Changing something from an adjective

Changing something from an adjective to a noun isn’t always a good idea. For example, it’s usually better to be liberal, libertarian or conservative than a liberal, libertarian or conservative.

As someone on the right, of course, I believe that is most true of liberalism. Freedom and equality, the only moral standards liberalism is willing to appeal to, can’t by themselves justify coercion, but the liberal attempt to enforce them in all aspects of life turns out to require lots of coercion. As a result, taken as a noun—as a self-subsistent thing—liberalism contradicts itself and leads to endless deceit, obfuscation and corruption.

There are problems being a libertarian as well. “Small government” is a good thing for all sorts of reasons, but turning that goal into the political summum bonum is inexplicable except on a theory that makes doing whatever you can do and want to do the final joy of all desiring.

And what about conservatism? It too falls apart as a final principle. Conservatism is about tradition, but tradition isn’t about itself but about something that goes beyond it. It can’t be purely traditional.

What do we do, since none of these principles is adequate? An appeal to generalized good sense is too vague to be helpful. It seems to me that the need for an overall guiding principle that has content but nonetheless exceeds our grasp—if we could see around the principle it would be too limited—gives politics an essential religious element. Without that element politics becomes irrational and turns into either opportunism or brutal and narrowminded dogma. So religion isn’t alien to politics. Rather, religion is the only element in which politics can, in the long run, make sense.

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