David Brooks has an interesting column this morning. I don’t have much to comment about with respect to the substance other than that this statement caught my eye: “But there was another sort of conservative, who would be less familiar now. This was the traditional conservative, intellectual heir to Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Clinton Rossiter and Catholic social teaching.”
There certainly is something to what Brooks says (and as to Burke, de mortuis nil nisi bonum), but it’s worth adding that Catholic social teaching is not a sub-category of traditional conservatism. Within Catholic social teaching, there are political strains of all kinds, from left to right. There are even writers who take themselves to be interpreting the Catholic tradition who are squarely in the economic conservative camp (for example, Michael Novak and Stephen Bainbridge among many others, though the reasons for their economic conservatism are complex). And there are influential writers in the tradition who espouse what would today pass for conventionally liberal or even radical political views. Nevertheless, if the particular points that Brooks is making about traditional conservatism’s concern for cultivating and maintaining social structures for the support and well-being of the working class are cogent (a view as to which, in this post, I express no opinion), then it is true that those concerns do substantially overlap with many key documents and ideas in the tradition of Catholic social thought.