Springtime in the Smokies
Showing posts with label Conservatism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Conservatism. Show all posts

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Sir Roger Scruton: How to Be a Conservative


In the latest episode from Uncommon Knowledge, Sir Roger Scruton, a formally trained political philosopher, talks about his life and the events he’s witnessed that led him to conservatism. He first embraced conservatism after witnessing the leftist student protests in France in May 1968. During the ensuing riots in Paris, more than three hundred people were injured. Scruton walked away from this event with a change in worldview and a strong leaning toward conservatism. Visits to communist- controlled Poland and Czechoslovakia in 1979 cemented his preference for conservatism and his distaste for the fraud of communism and socialism, initiating a desire to do something about it. From thereon he dedicated himself to helping organize underground seminars for the young people oppressed behind the iron curtain. 
 
Sir Roger examines a brief history of conservatism in the twentieth century of England in regard to Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill. Although he appreciates what Margaret Thatcher stood for, he argues that she had many conservative ideals but never used the conservative framework to organize her overall political strategy. Instead she organized around market economics, which was not always effective in the social, cultural, and legal areas. Peter Robinson argues that Winston Churchill did a much better job of organizing around conservative ideals but eventually lost an election because he didn’t have the vocabulary or the focus on free markets. They discuss the tenuous relationship between free markets and conservative ideals that have not mixed well together in British politics. 
 
Robinson and Sir Roger discuss the 2016 political upset of Brexit in the United Kingdom and how the political analysts failed to predict the vote outcome, much like what happened in November 2016 in the United States. They deliberate how the issues around immigration from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom contributed to Brexit, in addition to general dissatisfaction with the European Union. Thus, in the cases of both the United Kingdom and the United States, the media and intellectuals ignored the will of the “indigenous working classes” who made their voices known through their votes. 
 
About the Guest:
 
Sir Roger Scruton Sir Roger Scruton is an English writer and philosopher who has published more than fifty books in philosophy, aesthetics, and politics. His book discussed in this episode was How to Be a Conservative; it was published in 2014. He is a fellow of the British Academy and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He teaches in both England and America and is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington. DC. He is currently teaching an MA in philosophy course for the University of Buckingham. Sir Scruton was knighted in 2016 by Queen Elizabeth II for his “services to philosophy, teaching and public education.”
 
 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Daniel Hannan: What Does It Mean to Be Conservative?

By Daniel Hannan

The cleverest living Englishman
Some years ago, while canvassing for his wife in a local election in Wiltshire, Roger Scruton was asked on the doorstep, “What is conservatism, anyway?” The voter had unwittingly put the question to the man who, more than any other, has defined what conservatism is; the man who has as good a claim as any to be the cleverest living Englishman.

If he were on the Left, Roger Scruton would be recognised as one of our towering public intellectuals; but it’s a peculiarity of our age that conservative thinkers occupy a space beyond the mental horizons of most commissioning editors. There will always be Rightist columnists of the Richard Littlejohn variety, I’m delighted to say; but a Rightist professor whose writings range from German philosophy to the oddities of common law, from religious art to country sports, is likely to be regarded as an eccentric class traitor.

Still, Roger will be read and remembered when many of the prominent literary figures of our day are footnotes – partly for the keenness of his intelligence and partly for the consistency of his vision, but mainly for the grandeur of his prose. He can ennoble almost any subject – economics, cooking, telephone boxes – by his gentle logic and his courteous insistence on treating readers as his intellectual equals.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

DeMint: ‘Big Business Is No Friend of Conservatism’

Former Sen. Jim DeMint, the president of the Heritage Foundation, writes in his new book—“Falling in Love With America Again”—about the cozy relationship between big business and big government.

“Almost all big corporations benefit from, advocate for, and downright like big government,” DeMint writes.

In an interview with CNSNews.com, DeMint explained his view that a corollary to this principle is that big business and conservatism are not on the same team.

Read more at Cybercast News Service >>


 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Renewed Reagan Conservatism

By Paul G. Kengor
 

Editor’s note: This article first appeared at TheBlaze.com. 
 
A rudderless Republican Party, afraid to assert itself in the face of a rising liberal/progressive onslaught. A confident Democratic Party in the White House, undermining the nation, its economy, and its foreign policy, with timid Republicans feckless in response. A battle for the heart of the GOP and the next presidential nomination among conservative Republicans and liberal Republicans.

Sound familiar? Of course. But I’m not just talking about March 2014. I’m also talking about March 1977, when a genuine conservative Republican named Ronald Reagan surveyed the political landscape and saw something hauntingly similar. Reagan resolved to do something about it, and he laid out that vision 37 years ago, at CPAC, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. What Reagan said in that speech remains crucial for conservatives and the Republican Party today.

Ronald Reagan began speaking at CPAC in 1974, its first gathering. He addressed the faithful 13 times through his final year in the White House. But perhaps his most vigorous defense of conservative thinking came in his remarks delivered on February 6, 1977, his 66th birthday.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Reclaiming Conservatism

By Ken Connor

This month, the American Conservative Union's Conservative annual Political Action Conference, or CPAC, convened in Washington, D.C. This year's conference featured many of the GOP's presumed up-and-comers, people like Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and Bobby Jindal. There was much talk about economic liberty, the Obama administration's assault on the American tradition of individual liberty and self-determination, and the crisis of America's spiraling national debt. The crowd was full of energetic, motivated young people excited about taking on the forces of big government in order to secure a bright future for themselves and their children. What didn't register as much on the agenda at this year's CPAC were subjects involving marriage and family, namely, same-sex marriage and abortion.

