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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Conservatives and Innovation

A conservative will not surrender lightly a known good for an unknown better. His disposition is to enjoy what he has, instead of sacrificing the present joys for some kind of future happiness. He is not eager for change, but if change becomes imperative, he will prefer a slow change to a rapid one—preserving the appearance of continuity, while things are changing, is of critical importance to a conservative. In his essay, “On Being Conservative,” Michael Oakeshott notes that the conservatives prefer small and limited innovations to large and indefinite ones. Oakeshott's skepticism of innovation is reflected in the following passage:

“Consequently, the conservative will have nothing to do with innovations designed to meet merely hypothetical situations; he will prefer to enforce a rule he has got rather than invent a new one; he will think it appropriate to delay a modification of the rules until it is clear that the change of circumstances it is designed to reflect has come to stay for a while; he will be suspicious of proposals for change in excess of what the situation calls for, of rulers who demand extra-ordinary powers in order to make great changes and whose utterances are tied to generalities like “the public good” or “social justice”, and of Saviors of Society who buckle on armor and seek dragons to slay; he will think it proper to consider the occasion of the innovation with care; in short, he will be disposed to regard politics as an activity in which a valuable set of tools is renovated from time to time and kept in trim rather than as an opportunity for perpetual re-equipment.”

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