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What Is American Conservatism?

The objective of any social critic - a category encompassing all those writing about the intellectual life of a nation - must be, ought to be, to do justice to the thought of his subjects, while simultaneously situating them in their intellectual environs; the critic must convey the unique contributions and tenor of his subjects' work, but must also locate them in broader conversations, controversies, and discourses. The critic should also mediate between worlds, which is to say that he should translate discourses, often highly specialized, into the language of the generalist, thereby diffusing knowledge. With that in mind, one of the finest works of the genre is assuredly George Scialabba's What Are Intellectuals Good For?. To be certain, Scialabba is a man of the left, and certain of his analyses and arguments might infuriate conservatives; but the portrayals are almost always deft, judicious, penetrating, and delivered in fine prose, and conservatives should be willing to grapple with the works of the left, because actually-existing American conservatism labours under its own tensions, which tensions are often best perceived by outsiders. To eschew the hard criticisms is to wallow in the darkness of the cave, mistaking the shadow-play of political conflict for the deeper truths of the age - or the movement.

The significance of conservatism Scialabba proposes to explore in an essay on W.F. Buckley, on the occasion of John Judis' biography, published in 2001. About the biography, I cannot offer comment, as I have not read it; I will thus confine myself to Scialabba, on Buckley and conservatism. Here is how the essay commences:



A specter is haunting conservatism, and always has. "All we can do," wrote Burke, "and that human wisdom can do, is to provide that change shall proceed by insensible degrees," In The Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk expounded Burke's deepest fear: "Men's appetites are voracious and sanguinary, Burke knew; they are restrained by this collective and immemorial wisdom we call prejudice, tradition, customary morality.... Whenever the crust of prejudice and prescription is perforated at any point, flames shoot up from beneath, and terrible danger impends that the crack may widen, even to the annihilation of civilization. If men are discharged of reverence for ancient usage, they will treat this world, almost certainly, as if it were their private property, to be consumed for their sensual gratification; and thus they will destroy in their lust for enjoyment the property of future generations, and indeed their very own."

In the generations after Burke's the "crust of prejudice" was shattered, a process described in The Communist Manifesto in language whose rhetorical power equals - and whose tropes strikingly parallel - Burke's own. That capitalism is subversive of "prejudice, tradition, customary morality" is something thoughtful conservatives have generally understood and honest conservatives generally admitted. William F. Buckley has done neither, a failure that is at the center of gravity of his career and an important part of John Judis's new biography.


It is perpetuation of privilege that Scialabba perceives at the core of actually-existing American conservatism. Let us, bearing in mind Scialabba's opening paragraphs, consider how Buckley received the philosophy of Oakeshott:



... Buckley praised Oakeshott's writings as "trenchant... exhilerating... sublime... the finest distillate I know of traditional conservatism" and endorsed his argument that "the discovery of the individual was the pre-eminent fact of modern European history" and "conservatism... is the politics of the individual."

It's remarkable that Buckley failed to notice the implications of Oakeshott's argument. According to Oakeshott, European individuality began to emerge in the fourteenth century "as a consequence of the collapse of a closely integrated manner of living." For the first time, "men examined themselves and were not dismayed by their own lack of perfection." Gradually but inexorably, "the old certainties of belief, of occupation, and of status were being dissolved." By the middle of the sixteenth century, "not all of the severity of the Calvinist regime in Geneva was sufficient to quell the impulse to think and behave as an independent individual. The disposition to regard a high degree of individuality in conduct and belief as the condition proper to mankind and as the main ingredient of human 'happiness' had established itself: a "moral revolution" that appears in retrospect as "the event of supreme and seminal importance in modern European history."

Buckley's fervent and wholly orthodox Catholicism is his deepest commitment, his essential identity, as he has often made clear. Did he really not understand that Oakeshott is describing the decline of religious orthodoxy as a precondition for the emergence of individuality? In its terms and stages, Oakeshott's account virtually is the classical liberal account of modernity: emancipation from communal faith and customary morality, defiance of temporal and spiritual authority, the desacralization or "disenchantment" of the world. What could Buckley have supposed was meant by "the old certainties of belief" that were being "dissolved", or by Oakeshott's reference to the new individualism's "conflict with [sixteenth century] moral sentiment, still fixed in its loyalty to the morality of communal ties?


I dilate thus not because I am contrary, or perverse; nor do I drag these matters before the reader because they are currently being hashed over, as by Sam Tanenhaus, but because they have been with conservatism from its beginnings, its genesis from a welter of different narratives, traditions, and discourses. The Southern conservatives of I'll Take My Stand may have been hostile towards the New Deal state and its works and pomps, but they are unsparing in their condemnation of capitalism, and its regimentation, economism, and destruction of communal life. Eric Voegelin maintained a critical distance from political conservatism in America, not merely because we wished to retain the detachment of the political scientist, but because he saw that conservatism as merely the old liberalism, now in rebellion against new, more radical revolutionary deformations of order; his classically-based view of politics as rooted in the order of being, and his critique of Locke's theoretical account of capitalist accumulation as a release of immoderate passions, leave no doubt that Voegelin could not affirm capitalist modernity as the true order of being. The Voegelinian credo, "Don't immanentize the eschaton!" applies as much to the ideologues of capitalism as it does to the Marxism of the mid-century left. James Burnham, in The Managerial Revolution, explored the immanent development of capitalist forms of organization which at once subverted earlier notions of proprietorship, and produced a symbiosis between capitalist organizations and their superficially apparent opposites. Decentralists of the right, even today, wonder about the possibility for humane and civilized lives under the dominion of globalized capital. But it is perhaps best to advert to Whittaker Chambers, who saw most deeply the spiritual crisis of the age, how it issued in the revolutionary movement of communism, of which he had been a part, and how capitalism was no conservative counterforce:


As I have said ad nauseum, I hold capitalism to be profoundly anticonservative. I have met capitalists who thought otherwise; would, in fact, be outraged by such a statement. I have concluded that they knew their craft extremely well, but not its implications; and that what they supposed to be a Conservative Position was chiefly a rationalization rooted in worry. The result is the oddest contradiction in terms. But, then, the world is full of august contradictions.

In exploring these questions, it is just to make inquiries as to what, precisely, conservatives propose to conserve. The reflective conservative will respond, or at least should, I would hope, that conservatives propose to conserve multifarious goods, not all of which can be conserved simultaneously; that conservatism is a multi-splendored thing, sometimes multi-squalored; that conservatism, perhaps, just is this continuing conversation over the meaning of civilization. Such answers probably wouldn't satisfy Scialabba. After quoting Buckley's encomium, in Up from Liberalism, to economic freedom as the highest and most precious temporal freedom, and reproaching Buckley with the hardships imposed by industrial capitalism, which were only mitigated by the social welfare legislation most conservatives profess to despise; and after quoting Buckley's 1970 denial, from the famous Playboy interview, that the United States had ever dominated or imperialized foreign nations, to which he counterposes a list of nations subjected to American-backed or organized coups and juntas, Scialabba proposes his own answer - which I have already hinted at: '"If one disbelieves their answer - "traditional morality and individual freedoms" - the most plausible remaining answer is "privilege."' It would be easy to denounce this, toss aside Scialabba's book - or never buy it to begin with - and mutter about the incorrigibility of the left, its obduracy in error, and many other such things, some of them perhaps profane. Surely, at the least, one might qualify this judgment, allowing that this has been the unintended consequence of both intramural conservative politicking, the balance of conservative powers, and the operations of conservatism in the political arena. How can a movement so divided, so fissiparous, be said to have a common purpose, let alone this one? But Scialabba is not so ungenerous after all: "And although that is a less restrictive, and even a less discreditable, purpose than it may sound, it is unworthy of the decent, intelligent man with whom we spend time in Patron Saint of the Conservatives" (Emphasis mine.) Or, as we might elaborate, there are qualitative differences between forms or modes of privilege.

Not on Scialabba's account, then, but because it is privilege he identifies as the core of actually-existing conservatism, should we take up these questions. The subject of privilege bears a resemblance to a perennial conservative concern, for hierarchy and excellence, without which civilization perishes; but it is too much to identify it as the object of conservatism, not least as the specific form of privilege Scialabba condemns, and not out of the welter of divergent conservatisms. A clue as to where he goes astray may be found towards the conclusion of the essay, where he ties together the threads, working towards that quasi-indictment; we have already referenced the passage. In responding to Buckley's declaration, in the Playboy interview, that he couldn't think of any country the US had dominated, Scialabba writes:


By 1970, the United States bore substantial responsibility for large-scale massacres in Indonesia, Guatemala, and El Salvador; for intense repression, often accompanied by torture, in Iran, Paraguay, Nicaragua, and Brazil; and for horrifying poverty in Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and the Philippines. Buckley's apparent assumption is that preventing a government not hospitable to American economic penetration (the operative definition of Third World "communism") justifies any quantity of suffering inflicted on a country's population. (1)

Scialabba has made his judgment as to what lay behind these foreign policy misadventures, even crimes. It would be nearer the truth to state that American foreign policy is complicated in its motivations, blind to complexity abroad, and thus tragic; in other words, Scialabba is not really entitled to categorical reductionisms of this sort, especially when he has stumbled over one complicating factor, namely, communism.

I don't want to belabour this point, so suffice it to state that anticommunism was perhaps the single unifying force on the American right during the period in question, as well as the principal - though not sole - rubric for American foreign policy generally. All manner of ideas, causes, and ambitions, both on the right more narrowly, and throughout the nation more broadly, were yoked to, associated with, fitted around anticommunism; this process, as one would expect, was accompanied by varying admixtures of sincerity and opportunism. If, however, anticommunism was the pre-eminent right-wing cause of the epoch - which it was - might it not be that that cause coloured judgments of foreign policy on the right; that the self-understanding of conservatives with regard to particular interventions was not of protecting economic interests, but of standing as a bulwark against communism? - whatever the actual complexities of the policies in operation? This is perhaps the least we could say. Even were we to adopt the harshest posture of condemnation, along with Scialabba, does not the factor of communism place the policy of this era in a better light than that in which the democratization fetish of recent decades basks? I should think so. The opposition to communism was sincere, and warranted, even if it was not the only thing present in the minds of its architects.

Nevertheless, that complexity remains; the letters of history are false, lest they be written in blood. It does us nothing good to portray the era in too stark a manichean fashion; even just causes contain discrete injustices. Let's look at one instance of such complexity: Guatemala, 1954:


In 1954, Arévalo's freely elected Guatemalan successor, Jacobo Arbenz, was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état. He considered himself a socialist. After his land reform, the CIA intervened because it feared that a socialist government would become a Soviet beachhead in the Western Hemisphere.[14] Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas was installed as president in 1954 and ruled until he was assassinated by a member of his personal guard in 1957. Substantial evidence points to the role of the American United Fruit Company as instrumental in this coup, as the land reforms of Jacobo Arbenz were threatening the company's interests in Guatemala and it had several direct ties to the White House and the CIA. (2)

Manifestly, the struggle against global communism was the context for this American intervention; moreover, it is impossible to gainsay the presence of economic considerations, given the connection of the intervention to land reform in Guatemala - it would torture credulity and logic to imagine that American policymakers were concerned about the implications of the reforms, but not the reforms themselves. It is also worth observing that the intervention was pre-emptive.

That prompts the further questions: was the policy communist?; and was Arbenz a communist?

Let's address the latter question first. A perusal of the Wikipedia entry for Arbenz discloses a wealth of unflattering details, even incriminating ones, such as his penchant for Marxist literature, the presence of communists in his political circles, sojourns in Moscow and Castroite Cuba, and so forth. Surely suggestive, at least, in the case of those details knowable prior to the coup, and confirmatory, in the case of those revealed subsequently. However, they do not seem quite dispositive. We must address the former question, concerning the reform itself:


Árbenz continued Arévalo's reform agenda and, in June 1952, his government enacted an agrarian reform program. The agrarian reform law (decree 900) gave the government power to expropriate only uncultivated portions of large plantations. Estates of up to 670 acres (2.7 km2) were exempted if at least two thirds of the land was cultivated; also exempt were lands that had a slope of more than 30 degrees (a significant exemption in mountainous Guatemala). The land was then allocated to individual families. Owners of expropriated land were compensated according to the worth of the land claimed in May 1952 tax assessments. Land was paid for in twenty-five year bonds with a 3 percent interest rate.[23] Arbenz himself, a landowner through his wife, gave up 1,700 acres (7 km2) of his own land in the land reform program.[24]

The policy itself, frankly speaking, was not communist unless one's operative definition of communism was "anything disruptive of existing economic arrangements, even at the margins". The law exempted many properties, even those with large uncultivated portions, portions supporting no-one, and generating no economic value; it compensated, at assessed values, owners for lands subject to the reform; Arbenz himself relinquished property; and the object of the policy was not to expropriate and dispossess, as if to destroy property, but to distribute unused land to landless, miserable peasants bereft of the ability to provision themselves adequately. Functionally, it was a sort of eminent domain claim, the public purpose being the redress of a structural defect in the political economy of Guatemala. Of course there were other motivations, among them the construction of a durable political coalition. But was it obviously and incontrovertibly communist, and threatening as such? Not really. Not at all, actually. Were there reasons to suspect, or fear, that it might, at some time in the future, become threatening? Certainly. (3) That is the nature of case, as it is of all politico-economic reforms, whether they have left-wing or right-wing valences; such programmes of reform can always spin out of control, generating unintended or undesirable consequences. Was it a legitimate concern of the US government in 1954? In the context of the Soviet threat, as it was then understood, yes; to what degree it was a legitimate concern is another matter altogether: an agrarian land-reform undertaken by a socialist is a pretty thin basis for the subversion of a foreign government, and is certainly not the 'imminent peril' of the just war schema.

If the land-reform, considered in itself, was not communist, what else might be said of it? Conservatives tend towards Richard Weaver's metaphysical view of property, of property as the last metaphysical right, a sanctuary from "the Omnipotent State" and "relativists from the social sciences who wish to bring everyone under secular group control" - this, without quite being conscious of the tendency. There are solid reasons, however, for thinking Weaver's construction somewhat overstated; it captures a sense of the "thisness" of property, of the impress of the personality into a man's works; but it is also, in its reaction against the collectivist threats of the time, negative, as if to say that property is the sphere of the not-State, a domain where the State cannot tread. Weaver's formulation is intimately related to the political temper of the times, informed by the consciousness of the Soviet threat abroad, and creeping managerialism at home. Slight exaggerations are understandable in such circumstances. But the bulwark view of property, as a negative or limiting concept, is easily taken to imply something untrue, namely, that property is at once a pre-social thing, anterior to law and custom, and a plenary power for its possessor. The two notions imply one another; if property is pre-social, pre-political, then it exists outside the only spheres which might regulate its usage, thus becoming a plenary power; if it is such a power, then the social world is something posited against it, as a threat to it. In point of fact, however, property exists in a nexus of social and political relations; it always has, always does, and always will. Such relations constitute the form of property for any given society, which forms obviously vary widely; those relations are at once constituted and defended by law, and it is absurd to suppose that law defends its inability to be law with respect to property, or anything else.

Robert Preston, in an essay entitled, The Relation of Intellect and Will in the Thought of Richard Weaver, included in the new volume, Dilemmas of American Conservatism (4), contrasts Weaver's doctrine with the natural law view of Walter Lippmann:


Lippmann approaches the issue of private property from a natural law perspective. He tries to show that the natural law is the best theoretical foundation for a system of private property. First of all, private property is not a natural right: it is a legal right granted by the state to achieve the ends of society. All property belongs to humankind, not to any individual. Lippmann writes: "Because the legal owner enjoys the use of a limited necessity belonging to all men he cannot be the sovereign lord of his possessions. He is not entitled to exercise his absolute and therefore arbitrary will. He owes duties that correspond with his rights. His ownership is a grant by the laws to achieve not his private purposes but the common social purpose."

