01/13/2010 (9:44 pm)
I was cruising “The Moderate Voice” yesterday, a blog site dedicated to serving the illusion of mainstream Democrats that they’re “moderates,” when I was shocked and a little dismayed to see Rick Moran, proprietor of Right Wing Nuthouse and at one time editor for Pajamas Media, posting an opinion piece explaining why he believes conservatism is disconnected from reality. He cross-posted the piece at Right Wing Nuthouse.
It’s tough to say exactly what has Rick in such a twist, since the piece launches a deluge of generalities without many specifics. Here are some examples of his general agita:
In the end, I think it is more important to look at how conservatism as a philosophy has closed itself off so thoroughly from uncomfortable and inconvenient truths about America.
In this case, it is conservatism losing its ability to question itself in a rigorous and punishing manner, preferring to maintain a comfort zone in which certain shibboleths of the past rest easily on the mind and prevent the kind of examination of underlying assumptions that any set of philosophical principles needs to maintain touch with the real world.
But over the decades, conservatism lost its flexibility in delineating a coarse ideology from this philosophy. By this I mean that conservatism has eschewed thoughtfulness for conformity.
The central idea seems to be that Rick thinks conservatives have stopped thinking, and are reacting in a mindless ideological manner. But what does he mean by this?
I see two examples in the piece, and they’re not very specific. In the first, he says conservatives are no longer merely trying to preserve American tradition, but instead are trying to roll back the New Deal and the Great Society, and replace them with something like the “Articles of Confederation on steriods.” In the second, he says conservatives have developed a hatred of government of any kind. This, says Moran, prevents “conservative ideas from being brought to bear on national issues like health care, immigration, loss of industry, globalization, and adequate, sensible regulation of everything from finanicial institutions to the environment.”
He ends this second example this way:
For it is not necessarily people who have become hostile to government but rather conservatism as a governing philosophy that has walled itself into a corner, refusing to confront a modern America that is less white, less agrarian, more urbanized, more technical, and developing a growing tolerance for government solutions to prickly, systemic problems experienced by ordinary Americans.
Finally we get a clue what Rick is really talking about. He seems to be saying that the real America, the pragmatic America in which we actually live, has accepted government as the solution to major social problems — and that conservatism needs to adjust to this reality.
He reinforced this in response to a comment I placed at The Moderate Voice. He had objected that conservatives offer nothing at all in response to the Democrats’ health care initiative. I mentioned that there have been at least four Republican proposals, and that a number authors, including me, have suggested alternative approaches. Rick agreed, but wondered where were the solutions to dealing with Medicare, S-CHIP, and Medicaid? And then he added:
The reality of America in the 21st century is that government is massively involved in health care. Unless you are proposing that we scrap these programs – or radically reform them – you have no “conservative alternative” to health care reform. You work with the world as it is and forget the world you dream should be. That means reforming health care in the context of a government that spends 40 cents of every health care dollar. You can nibble at the edges of that but anything more and you put millions of people at risk.
The “reality” to which he points is the reality in which government pays $.40 of each health dollar. He understates it; I believe it’s closer to $.55 of each health dollar. That’s Medicare and Medicaid. These are the largest of several unfunded liabilities that threaten to swamp the American economy starting this decade, requiring of us more than $50 trillion, and probably more like $80 trillion, in promised payments that have to come from the American taxpayer because there is no savings from which to pay them. (The other parts are Social Security and various federal pension plans, now including the United Auto Workers’ pension plans.) To this, Moran says that any proposal that threatens the hearts of these plans “put(s) millions of people at risk.”
We’re at even greater risk if we do not threaten these plans, frankly. But what Moran seems to be saying is that big government is an irrevocable part of the modern landscape, and it constitutes a flight from reality to deny it.
Conservatives have not stopped thinking. Quite the contrary; we’ve stopped not thinking, and are starting to see the condition of the nation more clearly. And we are starting to recognize that to accept any part of the claim that government is the solution to social problems is ultimately to accept all parts of it. You can’t make limited partnership deals with the devil.
