“Classical liberalism” and contemporary conservatism 0

We find this essay by Yoram Hazony peculiarly interesting, so we are posting it in full.

It was published in the Wall Street Journal two days ago on October 13, 2017.

We have long assumed that contemporary Western conservatism is “liberal” in the sense that John Locke and Adam Smith used the term. This essay enlightens us about that. We discover that we are not “classical liberals” after all.

And we are surprised to learn from Yoram Hazony that Friedrich Hayek, whom we much admire and often quote, was at one time an advocate for world government. (We have called world government “the ultimate nightmare” in an essay listed under Pages in our margin). The same goes for Ludwig von Mises. And we are less surprised but still concerned to learn that Charles Krauthammer is too.

We offer no criticism, make no comment, except to say that, like Hayek, Milton Friedman, Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand, we still “place religion outside the scope of what is essential to know about politics and government”.

Is ‘Classical Liberalism’ Conservative?

American conservatism is having something of an identity crisis. Most conservatives supported Donald Trump last November. But many prominent conservative intellectuals—journalists, academics and think-tank personalities—have entrenched themselves in bitter opposition. Some have left the Republican Party, while others are waging guerrilla warfare against a Republican administration. Longtime friendships have been ended and resignations tendered. Talk of establishing a new political party alternates with declarations that Mr. Trump will be denied the GOP nomination in 2020.

Those in the “Never Trump” camp say the cause of the split is the president—that he’s mentally unstable, morally unspeakable, a leftist populist, a rightist authoritarian, a danger to the republic. One prominent Republican told me he is praying for Mr. Trump to have a brain aneurysm so the nightmare can end.

But the conservative unity that Never Trumpers seek won’t be coming back, even if the president leaves office prematurely. An apparently unbridgeable ideological chasm is opening between two camps that were once closely allied. Mr. Trump’s rise is the effect, not the cause, of this rift.

There are two principal causes: first, the increasingly rigid ideology conservative intellectuals have promoted since the end of the Cold War; second, a series of events — from the failed attempt to bring democracy to Iraq to the implosion of Wall Street — that have made the prevailing conservative ideology seem naive and reckless to the broader conservative public.

A good place to start thinking about this is a 1989 essay in the National Interest by Charles Krauthammer. The Cold War was coming to an end, and Mr. Krauthammer proposed it should be supplanted by what he called “Universal Dominion” (the title of the essay): America was going to create a Western “super-sovereign” that would establish peace and prosperity throughout the world. The cost would be “the conscious depreciation not only of American sovereignty, but of the notion of sovereignty in general.”

William Kristol and Robert Kagan presented a similar view in their 1996 essay “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy” in Foreign Affairs, which proposed an American “benevolent global hegemony” that would have “preponderant influence and authority over all others in its domain”.

Then, as now, conservative commentators insisted that the world should want such an arrangement because the U.S. knows best: The American way of politics, based on individual liberties and free markets, is the right way for human beings to live everywhere. Japan and Germany, after all, were once-hostile authoritarian nations that had flourished after being conquered and acquiescing in American political principles. With the collapse of communism, dozens of countries — from Eastern Europe to East Asia to Latin America — seemed to need, and in differing degrees to be open to, American tutelage of this kind. As the bearer of universal political truth, the U.S. was said to have an obligation to ensure that every nation was coaxed, maybe even coerced, into adopting its principles.

Any foreign policy aimed at establishing American universal dominion faces considerable practical challenges, not least because many nations don’t want to live under U.S. authority. But the conservative intellectuals who have set out to promote this Hegelian world revolution must also contend with a problem of different kind: Their aim cannot be squared with the political tradition for which they are ostensibly the spokesmen.

For centuries, Anglo-American conservatism has favored individual liberty and economic freedom. But as the Oxford historian of conservatism Anthony Quinton emphasized, this tradition is empiricist and regards successful political arrangements as developing through an unceasing process of trial and error. As such, it is deeply skeptical of claims about universal political truths. The most important conservative figures — including John Fortescue, John Selden, Montesquieu, Edmund Burke and Alexander Hamilton — believed that different political arrangements would be fitting for different nations, each in keeping with the specific conditions it faces and traditions it inherits. What works in one country can’t easily be transplanted.