This formulation, as well, has its infelicities. We might better state that the earth and its fullness are given to mankind for the provisioning of their needs and the flourishing of their faculties; that is, for the attainment of the goods proper to man. Before property is an individual right, it is a common good, one not necessarily held collectively, but existing for the benefit of the whole; any historically contingent system of property relations mediates this common good and is conditioned by it, such that property is not an absolute, but exists relative to the good. Property exists for man's flourishing, and not man for property's sovereign claims; it is the servant of man, and not his master. Still less is arbitrary will, working through property, to be the master of other men. This is scarcely to state that the claims of property are weak, by the nature of the case; while those claims cannot be unconditioned, they are nonetheless indispensible, for while the forms of property vary, any such form mediates good to those who live under it, and is the precondition of human flourishing. Thus, while the specific form of property in any society is a matter of prudential judgment, of adequating a system of property to the cultural norms of a people, and securing human goods (partially by ensuring broad participation in the forms of property) as a people understand them, it is a fearful thing to modify these forms, for these very reasons. An unwise or imprudent alteration can unravel at least part of a whole scheme of goods, threatening evils greater than those the alteration was intended to rectify - even when those anterior evils were evil indeed.

So, what does this mean for the Guatemalan land-reform of the early 1950s? Nothing more, and nothing less, than that it, like any such reform, might or might not have been justifiable and prudent. It cannot be categorically forbidden, because genuine human goods can be obscured or destroyed by inequitable social systems; neither can it become an unquestioned imperative, even where genuine evils obtain, owing to the complexity of circumstances, and tenuousness of so much that is good in civilized order. We glimpse here, not the terrible simplification of communism, but the fearful burden of statesmanship, and the inescapable necessity of judgment.

Where, then, does this leave us? How will we answer the questions thus brought forward, not least the one at the head of this exploration? First, we must conclude that Scialabba's judgment on conservatism is too severe; he endeavoured to get at the essence of the thing by examining Buckley, but omitted the factor of anticommunism, which was a more vital and creditable thing than mere defense of privilege. Second, anticommunism was not untainted by error, even injustice in its policies; it sometimes conflated reformism with revolution, truckled with repulsive juntas, and mingled with dishonourable motives. It was a just cause, but a human one; its proponents made their mistakes, and perhaps were bound to make them, being human.

Finally - conservatism, of the actually-existing American variety. Human errors are not unmediated issues from the nature of the species, but products of a wealth of contingencies, which make possible the errors of any epoch. Here, we must observe a sequence of beginnings. Conservatism, prior to the national traumas of the Great Depression, and the momentous years of the New Deal, when the power of business was supplanted, to some degree, by the power of the political, was - excerpting repulsive apologies for Social Darwinism and plutocrats, such as those of William Sumner - an elite, literary phenomenon, primarily articulated in opposition to the emerging mass culture. Strands of conservatism also deplored the centralizing tendencies of industrialism, and argued for the preservation of agrarian, human-scale societies. The New Deal, however, catalyzed a political revolution of sorts, and not just in Washington, but among rightists, who feared that transition from "the business of America being business" to the centrality of the political, and who likened that transition to unpleasant and sanguinary ideologies. That catalyst was insufficient, though, to establish a movement, at least not a movement capable of attaining and holding power, employing it to reshape the politico-economic order. And it is with this that, following the Second World War, and the emergence of the Soviet threat, we pick up the story of modern conservatism, to which Buckley was so integral. That conservatism fused the traditionalist strand hostile to mass culture, the strand skeptical of, or hostile towards the post-New Deal order, and anticommunism; operationally, the unifying passion was anticommunism, but much of the funding came from the second faction. This very fusion - fusionism? - led to an ideologization of conservatism, and a reshaping of the American ideology; the long, twilight struggle against communism saw conservatism slowly slouching into ideological modes of thought and definition, and witnessed the American order itself assuming some of the vices, of reductionism, dogmatism, and regimentation, of the Soviet system. Capitalism became an ideology, and more absurdly, an ideology supposed to be conservative, whereas capitalism is merely a different form, a more bearable form - of the Revolution. And then, communism imploded, from its own internal contradictions, its inherent impossibility, external pressures, and, I should say, because of the sanctity and courage of a Polish Pope; and with this implosion, the unifying passion of conservatism vanished. Conservatives, more so now than at any time in the past, cannot define what it is that they propose to conserve; what, that is to say, makes them conservative. As of this writing, what defines them is the fact of opposition.

What is American conservatism? Conservatives are still wrangling over that very question, engaging their political adversaries without a clear answer, and coasting on the legacy of their past, ever drifting.


Comments (108)

Endnotes, intended to follow the original piece:

(1)I'm not going to entertain any of the hackneyed debates about American foreign policy, and the atrocities committed by regimes America supported; whatever one might say about American responsibility in those cases, the crimes were real. I will not waste time with people saying "Nuh-uh!" about these things.

(2)Similarly with regard to American economic interests in Latin America. We're not going down the rabbit hole of, "did, or did not, United Fruit have a hand in the coup?" Don't try.

(3)Don't waste time arguing that any economic reform deviating from existing property-relations is communism, or that a policy becomes communist because its author may have been one, because these things are not true.

(4)Y'all should buy this book.

"It is perpetuation of privilege that Scialabba perceives at the core of actually-existing American conservatism."

Bingo, and this interesting post puts a face on it.

http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2010/09/in-which-mr-deling-responds-to-someone-who-might-be-professor-todd-henderson.html#comments

Two (minor) objections..

1: Regarding Weaver's treatment of property and the objection that property is not pre-social: aren't you failing to distinguish between, the metaphysical ideal of property (about which Weaver was talking), and the practical implementation of that ideal in meatspace (which, in that chapter, he was criticizing)? Would not the former be the bar against which law, customs, and social arrangements may be judged? Weaver sure thought so.

2: How do you propose to conserve anything in a non-ideological fashion? I'm pretty sure I remember GKC pointing out that total skepticism cuts its own throat; does his objection not apply here?

This is from one of the linked posts,

"What we need is to bethink ourselves soberly of truth, freedom, justice, human dignity, and respect of human life and the ultimate values."

This is what is at the core of the American progressive tradition and New Deal/ Fair Deal/ Great Society and Western Social Democracy in general.

http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2010/09/kevin-orourke-lessons-from-the-great-depression.html

One could substitute "Communist" for "Muslim" in the previous few posts and we would have standard conservative boiler plate from the 1950s and 60s. The right cannot exist without an enemy.

Unger, conservatism is only an tendency. it is where one starts if one is prudent.

Interesting and informative essay, Maximos. I think we have to keep in mind that a thing called "conservatism" does not really exist as a political program. It is Liberalism that has the political program. Politically, conservatism can never be more than an amalgamation of loyalties to those things which Liberalism would destroy, marginalize, or render impotent. We have seen how anticommunism was not, in the end, conservatism at all - but simply an alliance of parties and interests and loyalties, albeit very necessary.

I am a conservative only insofar as Liberalism threatens those things I am obliged to defend. I would prefer not to think of myself as a conservative, but as a Catholic, a husband and father, a member of an extended family, a neighbor, a northern Californian, an American, an inheritor of western civilization. There are some things inherent in my loyalties that overlap with the aims of Liberalism, but this is merely coincidental. It might be that certain aspects of Liberalism are incorporated into my loyalties, but it is still the loyalties themselves which are primary, not their "liberal" content. My loyalties are not equal but are arranged hierarchically; therefore, it might be consistent with higher loyalties to allow Liberalism some power over lesser loyalties.

The point is, conservatism is not a systematic, self-containing ideology with all the answers. That's Liberalism. Conservatism always points to something outside of itself. Policies are not right because they are conservative, or wrong because they are not conservative. They are right or wrong in relation to pre-existing loyalties.

Having said all of that, there exists a loose coalition of loyalties against the designs of modern Liberalism, and that coalition might as well be called "conservatism", for lack of anything more helpful or descriptive. At this early stage, so soon after the collapse of anticommunism, the coalition is in its infancy and is lacking in both clarity and organization. In fact it may not even recognize itself as a coalition. But conservatism, by its nature, always lags behind the threat.

As for identifying conservatism with the "perpetuation of privilege", that's a rather loaded Marxian reduction of the phenomenon. It might explain the motives and actions of some conservatives (and liberals too), but it doesn't explain conservatism.

...this interesting post puts a face on it.

Mr. Henderson should take to heart the counsel given members of the lower orders these days: cease living beyond your means.

Two (minor) objections..

If the 'metaphysical ideal of property' is perhaps exaggerated, perhaps it cannot serve as that regulative principle. Even Weaver associated that idea with the menace of totalitarian communism; but now that that menace is dead and buried, perhaps the idea, no longer simply an expedient, a temporary and hyperbolic defense of what communism denied, will be unbalanced.

I distinguish between ideology and a hierarchical ranking of goods, prudentially preserved. Ideology falsifies the ranking of the goods, and overstates, or understates, the value of those goods; it is thus a form of nihilism.

Politically, conservatism can never be more than an amalgamation of loyalties to those things which Liberalism would destroy, marginalize, or render impotent.

Politically, yes; but as an intellectual tendency, it must have a hierarchy of recognized goods, something to guide political action, and prevent it from descending into crude interest-politicking, manichean cultural warfare against The Other, or cynical machine-politics. A hierarchy of goods, overlapping, sometimes in tension, would enable conservatives to determine when, and when not to compromise; it is disturbing to witness how conservatives elevate everything to the same plane of political importance. Not all loyalties have the same significance.

At this early stage, so soon after the collapse of anticommunism, the coalition is in its infancy and is lacking in both clarity and organization.

I'm not certain that the thing is still in its infancy. It often seems to me that the thing is entering upon its senescence, owing to the odd combination of drift and ideology.

A hierarchy of goods, overlapping, sometimes in tension, would enable conservatives to determine when, and when not to compromise; it is disturbing to witness how conservatives elevate everything to the same plane of political importance. Not all loyalties have the same significance.

Agreed. And that's why one of those goods - the primary and essential good of western conservatism - must be the Faith, which arranges the hierarchy.

Good post, Maximos. The only thing missing is a link to John Zmirak's "America the Abstraction," which is in my view the single best essay written in the first decade of the 21st century:

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:bng5j32cb2YJ:www.amconmag.com/01_13_03/cover7.html+zmirak+america+the+abstraction&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

Also, I associate myself with Mr. Culbreath's wise comment.

I appreciate this comment of Jeff C's

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2010/09/what_is_american_conservatism_1.html#comment-152783

I've never been deeply into defining the term "conservatism," because I usually find that it has a pretty well-understood meaning in common parlance, especially if one talks about "social conservatism" and "fiscal conservatism."

Before I call someone a conservative, what I look for is a really strong commitment to what I would consider to be the right side on some important issues on at least one of those sides, with special privilege being given in my lexicon to the social issues. If someone is really what would commonly be called a "fiscal conservative" but not a social conservative, I would usually call him a libertarian instead of a conservative.

If someone is a social conservative but not a fiscal one, I would probably call him a conservative with such-and-such sympathies (e.g., distributist sympathies) or might simply always use the phrase "social conservative." Among politicians, I have found that it's unusual (if not unknown) these days to find a politician who is really _staunch_ on either side of this set of designations while being definitely liberal on the other side. We are often confronted with the hypothetical question of voting for a candidate who is socially conservative but fiscally liberal, or vice versa, but it rarely comes up in practice. I suppose Huckabee might be an example of a social conservative/fiscal liberal, though I have independent objections to Huckabee. That set-up--fiscally liberal but socially conservative--is more common among non-politicians, though.

Fiscal conservatives who are social liberals are also very rare among politicians. When one is told to come and see one, I usually find that it's a hoax, that the person is deeply committed to government spending but merely (maybe) marginally less so than some others in the vicinity. :-) True libertarians are rare among everyone, politicians and ordinary folk alike.

One place I would not use the word "conservative" would be for an anti-capitalist/distributist on economic issues who was not an enthusiastic fighter on the social issues. That is to say, it would seem pointless to me to use the fiscal position which is generally and in common parlance designated as anti-conservative (however that terminology first got started) as a _sufficient_ condition for calling someone "conservative" without other good reasons on the social side.

Lydia, I generally share your method of applying the label "conservative", but would only add that one can be on the wrong side of certain social issues and still be a conservative. Robert Nisbet, acclaimed author of "Conservatism" and "The Quest for Community", was in the first book highly contemptuous of the pro-life cause and doubtful of its conservative qualifications. Conservatives of an authoritarian bent (I include myself loosely in their number) sometimes have an exaggerated fear of popular "movements" of any kind, especially if they upset the existing order. For Nisbet and his stripe, authority and property are the anchors of any social order and serve as near-inviolable principles. Causes which have the effect of eroding these are anathema.

Well, I dunno. Perhaps you'll say my categories are too narrow, but I would have a lot of trouble applying the label "conservative" to someone _contemptuous_ of the pro-life cause. And from what you say (I'm unfamiliar with Nisbet) it doesn't sound like he's libertarian at all, either, since you refer to him as being of an authoritarian bent.

I suppose it sounds to me like Nisbet is very much the sort of person I was ruling out in my final paragraph. What exactly is his claim to the label? That he's of authoritarian bent? So anyone authoritarian gets called "conservative"?

Maybe he likes monarchy. :-) That's not a sufficient condition in my view for using the term, _especially_ in an American context. The term has become associated with core issues in America, and I think that's a good thing, not a bad thing. If you introduced me to an Old Tory Englishman who wanted a restoration of the Stuart monarchy but also favored, say, legal abortion, homosexual "marriage" (if it were okay with the Stuart monarch!), and a highly controlled economy, I just would never call him a conservative.

And it's pretty interesting that anyone should think of the pro-life movement as "upsetting the existing order" in some invidious sense. Since when is the culture of death an "existing order" we should be out to preserve? Gee, it's so ancient and venerable: 1973, yet.

Grrr. I suppose that kind of person really raises my hackles.

Generally I tend to use the term "conservative" for someone with whom I could imagine being a co-belligerent. I can't imagine being a co-belligerent with a conservative contemptuous of the pro-life cause.

Yes, a google search shows me a bit of what you meant, Jeff. I find the following charming sentence from _Conservatism_ by Nisbet:

"From the traditional conservative's perspective it is fatuous to use the family--as the evangelical crusaders regularly do--as the justification for their tireless crusades to ban abortion categorically." (p. 112)

We wouldn't want to use the _family_ to justify a ban on parents commissioning doctors to tear the limbs off of their infants now, would we? How fatuous. How untraditional.

A book search on the term "evangelical" shows the contempt with which he uses that term, as well.

Grrrrrr. Grrrrrr. Grrrrrr.

If that's what the Weaver/Nisbet/Kirk/Kendall, etc., etc., etc. "traditional" conservatism stands for, I stand against it. To the bitter end. You can write me down a member of Jerry Falwell's brand of "evangelical" conservatism before I'll have anything to do with a "traditionalism" that has that attitude as part of it.

But this is actually helpful to me historically. My picture of a certain wing of American conservatism is filling out, now.

If that's what the Weaver/Nisbet/Kirk/Kendall, etc., etc., etc. "traditional" conservatism stands for, I stand against it.

Kirk would include Nisbet in his constellation of conservatives; he would also include you. In my opinion, Nisbet is more right than wrong on the basics of a conservative political philosophy, but in the end he shows us what conservatism looks like when religion becomes an empty shell, a civic observance with no purpose higher than that of upholding the temporal order. Any religion will do for this scheme; the present ills of Great Britain and the Church of England are its logical outcome. You are right, of course, in your vigorous opposition to it.

