Sullivan linked to this, where I found something that caught my attention: “Burke saw that, and saw habit not as something self-contained and self-justifying but as the accumulation and realization of goods that go beyond habit and consequently must somehow serve at least in concept as a more ultimate standard.”
More ultimate standard? Sounds strangely abstract…
But maybe that’s just coming from my current flirtations with Pragmatism. After all, Sullivan, in his book, fell prey to the Platonic cave story with its ultimate truth.
I believe that the notion of inherited rights is strongly against a “more ultimate standard” and more in line with practicality. So, I think Kalb is incorrect when he asserts:
Indeed, it seems to me that when you try to turn “don’t be stupid” into a general political philosophy, you are likely to end by simply dividing policies and politicians into those you like and those you don’t like and leaving it at that. Any reasoning not used opportunistically to support opinions already held would be abstract and ideological, and so non-Burkean. Your politics will tend to become at bottom a matter of asserting general personal superiority.
“Don’t be stupid” respects the idea that the stock of reason in man is so little. It’s not merely about what policies you like and don’t like. It’s about which policies are more radical and which are less radical. It’s about which policies have a chance at working and which don’t. And, it’s always about looking for unintended consequences. The point of conservatism is that these ideas need not come from some over-arching ideology.
Besides, why does Kalb assume that the point of politics is his search for a “constructive function”? I leave you with a quote from the “operatic” Burke that Kalb links to: “It has been the misfortune (not, as these gentlemen think it, the glory) of this age, that everything is to be discussed, as if the constitution of our country were to be always a subject rather of altercation, than enjoyment.”
These are my preliminary thoughts, and I’ll sharpen them later.