John Murdock, writing for First Things, lamented the myopathy of a GOP that ignores foundational social issues in favor of an obsession with the ideological abstraction called "liberty."

Read more at Renew America >>

 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Ronald Reagan’s City of God

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Paul Kengor’s new book 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative. Among the principles is faith. A version of this article first appeared at RealClearReligion.org.

Conservatives constantly talk of freedom.

Freedom. Freedom. Freedom. Go to any gathering of conservatives, and you will hear a freedom mantra. They speak of “freedom” almost as if it were a one-word synonym for conservatism, a slogan for the movement. At times, they do so in an almost trite way.

Ronald Reagan likewise spoke constantly of freedom. Mankind, from “the swamps to the stars,” as he said in his seminal October 1964 “Time for Choosing” speech, longed to be free. The global Cold War struggle of Reagan’s life represented the arc of that longing, of that crisis. Obviously, the communist world hungered for freedom. But even the free world didn’t always appreciate it. Free people needed always to be reminded of their freedom and the need to understand and reassert it. That included Americans. Reagan said that freedom is always under assault; every generation must fight to preserve it.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

We Need a Thinker in the Mould of Edmund Burke to Present the Case for a Humane Conservatism

In the UK today people of a truly conservative persuasion do not have a voice or a political party to represent them
 
'The kind of liberal conservatism David Cameron espouses is a mishmash of the good and bad, and is completely divorced from Christian spirituality' (PA)
Ed West’s review of Jesse Norman’s biography of Edmund Burke in the Herald of August 2 gives tantalising glimpses of the great conservative thinker and makes me want to know Burke better, not just his supposed remark, not found in his writings, “Evil flourishes when good men do nothing”.

West comments that “until the French Revolution, Burke was not recognisably ‘Right-Wing’, as it would later be called. He supported Catholic emancipation and argued in favour of conciliation with the American colonies. Burke was not against all change, just extreme change.” He quotes Norman’s interpretation of Burke’s political viewpoint, “For radical change to be genuinely worthwhile, it must bring overwhelming social benefit, or be the product of the most extreme necessity.”

Conservatism means preserving institutions of permanent value – such as the institution of marriage between a man and a woman; and being cautiously open to change when it is clearly an organic process, not imposed from outside – such as the development of the trade union movement. The trouble is that today in the UK, people of conservative persuasion do not have a voice or a political party; as a letter by CM Williams in yesterday’s Telegraph put it: “Mr Cameron is planning for defeat at the coming election, which will herald even more social democratic policies. Where are true Conservatives to go?”


Monday, February 14, 2011

GOProud Out at Annual Summit of Conservatives

We resolved to ignore the annual CPAC meeting this year, which was hijacked by  libertarian and homosexual organizations.  We are pleased that steps are being taken to restore this meeting to authentic conservatives in the mould of Burke and Kirk.  But it has been illuminating to see which organizations and candidates will stand for principle and which will go with the flow. 

We salute Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality and Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel for leading the opposition to the inclusion of groups antithetical to the conservative movement.  Organizations that boycotted this year's meeting include The Heritage Foundation, Media Research Center, Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, American Principles Project, American Values, the Center for Military Readiness, Liberty Counsel, and the National Organization for Marriage.

As our friend Gary Glenn, President of the American Family Association of Michigan, points out, marriage protection has been on the ballot in 30 states and has passed in every one, with an average margin in support of nearly 70%.  Why would conservative organizations want to alienate the broad mainstream of the American public?
Conservative principles have never been an obstacle for Mitt Romney
From WorldNetDaily
The homosexual activist group GOProud, whose inclusion in the Conservative Political Action Conference here last year and last week stirred controversy within the largest annual conservative gathering, will not be welcomed back next year, sources tell WND. 

Some of the nation's biggest conservative organizations withdrew from participation over the inclusion of GOProud and other factors. Those groups include the Heritage Foundation, Media Research Center, Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America. 

Read the rest of this entry >>

Saturday, June 5, 2010

How Conservatism Guided America's Founding

Forrest McDonald is professor of history at the University of Alabama, as well as distinguished senior fellow at its Center for the Study of Southern History and Culture.

A native Texan, Dr. McDonald completed his Ph.D. at the University of Texas in 1955. His books, scholarly articles, and reviews, more than 100 in all, have established him as one of the foremost interpreters of America's founding, American economic history, and the history of the presidency. His books on Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton each were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Editor's Preview: It was not state weakness, but incipiently totalitarian behavior by unchecked state governments in the years after 1776, that set the stage for the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. National authority must be strengthened; but how?

Liberty is secure in the United States today only because Washington, Hamilton, and their conservative allies bested radical ideologues like Jefferson and Madison in the ensuing struggle to shape the U.S. Constitution.

Thus John Locke, philosophical father of the latter group, may be a less benign influence on history than is commonly supposed: millenial excesses from the French Revolution to abolitionism to the Great Society owe much to his rationalist theories.

Forrest McDonald, narrator of this drama, is a historian who gives his University of Alabama students (and his Hillsdale readers) tools of rare power for understanding America. His succinct definitions of conservative principles and their antithesis, the illusions of modernity that ever threaten freedom, are close to classic. And as to the dinner-table remark that fathered today's Democratic Party…well, read and see.