Obviously, what this tells us is that conservatism alone isn't enough. The Kirkian wing bristles at the idea of reducing conservatism to a comprehensive worldview with a list of approved policy positions in imitation of Liberalism. What is all-important is the conservative's primary loyalty. If his primary loyalty is "order", then you end up with one set of positions; if his primary loyalty is business/economic prosperity, you end up with another; if it's the Bible, yet another; and if his primary loyalty is the Catholic Faith, still another. But whatever the conservative's primary loyalty happens to be, one thing it isn't is "conservatism".

Bravo Lydia! Robert Nisbet was a baby-killing rat, and I'm glad someone's willing to criticize him.

I don't even give him credit for being an authoritarian. It is simply not true that one can be an authoritarian while rejecting the sovereignty of God and the natural law. It misunderstand's the idea of authority, which to true conservatives is the way God's sovereignty is socially embodied; we obey magistrates and fathers as a way of obeying God. It misunderstands the idea of social order, which to true conservatives is a spiritual order, a structure of symbol, duty, and meaning, and not a mere mechanical balance of forces. It certainly misunderstands the family--a nexus of love, dependency, and self-donation--to imagine feticide to be among its prerogatives. A true authoritarian believes that authority serves the good of its subjects; he would never imagine that rulers (including mothers) have a "right" to murder their subjects with impunity.

I'm more inclined to be forgiving of uneducated conservatives who say liberal things, the sort of people toward whom Maximos directs his scorn. After all, liberalism is the only language they know, so they're forced to try to fit their moral intuitions into liberal, individualist categories. Buckley, being an under-educated ignoramus, probably fell into this trap. I can't get angry with people for being stupid. As for Nisbet, on the other hand, what's his excuse?

If that's what the Weaver/Nisbet/Kirk/Kendall, etc., etc., etc. "traditional" conservatism stands for, I stand against it.

What Jeff said. Beyond that, and simply as a gut-level reaction, I don't really understand this impulse. Wouldn't it make more sense to affirm what is sound in Nisbet's conservatism and to correct its defects in one's own mind and usage, than to align oneself with anti-intellectual codswallop like that belched by Falwell?

It misunderstand's the idea of authority, which to true conservatives is the way God's sovereignty is socially embodied; we obey magistrates and fathers as a way of obeying God. It misunderstands the idea of social order, which to true conservatives is a spiritual order, a structure of symbol, duty, and meaning, and not a mere mechanical balance of forces.

Nisbet saw himself as working within the sociological tradition - the title of one of his books, and so it is possible to perceive a bit of positivism entering his own thought.

Well, Maximos, I'm sufficiently ignorant about Nisbet that I don't have a whole lot more to say about affirming what is sound in his conservatism, but I'll say this much: It's one thing for a person to be somewhat confused about one issue, such as say abortion, in a way that appears to be correctable. If somebody simply doubts that the unborn child is a person during the first six weeks after conception (e.g.) and is interested in discussing this but does _not_ despise conservatives, maybe he can be brought round. But it goes a good deal farther that Nisbet apparently heartily (really heartily) despises the entire evangelical Religious Right! I mean, that's a very bad start and goes a lot farther towards calling his conservative credentials (insofar as "conservative" means something _good_) into question with me even than his being say "not quite perfectly sound" on the abortion issue. The latter could come in a variety of flavors, but the flavor it appears to come in in Nisbet is really unpromising, from what I've seen just from looking briefly at his book on Google books and from what Jeff has said in characterizing him.

than to align oneself with anti-intellectual codswallop like that belched by Falwell?

So when Falwell stood up for the unborn, for the family, and for marriage as the union of one man and one woman, was that codswallop too? I mean, was he stupid or something to say these things?

Wouldn't it make more sense to affirm what is sound in Nisbet's conservatism and to correct its defects in one's own mind and usage, than to align oneself with anti-intellectual codswallop like that belched by Falwell?

I'd rather turn the argument right around. Falwell & co. were right about abortion, the entire homosexual agenda (about which they were prescient, by the way), and the urgent need to rouse American evangelical Christians from the pietistic, Jesus-people-serving slumber of the 1970's. They defeated the Equal Rights Amendment and hence set the liberal agenda on a number of fronts back by some time--perhaps two decades or so. And Phyllis Shlafly is no dumb bunny or anti-intellectual.

Why not affirm the truths they fought for, applaud their fighting spirit, and add an intellectual edge to the conservative side of the battle by arguing for the truth on those same issues intelligently and articulately, as so many conservatives have done since then (Fr. Neuhaus comes to mind, for example, and you can hardly call him anti-intellectual)?

It seems to me that the danger of the alternative attitude is that we'll become, not to put too fine a point on it, a bunch of snobbish intellectual snarkers who won't fight the agenda of the left because we're too busy running down the "stupid fools" we would otherwise have to fight with shoulder to shoulder.

I'm more interested in fighting, in a very dark time, for truth and what is right than looking down on non- or even anti-intellectuals.

Wouldn't it make more sense to affirm what is sound in Nisbet's conservatism and to correct its defects in one's own mind and usage ...
Why not affirm the truths they fought for, applaud their fighting spirit, and add an intellectual edge to the conservative side of the battle by arguing for the truth on those same issues intelligently and articulately, as so many conservatives have done since then ...

Both sound good to me.

Maximos, a very worthwhile article, thank you for your exposition. Extremely balance presentation.

While I more or less agree with Jeff C's additional comments, I would not put it quite so.

Jeff: conservatism is not a systematic, self-containing ideology with all the answers. That's Liberalism. Conservatism always points to something outside of itself.

Seems to me that conservatism becomes an ism, something distinct from "conserve X", precisely because it DOES have something more too say than simply X is highly important and must be conserved. If that were the case, it would be X-ism, not conservatism. Seems to me that conservatism draws its very name from saying, positively, that in the face of competing goods, the good that is in the current state of affairs, that holds with existing law, existing custom, existing stable point of view, a competing good has the higher bar, the competing possible state of affairs must bear the burden of proof that not only is it the greater good itself, but the change to a new state of affairs will be less damaging than retaining the status quo, and that such a burden is not trivial due to the innate force for good that custom harbors. THAT's the root concept whence conservatism as such originates.

Maximos responds to Jeff with A hierarchy of goods, overlapping, sometimes in tension, would enable conservatives to determine when, and when not to compromise; it is disturbing to witness how conservatives elevate everything to the same plane of political importance.

To which I agree, and merely point out that conservatism as a recognized formation of thought became big under the influence of ideologies that attempted to undo the status quo both on private property and on a set of closely linked social standards for morality, normalcy, and good behavior. So in practice we have what is in effect economic conservatism and social conservatism. While there are good philosophical reasons for these two to be strongly bonded, in accidental historical terms their actual linking is totally ad-hoc: men generally are not rigorous philosophers when they form their political leanings. Therefore, the two factions of conservatism can never agree on which group constitutes the essential core of conservatism. They simply haven't agreed on the hierarchy of goods.

My own view is that the root social principle of subsidiarity undergirds both realms of the hierarchies proposed by the two factions. But this principle, taken with the other social principle of solidarity, does not admit of treating private property as a fundamental pre-social good of persons. Nor does it permit as normal a state-led distribution of all goods, as if the state owned each and every good before some man did. Capitalism run amok conflicts with both principles, but a more-or-less free market as such does not, which is different from communism.

Seems to me that conservatism draws its very name from saying, positively, that in the face of competing goods, the good that is in the current state of affairs, that holds with existing law, existing custom, existing stable point of view, a competing good has the higher bar, the competing possible state of affairs must bear the burden of proof that not only is it the greater good itself, but the change to a new state of affairs will be less damaging than retaining the status quo, and that such a burden is not trivial due to the innate force for good that custom harbors. THAT's the root concept whence conservatism as such originates.

I take your point, Tony. Thanks for making it. As a Catholic I tend to minimize this angle for two reasons: first, the sensible conservative disposition you describe is already supplied by the Faith to a degree that is largely sufficient; second, if we define conservatism as something authoritative in itself we run into problems.

A morally obligatory, defend-the-status-quo conservatism isn't going to be of much help when the status quo itself undermines all that is worth preserving; nor will it help you get off the train before the train goes off the rails.

So when Falwell stood up for the unborn, for the family, and for marriage as the union of one man and one woman, was that codswallop too?

Anti-intellectual refers to the manner or mode of his presentation, not to the underlying substance per se. In a society such as ours, fideistic declarations of moral doctrines are utterly unpersuasive, and command the adherence of those, and those only, who already accept those doctrines. In other words, "the Bible says so" is inadequate as argument, rhetoric, and discourse, especially on the matter of abortion, to say nothing of other social conservative causes.

If I have a scathing opinion of evangelical fundamentalism, is because I came out of that milieu, in which faith too often did not seek understanding, but sought to suppress questions (even the questions of the committed), maintain conformity, and conceal information and evidence. The type of self-policing undertaken by many in such communities was reminiscent of the witch-hunts that have marred conservatism (at least those that have occurred since the excommunication of the Randroids and Birchers), and often had a totalitarian flavour: dissent from certain doctrines of scriptural inspiration, or from someone's pathetic literalist (which is to say, modernist) hermeneutic, and you would be seen as bearing the mark of Cain, and anything could be said of you; register that dissent, and it would be assumed that you accepted nothing of Christian orthodoxy, doctrinal or ethical. Find yourself on the wrong side of this sort of thing several times, and you will lose all sympathy.

It seems to me that the danger of the alternative attitude is that we'll become, not to put too fine a point on it, a bunch of snobbish intellectual snarkers who won't fight the agenda of the left because we're too busy running down the "stupid fools" we would otherwise have to fight with shoulder to shoulder.

Certainly, that is the peril, and I wouldn't think to deny it. Sometimes, however, as a purely prudential matter, some folks are such poor advocates for a position that they objectively harm the cause, whether by repelling people unnecessarily, or by driving away the more thoughtful insiders.

That said, I scarcely think this crude manner of advocacy the largest problem with the religious right. That would have to be the dedication of the religious right to the Republican party machine, inclusive of the embrace of positions which, by the light of Christian teaching, have no place being elevated to the status of, say, abortion. And yet, there they are, where one is often expected to receive them, as with the submission of faith, as a package deal. That is something I've watched drive away dozens of thoughtful social conservatives since my college years.

Maximos,

I disagree that American conservatives cannot "define what it is they propose to conserve". Right now there is an exciting movement that will hopefully sweep the Republican party to power this November and they believe in conserving the Constitution, our fiscal future, and the free market capitalist system that generates wealth in America: http://teapartypatriots.ning.com/.

Many of them also believe in conserving older forms of morality which ironically makes them agents for change today (i.e. we have to pass laws against abortion once we figure out how to get rid of Roe v. Wade).

Anyway, I think this shorter essay by Jonah Goldberg is a better treatment of the subject:

http://old.nationalreview.com/goldberg/goldberg200505111449.asp

Maximos, what do you have against William Graham Sumner? What "repulsive apologies for Social Darwinism and plutocrats" are you thinking of?

This may interest you: "William Graham Sumner: Against Democracy, Plutocracy, and Imperialism." Here's a sample:

"...Sumner rejected the moralistic, equalitarian, and atomistic dogmas upon which democracy rested...

"There is no reason to believe that democracy would prove friendlier to liberty than would monarchy, aristocracy, or other forms of elitist rule...If political power be vested in the masses, '[t]hey will commit abuse, if they can and dare, just as others have done.' Ruling elites have misused their power for selfish ends because it was in their nature to do so. The people share the same nature. Greed, selfishness, and other 'vices are confined to no nation, class, or age...' The theory behind extending the suffrage to all adult males was that this would ensure that legislation was framed to benefit the interests of all, rather than of the few. Sumner demonstrated in his historical studies that it did not work out that way... 'The fate of modern democracy is to fall into subjection to plutocracy.' The term plutocracy...meant a type of government in which effective control rested with men of wealth who sought to use political means to increase their wealth. Sumner believed that there is no form of government better suited to their control than democracy...The plutocrats have...no qualms about flattering, lying to, or bribing the masses..."

Admittedly, Sumner regards "liberty" and "freedom" as good things. But, apart from that, I would think that you might find much to agree with in his thought.

It seems to me that America is a liberal nation, a new and unique (at the time of its beginning) kind of nation--an ideological one. So AMERICAN conservatism is different than other kinds in that it is at least somewhat liberal. It is not incorrect, therefore, to call 18th and 19th century liberals "conservative," in the American context.

But a free-market libertarian conservatism applied to the world of the mid 19th century is somewhat different and inherently far more harmless than a late 20th century conservatism that treats large limited liability corporations as persons, or even super-persons with the same rights or rather more rights than real people.

I disagree that American conservatives cannot "define what it is they propose to conserve".

The Constitution, fiscal probity, and the nature of our political economy are contested terms in our political discourse. One must inquire of the current political ferment, "Cui bono?" That is to say, are the objectives of this movement likely to benefit its ground troops, and if so, to what extent? Or will those objectives, as with the past generation of conservative political action, offer little of substance to the base, and virtually everything to the connected, the privileged, the interests who have long funded conservative activism? If "free-market capitalist system" means the system of Wall Street usury and rent extraction, and the system of extractive industry subsidies, both of which have done nothing, or less than nothing, for the nation, then one may glimpse the problematic.

Many of them also believe in conserving older forms of morality which ironically makes them agents for change today...

Given the de-emphasis of social issues in the Tea Party, I suspect, with others, that social conservatives will once more be riding at the back of the bus.

"Given the de-emphasis of social issues in the Tea Party, I suspect, with others, that social conservatives will once more be riding at the back of the bus."

Of course we will. The GOP will happily use us as voting machine fodder then ship us off to the hinterlands as soon as they win in November. The notion that conservatives, by gaining the House and Senate via an emphasis on fiscal matters, can then work to legislate on social and moral ones is naive and unrealistic. Didn't work under Thatcher or Reagan, didn't work under Gingrich's congress, won't work now. The push towards normalization of immorality is too strong to be hindered much by feeble top-down efforts.

By the way the dismissal of Nisbet because of his stance on abortion is silly, akin to dismissing Jefferson because he owned slaves or edited the Bible.

I think it was James Burnham who also said." where there is no solution, there is no problem".
We just had 307 million people swept under the rug of federal control on the personal matter of health care, like so many ciphers, in contempt of their wishes or beliefs.
Katherine Sibelius is busy sending out strong arm letters to insurers reminding them of who is boss & that there is this thing called consequences.
Capitalism on the other hand has not given us a collapsing real estate market, nor has it provided us with $trillion plus deficits.
Somewhere Mr Scialabba is twitching his toes in delight. And Mr Judis? Who better to write a bio of WFB than he, who from the depths of a humanity too large for mortals to grasp, recently assured concerned liberals[?] that not all, not all you understand, Tea Party people are racist. The magnanimity is humbling.

Maximos, your timing could have been better. And it seems, with little deviation, your message remains the same.
Curious, but just when do you tackle the Chicago crowd? Or, hopefully, have you?

By the way the dismissal of Nisbet because of his stance on abortion is silly, akin to dismissing Jefferson because he owned slaves or edited the Bible.

I addressed this. Jeff Culbreath was quite accurate (though he doesn't dismiss Nisbet) in introducing the issue, and what looking I've done has confirmed the impression: Nisbet despised and dismissed the evangelical Right tout court. This is pretty relevant to his conservative credentials in the United States of America.

