The Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues


Rachel Lu


Defining conservatism feels audacious. The mere attempt seems to place us in company with Lincoln, Kirk, Buckley, Hayek, Oakeshott, Scruton, Reagan and Thatcher, and many more illustrious personalities. One can hardly aspire to offer the definitive take; at best, we might hope to draw meaningful connections between a long-running conversation about conservatism, and the cultural or political struggles of our own time. That less-ambitious goal may still be very worthwhile, however. There is a reason why conservatives love to debate conservatism. It helps us to identify worthwhile goals, and remind ourselves why they matter. Looking at the political right today, it seems obvious that direction, definition, and motivation are all sorely needed.

Conservatism is a strange beast. Surveying its landscape from ten thousand feet, the tensions and contradictions seem legion. Political conservatism as we understand it is a modern phenomenon, but conservatives have decidedly mixed feelings about modernity. We think of ourselves as champions of solid, ordinary things: work, worship, marriage, family life. But we also have a strong attraction to heroes and historical exemplars, and expend enormous energy defending them from critics. We understand ourselves to be champions of all that is good, right, and natural, and we defend reality against ideology and artifice, allying ourselves to nature, tradition, and the great religious faiths. These would seem to be powerful allies. Why then does it feel as though we are perpetually losing?





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Lawrence Alexander & Steven D. Smith

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