By Forrest McDonald

Most historians agree, I think, that the United States was born of a conservative defense of American liberty. During the imperial crisis of 1763 to 1776, leaders of the American resistance to British measures repeatedly justified their stand by accusing the mother country of introducing radical constitutional innovations and by insisting that the resisting colonists had all the weight of history, custom, and the "ancient constitution" on their side. When the British government refused to return to the tried-and-true system that had prevailed before 1763—the revolutionary leaders maintained—Americans had no choice but to declare and fight for their independence.

Similarly, it would appear obvious that, upon declaring their independence, the Americans ipso facto committed themselves to a political regime whose central tenet was the sacredness of liberty. The Tree of Liberty, the Liberty Boys, the Sons of Liberty, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"—that was what it was all about.

But the matter was actually not so simple as that. From the outset—even among advocates of independence and constitutional union—there was a struggle between conservative champions of freedom and advocates of a modernity whose program was entirely antithetical to establishing a regime of liberty. The outcome of that struggle was an institutional commitment to freedom, but the struggle itself was imprinted on the American political subconsciousness, from which it has resurfaced periodically to our own times.

Let me begin by making clear how I use the operative terms "conservatism" and "modernity." Conservatism first.

What Conservatives Believe

Conservatism is not an ideology or a program—its programmatic content varies with place and time—but a set of values and an attitude toward changes in the established social order. Its opposite is not any particular dogmatic secular religion—such as communism or socialism—but dogmatic secular religion itself.

Peter Viereck once defined conservatism as "the political secularization of the doctrine of original sin." Eric Voegelin defined its opposite as the political secularization of the heresy of gnosticism.

Edmund Burke distinguished between "abstraction," or a priori reasoning divorced from or contrary to history and experience, and "principles," or sound general ideas derived from observation of human nature throughout time and space. Thus, despite the diversity inherent in conservatism, some principles may be delineated as having been held in common by conservatives from the eighteenth century through the twentieth.

A fundamental principle concerns morality. Conservatives believe that there are basic, universal, and eternal moral truths. They are not unanimous as to the source of these moral truths: most believe that they are ordained by God, but non-theists among them attribute the origin to the natural order. All agree, however, that good and evil are equally real, that every adult human except the mentally enfeebled is endowed with a moral sense that enables him to distinguish right from wrong, and that man's universal religious instinct is the truest foundation of the social order.

Conservatives are also concerned with morality in another sense of the term: morality as mores or social custom. Many moral values are peculiar to individual societies, and even the transcending moral values may be delimited or refined by social norms. "Thou shalt not kill," for instance, is a universal mandate, but no society interprets it to forbid absolutely the destruction of any living thing, animal or vegetable. Moreover, virtually every society makes exceptions even within the human species; most conservatives would hold that the commandment does not apply to self-defense, to defense of family and the innocent, and to legally sanctioned defense of one's country. Similarly, though incest is universally prohibited, the degree of kinship necessary to invoke the injunction vales from society to society, as does the way kinship is reckoned. Thus there are both absolute and relative moral values. The two are inevitably and sometimes confusingly related, meaning that bona fide moral dilemmas do arise.

Conservative attitudes toward morality give rise to a profound concern for the necessity of freedom. As a creature with a moral sense and as one endowed with free will, man can choose between moral and immoral behavior—but he is responsible for the consequences of his actions. Government and society, to be moral, must allow individuals the freedom necessary for them to be responsible. How much liberty is desirable beyond this minimum varies with the force and nature of social custom in each political regime. In general, liberty flows .not from the extent of popular participation in law-making but from the extent that a people is habitually law-abiding: law is the fountain of liberty.

The conservative believes in justice tempered by equity, and he does not confuse the two. At its core, justice has to do with predictability and with the sense of security it provides. There are rules of acceptable behavior, known or knowable to all, and the rules carry with them rewards and punishments, also known or knowable. Few conservatives are so confident of their own rectitude that they would prefer strict and unvarying justice ("I cry for my country," Jefferson is reported to have said, "when I contemplate the possibility that there may be a just God"), and accordingly they believe that justice should be tempered with mercy, compassion, equity. But they also believe, with Blackstone, that "the liberty of considering all cases in an equitable light must not be indulged too far, lest thereby we destroy all law—And law without equity, though hard and disagreeable, is much more desirable for the public good, than equity without law: which would make every judge a legislator, and introduce most infinite confusion."

Paralleling the conservative's attitude toward law and justice is his view of society. Conservatives believe that social continuity is crucial and that, while a just society must allow for the dignity of its individual members, the needs of society itself are primary.They base this position upon recognition of the human condition: the long period of dependency during infancy and childhood dictates that mankind cannot subsist without society. But there is an ever-present tension between the social instincts and the instincts for self-gratification. It is the function of social institutions to temper individual instincts in the interests of social instincts and to convince the citizen of the primacy of the needs of the group. That social institutions normally, if imperfectly, do perform this function is attested by history: when circumstances make it necessary people overcome even the powerful instinct of self-preservation and willingly sacrifice themselves to preserve the society of which they are a part.

The relationship between society and government evokes the conservative principle of the desirability of variety, diversity, plurality, inequality. People differ from one another in various ways—ethnicity, sex, age, ability, class, wealth. If the results of any of these group differences should jeopardize the health of the entire body politic, government may legitimately intervene; but otherwise such diversity and inequality, as natural concomitants of the human condition, are either outside the province of government or entitled to its protection.