Nisbet's influence predates the rise of the Religious Right. Also the fact that Weaver, Kirk and Nisbet are generally considered the Big Three of post-war American conservatism does not mean they were peas-in-a-pod on every issue. Kirk and Weaver had much more in common with each other than either of them had with Nisbet (which is not to downplay the latter's influence at all). Kirk was pro-life while Weaver died long before abortion was legalized.

Maximos, what do you have against William Graham Sumner?

W.G. Sumner's thought fused an emphasis on the Malthusian struggle for species survival under conditions of scarcity with laissez-faire, under which, absent 'interferences' like democracy, equality, plutocracy, etc., the societal competition would supposedly yield fitter institutions, as 'fitter' individuals rose to the top, and the improvident sank by virtue of their failings. However, since I regard L-F as an ideological mystification, a utopian no-place incapable of instantiation in this world, I cannot really be persuaded by Sumner. His critiques are often sound, I wouldn't deny it; but they afford him the luxury of damning the actuality whenever it fails to measure up to the ideal - which is unattainable. "Never been (really) tried." Ever were it capable of instantiation, what is so attractive about competition as the sine qua non of civilization? It's reductive and crabbed, like any other such theory of civilization, and the faith that the fittest will rise to the top, while the basest will sink, is touchingly naive, and utterly unconfirmed by historical experience. This is how idealistic theories, which contrast actuality with the ideal unfavourably, often end up sliding over into positivism - what exists is passable enough as a reflection of the ideal, and so is valorized as the good. Feu!

If I have a scathing opinion of evangelical fundamentalism, is because I came out of that milieu, in which faith too often did not seek understanding, but sought to suppress questions (even the questions of the committed), maintain conformity, and conceal information and evidence. The type of self-policing undertaken by many in such communities was reminiscent of the witch-hunts that have marred conservatism (at least those that have occurred since the excommunication of the Randroids and Birchers), and often had a totalitarian flavour: dissent from certain doctrines of scriptural inspiration, or from someone's pathetic literalist (which is to say, modernist) hermeneutic, and you would be seen as bearing the mark of Cain, and anything could be said of you; register that dissent, and it would be assumed that you accepted nothing of Christian orthodoxy, doctrinal or ethical.

And yet they rarely can actually govern themselves and keep out modern philosophies and heresies ranging from feminism to the prosperity gospel movement. Granted, that is a problem that the Catholic Church has as well in many areas.

The problem with "intellectualism" is that it can rationalize anything. This is how you get people who can rationalize that homosexual urges are not an automatic disqualifier for religious service or people who can rationalize abortion. Or my favorite example from this site, people who can rationalize full support for evolution because "it's science," but then believe that a man who was tortured, crucified, bled out and left in a dark cave without food, water or medical attention could come back to life and move a boulder that we could only move with heavy machinery or explosives.

(That is to say that if creationism is "anti-intellectual," then so is belief in the resurrection of Christ on the ground that it requires the exact same sort of mental self-censorship to support evolutionary theory and still take the Gospels seriously)

And yet they rarely can actually govern themselves and keep out modern philosophies and heresies ranging from feminism to the prosperity gospel movement.

Indeed, they cannot, which is one of the perils of anti-intellectualism. The intellect can be employed to rationalize, but the correct use of the intellect is the only cure for this.

Where God wills, the order of Nature is overcome.

Maximos, I doubt there's anything negative you know about fundamentalism that I don't, but honestly, in a political context, it's not the kind of big deal that you seem to think it is. You've gotta get some distance. When I'm doing apologetics, I worry about the anti-intellectualism in fundamentalism. (Believe me; I worry about it.) And I try to answer it and counteract it, especially by example in my own staunch evidentialism and in offering answers to young people with questions.

But when there's an ordinance that needs overturning/opposing, these are the pavement pounders, and I'm proud to work with them. Much of the time, there isn't anybody else. The Continuing Anglicans and the Orthodox (notice that I name here both the church you belong to _and_ the church I belong to, so I'm not picking on you) are not, by and large, going to supply the needed manpower at the grassroots of American conservatism, including fighting against the latest onslaughts of the left at the state and local levels in social areas. The evangelicals are. The fundamentalists are even more unabashed and more dependable and shine even brighter as broader evangelicalism moves leftward. I'm proud to work with them and to know them. We can talk about intellectualism some other time. And I don't refer to what they say as "codswallop," because, among other things, they have clearer eyes and cleaner minds and higher standards on the moral issues that threaten to overwhelm our country than any other identifiable group qua group in America today.

Maximos,

You say, "If "free-market capitalist system" means the system of Wall Street usury and rent extraction, and the system of extractive industry subsidies, both of which have done nothing, or less than nothing, for the nation, then one may glimpse the problematic."

Let me help -- the free-market capitalist system frowns on government subsidies, which fueled the crazed mortgage meltdown on the oughts. I'm not sure what "rent extraction" you have in mind, but the system frowns on special breaks and favors for any industry and would like them all to compete on a level playing field, to the extent possible (bearing in mind your own words that in the real world, a perfect and sublime level playing field does not exist and there will always be poltical push and pull that impacts the supply and demand of a good or service).

Earlier you worry if the objectives of the Tea Party movement "as with the past generation of conservative political action, offer little of substance to the base, and virtually everything to the connected, the privileged, the interests who have long funded conservative activism."

So was this long post another version of What's The Matter With Kansas? If so, my answer is nothing that conservative policy can't fix and Thomas Frank wouldn't know good economic policy if it hit him over the head. As long as the new gang voted into power this November are willing to do something serious about immigration (i.e. secure our borders and crack down on illegals for a start) then we should all be in good shape.

Maximos, I doubt there's anything negative you know about fundamentalism that I don't, but honestly, in a political context, it's not the kind of big deal that you seem to think it is.

It's probably not a big deal at the local level, and only occasionally at the state level; but at the national level, it's a definite factor - by which I mean both the anti-intellectualism and the bundling of political positions that flat don't belong together.

the free-market capitalist system frowns on government subsidies, which fueled the crazed mortgage meltdown on the oughts. I'm not sure what "rent extraction" you have in mind, but the system frowns on special breaks and favors for any industry and would like them all to compete on a level playing field, to the extent possible (bearing in mind your own words that in the real world, a perfect and sublime level playing field does not exist and there will always be poltical push and pull that impacts the supply and demand of a good or service).

Then the free-market ideal is, one its own terms, an impossibility, an ideological figment; politics determines the shape of the market in many respects, and not simply at the margins. Wherefrom it follows that the rhetoric about "free markets" is as I've described it: an exercise in displacement, in which all circumstantial failures are dismissed as imperfect attempts to instantiate the ideal, and the primary question of political economy - of wise policy, prudentially administered - is shunted aside, in favour of the utopian dialectic.

"As long as the new gang voted into power this November are willing to do something serious about immigration (i.e. secure our borders and crack down on illegals for a start) then we should all be in good shape."

And Dover to D.C. is but a hop and a skip on a broomstick. Your naive faith in the clown show to come would be touching save for the potential for real damage.

Anyway, it is interesting to see all the tap dancing around the premise advanced in this thread. There may well be a parallel universe in which that American conservatism is about free market capitalism and concerns over life, community, and true religion. In this one, they are just-so stories, opiates designed to allow one to go through life and get to sleep despite the real harm one may do.

American conservatism, translated into action, is what the "conservative" party does. What stories you tell yourselves in order to be able to pull the lever on that line are irrelevant.

Indeed, they cannot, which is one of the perils of anti-intellectualism. The intellect can be employed to rationalize, but the correct use of the intellect is the only cure for this.

I don't think this has anything to with anti- or pro-intellectualism. The Roman Catholic Church has brought its considerable intellectualism to bear on the problem of rationalizing away the obvious fact that men with homosexual and pedophilic tendencies, to say nothing of those who act on them, have no business remaining in leadership.

Where God wills, the order of Nature is overcome.

True, but it takes severe cognitive dissonance to dismiss the possibility of Genesis literally being true and then accept the resurrection as literal truth. If one accepts that the resurrection story is true and that it is not "scientifically possible," then one must at least concede the notion that the "scientific understanding" of the origins of the universe might be false.

It's probably not a big deal at the local level, and only occasionally at the state level; but at the national level, it's a definite factor - by which I mean both the anti-intellectualism and the bundling of political positions that flat don't belong together.

"Intellectuals" and their ideas are the ones that have run the federal government into the ground. Common sense tells us that the austerity measures of the UK and Germany are the way to get the economy straightened out; intellectuals tend to be convinced the Keynesian spending is the way to go.

You're really just lamenting the fact that stupid ideas reign supreme in DC. As incompetent and anti-intellectual as she may be, I would sooner trust Sarah Palin to understand the necessity of austerity measures (simply on the basis of "kitchen table economics") than some degreed dumbass who thinks tangents like "control over the currency" "change everything" with regard to fiscal and monetary policy.

What stories you tell yourselves in order to be able to pull the lever on that line are irrelevant.

It may interest you, Al (but then again, maybe it won't), to know that I rarely "pull the lever on that line" anymore. I didn't vote for McCain in 2008, for example. Some of us really _are_ conservatives.

Indeed, Al, I announced on this website, I believe, that I would not vote for McCain, even at gunpoint. I declared that in his candidacy oblivion beckoned, both for the GOP and the conservative movement.

"American conservatism, translated into action, is what the 'conservative' party does."

Al, the fact that you were honest enough to put scare-quotes around "conservative" in that dictum proves that you knew you were b.s.-ing when you wrote it. I mean, conservatism, translated into action, is whatever the supposedly-but-not-really-conservative party does? which differs hardly at all from what the "liberal" party does?

You so trolly.

All,

Well, as I proud voter of McCain, at least I can say "I told you so"! But seriously, I know that Larry Auster has said that it needed to get worse before it got better, so in that sense, perhaps Obama is leading (ultimately) to good things for this country.

Maximos,

I'm not sure what you mean by this: "politics determines the shape of the market in many respects, and not simply at the margins. Wherefrom it follows that the rhetoric about "free markets" is as I've described it: an exercise in displacement, in which all circumstantial failures are dismissed as imperfect attempts to instantiate the ideal, and the primary question of political economy - of wise policy, prudentially administered - is shunted aside, in favour of the utopian dialectic."

My own translation would be: "true competition between individuals or firms can never occur, so let's stop worrying about whether or not markets are free and instead let's use the government to favor this individual or that firm depending on whether or not we think this individual superior or that firm good."

In which case, I'm glad you consider yourself alienated from today's conservative movement and Republican party and I hope you find your true home on the Left, which is fond of picking winners and losers (mostly losers, but who's counting).

al,

Elections have consequences and we are facing those consequences right now (trillion dollar stimulus, Obamacare, world apology tour, etc.) If you think that the Right or Republican party hasn't done more than the Left or Democrats to promote "free market capitalism and concerns over life, community, and true religion" than I'd like to know where you get your medicinal cannabis (legal in California from what I hear) and I'll stop by for a peace smoke someday.


Finally, with respect to Tea Parties and social conservatives, these thoughts from Jay Richards are very interesting:

http://blog.american.com/?page_id=19799#hotspot

Richards has written some excellent stuff about the link between morality and free markets and you all should check out his free pamphlet over at the Heritage Foundation.

Jeff, I suppose that my point would be this: that the degree of "freedom" in the economy, if defined as the absence of political involvement in the economy, is misleading, both as to the nature of political economy, and as to the Good. That policy is good which facilitates human flourishing, where this latter is more than mere material welfare, especially aggregate GDP, but encompasses a welter of human goods, not just economic freedom. It's a very traditional conservative sentiment, albeit not of the libertarian/business wing of the movement; if it writes me out of the movement - wait? can it do that? I thought I had already been written out on account of my foreign policy views! I've lost track, what with all of the heresy-hunting! - than that speaks ill of the movement.

I know you don't vote Lydia and am very grateful. Would that more conservatives followed the "do no harm" principle.

"I declared that in his candidacy oblivion beckoned, both for the GOP and the conservative movement."

Which is what would have happened had the Great Recession happened in 2005. In fact, that would have been a real trifecta; Katrina, Schaivo, and the economic collapse. It would have ended the Reps and discredited conservatism for the rest of the century. Alas, our luck has run out.

Steve, when conservatives stop voting Republican, you will have a point. As long as the vast majority of conservatives in America vote Republican (or vote for conserva-dems who fellow travel with the Reps) and sustain the fraud, you don't. Ah, but the tea party will save us, you reply. Sure if adding ignorance and passion to incompetence and corruption helps, I guess it will.

"If you think that the Right or Republican party hasn't done more than the Left or Democrats to promote "free market capitalism and concerns over life..."

All income groups do better under Democrats then Republicans.

http://www.slate.com/id/2266174/slideshow/2266174/fs/0//entry/2266218/

Absent TARP and the Stimulus we wouldn't be discussing this; we would be too busy foraging for our next meal and fighting for sleeping space under the overpass. Which brings up another point.

"You're really just lamenting the fact that stupid ideas reign supreme in DC. As incompetent and anti-intellectual as she may be, I would sooner trust Sarah Palin to understand the necessity of austerity measures (simply on the basis of "kitchen table economics") than some degreed dumbass who thinks tangents like "control over the currency" "change everything" with regard to fiscal and monetary policy."

Apologies to Mike, but this seems to me to be the general level of Tea Party economic sophistication. Could you explain how folks who see no difference (save for the numbers are larger) between their household budget and a national one and who scoff at the advantages of controlling ones own currency have a prayer of solving anything? Austerity in the present situation? Double dip anyone? Or do you all think Christine O'Donnell will just have to wiggle her nose to set things right.

"What the Tea Party movement is doing is bringing moral and emotional intensity to economic issues. And if this continues, it could mean good things for conservatism:

The emergence of the Tea Party movement raises the possibility that conservative Republicans are gaining an ability to make voting on economic issues less situational and more ideological. In other words, various types of conservatives are being more securely knit together."

Which sort of makes Max's point, doesn't it? Limited government? Heritage? The place that just hired David Addington? All this shows is that American Conservatism is about privilege, war, and concentrating power in the executive which, in the end, are mutually reinforcing.

Maximos - I suspect that your understanding of Sumner is based on unfriendly secondary sources.

Al: don't we have to figure out what a "conservative" is before we can determine whether "the vast majority of conservatives in America vote Republican?"

And does the phrase faut de mieux mean anything to you?

"Ah, but the tea party will save us, you reply..."

Wha-huh? You presume way too much upon slim acquaintance.

"I'm glad you consider yourself alienated from today's conservative movement and Republican party and I hope you find your true home on the Left"

Once again, the tired binary rears its stupid, ugly head.

"American Conservatism is about privilege, war, and concentrating power in the executive which, in the end, are mutually reinforcing"

Al, you are either dense, deaf, or just a troll. Haven't you been around long enough to notice the anti-corporate, anti-war, and anti-imperial-presidency conservatives here and elsewhere? After all the time you spend here are you still laboring under the ignorant misapprhension that American conservatism is all about Fox, Limbaugh, and the GOP? Granted, that's the face you see most often, unfortunately, but have you never read or heard of The American Conservative, Chronicles, Front Porch Republic, ISI, Modern Age, among others?

"In fact, that would have been a real trifecta; Katrina, Schaivo, and the economic collapse. It would have ended the Reps and discredited conservatism for the rest of the century. Alas, our luck has run out."

Ah, the Left... always prepared to capitalize on the misfortunes of others if their agenda is being served.

I know you don't vote Lydia and am very grateful.

I certainly didn't say _that_. I was quite interested in and of course voted in our recent Republican primary here in Michigan. I'm very into referendums--both pro and con, depending. And I hold open the possibility of voting for a Republican presidential candidate. I'm waiting to see what the party offers me.

