Remembering a prominent ISI alumnus
How to Be a Creative Conservative
I know, I know. Conservatives are supposed to be tight-lipped, buttoned-up, wing-tipped, hair-combed, right-wing, conspiracy theory nut jobs.
I know, I know. Conservatives are pickup-driving, flannel shirt, ball cap, baccy-spittin’ folk who cling to their religion, their guns, and their country and western music.
I know, I know. Conservatives are harsh, judgmental, close-minded, homophobic, misogynist, creationist and fundamentalist Christians who have scrawny girls with buck teeth and meathead boys with zip-up Bibles.
I know, I know. Conservatives are all slightly paranoid about “liberals” and are in a perpetual state of nervous readiness. Prepped for the end, they’re secretive and combative.
It’s perfectly reasonable to be conservative, but I would propose that instead of being a combative conservative, you want to be a creative conservative.
A combative conservative is combative because he or she is feeling threatened and insecure. Think cornered animal. He snarls.
Too often he is also feeling threatened and insecure because he lacks the resources (both innate and educational) to be confident and creative in his approach.
To understand how to be a creative conservative one must first understand what a conservative is and why. A conservative is a person who, at rock bottom, wants to conserve what is good from the past rather than constantly fall in love with what is trendy and new. His instinct is “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and if it is broke, don’t fix it until you know how.” The conservative believes that most of the things that are wrong with himself and with the world have been wrong with other people and other societies in the past, and the best way to figure out how to fix those things is to look to the past to see how people fixed them the last time.
Consequently, the conservative looks to the past to inform the present and plan the future. A combative conservative believes the past can never be changed and anyone who wants to change it is wrong. A creative conservative, on the other hand, believes change is often necessary but wants the change to be informed and enlightened by the past. In other words, he values tradition. He values tradition not for its own sake but because tradition is to a society what roots are to a tree.
The creative conservative constantly mines the past looking for creative solutions for the present and creative plans for the future.
Is there a problem in politics? The combative conservative wants to turn back the clock to a mythical golden age when everything was hunky-dory. The creative conservative studies the past to understand what wisdom guided his cultural ancestors and then uses those ideas and solutions in fresh ways to grapple with the problems and questions of the present.
This principle can be most easily understood in the realm of science. No scientist can do his work unless he first acknowledges his debt to tradition. He doesn’t start from scratch. His research is built on the foundation of discoveries and solutions that have been proved and established over hundreds of years. He builds on those precedents and launches out in new directions, constructing new hypotheses, devising new experiments, and forging forward into new realms of knowledge.
An artist does the same. He or she learns from the past. He studies the great musicians, composers, poets, writers, painters, sculptors, craftsmen, and architects. For him they are the masters and he is the apprentice. The creative conservative abhors the idea of a thing being “original” for its own sake. For him “originality” is the way he invigorates, reimagines, and re-expresses the great tradition.
The difference, therefore, between a creative conservative and a progressive is that a progressive does not believe the past is worthy of study or veneration. For the progressive, the past is a nightmare to be forgotten. Instead of an instinct to conserve, the progressive has an instinct to destroy. To solve social problems, create art, or do science he must produce something totally new. To do so, the old order must be swept away. Revolution is required. For the progressive, what is new must be better simply because it is new. “O brave new world, that has such creatures in it!”
The creative conservative is a joyful and confident creature. He is at peace with the past, confident in the present, and hopeful for the future. He seeks solutions and solves problems easily with the insights from of old. He conquers conundrums and creates art with the wit and wisdom of his ancestors. He stands on the shoulders of giants, and in all things from his prayers to his poetry, from his politics to his playtime, he conserves the tradition by employing it in new, positive, proactive, and creative ways.
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