A sense of exclusion has haunted conservatism from the beginning, when émigrés fled the French Revolution and Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre took up their cause. Born in the shadow of loss--of property, standing, memory, inheritance, a place in the sun--conservatism remains a gathering of fugitives. From Burke's lament that "the gallery is in the place of the house" to William F. Buckley Jr.'s claim that he and his brethren were "out of place," the comfortable and connected have fashioned a philosophy of self-styled truancy. One might say this fusion of pariah and power has been the key to their success. As Buckley went on to write, the conservative's badge of exclusion has made him "just about the hottest thing in town."
While John Locke, Alexis de Tocqueville and David Hume are sometimes cited by the more genteel defenders of conservatism as the movement's leading lights, their writings cannot account for what is truly bizarre about conservatism: a ruling class resting its claim to power upon its sense of victimhood, arguably for the first time in history. Plato's guardians were wise; Aquinas's king was good; Hobbes's sovereign was, well, sovereign. But the best defense of monarchy that Maistre could muster in Considerations on France (1797) was that his aspiring king had attended the "terrible school of misfortune" and suffered in the "hard school of adversity."
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Via Sadly, No! (for the second time in as many days), The Nation has what starts off as a great piece on conservative resentment. I don't know if it ends well, as I haven't read the whole thing, but I just had to put these two paragraphs up.