Culture Wars/Current Controversies

What Happened to American Conservatism?

By David Brooks The Atlantic

The rich philosophical tradition I fell in love with has been reduced to Fox News and voter suppression.

I fell in love with conservatism in my 20s. As a politics and crime reporter in Chicago, I often found myself around public-housing projects like Cabrini-Green and the Robert Taylor Homes, which had been built with the best of intentions but had become nightmares. The urban planners who designed those projects thought they could improve lives by replacing ramshackle old neighborhoods with a series of neatly ordered high-rises.

But, as the sociologist Richard Sennett, who lived in part of the Cabrini-Green complex as a child, noted, the planners never really consulted the residents themselves. They disrespected the residents by turning them into unseen, passive spectators of their own lives. By the time I encountered the projects they were national symbols of urban decay.

Back then I thought of myself as a socialist. But seeing the fallout from this situation prompted a shocking realization: This is exactly what that guy I read in college had predicted. Human society is unalterably complex, Edmund Burke argued. If you try to reengineer it based on the simplistic schema of your own reason, you will unintentionally cause significant harm. Though Burke was writing as a conservative statesman in Britain some 200 years earlier, the wisdom of his insight was apparent in what I was seeing in the Chicago of the 1980s.


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