The tension between conservatism and classical liberalism began with the Enlightenment’s insistence on the freedom of inquiry necessary to advance science. And science in turn was to empower man to dominate nature—learn its secrets and turn it to man’s will. Francis Bacon saw this free inquiry as creating prosperity, lengthening life, and ultimately perhaps forestalling death.
This core tenet of the Enlightenment poses profound difficulties for conservatism. It unleashes technology as a driving force in human affairs, continually upsetting the status quo and requiring the reworking of human conventions. Some of these conventions are social, like the sense of settled hierarchy that was dissolved by the markets that freedom and technological innovation generated. Other revolutions were even more profound, because they reversed conventions that defended an understanding of what was natural in man. For instance, technologies that separate birth from reproduction are the heart of the rise of family reordering and even identity politics.
But the challenge to conservatism is deeper than the new realities that technology creates. Conservatism posits that man should in some sense live in accordance or harmony with nature. Bacon’s view, in contrast, is that man should plunder nature for energy, for longevity– for everything that man desires.
The current Liberty Law Talk is a discussion with Paula Baker on her new book, Curbing Campaign Cash. You might recall former FEC Commissioner Brad Smith’s review of the book in this space. Before Super PACs, McCain-Feingold, “soft money,” and the Keating 5; before Watergate, and even before Teapot Dome, there was the Michigan Senate race of 1918. . . . one of the nation’s most contested elections and earliest campaign finance “scandals. . . . Unlike the typical political saga, however, Baker presents the story not as a morality tale of honest government corrupted by big money, but rather as…
Andrew Ferguson’s current feature essay in The Weekly Standard “The ‘Science’ of Same-Sex Marriage” considers the unique brief filed by Leon Kass and Harvey Mansfield in the Proposition 8 case that is now before the Court. Also discussed by Nelson Lund, the brief’s counsel of record, in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, the Kass-Mansfield brief does not engage in direct advocacy on behalf of the California law that bans same sex marriage in that state. Rather, the brief purports only to demonstrate that social science claims made in support of a radical departure from the principles of Western marriage law are quite inconclusive and are contrary to statements put forward by researchers and organizations like the American Psychological Association.