- the Bush Administration has been anything except my version of conservative
- the Obama presidency is going to be anything but conservative
- a lot of folks who say they are conservative are anything but conservative.
Another problem with being a political conservative is the company I keep. Moran nails it:
For it appears to me from my vantage point that we are entering a period where someone’s conservative bona fides will not depend on what he believes as an intellectual frame of reference that informs his stand on issues as much as how much he agrees with Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, or Ann Coulter . . .The problem with all those issues (and most of the things that "progressives" use to define being "progressive") is that none of them have anything to do with a theory of government or governance - nor any other historic definition of conservatism. They are all superficial and non-ideological guages. To put it into theological terms, they are all about behaving and appearing righteous, without any discussion of the reasons for the behavior or who the behavior serves: there is nothing about the heart or really even about the head. All of that was about partisanship and not political theory.
. . . there lies a whole slew of litmus tests where many of these conservabots will brook no opposition, no nuance, no independent thinking whatsoever.
A partial listing:
If you are pro-choice to one degree or another, you are not a conservative. If you are pro-choice to one degree or another, you are not a conservative. If you criticize the war or the military, you are not a conservative and unpatriotic to boot. If you say anything nice about a liberal anytime, anywhere – if you agree with a liberal on anything or praise a liberal past, present, or future – you are not a conservative. If you don’t agree that torturing the enemy is necessary and/or good, you are not a conservative. If you say anything nice about any media besides conservative mags, talk radio and Fox News, you are not a conservative. If you believe in evolution, you are not a conservative and are probably going to hell. If you believe that there is a possibility of man made global warming based on scientific evidence collected so far, you are not a conservative and should probably be committed. If you believe that Barack Obama is just a stupid liberal and not a clone of Karl Marx, Adolf Hitler, and Osama Bin Laden all rolled into one, you are not a conservative. If you believe that Democrats don’t have horns, a tail, and a pitchfork, you are not a conservative. And most of all, unless you believe Sarah Palin is the second coming of Ronald Reagan, the bees knees, the cat’s meow, the apple of our eye, and the greatest thing to hit the conservative movement and the Republican party since Robert Taft first uttered the immortal words “US out of the UN” – you are not a conservative.
Yet another problem with being a conservative (or a progressive really) is that there is little source of good discussion about political theory as opposed to issue-oriented partisanship. If the coming election of Barack Obama - and a whole slew of liberals to Congress - is really going to mean that political conservatives really start to discuss what it means to call yourself a conservative then that is great. That may happen after all the blame gets tossed around. More likely we will have at least 4 years of folks opposing everything their opponent supports, even if that opposition has no coherant political or philosophical framework informing it. That is pretty much what we have seen from the left for the last period of time. They are fortunate that the Bush administration was fairly incompetant - they are not winning this election because they have put forward a coherant vision. They are winning because they oppose President Bush and he is not loved.
How do I relate to Rick Moran's principles for his conservatism?
Of course the United States is exceptional on an historical level; and in the world today. Does this mean better - especially in some form invoking superiority or the right to expect other nations to attempt to duplicate what we are? No. It does mean, to me, that "to whom much is given much is expected". Also, this is where my theological conservativeness raises up. J. Budziszewski:
The mistake in all these stages is confusing America with Zion. She is not the inheritor of the covenant, not the receiver of the promises, not the witness to the nations. It may well be that all nations have callings of sorts — specific purposes which God in His providence assigns them. But no nation can presume to take God under its wing. However we may love her, dote upon her, and regret her, the Lord our God can do without the United States.I am first, and foremost, a member of the Body of Christ and the Kingdom of God - and, frankly, this is where the famed split on the right between the social conservatives (read "fundamentalist" Christians) and the political conservatives may be based. Political ideology, and especially partisanship, do not trump theology.
