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Wither the Republican party in the aftermath of the Iowa caucuses? The party mandarins are aghast at the success of Huckabee, and talk radio personalities are excoriating their own listeners, on the grounds that, by supporting Huckabee, they have ceased to actually vote conservatively. While I am not predisposed to political prognostication, I believe that it would be instructive to spend a few moments analyzing the background to this apoplectic reaction to moderate doses of quite possibly toothless - as I have argued previously - populism. The issues implicated in the controversy, though superficially insubstantial (Huckabee appears to be a compassionate conservative in the mould of Bush, his deviations from GOP orthodoxy are marginal matters of emphasis in most instances, and those rhetorical tropes which have drawn criticism are too slight to merit the weight of the opprobrium they have elicited.), have precipitated a tipping of hands on the part of the custodians of Republican orthodoxy.

Consider the following contributions to National Review's Symposium on the Iowa Caucuses:

According to the Club for Growth, Huckabee takes “profoundly anti-growth positions on taxes, spending, and government regulation.” For Huckabee to succeed where Robertson and Buchanan failed, one of two things must happen. Either he must mislead GOP voters into thinking that he is an economic conservative, or those voters must stop caring. Either way, a Huckabee victory would be very bad news for conservatism as we know it. (John J. Pitney, Jr.)

Huckabee is a fringe Republican, and does not represent the conservative movement on economic policy, domestic programs, law and order, and foreign policy. It is hard to imagine a candidate so out of step with most in the conservative movement assuming the stage in Minnesota in eight months as its leader. (Pat Toomey, of the Club for Growth)

I'm uninterested in dwelling on the relative strengths and degrees of influence of the various factions which collectively comprise the GOP; we all know that the social conservatives are the base of the party and that the Wall Street types provide the bulk of the financing. There's nothing either novel or earth-shattering about such an observation. Rather, it is the philosophical presuppositions of these judgments that hold all of the interest; there's no sense in gesticulating towards a social formation unless one is willing, subsequently, to determine what that formation means, as a discourse. And the discourse of the GOP establishment is profoundly confused, and mistakes its mystifications for enlightenment.

Indeed, that establishment labours under the burden of a tripartite confusion, a confusion that only deepens as the layers are peeled away. The first confusion arises from the fact that the party establishment still operates on the presupposition of a quite simplistic dualism of state and private sector; at times, this dualism, useful in certain respects, can assume manichean overtones. This dualism is a legacy of the Postwar conservative movement itself, conditioned by the "long, twilight struggle" against collectivism at home and abroad; specifically, it is a legacy of the fusionism which dominated - and still dominates, one supposes - movement conservatism, a marriage of convenience between a sort of libertarian economics and social/moral traditionalism, the slogan of which was always, "Libertarian means to traditionalist ends." The alliance was always fraught with peril, from the perspective of traditionalism, though it was not without a certain salience, for does not the expansion of the state, domestically, subvert community and family? Is this not manifest in the separation of families that Social Security, for example, has made possible? Did not the Great Society facilitate a rapid dissolution of familial structures in American urban areas? Examples could be multiplied, and yet the point would remain, unaltered: statism, socialism - whatever one wishes to call it - subverts the traditional orders upon which society itself is predicated. The fusionist claim, therefore, has been that a negative liberty - a freedom from certain types of government action - is a prerequisite of the flourishing of substantive human goods and virtues.

This is not a confusion; in fact, it is simply a truism, though, as in all such matters, contextualization and the details of implementation are crucial. No, the confusion here is that it is one thing to propose the liberation of American industriousness from certain constraints and regulations, to dismantle or constrain the growth of an American welfare state, and quite another to advocate the liberation of multinational corporations, which have no loyalty to the American people or the American nation of and for themselves, but manifest loyalty solely to various utilitarian measures of progress, from regulations and legal structures that might actually redound to the common good of Americans qua Americans. That is, it is one thing to propose the elimination of legislation which is itself injurious of substantive goods, and quite another to propose the elimination of legislation or regulation which might impede processes injurious to the common good.

The second layer of confusion implicit in all of this rhetoric is a sort of fallacy, the fallacy of 'anti-interventionism' or neutralism, according to which legislation, regulation, or even moral lectures delivered by statesmen, constitutes by definition interference in processes at once natural, autonomous, and self-regulating/sustaining. This notion is, in reality, both theoretically and historically, a product of a phase of Western history during which the dominant discourse involved attempts to discover and explicate the laws according to which various domains functioned in a sort of Newtonian, clockwork fashion. This was as much the history of political economy, with its Laws of Rent and the marginalist revolution, as it was the history of science. The application of this methodology to any particular domain was merely the invocation of the Western world's hegemonic mythos; any field of inquiry or human endeavour could be comprehended scientifically, positively, reduced to the outworking of a few simple laws, which could then be understood as operating autonomously - apart from any intervention, whether ongoing Divine intervention in physics, or ongoing human intervention in economic and political affairs.

Whatever the merits of such a methodology in the physical sciences, it is wholly inapplicable to the human realm, to the realm of reason, deliberation, choice, and action. Our very rational natures, despite our partial subjection to the operation of such subrational processes, elevate us above gross determination. In the case of political economy, the specific form assumed by the economic structures of any nation is, substantially, though never entirely, a product of the positive law. The natural law does not stipulate in exhaustive and tedious detail all of the facets and features of political economy as we experience it, and debate it; that is not the nature of the natural law. Rather, any determinate economic form is a product of the confluence of historical inheritance, positive deliberation, and, yes, chance. The intricate structures of law pertaining to contracts, corporate structure and governance, employment, and so forth, are contingent, not necessary, bare undifferentiated transcriptions of some eternal law; one does not derive such elaborate structures save by the mediation of history and reasoned deliberation. Economy is never, therefore, autonomous, but intrinsically political; the entirety of the system, its very integrity, is ultimately established, undergirded, and enforced by law, by action or abstention. It is incoherent to speak of banishing the government from some sphere of economic endeavour; the question always concerns the nature of government involvement, and thus, the relative balance of public and private powers by which we are governed, and by which or communities are ordered.

