The Conservative Turn
I’ve read quite a bit of nonsense in the press lately about the conservative turn and how it is supposed to exemplify a growing “maturity” of the public discourse and society… (not just an aging of the population). This alleged “maturity” in anything but simple biological and physiological terms is pure self-serving bunk. More likely, this skewed perception of “maturity” (by which they intend us to understand “wisdom”) approximates more closely to senility and debility.
There are indeed times in the life of society when a conservative mood and turn is exemplary of political maturity. At other times when it is not. It is, like today, merely mindlessly reactionary. The universal and absolute character of this judgement that conservatism necessarily represents “maturity” (or “wisdom”) is itself exemplary of a childish insensibility and political immaturity.
In Rhetoric, Aristotle was of a much different opinion — and probably more to the point in the context of our times — than the weary and dreary conservative pundits,
“Because they have lived many years and have been deceived many times and made many mistakes, and because their experience is that most things go badly, they do not insist on anything with confidence, but always less forcefully than appropriate….
And they are small of soul because they have been humbled by life: for they desire nothing great or excellent, but only what is necessary for survival. And they are ungenerous. For property is one of the necessary things; and in, and through, their experience they know how hard it is to get it and how easy to lose it. And they are cowardly and fear everything beforehand – for they have, in this respect, the opposite character of the young. They are chilly, and the young are hot; so old age prepares the way for cowardice, since fear, too, is a kind of chilling… And they live for advantage and not for the noble, more than is appropriate, because they are self-loving. For the advantageous is good for oneself; the noble is good simpliciter … Their desires are gone and they are slaves to profit… And the elderly, too, feel pity, but not for the same reason as the young; for the young feel it through love of humanity, the old through weakness – for they think every suffering is waiting for them, and this inspires pity. For this reason they are given to grieving, and are neither charming nor fond of laughter.” Book 2, chapter 2, 13, pp. 174-6
Aristotle was writing at the twilight of classical Greek civilisation. I suspect he was describing that twilight here also as a kind of conservative turn or “maturation”, but not towards political or social wisdom.
The essence of political maturity is the question of timeliness and timing — of acting at the right time, or waiting until the right time. As the man in The Book of Ecclesiastes put it: there is a time to every purpose under heaven. Those who wait when they should rush, or rush when they should wait do not particularly exemplify either maturity or wisdom, but only a decadent sloth or a rash and premature impulsiveness. “Maturity” can also be the moldy rottenness of the over-ripe fruit that has exceeded its shelf-life and sell-by date.
But any absolute judgement that conservatism itself represents maturity or wisdom is itself a piece of foolishness and senile stupidity.