Another conservative principle is that of prescription: that there are rights and obligations which rest upon "immemorial usage, so that the memory of man runneth not to the contrary." Over the course of time, we have acquired habits, conventions, and customs which are woven unconsciously into the very fabric of our being. Conservatives believe that, in the absence of strong evidence to the contrary, man tampers with these or replaces them with more "rational" substitutes at his mortal peril.

Indeed, conservatives apply the principle of prudence to all change. They recognize that not every ill of society can be cured and that an incautiously applied remedy can be worse than the disease. The need for prudence can be expressed in terms of the underlying law of ecology: you cannot change just one thing. To make any change, however rational, in an immensely diverse, intricate, and interconnected social organism is necessarily to make changes affecting other parts and the whole, often in entirely irrational and unforseen ways. Prudence requires that one take into account, as far as possible, the long-range multiple consequences of any proposed action.

Finally, the prudent conservative recognizes that concrete situations may sometimes make principles inconsistent, internally or one with another. In such circumstances one makes choices from the available options on the basis of a priority of values, and, if possible, leaves open the door to change the course if it turns out to be wrong.

Modernist Ideology Defined

Now let us turn to modernity. The concept is a slippery one whose meaning and connotations have moved about even more capriciously than those of most words, but I shall be using it in a quite specific way. Modernity, in the political sense, is a phenomenon that emerged in the eighteenth century largely as the ideological progeny of the seventeenth-century twist upon the old quarrel of the ancients and the moderns. Partisans of the ancients maintained that classical knowledge, arts, and sciences were superior in every way to those of the contemporary world; the seventeenth-century moderns contended that, since Descartes' mathematics was a science unknown to and demonstrably superior to that of classical times, modern man could and would surpass the ancients in all branches of human endeavor, for the new science could be made the measure of all things.

The eighteenth-century political extension of this modernist position was rationalism: the belief that prescriptive orders, being irrationally evolved, could and should be dismantled and replaced by rational orders that would produce universal human happiness. To put it differently, the essence of modernity is the embracing of dogmatic, scientific, secularized millenialism.

A good many intellectual strands went into the weaving of rationalism as a political ideology, including the ideas of some of the Levellers of the 1640s, Thomas Hobbes, and Descartes and various other French theorists, but the pivotal thinker was John Locke. Three of Locke's propositions, in the vulgarized form in which they circulated in the eighteenth century, are relevant to the subject at hand.

One was his epistomology, which postulated that man is born tabula rasa—a blank slate,, with no inherent tendencies, either good or evil—but with infinite capacity for being molded in either direction.

The second is Locke's theory of natural rights, a perversion of the Western World's natural law tradition, which had emphasized the naturally (or divinely) imposed obligation to choose good over evil.

The third was Locke's theory of the social contract, which under certain circumstances justified the destruction and reconstruction of the civil order.

These ideas were popularized and carried to their logical extreme by various Frenchmen, notably La Mettrie—who, building on Locke's sensationalism to fashion a thesis that Locke himself had specifically rejected, published in 1749 a book whose conclusion was clear in its title, Man a Machine.

The road from La Mettrie to Robespierre—to the Reign of Terror and the guillotine—was straight and true. Though the goals of rationalist reformers were peace, brotherhood, and freedom, their efforts necessarily led to war, murder, and tyranny, and for a very powerful reason. Whatever the nature of the human animal may be, a part of that nature is to resist when someone else tries to make one over in accordance with what he "knows" is best for one. And, when men refuse to be made into angels and societies refuse to be made into heavenly cities, the rationalist must either give up the attempt or resort to totalitarian force. He feels justified in exerting that force because he serves the higher cause of Reason.

Return to Eden?

There was, of course, almost none of this kind of rationalism in colonial America, but there was something else which, in its psychological substance, was closely akin to it. Independence did entail a commitment to liberty, but it also, as a concomitant of the way it came to pass, entailed a commitment to republicanism; and republicanism, in the form in which Americans had received it, was another phylum of the species Modernity.

To be sure, Americans derived their notions about republican principles of political theory partly from study of the classics and of writers of the Italian Renaissance, and nothing in this literature led necessarily to making a dogmatic ideology out of republicanism. But there was a more immediate source of republican theory as well, one that was devoutly embraced by many in America. The intellectual genealogy of this position ran from the English Civil War—from the likes of James Harrington and Algernon Sidney—through Henry Neville to Charles Davenant, John Trenchard, and Thomas Gordon, to the Tory Oppositionists Henry St. John, First Viscount Boling-broke, and from Bolingbroke to Montesquieu; and by the time Americans received it, it had hardened into a brittle ideology.

The principal articles of faith in the ideology included belief in the Anglo-Saxon myth (that England before the Norman Conquest had been Eden), a nostalgic yearning for the return of conditions imagined to have existed before the financial and ministerial revolutions engineered by Sir Robert Walpole, a strident hostility toward standing armies, the mystique of the soil, a rigid insistence upon the necessity of the separation of powers, and a belief that public virtue is the actuating principle of republics.

The checklist just recited contains much that is backward-looking, which may seem inconsistent with the concept of republican ideology as modernity. But the contradiction is only apparent, not real. Republican theory had been marked throughout its history by preoccupation with secular immortality, by a wild vacillation between profound pessimism—the conviction that republics have inherent flaws that inevitably make them fail in the long run—and a fervid hope that this time, at last, republicans will be able to correct the fatal flaws, establish the perfect commonwealth, and devise a republic that will survive eternally.