"Al: don't we have to figure out what a 'conservative' is before we can determine whether 'the vast majority of conservatives in America vote Republican?'"

No, I don't see how we would do that beyond using self identification. Besides there is a consistent record of issues associated with what has been considered conservatism in America that goes back into the century before last. The Republican Party has been consistently on the same side since at least the 1870s and Grant, on poor advice, appointed some conservatives to the SC who laid downsome real privilege- favoring decisions.

Long ago American conservatism fell in love with Herbert Spencer and it has been true to him ever since. It may wander from time to time with temporary assignations of electoral convenience but unlike contemporary conservative politicians it has never forsaken that first love. Since before Mark Hanna and after Karl Rove, immanentizing the Social Statics has been the prime directive for the Republican party.

American conservatism is first and foremost about social Darwinism and the Reps the same. Why wouldn't conservatives vote Republican? Every poll ever taken supports my assertions. Your "faut de mieux" supports my assertion. BTW, that fact guarantees that there will never be a conservative party of any consequence that is about anything other than privilege. Why would the Reps ever change if they get the votes anyway?

That part of the TP statement was directed at those whose touchingly naive faith in angry know-nothings was expressed in this thread. If it doesn't apply to you, fair enough, and edit accordingly.

Rob, if you vote Republican nothing else matters, you are voting to enshrine those values.

"Ah, the Left... always prepared to capitalize on the misfortunes of others if their agenda is being served."

Not so much, just being realistic. As I have noted before, had the Great Depression happened in 1931 (or the election in 1930) the world, and certainly the U.S., would be a far different place and not likely for the better.

The three things I mentioned happened. Two of them were own goals and one the legacy of thirty years of conservatism. Pointing out the role of timing in things should be uncontroversial.

Mike, here is where austerity gets you,

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/quote?ticker=GIGB10YR:IND&n=y

The U,S, 10 yr. note yields 2.71%

"BNP and Deutsche Bank both predict 10-year yields will fall to 2 percent by Dec. 31"

As for those useless central banks,

“The long bond has been driven lower amid no inflation and a very weak economic picture and all of the uncertainty that comes with that,” said Larry Milstein, managing director in New York of government and agency debt trading at RW Pressprich & Co., a bond broker and dealer for institutional investors. “When you have in the background, the Fed buying Treasuries and the possibility of further quantitative easing down the road, it ensures that rates will stay at very low levels.”

"Japanese 20-year government bonds rose on speculation the central bank will ease monetary policy to stimulate the nation’s economy."

Apologies to Mike, but this seems to me to be the general level of Tea Party economic sophistication. Could you explain how folks who see no difference (save for the numbers are larger) between their household budget and a national one and who scoff at the advantages of controlling ones own currency have a prayer of solving anything? Austerity in the present situation? Double dip anyone? Or do you all think Christine O'Donnell will just have to wiggle her nose to set things right.

Oh I don't know al, maybe it has something to do with the fact that all currency manipulation ends up as hackish attempts to game the system. Governments have been manipulating currencies for thousands of years in vain attempts to get around basic accounting.

At the end of the day, revenues must meet or exceed expenditures. Debt must be kept low or removed entirely. Whatever we spend on debt today we pay off tomorrow with interest which limits our options tomorrow.

As Vox Day pointed out, when FDR came into office, government spending was 11% of GDP. Therefore doubling it could have had, in theory, the effect Keynes would have expected. Today, spending is roughly 39% of GDP. Therefore the government simply has no room even in theory to inject a massive dose of spending into the economy without crushing the private sector. Quite simply, we have been "stimulating" our economy for over a two decades this way, now the spending is becoming unsustainable.

I don't expect you to acknowledge this, as you don't seem to be bothered by "minutia" like questions of what percentage of GDP government can consume without cratering the economy that provides the very tax revenues that will form the basis of part of the stimulus.

Further complicating things is the fact that private sector expansion itself has been built on the basis of debt. Look into the debt levels of most major corporations. They're staggering. Verizon, for example, last I checked has $64B in debt and $1.5B in cash. AT&T is as bad, the auto companies are similarly situated. It's rare to find a publicly traded company that isn't so deep in debt that if its debts were called in tomorrow it wouldn't fold faster than a house of cards in a hurricane.

What does this mean? This means that the Austrians might actually be onto something since their economic theories place a premium on the influence of debt in the economy. The private sector is completely saturated by debt. The public sector is nearly at the point of imploding, and is only "solvent" because the federal government has special accounting rules which let it disregard Social Security and Medicare when reporting its liabilities--a practice that would likely be a felony if GM, Goldman or AIG had done the same.

You see, Al, austerity is not a choice unless we want to go down in flames. The ability of government to spend so much is predicated on a certain level of economic growth that exceeds the growth in spending. The private sector cannot even have a shot of doing that while it is so indebted and the public sector's spending is now well out of line with what can be tolerated by the system.

I get the sense that people like Steve and people like Maximos are drawing on different deep notions of rights of ownership. I would like to speak to that. Drawing on the near-tautology that conservatism upholds the right of the status quo against a change to an new arrangement unless the case for change not only presents a better good, but also presents an argument for the minimization of the evils in change to the new arrangement: SOME form of private property (and therefore of necessity some form of free markets, but not necessarily the current form) must naturally have a clear prior claim than the opposing theories of collective ownership. Let me spell that out a bit: society as a collective force (which acts only partly through government) may decide the terms under which ownership of some goods are held, such as land, and corporations. But society as a collective power is not the source of the goods thus held, and it is not the cause of the man HOLDING goods, it is only the source of the mental and social construct under which we assign the form of rights in a good that his ownership implies.

In root, all of the goods held in the hand come from God. But many, many goods come to be fruitful and in being as human goods (instead of potential human goods) only through the action of an individual man operating with his own energy, his own thought and creativity. Frequently man applies his energy to a thing that God has set out, but man has to make into a humanly usable good. A herd of buffalo 50 miles away does a man's family no good. If a man leaves behind the tribe and travels the 50 miles to get a buffalo, and then hauls it home, it is only his energy that makes the buffalo into a good that is real, present, and available to his family and tribe. That is, it is only by the individual man taking hold of the thing God made and applying energy to it that it is a real actual good that the tribe can speak to and consider. It is only because a man has made the potential good into a real good in the hand and therefore owns it that the social order has a good that it may call upon. But his first taking hold gives him the prior claim: it is not because of some rule, or custom, or tribal law that gives the man the possession of the buffalo when he first takes hold of it, it is his first taking hold of it that makes it into a good under the order and rule of the society. Conservatism says that society must give a reason for upsetting the existing ownership that takes account not only the better use society may have for the good, but allows for how the change to the existing ownership harms things and STILL as a total picture is better than leaving him settled in his pre-existing ownership.

Sometimes a man uses his energy to operate on an external good that remains in situ: suppose a man who in ancient times goes out past the frontier beyond any civilized order, and digs a mine, finds silver. The mine, as a piece of property, surely is a resource that the man needs for his success, but in this case society does not provide it to him. It may be the case that eventually society is in charge of deciding whether to assign to him the land, and to what extent his energy invested in the land gives him rights over the land, but that's a qualified picture at best (since he left behind the boundaries within which society holds sway when he dug the mine), and it is simply NOT TRUE of the silver itself. The man's physical possession of the silver is a reality that pre-dates any social claim on the silver, and (like with the buffalo above) the state cannot recognize the silver as a good for the state without first recognizing the silver as already owned by an individual.

Therefore, the just state must of necessity allow for private property.

But given private property (especially movable goods), a man cannot call the good his property if he cannot choose to release it to another. This release to another may take the form of an exchange, and exchanges usually constitute contracts, and the meaning of contracts is a social matter, regulated by law. True. But it is nonsense to suggest that a transfer of goods MUST ab origino fall under human contract statutes. That would be like saying that there cannot be justice between individuals without human law. Even without a society that regulates things, a man who by main force takes the buffalo from the hunter mentioned above is clearly acting unjustly (I don't accept Hobbes' view) - it doesn't take contract law to make such an action unjust. And (again, without society acting to impose rules) a buffalo hunter who freely agrees with a tanner to have the hide tanned for a good hunk of the meat is clearly acting within his rights of ownership of the meat. My point is that society may step in regulate exchange, but does not create the very structure of just exchange. Laws about exchange speak to making sure that exchanges are just, they do not constitute the form of justice as such. Therefore, a man who holds a good has some basic innate rights to exchange it without social rules. Conservatism says, then imposing social constraints to the exchange must meet the standard test: not only that the constrained arrangement is, itself, a better state of affairs, but that the change to that arrangement does not damage goods too much, so that the overall picture even taking into account the harm to custom and prior claim presents a greater good.

Ant this holds with respect to any given status quo on the elements of property rights: if society has operated for a good 2 generations or more with a settled arrangement on a particular property right, taking away that property right has the higher burden. A man has a right to expect his property rights that descended from his grandfather to remain in force unless a greater social need overcomes not only his prior property claim but also the damage that inures from changing custom.

"if you vote Republican nothing else matters, you are voting to enshrine those values"

When I do vote Republican I do so by default; I'm registered in the party so as to vote in the primaries, where I tend to vote against the establishment candidates. If I lived in an open primary state I'd be an independent. I've voted for Democrats when I've felt the Dem candidate was a better choice.

I like neither party. I see the Dems as the party of the zipper and the GOP as the party of the wallet. Both parties are controlled by special interests -- they just happen to be different special interests. Being a decentralist conservative, I see both parties as centralizing, the one representing corporate power, the other state power, with a considerable amount of overlap between the two.

Tony,

I'm not sure if that description of property clears up any of the disputes in this post, but I thought it was an excellent way to think about property claims and rights.

Well done!

I thought you guys didn't like Locke.

"I like neither party. I see the Dems as the party of the zipper and the GOP as the party of the wallet."

Which means?

You still vote for one and the one you vote for values privilege above all which seems to have been the point of the post. You are an American, you self-identify as a conservative and you vote for the political party that comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted.

"Which means?"

The Lust Party vs. the Greed Party; sexual libertinism vs. fiscal libertinism.

"you vote for the political party that comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted"

as opposed to the party that rewards sloth and punishes achievement?

you vote for the political party that comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted

As do you; for instance when you vote for the party of the public teachers unions, which party, answering to said unions, will not countenance any innovations in public schooling that threaten their monopolist power, no matter how many inner-city black kids benefit by those innovations.

Or again, as do you when you vote for the party that will not tolerate dissent from the principle that a certain class of human being (the unborn) must be regarded in law as property.

Etc.

Given the (a) character of human beings and (b) the size and complexity of our political system, the insistence that no vote should ever go to succor a party "that comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted" would probably leave us all where Zippy is: going to Mass rather than voting.

"The Lust Party vs. the Greed Party; sexual libertinism vs. fiscal libertinism"

While the formulation is strange and unrealistic, let us grant it for the moment as it raise an interesting question. You find a party that is fiscally irresponsible with the public treasury preferable to a party that ignores private consensual behavior.

Why?

"as opposed to the party that rewards sloth and punishes achievement?"

1, Then why do all income groups do better under Democrats?

http://www.slate.com/id/2266174/slideshow/2266174/fs/0//entry/2266218/

2. How does fiscal libertinism punish sloth and reward achievement?

1, Then why do all income groups do better under Democrats?

That graph ignores the more important historic trends from 1948->2005:

1948->early 1980s: the US starts this period as the only remaining industrial power and slowly builds up competition in core areas of manufacturing.

late 1980s->2005: US business and government are revolutionized in their efficiency by rapid advancements in IT that dramatically increase efficiency. This offsets the loss in manufacturing--for a while.

Neither party can take credit for these, especially the first one. The only thing any of them can claim any credit for are the policies of the Department of Defense which laid some of the foundation of modern computing.

al,

This is the last time I get dragged into a debate with you, as you are a nasty piece of work and not worth the pixels.

1) That study which you love quoting, is interesting and well done, but surprise, surprise, it still doesn't "prove" what you want it to prove:

http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~cook/movabletype/archives/2008/12/income-inequali.html

2) It doesn't, which is why we need to cut spending on government programs that reward sloth and cut taxes that punish achievement. Yes, the Republicans have failed to implement this mix, but they have generally tried to achieve this mix, with the exception perhaps the Bush years (in which President Bush and the Republican Congress suddenly decided it might not be a bad idea to reward sloth and pay for those rewards on credit).

Jeff, your link hardly matches your outrage; all I see are some disputable quibbles. Paul Volker (appointed by Carter and reappointed by Reagan) was hardly a prisoner of the business cycle. Like he says the "graph makes a lot of sense".

You're a conservative. As the recent net uproar over the "poor" law professor shows, privileged folk don't feel they are "winning" unless the folks in the deciles below them are losing. That is why they support Republicans even though they do slightly less well under them as those lower do so much worse. That is what the graph shows. And that is what American conservatives support. Sorry reality so upsets you.

"So, the conventional wisdom based on the 1976-1996 period is that presidents can't do much, they're at the mercy of the business cycle, etc., which makes Bartels's results seem like some sort of fluke, or a perhaps meaningless juxtaposition of one-off results. But taking the 1948-1972 and 2000-2004 perspectives, Bartels's graph makes a lot of sense. From this perspective, the Democrats did their thing, and the Republicans did theirs, and you'd expect to see a big difference at the low end of the income scale."

Oh, good grief. First of all, the GRAPH does't even show anything at all about the disparity between the rate of income growth in different percentiles. It is only the description alongside that claims it. I have seen, WAYYYY too often, a report about a data study that just plain misrepresents what the data is about.

Second of all, nobody tries to define "income". Is that before or after tax? Before or after income "adjustments", also called handouts in the form of tax rebates and credits, and welfare, and so on? If you want to count welfare and food stamps as the income that the poorest percent are measuring, OF COURSE that percentile experiences a greater increase in income during Dem Presidents, those are Dem programs by and large. Gee. Big deal. How much of the income growth was generated, and how much was handed out?

Oh, Al.

"Long ago American conservatism fell in love with Herbert Spencer and it has been true to him ever since. It may wander from time to time with temporary assignations of electoral convenience but unlike contemporary conservative politicians it has never forsaken that first love. Since before Mark Hanna and after Karl Rove, immanentizing the Social Statics has been the prime directive for the Republican party."

You're having me on, right?

Were it only so.

Herbert Spencer was right about some things, wrong about some other things. An interesting thinker who repays study. Kind of like William Graham Sumner, only less so. But if you think American conservatism today, as you understand it, is "in love with him," then you are a certifiable ignoramous &/or looney.

So far as I am able to determine, the going hero of American "conservatism" today, as you understand the term, is Martin Luther King Jr.

Tony, we live to serve; hope this helps.

"These figures are calculated from the Historical Income Inequality Tables compiled by the U.S. Census
Bureau, Tables IE2 and IE3. The data are publicly available from the Census Bureau website..."

http://www.russellsage.org/publications/workingpapers/bartels/document

"But if you think American conservatism today, as you understand it, is "in love with him," then you are a certifiable ignoramous &/or looney."

Steve, if your point is that most self-identified conservatives in this country don't who he was, I would agree with you but that fact is irrelevant to my point. That millions are in thrall to someone whose name they know not and whose works they have never read is unremarkable (Mike Huckabee's recent statements on health care at the Value Voters Summit could have been ripped from the pages of Social Statics, yet I would bet he hasn't a clue to the pedigree of his heartless and cruel "values"). "In love with" was merely another way of saying that American conservatives have so internalized Social Darwinism that its reflexive.

I too am offended, yet strangely amused, that American conservatives seek to wrap themselves in King's mantle.

