A word fitly spoken

Various translations of an ancient proverb express my appreciation for David Brooks’ recent essay in The Atlantic (see yesterday’s post). The party whose 2016 candidate claimed “I alone can fix it” renominated him in 2020 without a party platform, a de facto admission that he is our platform. The “Party of Lincoln” missed an opportunity to draw from several centuries of principled wisdom, but Brooks keeps that wisdom before us in a timely word fitly spoken:

True conservatism’s great virtue is that it teaches us to be humble about what we think we know; it gets human nature right, and understands that we are primarily a collection of unconscious processes, deep emotions, and clashing desires. Conservatism’s profound insight is that it’s impossible to build a healthy society strictly on the principle of self-interest. It’s an illusion, as T. S. Eliot put it, to think that a society in which people don’t have to be good can thrive. Life is essentially a moral enterprise, and the health of your community will depend on how well it does moral formation—how well it nurtures ordered inner lives and helps balance sentiments, desires, and motivations. Finally, conservatism welcomes you into a great procession down the ages. Society “is a partnership in all science,” Burke wrote,

a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.

From “Why Edmund Burke Still Matters,” by Bret Stephens, The New York Times, August 5, 2020

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