Stephen Tonsor of the University of Michigan history department is not often mentioned among the intellectual heavyweights of American conservatism. But reading his work gives one the impression he should be better known. For the Postmodern Conservative, skeptical of standards for socio-political “efficiency,” distrustful of the hegemonic pretenses of Enlightenment modernity, and set against all secular utopias, Tonsor’s incredulity toward temporal meta-narratives (even as religious faith abides) can be a lot of fun. Let us paraphrase: liberty and equality, whatever their status as ideal concepts, are social creations. They cannot be divorced from social reality and the context in which they are embedded. To consider them in the abstract is to lose meaning. Abstract perfection is practical defect; the shadowy world of abstract philosophy is inferior to the realms of ethics, politics, and history where the common good - the object of civil society - can be fostered by the exercise of prudence. Conservatism reenacts the past not as a past program but as a set of beliefs and values which are translated into the current idiom. The vernacular architecture of socio-political conservatism must be decentralized, organic, and rooted in past experience. This worldview is Roman; its political philosophy Aristotelien and Thomist; its concerns moral and ethical; its culture Christian humanist. It is free of metaphysical anxiety and alienation because it is communal with no hope for a utopian order. Sin and tragedy are not a consequence of inadequate social engineering, but a consequence of moral disorder.

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Articles by Jonathan Jones

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