On that view, the U.S. Constitution worked so well because it preserved principles the American colonists had brought with them from England. The framework — the balance between the executive and legislative branches, the bicameral legislature, the jury trial and due process, the bill of rights — was already familiar from the English constitution. Attempts to transplant Anglo-American political institutions in places such as Mexico, Nigeria, Russia and Iraq have collapsed time and again, because the political traditions needed to maintain them did not exist. Even in France, Germany and Italy, representative government failed repeatedly into the mid-20th century (recall the collapse of France’s Fourth Republic in 1958), and has now been shunted aside by a European Union whose notorious “democracy deficit” reflects a continuing inability to adopt Anglo-American constitutional norms.

The “universal dominion” agenda is flatly contradicted by centuries of Anglo-American conservative political thought. This may be one reason that some post-Cold War conservative intellectuals have shifted to calling themselves “classical liberals”. Last year Paul Ryan insisted: “I really call myself a classical liberal more than a conservative.” Mr. Kristol tweeted in August: “Conservatives could ‘rebrand’ as liberals. Seriously. We’re for liberal democracy, liberal world order, liberal economy, liberal education.”

What is “classical liberalism,” and how does it differ from conservatism? As Quinton pointed out, the liberal tradition descends from Hobbes and Locke, who were not empiricists but rationalists: Their aim was to deduce universally valid political principles from self-evident axioms, as in mathematics.

In his “Second Treatise on Government” (1689), Locke asserts that universal reason teaches the same political truths to all human beings; that all individuals are by nature “perfectly free” and “perfectly equal”; and that obligation to political institutions arises only from the consent of the individual. From these assumptions, Locke deduces a political doctrine that he supposes must hold good in all times and places.

The term “classical liberal” came into use in 20th-century America to distinguish the supporters of old-school laissez-faire from the welfare-state liberalism of figures such as Franklin D. Roosevelt. Modern classical liberals, inheriting the rationalism of Hobbes and Locke, believe they can speak authoritatively to the political needs of every human society, everywhere. In his seminal work, “Liberalism” (1927), the great classical-liberal economist Ludwig von Mises thus advocates a “world super-state really deserving of the name”, which will arise if we “succeed in creating throughout the world . . . nothing less than unqualified, unconditional acceptance of liberalism. Liberal thinking must permeate all nations, liberal principles must pervade all political institutions”.

Friedrich Hayek, the leading classical-liberal theorist of the 20th century, likewise argued, in a 1939 essay, for replacing independent nations with a world-wide federation: “The abrogation of national sovereignties and the creation of an effective international order of law is a necessary complement and the logical consummation of the liberal program.”

Classical liberalism thus offers ground for imposing a single doctrine on all nations for their own good. It provides an ideological basis for an American universal dominion.

By contrast, Anglo-American conservatism historically has had little interest in putatively self-evident political axioms. Conservatives want to learn from experience what actually holds societies together, benefits them and destroys them. That empiricism has persuaded most Anglo-American conservative thinkers of the importance of traditional Protestant institutions such as the independent national state, biblical religion and the family.

As an English Protestant, Locke could have endorsed these institutions as well. But his rationalist theory provides little basis for understanding their role in political life. Even today liberals are plagued by this failing: The rigidly Lockean assumptions of classical-liberal writers such as Hayek, Milton Friedman, Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand place the nation, the family and religion outside the scope of what is essential to know about politics and government. Students who grow up reading these brilliant writers develop an excellent grasp of how an economy works. But they are often marvelously ignorant about much else, having no clue why a flourishing state requires a cohesive nation, or how such bonds are established through family and religious ties.

The differences between the classical-liberal and conservative traditions have immense consequences for policy. Establishing democracy in Egypt or Iraq looks doable to classical liberals because they assume that human reason is everywhere the same, and that a commitment to individual liberties and free markets will arise rapidly once the benefits have been demonstrated and the impediments removed. Conservatives, on the other hand, see foreign civilizations as powerfully motivated — for bad reasons as well as good ones — to fight the dissolution of their way of life and the imposition of American values.