The notion that forbidding companies to outsource, for example, or merely scolding them for so doing, constitutes illicit interference on its face is not only incoherent, and does not merely beg countless questions of substantive valuation, but is an attempt to obfuscate, and thus to foreclose on entire realms of legitimate public discourse concerning the common good. And this leads to the third layer of confusion.

The language frequently employed to characterize and censure the 'populism' or 'protectionism' of candidates such as Huckabee is essentially that of an orthodoxy, an enforced norm of 'right-thinking'. However, it is not simply as a matter of discourse that such an orthodoxy constrains, as though it were a small matter of the bounds of the public conversation, of the deliberate sense of the people set at bounds; the orthodoxy also gradually constrains the observance of the forms and rituals of self-government. With so many aspects of our common lives now removed from the sphere of permissible discourse, the inexorable logic of globalization, advanced capitalism, is towards a convergence of economic norms, the legal norms which undergird them, and beyond that, well, the European Union stands as a cautionary illustration of the final cause of such seemingly modest harmonizations.

It is, however, insufficient to stop at this stage of an investigation. No social order obtains but that which is a reflection of the order or disorder of the soul of a people. And thus the peril of the present tendencies of our political economy is not simply that we shall witness the evanescence of our national sovereignty, though this is a fearful and terrible thing for any self-governing people, but that, in virtue of this constriction, the fundamental goods of human flourishing, the goods requisite to our common good, are increasingly determined, not by the deliberation of concerned parties through communal and other representative institutions, but by seemingly impersonal economic forces. These forces only appear impersonal on account of the innumerable mystifications, ranging from economic laws falsely so-called to doctrines of inevitability, within which the subject has been shrouded; in reality, the entirety of the system is a product of conscious deliberation, albeit in multiple, overlapping centers, often in tension with one another. The processes in question are doubly unrepresentative; sociologically and politically, by virtue of the constriction of the bounds of public discourse and the harmonization of norms; existentially, spiritually, we might say, by virtue of the very nature of the institutions which increasingly determine the ordering of our societies, institutions which are not, and cannot be, representative. At a minimum, they are incapable of re-presenting in the relevant senses.

Market institutions, at their finest, are essential to the continuation of human existence, the maintenance of human flourishing, since, under the conditions of finitude and scarcity, our lives would be miserable, beggarly, and short in the absence of mechanisms of cooperative exchange. Nonetheless, market institutions thus correspond to the animal in man, to his lower nature; they are transcribers of desire, mirrors of the acquisitive, appetitive, irrational aspects of the human constitution. To be governed by such faculties is, in the phraseology of St. Paul, to be governed by one's belly. To properly rule oneself, both individually and communally, is to employ one's rational faculties, not instrumentally, according to the dictates of modern philosophical anthropology, which would have it that this is the only real employment of reason, to discern and then propitiate autonomous desire, but to master the irrational, to discipline and chasten it, sublimating it towards higher, nobler ends. It is not that the lower and irrational have no place in the rightly ordered soul; they are manifestly necessary to the maintenance of our bodies, and they are rightly called good, when kept within licit measures; so also are the institutions and practices of the market, or exchange and commerce. Hence, the idea is not to denigrate them, but to discriminate between their licit employment and their illicit, excessive indulgence.

It is in this sense that, contrary to all of the marketologists so brilliantly lampooned by Thomas Frank in his One Market Under God, economic institutions cannot be truly representative because they do not re-present the highest rational faculties of man, either discursive or ethical, but merely image man's dependency and irrationality, as opposed to the rational and spiritual faculties by which, in Christian thought as in Platonic, he becomes what he is by nature, thus transcending the purely immanent requirements and passions of the physical. It is by reason that the world is founded and ordered, both above and below, and not by passion, simply, or mere brute will. For it to be the case, therefore, that our lives, individually and communally, are increasingly determined by institutions and practices which at best image the lower aspects of human nature, we must at some level abdicate our rationality, which is to say, our capacity for self-government.

At their worst, market institutions actively create, stimulate, and then exploit new desires, playing upon the irrational, passional aspect of man in order to sustain an illusion of a finite infinity, a limitless expansion of material plenitude and prosperity. Such a societal order is one in which things are in the saddle, and bridle and ride men; this, because such a society is merely a reflection of the disordered souls of men, an exemplification of the restless, ceaseless pursuit of an infinite satisfaction in a succession of temporal things. At worst, such a society abdicates responsibility to the technocrats and functionaries who administer the system, now beyond the comprehension of mere mortals; we are then governed by those who mediate our desires to us, in politics as in economy.

The rhetorical obfuscations of the Republican establishment are doubly unconservative, quite apart from the considerable problems with Huckabee's ostensible governing philosophy. They at once constrict the sphere of self-government, both as a discourse and as a practice, by facilitating the harmonization and integration of disparate societies and peoples - and the convergence of living standards under globalization, which we have discussed previously, is but a function of this process - and, by necessary implication, invert the right relationship of the faculties of the soul, predicating social order upon the acquisitive instinct and nilhilistically confusing the lower for the higher.

