Liberals, conservatives and the good life

You can’t beat something with nothing, so what do traditionalist conservatives put up to oppose the liberals? The answer is clear enough. Politics is the art of living together, so the basic political question is what kind of life is best. Liberalism is based on the liberal notion of the good life—in theory doing your own thing, in practice careerism and recreational hedonism with a coloring of political correctness. Traditionalist conservatism can therefore respond to liberalism only by putting forward an alternative.

The traditionalist conservative view of the good life is based more on settled attachments and ultimate goods than on technology and present desire. Most concretely, it is based on God, family and country. The dispute between liberalism and traditionalist conservatism is which understanding of life is better. Until that question becomes central to political discussion traditionalist conservatism will never make headway because it will never be possible for it to make its case.

Liberals try to finesse the matter by claiming such disputes are divisive and should be kept out of politics. Each of us, they say, should pursue his own vision of the good life within a common system that facilitates that quest for each. Their proposed system for advancing the individual pursuit of whatever one likes turns out, of course, to be a system that favors careerism and recreational hedonism over all other possiblities. Liberals have thus discovered a way of resolving in advance all disputes in favor of their own version of the good life.

The two things traditionalist conservatives must do, therefore, are debunk liberal claims of neutrality, and present their own understanding of the good life in as favorable a way as possible. The former involves a great deal of intellectual work and persuasion. In the world today the claim of neutrality is the typical justification for power, so the interests that support it are enormously powerful. Presentation of a better way of life involves intellectual work as well, but more fundamentally it is a matter of living well ourselves. Misconduct is not only misconduct but treason against the good in time of war. While living well may be difficult, however, it is not burdensome, because it is what makes us most fully human.