In re those pesky atheist conservatives (like me)

John Derbyshire nails it:

Q. Can an irreligious person really be a conservative?

A. Of course he can. The essence of modern conservatism is the belief in limited government power, respect for traditional values, patriotism, and strong national defense. The only one of those that gets snagged on religion is the second. But while traditional Western society has had a religious background, it has usually made room, at all points of the political spectrum, for unbelievers. Plenty of great names in the Western cultural tradition have been irreligious. Mark Twain, America’s greatest writer, was a complete atheist; and one has one’s doubts about Shakespeare. In any case, as Bill Buckley has pointed out somewhere, the key word is respect. Respect for traditional values implies respect for religious belief, even if you don’t share it. The really interesting question is not “Can an irreligious person be a conservative,” but “Can a militant God-hater be a conservative?”

I’d go a bit further than that. Conservatism, including (including especially, I think) religious conservatism, has at its core an acceptance of, a respect for, human nature. We conservatives are the people who see humanity plain, or strive to, and who wish to keep our society in harmony with what we see. Paul Johnson has noted how leftists always used to talk about building socialism. Capitalism doesn’t require building. It’s just what happens if you leave people alone. It arises, in short, from human nature, and only needs harmonizing under some mild, reasonable, laws and customary restraints. You don’t have to build it by forging a New Capitalist Man, or anything like that.

Leaving people alone, I like. Capitalism, I like. Social harmony, I like. Human nature . . . Well, it has its unappealing side. I don’t count religious feeling as necessarily on that side, though; and I do count religious feeling — stronger in some individuals, weaker in others, altogether absent in a few — a key component of the human personality at large. To be respected ipso facto.

Badda bing, badda boom. No further explication necessary.


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