I've often tried to explain why I'm a conservative as opposed to a "liberal" progressive and I'm not sure if I've explained it particularly well, but over on The American Thinker, David Bueche puts it very nicely.
The progressive attitude ....
"What a mess, how can I make this better?"
The conservative attitude ....
"Thank God this works so well, lets be careful not to screw it up!"
Bueche calls this the romantic (progressive) and tragic (conservative), but the essential point is that the progressive perceives a small anomaly with a system and his response is to tear up the system and start again from scratch. The result, almost invariably, is a worse system.
The conservative on the other hand perceives a small anomaly with a system and seeks ways to improve the existing system which has already proven itself to be functionally effective for the majority (if it hadn't it would have collapsed in on itself long before).
In his article, Bueche features (US) health care as an example.
[A] county that current does, or can, provide access to the best health care in the world for 91% of its population, (including a large percentage of non-citizens who significantly skew the statistics), is, by definition, not a country with a health care crisis.
Quite right. You could apply a similar viewpoint to our education system as it was 50 years ago when the grammar school/secondary modern system was not only providing excellent levels of education for the vast majority of people, was not only producing quality entrants into tertiary education and first class graduates to industry, but was also doing a great deal to aid social mobility for students from working class backgrounds.
There was nothing wrong with the concept and only minor problems with the application. The accusation that secondary moderns were only there to produce factory fodder or housewives is a modern myth that has little foundation in reality. Certainly there was a "demand" for such output and certainly there were some secondary moderns that did little to encourage aspirations in pupils, but there were also many that focused very strongly and successfully on vocational qualifications to produce the builders, plumbers, carpenters, nurses and so on which are as vital to a functioning society as engineers and scientists.
The grammar part of education worked very well in all of its aims - providing quality academic education, impressive entrants to university and aiding social mobility. The secondary modern part was working less well and needed a revamp based around better vocational education standards. The changes required were modest and simple and would, by now, have ensured Britain was well placed to face the challenges of the 21st century in terms of providing the skills to meet the demands of rapidly advancing technology and globalisation.
Instead, the progressives tore the whole system up and rather than rebuild it around the good, functioning part they instead built a whole new system based on the failing part of the system. All of this was done to address a perceived anomaly in equality of the education received by those who went to grammar (academia) and those who went to secondary modern (vocational).
The result was a system which took the worst aspects of the secondary modern system and applied it to all schools. Sure, it's more "equal" in terms of outcome, but that's only a good thing if all that matters to you is that it is better that 50% of kids are poorly educated than it is to have 30% of them leaving school with little benefit from 11 years of state education.
That's why I'm a conservative. Nothing is perfect, but that is no reason to completely destroy it in the search for an impossible Utopian dream. The best you can ever hope for is that it works for most people and that was a road we were well on the way to thanks to conservatism which, for generations, had ensured slow, steady improvement by refining existing systems.
That is what the previous generation handed on to us. A nation where, though far from perfect, was renowned the world over for being the "best" in a number of areas. The best health care system (long before the NHS), the best education (before comprehensives), the best police force, the best administrators and so on.
In fifty years of progressive, socialist radical changes we have torn up many of those "bests" and are now, in many of those areas, the worst in the developed world.
And they call it progress?