and perverse’. Further, he refuses to place state, market or military on idols’ pedestals, and evinces the classical position of Christian radicalism which looks askance at all concentrations of wealth and power.
More (and I love this part), he recognises that conservatives have to be smart about where they sign on, and with whom. (This is one point I make rather often regarding the Lost Causers. Not only is the alliance between certain libertarians and certain palaeoconservatives hailing treason in defence of slavery morally repugnant, it’s really just plain dumb.) He doesn’t stop there, though! Conservatives ‘need to recognize that the political left includes people of goodwill whose views on some (by no means all) matters coincide with our own’.
Please do read the whole thing. It seems everything I read from Dr Bacevich since The Limits of Power manages to heighten my respect for him; this is no exception!