The parallel with millenialist theorizing is striking: millenialists likewise thought, "people have repeatedly failed to do so before, but now we know how to create the heavenly city on earth. Our predecessors in the endeavor are to be revered and emulated in most respects; only their errors are to be avoided. We shall achieve perfection by arranging a return to Eden." In its essence, that attitude is no different from looking forward in time to a classless, stateless paradise. Utopia is Utopia, no matter which end of the telescope one views it from.

In the shared exhilaration of the moment of independence, republican ideologues and conservatives failed to recognize—indeed would have denied—that their positions were fundamentally different; but in fact they were more than different, they were irreconcilable.

The aim of conservatives was to protect liberty, both by limiting popular participation in government—they agreed with John Wesley's dictum that "the greater the share the people have in government, the less liberty, civil or religious, does a nation enjoy"—and by insisting that there are large areas of human activity that are beyond the legitimate concern of government.

Underlying this position was the notion, ultimately Christian in origin, that government if limited was a necessary and desirable check upon man's ineradicable sinfulness, and another notion, worked out notably by Mandeville and Adam Smith, that a measure of individual corruption could lead to positive social good; the trick was to strike a subtle balance between the two.

All this was anathema to republican ideologues. Militant, conspiratorial, preoccupied with establishing a regime that would last forever, they were obsessed with a single goal, active participation by a virtuous and eternally vigilant public in the res publica, the public thing. And what was this public thing? Because of the inner logic of the ideology, it was everything. The vital force, the life's blood, of a republic was public virtue; the fatal danger was the possibility of corruption. Anything, therefore, that was related to the inculcation in private individuals of either virtue or corruption was within the purview of public control. The republic made the virtuous individual, the virtuous individual made the republic. Inherently, then, republicanism was at least incipiently totalitarian.

Early American Crossroads

After 1776 the United States might have gone either way, modernist or conservative: there was powerful support for both mindsets.

At first, in fact, the radical republican ideologues had the better of it. I say this not in reference to radical doctrines proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, for, though that document can be read as Abraham Lincoln and Harry Jaffa have read it as a ringing confirmation of natural rights ideology and the contract theory—it can quite as plausibly be read as a conservative reaffirmation of natural law principles, under which man has only such rights as are necessary to enable him to behave morally. Rather, I refer to the governmental arrangements established by the Articles of Confederation and the revolutionary state constitutions. For the most part, power was vested in unchecked state legislatures, participation in which was greatly expanded—though generally confined, Harrington style, to landowners—and there were in practice virtually no limits upon what those legislatures could do. Moreover, radical republicans dominated state governments most of the time during the decade after 1776, and while there was no Reign of Terror—there could not be; America had no Paris—many thousands of innocent people lost their liberty and property, and some their lives, at the hands of arbitrary governments.

Reaction against the excesses committed by the thirteen American republics was enough to make possible the calling of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. Moreover, the convention was dominated by men firmly committed to strengthening national authority and checking that of the states. The consensus, however, was strained by a number of tensions, including those between small and large states, between states having claims to western lands and those lacking such claims, and between various forms of economic interests. Most importantly, for our purposes, there was a tension between conservatives and republican ideologues, even though they seemed to be—indeed thought they were—in the same camp when the convention began.

Among the leading conservatives were Washington, Gouverneur and Robert Morris, John Rutledge, John Dickinson, Alexander Hamilton, Oliver Ellsworth, and Nathaniel Gorham. Among the leading republican ideologues were Edmund Randolph, George Mason, Elbridge Gerry, Luther Martin, James Wilson, and—yes—James Madison.

Conservatives Prevail at Philadelphia

The conservatives recognized that their task was a delicate one. They knew that they must establish new and unfamiliar institutions, but they knew also that these must be formed from old and familiar materials. Nor were the materials promising. America lacked the kinds of institutions—monarchy, aristocracy, bishops, an established national church—which most Old World conservatives thought necessary to the preservation of the social order. Moreover, their customs, traditions, folk-ways, habits, and existing institutions were regional or local in orientation, not national. Even so, they rejected out of hand any notion of erecting the necessary new institutions upon abstract ideas and ideals.

The attitude of the ideologues was quite different. Convinced by recent experience that a national government was necessary, they had convinced themselves that it would be safe to create one. Most shared Wilson's position, that the keys would be to make each branch of the national government directly representative of the electorate and to erect walls of separation between the executive, legislative, and judicial powers. Most also believed that a bill of rights would be necessary, and some shared Mason's conviction that Congress should be empowered to pass sumptuary legislation—to police private morality in the interest of preserving public virtue.

Madison addressed the problem of virtue in a more complex way, proposing a two-part solution. The first part was the celebrated theory of Federalist 10 that the traditional bane of republics—factions of designing men who put their own interests ahead of those of the public—would pose no problem in the new national Washington administration—and, into the bargain, to government because the size and diversity of the country, together with the complexity of the system, would prevent any faction from gaining control of the whole.

The other part of the solution was more subtle and important. Suffused throughout Madison's Constitution is the argument that the elaborate constitutional structure provided a series of filters that would sift out the undeserving, so that none but the most virtuous would reach the top. The curse that had proved fatal to all earlier republics, the loss of virtue, would be solved for all time. One would not need a virtuous public, one would need only some virtuous men—and every society had some virtuous men.