The value of Huckabee's candidacy is not to be found in the thing itself, but in the fact that, as Patrick Deneen observes in a post entitled Conserving Liberalism?, it has compelled the custodians of orthodoxy to disclose their ultimate allegiances:

Goldberg is a free-marketeer, small government (i.e., let the market do as it will), big national defense (i.e., U.S. should run the world in our best interest), secular-minded "conservative": i.e., there's not an actual conservative bone in his body. In "Old Europe" he would more accurately be called a liberal. What galls in this exchange is Goldberg's apparent Burkeanism which is a thin mask on his deeper commitment to the instabilities fostered by "free" markets and the preeminence that contemporary Republicans place on individual choice and thoroughgoing mobililty. The call to "just stand there" is a "conservative" defense of liberalism (i.e., "just stand there" means "let us be as free and mobile and individualistic as ever"); the call for "change" in several cases (Huckabee in particular) points in the direction of being a "revolutionary" defense of conservatism. This is the paradox and conundrum of contemporary American politics: the true conservative appears to be the revolutionary whereas the "conservative" is a liberal in wolf's clothing. I agree that the call for "change" is an empty cipher: what matters is whether that change would actually result in more stable families and communities; whether the invocation of religious belief is a call for self-governance under God's law; whether the critique of "corporations" (such as Edwards) understands that they are providing us with things that we don't have the good sense to avoid and eschew (Edwards's version of anti-corporatism lets us all off WAY too easily); whether the call to "make the oil of Saudi Arabia as worthless as their sand" is accompanied by calls for self-sacrifice and a reduction in our mobility and wealth; whether the call for smaller government is accompanied by an understanding that the government has already fostered a world in which such reduction would only redound to the assertion of ever more private power.

The exercise, that is to say, demonstrates that, in fact, something is the matter with Kansas, insofar as Kansas, metaphorically, continues to acquiesce in what's wrong with Manhattan and Washington, and a thousand other places. What is the matter with Kansas - or Iowa, for that matter - has nothing to do with the indictment leveled by a peevish Quin Hillyer:

One other thing: It also shows that the American people have no idea how good their lives are. The strong response to economic grievance-mongering shows that people who are incredibly wealthy by every historical standard are somehow convinced they are barely making ends meet -- barely making ends meet while their families have two cars, three TVs, four cell phones, and untold numbers of other gadgets in homes they themselves own. There is a word for this: spoiled. Huckabee and Obama are smart enough to appeal to the spoiled Americans who have no idea what real hardship is.

For those Americans who respond to the rhetoric of a Huckabee, or an Edwards, or, in the 1990s, a Perot or Buchanan, this is not a matter of mere stuff, of the things that could easily be discarded were survival at stake, but of the instabilities, the ceaseless 'churn' created by globalization, economically, demographically, and politically, which threatens the very stabilities without which human beings cannot truly flourish. Such supercilious "let them sacrifice their mobile phones and microwaves" sentiments miss, and that utterly and without compensatory merit, the point of populist sentiments, which at their best do not concern the quantities of stuff that we may own, but rather the quality and character of such lives, of the virtues by which they are lived, and the stability within which things can be possessed and used. People respond to such rhetoric not so much because they have material things in mind, but because their communities, ways of life, and the circumstances upon which their families depend are threatened, remorselessly, by globalization in all of its facets; they may witness the disappearance of their employments, the alteration, beyond all recognition, of the character of their communities, under the combined forces of 'economic progress' and demography (read: immigration).

To return to the first layer of confusion, that of a simplistic reductionism of statism and private enterprise and the fusionism of orthodox conservatism, what American conservatism seeks to conserve, as Deneen observes, is merely liberalism, which itself entails restlessness, mobility, the decentering of authorities; in fine, deracination. In mistaking liberalism for the right ordering of the soul and society, if only implicitly, too much of American conservatism has, in fact, presupposed of the substantive goods of flourishing - family, community, morality, etc. - what it presupposes of political economy, namely, that they are autonomous and self-sustaining, and can obtain regardless of the social environment within which they must be practiced and cultivated. In reality, however, the negative liberty sought by fusionism, inspired by its libertarian precedents, as a continuation and celebration of the liberal heritage, has only served to further destabilize those substantive goods, and the positive liberties that they instantiate. Globalization and its discontents are merely the manifestations of liberalism's transcendence of certain specific historical and cultural forms; the apotheosis of liberalism, now that the antiquated carapace of nation and community can be cast aside safely. However, this confusion concerning the determinants of positive liberties, and the creation of the fusionist conservatism - liberalism, essentially - that Jonah Goldberg now strives to defend with weak admonitions to 'do nothing', never would have come into existence absent the mismeasurement of man, the neglect of his rational and moral nature, and the inversion of the right ordering of his faculties. Some may raise no objections to a conservatism that defends the notion of a society predicated upon pleonexia, more-having-ness; but a populism which, however haltingly and inadequately, suggests that something momentous is amiss in such a society - as Christopher Lasch and Wendell Berry have sought to remind us - will raise objections, and indeed must.

Comments (31)

Great piece! Expect the defenders of the Permanent Revolution wrought by "market dynamism" to get even less lucid in the coming days.

The folks at National Review will circle their wagons around the den of thieves that sacked our Treasury, private pensions and personal wealth, labeling all who question Wall Street's epic transfer of wealth to the upper-strata as "socialists". Such mindless dismissals will only smooth the way for a real demagogue to ascend to power and finish the destruction of our fragile social ecology, which our free-market Jacobins started.

The bill for our orgy of consumption is coming due. Let us hope we have the moral fiber to handle the fall-out.

The excesses of unbridled capitalism beget socialism, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, unless liberalism be ended. They are the twinned faces of Janus.

Now, I thought we had agreed that Huckabee is a "big government kinda guy." Perhaps GWB is also a big government kinda guy! You won't get much argument from me about that. But if that is true of Huckabee, and if being a "big government kinda guy" is not a good thing from a conservative point of view, and if it is, in fact, something more disturbing and less benign than just restricting outsourcing for those big, big corporations or reining in the excesses of those big, big corporations, then why all the excoriation of conservative pundits who dislike Huckabee for his big government sympathies? On the one hand, I'm getting the impression that Huckabee's ideas are being tacitly praised here as moderate, good, and just sticking it to those nasty multinationals. On the other hand, I thought we had already agreed that he had big-government plans (if only embryonic ones as yet), inclinations, and sympathies that were objectionable. Are we not, in fact, agreed on that?

Well, then, heck--go vote for Huck in your state's primaries, I guess. I won't, though I as I told Bill Luse, I might vote for him at gunpoint in the general. After all, fiscal conservatism is what the social conservatives have been compromising on already for years, isn't it? So when they tell us we don't believe in compromise, I tell them to look at the way Bush came in telling us he'd expand federal control over education right off the bat and we social conservatives, many of us, yes, with small-government sympathies, sighed and voted for him anyway in 2000. I guess Huckabee is more of the same--though these things are a ratchet, so I guess big government under Huckabee would get even bigger. Oh, joy.

