Conservatism, Liberalism and the Crooked Timber of Humanity
"The purpose of the present study [of morality] is not . . . the attainment of theoretical knowledge:  we are not conducting this inquiry in order to know what virtue is, but in order to become good, else there would be no advantage in studying it."                                                                                                                                                                                            -  Aristotle, Ethics
In a New York Times column, David Brooks discussed how classical liberalism – with its emphasis on freedom of the individual and limits on the reach of government – works only if it is underpinned by a conservative, or conserving, foundation – that nexus of attachments and restraints provided by family, community and faith.  
When that foundation atrophies (as Brooks assumes it has, over recent decades), the liberal ideal is reduced to “naked liberalism,” i.e., freedom without the restraint of the social and spiritual “covenants.”  Brooks draws on Yuval Levin to explore the implications.  Naked liberalism assumes “that if you give people freedom they will use it to care for their neighbors, to have civil conversations, to form opinions after examining the evidence.  But if you weaken family, faith, community and any sense of national obligation, where is that social, emotional and moral formation supposed to come from? How will the virtuous habits form?” 
This, I suppose, is a variant of the old philosophic question: can we be good without God?
My own political thinking draws on sundry tenets and ideas.  In addition to a streak of classical liberalism, I think “social liberalism” – a belief that governments should be active in promoting health, education, economic welfare, as well as human rights – has much to offer. 
And conservatism can, of course, touch upon more than social and cultural ties. It can emphasize a respect for the institutions that have served us well in the past, and it can focus on the natural world that sustains us.  One might hope that such a conserving conservatism would consistently inform right-leaning political theory.
Can we be “good without God”?  What is the philosophical foundation of ethics in a secular world?  The answer may come in part from political theory, if we acknowledge that political theory always draws on a view of human nature.  I’ve come to believe that Gladstone’s famous “Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence; conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear” is inadequate to serve our purposes here. 
Better, perhaps, something along the lines of “both the liberal and the conservative impulse require a measure of trust in people –while acknowledging humanity’s capacity to err and do evil.” We need to believe in moral progress, while remembering that “out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” 
In other words, the formation of “virtuous habits” requires both a conserving foundation and a liberal yearning for a better world. 
I am now a “senior citizen.”  As an officially old person, I should have some grasp of ethics, and I often think about the connection between “private virtue” and the public good.  But I’d like to broaden my understanding of how ethics relates to politics, and of how both these fields of activity and inquiry are influenced by one’s sense of the human condition.