WHY I AM NOT A CONSERVATIVE’nby Steven GoldbergnLike most sociologists, I am conservative in the sensenthat I beheve in the existence of barely perceived socialnmechanisms—mechanisms that satisfy the deep physiological,npsychological, and cultural needs. This sociologicalnworld view contains a conservative element: the belief that ansuiEcientiy great attempt to alter society will introducenmore unintended, and undesired, consequences than theninnovators can anticipate.nAt some level of abstraction, nearly everyone is “conservative”nin this sense. Nearly everyone acknowledges thenpossibility of alterations that, by ignoring realities, invitendisaster.nIt would be easy, for example, to dismiss the funeral as annatavistic residue of rituals that make sense only for thenprimitive men who inhabit an apparently random world. Itnis hardly possible to attend a funeral without hearingnsomeone ridicule the institution as “barbaric.” At firstnglance this does not seem unreasonable: The funeral maynindeed cause unnecessary pain, and it might be better to donaway with the ritual altogether. However, a littie reflectionnwill bring us to the realization that funerals today continuento serve their ancient purpose; they force the bereaved tonacknowledge that society has—from his viewpoint—nchanged dramatically and irreversibly; at the same time,nsociety rallies round the mourner to remind him that he isnnot alone. The funeral, in other words, is testimony not tonthe primitive’s ignorance but to his understanding.nNow, the beliefs of the political conservative certainlynaccord with the social conservatism I describe. But so do thenbeliefs of virtually anyone this side of the pure anarchist.nThe issue here is the length of the nexus between the socialnmechanisms and the day-to-day political life that thenconservative (or liberal) spends his time addressing. Thenreactionary may see the introduction of a new traffic light asnthreatening the very fabric of society, while the radical callsnfor abolition of all stratification by Tuesday. But thenoverwhelming majority of observers accept the possibilitynand desirability of the former and the impossibility andnundesirability of the latter.nIn general I, as opposed to the political conservative, seenthe nexus between the social and the political as suflEcientiynlong to render the conservatism of the social view irrelevantnto most political realities. This does not require me to rejectnany specific conservative political position, but it does meannthat I am not bound by any belief in the practical relevancenof a conservative social view to accept a conservativenpolitical position. My acceptance or rejection is not basednon the impossibility or dangers inherent in some socialnalteration but on other considerations. In truth, I oftennaccept the liberal political view, not because I doubt thencorrectness of the conservative’s belief in the dangers ofnSteven Goldberg is chairman of the sociology departmentnat City College, City University of New York. He is thenauthor of The Inevitability of Patriarchy.nsufficientiy great social alteration, but because I do not findnthat many suggested political changes ignore the barelynperceived social realities of which we speak.nI mention all of this not because there is anythingninteresting about my political beliefs; I don’t believe that Inhave ever made an original or interesting political observation.nBy the time I finally learn which side is which in onenof the world’s troubled spots, the issue has become moot. Inmention this only because the incorrect belief is widespreadn(among the 16 people who have ever heard my name) that Inam a political conservative. More interesting, perhaps, isnthe reason why I am thought to be a political conservative:nI am, and have been by intuition as long as I cannremember, an empiricist, a species abhorred by somenpolitical conservatives and seen by others as at best onlynvaguely relevant to anything politically interesting. Withoutndotting all of the semantic and logical i’s and /”s, let it sufficenhere to say that an “empiricist” is one whose interest lies innempirically ascertainable conclusions and in the logic of thenexplanations. An empiricist, while he may often be impressednby the brilliance of a moral or normative argument,nfeels in his bones that such an argument is, by its verynnature, subjective and that any desired conclusion can benreached by selection of the appropriate (but untestable)nmoral or normative assumption. The political conservativenoften labels such an empiricist a “positivist.”nI believe that the reason that my empiricism is seen asnnnJULY 1987/17n