You Say You Want An Evolution
Over the years JB Doubtless and I have formulated a theory on the evolution of political thought that many people experience. It's hardly earth shattering, and it based primarily on thoughts previously aired elsewhere. I'm not going to get into a great deal of detail on it now, but will present a very simplified version of it to give you the gist of it.
Childhood: You learn and accept traditional ideas about patriotism, right and wrong, democracy, etc.
Young adult (often in college): These traditional ideas are challenged and often rejected as you become "enlightened" about the "real" state of affairs in the world. Lefties are usually born at this stage.
For some this is where their evolution ends. They've discovered the "truth" and need not challenge it further.
Others continue to evolve and eventually come to a realization that those traditional ideas do, after all, contain a great deal of merit. They often embrace what they once rejected. This is how people can become pragmatic conservatives.
Disclaimer: By no means do we propose that this is the process that everyone goes through. I would have probably described myself as a conservative my whole life, as I'm sure would many others. But it does appear to be a fairly common path.
The theory can also be applied in some respects to religious beliefs. And in that area my life probably has followed this pattern to a certain extent. While I never completely rejected the religious beliefs that I learned as a child, I did stray from them in my twenties and tended to adopt more secular values during those years, before returning to once again accept many of them now.
The reason that I bring this up is that I've been reading Stephen M. Barr's remarkable book Modern Physics and Ancient Faith. I highly recommend it, particularly to anyone who considers themselves too smart or rational to believe in God. Barr seeks to demonstrate that the conventional wisdom that scientific progress has been running up a string of victories for what he calls "scientific materialists" over religious believers, from the time of Galileo to today is quite misguided. In fact Barr believes that scientific discoveries in the last fifty years, especially in physics, have actually aided the cause of those who believe that there is a creator of the universe.
Early on Barr describes why he believes so many in the scientific community have a hard time accepting the idea that science and religious belief might be compatible. He describes it as the "difficulty of undergoing two revolutions in one's thinking" and his words cogently capture the concept that we had proposed on the evolution of political thought:
G.K. Chesterton once compared his own intellectual development to the voyage of an English yachtsman "who slightly miscalculated his course and discovered England under the impression that it was a new island in the South Seas." The yachtsman of his story "landed (armed to the teeth and talking by signs) to plant the British flag on that barbaric temple which turned out to be the Pavilion at Brighton."
Those who manage to pass through intellectual adolescence all follow a journey that is somewhat like that. They are taught some simple truths as children, only to discover as teenagers or young adults that those truths were far too simple and that they themselves were embarrassingly simple to have accepted them. They strike off on their own, leaving the comfortable mental world of their childhood to find a wider and stranger world of ideas. They may experience this world as disturbing or liberating, but in any event it is more exciting. If they are fortunate, however, they may come to rediscover for themselves the truths they were taught as children. They may return home, as T.S. Eliot put it, and know it for the first time. If so, they may see that, although they first learned these truths as simple children, neither the truths themselves nor the people who taught them were quite as simple as they supposed.
This requires, however, the difficult feat of questioning twice in one's life--of undergoing two revolutions in one's thinking. It requires being critical even of the ideas that one encountered in the first flush of critical thinking in one's youth.