Hey, Al, thanks. He actually says "pre-tax income." That's great. Now, if only I could find out what that measures without reading the whole thing, I would be much better off.

I don't find it particularly surprising to conclude that income disparity increased during Republican presidencies, compared to decreasing during Dem presidencies. Let's grant the claim for the moment. I, for one, would never, never allude to the Bush I or Bush II presidencies as conservative, especially not in the fiscal conservative sense. In point of fact, the liberals made huge headway in all sorts of areas during Bush II, the primary exception being income tax rates. (Please note: other tax rates did not necessarily follow suit.) And, it was certainly a stretch to call Nixon a conservative. Ford? Well, let's leave Ford out of it, since he hardly had anything to do with anything at all trend wise. So, hmm, there was one conservative president in the last 50 years, Reagan. And even at that, he only managed to enact measures on 1/2 of a conservative fiscal agenda: nothing on the spending side at all. And your point was?

Besides, I fail to see how this would support your claim that privileged folk don't feel they are "winning" unless the folks in the deciles below them are losing. Nothing in the stats talks at all about how people in the percentiles "feel" they are doing. What you seem to have been doing is projecting outrage that people don't actually have. Even if "my" percentile didn't do as well under Repubs as under Dems, my support of conservatives doesn't spring out of a perception that "my" percentile needs to be doing better than the poor slobs in lower percentiles. That kind of thinking is really, really unlikely.

if you vote Republican nothing else matters, you are voting to enshrine those values Let's change that out for Democrat: you enshrine values of hatred for America herself, not just her defects. Hatred for custom as such. Spendtrhift fiscal policy. Denigration of morals as having anything to do with public welfare. That's what you enshrine when you vote Democrat.

al,

What Steve Burton said. Also, I wasn't reacting negatively to that link so much, as to your overall attitude in this post and in the other recent post in which you claimed that the real danger to America is traditionalism and social conservatism.

What's particularly annoying about you is that you are obviously intelligent and I suspect I might even enjoy having a beer or two with you and talking about your life in California; but then you go and ruin everything with the more outrageous comments you insist on posting here. I guess I have to give you credit for being true to your (warped) beliefs.

Tony,

That graph actually comes from an impressive study -- you should check out Gelman's comments from the link I posted above. Yes, there are problems with the study -- it is hard to separate the effects of a President's policies from Congress' policies; the study ignores the differences bewtween income and wealth; hard to tease out the effects of monetary policy versus other economic policies; etc. Nevertheless, Bartles' should not be dismissed with a simple hand wave and sneer -- it might be interesting to ask what policies actually led to such high income growth under Democratic Presidents? For example, JFK passed hefty income tax cuts -- could that have helped economic growth? Bill Clinton promoted free trade and balanced the budget -- could that have helped economic growth? Etc.

"You find a party that is fiscally irresponsible with the public treasury preferable to a party that ignores private consensual behavior."

The Dems are not fiscally irresponsible? Who is it that's spending us into oblivion right now, saddling our children and grandchildren with insupportable debt? You Lefties always bitch and moan about the poor Third World and its Western debt. Yet you're perfectly willing to do the same goddam thing to our own descendents.

I'd be fine with the Dems if they simply ignored private consensual behavior. Thing is, they don't ignore it. They throw open the bedroom and bathhouse and whorehouse doors, broadcast the activity into the streets, and demand that we all look at it and grant approval.

"How does fiscal libertinism punish sloth and reward achievement?"

It doesn't. I was not referring to the GOP's spending of government money, but to its worship of personal getting and spending. This type of faux conservatism has turned avarice into a virtue. This is what I meant by the GOP being the party of the wallet.


"That's great. Now, if only I could find out what that measures without reading the whole thing, I would be much better off."

Perhaps this comment explains a lot about conservatism.

"Besides, I fail to see how this would support your claim that privileged folk don't feel they are "winning" unless the folks in the deciles below them are losing."

Google "DeLong Henderson" Follow the side trips into PK, etc. and you will learn the real meaning of conservatism.

"Let's change that out for Democrat: you enshrine values of hatred for America herself, not just her defects. Hatred for custom as such. Spendthrift fiscal policy. Denigration of morals as having anything to do with public welfare. That's what you enshrine when you vote Democrat."

Tony, I'm still waiting at the other thread for real examples. Spilling out conservative talking points isn't very nice. Could you please -please oh, pretty please, provide documentation that demonstrates the following are mainstream liberal (left, whatever) positions.

"you enshrine values of hatred for America herself, not just her defects."

This is nonsense. There is no way you can have read what i have posted over the months and justify that statement.

"Hatred for custom as such."

No, it would be accurate to assert that the left, in general, is suspicious of custom as a stand alone justification.

"Spendthrift fiscal policy."

I would never vote for a party that gave us off budget wars, unfunded entitlements, and non-stimulative tax cuts that are paid for by increasing the deficit. Can you say the same. Tony let's get real. How in the world can you have made that statement after the Republican record since 1980 (granted Reagan raised taxes)?

"Denigration of morals as having anything to do with public welfare."

OK, Republicans and conservatives want to meddle in folks' private lives. Thank you for the clarity.

Waiting.

To which I will only say: Republicans are, also, the spendthrift party, at least in the last 20 years. I agree with you there.

"you enshrine values of hatred for America herself, not just her defects." There is no way you can have read what i have posted over the months and justify that statement.

But Al, I don't think that you hate America. No, not at all. It's just that when you vote Democrat that's the values you enshrine, nothing else matters. Well, that's the logic, anyway. I suppose that it doesn't matter that you ONLY vote for specific Dem candidates that DON'T hate America. Not like, say, Obama, who drank in his pastor's HATE AMERICA speeches for years. Not THOSE Dems.

Oh, yeah, I did want to mention: Bill Clinton did, in fact, enact some fiscal restraint, and managed to balance the budget. True. He did it (a) after a Republican Congress was in his face, and (b) riding off of various improvements in the economy he inherited, and so on and so forth. But setting aside carping comments like (a) and (b), there is a decent claim that he was the most fiscally sensible president of the last 22 years.

Al: is it possible? Can it be? Has Mike Huckabee, of all people made "recent statements on health care" that "could have been ripped from the pages of Social Statics?"

Since you offer no link, it's off to google, for me.

Ah, here it is:

"The ban on insurance companies denying medical coverage to people with pre-existing health conditions 'sounds terrific,' said Huckabee. But in a speech to the Values Voter Summit here, he suggested it's unaffordable.

"Allowing people to buy health insurance after they are sick is like allowing people to buy insurance for their home the day after it burned down or insurance for their car hours after a new driver totaled it, Huckabee argued."

Oh. My. God.

Call out the National Guard! Social Darwinism runs rampant across the land!

You're too funny.

Maximos - I suspect that your understanding of Sumner is based on unfriendly secondary sources.


We have noticed that the relations involved in the struggle for existence are twofold. There is first the struggle of individuals to win the means of subsistence from nature, and secondly there is the competition of man with man in the effort to win a limited supply. The radical error of the socialists and sentimentalists is that they never distinguish these two relations from each other. The bring forward complaints which are really to be made, if at all, against the author of the universe for the hardships which man has to endure in his struggle with nature. The complaints, however, are addressed to society: that is, to other men under the same hardships. The only social element, however, is the competition of life, and when society is blamed for the ills which belong to the human lot, it is only burdening those who have successfully contended with those ills with the further task of conquering the same ills over again for somebody else. Hence liberty perishes in all socialistic schemes, and the tendency of such schemes is to the deterioration of society by burdening the good members and relieving the bad ones. The law of the survival of the fittest was not made by man and cannot be abrogated by man. We can only, by interfering with it, produce the survival of the unfittest. If a man comes forward with any grievance against the order of society so far as this is shaped by human agency, he must have patient hearing a full redress; but if he addresses a demand to society for relief from the hardships of life, he asks simply that somebody else should get his living for him. In that case he should be left to find out his error from hard experience. (From the essay, Sociology in the volume, On Liberty, Society, and Politics: The Essential Essays of William Graham Sumner.)

SOME form of private property (and therefore of necessity some form of free markets, but not necessarily the current form) must naturally have a clear prior claim than the opposing theories of collective ownership.

No theory of collective ownership is being counterposed to the notion of private property; at issue in the initial post was simply the nature of property and property claims, the limitations about such claims, and the social embeddedness of such claims, from which it follows that society cannot be legitimately called upon to enforce a particular set of property claims to its detriment. I am a proponent of commons, not as a replacement for private property, but as a supplement or compliment to property, and a testimony to the common nature of certain things, and to the common gift of the earth, and its fecundity, to mankind.

But society as a collective power is not the source of the goods thus held, and it is not the cause of the man HOLDING goods, it is only the source of the mental and social construct under which we assign the form of rights in a good that his ownership implies.

If society thereby brings formality, and a telos, to the brute fact of property claims, then that is all that is required to sustain my argument; a man's claim of ownership will be given a more or less definitive social shape and context, and a purposiveness beyond his own, individual, claims. This not only implies greater security and regularity, but limitation, a degree of subordination to the social.

But many, many goods come to be fruitful and in being as human goods (instead of potential human goods) only through the action of an individual man operating with his own energy, his own thought and creativity.

This sounds a bit like the Lockean story, to which I'd respond that very few things correspond to this narrative in a strict sense; there are precious few waste and wild places in which a man can toil, utterly of his own initiative and power, and produce something genuinely new, of which it could be said that it is his, and his alone. Virtually everything that is produced arises as the outcome of a cooperative process, from labour and capital, up to the very structure of law itself, under which such production can be profitable, and which secures for a man the work of his hands and intellect. The law, be it statutory, customary, or what-have-you, is in most instances the condition of the possibility of such productive labour, as it minimizes the risk attendant upon such labour, that it might be unprofitable or worthless, not merely on account of failure, but on account of insecurity, theft, etc. Animal spirits still must have security, either of the law, or of the strength of their own hands - but in the latter case, we are talking of barbarism and warlordism.

But his first taking hold gives him the prior claim: it is not because of some rule, or custom, or tribal law that gives the man the possession of the buffalo when he first takes hold of it, it is his first taking hold of it that makes it into a good under the order and rule of the society.

The term "prior" is doing all of the work here. I should say that man, as a social animal, takes his sociality with him wherever he goes, and unless he is a solitary wanderer in a fathomless wilderness, he will be the bearer of some law, positive, customary, or otherwise, implicit in all of his actions, insofar as they bear, or potentially bear, upon others. Even in the case of the solitary wanderer, we must state that he has been shaped by some culture or other, and it is though the artifacts of that culture that he will comprehend his relation to his own works. It would be truer to state that this balance, of individuality and sociality, obtains in all such cases, the specific balance being adjusted according to circumstances, cultural norms, etc. A tribesman of the Amazon, coming upon some region new to him, will relate to that environment and its resources, and will claim them differently, than an Englishman of the seventeenth century would have claimed them.

Conservatism says that society must give a reason for upsetting the existing ownership that takes account not only the better use society may have for the good, but allows for how the change to the existing ownership harms things and STILL as a total picture is better than leaving him settled in his pre-existing ownership.

This is close enough to what I've argued in the initial post. Societies do this all the time, at least implicitly, by regulating the manner in which resources are appropriated, how claims are adjudicated, and so forth; ownership is always contextual, and never plenary. A man who discovers a silver mine has some claim, to be certain, but no society is going to leave that claim wholly unconditioned, because that unconditioned state is judged worse than a state in which the claim is, say, paying some royalties to the authorities who secure the claim. But what it does not do is address the question of conflicts of divergent property regimes. When the enclosures were imposed in England, or when the Spanish imposed a sort of latifundia system upon vast swathes of Central and South America, it was not the case that the English and Spanish encountered a wild and waste region, desolate, uninhabited, and void of customary employments. Rather, two property regimes, two systems of property-relations, collided, and force adjudicated between them. Peasants were stripped of their customary claims, 'common' areas, be they fields or jungles, were turned to other purposes, and many customary rights in them annulled. In other words, there was no original appropriation in such cases, but rather force and fraud, which is why Locke sought to justify such proceedings by appealing to the greater exchange-value generated by the new employments.

But it is nonsense to suggest that a transfer of goods MUST ab origino fall under human contract statutes.

Statutes, of course not, because not all systems of property-relations have depended upon statutory law; many depended upon customary practice or usage, and so forth. In such cases, therefore, the transfer of goods would fall under the innate human sense of justice or fairness, as mediated by whatever cultural baggage the participants brought to the transaction; the the case of two hypothetical men in the wilderness making such an exchange, their action is just, and falls under the (thin) extension/elaboration of whatever culture is operative. With greater civilizational complexity comes, of necessity, greater thickness in the operative conception of property.

Laws about exchange speak to making sure that exchanges are just, they do not constitute the form of justice as such.

If the laws are sound, they impress form and purpose upon the raw matter of justice; that is, they give security, stability, and measure to property claims. This is rather like the natural law, which requires a particular cultural instantiation.

if society has operated for a good 2 generations or more with a settled arrangement on a particular property right, taking away that property right has the higher burden.

As implied in the initial post, the situation is rather more complicated when the 'settled arrangement' originated in force and fraud, issued in consequences spanning generations, and generated gratuitous human suffering - in the case of Guatemalan land reform in the 50s, land literally being held fallow by wealthy landowners, while people went begging for want of subsistence. Even after the passage of generations, we must be wary of naturalizing the historical and contingent.

I sorta, kinda had these sentiments in mind when I made the comparison:

"The development of the higher creation is a progress towards a form of being, capable of a happiness undiminished by these drawbacks. It is in the human race that the consummation is to be accomplished. Civilization is the last stage of its accomplishment. And the ideal man is the man in whom all the conditions to that accomplishment are fulfilled. Meanwhile, the well-being of existing humanity and the unfolding of it into this ultimate perfection, are both secured by that same beneficial though severe discipline, to which the animate creation at large is subject. It seems hard that an unskilfulness which with all his efforts he cannot overcome, should entail hunger upon the artizan. It seems hard that a labourer incapacitated by sickness from competing with his stronger fellows, should have to bear the resulting privations. It seems hard that widows and orphans should be left to struggle for life or death. Nevertheless, when regarded not separately but in connexion with the interests of universal humanity, these harsh fatalities are seen to be full of beneficence -- the same beneficence which brings to early graves the children of diseased parents, and singles out the intemperate and the debilitated as the victims of an epidemic."

"There are many very amiable people who have not the nerve to look this matter fairly in the face. Disabled as they are by their sympathies with present suffering, from duly regarding ultimate consequences, they pursue a course which is injudicious, and in the end even cruel. We do not consider it true kindness in a mother to gratify her child with sweetmeats that are likely to make it ill. We should think it very foolish sort of benevolence which led a surgeon to let his patient's disease progress to a fatal issue, rather than inflict pain by an operation. Similarly, we must call those spurious philanthropists who, to prevent present misery, would entail greater misery on future generations. That rigorous necessity which, when allowed to operate, becomes so sharp a spur to the lazy and so strong a bridle to the random, these paupers' friends would repeal, because of the wailings it here and there produces. Blind to the fact that under the natural order of things society is constantly excreting its unhealthy, imbecile, slow, vacillating, faithless members, these unthinking, though well-meaning, men advocate an interference which not only stops the purifying process, but even increases the vitiation -- absolutely encourages the multiplication of the reckless and incompetent by offering them an unfailing provision, and discourages the multiplication of the competent and provident by heightening the difficulty of maintaining a family. And thus, in their eagerness to prevent the salutary sufferings that surround us, these sigh-wise and groan-foolish people bequeath to posterity a continually increasing curse."

