Nathan Schlueter claims to be one. What is he conserving? In his own words: “one may legitimately speak of a Western philosophical and political tradition. Conservatism seeks to ‘conserve’ the best elements of that tradition.” (13)
But what does it mean, to conserve ideas? Are books of ancient philosophers out of print? Is the state punishing people for reading them? What exactly is Schlueter trying to do?
Clearly, our conservative’s mind is so weak or fearful that he is unable to improve upon the ideas of previous luminaries. Still, a conservative cannot conserve just any old set of (contradictory) ideas. Jefferson, Locke, Kirk, and other “great authorities” don’t always agree with each other. He must at least be able to distinguish between good and bad ideas proposed in the past and cannot for that reason be completely intellectually sterile.
It is possible, for example, for Schlueter to read Rothbard’s Ethics of Liberty (which, astonishingly, he did read) and become so impressed by it as to say, “From now on I’ll be conserving this ethics and the anarcho-capitalism entailed by it.”
Precisely because Schlueter cannot improve the Rothbardian (or any other) system (nor is he trying to in this book) and therefore cannot be considered an intellectual or philosopher, he can only be a teacher of it; he can instruct young people and bequeath to them their heritage. It is an honorable even if rather humble occupation.