We conservatives have much in common with libertarians. We share a number of important principles and values with them: individual freedom, small government, low taxes, and a free market economy.
The chief political argument we have with libertarians is over foreign affairs and the use of military force.
It is a very good idea for conservatives and libertarians to meet and talk.
But we were disappointed when we read this from Townhall, by Daniel Davis:
Conservatives and libertarians put their love-hate relationship on display today, as a panel of five gathered at the Cato Institute to discuss the issues in Charles Cooke’s new book, The Conservatarian Manifesto: Libertarians, Conservatives, and the Fight for the Right’s Future. The mood was jovial and upbeat, yet sophisticated and thick with well-reasoned argument. It was an encouraging showcase of big-tent conservatism, and a sign of the future debates that will dominate the GOP.
The panelists included Charles Cooke (National Review), Ilya Shapiro (Cato Institute), Katherine Mangu-Ward (Reason), Ben Domenech (The Federalist), and Trevor Burrus (Cato Institute). The panel spanned the conservative-libertarian spectrum.
Charles Cooke began the event by describing what he means by a “conservatarian”. He said there are really two kinds of conservatarians: (1) A conservative who rejects the big-government, “compassionate” conservatism of the Bush administration, and (2) a conservative who generally embraces the GOP’s party platform, minus the social issues (like same-sex marriage, or marijuana). The GOP’s ranks have swelled with both of these types of conservatives in recent years, particularly in protest to the Obama administration’s overreaches, but also due to a more socially liberal youth population. Cooke said this is not necessarily a new development (same-sex marriage notwithstanding), but is actually a reversion to Republican values from the 1980s and 90s. He said the Bush years were something of an “aberration” in the conservative movement, and that “the center of gravity has moved back” toward the values of Reagan and Gingrich.
Katherine Mangu-Ward described the conservative-libertarian relationship — which developed most fully in the post-WWII era of “fusionism” — as an often “abusive” one. She expressed the libertarian frustration that conservatives seem eager to band with libertarians when Democrats are in power, but when Republicans regain power, they are almost as quick to throw off the libertarians. Mangu-Ward acknowledged the real philosophical divisions between conservatives and libertarians, but stressed that the two can, and must, work together on a host of public policy issues.
Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow at Cato, called himself a “big tent” conservative and a “classical liberal”. Shapiro is a libertarian legal scholar who supports same-sex marriage, but said that “it takes all kinds” in a party like the GOP. He highlighted two criticisms that Charles Cooke makes in his book, one of libertarians and one of conservatives. First, libertarians are often naively eager to strip down important institutions that give order and meaning to society, and they overestimate the ability of logic to satisfy particular needs. But second, conservatives tend to place too much faith in the inherent authority of history and society’s institutions. Ilya strongly backed both of these critiques and maintained that the conservative-libertarian fusion tends to correct the excesses found on both sides.
Ben Domenech, publisher of The Federalist, offered two problems that plague the conservatarian movement. First, the post-WWII “fusionist” movement failed to shore up federalism. Instead, states systematically lost their power to the federal government as “successful” state policies became nationalized. States began to depend on federal grants, largely derived from taxpayers in other states — and this amounted to a simple socialistic form of wealth redistribution. Second, he said that “social liberalism” no longer means what it used to mean. It once meant true tolerance and a negative view of liberty. [What? – ed.] Now, it often denotes positive liberty where true personal “freedom” requires wealth redistribution and personal affirmation. [What again? – ed.] He derided the toxic culture of political correctness, which silences dissent and punishes the dissenters by forcing their conformity. [Agreed – ed.]
Cooke responded by heartily affirming Domenech’s call to focus on restoring federalism, which allows states to act as the founders intended: as laboratories of democracy. Mangu-Ward cautioned that conservatives are rarely full-blooded federalists and that “fair-weather federalism” would likely win the day. Cooke responded that this is largely inevitable, as perfect adherence to federalism is not always practical.
One interesting question came when Trever Burrus, a scholar at Cato, asked why libertarians consider themselves to even be on the right, rather than the left. Mangu-Ward responded that the “power of inertia” is very real, and that fusionist-era conservatism created the political context for libertarians to remain on the right. She also said that libertarians simply agree with conservatives on far more topics than with liberals, though there is a small bit of room for certain libertarians in the Democratic Party.
What a weird question Trever Burrus asked! The Left is collectivist – wanting the very opposite of individual liberty. If libertarians do not stand for individual liberty, what do they stand for? If they are not freedom-lovers to the bone, what are they?
Perhaps the biggest gulf between the panelists could be felt on the issue of immigration. Cooke, a conservative more than a libertarian, noted that it is very difficult to have a big welfare state while having a large, free-moving labor population — namely, the illegal immigrants. He said the U.S. needs stricter immigration policy, not simply out of practical need but also out of a concern for cultural continuity. He noted the uniqueness of the American identity — for instance, the fact that foreigners can truly become “American” after living here and adopting American values. This, he said, is simply impossible in other countries where national identity is primarily ethnic and cultural. He said that America’s immigration policy should be informed, at least in part, by a commitment to maintain this unique identity, and that a libertarian open-border policy would jeopardize that identity. He said we must ensure that this “fragile cultural setup is here for our kids”.
We can see the sense of that argument.
The panel event at Cato was an inspiring show of political unity in the midst of frequent philosophical disagreement. Thankfully, the conservative-libertarian alliance looks stronger than ever. Conservatives can expect it to dominate Republican politics in the decades to come.
Perhaps the report covers too little, or is not accurate. However that may be, we found very little of interest in it.
We do think conservatism should be libertarian (and in our dreams atheist). But how can those who call themselves Libertarian be the allies of Conservatives in a time war?
And this is a time of war.
We want to hear from Libertarians how they propose to stop the jihad, defend us from Iranian nuclear attack, stem the flood of racist hatred released by Obama and the Democrats, restore the universities to forums where ideas are promoted and criticized and debated freely, big government is shrunk, taxes are lowered, the economy is released from government regulation, and the law is enforced.
