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G.A. Cohen on a truth in conservatism

I have for decades harboured strongly conservative, that is, strongly small-c conservative, opinions, on many matters that are not matters of justice, and I here mount an exposition and defence of what I believe to be my widely, although perhaps not universally, shared, conservative attitude. (I do not have conservative views about matters of justice because what conservatives like me want to conserve is that which has intrinsic value, and injustice lacks intrinsic value (and has, indeed, intrinsic disvalue). I am a kind of conservative not only in that I have the strong small-c conservative attitude that I shall describe, but also in that I endorse certain conservative factual
assessments according to which a lot of valuable things have been disappearing lately. I join the ranks of the complainers down the ages who say: “Things ain’t what they used to be.” …

Please bear in mind throughout that I am trying here to describe, in an attractive light, one kind of conservative disposition, that is, my own. It is indeed my own disposition, and if I did not have it I would not have been motivated to write this paper, but I think that this disposition of mine is not an eccentric one: I think everyone who is sane has something of this disposition, even if the people that I am today calling conservatives have a stronger form of it than others do. … This is my first foray into this territory, and I have thus far been unable to place the several themes that I treat in satisfactory connection with one another. The themes include personal value, tradition, identity, acceptance of the given, slowing down the rate of change and the idea of conserving what is valuable, in opposition, for example, to maximizing value. I hope and believe that all or at least most of my themes are connected, and, indeed, that the idea of conserving what is valuable is intellectually foundational to all of the other themes, but I haven’t yet tried to establish all the connections (and disconnections).

G.A. Cohen, “A truth in conservatism: Rescuing conservatism from the conservatives,” unpublished paper. Available here.

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