Interesting dichotomy laid out in this book review in the current issue of National Review (sub. req.). In her review of Michael Know Beran’s Jefferson’s Demons : Portrait of a Restless Mind, Sarah A. Bramwell lays out Beran’s thesis:
Beran begins by identifying two human types, the â€œWhigâ€ and the â€œTory.â€ Broadly speaking, the Whig stands for modernity and the Tory for pre-modernity. â€œIn the Whig view,â€ Beran writes, â€œpeople must take their politics, and even their religion and their private morality, much as they take their other household goods â€” by going to the marketplace and seeing what is on sale and at what price.â€ The Tory, on the other hand, â€œpursues always his ideal of a society in which manâ€™s different endeavors â€” the long extent of his works and loves â€” can be made to form a coherent whole. [He] is an exile . . . from the delicious intimacies of old Christendom.â€
In Beranâ€™s view, these two spirits â€” Whig and Tory â€” are alive in all of us who inhabit the modern world, but most especially in Jefferson. The Whig embodies the self-made man: the skeptic, the self-sufficient individualist. To him, the ties of family and inherited authority are so many fetters from which man must be delivered. The Tory, by contrast, recognizes obligations â€” to family, church, God, country â€” that he himself does not choose. He remains attached to these loyalties, taking comfort in what he has not himself created, and resists the modern Whig world, in which, amid an â€œinfinity of choiceâ€ and a â€œsuperabundance of creeds . . . the modern man must find his way.â€
Obviously, all such explanations are a stretch and there are always outliers and exceptions. But I must say I find this dichotomy fascinating. It seems to me that modern conservatism is in many ways torn along these lines as well. The libertarian side is certainly on the Whig side and the paleoconservatives are certainly on the Tory side. The average conservative is in the middle, finding a sort of default libertarian view a healthy brake on government excess but not willing to abandon completely the more traditionalist viewpoint. They are also torn when their Tory leaders seem to get bogged down in government and when the dominant tradition seems a liberal one. Pragmatism and radicalism pull in each direction.
Like most dichotomies, it is likely that perfect match is not desirable. Rather life involves a tension between the two; the golden mean if you will. If we only had one side or the other it would be too easy to get off track. We need the countervailing force to give us balance. A totally rationalistic and materialistic world view is not desirable (witness the disastrous attempts of communism) but neither is a completely mystical one (witness much of fundamentalist Islam). This is not revolutionary thought but it stuck me as true nonetheless.