We consider ourselves libertarians with a small “l”: atheist libertarian conservatives.
We are not, however, to be counted among Libertarians because we part company with them on a number of issues that have arisen in our experience.
Some libertarian organizations are historical revisionists – in particular, Holocaust revisionists. One group told us they do not believe the Holocaust ever happened, or if it did, “the numbers of those killed could not have been anywhere near as large as is alleged”. This is not just ignorant, it must be maliciously intended too.
Libertarians have maintained that it’s okay to use children for pornography “if you pay them”. This is so vile, we can only hope most Libertarians do not agree with it.
Libertarians keep themselves under-informed about foreign affairs, and are absurdly pacifist. In America many are isolationist. We believe the US needs to be very strongly defended, and that defense sometimes requires a pre-emptive strike. We also believe in the Pax Americana, which means at present that this single super-power has a duty to protect the non-Islamic world from the forces of savage Islam – with arms if necessary.
Now a well-known Libertarian, a candidate for the presidency, is making a case for isolationism by falsely accusing the Republican Party – of which he is a member – of creating the Islamic State (IS/ISIS/ISIL).
We quote from an AP report. (Find it all at the New York Post here.)
Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul is blaming his own party for the rise of the Islamic State group.
The freshman senator from Kentucky said Wednesday that the GOP’s foreign policy hawks “created these people”. …
“ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately,” Paul said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
“They created these people. ISIS is all over Libya because these same hawks in my party loved – they loved Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya. They just wanted more of it.” …
Paul favors less military intervention abroad, wants a dramatic reduction in U.S. money to foreign governments and stands in opposition to the Patriot Act and the US policy behind drone strikes. It all makes him something of an outlier on foreign policy and national security in the GOP field. …
We agree with him that there should be a reduction in money to foreign governments: a reduction to zero. But that is an issue on which he has changed his mind (or says he has):
Sensitive to being branded an isolationist in the race, he has scaled back some of his positions, no longer calling for deep cuts in the Pentagon budget, for example, and no longer proposing the elimination of foreign aid, including to Israel. …
Bobby Jindal, Governor of Illinois and a possible rival of Rand Paul as a presidential candidate, “described Paul’s comments as ‘a perfect example of why Senator Paul is unsuited to be commander in chief'”:
“We have men and women in the military who are in the field trying to fight ISIS right now, and Senator Paul is taking the weakest, most liberal Democrat position,” Jindal said. “We should all be clear that evil and radical Islam are at fault for the rise of ISIS, and people like President Obama and Hillary Clinton exacerbate it.”
We don’t think of “evil” as a force separate from human will, but we do agree of course that Islam is the cause of the rise of ISIS, and that Obama and Hillary Clinton have helped it rise.
In his interview earlier, Paul described Iraq as “a failed state” …
Which it is …
… and criticized Republicans who condemn his foreign policy as weak.
Which it is.
The Left likes to believe – as Obama and Harry Reid often iterate – that it is “on the side of history”.
Is history then stuck with those stale and failed ideas of a Marxian stamp propagated by the likes of Kenneth Galbraith, John Maynard Keynes, or the bone-headed strategies of Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Priven?
Or tending back to the Dark Ages with a resurgence of Islam?
Surely not. A civilization that has put a man on the moon; has invented the computer, the internet, the driverless car; that watches the expansion of the universe; that can replace a faulty human heart with a new one; that has used liberty to become rich, knowledgable, and ever more inventive, is not going to go back to communism or the law of the seventh century desert?
Quo vadis then?
The maliciously lefty and deeply nasty New York Times notices a rise in libertarian opinion in America.
Libertarianism has been touted as the wave of America’s political future for many years, generally with more enthusiasm than evidence. But there are some tangible signs that Americans’ attitudes are in fact moving in that direction.
The NYT goes on to substantiate its claim with figures and a chart.
It defines a libertarian, fairly enough, as “someone who believes that the government is best when it governs least”.
There have been visible shifts in public opinion on a number of issues, ranging from increasing tolerance for same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization on the one hand, to the skepticism over stimulus packages and the health-care overhaul on the other hand, that can be interpreted as a move toward more libertarian views.
The Tea Party movement also has some lineage in libertarian thinking. Although polls suggest that many people who participate in the Tea Party movement have quite socially conservative views, the movement spends little time emphasizing those positions, as compared with economic issues.
The perception that the Tea Party – whose chief issue is the need for fiscal responsibility – has “some lineage in libertarian thinking” is remarkable for that newspaper. It seldom removes its red blindfold long enough to replace it for a short time with blinders. For it to see something that is actually there but not obvious is a lucky moment of illumination worth a cheer or two. The author of the article is Nate Silver. Perhaps he found some cunning way to let that uncongenial revelation slip past editorial oversight.
Or perhaps he and his editors think that libertarian thinking is bad anyway. If we didn’t know that to be the case already, there’s a hint of it in what comes later.
The libertarian opinions, revealed by a CNN poll and quoted in the article, are these:
Some 63 percent of respondents said government was doing too much — up from 61 percent in 2010 and 52 percent in 2008 — while 50 percent said government should not favor any particular set of values, up from 44 percent in 2010 and 41 percent in 2008.
The author, apparently not happy to accept what the poll reveals, comments:
Whether people are as libertarian-minded in practice as they might believe themselves to be when they answer survey questions is another matter. Still, there have been visible shifts in public opinion on a number of issues, ranging from increasing tolerance for same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization on the one hand …”
So a tolerance with which he has sympathy …
… to the skepticism over stimulus packages and the health-care overhaul on the other hand …
So a skepticism he condemns …
… that can be interpreted as a move toward more libertarian views.
How confusing for Nate Silver! Libertarians like some of the things he likes. But they also dislike things that he holds dear.
