Michael Gerson, confused moralist, writes:
>The unavoidable problem is this: Without moral absolutes, there is no way to determine which traditions are worth preserving and which should be overturned. Conservatism assumes and depends on an objective measure of right and wrong that skepticism cannot provide. Without a firm moral conviction that independence is superior to servitude, that freedom is superior to slavery, that the weak deserve special care and protection, the habit of conservatism is radically incomplete. In the absence of elevating ideals, it can become pessimistic and unambitious — a morally indifferent preference for the status quo.
Whatever one’s view of conservatism, skepticism isn’t opposed to it. Skepticism is a theory which concerns the possibility of knowledge; conservatism seems (seems because I can’t figure it out from what Gerson says) is a theory about the best way to organize states. I might also point out that the existence of moral absolutes is independent of “absolute” or “firm” moral convictions. One can certainly have the latter without the former. Furthermore, the claim that between “skepticism” and “moral absolutes” is complete hogwash. This reminds me of something a wise old sage wrote:
>Our discussion will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject-matter admits of, for precision is not to be sought for alike in all discussions, any more than in all the products of the crafts. Now fine and just actions, which political science investigates, admit of much variety and fluctuation of opinion, so that they may be thought to exist only by convention, and not by nature. And goods also give rise to a similar fluctuation because they bring harm to many people; for before now men have been undone by reason of their wealth, and others by reason of their courage. We must be content, then, in speaking of such subjects and with such premisses to indicate the truth roughly and in outline, and in speaking about things which are only for the most part true and with premisses of the same kind to reach conclusions that are no better. In the same spirit, therefore, should each type of statement be received; for it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs.
Why does Gerson write such jibberish? It’s the moral absolutism of the “democracy agenda” (not the one with the torture and the undermining of civil liberties, of course, but the fantasy one:
>And the democracy agenda goes a step further. It argues that the most basic human rights will remain insecure as long as they are a gift or concession of the state — that natural rights must ultimately be protected by self-government. And this ideology asserts that most people in all places, even the poor and oppressed, are capable of controlling their own affairs and determining their own rulers. If this abstract argument seems familiar, it should, because it is the argument of the American founding.
There is a collision here between the ethical and the meta-ethical. The nature of the rights we have (whether they are gifts from God or not) is a separate question from what they are and how they might be guaranteed. Governments and laws are uniquely able to guarantee rights, but no one who advocates that position must at the same time claim they are “gifts or concessions” of the government. There are many morally absolute theories of rights, and not all of them are Divine command theories. Regardless of that, governments and laws are necessary for their being enforced–the security of our rights is there, unfortunately. Recognizing (even if it were the case) that all of our rights are God-given doesn’t make them any more secure than if we claim they rely on the Constitution. Their security, in other words, doesn’t have much to do with their ultimate foundation (whether it’s reason, God, God’s God, or contract).