Conservatism is not about saying “no” to everything, nor is it about putting the brakes on a rapidly moving culture.
It’s about gratitude.
That’s what Yuval Levin told us upon receiving the Bradley Prize two years ago at the Kennedy Center in Washington. Levin, who calls himself a “reform conservative,” is editor of National Affairs, a quarterly journal of public policy and political thought.
He said in his Bradley Prize acceptance speech,
To my mind, conservatism is gratitude. Conservatives tend to begin from gratitude for what is good and what works in our society and then strive to build on it, while liberals tend to begin from outrage at what is bad and broken and seek to uproot it.
You need both, because some of what is good about our world is irreplaceable and has to be guarded, while some of what is bad is unacceptable and has to be changed. We should never forget that the people who oppose our various endeavors and argue for another way are well intentioned too, even when they’re wrong, and that they’re not always wrong.
But we can also never forget what moves us to gratitude, and so what we stand for and defend: the extraordinary cultural inheritance we have; the amazing country built for us by others and defended by our best and bravest; America’s unmatched potential for lifting the poor and the weak; the legacy of freedom—of ordered liberty—built up over centuries of hard work.
We value these things not because they are triumphant and invincible but because they are precious and vulnerable, because they weren’t fated to happen, and they’re not certain to survive. They need us—and our gratitude for them should move us to defend them and to build on them.
Levin pointed out that conservatism is about sustaining “the foundations of American life—our free society, economy, and government; our culture of virtue.” American progress grows from those foundations:
Without those, there is no future. The work of preserving them is therefore not passive work, it’s not restraint; it is the active work of keeping our society alive and thriving. It’s not a brake, it’s the very engine of the American story.
Click here to read the rest of Levin’s optimistic, forward-looking speech.