Well, actually, that is the case with us too.
We welcome the spread of libertarian sentiment.
We too see no reason why marijuana should be illegal.
As for same-sex marriage, we think it is an hilarious farce, but would on no account oppose it. A 12-year old boy once defined marriage for us as “a legal union between two or more things”. Why not more than two? Why not things or beasts as well as humans? If – as the argument goes – they love each other? (Well, we said it’s a farce.)
Where we are strongly with libertarians is on the issue of economic freedom. As our contributing commenter Don L often recommends: accept that the Austrian School is right and allow no government interference whatsoever in economic activity – and abolish the Fed. We also advocate keeping taxes (flat-rated) very low. So low that they cannot sustain a government that does much more than it absolutely has to do – protect the liberty of the people, from outside enemies, and domestic criminals. And enforce the law of contract.
But we too have some quarrels with libertarians.
There are those among them who outrageously condone the corruption of children, even the use of them for pornography “as long as they are willing and are paid for their services”!*
Quite a large number of libertarians are historical revisionists, and some who ridiculously and with evil intent deny that the Holocaust ever happened.**
And most libertarians want America to take no notice of what’s going on in the world beyond its borders, except for trade and vacations. As if ignorance is a protection from a world full of expansionist tyrannies and ideologies.
No. None of that.
But a libertarianism that holds individual freedom as the highest value, and knows that it is only possible under the rule of law; and at the same time is committed to preserving the best of everything America has achieved in the past, is a libertarianism that we can – and do – embrace.
* We cannot link to articles that discuss this. Access to them is “forbidden”.
**Although the article we link to here does endorse what we say that some libertarians deny the Holocaust, it goes too far in criticizing Reason and its sponsors.
We’re not just wondering what the Republican Party stands for. We’re also wondering why it exists at all.
An entirely different conservative party is badly needed to oppose the evil Left. (It would be splendid if a conservative party came to power that would exclude religion from its political thinking, but to wish for that – we fully realize – is to be far too unrealistic.)
John Hinderaker at Powerline writes:
It is almost unbelievable how badly Congressional Republicans have botched their opposition to President Obama’s illegal executive amnesty and the funding of the Department of Homeland Security. The House, under John Boehner’s direction, did the right thing: it passed a bill that fully funded DHS, but barred spending to implement the amnesty that has now been declared illegal by a federal court. The action then moved to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried repeatedly to bring the House measure to the floor for a vote. Four times, the Democrats filibustered the DHS funding bill.
As a result of the Democrats’ filibuster, DHS was in danger of running out of money. That put Republicans in a strong position. All they had to do was … nothing. If they didn’t blink, pressure on the Democrats to fund DHS would prove irresistible. It’s not for nothing the voters gave the GOP a majority, right?
Instead, Mitch McConnell backed off. He gave in to Harry Reid’s demands, even though Reid was surely bluffing, and the Senate passed a “clean” DHS funding bill that did nothing to block the illegal amnesty. That put the House in an untenable position. With the clock ticking down to the last hours before DHS ran out of money, it was now Republicans–not Democrats–who were standing in the way of funding the Department.
Having been sold out by the Senate, House Republicans bowed to the inevitable. John Boehner tried to pass a three-week funding extension, but didn’t have the votes. At the last possible moment, the House fell back to a seven-day extension, with Democrats providing the needed margin of support. The seven-day extension can have no possible purpose other than to give Republicans an opportunity to beat an orderly retreat.
If the Republicans wanted to arm their enemies, they couldn’t have done a better job. This is the New York Times triumphant account:
Republicans vowing to govern effectively as a congressional majority failed a fundamental test Friday, when House leaders managed to narrowly pass only a seven-day funding extension to avert a partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security just hours before money was to run out.
That’s a news story, not an opinion column. But it’s hard to blame the Democrats for exulting. They were in a corner; they had no cards to play; the voters have ejected them from the majority in both chambers; their objective was to keep alive a patently illegal program that had already been declared so by a federal judge. And the Republicans still couldn’t manage to pull out a victory.
Politics is like anything else: if you want to succeed, you have to be good at it. As best I can tell, Washington Republicans aren’t.
We need new leadership, and we need it now.
Here comes a future political leader.
We quote from The American Mirror:
President Obama may enjoy the approval of 84% of blacks, but don’t count CJ Pearson among them.
Pearson, a 12-year-old middle school student in Georgia, has more informed opinions than many adults.
The student posted a YouTube video yesterday in which he seeks to “applaud Mayor Rudy Giuliani for his comments about President Barack Obama” [that Obama does not love America].
CJ Pearson says:
Here’s the truth of the matter: I don’t want to be politically correct. I don’t care about being politically correct at this point.
President Obama, You don’t love America. If you really did love America, you would call ISIS what it really is: an assault on Christianity, an assault on America and downright hate for the American values that our country holds. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion and every single thing that our country stands for.
I hope that one day people will get enough guts to speak out against your downright hatred for this nation. …
But here’s what you need to realize: here in America, we don’t back down to terrorists. We fight them on their own battleground and we annihilate them till the very end.
Here in America, we don’t allow the government to take away what we work for but we continue to work harder so that we may continue to succeed.”
Pearson is executive director of a group called “Young Georgians in Government”.
His Facebook page says he is “committed to fighting for conservative principles and engaging young people in the political process.”
“Most young people really don’t have an interest in government or politics, but we need to pique that interest. We need to make sure they know that the decisions politicians make are going to affect them,” the student told ABC 6 in a profile story last December.
We overlook the reference to Obama’s “assaulting” Christianity. We assault Christianity too – but far more intelligently than Obama does, of course.
We like everything else CJ Pearson says.
