Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Conservatism of the Liberal Movement

"I kept having difficulty getting my point across without staking out my position," I said to a friend. He recommended then that I preface all my political diatribes with a kind of disclaimer like, "Please note that am not referring specifically to the Democratic and the Repbulican Parties, ridiculous bodies both." At this point I was to smile and gather nods from around the audience. Of course, politicians are so dumb! Everyone knows that for hell's sake. He continued with his suggestion. "Say that you vote red nationally, and blue locally, at least as a general rule." Good advice I thought. Maybe I'll try that more....

It is striking how conservative the liberal movement is not in theory but in fact. It is also a little paradoxical. For on the one hand we are served a popular liberal rhetoric which amounts to little more than this: it's everyone's right to be vulgar, licentious, and profligate (conditions which are oddly enough blamed on capitalism). On the other hand, liberal intellectuals, if that is what they deserve to be called, advocate a honeyed fascism of state dominance directed to an ancient idea of civic virtue. On the one hand, the people of an open society and free market cannot be trusted to make or allowed to suffer their own choices, and yet these same mental children can be taught the highest form of the good, which is sacrifice to the society, and learn to love what is greater than man, i.e. the state. On the one hand, the government of the United States is the most evil creation ever, but government everywhere else ought to be given leeway and understanding for its vagaries. In fact, we have a lot to learn about social programs from South America, Europe, Canada, China even. On the one hand, corporations are evil and control everything, but the vast corporate body of mankind can be trusted to run government everywhere. Just get here and you get to vote!

This is the utter perversion of both the classical (ancient) and modern philosophies of American liberalism, a judicious and self-understood combination of the (often mistakenly opposed) philosophies of virtue and economic freedom. Indeed, the ancients, like Aristotle, did contend that the good of the regime or the city was a more divine and greater good than that of the individual, a holding which gets any good libertarian's hackles rising. But one shouldn't confuse what Aristotle was trying to say and what he meant by the regime and the city, an idea which ought to be distinguished from the state or the actual workings of government. I will not go into what Aristotle was trying to say here but it is clear that the Founders conceived of the ancients and the moderns as allies in freedom and virtue, and fasioned our regime with an aim at securing what could rationally be hoped for with the fortune bestowed on us by the unmoved mover (a little joke there).

In any case, I continue to wonder at the fear portrayed by so many of the brethren of freedom at what is considered to be the vilest of them all: christian convervatism. Now I ask that you please step back from this last comment and understand what I am asking here, for I am no advocate of what is commonly understood by the term "right-wing radical." And, I shouldn't have to say this but I feel that I must, I do not attend church, do not pray, know nothing of the Bible, and generally couldn't be considered a religious person in almost any way. That said, let me continue by wondering aloud whether or not the future of liberty has more to fear from the remnants of christianity and real conservatism - the schools and pockets of intellectuals associated with these now abhored vestiges of "mysticism" and "brutish ignorance", of which (strangely enough) seem to be the last, and best, sources left for the advocacy of limited government - or the musings of a more and more quixotic left - so deeply confused and full of inner contradiction, and yet so commonly and vastly absorbed, shouted, and spewed - that advocates a happy and cooperative world ordering and then hinders free trade, insists on the subjectivity of morality and the exaltation of the vulgar and yet talks about the sacrifice of the individual to the confirmed opinion of the elite, and imagines a world full of material wealth and also free of choice, responsibility, or capitalism?


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