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Squaring the circle

That’s the title of my review of Daniel Mahoney’s The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order: Defending Democracy Against Its Modern Enemies and Immoderate Friends in the current issue of First Things.

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Clarifying review.

It sounds like Mahoney has taken a time slice during which his favoured blend of conservatism and liberalism was optimal - and asked that this balance be made permanent.

Yet this blend was merely a transitional phase between a mostly conservative and a mostly liberal society - and there is nothing to suggest that it could ever be held in check, sustained or prevented from changing into one or other of the more extreme positions.

I think you make a good point about the feebleness of pessimistic, eclectic conservatism - it is essentially a self-gratifying pose (and a way of making a living).

Since Montaigne there has always been a niche for cultured, pessimistic conservatives who make barbed commments on the decline of civilization while listening to chamber music and sipping a glass of good wine. Anthony Daniels/ Theodore Dalrymple is a premier current example, and the British Spectator Magazine and Telegraph newspapers are full of others.

Actually to make a stand would mean descending to the vulgarity of religious commitment, and - in essence - siding with the rednecks against the intelligentsia. Implicitly, the pessimistic conservatives prefer their wine and music, their witty conversation, their good books - and quietistic defeatism.