Progressives announced their agenda for America as early as 1900, arguing that the notion of inherent individual liberty was quaint and admirable, but must give way to the more modern recognition that through the systematic application of the sciences, man could become master of his environment and solve all the stubborn social problems that plague him. They claimed that in order to accomplish this, citizens must surrender their liberty for the good of the collective. The progressive agenda has been marching forward ever since, gradually increasing the size and scope of government and reducing our liberties until citizens of many European socialist nations have greater liberty than Americans.
Progressives also systematically sought positions in education, news, entertainment, law, and government. Wherever progressives gained a position with hiring authority, they prevented anyone besides other progressives from entering that field — with the result that now, roughly a century later, they dominate those fields. And using those positions of information and power, they have bent the thinking of the culture on every topic from sexual mores to music to consumerism to business to law. And yes, the impact of progressives dominating those fields has produced a populace that is much more ready to accept dominant government as the norm.
To accept this as a “reality” about which serious attempts to change it constitute “inflexibility” is to concede Western civilization to the progressives.
I am not willing to do that. The 20th century has shown us with astonishing clarity what happens when progressives get their hands on governments. The very same policies, produced by the very same philosophies, governed Italy, Germany, Cuba, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, East Germany, and Poland at some point during the 20th century. We are all painfully familiar with the misery, the economic stagnation, the oppressive atmosphere stifling creativity and political innovation, the murders… murders in the hundreds of millions, by governments against their own citizens, invariably for the crime of holding and expressing ideas contrary to their progressive masters who knew better. If progressives did not control the writing of history, “holocaust” would refer to progressivism — much more correctly than its current meaning.
What has happend, Mr. Moran, is that far more conservatives have recognized that the progressive agenda rejects the core claim of the American experiment in self-government: namely, that all people are created equal, and that they owe their first allegiance to God by way of their own conscience. Progressives deny this, claiming instead that they, themselves, are superior in intellect, and that those who are superior have the right to tell others how to live their lives. This is the central conflict of our time. Progressives have understood it from the start. Conservatives are just beginning to grasp it.
Modern conservatives are also beginning to recognize that it makes no sense at all to continue to cooperate in the American experiment with adversaries who do not believe its core principles.
The fact is that progressivism and what we’re calling American conservatism (which is actually old-fashioned American liberalism) are mutually exclusive moral systems. The American system of government presupposes a common culture in which all players agree to the same, basic principles of right and wrong, with liberty of conscience as the highest good. The nation was born with such a culture in place. We no longer live in such a culture; there are two, competing and utterly incompatible moral systems at work in America. The nation is schizophrenic, and the outcome will either be tyranny by one side over the other, civil war, or partition.
And by the way, it is not just conservatives who have become “inflexible” about their “core ideology.” We heard plenty of talk during the Bush years about the possibility of civil war — from progressives. And the topic they were threatening violence over was not the rolling back of Great Society programs, it was sensible measures to prevent attacks by violent Muslims. They were threatening rebellion over the West defending itself, for God’s sake. What do you think they’d do if we actually started rolling back New Deal policies… and insisting on a ratchet effect such that they’ll never be unrolled, like the Democrats have been doing with every social change they’ve initiated in the past century? How long do you think it would be before progressives started rioting, and we faced modern versions of the Weathermen?
Rick Moran thinks it is unrealistic to imagine an America that rejects the presuppositions of the progressives. I do not; I think that no matter how difficult, our survival as a nation requires that we not only imagine such an America, but that we produce it. And if we cannot produce it with the progressives among us, I say we have to secure a separate territory in which we are able to produce it, hence my call for secession a few weeks ago.
In short, modern conservatism has not abandoned reality; rather, it has acknowledged a fundamental divergence in world-view that has, in fact, existed for about a century.
5 Comments »
Comment by John Cooper
I know one thing: We need to come up with a better word than “conservative” to describe what many of us stand for. It’s my sense that “Conservative” pretty much means whatever the user intends it to mean.
