Conservatism is Progressivism Driving the Speed Limit

In his essay from 1960 entitled Why I Am Not a Conservative, Friedrich Hayek wrote

…by its very nature it [conservatism] cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. It may succeed by its resistance to current tendencies in slowing down undesirable developments, but, since it does not indicate another direction, it cannot prevent their continuance. It has, for this reason, invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of its own choosing. The tug of war between conservatives and progressives can only affect the speed, not the direction, of contemporary developments.

…conservatives have been guided by the belief that the truth must lie somewhere between the extremes with the result that they have shifted their position every time a more extreme movement appeared on either wing.

Michael Malice condensed Hayek’s insight into a pithy quote: the title of this post. The opponents to Progressivism at Conservative, Inc. have contented themselves to stand athwart history, yelling “Stop!”

The sad result is that, with one possible exception in this list, conservatives take on Progressive causes just a few years later.

The surprising thing is not that the Right has finally come to this realization but that Hayek was talking about it well over half a century ago, at about the same time Buckley was busy standing athwart history. Yet this is what has passed for opposition to the Left.

Throwing sand in the gears of Progressivism is, at best, a stopgap. It defines the opposition in strictly negative terms. It is far easier to rally citizens behind a positive approach to the future, which explains much of the success of the Left. Heraclitus observed that nothing endures but change. Pretending otherwise is loser-think. The trick is to change in the right direction: one that enhances liberty without damaging social trust and cohesion.

I leave you with Hayek’s closing thought:

The common resistance to the collectivist tide should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the belief in integral freedom is based on an essentially forward-looking attitude and not on any nostalgic longing for the past or a romantic admiration for what has been.

Addendum: A modern take on Hayek  in a recent Claremont Review of Books article.


Author: drlorentz

photon whisperer & quantum mechanic

8 thoughts on “Conservatism is Progressivism Driving the Speed Limit”

  1. One of the fundamental problems with Hayek-liberalism/libertarianism/Whigism, etc. vs. the progressives/slavers is exemplified by the bromide “you can’t beat something with nothing”.  Here’s how it works.  Some clamant public problem, for example “bathroom choice (remember that?—it seems so long ago) is perceived or invented.  The progressives roll out their “comprehensive solution” and every one of their minions plugged into the narrative starts chattering about it.  The conservatives become uncomfortable, and before long the usual outlets start talking about “the conservative case for …” and at that point it’s more or less game over.

    What about the Whigs/libertarians?  Well, their position is, as usual, this is something which is not the business of the coercive state.  It’s a matter for those who own the structures containing the bathrooms to deal with, just as they’re free to not let people without shoes or shirts in the door.  But that’s “nothing”, you see, and before long both sides: the progressives and the defeat-with-dignity-reasonable-compromise-crowd, both of whom are supporting “something”, drown them out.

    You also see a version of this ploy in the argument where the progressives start crowing that something or other (e.g. abortions for transgender lesbian dolphins) is of surpassing importance and that all the world shall be taxed to provide it for “free”.  The libertarian says, “whatever the merits of this, it isn’t remotely within the remit of the state to provide, nor is it moral to confiscate the labour of people to provide it to others”.  Once again, something vs. nothing.  But now, the progressive and the “conservative” who wants to means-test the dolphins who benefit, play the card of emphasising how crucially important the “service” they plan to provide is.  Logically, this is a complete non sequitur: the libertarian may completely agree that the matter is important, but that it’s not the business of the state to provide it (and, if it did, it would doubtless be bungled and hideously inefficient like everything else the government does).  The trick here is to equate “x is important” with “government must do x” and then argue that if you’re against the government doing it, you’re saying it isn’t important.  And then we have the tear-jerking individual stories rolled out about the importance of x.

    I don’t know the solution for these.  It used to be you could simply invoke the constitution and demonstrate the item was not an enumerated power, but we’re well beyond that now.

  2. In followup to the OP, it occurred to me to check the mirror case of Progressives going the other way. Result?

    The only hit is to this piece in the New Republic that defends the use of Shakespeare as an indoctrination tool of Prog ideology.

    …the alien distance of Shakespeare’s world is precisely why he deserves a permanent place in the literary canon, especially if one is interested in inculcating a broad social and political imagination into young adults. [emphasis added]

    Essentially, the idea is that the scribblings of those old, dead white men are worth dipping into because they are so alien and irrelevant to the Progressive utopia.

  3. Frankly I think the problem is that the Right was taken over by Buckley’s style of politics. We must remember that it was Buckley who said in 1952 that we must accept administrative tyranny at home in order to defeat it abroad. The only issue for which these people will go to the mat is foreign policy, and by that I mean perpetual war foreign policy. That is what drives the Buckleys, Kristols, and the Wills of the Right. They will do the intellectual kabuki dance with things like transgenderism or abortion or homosexual marriage but once those topics become perceived as electoral dead ends and threaten their ability to influence foreign policy, they are nowhere near the battle field. They are scheisters selling freedom loving people snake oil.

    That which should be offered is liberty. Liberty to govern one’s self. Liberty for the States to determine their own society and culture.

  4. Robert A. McReynolds:
    Frankly I think the problem is that the Right was taken over by Buckley’s style of politics.

    That’s why I linked to the National Review mission statement from 1955 when Buckley coined the expression “stand athwart history.” My own view is that Buckley just wanted an excuse to write athwart.

  5. drlorentz:

    Robert A. McReynolds:
    Frankly I think the problem is that the Right was taken over by Buckley’s style of politics.

    That’s why I linked to the National Review mission statement from 1955 when Buckley coined the expression “stand athwart history.” My own view is that Buckley just wanted an excuse to write athwart.

    I find Rothbard to be much more intellectual without the pomposity. Rothbard is much more genuine too in his defense of liberty.


  6. Conservatives seem to embrace stasis. If the country is on fire, longing for the good old days before the flames is a consistent yet futile position.

    All change had good and bad components. If one chooses stasis, people tend to desire more for themselves and their children unless they are rich conservatives on cruise ships.  Hence the lack of influence by the stasis junkies.

    Ten percent of the population is making change happen at all times. Some will embrace it, some will fear it, and that ten present will always outnumber the stasis loving conservatives by a wide margin.

    Maybe we should call them Fredo Conservatives…


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