‘‘Conservative’’ has been treated here as a political philosophy. But it is also an adjective, according to the Oxford Desk Dictionary and Thesaurus , meaning simply ‘‘averse to rapid change . . . moderate . . . cautious, careful, prudent, temperate’’ (1997). Surely some feminisms are more conservative than others, when what is meant by ‘‘more conservative’’ is simply ‘‘more averse to rapid change, more moderate, cautious, careful, prudent, temperate.’’ To be clear, a theory is feminist if it holds that criticizing and eradicating gender hierarchy is a moral priority. But it is a more conservative feminist theory if it is more averse to rapid change, more moderate, etc., than some other feminist theory. Some feminisms might even be informed by conservative political philoso- phy. (They might be more conservative because they are informed by conservative political philosophy.) A feminism informed by conservative polit- ical philosophy might include conservatism’s emphasis on the idea that ought implies can. As a result, such a feminism might adopt a conservative anti- utopian principle. That principle says that a recommendation for social change must be based on confidence that that change can be made, and that it would be good for people, as they are , for it to be made. It insists that the proposed change be able to be part of a way of life that would be better for people, as they are, than the actually available alternatives. 14 This feminism would emphasize the limits to our normative horizons, and recommend gradual, piecemeal change. A feminism informed by conservative political philosophy might also emphasize that liberation and transformation involve risk, that losses are to be expected, and that things could easily be worse after a change has been made (even a change that had much to recommend it). Such a feminism might want Amy R. Baehr 119
to be sure that trading in our current injustices will leave us better off than leaving things as they are (see Fox-Genovese 1991, 101). A feminism informed by conservative political philosophy might also tend to welcome state support for ways of life it holds to be conducive to widespread well-being. It might even hold that ways of life feminists hold to be of value should have authority, that is, should be shielded from the eroding effects of social criticism. 15 Are these feminisms—the more conservative feminism and the feminism in- formed by conservative political philosophy—philosophically attractive? Are aversion to change, and a tendency toward moderation and cautiousness, vir- tues of political theories? Should feminism eschew visionary, utopian thinking? Should feminism enlist the power of the state to promote its values? These questions cannot be answered here. But they are questions that conservatism, including the work of Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, puts on the table for feminists to consider.
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