Andrew Sullivan writes, “Conservatism is not, to my mind, about solving problems, which is why it remains a very problematic governing philosophy for modern Americans. It is about a modesty toward what problems government can ever solve.” Sullivan is absolutely right that this is, or ought to be, a valid description of the conservative mindset or conservatism as a temperament. This is something putative conservatives have forgotten to our detriment. But that doesn’t necessarily tell us what people who have a conservative temperament should do when engaged in electoral politics or governing. If a group is involved in these two tasks, it must put together coalitions that can win elections and it must be up to the job of doing the work of government.
So while I’m tempted to agree with Sullivan when he writes, “For conservatism to copy liberalism by always seeking ‘solutions’ to problems and convincing ‘the right coalitions’ of people to look to government for the satisfaction of their needs would be a mistake in my view,” that cannot be the approach of conservatives who actually get involved with politics and government rather than writing and blogging. Maybe “solutions” is the wrong word for what government can provide, but people who are going to participate in politics and government have to, well, campaign and govern effectively despite having a more limited view of what politics and government can realistically accomplish. Even if you believe government is usually the problem rather than the solution, you have to have a political strategy to contain government, a social base that will support you, and an agenda by which you can pursue policies to limit government.
UPDATE: Yuval Levin adds some thoughts. I should add that I don’t think conservatism properly understood denies that politics can be used to solve problems — conservatism just understands the scope of what politics can solve to be limited and prefers modesty in the proposed solutions.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?