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 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.