The definition of conservatism is not as straightforward as one might imagine. There is much writing about socialism, communism, liberalism, and progressivism, but there is comparatively little on or about conservatism. There are three reasons for this. First, conservatism is based on complexity, and complexity is confusing and complex to write about. It may be true, but that doesn’t make it convincing. Second, being based on complexity about which there has been much work and many recent discoveries, but it takes a while for the consequences and implication of these discoveries to be understood. Third, the institutional incentives work against supporting writing about such topics. Look at the big tech companies, which are extensions of the elite schools — they are overwhelmingly left leaning.
Looking to John Caius, the benefactor of Gonville and Caius, he was described as a “progressive reactionary.” This term is by itself problematic because it presupposes a dichotomy between “progress” which is assumed to be good and “reactionism” which is assumed to be bad, which should be rejected directly. Not all proposed political or policy changes are correct, benign, or appropriately motivated. First, proposed policy changes cannot be assumed to be correct. They must instead, if it is being done scientifically, be tested in some sense to see if they are correct. Second, the consequences of these changes cannot be assumed to be beneficial or benign, especially if the consequences are not those that were envisioned, which is often the case. In complex systems, there are both costs and benefits as well as long-term and short-term tradeoffs, which are seldom discussed. Third, policies are often proposed on behalf of the “greatest good for the greatest number,” to borrow a phrase from Jeremy Bentham, but one would be wise to carefully examine how the proposer’s career might benefit more than society.
A better dichotomy might be “socialism” and “conservatism,” in which socialism is tied to communism — a political system that has failed many societies but tends to benefit those proposing it — and conservatism is tied to arrangements and systems that have been demonstrated as workable and beneficial. There is always the assumption that scientific or scientistic proposals are going to be awesome and correct, but mostly they are not. This can be explained away as part of the process, but this is usually not the case, as even the most cursory testing or internal consistency checks are rejected, which means that the so-called scientific proposal is actually a work of partisan activism.
The logical proof of this is actually pretty straightforward for those who have programmed at an advanced level, which is inherently limiting, but let’s push forward. In software, every low-level step such as a variable declaration, if-then-else relationship, or function is pretty simple and understandable. However, when building large software composed of hundreds, thousands, or more relationships, the behavior becomes increasingly difficult to comprehend and predict. This limit comes up faster than you think, and all programmers have had the experience of trying to figure out what they did months ago. The solution to this is to save copies of the software in a configuration management system, make small changes, test extensively, and save frequently so that one can go back to a workable state is the proposed changes don’t work, which they frequently do not. However, political systems are far more complex and opaque than software systems, and so-called progressives to the exact opposite — propose large changes, never test, and demonize going back to a workable state as “reactionism.”
Graduate schools are incubators of socialism, communism, liberalism, and progressivism where change is celebrated and seldom questioned but any hint of being a conservative is identified and excised. The way this occurs is that large mistakes of progressives are easily forgiven but small mistakes by conservatives are amplified beyond all reasonable bounds. Moreover, there were always lots of copies of the Marx-Engels Reader floating around the department — both the blue first edition and the red second edition — but there was no corresponding conservative book. Communism and socialism are the apogee of politics, and just because the consequences are poor doesn’t mean that political scientists are any less emotionally attached to the concepts. Tocqueville’s Democracy in America might be suggested, but that’s by no means as ubiquitous as the Marx-Engels Reader. Strauss and Cropsey’s History of Political Philosophy — aka, the “purple bible” — is probably a better example. Its commitment to exegesis and hermeneutics merits further discussion, especially as it relates to conservatism and traditionalism. Finally, Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France is probably worth reviewing, but it was never assigned for a class.
This was written to show that the mathematical proof for conservatism, traditionalism, and workability falls out of computational theory fairly easily, but for reasons of comprehensibility, recentness, and institutional incentives, makes it correct but not convincing. Finally, please forgive the typos, but working through some writer’s block.