Jonah Goldberg writes about the importance of tradition:
Traditional rules of conduct emerge over time through a process of trial and error. To pick an extreme example, the Shakers banned sex and – surprise! – America is not overrun with Shakers today. Successful societies learn from their mistakes in time to make adjustments. Those adjustments become best practices that in turn become customs, and eventually, those customs become traditions. Those traditions are passed along from generation to generation, usually without us knowing all the reasons why they became traditions in the first place.
Obviously, some of these traditions are outdated and silly. Others are vital. Even leftists and libertarians who display ritualized contempt for tradition understand that we do some things today because we’ve learned from the mistakes of our forefathers. If everything is open to revision, then slavery is still a viable option. Fundamentally, this isn’t a point about political conservatism so much as civilization itself. Cultures have roots – a point we’re learning the hard way in Iraq, where there is no liberal democratic tradition and we are trying to create one from scratch.
Goldberg continues by using Madonna–“a pioneer of slattern chic”–and showing how her apparent post-motherhood epiphany towards a more traditional morality does little good for the generation who grew up taking her message of “slattern chic” to heart.
Goldberg isn’t blaming Madonna personally for the decline and fall of Western Civilization. However, he is pointing out that she is but one of many who were pushed to the front of the cultural vanguard and–like it or not–served as an example of what it meant to be cool. Perhaps she wasn’t the first, but Madonna’s example provided the template for a generation of young female pop singers–Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera come to mind–who defined becoming “independent” as becoming slutty. Predictably, both Spears and Aguilera have toned it down as they’ve matured. They and we have learned–again–that hedonism doesn’t equal happiness: it’s just too bad that no one ever seems to listen the first time.
But I suppose that ignoring the moralizing of the older and wiser is human nature. Every generation goes through their “Rebel Without a Cause” phase, but most grow out of it–having kids and assuming adult responsibilities has a way of doing that. What doesn’t seem to change is that there are always those who will take advantage of the innate rebelliousness of youth in an attempt to push cultural change. They are locked in a cycle of change for it’s own sake–more libertine anarchy than liberal progressivism it often seems–whether it’s ultimately better for society or not.
Conservatives don’t believe that change is bad, but we do believe that it should be undertaken gradually. Most importantly, conservatives believe that if the results of “change” aren’t looking so hot, the solution isn’t to press for further change in the vain hope that we’ll somehow get it right this time, really, we promise. Instead, the smartest option is to go back to what worked before. Sometimes Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa really do know what they’re talking about, after all.