Two Theories of Change and Liberal Friends

Over in the NYTimes colum­nist David Brooks talks about Two The­o­ries of Change. He’s talk­ing about mod­ern Amer­i­can pol­i­tics but it seems rel­e­vant to Friends. Here’s his sum­ma­ry of a new paper by Yuval Levin of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go:

paineburke

[Thomas] Paine believed that soci­eties exist in an “eter­nal now.” That some­thing has exist­ed for ages tells us noth­ing about its val­ue. The past is dead and the liv­ing should use their pow­ers of analy­sis to sweep away exist­ing arrange­ments when nec­es­sary, and begin the world anew. He even sug­gest­ed that laws should expire after 30 years so each new gen­er­a­tion could begin again

[Edmund] Burke, a par­tic­i­pant in the British Enlight­en­ment, had a dif­fer­ent vision of change. He believed that each gen­er­a­tion is a small part of a long chain of his­to­ry. We serve as trustees for the wis­dom of the ages and are oblig­ed to pass it down, a lit­tle improved, to our descen­dents. That wis­dom fills the gaps in our own rea­son, as age-old insti­tu­tions implic­it­ly con­tain more wis­dom than any indi­vid­ual could have.

For Brooks, the Paine fol­l­low­ers are Tea Par­ty activists who think it’s fine to “sweep away 100 years of his­to­ry and return gov­ern­ment to its prein­dus­tri­al role.” 

But for Friends, espe­cial­ly Lib­er­al Friends, this touch­es on the nature of “Con­tin­u­al Rev­e­la­tion” that has been at the cen­ter of much of our delib­er­a­tions for about a hun­dred years now. Are we in an “eter­nal now,” ready to rein­vent lib­er­al Quak­erism every thir­ty years and only will­ing to read old Friends to pull quotes out of con­text? Or are we tin­ker­ers of tra­di­tion, trustees keep­ing the parts oiled for the next gen­er­a­tion? 
I can think of par­tic­u­lar Friends who fol­low Paine’s con­tin­u­al rev­o­lu­tion mod­el and oth­ers who fol­low Burke’s long chain mod­el. Some­how both feel lim­it­ed. To sub­scribe strong­ly to either is a kind of fun­da­men­tal­ism. We are in an eter­nal now (Christ has come to teach the peo­ple him­self) but we have 350 of expe­ri­ences and tech­niques that have taught us how to be ready to act in that now. Insist­ing on both seems impor­tant.