Huckabee is a big government kinda guy; but the ire of the GOP establishment has been directed at sentiments and imagined policies that stand in no necessary relationship to big government per se. More later.

But I thought we were talking about the ire of the conservative pundits against *Huckabee*. Now, what I see in the quotes are a lot of generalizations about Huckabee. That can be a sloppy thing, in the sense that such a writer isn't coming down to brass tacks and saying what he objects to in Huckabee's proposals. But it should also protect said pundits from the claim that their objection is targeted _primarily_ at (say) restricting outsourcing. I mean, if they are objecting *in general* to Huckabee's approach, then it seems at least as likely that they are objecting to the things that you, Jeff, would also find objectionable in his approach as to those that you wouldn't.

But I'm not sure if you really do think Huckabee would do anything objectionable. I would guess you support carbon taxes and the like, for example.

I just can't help thinking that maybe _all_ or _most_ of the ways in which Huckabee is a "big government kinda guy" are in fact _supported_ by the crunchies and/or paleos amongst us, and that this is the reason for their dislike of the pundits' generalized objections to Huckabee.

Perhaps it would help to get down to brass tacks. Is limiting outsourcing really the _major_, _single_ thing that Huckabee is proposing that these guys dislike? Really?

"...then why all the excoriation of conservative pundits who dislike Huckabee for his big government sympathies?"

First, it is Huckabee's diagnosis, not necessarily his prognosis that accounts for his rise within the GOP. Secondly, the excoriation is earned by those "conservatives" who stand mute in the face of; the racket of executive compensation (receive a 160 million performance bonus after you write off 8 billion in losses, the backdating of dividends on stock options, or being paid 400 times more than your average employee as you announce lay-offs), the massive sub-prime scandal that has plundered our financial system and left us vulnerable to "foreign investors" and the reductionist logic enshrined by the "cult of efficiency".

Conservatives need to offer proposals for constructing a just social order here at home. The trick will be do so without further increasing the Leviathan they built while searching for monsters abroad.

"Secondly, the excoriation is earned by those "conservatives" who stand mute in the face of..."

So let me get this straight: You guys don't like the fact that the Club for Growth, Rush Limbaugh, et. al., don't like Huckabee and say he's too fond of big government expansion and the like, because you don't like all these things Kevin lists, and you see these Huckabee critics as being somehow at least tacitly on the side of those things, by silence if nothing else.

That doesn't seem to me like terribly clear thinking. It just sounds to me like the opposition to Huckabee is being used as an opportunity to talk about How Bad Capitalism Is and to say, "See what bad capitalists these guys are? They don't like Huckabee because they say he's opposed to the free market. Ah, signs of the rot in the soul of the GOP." But _what_ does Huckabee support, and is it or isn't it objectionable? I would think we should instead talk about specific Huckabee positions and why they are liked or disliked. For example, I read the Club for Growth's report on Huckabee, and one red light I saw was his increasing government spending, especially on some sort of big health insurance plan (for "the children," of course). Wouldn't it make sense to say, "Okay, the Club for Growth opposes Huckabee in part because of _this_. Do I support _this_ or don't I? Do I think they are right to object to his record there, or not?" And the same for his raising taxes so much and so forth.

Otherwise, this just all looks to me like a series of anti-market gripe points with the Huckabee candidacy being used as a springboard for the griping. If you like Huckabee because, in your view, he has some plan for addressing what you view as the evils of "over-compensation" of corporate executives, then say what that plan is, why you think it's good, what makes you think Huckabee supports it, and what makes you think the pundits you dislike are opposing him for that reason. If you think these pundits are attacking Huckabee for bad reasons, say what, specifically, you think they mean when they talk about and deplore his opposition to the free market and why you disagree with them.

But somehow, I don't think that anything that clear connecting a) Huckabee, b) Huckabee's policies, c) those who oppose Huckabee, and d) their reasons for opposing him will be forthcoming.

Maybe National Review's peeved because they endorsed the corporately successful Mormon candidate, but Iowa's voters didn't take the marching orders.

"...and you see these Huckabee critics as being somehow at least tacitly on the side of those things, by silence if nothing else."

I'm not a Huckabee supporter, but if you change "Huckabee critics" and insert "knee-jerk defenders of our current economic system", then I'd say you are correct; the conservative establishment apparently thinks "greed is good" given it's lack of outrage at the sins done in capitalism's name. And for most of them to now object to "big government" after the last eight years is kind of comical. They've been backing LBJ 2.0 to the hilt.

This context for this sorry state of affairs was offered by Christopher Lasch years ago;

“Not only do conservatives have no understanding of modern capitalism, they have a distorted understanding of the traditional values they claim to defend. The virtues they want to revive are the pioneer virtues: rugged individualism, boosterism, rapacity, a sentimental deference to women, and a willingness to resort to force. These values are traditional only in the sense that they are celebrated in the traditional myth of the Wild West and embodied in the Western hero, the prototypical American lurking in the background, often in the very foreground, of conservative ideology. In their implications and inner meaning, these individualist values are themselves profoundly anti-traditional. They are the values of the man on the make, in flight from his ancestors, from the family claim, from everything that ties him down and limits his freedom of movement. What is traditional about the rejection of tradition, continuity, and rootedness?”

Well, _I_ haven't been backing LBJ 2 to the hilt, and frankly, I'd rather not sign up for LBJ 2.1, or LBJ 3.0, or whatever we might say Huckabee is. ("Compassionate conservatism on steroids.") I've hated all of those big-gov. aspects of Bush, every step of the way, and I don't mind in the least if some people who said too little about all of that with Bush are now saying a good deal more about more of that kind of gov. expansionism from an up-and-coming candidate without incumbency or whatever it was Bush had to protect him.