Occasionally, I identify myself a “conservative” of course, but that’s really shorthand for the fact that I believe in individual rights, a smaller, constitutionally-limited federal government to protect those rights, less regulation, fewer taxes, the rule of law, laissez faire, and more freedom.
Comment by dullhammer
“And yes, the impact of progressives dominating those fields has produced a populace that is much more ready to accept dominant government as the norm.”
You can say that again.
Financial capital of the U.S. is now Washington DC and no longer New York, according to this opinion piece by David Frum (at CNN). And he uses a lot of facts to back it up.
Comment by suek
Very good article which raises some points to be considered. First, there is certainly an economy of working together that benefits a society. I think most would agree with that. Then there is a point at which working together is no longer reasonable and efficient – I suspect we’ve reached that point, and for some reason progressives assume that bigger is _always_ better. Part of what you point out raises the question of that issue. What level of mandated cooperation best serves a society? town, county, state or federal? The founders limited the federal function to collecting import tariffs and national defense – today, we have states shuffling off responsibility to the Feds, due primarily to the 16th amendment, I believe. I was interested to learn that the 16th amendment wasn’t so much to allow the Feds to tax the individual as a means of support, but it was a means to take that power from the states, who had been responsible prior to that for supporting the federal government. The Federal government, however, found that the states were not reliable in supplying supportive funds, and couldn’t be forced to do so, so the responsibility was taken from the states and placed on the individual – who obviously _could_ be forced to supply the money. And of course, we all know that Roosevelt made the prepayment mandatory, just to insure the regular income to the government. Our power as citizens lies within the state government, I think.
As for the financial capital…not to disagree, because I don’t…but the problem is that laws have been made but are selectively enforced. People complain about supporting the corrupt government of Afghanistan, but don’t seem to recognize the corruption in our own government. Making laws that are enforced against one’s political enemies but ignored for one’s political friends is the heart and soul of corruption. Are we – at the federal level – really any better than Afghanistan?
And then the issue of infiltration. Has Rick Moran always expressed this position? If so, how is it that he can be considered a leading Conservative spokesman? It reminds me of people who support Lieberman…. I like Lieberman. I think he’s an honest diligent person, and not corrupt as are some of his compatriots. He’s also a dyed in the wool Liberal, and I disagree with him on most of his political positions. People who suggest that he could be part of a “joint, bipartisan” political ticket are nuts! But he’s honest. If RM has had progressive opinions harbored in the back of his head all these years, and has simply positioned himself as a solid leader of conservative opinion, then he is _not_ honest, and has been trying to pull the wool over our eyes. He’s another of those who have worked to place themselves in a position of trust, only to turn about and show himself to be on the side of the opponent – the progressive. That makes him a double agent or a traitor. Take your pick. If that’s where he stands, he should be shunned. He cannot be trusted.
I don’t object to different positions. I _do_ object to pretending to be what you are not.
Comment by RM
This guy reminds me of the global warming gurus who, when people started seriously questioning that concept with some rigor, responded by declaring: “The debate is over. The science is settled.”
Also, I’m not quite sure why our side has adopted the term “progressives”. This is the term THEY like, and that they now want to be known as. Over the course of decades, the term “liberal” has finally started to have a sort of disreputable tone to it, so they decide to simply change their label. Why are we cooperating in this effort? They created the rotten fish smell that the term “liberal” has through their own conduct and policies. They own it. Let them keep it, like it or not.
Comment by Frank
I have a hard time trying to figure out why supposedly “dyed-in-the-wool” conservatives spend so much time finding fault with their own philosophy or fellow travellers. George Will cited years ago that it looks as though the main thing conservatives want to conserve is the new deal. Moran apparently not only agrees but thinks we should reorient our movement to that end. I disgaree. Fact is other than those early pre party years back in the 1700′s conservatism as a governing philosophy has never been tried. It has been nothing more than various incarnations of the the spoils system ever since. When will our time come? With thought leaders like Moran none too soon I fear.