Modern Conservatism is based on two premises.
The first is that man’s nature is both permanent and flawed. Man is capable of great accomplishments, altruism, creativity, intelligence and beauty. He is also capable of violence, tribalism, greed, lust, and most of all, abuse of power. Our constitution is based on this premise and designed to recognize individual rights, property rights and the capability to progress while restraining the ability to abuse political power.
Progressivism, following European thought, rejected the permanent nature of man and his flaws and the existence of his rights outside of government institutions, what we call natural rights. Rights were contingent on the times and man could be improved with the power of government; the threat of tyranny was an anachronism that no longer justified the constitutional restraints on government.
Progressives succeeded in legitimizing a strong central government only to encounter a stronger roadblock; competence.
The second premise of conservatism is the dispersed nature of knowledge. The Progressives believe that a large complex society requires central controls, but the opposite is often the better case. The conservative case for capitalism is that it better manages the dispersed information through a system of prices, competition and cooperation. Institutions and agencies support this organic system with property rights, contract law, and requirements for transparency.
Mediating institutions supported the requirements and needs of political and economic rights, but these became less viable as their functions were assumed by central political authorities, leaving individuals more isolated and more receptive to political saviors or demagogues. This is the historical threat of democracies; they require not just mediating institutions but clear limits.
In The Fractured Republic Yuval Levin advances the dispersed knowledge principle to dispel the idea that there are single solutions to our pressing problems. We want as many minds working on these problems as we can in order for to find the best solutions. When every tear in the social fabric (Henninger) requires a new permanent entitlement or subsidy, better solutions are obscured.
Levin observes that for the left it is forever 1965 and we are just one huge federal program away from supreme social justice. For the right it is forever 1981 and we are just one big tax cut away from economic nirvana. The conditions of 1965 or 1981 no longer exist.
Capitalism works best when power and knowledge combine. The central government possess power without the requisite knowledge to use it effectively. Regulations that support the functions of markets are conducive to progress, those that that seek to either replace or inhibits the functions of markets obstructs progress.