In the hope of exorcising the fears of their liberal readers (perhaps the most anxious readers they have) that Conservatism is little more than a revival of crude reaction, the New Conservatives have had to give certain intellectual assurances. These are, as one might expect, gestures of reverence for civil liberties and an abhorrence of the malpractices of orthodox capitalism. Thus Mr. Peter Viereck dissociates himself from McCarthyism, and Mr. Russell Kirk, another leader of the conservative intellectuals, will have no part of laissez-faire economics. A few more qualifications of that sort and the New Conservatism will become indistinguishable from Liberalism itself. Indeed, a critical reader will be inclined to consider such professions more as apologetics than as tenets of a creed. For, certainly, this is not the Conservatism we have known in the past.
Speaking of the past, Santayana said that those who are ignorant of it are destined to repeat its errors; but he might have added, had he known the New Conservatives, that those infatuated with the past are given to glossing over its iniquities. The picture painted by Mr. Kirk in the opening chapter of The Conservative Mind is of a Golden Age existing before the rise of a barbarous Democracy. He summons before us a world in which there flourished, under the prevalence of Conservative principles, an awe of tradition and a cautiousness about change, which he sees as the sum of political virtue. In this Arcadia many salutary and moderate influences were supposedly at work. The Church tempered the power of the State, and pious theories of Natural Law provided a basis for secular justice. As a result, we are led to believe, property rights rarely, if ever, prevailed over human rights, while the ideals of politics guaranteed civil liberties for all. An idyllic world indeed; and without laissez faire economics or McCarthyism.
But of course, no such past ever existed.