Faith in prescription and distrust of ‘sophisters, calculators, and economists’ who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs. Custom, convention, and old prescription are checks both upon man’s anarchic impulse and upon the innovator’s lust for power.
The first sentence gets at the source of the anti-scientific bias that lies at the heart of conservative philosophy.
Faith in prescription and distrust of ‘sophisters, calculators, and economists’ who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs.
This sentence summarizes the conservative critique that liberal reformers want to change society based on abstract, pseudoscientific models that bear little relationship to reality. The problem is that conservatives want to replace systematic, scientific methods for finding truth with "custom, convention, and old prescription." Some conventions are useful and should be preserved, but other customs and conventions are rooted in widely believed falsehoods. We may reject science when it becomes excessively abstract, but that does not mean we should replace it with old customs that might be based on a foundation of lies.
The problem with conservatism is that it mistakes traditions for historical truths. Instead of basing our actions on tradition, we should base our actions in history, which unlike tradition, has the added attraction of being true.
Custom, convention, and old prescription are checks both upon man’s anarchic impulse and upon the innovator’s lust for power.
Old traditions and customs cannot necessarily guarantee control over a man's anarchic impulses especially if those traditions are rooted hiearchical ideals that justify the mistreatment of the weak by the strong. As already discussed in Part III, a hierarchical society does not necessarily lead to a civilized society. In fact, it may lead to the exact opposite, because a hierarchical society does not respect the need for an equality of self-control among citizens. Instead, these hierarchical societies always seem to leave an opportunity for the people at the top to "take liberties" with the people at the bottom.
The other conservative argument is that liberal reformers with their abstract designs for making society have an insatiable "lust for power" that can only be restrained by custom. The problem with this argument is that not all traditions are true. As the book the Invention of Tradition indicates, we often do not know if a tradition is genuinely truthful or not. Some traditions were purely invented by people in the past who found the traditions useful at the time. The fact that a fake tradition was once useful for people in the past does not mean that we should retain it now, and it certainly does not possess any magical power to ward off people's "lust for power." The United States is lucky that its traditions, such as checks-and-balances, have successfully limited the "lust for power," but not all societies can make the same claim (e.g., German political traditions before the Nazi era).