The Tea Party is pleased with the results of a Drudge poll that favors Scott Walker to be the Republican Party presidential candidate:
With all the caveats about this being a non-scientific online poll, it has to mean something that Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker is murdering every other GOP contender by massive margins among those Drudge readers motivated enough to vote. Although voting continues, as of this writing nearly 70,000 total votes have been cast. Walker captured a whopping 45% of them, 31,211 votes. Texas Senator Ted Cruz is in second place with 15%, 10,054 votes. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is in third with 13%, 9297 votes.
Dr. Ben Carson came 4th with 8%. “Establishment favorites Jeb Bush and Chris Christie sit at 5% and 2%, respectively.”
But Jonah Goldberg thinks that Scott Walker is not so much wanted for what he is as for what he isn’t. In other words, he’s the candidate nobody objects to.
He writes at Townhall:
Vanilla is the most popular ice cream flavor in America, not because it is the best … but because it is the least objectionable. Put another way, vanilla is the most acceptable to the most people; it’s not many people’s favorite, but nobody hates it.
And that’s why Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is the vanilla candidate.
A new Des Moines Register poll has Walker in first place – narrowly – among likely Republican caucus-goers. With Mitt Romney included in the poll [but since dropped out of the competition], Walker was the respondents’ first choice with 15 percentage points. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was second with 14 percentage points and Romney third with 13. With Romney out, Walker rose to 16 percentage points and Paul to 15. First place in a tightly packed field is better than any of the alternatives, but it’s not that big a deal this far out.
The big deal is the vanilla factor (which sounds like a terribly boring spy novel). According to the Register story that accompanied the poll, 51 percent of caucus-goers want an “anti-establishment candidate without a lot of ties to Washington or Wall Street who would change the way things are done and challenge conventional thinking”. Meanwhile, 43 percent prefer a more establishment figure “with executive experience who understands business and how to execute ideas”.
Walker is in the golden spot. He can, like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day listening to Andie MacDowell explain the perfect man, reply “that’s me” to almost everything Republicans say they want. Executive experience? Challenge conventional thinking? Anti-establishment fighter? “Me, me, me.”
Respondents looking for an establishment candidate said Romney was their first choice. Those preferring an outsider said Paul was their first choice. But both groups said their second choice was a big scoop of Walker.
Of course, this can all change. No matter how palatable it is, people can still grow weary of vanilla, and Walker may melt under the pressure. …
Walker won three elections in four years, “in liberal Wisconsin!”, so Jonah Goldberg thinks it unlikely that he’ll “melt”.
Our question is: What are the chances that a “vanilla candidate”will succeed against an unscrupulous candidate with all the ill winds of the Left behind her leathery wings, like Whatshername?
It seems John Bolton is considering entering the race. Now there’s a man we could support. If not President, he’d make a great Secretary of State; he understands foreign affairs and America’s role in the world better than anyone else within the circle of the political horizon.
We also like Ted Cruz, a political heavyweight. We agree with much that we’ve heard him say about most issues – barring religion, of course.
We know that some of our readers disagree with us about Ted Cruz.
We hope our readers will tell us whom they favor at this point, and why.
Russell Kirk is a Catholic conservative. We were sent the link to an essay of his titled Ten Conservative Principles by a friendly Catholic commenter on our Facebook page.
As (we reasonably suppose) the essay was drawn to our attention to challenge our view of conservatism as atheists, here is our response.
Kirk declares – rightly – that conservatism is not an ideology. In fact, he says, “conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order”.
So far as it is possible to determine what conservatives believe, the first principles of the conservative persuasion are derived from what leading conservative writers and public men have professed during the past two centuries. …
We would look back further than two centuries – to the great new morning of European culture, the Enlightenment. Otherwise, we’ll accept what he has said so far without argument.
It is almost true that a conservative may be defined as a person who thinks himself such. The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects …
[While] it is not possible to draw up a neat catalogue of conservatives’ convictions … I offer you, summarily, ten general principles; it seems safe to say that most conservatives would subscribe to most of these maxims. …
The following articles of belief reflect the emphases of conservatives in America nowadays.
First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order.
Here we start contending with him. While our view of what moral behavior should be is probably the same in many practical instances as Kirk’s, our understanding of why we should behave in these ways, and how we know we should behave in these ways, is different.
That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.
We agree with Kirk that human nature can be said to be constant in that it is not transformable as Marxists think it is and should be; and that what is moral and immoral in principle is not altered by time. But only a believer in a god – a benevolent one who concerns himself with human behavior – can state that there is a “moral order” that was “made for man”, and that “man was made for” a moral order.
He goes on to state this Christian view even more plainly:
This word order signifies harmony. There are two aspects or types of order: the inner order of the soul, and the outer order of the commonwealth. Twenty-five centuries ago, Plato taught this doctrine, but even the educated nowadays find it difficult to understand. … Our twentieth-century world has experienced the hideous consequences of the collapse of belief in a moral order.
We think Plato queered philosophy for all time with his conjecture that there are two worlds: this material one where we live our mortal lives, and another one, abstract, ideal, higher, that we knew before we were born, and will know again after we have died. This one, solid as it seems, Plato taught is not real; it is a world of shadows. The other one, the ideal world, is real. To reiterate: What we experience as real is not real; what Plato imagined is real. How did Plato ever sell that notion to his own elite audience? And how come it has survived through the ages? It is the source of the Christian belief that life in this world (the only world we know for sure exists) is a sojourn in a place of testing, a place of sorrows, and has little value: while heaven is the world that matters, a place of eternal bliss. Plato and Christians believe that people’s “souls” go to the higher world when they die if they’ve been good.
While we concede that there is much immorality in our time – as there always has been and always will be – we do not see that there has ever been a “moral order”. The Christian churches did their utmost to force people – with extreme intolerance and appalling cruelty – to conform to their own moral code of mandated love, forgiveness, gentleness, humility and self-sacrifice. (Self-sacrifice because life in this solid world is not important, and martyrdom will win you a place in that rumored heaven.)
