More broadly speaking, I get the sense Mr. Wieseltier is fighting a rearguard action against change itself. He does not like the current technology, science, and economic triumphalism sweeping through Western society because it does not value—and it may actively harm—those things he holds most dear, the things he has spent his life learning, loving, and fighting to preserve. This is understandable, if only as human psychology, but it is not an argument. Change is natural. Change is ineluctable. Life is change.
I am not afraid of change, even if not all of it is for the better. Frankly, there are very few human societies—ours included—that couldn’t benefit from a little disruption. The opposite of technological change and disruption is stagnation and the ossification of socioeconomic power structures. Human beings are lazy. (Or, if you prefer a less pejorative characterization: humans naturally and quite sensibly conserve their own energy.) If something does not force us to change, we will not do so. It is too… disruptive. Internally and externally imposed disruption is what forces us, both as individuals and societies, to adapt and change to new circumstances and environments. And let us not kid ourselves: not all change is good, and very little good change is unalloyed with bad. Change, even when positive overall, is painful and annoying, and it often destroys things we hold most dear.
We must strike a balance here. We must neither champion change mindlessly nor suppress it willfully. Neither extreme is healthy, for change will come whether we want it or no, and change is dangerous, for we cannot see all ends. I have cited the maxim of Chesterton’s Fence before, which encourages reformers to educate themselves about the history and intent of social institutions before they decide to destroy them, as a bar to change for change’s sake. But conservatively minded people should heed its message, too: if you discover the purposes for which an institution were created no longer apply, or its effect has evolved into a positive impediment or harm to current objectives, it is incumbent upon you to destroy it also. Chesterton’s Fence is no bar to change or reform. It is a warning to manage change mindfully.