Conservatives were able to dominate the convention because the clash of interests and ideas necessitated numerous compromises, and they were tempermentally adaptable to compromise whereas the ideologues were not.

As the Constitution turned out, it accomplished what the conservatives had set out to accomplish: it left intact the diverse social and political arrangements that had evolved and provided for additional institutions whose purpose was to check and channel local forces so they might flow harmoniously in the national interest.

The genius of the system was that the power of government, though great and emanating ultimately from the people, was divided rather than concentrated in any single representation of the people. Vertically, power was distributed among local, state, and national governments, the last itself being only "partly national, partly federal." Horizontally, power at the state level was subjected to certain restraints, particularly as regarded property rights; power at the national level was subjected to division among the branches and to checks, one branch on another. Temporally, the several branches of the national government were to be chosen variously for two, four, six years, and for life or good behavior, which meant that they would represent the will of the people, directly or indirectly, as expressed at different times.

Jefferson and Hamilton Fall Out

The writing of the Constitution did not, of course, mean that the conservatives' triumph was a final one. Many republican ideologues, following the lead of Madison and Wilson, supported ratification; but as many, and perhaps more, joined state-oriented politicians in a desperate effort to prevent ratification, and having the inertia of the mass of voters on their side they came perilously close to succeeding. Soon afterward, ideologues of a different stripe, enthusiasts for the French Revolution, began to organize so-called Democratic Republican societies whose aim, if not to overthrow that Constitution, was something closely resembling that.

But the pivotal event in the regrouping of the republican ideologues was the decision in 1791 of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to organize a political party to oppose and ultimately undo the policies of the Constitution into something it was not.

The chief architect of the Washington administration's policies, and the chief target of Jefferson's and Madison's efforts, was Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton's fiscal system, which breathed life into the Consitution, was an example of conservatism—of constructive, prudential change—at its best. As Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton was assigned the task of devising a way to manage the staggering burden of public Revolutionary War debts. He had several options. The debts could be repudiated in whole or in part, but that would be both imprudent and immoral. They could be paid promptly and in full, but given the nation's limited resources that was impossible. Instead, Hamilton followed the British example and proposed to "fund" the debts in such a way as to make them the basis for banking currency, and thus them as material building-blocks for nationhood.

The essence of the Hamiltonian way was to make national authority dependent as little as possible upon coercion and as much as possible upon what economists call "the institutional structuring of market incentives." He would ensure the perdurance of the new national government by making commercial activity dependent upon the continued working of the system. The long-range consequences of the adoption of Hamilton's program were profound, for they included committing not only American conservatives but also the United States government to capitalism—which, for all the Framers' insistence upon the sanctity of property rights, had been left open by the Constitution.

It was not until the spring of 1791, after Hamilton's system had been enacted into law, that Jefferson and Madison reacted to it ideologically. The break turned on one celebrated dinner party at which Jefferson, Hamilton, and Adams discussed political philosophy. Adams said that, "purge the British constitution of its corruption, and give to its popular branch equality of representation, and it would be the most perfect constitution ever devised by the wit of man." Hamilton's retort, echoing an essay by Hume, was, "purge it of its corruption, and give to its popular branch equality of representation, and it would become an impracticable government: as it stands at present, with all its supposed defects, it is the most perfect government which ever existed."

When Jefferson heard that, his revulsion and fear were immediate and total. Forthwith, he was convinced that Hamilton had been "bewitched and perverted by the British example" and had formed a "mercenary phalanx" of money men and speculators in a conspiracy to poison America, even as Hamilton's evil idol Walpole had poisoned England. That this was pure fantasy is beside the point: to Jefferson it was real. Thenceforth, he saw Hamilton's every word and deed, past and present, as confirmation of his evil designs.

Jefferson's "discovery" radically changed Madison's perception of the Constitution. Heretofore the polestar of his political theory had been nationalism. But now, in light of Hamilton's supposed perfidy, Madison's dream of a perfect commonwealth was shattered: the safe-guards that were to have ensured the republic's immortality proved illusory.

Thenceforth, the central constitutional tenet in the faith of the Republicans—I shift to the capital R, for Jefferson and Madison promptly set out to recruit likeminded souls to form the Republican Party—became the doctrine of state sovereignty (not states' rights; which is essential to the equilibrium of the federal system, but state sovereignty).

Two aspects of this shift want special notice. First, it is not out of character for secular millenialists to make 180-degree turns. They can, and often do, undergo conversion experiences that lead them to embrace a diametrically opposed ideology. The only change they are incapable of making is to stop being ideologues.

Secondly, there was a tangible political ingredient involved in the shift. State sovereignty in Virginia meant Republican power under the leadership of Madison and Jefferson. This was not incompatible with republican ideology, it was complementary. Now that the scales had fallen from Madison's eyes he could see that the states must be sovereign, for only they were unencumbered by internal checks and restraints, and thus only in them was the public (read, "the gentry") at liberty to do its republican duty.

Totalitarian Ideologues Then and Now

When the Republicans spoke in praise of liberty, that was the kind of liberty they had in mind; even as, when they praised limited government, they were referring only to the national government. In regard to the "real" American republics, the sovereign states, they were totalitarian ideologues. In the words of Fisher Ames, "They cry liberty, but they mean, as party leaders always do, power."