Now while Spenser does qualify this to a certain extent. American conservatism selectively reads Spencer and he was somewhat shocked by what he had wrought on our shores.

Oh yes, on Planet Al, talk of "progress," the "last stage of accomplishment," "ultimate perfection," and "universal humanity" has a conservative pedigree. We're all acolytes of Rousseau and Hegel where he's from.

Maximos,

I think you would do well to address the fact that the "common good" has become quite different from what you take it to mean in your arguments. For example, all of the arguments for social welfare and basic, universal medical coverage that are made in the name of the common good imply a sacrifice on the part of the middle and upper classes for the benefit of the lower class with no reciprocal duties by the latter to the former with regard to personal choices that lead to their public resource consumption.

This is, frankly, why libertarianism reacts so violently to talks about the "common good." It is not high-minded in its actual goals, but rather deceptive rhetoric that disguises one class' interests as the interests of society. Most of our current problems are "unsolvable" for precisely this reason. If the non-small business owning rich would pay more taxes, the middle class with means or other pensions would stop taking Social Security and the lower classes would behave substantially more like the middle class, we could quickly solve our budgetary problems and long-term debt issues. Unfortunately, that is what the genuine "common good" would look like: all classes sacrificing for each other instead of demanding to be sacrificed for.

Our society, as presently constituted, as it actually exists makes talks about the common good largely academic. Any actual "common good policies" would have to actually be done by very sly politicians.

Al needs to read Kirk (Russell, not James T.)

To the degree that certain strands of American conservatism are Rousseauian they are to the same degree non-conservative. If there is anything that separates conservatism from liberalism it's their respective anthropologies.

There is a strand of conservatism (loosely delineated) that holds to a sort of fiscal version of the survival of the fittest. Perhaps this is what Al is referring to? If so, I'd argue that it is no part of conservatism proper (it's certainly not in Burke) but is more like a parasite that has attached itself to a host. And just like a real parasite, the fact that it is difficult to remove does not mean it's an organic part of the whole.

In fairness, Rob, Rousseau has a lot to teach us; and there have been a few conservatives over the years willing to give the crazy Swiss a qualified defense. Willmoore Kendall and Jacques Barzun come to mind. Irving Babbitt made the intriguing remark that Rousseau has the distinction of giving all the wrong answers to all the right questions. I have written before about the profound insights contained within Rousseau's last work On the Government of Poland.

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2010/02/canadian_gold_rousseaus_poland.html

All of which is incidental to the main point, which is that conservatives have always been deeply skeptical of the sort of progress-and-perfectibility ideologists suggested by these quotations.

Agreed, Paul. As you imply, it's Rousseau's answers that are problematic for conservatives. That was my point.

al, the passage you cite targets "philanthropy." Perhaps you would care to provide me with a list of prominent conservatives who object to private charity, and who regard sympathy and generosity as vices rather than virtues?

It should be easy for you to provide me with a complete list. You don't even have to be able to count to 1!

Many prominent conservatives do, of course, object to coercive state-sponsored welfare programs. But, of course, one of their many objections to such programs is precisely that they tend to drive out private charity, which tends to do a much better job of discriminating between genuine and deserving need, on the one hand, and the many cheats and parasites, on the other.

There is, of course, a good point lurking somewhere in the vicinity of Spencer's remarks: attempts to alleviate distress must be managed with great care if they are not to make things worse. For example, the de-stigmatization of bastardy and routine subsidization of illegitimate children has led to a social catastrophe of incalculable dimensions, especially in our minority communities.

For example, the de-stigmatization of bastardy and routine subsidization of illegitimate children has led to a social catastrophe of incalculable dimensions, especially in our minority communities.

Indeed it has, Steve. I'm glad you emphasized that. Al and his social democrats have a lot to answer for: these policies have deprived millions, over two or three or even four generations, of fathers who even acknowledge their existence. Start a kid out with that staggering disability, compound it with a community of debauchery and thuggishness, and there is vanishingly little that any system of subsidy can do for him.

Maximos: that is a characteristically insightful passage from Sumner that you quote, and a good example of his unique, laconic style. I wonder exactly where you think he goes wrong, and exactly where you think it justifies your previously stated strictures?

The distinction between the hardships imposed by nature ["the struggle of individuals to win the means of subsistence from nature"] and the hardships imposed by society ["the competition of man with man in the effort to win a limited supply"] is an interesting and important one. Sumner thinks that where hardships have been unfairly imposed by society, one "must have patient hearing and full redress." But, on the other hand, failure in surmounting the hardships imposed by nature gives one no claim over others.

I guess this is supposed to be the smoking gun: "The law of the survival of the fittest was not made by man and cannot be abrogated by man. We can only, by interfering with it, produce the survival of the unfittest." Note that this is a purely *descriptive*, not *prescriptive* claim. Again, very characteristic of Sumner: he considered himself a scientist, rather than a philosopher, and held philosophers in low regard. Here he suggests a cold-eyed view of the limits on what social/political policy can accomplish.

Is he obviously wrong? I rather suspect that if he could be brought back from the dead, and be taken on a tour of America today, and especially our inner cities and our prisons, he would think that he had been proven right - in spades.

At any rate, I see nothing here to justify the claim that Sumner thought that "absent 'interferences' like democracy, equality, plutocracy, etc., the societal competition would supposedly yield fitter institutions, as 'fitter' individuals rose to the top, and the improvident sank by virtue of their failings," or that he saw "competition as the sine qua non of civilization," or that he entertained any naive "faith that the fittest will rise to the top, while the basest will sink," etc. All that seems thoroughy beside his points.

For example, the de-stigmatization of bastardy and routine subsidization of illegitimate children has led to a social catastrophe of incalculable dimensions, especially in our minority communities.

On one of the blogs I read, a typical social conservative made the point that social conservatives cannot adopt the "men's rights agenda" because the object of conservative government is first and foremost the protection of women and children. On that basis, he argued that despite the fact that subsidizing bastardy has been demonstrably harmful to family life and thus to children, we cannot revert back to the old ways where women only had a legal claim on the resources of the father of their children in case of marriage or rape.

It seems that the real problem with conservatives is that they suck at making hard decisions. It is one thing to be cautious about making a decision, but once the situation is properly understood and a decision deemed necessary, then conservatives should accept the harm--whatever it is. Anything less and they might as well not even bother standing in the way of the problem itself.

That is to say that if a situation is severe, and the only corrective course of action is severe and would harm a lot of people, the fact it would harm them cannot be a deterrent to actually carrying it out if the harm is justified. It should not even slow down decision makers once they have studied the situation, weighed the options and chosen the most just and long-term effective course. Bleeding hearts breed injustice.

This short essay, referenced on Brian Leiter's philosophy blog, may be of interest to some.

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/files/raritan-essay.pdf

"Allowing people to buy health insurance after they are sick is like allowing people to buy insurance for their home the day after it burned down or insurance for their car hours after a new driver totaled it, Huckabee argued."

Which is what we might expect from a man who raised a sociopath and set a killer free to kill again. This puts an interesting spin on pre-existing conditions which can include all manner of things that have nothing to do with "being sick". Steve, are you comfortable with treating people like inanimate objects? Call the wrecker to haul little Billy away when he takes ill? Put grandma up on blocks in the front yard? Sounds sort of death-panelish to me. We do insure folks with pre-existing conditions, of course, as long as we are dealing with employers past a certain size. You and Huckabee think it fine to discriminate against folks who are involved with small businesses and the individual market. Again the "privilege" point is affirmed.

"al, the passage you cite targets 'philanthropy.'"

OK, here's more,

"Objectionable as we find a poor-law to be, even under the supposition that it does what it is intended to do -- diminish present suffering -- how shall we regard it on finding that in reality it does no such thing -- cannot do any such thing? Yet, paradoxical as the assertion looks, this is absolutely the fact. Let but the observer cease to contemplate so fixedly one side of the phenomenon -- pauperism and its relief, and begin to examine the other side -- rates and the ultimate contributors of them, and he will discover that to suppose the sum-total of distress diminishable by act-of-parliament bounty is a delusion."

"Here, at any specified period, is a given quantity of food and things changeable for food, in the hands or at the command of the middle and upper classes. A certain portion of this food is needed by these classes themselves, and is consumed by them at the same rate, or very near it, be there scarcity or abundance. Whatever variation occurs in the sum- total of food and its equivalents, must therefore affect the remaining portion, not used by these classes for personal sustenance. This remaining portion is paid by them to the people in return for their labour, which is partly expended in the production of a further supply of necessaries, and partly in the production of luxuries. Hence, by how much this portion is deficient, by so much must the people come short. A distribution by legislative or other agency cannot make that sufficient for them which was previously insufficient. It can do nothing but change the parties, by whom the insufficiency is felt. If it gives enough to some who else would not have enough, it must inevitably reduce certain others to the condition of not having enough...."

All of which isn't relevant to the theme here. What counts is the gloss that the Robber Barons and their apologists took off Spenser's works in formulating an ideology that justified predatory Gilded age behavior. The Republican Party so internalized those values that they are part of that party's DNA. Every time you vote Republican, you vote to keep conservatism as a political force in America in thrall to those values. All your angels-on-the-heads-of-pins philosophizing will never change that.

al: on a quick skim, the article to which you link looks pretty dumb. Was there a particular passage that really wowed you?

Since you make no real attempt to reply to my last, I take it you realize that there are no prominent conservatives who object to philanthropy/private charity?

Would it just kill you to admit that?

I.e., are you worth talking to?

Sumner goes wrong, in my estimation, in presupposing that an advanced industrial society (my objection would apply all the more to a post-industrial society, though Sumner cannot have possessed foresight regarding such a society) allows for such a clean demarcation of the natural and the social, with the consequence that, in attempting to maintain the distinction, we will be all too liable to naturalize the historical, ie., assume as fixed, given, identical with reason itself, things which are in fact contingent artifacts of social and political processes. If a man should fail to earn income sufficient for his own provisioning, even after employing his talents in those avenues open to them in his society, where, even roughly, is the division between the natural and the social, the struggle to wrest subsistence from nature, and the struggle to best one's fellows in the competition of life? If a man has only his labour-power to offer in exchange for subsistence, his entering a labour market, under whatever competitive regime prevails, just is his means of garnering subsistence. Unless we are talking about relatively simple agricultural societies, entering the competition of life will be the means by which men win their subsistence, which is to say that societal institutions - the form of economic life in any given society - will mediate the products of nature to men. Contingent, artifactual social structures stand between man and nature. For them to impose no unfair burdens, or erect no unfair impediments, would mean that they are impartial, neutral, standing as referees - the rules of the contest must be biased towards none, so that the outcome is fair. We might also state that such rules would permit nature to do its job, to allow the fittest to shine.

But do we - can we? - ever achieve such impartiality in the framing of rules for social interactions, given the imperfection of our reason and judgment, the persistence of even unconscious preferences, and the inevitable weighting of outcomes by the act of legislation - something that can often be estimated beforehand? Count me as dubious. The means by which men secure subsistence will be social conditioned; the socially conditioned means will inevitably be flawed and tendentious; and the outcomes will thus partake of this contingency. Someone will always be able to complain, and rightly. Given human nature, that is no guarantee that he will be heard.

Perhaps, then, we have a process of continual re-evaluation of our laws and institutions. We adjudicate those complaints about the process. Fine. Not only we will fail to escape the partiality of our judgments, we will fail to achieve agreement as to the relevant terms of judgment, and their respective meanings. Assuming that fairness is a critical concept here, what is fairness? Does it tend towards equality, or towards hierarchy? Sumner, and others, might respond that fairness is procedural - I think that this has to be an implication of his line of thought - and that natural inequalities will simply manifest themselves; but every term and implication here is inherently contestable. What, for example, is a natural hierarchy, or a natural distribution of wealth, given the contingency and diversity of socio-economic institutions in human history, and among human societies? Even if all of this is conceded, we'll be left with a self-critical proceduralism, enabling us to say that, because the process closely approximates fair and neutral procedures, the outcomes thus generated are fair: and when we get that far, we've naturalized the historical.

(Aside from all of this, there is the problem that plenty of premodern societies lacked the competitive element that Sumner seems to describe as inherent in the human condition. In most premodern societies, most people inherited their social statuses, didn't change them a great deal, if at all, and did not compete for relative shares - if they competed at all - after the fashion of we moderns, with our markets for everything.)

Note that this is a purely *descriptive*, not *prescriptive* claim.

I'd argue that Sumner is being slightly disingenuous in his pretension to be practicing descriptive social science, and not prescriptive political philosophy or advocacy. Whoever heard of describing something or some outcome as unfit, and then going on to commend that thing or outcome as

prescriptively desirable? No one but a madman or a nihilist would do such a thing. Judgment inheres in the supposedly neutral language, and in its application to certain objects.

Here he suggests a cold-eyed view of the limits on what social/political policy can accomplish.

True enough, though we don't require the language of fittest/unfittest in order to achieve that insight. The language only obfuscates, blurring the distinction between persons and behaviours. We might, by means of some programme or other, fail to eliminate unfit behaviours, but we might increase the survival of the persons engaging in those behaviours; depending on the behaviours in question, and their wider effects, not to mention our moral philosophies and sentiments, we may desire this outcome.

At any rate, I see nothing here to justify the claim...

If Sumner's claim was that by interfering with the 'survival of the fittest' we would only guarantee the survival of the unfittest, then this is surely to assert that, by not interfering, outcomes will be preferable to those achieved by interference. We can easily perceive how democracy and plutocracy would interfere with the principle; the masses are almost certain to be unwise, and a plutocrat skilled in manipulating the political process is not necessarily the best at meeting human wants and needs, at innovating, etc. All of my glosses, save one, seem consistent with this passage. I should not say that Sumner held competition to be the sine qua non of civilization, merely that he believed it an integral component of civilization.

As implied in the initial post, the situation is rather more complicated when the 'settled arrangement' originated in force and fraud, issued in consequences spanning generations, and generated gratuitous human suffering

Maximos, while I agree with the concept that the situation is "more complicated", I also think that a passage of time may, (and yes, depending on circumstances) result in a situation where the ancient injustice can no longer be corrected by returning the good to a prior owner, and in some cases can no longer be corrected at all in any way that is more likely to be just than to be unjust.

For example: in 1640 or 1650, the King of England "gave" to Lord Fairfax something like 50,000 acres in Virginia. This, despite there was nothing in any form of law that really gave the king "ownership" of the land to begin with, and despite at least partial ownership by prior persons. It was clearly without justice.

Nevertheless, after 350 years and 14 generations, it would clearly be outrageous to strip the land from its 2 million current "owners" and simply return it to the 400 or so bona-fide (with proof) descendants of the earlier residents. More complicated, indeed. Maybe, levy a special tax on the current residents to "pay for" the land? But what about all the descendants of the prior residents who have similarly benefited, at some time during the 350 years, from the imposed arrangement? What about the immigrants who landed here in 1920 and just bought land that they thought had good title? Are they equally to be punished with the descendants of the original Englishmen?

Whatever you propose as a corrective, you cannot have any good ground for thinking, after the passage of these 350 years, that such a correction to the old injustice is really and surely more just. Some things just have to be let go.

Tony, you wrote:

Seems to me that conservatism becomes an ism, something distinct from "conserve X", precisely because it DOES have something more too say than simply X is highly important and must be conserved. If that were the case, it would be X-ism, not conservatism.

The thing to recognize is that normal people, in a normal world, have multiple loyalties hierarchically arranged. These loyalties are not "ism"s because, when appropriately ordered, they generally exist without conflicting with each other. Burke's "custom, convention, and prescription" does not invest conservatism with authority, but it recognizes the ability of longstanding custom, convention and prescription to navigate the complexities of life. Those with ordinary human loyalties have no need of "conservatism" as a worldview because they are already constrained by their loyalties and obligations.

