What is conservatism? Is it simply keeping things the same, so that Brezhnev was “conservative?” Or is there a more principled basis for it, one that can support enduring positions that deepen rather than collapse when attacked, and on occasion even call for radical change?
Traditionalist conservatism takes its stand on principle. It opposes philosophical modernity, and its expressions such as liberalism, on fundamental grounds. The issue that distinguishes it from modernity is very basic indeed: whether you start with what there is, or with what you know. The first is the way of traditional faith, the second of modern science. Modernity chooses the second quite singlemindedly. It wants to replace God and tradition by man and science. Starting with Descartes’ cogito ergo sum, it demands in effect that all things be cut to the pattern of our investigations. Conservatism, in contrast, holds that what there is is more important than what we know. It therefore starts with inherited understandings and God’s I am that I am, and emphasizes common sense and faith over formal reason and ideology.
The opposition between the two is thus a matter of fundamental principle. The basic issue in contemporary politics is which has the better grasp of reality. Our politics is thus at bottom metaphysical.