"...a sentimental deference to women, and a willingness to resort to force..." Yes, let's all together now--Sneeeer at cowboys. I think we could use a few more cowboys around here, along with a lot more "sentimental deference to women" and a staunch willingness to "resort to force" in defense of the innocent. (See Paul Cella on men being men when it comes to responding to mass murderers with guns.) And since when is the pioneer in flight from the family claim? Balderdash. Likewise rubbish. Pioneers got killed defending their families. In fact, I had thought--but perhaps I was wrong--that some of that rugged individualism, willingness to grow your own food, stand on your own feet, not be dependent on an employer, entrepreneurship, etc., etc., was what Crunchy Conservatism was all about. And let me tell you: Increased government regulation will only squash the little guy and push those virtues farther away. I have previously had some vague negative memories about stuff I've read before by or about Lasch. Now I have something more concrete to go on.

The pundits object to Huckabee primarily because he has opposed himself rhetorically to the domination of the party by the interests of Wall Street, which interests, as the issues of immigration and outsourcing pointedly demonstrate, are not consonant with those of Main Street, assuming that we are going to adhere to the shorthand. There is also an undertone of animus directed at the temerity of uppity evangelicals and flyover country dwellers who, in the judgment of the establishment, ought to restrict themselves to supporting the establishment candidates and the establishment orthodoxy, and never entertain the fantastical idea that they might offer guidance to the party.

I hate to break such obvious news, but Wall Street couldn't care less about the small-government agenda, provided only that regulations are loose, credit is cheap, factor shares to labour are reduced ever further, and capital is taxed less onerously than income (nothing like regressive taxation!); confusion on this account owes to the fact that folks like the Club for Growth also oppose most big government initiatives, creating an overlap between two factions. One might state that organizations like the Club inadvertently empower a vast financial and economic establishment for which the small-government agenda is, at most, a distraction. In point of fact, thousands of government policies prop up the economic establishment, from targeted subsidies, a loose and inflationary monetary policy, to the legions of lobbyists who tailor legislation to suit the interests of the establishment; and that establishment is positively ecstatic when big-government policies, de jure or de facto, function to privatize profits and socialize costs, as with immigration and outsourcing. The absurdity of the advocacy of the Club is that the instabilities and upheavals engendered by the reduction of public policy to the object of maximizing the returns to the possessors of capital is that this not only results directly in the expansion of government - as in the case of the provision of public services to illegals - but summons forth public agitation for public measures to mitigate the unpleasant consequences of such economic practices, most of which measures will not be comparatively simple, such as simply proscribing some of the abusive practices, but positively deleterious, such as socialized medicine, increased subsidies for education, more spending generally.

Many of the ostensibly conservative objections to Huckabee's tenure as governor of Arkansas and policies discussed on conservative talk radio Friday were risible. He raised taxes to pay for the repair of a decrepit road system, so that the state would not run a budget deficit. I'm quaking in terror. He opposed vouchers, on the grounds that many small school districts and private schools would not be able to accommodate the influx of students, some of whom would be special needs students, and - possibly - because of the fears of many evangelicals that vouchers could function as a trojan horse of state control of the curriculum. The horror. He has advocated negotiating with Iran, and an end to wars of democratic liberation. The chutzpah!

The Bushist compassionate conservatism is there, but few seem to be inclined to subject that to scrutiny; rather, there is a great deal of gesticulation in the direction of his rhetorical broadsides against Wall Street and the cupidity of CEOs who cash out while driving corporations into the ground, sending all of the remunerative non-executive positions overseas, and cashiering the workforce, all because the shareholders are wallowing in their unearned increments. And, on top of this, he has stated that he intends only to scold them for this!

The dangerous, from a conservative perspective, Bush-like compassionate conservatism is there for all to examine; in fact, Michael Gerson even regarded Huckabee as a plausible standard-bearer, before Huckabee recognized that his immigration enthusiasm was an electoral liability, and "pivoted" away from his denunciations of restrictionists as unChristian bigots. But no, it's the rhetorical opposition to the hegemony of corporate interests - his diagnosis, in Kevin's terms - that has drawn the ire; that, and, as far as I can determine, some contextually defensible governing decisions.

Oh, yes, there is also the clemency question; that one is obviously legitimate. But if he is a profligate big government candidate, I should expect something more substantial by way of critique than foam-flecked denunciations of Arkansas not having third-world grade highways, along with the public posturing on behalf of Wall Streets' upward redistributionists.

Carbon taxes? Sheesh. No, I oppose them, primarily because they would be luridly regressive, a sort of postmodern indulgence that only the wealthy could easily afford.

There is a valuable body of thought forged by thinkers including Lasch, Russell Kirk, John Paul II, Phillip Reiff, Malcolm Muggeridge, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and of course G.K. Chesterton that explores the incompatibility of sustaining traditional values within a system that boasts of "creative destruction."

Sadly, they all take a back seat to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and the current composition of National Review in terms of influence.

The results are all around us.

Ah, bloated health-care spending - that's a legitimate avenue of criticism. See, I knew there had to be something.

Lasch is discussing something rather different than you imagine, Lydia; his objection to the "pioneer spirit" is not to the virtue of men who defended their families, and suffered the ultimate penalty, out on the frontier, but to the notion that a ceaseless recapitulation of the abandonment of the ties and obligations of place - the place where you were born and raised - is desirable, feasible, and ethical. Lasch valued a certain independence, in the context of living, vibrant communities; what our modern "rugged individualism" had begotten is a society so atomized that government must step in to fill the breach - which is why single women vote Democrat, for example, and Social Security remains the untouchable third rail of American politics.

I see the response of the puncits as a response to a "package" of positions of Huckabee's. I'm probably likely to disagree with more of those actions and positions than you do, Jeff, but you and I will agree with each other in disagreeing with some of them, e.g., Huckabee's enthusiastic endorsement of No Child Left Behind, mentiioned in the Club for Growth report.