… It has been said by liberal intellectuals that the conservative believes all social questions, at heart, to be questions of private morality. Properly understood, this statement is quite true. A society in which men and women are governed by belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honor, will be a good society – whatever political machinery it may utilize; while a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society – no matter how many people vote and no matter how liberal its formal constitution may be.
We have no argument with most of that if by “the inner order of the soul” he means the convictions, values, standards people hold. A society composed of individuals who live by high moral standards will be a good society. (Only we see nothing wrong with “gratifying appetites” as long as it is not at the expense of others. The asceticism of Pauline Christianity enters Kirk’s portrait of the conservative here.)
Second, the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity.
Adherence to custom and convention are not necessarily a bad thing, but should never be an excuse for refusing to change when change is called for. Continuity of social institutions that have been time-tested and found to be useful to human life and happiness is obviously a good thing. But they should not be resistant to necessary change: a matter of evolution rather than decreed reform. Kirk is right in saying here that “Change … ought to be gradual and discriminatory, never unfixing old interests at once.” It is a point he returns to when he comes to his tenth principle.
He suggests that the “body social is a kind of spiritual corporation, comparable to the church; it may even be called a community of souls”. We prefer to speak of common interests, of co-operation for mutual benefit, and of patriotism.
Apart from that, we don’t think his discussion of this “second principle” is worth much examination.
Third, conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription.
Conservatives sense that modern people are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see farther than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time. Therefore conservatives very often emphasize the importance of prescription – that is, of things established by immemorial usage … Our morals are prescriptive in great part. Conservatives argue that we are unlikely, we moderns, to make any brave new discoveries in morals or politics or taste.
To put it another way: relying on the wisdom of the ages, continuing with what has been found to work, is often sensible. But again, tradition should not become bondage. As times change, new difficulties arise that need new solutions.
It is perilous to weigh every passing issue on the basis of private judgment and private rationality. The individual is foolish, but the species is wise, Burke declared. In politics we do well to abide by precedent and precept and even prejudice, for the great mysterious incorporation of the human race has acquired a prescriptive wisdom far greater than any man’s petty private rationality.
We do not think private rationality is petty. We cannot avoid making our own judgments. On whose judgment can we rely if not our own? Even if we decide to rely on the judgment of our ancestors, or our parents, or our teachers, or our political leaders, we ourselves judge it right to do so.
Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence. Burke agrees with Plato that in the statesman, prudence is chief among virtues. Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away. … Providence [God] moves slowly, but the devil always hurries. Human society being complex, remedies cannot be simple if they are to be efficacious. The conservative declares that he acts only after sufficient reflection, having weighed the consequences. …
We agree with that as a general principle – overlooking Providence and the devil. But life in civilized lands is no longer leisurely. Travel is fast. Communication is fast. Catastrophe can come fast upon us. “Conservative” cannot be allowed to become a synonym for “obsolete”.
Fifth, conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety. They feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems. For the preservation of a healthy diversity in any civilization, there must survive orders and classes, differences in material condition, and many sorts of inequality. The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law; all other attempts at levelling must lead, at best, to social stagnation. Society requires honest and able leadership; and if natural and institutional differences are destroyed, presently some tyrant or host of squalid oligarchs will create new forms of inequality.
Except for his notion that there will be a Last Judgment, we agree with that too.
Sixth, conservatives are chastened by their principle of Imperfectability. Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. Because of human restlessness, mankind would grow rebellious under any utopian domination, and would break out once more in violent discontent—or else expire of boredom. To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things. All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk. By proper attention to prudent reform, we may preserve and improve this tolerable order. But if the old institutional and moral safeguards of a nation are neglected, then the anarchic impulse in humankind breaks loose: “the ceremony of innocence is drowned.” The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell.
There too, we largely agree. We would not say, however, that human beings are “imperfect”, since we know of no standard of “perfection” against which they can be measured. Christians of course believe in the Fall, in original sin, the inherited guilt of all mankind because of a first man and woman’s disobedience to a creator god. We find that idea repulsive and ridiculous. We reckon that to live is to suffer; that we are all capable of doing wrong, and there are habitual criminals and sadists among us, which is why we need the rule of law; that each one of us in his pursuit of happiness will find other individuals in his way; that rational self-interest is an enormously useful guide to living successfully with others and treating each other well.
Seventh, conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked. … Upon the foundation of private property, great civilizations are built. The more widespread is the possession of private property, the more stable and productive is a commonwealth. Economic levelling, conservatives maintain, is not economic progress. … [A] sound economic basis for the person, the family, and the commonwealth is much to be desired. …
We strongly concur. And at last he mentions freedom – but only in passing, in connection with private property. We would put freedom as the highest value.
He pays more attention to “the community” than the individual.
Eighth, conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism. Although Americans have been attached strongly to privacy and private rights, they also have been a people conspicuous for a successful spirit of community. … It is the performance of our duties in community that teaches us prudence and efficiency and charity.
We have cut out most of this section of Kirk’s essay. Of course we are for co-operation with our neighbors to provide for our shared needs and desires, from street lighting to street parties. And while charity is certainly a better means of redistribution than socialism, neither charity nor socialism is a solution for poverty. Self-reliance in a free economy is the best solution.
Ninth, the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions. … In the name of liberty, the French and Russian revolutionaries abolished the old restraints upon power; but power cannot be abolished; it always finds its way into someone’s hands. That power which the revolutionaries had thought oppressive in the hands of the old regime became many times as tyrannical in the hands of the radical new masters of the state.
Knowing human nature for a mixture of good and evil, the conservative does not put his trust in mere benevolence. Constitutional restrictions, political checks and balances, adequate enforcement of the laws, the old intricate web of restraints upon will and appetite – these the conservative approves as instruments of freedom and order. A just government maintains a healthy tension between the claims of authority and the claims of liberty.
