No Change Please
Peter King makes a timely defence of inertia
As the author of recently written books with titles such as Keeping Things Close and Here and Now[i] it is perhaps clear that what interests me is change, or more properly, the lack of it. I really do wish to accept things as they are without continually having to fight for them.
When we fight we introduce risk and we might well end up breaking the very things we wish to protect. This risk exists just as much if we seek to move backwards as forwards. The type of conservatism I espouse is one that is static. It does not seek to go any way and this is applies equally to the past as the future. This is because there is as much risk involved in trying to return to a former more desirable state as there is in seeking a future utopia. In trying to go back the traditionalist is doing exactly the same as the progressive, and the potential effects of change are just the same.
Both progressive and traditionalist may recognise that there is a cost involved in change for both themselves and others, but they gauge that this cost will be worthwhile. They are able to discount the negative consequences of their actions and count on the benefits at the end. They can take this view because they are certain of the superiority of their particular worldview, whether it be looking forwards or back. They believe that they have access to the truth and so know what is best for us. The sacrifices, they would suggest, are worthwhile.
I have no reason to stop someone from believing what they will. However, I have no wish to allow myself and those people and institutions that I love to be to be used to further those beliefs. I know that I only have one life and I do not wish it to be sacrificed to fulfil the dreams of others. What I wish to do is simply to be allowed to live in the here and now, with what I have and with whom I love and not be forced to move either forwards or back. In this regard, going back to someone else’s golden age is as bad as any proposed utopia.
This is often a rather difficult position to argue for. By asserting the need to accept the world as it is, one can be accused of trying to justify the dominance of a particular class, of protecting existing privilege, or even of maintaining one’s own position at the expense of others. I am saying I am all right and the rest of the world can go hang.
My view, however, is not based on being comfortable (although I do not dislike my life). It is rather based on the fact that I have no idea how it might be made better than it is actually now is. Those who advocate change always assume that it will make things better for everyone, or at least for a far greater number than the current dispensation. But why should this be case, and does not the fact that many disagree on what changes are necessary lead us to a healthy scepticism? Simply stated, how can we possibly know that any change will leave us better off than we are now, and accordingly how can we assert that the risk is worthwhile? What if the toppling of one ruling class merely leads to the dominance of another? What if the losses suffered by me and mine outweigh the gains made by others? And why should I place my life in the hands of others whose judgement and motives I cannot be sure of?
It might be argued that this attitude towards change is relativistic or even nihilistic. It might seem to imply that any form of government is as good as another: monarchy, aristocracy and democracy are all alike. And that it does not matter if we live under tyranny, or if others suffer as long as I am comfortable. But this critique can only sustained if we refuse to look around us. I know that where I am now is a product of the inertia of others. I am here now because others have made it by their inaction as much as anything positive they might have done. Like most people most of the time, I live within a society that allows me to sustain many of the things that I enjoy. I know that these things are sustainable through no action other than the continued inertia of others and my self.
It is precisely by focussing on the familiar rather than on the best that we are likely to retain what is the most benign for us. It will not be perfect, it might not always be comfortable and it is certainly not the best we can possibly conceive. But it will be familiar and it will be within reach. So we should accept it.
[i] Both books have been published by Arktos (www.arktos.com) in 2015. See a review of Keeping Things Close at http://www.quarterly-review.org/homespun-conservatism/.
PETER KING is Reader in Social Thought at De Montfort University. His most recent books are Keeping Things Close: An Essay on the Conservative Disposition and Here and Now: Some Thoughts on the World and How We Find it, both published by Arktos in 2015
*See more of Bob Barron’s art work at – http://www.bob-barron.com
The author states that “going back to someone else’s golden age is as bad as any proposed utopia” and that the present “will be familiar and it will be within reach. So we should accept it.” Surely the fact is that the pace of change since the Second World War has been so fast and so radical that those who want to turn back the clock are not looking back to someone else’s golden age, they are looking back to a golden age that they used to live in. And for many the present, far from seeming familiar, feels like an alien, nightmare world. If you know that things have changed for the worse then returning to a better (albeit far from perfect) past is surely to be preferred to doing nothing.
Thomas, thanks for your comments. Its very kind of you to take the time. What I would say in response is that it is fine to want for you or I to want to return to a former idyll, but it is another thing altogether the insist that everyone else goes back as well, whether they agree you or not.