The way I see it, all of this stuff fits together into a pretty consistent picture. If we take his flip-flop on immigration to be fairly shallow (and I do), the immigration position fits in, too. From immigration to advocating "reducing greenhouse gases," from pardoning criminals all over the place to lecturing high-paid executives, from spending large quantities of taxpayer money on healthcare social programs to being just thrilled about increased federal regulation of education--it's obvious: Huckabee has accepted and aims to live up to a certain picture of what it means to be a Nice Guy, a Good Guy, a Socially Responsible Politician. And he's following that out. To say of a politician of that sort, "Y'know, he's really not a conservative" just seems to me to be stating an obvious truth. It just doesn't sound to me like there's some sort of sharp distinction in these criticisms you are noting between "criticisms that might catch Bush's compassionate conservatism, too," and "annoyance at Huckabee's general anti-capitalist rhetoric." It's rather a general response to the overall picture--what does Huckabee look like? And there, I have to agree with these guys that he doesn't look, on a range of issues, like a conservative but rather like a softy liberal kind of guy who wants to do what his tender, liberal-informed conscience views as the "right thing," sometimes with my money, often at my regulatory expense, and if I live in his state, perhaps with my safety as he lets criminals back on the street.

I see no reason to split all of these issues up and then to chide the pundits for some (to me) obscure reason, apparently because one views them as being "too capitalist." In fact, I don't really see that much to chide them for. Perhaps they are exaggerating a bit about Huckabee, that's all. But I don't see them killing themselves to protect Bush, either. The Club for Growth report put in that bit about NCLB even though it could have been taken as a tacit criticism of Bush as well. Viguerie, the guy quoted in this story


criticizes Huckabee as a "Christian socialist" and is the author of a book called Conservatives Betrayed: How George W. Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause. That hardly looks to me like a Huckabee critic who is ignoring the Bush record.

So I say, better late than never. If our pundits are just now discovering that they don't like that overall "let's all be nice to everybody from illegal aliens to people wanting more social programs" type of so-called "conservatism," I'm with 'em. I'd rather see them say it about Huckabee now while there is time for people to think twice about it, which really didn't happen nearly enough before and during the Bush presidencey.

The Viguerie quote is neither here nor there, as far as I am concerned; it is every bit as incendiary as anything I've ever written here or elsewhere about 'mammonists', and a great deal less sensible. Big-Government conservatism is not socialism, merely a somewhat more managerial expression of the managed capitalism, the third way, that characterizes most of the advanced economies of the West. The means of production are not going to be nationalized; there will be no five-year plans; and, in reality, the cultural and political hegemony of multinational capital will not be challenged. This is merely another instance of conservatives flying off the handle at the slightest wisp of a hint of criticism of policies which they have identified, rightly or wrongly, as being of the quintessence of conservatism. The terminology of political thought ought to be employed with some precision, and Huckabee is no more a socialist than George Bush; both are essentially moderate meliorist liberals. It is not as though I'm lauding such an ideological stance, but it is truly preposterous that a man will be tagged as a socialist for suggesting that corporate America has not been immaculately conceived, and is, in fact, not without stain in its conduct. Please.

Beyond this, I don't find credible the claim that the judgments rendered by the punditocracy of the right against Huckabee are merely composite, and have not emphasized his (mild) critiques of Wall Street mammonism. To be certain, there have been numerous such composite judgments, and I, myself, have made them; nevertheless, there has been a particular emphasis upon Huckabee's economic populism, such as it is, and this emphasis has been discussed everywhere, from the Daily Kos, on to Ross Douthat, the American Scene, Rod Dreher, National Review, the American Spectator, the Weekly Standard, David Brooks, and RedState. Somewhat representative would be the following remarks by Jonah Goldberg:

Contrary to the conventional belief that Republicans need to drop their opposition to abortion, gay marriage and the like in order to be popular, Huckabee understands that the unpopular stuff is the economic libertarianism: free trade and smaller government. That’s why we’re seeing a rise in economic populism on the right married to a culturally conservative populism.

Huckabee's alleged opposition to free trade - whatever that is supposed to entail practically - has been an especial object of critical ire; indeed, this is what so terrifies the establishment about his candidacy. Huckabee's religiousity is neither here nor there, regardless of what the pundits might have to say about Christian identity politics; the leftist critics have already advanced all of the criticisms that can be leveled against Huckabee on that account against the GOP under Bush. The specific difference is simply the populist tenor of Huckabee's campaign rhetoric; whereas Bush is a member of that economic establishment, Huckabee does not forbear to critique that establishment and the fealty of the Republican party to its interests.

Furthermore, the notion that the articulation of such criticisms entails that their author must be a socialist is theoretically untenable, unless we are prepared to endorse the notion that Belloc, Chesterton, the Southern Agrarians, and others like them, were, and are, crypto-socialists - and this, I believe, is wackaloon territory.

In other words, principled critiques of Wall Street, Capitalism, high finance, and so forth, stand in no necessary relationship to an affinity for progressive, big-government conservatism, let alone socialism. And a conservative establishment that swallowed the compassionate conservatism of Bush with the submission of faith is devoid of the requisite credibility for critiques of an identical governing philosophy articulated by Huckabee in a slightly different political dialect. That establishment only rediscovers its principles when its irreducible core is challenged. They are correct in identifying Huckabee as a practitioner of big-government conservatism, a species of progressivism; only in their addlement does skepticism concerning free trade and its accoutrements become conflated with that progressivism.

Forget order, continuity, responsibility, discipline and the "scandal of the particular". Let's keep pushing restless mobility, endless innovation, the satisfying of our expanding appetites and the leveling of all distinctions under the good ship Universal. The GOP we'll pays lip service to traditional values, but offer few policies which confront those economic and social forces that subvert those values.

We're all liberals now.

Worried about the concentration of too much wealth and power in too few hands? Don't be. We're still the world's premier economic and military power.

Well, Goldberg did say "free trade and smaller government." That looks like at least somewhat of a composite to me.