There is more to this section, but that is enough to convey his point. We agree with it well enough. Only, we would express our view on liberty and restraint differently. We say that the duty of government is to protect the liberty of the nation as a whole and of everybody in it; and that individual freedom should be restrained by nothing but the freedom of everybody else.
Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. The conservative is not opposed to social improvement, although he doubts whether there is any such force as a mystical Progress, with a Roman P, at work in the world. When a society is progressing in some respects, usually it is declining in other respects. The conservative knows that any healthy society is influenced by two forces … its Permanence and its Progression. The Permanence of a society is formed by those enduring interests and convictions that gives us stability and continuity; without that Permanence, the fountains of the great deep are broken up, society slipping into anarchy. The Progression in a society is that spirit and that body of talents which urge us on to prudent reform and improvement; without that Progression, a people stagnate. … The conservative … favors reasoned and temperate progress; he is opposed to the cult of Progress, whose votaries believe that everything new necessarily is superior to everything old.
Change is essential to the body social … The conservative takes care that nothing in a society should ever be wholly old, and that nothing should ever be wholly new. This is the means of the conservation of a nation, quite as it is the means of conservation of a living organism. Just how much change a society requires, and what sort of change, depend upon the circumstances of an age and a nation.
We agree with him about the forces of Permanence and Progression, and the need for judicious change.
But then again with his final paragraph we take issue. He harks back to Plato, back to the two worlds, back to the Christian illusion that there is a “moral order in the universe”.
The great line of demarcation in modern politics … is not a division between liberals on one side and totalitarians on the other. No, on one side of that line are all those men and women who fancy that the temporal order is the only order …
As we most emphatically do …
… and that material needs are their only needs …
As nobody does!
… and that they may do as they like with the human patrimony. On the other side of that line are all those people who recognize an enduring moral order in the universe, a constant human nature, and high duties toward the order spiritual and the order temporal.
We find no “enduring moral order in the universe”, no “order spiritual”. But we share quite a lot of ideas with Kirk’s conservative – enough to make it obvious that you do not have to be a Christian to be a conservative, even in America.
But we find Kirk’s description incomplete. He has left out an idea that we hold indispensable to Western conservatism. (We stress “Western” conservatism because elsewhere the word has other meanings. In Russia, for example, since 1991, the conservatives are those who want Communism back.)
The missing principle is what Adam Smith called “the natural order of liberty”. We call it the free market. (Karl Marx, who hated it, called it Capitalism.)
When Kirk stresses the importance of private property, the missing principle is hovering there behind his sentences; but though he expatiates on the virtue and necessity of owning property, he does not declare an opinion on a right and wrong way of acquiring it.
Ideally, we would like to be able to go about our daily business without thinking about government, without being aware of government; confident that we are protected by the law, and by our nation’s military might; free to do what we please, always remembering that “the freedom of my fist ends where your nose begins”. That for us is conservatism.
And here is our portrait of an atheist conservative: a free, self-reliant, rational person; realistically suspicious of human nature; who knows that to prosper he must have something to sell – a good, a skill, a service, an invention – that others will pay him for; who behaves towards others with rational self-restraint, keeping social interaction pleasant with the customs of civility, but being always ready to defend himself with lethal weapons if he has to. He holds justice in high esteem, knowing it is hard to be just but that the effort must never be abandoned. He honors the legacy of freedom and political order that his forebears have won for him. He knows the value of what he inherits, and will preserve it and bequeath it; but he’ll also adapt to changing circumstances, and is not a slave to convention. He knows and fulfills his responsibilities. He expects his fellow-countrymen to tolerate his differences from them as he tolerates theirs from him. He will not want power over others, and not tolerate them having power over him except within limits he consents to. He seeks success and happiness in this world, not expecting to be rewarded or compensated in some rumored “afterlife” on the other side of physical death or political revolution. He does not abase others by pitying them. He does not kneel to anyone, literally or figuratively. He moves at ease in his own country. He says what he wants to say. He tolerates no encroachment on his property. He keeps what he earns (as much as legally possible from government), and spends it as he chooses.
(Hat-tip for the Russell Kirk essay to our Facebook commenter Robert Wilkins)
New political parties have been rising in many European countries to oppose established policies of both leftist and conservative governments, particularly policies towards the European Union and immigration.
Most of the new parties are on the Right, but recently some have been formed – or have quite suddenly grown from being inconsequential groupings into forces to be reckoned with – on the Left.
The newly aggressive parties of the Left are mainly in the South, in countries at the receiving end of EU subsidies, angry that the subsidies are not substantial enough.
The new parties of the Right are mainly in the North, in countries at the paying end of the system, angry that they have to subsidize the failing economies of the South.
That sections of the Left should see how badly Europe needs a strategy for survival, should find fault with the EU, and object to unending immigration of dependents into their already hard-pressed welfare states, is a startling development. It means that new political patterns of alignment and opposition are emerging.
In the following article, which we quote from Gatestone, Peter Martino writes about the new parties’ concern with the adverse economic effects of EU membership. He only touches on immigration as a factor in the intensifying discontent which prompts the formation of new political organizations, movements and agendas, but it is in fact quite as hot an issue.
Last week, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) won a landmark victory in the Rochester & Strood by-election. With this win, UKIP secured its second Member of Parliament. The UKIP candidate, Mark Reckless, won 42.1% of the votes, thrashing the Conservatives (34.8%), Labour (16.8%) and the Liberal Democrats (0.9%). It was the first time ever that UKIP stood in Rochester & Strood. The party won votes from all the major parties. The Conservatives lost 14.4% of the votes, Labour 11.7% and the Liberal Democrats a whopping 15.5%.
UKIP is expected to do very well in the British general elections next May. Last month, a poll predicted the party could win up to 25% of the vote in these elections. In the 2010 general elections, the party had only 3.1%.
