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Can there be a secular conservatism?

My answer is no, at least if conservatism is to be more than the view of a few comfortable intellectuals. “Conservatism” can mean many things, but it always involves a sense that in the most basic ways life can’t be understood or controlled. At bottom, we have to accept and cooperate with things as they have been given us by God, nature, history or chance. Utopia isn’t going to happen, and we’re not even going to get close. We have to live with reality instead.

Such an outlook won’t become the basis for carrying on social life unless people in general are willing not only to live with it but to give it their loyalty as something right and good. They have to be able to view the mystery at the heart of the world as something positive they can submit to without degradation, rather than mindless contingency that crushes them where they can’t escape or outwit it or stick its burdens on somebody else.

It’s a necessity of our nature to make sense of things, and in the long run we’ll engage reality only if we think reality makes sense, and accept it only if we’re convinced that at bottom it’s good. To believe that reality makes sense and is good is to be religious. Without such a belief we’ll look for a substitute for the goodness of reality in fantasies of socialist liberation or some such.

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