Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Next Big Thing

In responding to a post by Megan McArdle, Stephen Bainbridge exhibits all that is wrong with the outdated and misguided effort to bring a European-style conservative sensibility to America:

To me, this is basically wrong headed. I can’t think of anything more contrary to the spirit of Burkean conservatism than a seach for the “next big thing.”

Why should I care about the "spirit of Burkean conservatism"? That has nothing to do with America and the spirit of the American Experiment. America is all about the "next big thing" and has been from the very beginning. When the delegates arrived in Philadelphia in 1787 they did so to create the "next big thing." The Erie Canal, the light bulb, Leaves of Grass, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, the Wright Brother's airplane, the abolition movement, Star Wars, the drive-thru window, Yeager breaking the sound barrier, Louis Armstrong every time he picked up his horn, and on and on. The drive to seek out the "next big thing" is as American as it gets. It is the source of our creative, dynamic, entrepreneurial society. We need more of it not less.

Indeed, I would argue that a large part of the problem with modern conservatism is that Bush and the K Street Gang were more concerned with finding something big to do than with standing athwart history shouting stop.

There it is again: standing athwart history shouting stop. I hate that phrase and I can't think of anything more wrong-headed than that idea. After the War of Independence, Americans believed they were at the leading edge of civilization, that they were creating a new form of society and government. They were not in any way "standing athwart history shouting stop." In 1782, Congress approved the design for the Great Seal of the United States that included the motto Norvus Ordo Seclorum, "New Order of the Ages," that is not the motto of a country committed to the idea of "standing athwart history shouting stop." Pioneers didn't paint "standing athwart history shouting stop" on the sides of their wagons as they headed out on the Oregon Trail. Neil Armstrong didn't say "standing athwart history shouting stop" as he placed his foot on the moon. And Martin Luther King, Jr. didn't say "I have a dream of standing athwart history shouting stop" on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.

"Standing athwart history shouting stop" is the antithesis of the spirit of the American Experiment. A few years ago I met a guy from England who had come to the US with his wife who had a job with the British gov't. When she was to be transferred to another country she gave up her career and they decided to stay in the US. When I asked him why he said that it was because in America you can come up with an idea and pursue it and people will celebrate it and encourage you, whereas in England and Europe "if you stick your neck out it will get cut off." He and his wife stayed here to get away from the "standing athwart history shouting stop" mentality. Promoting that mentality in today's America is a recipe for stagnation and failure in adapting to the changes that are taking place.

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