Integrating millions of immigrants from the Middle East also looks easy to classical liberals, because they believe virtually everyone will quickly see the advantages of American (or European) ways and accept them upon arrival. Conservatives recognize that large-scale assimilation can happen only when both sides are highly motivated to see it through. When that motivation is weak or absent, conservatives see an unassimilated migration, resulting in chronic mutual hatred and violence, as a perfectly plausible outcome.

Since classical liberals assume reason is everywhere the same, they see no great danger in “depreciating” national independence and outsourcing power to foreign bodies. American and British conservatives see such schemes as destroying the unique political foundation upon which their traditional freedoms are built.

Liberalism and conservatism had been opposed political positions since the day liberal theorizing first appeared in England in the 17th century. During the 20th-century battles against totalitarianism, necessity brought their adherents into close alliance. Classical liberals and conservatives fought together, along with communists, against Nazism. After 1945 they remained allies against communism. Over many decades of joint struggle, their differences were relegated to a back burner, creating a “fusionist” movement (as William F. Buckley’s National Review called it) in which one and all saw themselves as “conservatives”.

But since the fall of the Berlin Wall, circumstances have changed. Margaret Thatcher’s ouster from power in 1990 marked the end of serious resistance in Britain to the coming European “super-sovereign”. Within a few years the classical liberals’ agenda of universal dominion was the only game in town — ascendant not only among American Republicans and British Tories but even among center-left politicians such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

Only it didn’t work. China, Russia and large portions of the Muslim world resisted a “new world order” whose express purpose was to bring liberalism to their countries. The attempt to impose a classical-liberal regime in Iraq by force, followed by strong-arm tactics aimed at bringing democracy to Egypt and Libya, led to the meltdown of political order in these states as well as in Syria and Yemen. Meanwhile, the world banking crisis made a mockery of classical liberals’ claim to know how to govern a world-wide market and bring prosperity to all. The shockingly rapid disintegration of the American family once again raised the question of whether classical liberalism has the resources to answer any political question outside the economic sphere.

Brexit and Mr. Trump’s rise are the direct result of a quarter-century of classical-liberal hegemony over the parties of the right. Neither Mr. Trump nor the Brexiteers were necessarily seeking a conservative revival. But in placing a renewed nationalism at the center of their politics, they shattered classical liberalism’s grip, paving the way for a return to empiricist conservatism. Once you start trying to understand politics by learning from experience rather than by deducing your views from 17th-century rationalist dogma, you never know what you may end up discovering.

Mr. Hazony is president of the Jerusalem-based Herzl Institute. His book “The Virtue of Nationalism” will be published next year by Basic.


(Hat-tip to our reader and commenter, Cogito)

Bernie’s Dream 1

No controversies on our Facebook page are as long and passionate as those concerning health care. The most passionate commenters are those who want a nation-wide central government-run health service. They say that all other “civilized countries” have it and the US is “behind” them in not having it.

But the US does have such a thing – for military veterans.

Two years ago the service was revealed to be scandalously badly managed. Reforms were promised. Is it now a model of what a government-run health service should be?

This is from Investor’s Business Daily:

In the summer of 2014, President Obama promised swift changes to resolve chronic delays and cover-ups at the Veterans Health Administration. Today, veterans are still waiting months to see doctors and the VHA is still doctoring wait times, an audit finds.

The Government Accountability Office tracked 180 newly enrolled veterans to see how quickly they could get in to see a doctor. The results are disturbing.

It found that 120 of these vets waited from 22 to 71 days to see a primary care doctor. Worse, 60 of these vets still hadn’t gotten in to see anyone, and in almost half these cases it was because the VHA didn’t bother to schedule them. Mind you, these are primary care doctors, the first step in getting whatever care these vets need.

The GAO also found that the VHA systematically tries to mask the length of these delays by starting the delay clock from the date vets say they’d like to be seen, instead of when they call to schedule an appointment.

What’s more, “ongoing scheduling errors, such as incorrectly revising preferred dates when rescheduling appointments” — which is to say, VHA incompetence — also served to understate the amount of time veterans waited to see a doctor, the GAO says.

This is the same VHA that was supposed to have been fixed two years ago, in the wake of revelations about chronic delays that in some cases led to veteran deaths, as well as findings that VHA officials had tried to cover up these problems.