UKIP stands for the preservation of the Britain’s national identity. It opposes the European Union (EU) and wants Britain to remain a sovereign nation rather than become a state of a federal Europe. The party is also critical of mass immigration, in particular from Eastern Europe. Though Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader, carefully avoids the issue of Islam, the party has also become the refuge of voters who worry about Islamization. Above all, however, the party embodies the dissatisfaction of the electorate with the traditional political establishment.
As such, UKIP is part of a broad trend that can currently be perceived all over Western Europe.
In Spain, a poll this week said that Podemos, a brand new party that was established only nine months ago, is currently the largest party in the country with 28.3% of the vote. The governing conservative Partido Popular of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy would finish second with 26.3% and the Socialist Party would get only 20.1%. Three years ago, in the November 2011 general elections, the Partido Popular won 44.6% of the votes.
Unlike UKIP, Podemos is a party that clearly belongs to the left of the political spectrum. Podemos (the Spanish for We can) was founded by “anti-capitalist” academics and trade unionists who want to “oppose the dominating EU politics from the left”. Unlike UKIP, Podemos does not want to abolish the EU. On the contrary, since Spain is receiving billions of euros in EU subsidies, a majority of the Spaniards clearly want their country to remain an EU member state.
However, the party opposes the austerity policies that the EU is imposing on Spain as a prerequisite for the continuation of the flow of EU subsidies. Both the Spanish Socialist Party and Prime Minister Rajoy’s Partido Popular are perceived by voters as implementing the same set of EU-prescribed policies.
In this regard, Podemos does resemble UKIP, which also accuses the British political establishment of simply implementing EU mandated policies. In Britain’s case, the dissatisfaction with the EU stems mostly from British taxpayers having to pay billions to the EU, which are then transferred to countries in the south of Europe [such as Spain -ed], where governments use them to fund welfare programs. In this sense, the rise of leftist tax-and-spend parties (or rather tax-other-countries-and-spend parties), such as Podemos, reinforces the rise of parties such as UKIP in the north of Europe.
Indeed, all along the Mediterranean, parties opposing the EU-mandated austerity policies are growing spectacularly.
One of the keynote speakers at Podemos’ recent first-ever party congress was Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Greece’s neo-communist party Syriza. In last May’s European elections, Syriza became Greece’s biggest party with 26.5% of the votes, ahead of the governing Nea Demokratia party of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Syriza draws on the same kind of sentiments as Podemos and is popular for exactly the same reasons.
The same is true of Italy’s Five Star Movement, led by the comedian Beppe Grillo, which, with 21.2% of the vote, became the country’s second largest party in last May’s European elections.
And the same is even true for the Front National of Marine Le Pen in France. Ms Le Pen claims that without the euro, the EU’s common currency, there would be “no need for austerity”. Drawing on anti-EU sentiments, the Front National became the largest French party in last May’s European elections with 24.8% of the vote.
The popularity of these parties is still rising. A recent poll in France revealed that Marine Le Pen might win the next French presidential elections, not just in the first round, but also in the decisive second round. It is the first time ever that the FN leads in a presidential poll against France’s two major parties, the Socialist PS and the Center-Right UMP.
In the countries to the north, however, the popularity of the parties opposing the EU subsidization of the southern countries is rising equally spectacularly.
In the Netherlands, the anti-establishment Party for Freedom (PVV) of Geert Wilders is currently the biggest party in the polls. Wilders has consistently opposed the bailing out of countries such as Greece and Spain with Dutch taxpayers’ money.
In neighboring Germany, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a party established last year to oppose eurozone bailouts, is shaking up politics with its astonishing wins in recent state elections.
In Sweden, the Sweden Democrats (SD), opposing both immigration and the EU, won 13% of the vote in last September’s general elections, but their popularity keeps rising. Last week, an SD spokesman said the party is currently expected to win up to 18% of the vote.
All across Europe, the electorate is deeply dissatisfied and disillusioned with both the Conservative and the Social-Democrat parties of the political establishment. Voters no longer see much difference between the traditional political protagonists, who are perceived as imposing an EU agenda that, for various reasons, is seen as bad for the country.
In Europe judging by the polls, political landslides are on the way.
Today we post under Pages (listed at the top of our margin) the next essay in the series by Jillian Becker titled The Darkness of This World (Part Two).
The title of the new essay is The French Pandemonium (One).
It continues a discussion of the Romantic movement which – the series argues – arises from the same need in the human psyche that requires religion. In France, the most influential poets, novelists, essayists and philosophers have been those who have cultivated rebellion against what they call “bourgeois society”. Some of the most eminent of them bluntly declare that their rebellion is a choice of Evil.
Of course not all the French writers of the post-Enlightenment centuries have been Romantics or conscious advocates of Evil. But those who “chose Evil” stoked the fires of destructive rebellion in generations of European intellectuals and have had by far the greater effect on history. In the twentieth century they became so popular and powerful that they helped create the New Left; incited seasons of violent protest demonstrations on city streets throughout Europe and even on other continents; inspired the formation of European terrorist gangs; and implanted their anti-civilization ideology as a new dogma in schools and academies throughout the Western world, including America. As the series continues it will explain how the anti-Americanism of the Left, even in America itself, springs from the European intellectual movement against our civilization.
Here is the first part of the essay:
A pandemonium is a gathering of all the demons or devils. Devils are expected to be noisy, so the word has come to mean a deafening cacophony of shrieking voices.
What the voices of this pandemonium clamor for, is “Evil”. It is not an insult to call them demons; it is an acknowledgment of their choice. They choose Evil, they call for Evil, they acclaim Evil, they are for Evil.
And what are they against? They are against What Is. They are against our civilization. They are against the bourgeois, whom they hold responsible for everything that’s wrong with our civilization: free enterprise industrialization; liberal democracy; parliamentarianism; conservatism.
