I heard a number of former Bradley Prize winners speak at a symposium Wednesday morning. That evening, there was an awards reception, at which this year’s winners were announced. Yuval Levin said,
Conservatives tend to begin from gratitude for what is good and what works in our society and then strive to build on it, while liberals tend to begin from outrage at what is bad and broken and seek to uproot it.
You need both, because some of what is good about our world is irreplaceable and has to be guarded, while some of what is bad is unacceptable and has to be changed. We should never forget that the people who oppose our various endeavors and argue for another way are well intentioned too, even when they’re wrong, and that they’re not always wrong.
…That’s not to say that conservatives are never outraged, of course. We’ve had a lot of reason to be outraged lately. But it tends to be when we think the legacy and promise we cherish are threatened, rather than when some burning ambition is frustrated.
Overall, I think that he spoke to the civilization-barbarism axis, as one would expect. He also tended toward Thomas Sowell’s “conflict of visions” analysis of the difference between liberals and conservatives.
The Bradley folks are conservatives, not libertarians. In the hallway conversations at the morning symposium, I heard lots of support for government snooping. (Speaking of the snooping program, David Brooks certainly took the conservative line, didn’t he? I think others have pointed out that Brooks is more concerned about the lack of checks and balances against Edward Snowden than about the lack of checks and balances against the intelligence agencies.)
One of the panels at the Bradley symposium addressed the topic of threats to freedom (other than economic policy, which was the subject of a separate panel). A couple of panelists cited Charles Murray’s “coming apart” thesis. Heather MacDonald thought that perhaps too much individual freedom was leading the lower classes into behaviors that lead to dependency. Later, after Robby George voiced similar concerns in response to a luncheon speech by Charles Krauthammer, Krauthammer replied that the Constitution was not designed to require virtuous citizens. On the contrary, it is meant to be robust to human failings. While I appreciate both sides, I think that in the end I come down on the side that a culture of virtue matters more than the Constitution. I think where I would differ from Murray/MacDonald/George is on where the cultural problem lies. I think it lies not with the lower classes but instead with certain parts of the elite. Another panelist, Brad Smith, spoke of the need for conservatives to regain control over the K-12 curriculum. I think that is closer to being on track, and if that is the case, then lamenting the breakdown of the traditional family is barking up the wrong tree.
MacDonald also cited the atmosphere of censorship in academia. Topics on which there is not freedom of speech include gender differences and IQ. But note that, again, this is a problem among the elite.
Krauthammer offered an optimistic take on the electoral prospects of conservatives. Among his reasons:
1. Polls show more conservatives than liberals.
2. The 2012 election was idiosyncratic. Romney lost on the issue of “who cares more about people like you?” in which Obama swamped Romney in exit polls by 60 percentage points. (Krauthammer did not give figures, but one can imagine something like 75 Obama, 15 Romney, 15 undecided)
3. The current scandals hurt Democrats, because they are the party of government.
4. The key issue of our times is the crisis of the welfare state, an issue on which conservatives are better positioned than liberals.
The immigration issue came up in the earlier panel on the economy. Victor Davis Hanson carried the ball for the restrictionist civilization-vs.-barbarism team. Gary Becker proposed using tariffs rather than quotas (although he did not use that terminology). I used that term in my essay ten years ago, and in fact you should read that essay to see how little the issue has changed during the interim.