Go Back or Go Slow?

Over at Culture11.com, James explores, via Harvey Mansfield and Camile Paglia, the nature of “conservative courage:”

Closely following Tocqueville, Mansfield set up a dilemma for conservatism: go back or go slow? Faced with small-l liberalism — a good political culture, but one with obvious flaws that’s prone to certain excesses — conservatives can, said Mansfield, choose counterrevolutionary change or stalling action. He suggested, in brief, that neither one of these options can be ruled out because liberalism’s excesses are spontaneous and irregular. Conservatives need a way of determining on a rolling basis when it’s right to work to go back and when it’s right to work to go slow. The very practice of conservatism, in other words, requires prudence — in forming the most basic of judgments about how to be conservative and in what way at what time.

There’s a lot to think through in the post, and I look forward to more discussion. But one quote that springs to mind comes from, of all people, tedious socialist Karl Polanyi, who, despite his leftist bona fides, exhibits the wistful conservatism typical of the intellectual diaspora of Austria-Hungary. Here he writes about Tudor and Stuart opposition to enclosure:

Such an easy prevailing of private interests over justice is often regarded as a certain sign of the ineffectiveness of legislation, and the victory of the vainly obstructed trend is subsequently adduced as conclusive evidence of the alleged futility of “a reactionary interventionism.” Yet such a view seems to miss the point altogether. Why should the ultimate victory of a trend be taken as a proof of the ineffectiveness of of the efforts to slow down its progress? And why should the purpose of these measures not be seen precisely in that which they achieved, i.e., in the slowing down of the rate of change? That which is ineffectual in stopping a line of development altogether is not, on that account, altogether ineffectual. The rate of change is often of no less importance than the direction of the change itself; but while the latter frequently does not depend upon our volition, it is the rate at which we allow change to take place which well may depend upon us.