It was in France that the clamor was loudest among certain poets and novelists and philosophers to épater le bourgeois – shock the bourgeois – in the nineteenth century, reaching a crescendo between the world wars of the twentieth century, rising again after the end of the second. A racket of foaming hate; a literary hue and cry after the middle-class citizen.
As you may have noticed, the bourgeoisie is, in fact, the all-achieving class. Almost everything of value since the Enlightenment, including the Enlightenment itself, has issued from the middle-class; every invention, every discovery, every advance, with so few exceptions they can be counted on a few of your fingers. But to the demons of poetry and philosophy and revolution, the bourgeois was everything that was wrong with Life: the bourgeois with his politesse, his prudence, his order and cleanliness, his comfortable house, his good-quality clothes, his well-stocked larder, his prosperity, his faithfulness to duty, his thrifty habits … “No, no,” the scornful voices yell, interrupting me. “Its not just that, it’s … it’s … it’s his complacency, his bad taste, his narrow-mindedness, his privilege, his exploitation of underdogs, his obsession with material things – and his stupid sexual inhibition. Those, don’t you see, are the unbearable traits that make him a worthy target of our artistic fury. He does not, cannot feel as we do. Down with him! Grind him into the dust! ”
But it is the againstness itself that characterizes the demons. If every one of those despicable things about the bourgeois were overcome or destroyed (as every one of them was in Communist Russia), and civilization wholly laid to waste, the urge would rage on, its hunger unappeased, hunting its everlasting prey: What Is. To them, as to the Gnostics of old, everything that is here is bad; the good lies beyond.
Whatever words have been used to describe the Paris fashions in scorn – modernism, post-modernism, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction – they are all expressions of rebellion. To be a rebel is to be heroic. Despised and rejected by the bourgeois herd, the rebel is a martyr to his deep passion for art, his higher vision of a better world.
To protest against the bourgeois idea of what is good, the demons advocated doing whatever the bourgeois considered evil. They placed themselves in a French counter-tradition, a line that runs from Rousseau with his belief in the primacy of feeling and sentiment, through Robespierre with his Terror, the Marquis de Sade with his penchant for sexual torture, the nineteenth century poets Charles Baudelaire with his Flowers of Evil and Arthur Rimbaud with his Season in Hell, and on through the intellectual trend-setters – whom we will come to – of twentieth century French literature and their continuing effects. There are still reigning French demons in the twenty-first century. It is a dynasty of the defiant. …
You can find all of it here.
A new American conservatism? It’s not here yet – not even on the horizon – but we’re thinking about how and what it might be.
[Added after discussion in the comments section with Azgael:] We atheist conservatives are, or could be, an incipient movement. We must be prepared to say what we stand for, and not seem to be locked in the past. So we invite readers to tell us their thoughts. Help us define a new Conservatism for a new era.
We’ll start with what should be kept out of a future libertarian-conservative manifesto.
Sex and gender. There’s no need for the sex and gender choices of individuals to be treated as matters of political importance. Not constantly, anyway. Hardly ever, actually. We all know there are many ways people seek sexual satisfaction, but they are not res publica (public affairs). Needless to say there is, always has been and always will be, homosexuality, heterosexuality, bestiality, polygamy, orgies, sado-masochism, pornography, rape, pedophilia and pederasty, and good old fashioned procreation in the marriage bed. All fine and dandy – except the bestiality, the rape, the pedophilia and the pederasty. Let consenting adults do what they will with what’s their own. Only, if it should happen that a child is conceived by someone in the course of her pursuit of erotic delight – a biological effect that happens often enough to keep the world populated – then the privacy is terminated. The advent of a third party, not able to express consent or refusal, alters the story. It becomes a matter of ethics, and so, marginally, of politics (public affairs).
Religion. Religion should be as private as sex. For many it is, and they should be left to enjoy or endure it as they choose. It will not cause public offense unless it is constantly bruited about. But organized religion is egregious. With luck it will die out. To the non-religious, public worship by congregants might be viewed as comparable to orgies; an emotional – or the religious would say “spiritual” – equivalent of sexual communion. Public expressions of an eroticism of the “spirit”. A pornography of superstition. There would be absolutely no loss to any consistent and reasonable set of political principles if religion were to be totally cut out of them. (Some political ideologies, such as Islam, are formed only to serve a religion, and therefore should have no place in the political forum whatsoever.)
As for what should be put in, there are first the everlasting principles:
Upholding and defending the Constitution
Defending states’ rights
What should be added to them?
Soon now the Republicans will be in control of both the House and the Senate. What will they do with the power they have regained?
Here are some sketchy notes for new policies. The need for them is urgent because of the damage done to America by the far left pro-Islam world-government-favoring regime tragically elected to power in 2008:
Secure the borders and scrupulously enforce existing immigration laws.
Withdraw from the United Nations and all its agencies, confiscate its headquarters at Turtle Bay, and pay not a dime more to assist or promote any of its programs and purposes.
Cancel every treaty to do with arms and the sea that puts the US at a disadvantage.
Facilitate the fullest possible development of energy resources, especially natural gas and shale oil.
Stop negotiating with terrorist groups in the Middle East, and stop keeping the Palestinians as a beggar nation on handouts.
Support allies and punish enemies.
Prohibit the application of any foreign system of law.
Repeal the laughingly-so-called Affordable Care Act, and let there be nation-wide competition among health insurers.
Hugely reform education.
Lift and curb regulations on business.
Abandon the minimum wage.
Hugely reduce all taxes. Introduce flat rate income tax. Tax forms, 2 pages max.
Hugely reduce entitlements and phase them out.
Reduce the size of government.
Abolish the Fed, the EPA, Fannie and Freddie … Oh the list of institutions and agencies needing to be abolished is very long. But the Fed must be the first to go. Abolitions will reduce the size of government.
Overhaul the IRS to make it serve the nation and not terrify everyone.
Root out corruption in government as far as possible.
Readers are invited to expand, reduce, correct or re-write these first-thought suggestions of ours.