Abstractions

People are either happy or unhappy with a David Brooks column arguing that the political manifestations of American conservatism have abandoned a limited, “Burkean” conservatism in favor an ideological and abstraction based conservatism.  See Reihan for some thoughts and context, for he is either happy or unhappy.

I wanna say that the focus on whether we’re mostly concerned with abstractions or not is itself a silly abstraction.  Consider the occasional debate over what exactly about the Nazis was so bad.  My two cents were that they killed too many people, and secondarily, so far as you might think killing people is ok, they were killing the wrong people.  The rest was, as we reductionists say, mere superstructure.   I say this not to analogize contemporary conservatives to Nazis, but to use the extreme case in order to suggest a rightfully myopic focus on the consequences of particular political choices.  The problem with conservatives these days is just that they overstate the awesomeness of war and tax cuts, while ignoring the awesomeness of gay people and healthcare.  If they changed those beliefs, I would not worry whether they’d done it because of their abstractions or not.

There can be compelling uses of abstractions in political philosophy or political debate, and then there’s the meta-debate about whether those abstractions are a good thing.  Then there’s the point that this meta-debate is often quite silly, because the easy answer to the first is “well, they’re ok.”  Only if you’re trying too hard does the abstraction of not having abstractions look like the sine qua non of good policy.   Since I am now getting dizzy, I will stop ascending the ladder of abstractions any further.

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