We've already been over this about "socialism." You, Jeff, think the word shouldn't be used for European-style cradle-to-grave soft socialism. I think that's plain weird. People who like that stuff call it "socialism." You don't want that word used because you apparently want to reserve that word for five-year-plans and the nationalizing of all sorts of manufacturing industries. Nationalizing healthcare evidently isn't enough. I think you want to do that because you don't like the negative connotations of the term, even when the person using it understands the distinction you are making perfectly well but doesn't like European soft socialism and thinks it has a lot to do with a collectivist mindset. "Third way" sounds vaguer and nicer. That's why I don't like it. We will have to agree to disagree about terminology. "Christian socialist" for Belloc and Chesterton? You're telling me nobody relatively positively inclined towards their ideas, and informed about those ideas, ever called them that? I'll betcha they did.

It is not as though I'm lauding such an ideological stance, but it is truly preposterous that a man will be tagged as a socialist for suggesting that corporate America has not been immaculately conceived, and is, in fact, not without stain in its conduct. It's this kind of sentence that sort of gets me, because it seems to me to embody unclear thinking. Are you or aren't you "lauding such an ideological stance"? You say you aren't at the beginning of the sentence, but by the time you get to the end of the sentence, you are implying that the essence or core of the position you say you're not lauding is, in fact, something you obviously do laud and is the mere and minimal "suggestions that corporate America has not been immaculately conceived," etc.

And I get pretty tired of all this stuff about "receiving Bush's policies with the submission of faith." Surely that submissive reception has been something of a mixed bag, unless you are just going to define the "conservative establishment" as "people who didn't criticize Bush's government expansion." You're telling me no conservative talk radio host or pundit criticized the farm bill, the Medicare drug plan, No Child Left Behind, etc., etc.? You know more about this stuff than I do, but I could swear I've heard some rumblings over the past eight years. But I'm not sure it really matters. You seem to be saying that it's a truth evident by the Natural Light that nobody can criticize Huckabee's big-government tendencies now who has not been loudly criticizing Bush's big-government tendencies all along. I don't see that. Why are we bound to accept it? And you don't seem to like Viguerie much better, though I think you'd have to admit it doesn't look like he's lost his "right" to criticize Huckabee in this particular, odd, way.

OK, here goes: by "submission of faith", I mean that the conservative establishment essentially counseled the conservative masses to accept the Bush policies, despite any reservations they may have haboured - and did - concerning their substance, on the grounds that Bush was the best conservatives were going to receive; ie., the Democratic alternative was worse. In other words, conservatives were basically told that, while Bush seemed rather unconservative, they ought to take it on faith that he was manifestly superior to the alternative; and when Bush was assailed by the left, it was assumed as a matter of course that conservatives were somehow obligated to rally to his defense. I was a regular at RedState in those days, and I'm hardly in a mood to be informed that what happened then didn't happen.

As regards Chesterton and Belloc, well, people can say anything, can't they? The paper will never refuse the pen, nor the word processor the inputs of the keyboard. People can always be found who will call white, black, and sense, nonsense. But anyone who called Chesterton and Belloc socialists understood neither history, nor economics, nor much political philosophy; the claim would amount to the question-begging assertion that any system of thought opposed to the liberal consensus of modernity - liberalism defined, more or less, as Locke, the Whigs and Mill would define it, and as Voegelin and Strauss would acknowledge it - must be a socialist. Which is wackaloon stuff.

I rather like Viguerie, generally; but his remarks about socialism are daffy. If compassionate conservatism is socialism, then, really, by that standard, the entire Western world is essentially socialist in politics and economics, which evacuates the term of meaningful signifying force. France must be communist! It seems to me more nuanced, and more precise, to discuss relative degrees of state and private power within an increasingly integrated Western managerial capitalist system. Otherwise, the present fascinations for free trade, globalization, and neoliberal economic doctrine generally become inexplicable, inasmuch as socialists have no use for these things. The notion that socialism is on the march simultaneously with the expanding hegemony of neoliberalism is too strange to be believed. A big-government conservatism working hand in glove with certain corporate and financial interests, however, is something with which we have experience.

Finally, one can always stress one aspect of a composite, and this is what the conservative establishment has done. Their judgment that Huckabee represents compassionate conservatism is assuredly accurate, although their inclusion of rhetorical jabs at Wall Street in that judgment is a category error, and one illustrative of the cynicism and opportunism of the establishment: compassionate conservatism does not place one beyond the pale until one yokes to it a populist tendency.

Don't these things go differently at the level of a wide-open primary than when one candidate is already the heir apparent to the nomination? Doesn't it make sense that they should do so? I'm sure you're right about lots of people counseling conservatives to choke down Bush's big government proposals and not say too much about them. Nor do I agree with them. But surely that sort of pragmatic counsel makes even _less_ sense when we are talking about one come-from-behind candidate in a fairly large field in a primary election that is still in play than when it is applied to Bush in the position he occupied at those times. It hardly seems to me that anybody who gave that pragmatic counsel then is similarly obligated to tell conservatives to make no such critiques of Huckabee now. For one thing, it would be highly questionable to argue that Huckabee is our best chance to beat the Democrats! The counsel you are talking about was not a matter of saying that Bush's big-government conservatism was _okay_ but rather was down-n-dirty pragmatic political counsel. I hate stuff like that, but I can at least recognize a situation where it obviously does not apply.

Some of those counsels were pragmatic; others, particularly from the neoconservative end of the spectrum, were rather more laudatory, inasmuch as the neoconservatives were the originators of compassionate conservatism, which began its ideological life as National Greatness Conservatism. Frankly speaking, anyone falling into the latter camp, many of whom are now criticizing Huckabee, ought to exhibit a little compunction, a little shame.

As for the pragmatists, while a distinction can and should be drawn between their counsels and the ideological true believers, I now think them somewhat unprincipled, and not merely in the definitional sense, in which principles are opposed to pragmatism. Most of the compromises that Bush demanded of conservatives ought to have been repudiated forthrightly.

"Most of the compromises that Bush demanded of conservatives ought to have been repudiated forthrightly." I agree with you. So my counsel is that, at least in the primary, we reject them in Huckabee by not voting for him.

