This is a day when conservatives like me feel we have no dog in the fight. Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal, announced Tuesday, is trumpeted by the mainstream right as a "genuine cause for hope." Great. More hope. That's all we need.
Even if it's assumed the budget is arithmetically sound, true conservatives need to be clear about what we're being asked to assent to. We're being asked to assent not to an alternative to top-down, paternalistic liberal orthodoxy, but rather to a competing version of it. When a nationally prominent politician describes the social safety net as a "hammock," make no mistake. He's not trying to eliminate the bullying bureaucrats of the managerial state; he's seeking to shove him aside and replace him.
Replacing one's notion of Nanny with a sterner Daddy will not restore the prelapsarian paradise of Adam Smith's Invisible Hand and Friedrich von Hayek's Spontaneous Order—because those paradises never existed to begin with.
Listen to the wise conservatism—and then rue its absence from our political landscape today—of August Heckscher, whose Confluence magazine essay "Where Are the American Conservatives?" is as relevant today as when it was published in 1953:
The concept of a pure conservatism, its pattern "laid up in heaven," was an illusion; it was in fact the same illusion that had possessed the Liberals and the Utopian democrats through the nineteenth century. That the conservatives should have fallen under its spell was particularly strange, for traditionally the conservatives mistrust an excessive rationalism—they know that the world moves by habit, by values, by inherited faith, quite as much as it moves by getting new ideas. The conservatives, when they are in their right mind, avoid tearing up the roots of something they do not like almost as instinctively as they avoid tearing up the roots of institutions and procedures of which they approve. The fact that American conservatives to so large a measure forgot, or never learned, this healthy prudence and this basic tolerance, I can only attribute to the fact that they had grown so uncontrollably angry. In attacking the New Deal they became inflexible in their thinking, unresponsive to the settled expectations and tacit consents of the great public; and they wanted instead to impose a doctrinaire program of their own.
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