When the Republicans came to power in 1801 they set out to emasculate the national government, and for a time they were strikingly successful. They repealed much of the Federalists' legislation, set Hamilton's fiscal system in train toward extinction, virtually destroyed the government's capacity to enforce its laws, and (in a world aflame with war) reduced the army and navy to miniscule proportions. But they failed in their efforts to destroy the Supreme Court, of course, and soon the inner logic of their ideology led them first to a wholesale suppression of American liberty and then to a nearly disastrous war.

Jefferson's last fifteen months in office were a nightmare of repression: to carry out an experimental notion that belligerents in Europe could be subdued by peaceful means—the embargo—Jefferson found it necessary to wage war upon the American people. Three years later Madison blundered the nation into a war for which it was calamitously unprepared. Finally, having learned the hard way that a country cannot fight wars without a government, the Republicans reluctantly put the whole Federalist system back together again.

The regime of liberty was back in place, and the republican dogma itself withered away. Dogmatic secular millenialism—modernity—did not, alas, die with it. It erupted with the Jacksonians, the abolitionists, the populists, the Wilsonians, the New Dealers, the Great Society. It erupts anew in the plague of isms that infests our own times.

Throughout our history, conservatism has been the fountain of liberty in America and modernity has been liberty's veriest enemy.


Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Problem with Conservatives


This is well worth a read. The TEA parties that have taken place and will be held across America are a great sign that Americans want a restoration of freedom. What is needed is for the Republican Party to present a clear agenda, as they did in the Contract with America in 1994, for a restoration of the principles and freedoms that flow from the classical liberalism on which the nation was founded. In sum, it means America's return to Constitutional government.

From NY Conservative Examiner
By Todd Keister


By any measure, modern conservatism is suffering. The Republican Party, long the home of America’s conservatives, has become little more than a watered-down version of the socialist Democrat Party, and has been turned out of office from the congress and White House, to the state houses and governor’s mansions across the country.

Commentators have proclaimed the death of conservatism, and the Republican Party apparatus continues to helplessly grope in the darkness for a plan to regain lost power and influence. Endless articles have been written about the “future direction” of the party; some see a move toward conservatism as the solution, while others seek to increase the size of the party by offering Democrat-like goodies and giveaways to targeted demographic groups.

The problem for conservatives is partly one of nomenclature and partly one of confusing Republican Party politics with the ideology of what conservatives believe in. “Conservative” is in truth a relative term and not an ideology; it refers to someone who favors the established order of things, instituting change slowly and deliberately, and maintaining his county’s traditions and values. This can have a very different meaning depending upon place and time. A conservative German in 1918 favored the overthrow of the newly-established democratic republican government and either a return to monarchy, or establishment of a dictatorship. A conservative Russian would have favored either absolute monarchy or communist dictatorship depending upon whether it was 1918 or 1993.

Both conservatives and liberals in the modern United States are labeled incorrectly. Modern American conservatives are actually classical liberals, meaning they favor limited self-government, individual rights over collective rights, equality before the law, and liberty over equality of outcomes. Today’s so-called liberals are anything but; they favor the state over the individual, equality of outcomes over liberty, collectivism, and state control of every aspect of life from vehicle gas mileage to the amount of water a toilet can use per flush and what kind of light bulb a citizen may burn in his own home. In other words, they are socialists.


American conservatives could once have been properly called so; they believed in “conserving” the America that was built upon the ideals of classical liberalism. They stood for the maintenance of America’s great governmental and societal institutions; a strictly limited federal government, free markets, free citizens, and Judeo-Christian values.


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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Death of Conservatism


It abandoned culture, tradition and learning.

From Forbes
By Melik Kaylan

What a strange, appalling time to be an American conservative.
Obama is the hope of the world; G.W. has duck shoes hurled at him. At home: the severest deflation, unemployment, bankruptcies, bailouts since ... well, the marker keeps changing, shifting all the way back to the 1930s. Abroad: yes, after eight years, there's a clear victory in Iraq.

That's no small matter. But it is a small matter if Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine remain unchanged, more intractable than ever, more intractable for being exacerbated by the retrogression in Russia, Afghanistan, Georgia, Pakistan. It's not axiomatic that all leaders on the right are universally vilified anyway because they make the tougher choices, therefore, when they're vilified we should take comfort. This is not how the conservative cause looked after Reagan, Thatcher or Bush the elder.

One keeps hearing that there's a broad, behind-closed-doors, reconsideration afoot of basic principles--heaven knows we need it--but look and listen as I might, I see no evidence of it. For some years now, I've been puzzled by what has increasingly passed for conservatism in the Republican party. Herewith, I offer a short list of such puzzlements, at first modest-seeming perhaps, but ultimately at the heart of the debate we must have.

Consumption Trumps Thrift. After 9/11, we were told to go shopping. And now again, consumer confidence, the restoration thereof, is first priority--for which we must borrow against the future. Borrowing is not a conservative cause, nor spending a conservative virtue. The Founding Fathers did not espouse "life, liberty and the pursuit of shopping." Suddenly, thrift, sacrifice, saving--the process by which real wealth gets incrementally generated over time--have disappeared from the pantheon. Apparently, if the economy whizzes around at a faster and faster rate, the very act of unrestrained mass selling and buying creates a Brave New World, new value, new wealth, even though the money is borrowed. Well, we now know it doesn't. It creates a new class of charlatan zillionaires and money that blurs around so fast that there's no accounting possible.