In August 2014, Congress overwhelmingly passed a reform bill providing the VHA with $16 billion in extra money. When he signed the bill, Obama called the scandal “outrageous” and promised that his administration was “moving ahead with urgent reforms, including stronger management and leadership and oversight, and we’re instituting a critical culture of accountability.” Obama said the new funds would be used to “hire more doctors and more nurses and staff more clinics”.  He also promised that vets would gain access to private providers outside the VHA through a new “Veterans choice card”.

Since then, Obama has kept none of those promises.

The VHA remains largely unreformed, and almost no one involved in the scandal was fired. The Justice Department couldn’t even bring itself to file charges against two VHA officials who allegedly defrauded the agency of $400,000. The VHA only demoted them.

Last year, an Associated Press investigation found that “the number of patients facing long waits at VHA facilities has not dropped at all” and the number of vets waiting more than 90 days to get an appointment “has nearly doubled”.

Whistleblowers who alerted the public to the original VHA scandal say that wait times are still being manipulated.

“I can promise you that it is still going on at facilities across this country,” one source told USA Today. “I mean, it’s sad because veterans are still getting poor care.”

The “choice card” Obama touted has turned out to be a cruel joke, as the VHA made it difficult for vets to use it in a timely manner, and because the VHA didn’t pay some private doctors and hospitals who took the card. One survey found the VA owed Florida hospitals more than $100 million in unpaid claims, for example.

Obama should be held accountable for his abject failure to fix the VHA as promised. But of course he won’t be, since no one ever holds Obama accountable for anything.

And because everything government runs, it runs badly.

In the meantime, however, the ongoing scandal at the VA should serve as a warning to anyone who thinks socialized medicine is a good idea. The VHA is a showcase of what it’s like when the government runs health care.

Almost all the advocates of “free” – ie. tax funded – medical treatment for everybody, insist that it is a “right”, equal to the “unalienable Rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” proclaimed in The Declaration of Independence.

But Walter Williams points out that no one can have a right that puts an obligation on someone else:

Here is what presidential aspirant Sen. Bernie Sanders said: “I believe that health care is a right of all people.” President Barack Obama declared that health care “should be a right for every American”. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: “Every person has a right to adequate health care.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his January 1944 message to Congress, called for “the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health”. And it is not just a health care right that people claim. There are rights to decent housing, good food and a decent job, and for senior citizens, there’s a right to prescription drugs. In a free and moral society, do people have these rights? Let’s look at it.

In the standard historical usage of the term, a “right” is something that exists simultaneously among people. As such, a right imposes no obligation on another. For example, the right to free speech is something we all possess. My right to free speech imposes no obligation upon another except that of noninterference.

Similarly, I have a right to travel freely. Again, that right imposes no obligation upon another except that of noninterference. Contrast those rights to free speech and travel with the supposed rights to medical care and decent housing. Those supposed rights do impose obligations upon others. … If one does not have money to pay for a medical service or decent housing and the government provides it, where do you think the government gets the money? …

Congress does not have any resources of its very own, [so] the only way for Congress to give one American something is to first take it from some other American. In other words, if one person has a right to something he did not earn, it requires another person’s not having a right to something he did earn.

Let’s apply this bogus concept of rights to my right to speak and travel freely. Doing so, in the case of my right to free speech, it might impose obligations on others to supply me with an auditorium, microphone and audience. My right to travel freely might require that others provide me with resources to purchase airplane tickets and hotel accommodations. If I were to demand that others make sacrifices so that I can exercise my free speech and travel rights, I suspect that most Americans would say, “Williams, yes, you have rights to free speech and traveling freely, but I’m not obligated to pay for them!”

As human beings, we all have certain natural rights. Of the rights we possess, we have a right to delegate them to government. For example, we all have a natural right to defend ourselves against predators. Because we possess that right, we can delegate it to government. By contrast, I do not have a right to take one person’s earnings to give to another. Because I have no such right, I cannot delegate it to government.

If I did take your earnings to provide medical services for another, it would rightfully be described and condemned as an act of theft. When government does the same, it’s still theft, albeit legalized theft. …

The bottom line is medical care, housing and decent jobs are not rights at all … they are wishes.