And I have always agreed with that much!

Even Adam Smith would be embarrassed by his modern day disciples silence in the face of such travesties as the sub-prime scandal. He would also be baffled at the selective outrage directed at Huckabee. All the GOP candidates with the exception of Ron Paul, are "big government guys". So why Huck? Maybe it's because he points out some unpleasant aspects about the sacrosanct Market.

Does anyone really think Goldberg and the NR crowd believe their foreign policy goals can be achieved without an over-sized, intrusive State? Please.

Once upon time, conservatives heeded words like these;

"War does not always surrender democratic nations to military rule but it invariably and immeasurably increases the powers of civil government, into whose hands it almost unavoidably concentrates the control over all men and all things. If it does not lead to tyranny by sudden violence, it leads men gently there by habituation.

All those who wish to destroy freedom within a democratic nation should realize that the most reliable and the most rapid means of achieving it is war. That is the first principle of knowledge." Alexis de Tocqueville

Yes, let's all together now--Sneeeer at cowboys.
I won't claim to be an expert either of Lasch's work or of Westerns, but the impression I always had was that the best Westerns made it clear that gunslinging cowboys had no place in civilization, which is why Tom Doniphon dies drunk and alone and Shane doesn't stay behind with the Starrets. Cowboy virtues are pagan virtues -- barbarian virtues -- and while they are sometimes needed to defend civilization from other barbarians, one cannot build a civilization on them, at least not one that will last or be worth living in. So, I don't think Lasch is necessarily sneering at cowboys so much as acknowledging that the simple reality the figure of the cowboy in American mythology is not an unambiguous one. That many conservatives treat it as if it were is evidence of how poor our political imagination is these days.

But in that case he is conflating cowboys and settlers, isn't he? If we're going to talk about Westerns, we should acknowledge the cowboy vs. settler/cowboy vs. farmer theme. If a cowboy got married, he was usually expected to settle down. This comes up rather comically in the musical Oklahoma, for example. Lasch, however, says "pioneers," which blatantly lumps the two together. A "pioneer" could as easily be Pa in Little House on the Prairie as the speaker in the song "Don't Fence Me In."

Yet at the same time, it's true that the pioneer husband and father _does_ embody a certain level of rugged independence as well as (thank goodness) a "willingness to resort to violence." Often in that sort of story the nearest town is just in the process of being built and isn't all that close, and the roughness of the pioneer life is a result of isolation, especially during the winter. The pioneer husband and father certainly isn't going to be asking anybody's permission to own a gun, he isn't going to sit around and call 9/11 when the Indians show up, and he'll shoot a wolf prowling around his livestock without compunction. It seems to me that Lasch is simply unable to appreciate the combination of rugged independence with love of family embodied in that ethos taken as a whole.

I suspect that Lasch could appreciate that much concerning the ethos of the frontiersman. What he did not appreciate was that so many of those men uprooted their nuclear families from their extended families and communities, setting out for parts unknown in the belief that, somewhere over the rainbow, the grass was always greener. (If I might mix metaphors.) This spirit of restlessness and mobility, which subordinates the claims of community and place to the aspiration towards a higher material standard of living, has become one of the more intractable obstacles, within the American character, to the formation of stable local communities - in the absence of which Leviathan waxes strong.

"to the aspiration towards a higher material standard of living..." That, I suspect, is a mistake re. the motives of a settler who uprooted his nuclear family from the extended family. Actually, the material standard of living was likely to be _much_ lower for the frontiersman and his family than it would have been if they'd stayed back East. And everyone knew it. "Back East" would be synonymous with gentility, better manners, better education for the children, nicer clothes, bigger towns, and relatively greater ease of living.

Most waves of Western settlement were driven by combinations of 'land-hunger', opportunism, fortune-seeking, and sheer desperation after such catastrophes as crop failures - as occurred in the famous Year Without a Summer - all of which is to state that some apparently had little choice but to implement Manifest Destiny personally, while others were the stereotypical 'men on the make', a familiar figure in American letters. In other words, the process was ambiguous; Lasch elected to emphasize the darker hues of that ambuguity, precisely because those darker hues had been more influential in shaping the American character as of the latter quarter of the Twentieth Century. What is the entire exurban phenomenon if not, in part, a reflection of this, complete with the three-hours-in-the-car-each-day commutes, for instance?

I happen to agree with what commentator Perseus said (he used to comment on Right Reason and came here to W4 once) when he said that the home in the suburbs is part of the American dream of every man having his own home and little plot of land. Positively Chestertonian, in fact. Whether Chesterton would have agreed or not is not necessarily decisive. He was always talking about everybody having his own home which could be his castle. But when people are willing to (gasp!) move out of the city so as to have that and a little bit o' land around it, too, everybody's scandalized. To my mind, the crunchies need to make up their minds as to whether they love or hate independence and privacy--as in, living in a house wiht a little space as opposed to an apartment in a crowded city. Sometimes they seem to like it and even to chide the existence of corporations for undermining such rugged independence. Other times they accept collectivist tendencies and values from the left--e.g., let's make people live in the city, regulate the heck out of business, and so forth.

Lasch's argument is pretty clear and straight-forward. The Cowboy is an arch-type seized upon by those seeking to glorify, or at least justify the almighty Autonomous-Self. "Rugged independence" in modern parlance means free from such oppressive impediments as familial obligations, community standards and solidarity with others.

Today's Cowboy builds a McMansion that towers over other homes and fences in his property to protect himself, not from wild animals or Indian raiding parties, but from his neighbors. He is not given to violence except as it frequently and amply appears on his plasma TV. The modern-day gunslinger may raze companies so as to "increase shareholder value", dispatch the jobs of those he passes by while riding his $50,000 metal steed to faraway lands, or sell "financial instruments" which will be personally enriching even after they default. The modern Cowboy does not have dirty, let alone bloody hands. Yet, in many ways he is still a killer as he cooperates in the destruction of many human goods.

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