Down With The Elites. Here's a puzzle: Suddenly, the orators of the right have taken up the 1970s leftist obsession with overthrowing "elites." Certainly, it's true enough that 30 years on, those leftists have become the elites, in academe, in art, in Hollywood and many parts of the media. But advocating class war, even intellectual class war, is hardly a sound conservative policy. The sight of Bill O'Reilly hurling accusations of elitism at his guests appeals merely to the basest populist instincts. Elites are necessary, have always existed and will exist willy-nilly in nature and in society whatever rancor we may feel. The top athlete, top chef, the airline pilot, the engine driver, the semi-conductor expert, the solo-violinist are all members of elites. If we don't like the current elites, we ought to best them through argument and ideas, not Robespierrian envy.

Anti-Intellectualism. Bill Buckley, the ideological father of the modern conservative movement, was arguably the most intellectual figure in the land and prevailed because his erudition, sense of context and history went deeper than the trendy new leftist thinkers he confronted. Conservatism is about studying and preserving the highest, oldest intellectual traditions--not about making the ignorant feel good about being uneducated. What's all this pride in heartland provincialism and ignorance of world geography? This is what Putin appeals to in Russia. If the education system has excluded conservative values, we don't ditch education, we redouble efforts to instruct the heartland in Western Civilization at its highest expression.

Entertainment Trumps Culture. Conservatives have largely ceded the landscape of cultural life to the left. You do not hear aesthetic commentary from Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly on their favorite Shakespeare tragedy or the loveliest painting they've seen. You might hear polemical words on a movie flouting family values and offending decency--and good for them for saying so. But on the left, you will hear discussions of art and culture at all levels of discourse. On the right, serious thought, erudition in general, remains largely political.

Here again we see a direct reversal of roles since the '70s, when the left viewed all culture from political or polemical criteria. When did conservatism become a lowbrow pursuit? Traditional values created the greatest churches, paintings of the Renaissance, country houses, book collections and a love of learning. As it stands, these days, the conservative masses mostly consume entertainment, and culture is considered elitist. This is nonsense. We need an aesthetics of conservatism.

Much of this may sound Utopian, and yet it's not new, not invented from whole cloth. It's about rediscovering lost traditions deep in the roots of our collective memory. This is where values come from, not from the economy or from political ideas alone. It's time for a profound consideration of what conservatism meant before we lost our way. Let the debate broaden and deepen. At the very least, let it begin.


Melik Kaylan, a writer based in New York, writes a weekly column for Forbes.com. His story "Georgia In The Time of Misha" is featured in The Best American Travel Writing 2008.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Conservatives Have Important Political Value


From Aberdeen News
By Jon D. Schaff


The election drubbing recently taken by Republicans has given rise to much soul searching on the part of conservatives. What is the future of conservatism?

The conservative serves an important role in any regime. This is perhaps best illustrated by the story, perhaps apocryphal, of the slave who would ride behind a victorious Roman general during the triumphant return to Rome whispering in his ear “All glory is fleeting.”

The conservative's task is similar. It is for him to whisper in our ears “there are limits.” Human reason is not sufficient to solve all problems. Sin cannot be eradicated from the human soul. Society is sufficiently complex that it makes central planning difficult, if not impossible.


In the 19th century, Alexis De Tocqueville noted democracy's dangerous tendency to trust in the “indefinite perfectibility of man.”

But the conservative teaches that perfection is impossible. I recently asked a group of students what “utopia” means. They responded “a perfect society.” True enough, as this is how we often use the word. But “utopia” literally is from the Greek for “nowhere.” In other words, the perfect society is impossible.


Our love of even good things, conservatives teach us, must be a moderate love. To turn any particular thing into the sin qua non of justice is actually to do injustice.

The conservative reminds us that progress always comes with a cost. Perhaps one error of contemporary conservatives is to believe that the market is the sole of justice, perhaps promoting an immoderate love of the “progress” of economic change.


Conservatism suggests there is something worth conserving. As Abraham Lincoln famously put it, if conservative means favoring “the old and tried against the new and untried,” then he was a conservative. Lincoln gets at a central conservative truth: there is wisdom stored up across the ages that one discards at great peril.


Human order is a fragile thing. C.S. Lewis reminds that even war is not outside the norm of the human condition; war only “aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it,” and “human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice.”

It took roughly 4,000 years to build a civilization that was not brutal and vulgar. We are to be reminded that the now seemingly barbaric “eye for an eye” was actually a major advance in human decency. If you kill one of mine I will only kill one, as opposed to all, of yours. Yet civilization is fragile, on a precipice as Lewis puts it. Conservatives do their job best when they remind us of the value of the past and to innovate only with great trepidation.

This is why conservatives question the redefining of marriage, the diminution of the sacredness of human life in the name of “choice” and the rejection, indeed outright mockery, of traditional religion. If Western civilization was built on the solid foundation of the Christian church and the morality it promoted (if not always practiced), then only a certain kind of ideological arrogance suggests that we can casually dispense with that foundation and retain the fruits of that civilization.


Conservatives will prove the faithful opposition if they successfully remind that majority that even audacious hope needs its limits.



Jon D. Schaff is associate professor of political science at Northern State University in Aberdeen, North Dakota. The views presented here are the author's own and do not represent those of Northern State University.