Many who call themselves conservatives propose to cast aside even government programs that have stood the test of time. They seem to imagine a world in which government withers away, a phrase that comes from Friedrich Engels, not Buckley. Or they tie themselves up in unruly contradictions, declaring simultaneously that they are dead-set against government-run health care and passionate defenders of Medicare.
And while modern conservatism has usually supported the market against the state, its oldest and most durable brand understood that the market was an imperfect instrument. True conservatives may give "two cheers for capitalism," as Irving Kristol put it in the title of one of his books, but never three.
Perhaps I have just fallen into the very trap I warned against, seeking a conservatism that corrects, but doesn't oppose, progressivism.
But to my mind, conservatism has always made its greatest contribution as a corrective force that seeks to preserve the best of what we have. As our long and bitter health care debate winds to a close, might proponents of such a conservatism find an opening? Are they still there?
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