Classical conservatism and “Fiddler and the Roof”

My wife and I went to see Fiddler on the Roof at the Lexington Opera House last night. It’s my wife’s favorite musical and I got her tickets for Christmas back in December.

I use the song “Tradition” to teach my GOV 110 students about classical conservatism as a political ideology (distinct from, but related to, modern political conservatism). We watch a video clip of the song in class, and toward the end of the song, Tevye explains:

A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. … And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word… Tradition. Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years. … Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do. … Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as a fiddler on the roof!

This is an excellent illustration of many of the core aspects of classical conservatism, one of which is the idea of the “organic evolution of society”. The concept was that radical societal changes were very risky, even if they might seem like a good idea, because change is better brought about slowly and deliberately. Classical conservatives viewed the combined wisdom of the ages as superior to the wisdom of any one single generation, and thus deference should be given to existing traditions as a preferred means of providing stability and order.

As an aside, we also ate dinner at the Nicaraguan Latin Grill on Versailles Road and it was superb. We can give it our enthusiastic recommendation if you’re in the mood for Nicaraguan or Cuban food.

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