Modernity is not adequate to reality. In the manner of Descartes, it insists on building larger truths from smaller propositions already known to be true. It extends that insistence from questions of truth to questions of existence, and insists that there can be “cranes” but no “skyhooks”—atoms but no God—and so in effect that convenience of analysis, the demand that everything be analyzable without remainder into simple parts, determines what can exist. A problem with such an approach is that no series of propositions can capture the truth of things. Each particular thing depends on larger and more comprehensive realities that go beyond anything that can be inferred from the thing itself. But if that’s so, we can’t bootstrap a world into existence from experience and logic, or from elementary physical constants and relationships, but must rely on principles that go beyond our knowledge as well as those built up from smaller truths.
Stripped-down knowledge leads to a stripped-down understanding of reality, and consequently a way of life that is defective to the point of malfunction. Conservatism therefore rejects the modernist view of knowledge and existence, and insists on a broader understanding of things that includes tradition and faith as necessary constituent elements. It cannot give up that insistence without destroying what it has to say. Since modernity has won, at least in the public sphere, conservatism must become radical to remain what it is. It can no longer be an attempt to hang onto things that seem threatened, but must look to the return of things that have been destroyed or profoundly weakened. It must be traditionalist rather than traditional. In a sense, it can no longer be conservative.