Acceptance

Why should we assume that politics has a happy ending? Of course we believe that our views are superior to all others; why else would we adhere to them? But an antimodernist and a conservative cannot seriously believe that things will necessarily get better. Now things might well improve, but we ought not to expect it.

But perhaps we need to go further than this. If we believe that societies do not progress then we should not do anything to assist in attempts at progress. What we should be concerned with is preserving and protecting, maintaining what we have. We should limit our political activity to preserving things, and this means that we will be reactive, defensive and appropriately cautious in our actions. We must not fall into the trap of believing that because a problem is serious, and it makes us angry, then we must put forward a radical solution. There is no necessary connection between the strength of our views and their truthfulness, and nor is truthfulness in any way linked to the seriousness of our response.

The greatest insight of conservative thought is that politics has no end. Governing has no purpose beyond its own continuance: it is an end in itself. We do not need government to make our lives better, but simply so we can carry on living as we wish to. Societies exist because they permit human beings to flourish. But this is all, and it ought to be seen as enough. Indeed, it is very difficult to manage even these limited aims.

This means that the idea of acceptance is at the very heart of conservatism. Conservatives recognise that we are where we are and are what we are, and to attempt to change this often leads to disaster. We do not know enough to plan for the future and so we should not attempt it.

But this means that conservatives cannot promise a better future. All they can do is state that they will not make things worse. Conservatism necessitates a focus on how we live now. We cannot sacrifice the present for a hypothetical future. We have to accept our place and relish it, not look at the horizon and wish we were elsewhere. This means that we will have to be prepared to put up with things that are not ideal and perhaps which do not always work well. But why should we assume that we can readily changes matters just to suit ourselves? Why should we take the instant gratification promised by modernity as the norm rather than a rash promise? Cannot we see that much of what we have been promised in the past has failed to materialise?

Acceptance implies that we may well struggle to convince the undecided. We have to know the importance of acceptance already. It is part of the dispositional quality of conservatism. It is an attitude towards where we are and what we have. We cannot decide to accept, but have to feel it. It is not a rational act but an act of faith.

Stressing acceptance is unlikely to appeal to everyone. It means accepting many things we find unappealing and realising that we cannot do much about this. This will appear deeply unsatisfactory to those who take a more idealistic view towards political action. But we have to realise that many of the things that we find so unappealing about the world today have come about because of the actions of political zealots who were so certain they knew what was best. These zealots felt that they could make the future better and would not listen to those who called for caution. Conservatives know that the consequences of political zealotry will be failure. But this failure will not lessen the effects of the changes of ill-thought actions: they will be just as consequential and not easily brushed off. We would not be able to merely say ‘never mind’ and try again.

So what we can do is to challenge those who believe they know the future. We should try to stop them, or at worst, to slow them down. If this appears to be negative, cynical or even nihilistic then that is unfortunate. But it is better than being an accomplice to political hubris and inevitable failure. We should not try for happy ending, but rather to convince our fellows that they can remain happy today.

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