The Corner

Who Said It Was Useless?

Stan – Maybe I misread Derb, but I didn’t think he was saying philosophy was useless so much as he has no use for philosophy. If you are right — and I don’t think you are — that there are conservatives out there denying the power of theory, I will stand shoulder to shoulder with you in the necessary shellacking that shall be required. But I see no need to shellack a straw man. I don’t think even the most pragmatic conservative realist in the world would deny the power of theory — on other people. One need not scour the twentieth century for the positive examples of theory, The Closing of the American Mind for example, when there are so many obvious and huge instances of theory’s negative consequences. Uh: Communism, Nazism, Maoism, Southwest Airlines. Surely no one would disagree with Richard Weaver who argued in his book Ideas Have Consequences that, well, ideas have consequences.

But, Stan, I think you forget that one of the central principles of conservatism is to be deeply, deeply suspicious of theory. Russell Kirk, quoting H.S. Hughes, was found of saying that conservatism is the “negation of ideology.” I warn you that your dark master, theory, can lead you astray. Remember Goldberg’s Theory Of Theory: Theory good when explaining things. Theory dangerous when changing things.

I just made that up.

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