This would be the first (maybe second) real ideological point I see Rick Moran making. I agree, and I like how one of the commentor's explained this:
The term “strict constructionist” is probably liberal term invented in academia as a dysphemism to make proper interpretation of the Constitution seem like a bad thing.Exactly. It is the impatience -- and laziness -- of folks to do the political work necessary to "win the hearts and minds" of enough people to change the constitutions of the federal and state governments that make them go to the courts in order to get judges to legislate from the bench. This, as Jefferson warned, creates a judicial oligarchy and makes the constitution blank by construction.
The Constitution says what it means and means what it says. It has an amendment process so we can add other things that we think it should say. Instead of just making up what we think it says, we should rule that it says what it says. The legislative branches all over the country have the right (and duty) to correct and amend it as needed.
This is one of those things I agree with absolutely, and see very few folks giving an ideological depth to. Without a concept like subsidiarity informing this view, it is largely rhetoric:
Since Aristotle two principles have been seen:Back to Moran's list:
These two features imply the risk that though the higher rungs ought to protect and co-operate with the more spontaneous lower rungs - the higher rung's lesser spontaneity means they may not.
- connaturality: culture should develop in partnership with our design filling the outline our first nature provides; and
- diminishing spontaneity: as a hierarchy of associations and relationships rise from the individuals and families at the base of the social structure (up to and including government), the higher the rung the less spontaneous it is and the more contrived; or, the higher you go the less help the structure gets from nature and the more help it needs from culture.
This implies a rule, subsidiarity, which was a natural assumption but not put into words until 1931 by Pope Pius XI:"As history abundantly proves, it is true that on account of changed conditions many things which were done by small associations in former times cannot be done now save by large associations. Still, that most weighty principle, which cannot be set aside or changed, remains fixed and unshaken in social philosophy: Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them." ("On Reconstruction of the Social Order")As Pius said, what brought this to the forefront was the industrial revolution, and the danger that between the collectivists on one side, and the individualists on the other, all the "little platoons" between the state and the individual would be destroyed and/or absorbed.
Someone in the comments asked where exactly this list is published - which is, of course, a great question. I believe in natural moral law so I have some ideas on the matter; but Rick and I do not agree on the existence of God (and a natural set of moral principles arising from that) - which conservatives like Burke and Russell Kirk took as granted. From Kirk (the first of his six canons of conservative thought):
Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems. A narrow rationality . . . cannot of itself satisfy human needs. . . . True politics is the art of apprehending and applying the Justice which ought to prevail in a community of souls.[Kirk later expanded these six canons into ten principles which are listed below]
Most liberals would agree with this - until we got to the definition of what constituted harm.
Now, I criticized Moran for lack of ideology - as he has criticized current conservatives for a lack of a intellectual foundation for their views. Kirk, however, dismissed ideology for the conservative:
Being neither a religion nor an ideology, the body of opinion termed conservatism possesses no Holy Writ and no Das Kapital to provide dogmata. So far as it is possible to determine what conservatives believe, the first principles of the conservative persuasion are derived from what leading conservative writers and public men have professed during the past two centuries. After some introductory remarks on this general theme, I will proceed to list ten such conservative principles.To cap this piece, I will list Kirk's ten principles as well.
Perhaps it would be well, most of the time, to use this word “conservative” as an adjective chiefly. For there exists no Model Conservative, and conservatism is the negation of ideology: it is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order.
The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata. It is almost true that a conservative may be defined as a person who thinks himself such. The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects, there being no Test Act or Thirty-Nine Articles of the conservative creed.
In essence, the conservative person is simply one who finds the permanent things more pleasing than Chaos and Old Night. (Yet conservatives know, with Burke, that healthy “change is the means of our preservation.”) A people’s historic continuity of experience, says the conservative, offers a guide to policy far better than the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers. But of course there is more to the conservative persuasion than this general attitude.
- believe that there exists an enduring moral order
- adhere to custom, convention, and continuity.
- believe in what may be called the principle of prescription.
- are guided by their principle of prudence.
- pay attention to the principle of variety.
- are chastened by their principle of imperfectability.
- are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked.
- uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism.
- perceive the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions.
- understand that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society.