Where Does the Left vs. Right Fight Come From?
As such, those on the left and right can benefit from a close reading of Burke and Paine. Liberals, Levin writes, "are left philosophically adrift and far too open to the cold logic of utilitarianism" (229). The right "shares a great deal of Burke's disposition, but seeks to protect our culture inheritance in a less aristocratic and (naturally, for Americans) more populist way than he did, if also in a way that lacks his emphasis on community and on the sentiments. Today's conservatives are thus too rhetorically strident and far too open to the siren song of hyperindidualism, and they generally lack a non radical theory of the liberal society" (229). They should instead focus on community, gradualism, and reform. On page 231, Levin concludes by telling us that our political debates are not indicative of an invasion by socialists and radical secularists. Rather, "these echoes are in fact reminders of the defining disagreement of the political order of modern liberalism" (231).
He's right. And this is important because we, like Burke and Paine, are living in a transformative, strange, and radical age. We are going to have to engage these questions again. Interestingly enough, in his chapter titled "Revolution and Reform," Levin tells us that Burke and Paine had decided that the traditional Whig and Tory divide had ceased, and it was to be replaced by people who either defended the old order, but who were willing to present reforms, or those who wanted to bring about a utopian age of reason.
Does this not sound like the 21st century? Some at PJ Media have been discussing a "Conservatism 3.0," which David Swindle proposed after reading America 3.0 by James C. Bennett and Michael Lotus. The end of what Walter Russell Mead calls "the blue model" is coming, and we are going to need figures to articulate the best way to move forward. After all, the basic and most important questions of political philosophy are this: How are we to live? How ought we organize ourselves?
A new Burke and Paine are most likely on their way. And they will no doubt be assisted by Levin's fine work.