Today’s post by John Kekes (Emeritus, University at Albany) is the second of a six-part series, each featuring invited reflections from a number of right-of-center philosophers. These philosophers are otherwise not associated with Rightly Considered and should not be assumed to hold views expressed by anyone else on this blog.
Kekes earned his PhD from the Australian National University and is the author of numerous articles and books, including Against Liberalism, A Case for Conservatism, and The Illusions of Egalitarianism, all published by Cornell University Press. We are grateful for Kekes’ contribution.
Thank you for inviting me to contribute. I am reluctant to participate in blogging, but talking to conservative philosophers is an opportunity that rarely comes my way, so I accept the invitation.
Before November 8, it seemed to me that the choice was between the presidential candidates, one of whom was an ideologue, the other a populist. I found both unacceptable, so I did not vote for either. But now, after the election, it seems that the pre-election populism of Trump was perhaps only a gimmick to appeal to a segment of the electorate that were shunned by the Democrats. I have been agreeing with his post-election public utterances, and, of course, I am delighted that Clinton has lost. I have no idea what direction Trump will follow in the future, but perhaps the participants in this blog may be interested in what I hope for.
The most important of these is that politics becomes once again boring, rather than the ring (boxing or circus) in which perfervid ideologues shout slogans and abuse one another. When politics is as it should be, it is concerned with settling disagreements about means to the pursuit of generally shared ends. And those who disagree recognize and respect each other as wanting to protect the general framework that has emerged in the course of American history. The core of it is the Constitution. It is a supple instrument that needs to be constantly adjusted to forever changing circumstances, but it sets the rules in which disagreements about means can be reasonably conducted.
If politics is as it should be, and, of course, it has not been like that for many years, these disagreements are about coping with the various conflicts between a fairly short list of political goods that we can agree about valuing. They include defense, legal and political equality, justice, liberty, order, peace, prosperity, rights, and the rule of law. Conflicts between them are an enduring feature of political life, and politics, rightly conducted, is concerned with resolving these conflicts as best as possible in the particular circumstances in which they occur.
But the conflicts will recur because circumstances change and contingencies have to be met. The permanent danger is to suppose that the conflicts can be resolved once and for all by supposing that one of these political goods should be elevated above the others and suppose that it should always take precedence over anything else that may conflict with it. That would make politics ideological, and disagreements with whatever the ideology happens to be would come to be regarded wicked. One of the lessons history teaches those who pay attention to it is that ideologies, all of them, have disastrous consequences.
I say that avoiding this and protecting the agreed upon political goods are what I regard as the most important of my hopes for the Trump administration. I have, of course, other hopes as well, but I will not now inflict them on possible readers of these lines.
- Gun Rights are not God-Given - December 7, 2016
- Election Reflection VI: Daniel von Wachter - November 27, 2016
- Election Reflection V: Philippe Lemoine - November 26, 2016
- Election Reflection IV: Harold Fine - November 23, 2016
- Election Reflection III: Spencer Case - November 22, 2016
- Election Reflection II: John Kekes - November 21, 2016
- Election Reflection I: William F. Vallicella - November 20, 2016
- Congratulations, Donald J. Trump - November 9, 2016
- Censor This. - October 7, 2016
- An Open Letter to Michael Rea and the SCP, from a Worried Gay Philosopher - September 28, 2016