Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

George Will on the Glory of Messy Change

Bow ties are worn by men who take extra care to avoid common sentiment, and George Will has been wearing one as long as he’s been writing a national column. He’s tireless in exposing soft thinking and back-sliding in others:

“Creative destruction continues in the digital age. After 244 years - it began publication five years before the 1773 Boston Tea Party - the Encyclopedia Britannica will henceforth be available only in digital form as it tries to catch up to reference websites such as Google and Wikipedia. Another digital casualty forgot it was selling the preservation of memories, a.k.a. "Kodak moments," not film.

“America now is divided between those who find this social churning unnerving and those who find it exhilarating. What Virginia Postrel postulated in 1998 in "The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise and Progress" - the best book for rescuing the country from a ruinous itch for tidiness - is even more true now. Today's primary political and cultural conflict is, Postrel says, between people, mislabeled "progressives," who crave social stasis, and those, paradoxically called conservatives, who welcome the perpetual churning of society by dynamism.

“Stasis’s see Borders succumb to e-books (and Amazon) and lament the passing of familiar things. Dynamists say: Relax, reading is thriving. In 2001, the iPod appeared, and soon stores such as Tower Records disappeared. Who misses them?”

Some of this is merely too simplistic and some is bad because it is simply partisan nonsense.

First, individuals everywhere are of two minds about change and their own futures; they’re not divided on these questions according to whether they’re on one side of town or the other, or live in one class or race or another, read romance novels or went to Rocky films—or whether they live in public housing or Tribeca, Manhattan.

Does Will honestly think that his faithful reader living in his gated community in Naples, Florida, is “exhilarated” by perpetual change? Does he really think the phrases “globalization and “free trade” are doing poorly in Newark, New Jersey, because young men there have a “ruinous itch for tidiness"?

Change, as Robert Kennedy warned, always has enemies. Unlike Will, however, he was not referring merely to sentiment and nostalgia.

The change in North America for 200 years has been relatively unrelenting, not because North Americans lost the reflex to look back, romanticize, and fight for what they have, but because change in North America kept producing great material dividends, across the board.

The real challenge serious conservatives are engaging with progressives today is how to ensure that capitalism, in a global context, can again produce a dividend for society at large. If 97% of the dividend is going to go to the top 1% on a regular basis, then “creative destruction” will become an untenable sick aesthetic.

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