If government is to be a father-like Provider, and everyone who lives in the country it governs is to be its child-like Dependent, that government will need to be totally trustworthy. It will care unstintingly – and equally – for every single one of those whom it feeds, houses, educates and cures. It will never abuse its power by withholding food, shelter, schooling, medical care from any of its charges, or by giving better food, housing, schooling, doctoring to some of them. Nothing less than perfect uniformity will do.

How will it be done? How will all Americans be brought to live in docile uniformity and sweet harmony under the authority of a loving government?

None can say. But they can wish, can’t they? They can dream.

Call it Bernie’s Dream.

Posted under Health, Socialism, United States by Jillian Becker on Thursday, April 21, 2016

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This post has 1 comment.


The crimes and calamities of Katyn 0

On Saturday April 10, 2010, the President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, was killed in a plane crash in Russia. He was on his way to the site of the Katyn massacre, to commemorate the killing of 21,768 Polish officers in April 1940. They were shot dead in cold blood by Russians on the orders of Josef Stalin, most of them in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk.

Kaczynski was leading a delegation of 88, including his wife, and the last president of the anti-Communist Polish government-in-exile in London, the head of the National Security Office, presidential aides, the Deputy Speaker of the Polish parliament, a Deputy Foreign Minister, the head of the Army Chief of Staff, the head of Poland’s National Bank; also relatives of the men who had been murdered at Katyn. All died in the crash.

President Kaczynski was a founder member of Solidarity, as were some of the others in the delegation. He was staunchly against Communism and Russia, and strongly pro-America.

Dr Paul Kengor writes at Townhall:

The Katyn Woods massacre was one of the worst war crimes of the bloody 20th century. …

The Polish officers were taken to three primary sites, the most infamous of which bears the namesake of the crime: the Katyn Woods … There, these unsuspecting men, Poland’s best and brightest, were methodically slaughtered like farm animals. The Bolsheviks covered their crime with a thin layer of dirt.

The locals shuddered at the howling cries of dying men echoing through their once peaceful woods. One Russian farmer later told authorities: “For approximately four to five weeks there were three to four trucks daily driving to the forest loaded with people…. I could hear the shooting and screaming of men’s voices.”

Some Poles were destroyed on site in the forest, whereas others were first shot in the NKVD prison in Smolensk, with their rotting corpses transported to Katyn for burial under a few inches of soil.

At the prison, bullets were fired 24/7 by a cadre of deranged, homicidal NKVD/KGB killers who were so consumed with bloodlust, and so taken by the dark side that, in the end, their work finished, they turned their guns on themselves. Death had consumed them.

In April 1943, it was the Germans, then at war with the USSR and advancing with lightning speed into Soviet territory, who discovered the mass graves. They immediately tried to turn the atrocity into a propaganda coup to split the Big Three Allies: the USSR, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Of course, the Soviets, being masters of lies, responded by claiming the Nazis were the perpetrators. …

In the United States, Ambassador Jan Ciechanowski of the Polish government-in-exile and Congressman John Lesinski (D-Mich.) were certain the Soviets did it. For [saying] this, they were denounced by FDR’s hideous Office of War Information, which we now know was one of the most infiltrated agencies of the entire wartime federal government, penetrated by communist spies and sympathizers. FDR [President Franklin D. Roosevelt] refused to believe that the government of his pal “Uncle Joe”—his term of endearment for Stalin—was involved. This greatly frustrated men like former Pennsylvania Governor George Earle, a fellow Democrat whom FDR had appointed to investigate the matter, and who knew the Soviets were guilty as sin.

FDR disagreed, fully buying the Soviet line, telling Earle: “George, they [the Nazis] could have rigged things up. The Germans could have rigged things up.”

The liberal/progressive icon [FDR] insisted to his special emissary: “I’m absolutely convinced that the Russians didn’t do this.” An amazed Earle responded: “Mr. President, I think this evidence is overwhelming.” Of course, it was…

FDR’s wilful blindness was itself criminal. Why did he refuse to believe that Stalin was evil? At least part of the answer is to be found in a statement we report in our post below, A date which should live in infamy: “The liberal cannot strike wholeheartedly against the Communist,” wrote early National Review columnist James Burnham, “for fear of wounding himself in the process.”