In 1841 Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote ‘The Conservative’. It’s an essay in rather archaic language about the wrong headedness of both progressive and conservative world views so it’s fairly even handed about the hazards of both inflated idealism and the deadliness of the status quo. However some of the statements about conservatism are prescient for these times. The hopelessness of the current administration in the face of a homelessness disaster is particularly well described here. No idealism, no better future, no policies to relieve distress or improve the lot of the miserable – just misery managed in the mental frame of ‘the poor are always with us’.
Here are a couple of the best quotes. They describe quite well our world of austerity in public provision; a world view that sees hunger, under-employment, poverty and poor housing as problems simply too challenging to solve.
“The conservative assumes sickness as a necessity, and his social frame is a hospital, his total legislation is for the present distress, a universe in slippers and flannels, with bib and pap-spoon, swallowing pills and herb-tea. Sickness gets organized as well as health, the vice as well as the virtue.”
“Conservatism takes as low a view of every part of human action and passion. Its religion is just as bad; a lozenge for the sick; a dolorous tune to beguile the distemper; mitigations of pain by pillows and anodynes; always mitigations, never remedies; pardons for sin, funeral honors,—never self-help, renovation, and virtue. Its social and political action has no better aim; to keep out wind and weather, to bring the week and year about, and make the world last our day; not to sit on the world and steer it; not to sink the memory of the past in the glory of a new and more excellent creation; a timid cobbler and patcher, it degrades whatever it touches.”
The full essay is here