Symposium on Humane Socialism & Traditional Conservatism

October 1987Thomas Molnar, John B. Judis, John Lukacs, James G. Hanink, Sheldon Vanauken, Michael Lerner, Christopher Derrick, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Samuel Hux, Russell Kirk, John C. Cort, Juli Loesch, L. Brent Bozell, Robert Coles, Christopher Lasch

"The endless cycle of idea and action.
Endless invention, endless experiment.
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word."
-- T.S. Eliot, Choruses from The Rock

In his recent book The Capitalist Revolution, Peter L. Berger states: "The notion of capitalism as conservative is misleading. On the contrary, capitalism has radically changed every material, social, political, and cultural facet of the societies it has touched, and it continues to do so." In response, James J. Thompson Jr., a traditional conservative, commented in his review-essay, "American Conservatism's Lost Soul," in the April 1987 New Oxford Review: "How can the traditionalist defend tradition while ignoring one of its prime destroyers? Industrial capitalism simply cannot be squared with the values he cherishes. Berger's blunt admission of capitalism's destructiveness cannot be wished away."

Thompson continued: "For free marketeers [like Berger], the ultimate evil is socialism; the traditionalist knows better. His 19th-century forebears directed their most heated ire not at socialism, but at Utilitarianism, Manchester liberalism. Social Darwinism, and assorted other apologies for the new economic order. Certainly they despised Marxism, but they discerned in some types of socialism an ethos not unlike their own. [Robert] Nisbet casts an approving glance at two of these: guild socialism and ‘Catholic socialism in France and Germany'.... Might the traditionalist consider joining forces with the heirs to such forms of socialism? Such an alliance would grant him two things: release from the debilitating connection with capitalism's devotees and mitigation of the anguish he feels as a superfluous man, fated to fecklessness in a hostile culture."

In light of the above, the New Oxford Review addressed the following queries to a distinguished group of interested parties:

(1) Traditional conservatism seeks affirmation of the "permanent things": God, family, community, virtue, commitment, contemplation, serenity. In contrast, capitalism thrives on planned obsolescence, rootless and restless change, and the endless generation of new demands which can only be satisfied by the purchase of "exciting" commodities and services. How strong a connection do you think there is between our consumerist economy, which promises immediate gratification, and our hedonistic culture, which extols instant gratification?

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