Therefore, those who are most susceptible to Liberalism - and also to Conservatism in its ideological form - are those who are already rootless and deracinated, without ordinary human loyalties to God, church, family, community, region and so forth. For rootless moderns with socially conservative temperaments, it is the nation which often replaces these things, or sometimes race. These substitutes do have the advantage of being concrete realities: only men with conservative instincts, but who lack any of the usual loyalties due to some defect in their lives, become nationalist or racist ideologues. Liberals (and neo-conservatives for that matter), on the other hand, replace concrete realities with abstractions, and are perfectly willing to sacrifice the former to obtain the latter.

Here I want to insist that "conservatism", as an authoritative worldview, is itself an ideological product of modernity, forced into existence against its will, and is something that real conservatives should ultimately want to leave behind. How do we leave it behind? By rebuilding those traditional loyalties, and above all attaching ourselves to the Faith that built the West, obeying its precepts, observing its priorities, and assimilating its hierarchy of values.

"The Republican Party so internalized those values that they are part of that party's DNA. Every time you vote Republican, you vote to keep conservatism as a political force in America in thrall to those values."

Al, I think I'm finally beginning to understand you. And I partially agree. Your first sentence above is partly true, but I'd trace it back farther, to the very beginning of the GOP, considering how much of a part railroad and other industrial money played in the party's inception. As I said above, the Republican party has been the party of big business since day one, and I firmly believe the Civil War had as much to do with industrialism vs. agrarianism as it did with abolition.

In any case, however, I think your second sentence is where you go off the rails. The Burke/Kirk strand of conservatism that's been operating in the GOP has acted from time to time as a meliorating force in the party. They've been mostly theorists, however, and not activists or politicians, hence they've never been a huge influence or one big enough in any way to command the party.

Thing is, when you look at the Dems the situation is worse. As a conservative, I reject socialism in principle, yet since the New Deal the Democratic party has been slowly creeping ever more leftward, without any internal opposition to this trend. In other words, in the GOP you at least have some resistance to the Spenserian inclinations of the party. Where's the opposition in the Democratic party to the socialist creep?

As an independent conservative you might say that when I vote GOP I do so only to attempt the further slide towards socialism. I've sat out any number of elections where the GOP candidate was one of the corporate rah-rah boys. If Palin runs in 2012 I will not vote for her. Ditto Romney. In Pa. we have a hot Senate race going between Sestak (D) and Toomey (R). I don't like either of them and will probably sit that one out too.

Point is, for all its faults the GOP isn't ideologically committed to rule by the robber barons in the same way the Dems are committed to socialism broadly understood. The GOP is largely a party of opportunists, and while opportunists and ideologues are both dangerous, opportunistic ideologues are the worst. Hence my problem with the Democrats.

As you say however, there is an endemic problem with the GOP too; that's why, I think, many of us, when we feel that we have to vote GOP only do so holding our noses, realizing that the stink on the other side is even worse.

And by the way, Al, you do far too much conflating of "conservative" and "Republican." There are loads of independent conservatives who see very little of value in the GOP. "Republican" is no more a synonym for "conservative" than "Democrat" is one for "liberal."

This sounds a bit like the Lockean story, to which I'd respond that very few things correspond to this narrative in a strict sense; there are precious few waste and wild places in which a man can toil, utterly of his own initiative and power, and produce something genuinely new, of which it could be said that it is his, and his alone. Virtually everything that is produced arises as the outcome of a cooperative process, from labour and capital, up to the very structure of law itself, under which such production can be profitable, and which secures for a man the work of his hands and intellect.

Maximos, I admit that my examples may have had a Lockean cast to them, but I assure you that they were not meant that way. I had also thought about examples from things that arise not from "a state of nature" at all, and might have added such examples, but it was a very long post as it was. Let me see: these days, society has taken on regulating light bulbs. But light bulbs would not EXIST had it not been for someone like Edison to experiment a 1000 different possibilities and come up with something that works. (Same, for that matter, with the electricity he was using: society knew about electricity, but had not come up with a way of taking hold of it as a useful object.) It is Edison's creativity and energy that gave him hold on a new good - and it is through Edison forming and holding a new good that society had a new good to regulate. The "state of nature" aspect is completely uninvolved here. You cannot say that society regulating, say, the mines from which Edison got the tungsten for his experiments, or the property rights over his house, give society a "claim" over his light bulb concept until the darn things exist, and once they exist by reason of his personal creativity, it cannot but be true that society's claim on them arises through his personal claim.

An even more obvious example would be a man who creates a poem or song. "State of nature" is irrelevant to my point.

I agree with you that even an anti-social explorer type of guy is a social animal, and has an abiding relationship to society (or, societies) no matter how far into the wilderness he travels. But the physical objects he comes across DO NOT have such a relationship, until he takes hold of them. If his mine lies half-way between two societies, to which society does it fall to speak to it's regulation when he takes hold of it? Neither, obviously, until either he refers back to one of them, or until one of them expands its boundaries to have an actual, real relationship to the land it is on. But my point remains valid even after one of the societies does incorporate his mine: the silver is an actual good rather than a future potential good only on account of the man taking hold of it and making it into a present-here-and-now thing, and this is what offers it to society.

Maximos, while I agree with the concept that the situation is "more complicated"...

All of what follows, concerning the "grant" of land in Virginia, is what differentiates that example of injustice in primary acquisition from the example discussed in the initial post. The land reform in Guatemala was specifically structured to exempt smaller landholders, was applied only to fallow lands generating no produce or revenue, compensated the owners at fair value, and sought to mitigate suffering directly traceable to the existing property relations. If there was injustice in the actual implementation of the policy, apart from the terrors, real or imagined, of what the policy might have portended for the future, then it was vanishingly small; it might be protested that these oligarchs 'had no choice' under the law but to accept fair-value compensation for fallow lands, but in the circumstances, this was pretty weak tea, and would seem to be predicated upon the tired voluntarism of modern philosophy, according to which free choices, originating in decisions of the will (and back of the will, we usually find desires), are the indispensable condition of justice: consent generates justice. As I've argued for years, I don't find that philosophy very persuasive, or even terribly powerful; what is just is so, regardless of whether we desire it.

Now, it seems to me that the acquisition of large swathes of North America by means of force and fraud generates some sort of obligation to the descendants of the original inhabitants; we have implicitly recognized as much, hence, the establishment of quasi-autonomous governmental systems, the dedication of certain reserved locales to these descendants and their governments, the provision of special dispensations (casinos, tax-free shops, etc.). How best to discharge this obligation, and how far it extends, is a matter of debate, the questions being fundamentally undecidable, underdetermined by any conceivable set of circumstances. Judgment is inescapable. I would argue only that we do ourselves no favours by presupposing that history simply falls away as a relevant factor of such judgments, that its consequences for different social groups cease to matter after the passage of a certain length of time; history ramifies through the generations with a complexity we can scarcely map, and the acknowledgment of this reality I should think a fundamentally conservative insight: we do violence to reason, and the nature of historical judgment, when we demand of any proposed redress a rationalist precision, in its formulation and effects, that it cannot by nature bear.

But light bulbs would not EXIST had it not been for someone like Edison to experiment a 1000 different possibilities and come up with something that works.

An even more obvious example would be a man who creates a poem or song. "State of nature" is irrelevant to my point.

Notwithstanding the fact that such experimentation, or such leisured creativity, are already embedded in various social institutions, the questions implied by such creative endeavours implicate the social realm. For how long should such discoveries or creations, and the rights to all profits accruing from them, inhere in the creator or owner of them? The traditional standard was that such patents and copyrights - temporary grants of monopoly, in essence - were to be granted for such periods as were necessary to stimulate invention, discovery, commerce, and so forth. We are slouching ever closer to grants of monopoly rights in perpetuity, which is to say, towards grants of plenary rights over any creation or discovery, which is a socially undesirable outcome. In other words, the problem of political and economic judgment is unavoidable and permanent, and implicates a plethora of overlapping and competing interests and goods.

Maximos, I agree with most of your last post. I especially agree that the Guatemalan land reform sounds (at least from the details you gave us) like exactly the right way for society to re-assign property: by limiting its seizure to very carefully limited subsets of property (the ones most obviously not already in use) and re-allocating other goods (paying off the land-owners for their acreage thus seized) to moderate the impact on any single individual whose property is seized. I also agree that mere passage of time, ALONE, does not mean we can ignore injustices in acquisition. I suppose I was unclear on that in my earlier post, but I did not mean to imply that mere time eradicates any need to pay attention to earlier wrongs.

I think that my point about development of new goods (that it is not "society" that actually generates the new wealth except through individuals) and yours (that the new wealth is not generated out of a social vacuum) are not wholly at odds with each other, but are also irreducible premises. Can I suggest a compromise position: that BOTH aspects are fundamentally valid, and that therefore both premises are needed to understand how to deal with resources in society? I certainly do not agree with the strong libertarian view that if I own a good, then I can do anything with it that does not damage another's rights. We always retain an obligation to society (in the use of our goods) and the Divine grant of the physical world to mankind as a whole is at least as fundamental as any specific claim to any specific property by individuals (except, perhaps, their own bodies).

You have a good point, also, about copyrights and intellectual "property" rules. I wasn't thinking about patents in bringing up Edison: it wasn't his socially-granted monopoly to produce light bulbs that I was trying to get at: it was any regulation of the ownership of the actual bulbs that he created. Sorry I wasn't more clear on that. The patentable idea is, clearly, something that becomes a personal property right only in the context of social rules - I agree with you on that.

The good that rests in the actual bulbs Tom made does not rely on such framework: they are goods that are useful to men because they light up his room, regardless of whether society makes rules about them or not. Sure, I agree that he went about the process of doing all his experimenting in a context that rested on all of society - but that social context applied to all of his neighbors, and THEY didn't invent or make the bulbs: it is not the social context that is the cause of the good thus created. Tom could have lived with all the goods of that social context that granted him property rights his entire life without inventing light bulbs without causing damage, harm, or injustice to society for his inaction: his energy thus spent was superfluous to any return owed (strictly) by him to society for all the goods society provided to him. Society and it's rules, protection, value, do make more possible the creation of new wealth. Such social reality is not the specific cause of the new wealth as such - except through individuals acting of their own capacity.

I don't like either of them and will probably sit that one out too.

Then you are part of the problem. Do you honestly think they care about your vote if you sit at home? What strategy is that? "If I don't get my way, I'll shut up and not say anything?"

No, you know what would badly upset both parties is if conservatives instead voted for Cthulhu, Mickey Mouse or Caligula's Horse. When the polls read that a Lovecraftian Elder God, a cartoon mouse, or 2,000 year old dead horse nearly took a congressional seat, that'll be pretty hard to ignore.

"Then you are part of the problem."

Oh, so I have to choose between business as usual Democrat- style or business as usual GOP-style? Thanks but no thanks.

Caligula's Horse

Incitatus 2012. I'm in. A dead horse's a** can't be any worse than either of these parties.

Incitatus 2012

Great! Where do I get the bumper sticker?

Can I suggest a compromise position: that BOTH aspects are fundamentally valid, and that therefore both premises are needed to understand how to deal with resources in society?

This is essentially the position I've been defending, albeit with an emphasis on the societal role in political economy; one must correct the characteristic American errors on the subject.

Such social reality is not the specific cause of the new wealth as such - except through individuals acting of their own capacity.

I would argue that the inventiveness of Tom is the efficient cause of the new wealth and productivity.

This item may be of interest to those concerned with usury and rent-seeking:

"In 2007, it is likely that the top five hedge fund managers earned more than all five hundred S&P 500 CEOs combined."

"al: on a quick skim, the article to which you link looks pretty dumb. Was there a particular passage that really wowed you?"

Haven't had time to do more myself. Just found it on BL's blog. Based on my scan we will likely disagree.

"Since you make no real attempt to reply to my last, I take it you realize that there are no prominent conservatives who object to philanthropy/private charity? Would it just kill you to admit that?"

" Joe and Mary Thompson had agreed to adopt Emily before her birth in 1999, and it never occurred to them to back out when she was born with spina bifida. But that same year, their residential remodeling business in Overland Park, Kan., went under, prompting job changes that left the family searching for health coverage with a child who was uninsurable."

"The insurers were willing to cover the Thompsons and their older daughter, but not Emily, who was later discovered to have mild autism as well, or her 13-year-old brother, who had a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder."

"Starting Thursday, the insurers will not be able to do that, as the new health care law prohibits them from denying coverage to children under 19 because of pre-existing health conditions. In 2014, the change will extend to people of all ages."

Steve, I thought I was clear but I guess not, sorry. Of course there are no prominent conservatives who object to philanthropy/private charity or at least any that you and I are aware of. I don't recall suggesting otherwise. Again, that is irrelevant to Spenser's position, the understanding of Spenser, et al that formed American conservatism and sustains it to this day, and public policy in general.

If you review the various discussions on W4 during the HCR debates you will find suggestions that we can solve health care issues by relying on the kindness of strangers. Philanthropy/private charity is a good thing and not unimportant but the notion that, by itself, it is a solution to serious public policy issues is among those just-so stories that you all tell yourselves to get to sleep at night.

I was roaming the Colorado Plateau some years ago and passed though a small town to do some shopping. In front of the Safeway was a card table with some girls around high school age having a bake sale. It was for the medical bills of a newborn who needed to be in a neo-natal ICU. Good on them but that is no way for a wealthy nation to handle these matters.

Al, I agree with you that if we were to stop social support (forced wealth transfers) for indigent people in need of medical care overnight, the private charitable system would be overwhelmed. But that's not what we are asking for. Would it kill you to admit that part of the reason people give less to charity than they might otherwise is (a) because they know that government is already picking up the tab on many of these cases (to which they have already contributed) and (b) 75 years of government intrusion into social care with ham-fisted methods have conditioned people away from thinking of their neighbor's need as entailing a personal obligation on them?

If we were to have less of (a) and (b), we would have more private giving to charity causes like health care for the needy. You say "not enough." But you can't know how much would be donated if the social conditioning went the other way. What if, for instance, we gave a charitable tax deduction equal to 3 times the amount of donation to any charity that has no salary or fundraising costs (totally volunteer) and provides food, clothing, shelter, and medicine? Better yet, a direct tax credit dollar for dollar for such donation - after all, those dollars would be used MUCH better than federal dollars for the same purpose, given the amount of federal overhead and mismanagement. You can bet your wallet that the amount of charitable giving for food etc. would increase vastly overnight. You may wish to call that a "just so" story, but that is just wishful thinking on your part, since you can't know with certainty.

Using a little creativity, there ARE potential solutions to getting people to give charitably amounts that make sense on a national level. Admittedly, those potential solutions would have a LOT better chance of success if we had a virtuous people (all around - upper, middle, and lower income levels). Since we no longer have anything that even resembles a virtuous people, we probably would have a long haul getting to the point where we ought to be. All the more reason to get started now.

"Spenser's position, the understanding of Spenser, et al that formed American conservatism and sustains it to this day, and public policy in general."

Repeat this as oft as ye may, Al, but it doesn't make it so. I'm beginning to think it's not worth the trouble talking with you. You're mistaken about conservatism (not sure where you're getting your info but you obviously haven't read much, if any, of its foundational literature), yet you've got your mind made up, and it refuses to see any nuances or subtleties in these matters. That's the mark of an ideologue or a fundmentalist.

Rob G. - I think you're right about Al. It seems that he's a political man, first and foremost, and has little interest in ideas or principles that go beyond existing party platforms. But W4 is all about going beyond existing party platforms. So I wonder what keeps him around.

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