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Political theory

Big government is still not conservative

Here’s a worthwhile article by monarcho-symp Rothbardite PC victim Hans-Hermann Hoppe: The Intellectual Incoherence of Conservatism. The point of the article is that there is no “Disraelian,” “big government,” “social nationalist” or even “compassionate” conservatism, at least not today and not as the last is now understood. The basic problem is that you aren’t going to have individual integrity, family values, community cohesion or religion if you have the welfare state, because the welfare state says that government is the hand of providence, and that individual integrity, family values and community cohesion don’t really matter because the government sees to it that everyone ends up in an OK place anyway.

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Thoughts on political ideals

Some notes, for whatever they’re worth:

  • “Freedom” sounds good rhetorically because it has an open-ended quality that seems to stretch out into the infinite. That makes it a good substitute religion that can support open-ended commitments like patriotism and world empire. It’s also good to pin ultimate loyalties to. That’s why liberals call themselves liberals rather than egalitarians. In day-to-day political life freedom mostly merges into lifestyle freedoms and economic concerns—middle-class benefits like reductions in taxation and in regulation of small business. That gives its ideal side a certain unreality. When the Berlin Wall fell the oppressed Easterners didn’t head toward churches and libraries, they went to the shopping mall. To make its ideal side seem real there has to be a crusade or jihad on its behalf. So freedom tends to be a martial ideal.
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John Courtney Murray reflects on America

I just finished reading John Courtney Murray’s We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition. Along with most of the other things Murray wrote it’s available online. He was a serious, intelligent and reflective man, and he deals with important issues, so the book’s well worth reading. I don’t have time now for a full-scale discussion though, only for a few notes.

To give a very brief summary of overall impressions, it seems to me that overall Murray’s positions are much like those of Catholic neocons except less pro-capitalist. Like the neocons he thinks liberalism, Americanism and orthodox Catholicism are a good match. It seems to me things have moved on and demonstrated serious problems with that view, although it’s natural to resist that conclusion because it puts contemporary American Catholics in an uncomfortable position. Murray is particularly concerned with the problem of religious diversity and religious freedom. To my mind, different religions and whatnot can often co-exist peacefully and productively through some sort of modus vivendi, but there’s no super-principle that can stand above the strugggle and guarantee a modus vivendi can be found and specify its proper content. Murray and other liberals seem to me to exaggerate the extent to which something like a super-principle is possible. The result is that substantive judgments get smuggled into the law on the pretext that they stand for neutral principles governing the relationship among differing substantive views.

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Notes on a history's end

Martin Peretz notes in his publication The New Republic that liberalism is “bookless and dying.” He’s right, of course. A political movement with no guides in sight other than consultants, careerists and cranks isn’t going to go anywhere. The problem is that the lack of thought and vision isn’t peculiar to the Left. Kerry didn’t have much to say that made sense but neither does Bush. Open borders, world empire, endless deficits and America as a religion don’t seem that great a program to me. They look more like the manic phase of some bipolar disorder.

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Against antidiscrimination laws

Everybody today thinks laws against employment discrimination are a great good and even a moral requirement. I think they’re an obvious evil. I think they’re inconsistent with any reasonable conservatism, which means I think they’re inconsistent with any tolerable society. I’ve complained about them here and there on Turnabout, but a summary of the objections might be useful to focus the issues.

A basic problem with such laws is that employment is a complex relationship. Hiring, assignments and promotion involve subjective issues of trust, compatibility, mutual comprehension, and ways of cooperation. It’s impossible to separate judgments of those things from one’s sense of who people are. Antidiscrimination law insists on doing just that with respect to basic dimensions of personal identity. Whether you’re a man or woman, white or black, recent Chinese immigrant or Mayflower descendent, can’t have any effect that matters on how anyone deals with you at work. That doesn’t make much sense:

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    Undiscriminating bishops

    The Catholic Church in England and Wales has issued some Diversity and Equality Guidelines on the relationship between antidiscrimination law and the mission of the Church and its agencies. The Guidelines have drawn some unfavorable comment because of their positive treatment of “living together” (including homosexual) situations. Beyond the specific issues, however, they include a Policy Statement that’s short and provides an occasion for thinking about general principles and whether common attitudes of Church officials today toward “social justice” issues are really consistent with an intelligent understanding of Catholicism.

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    Since thought is out people use short-cuts

    Has public discussion come to an end? Bush and his supporters want to transform the world by force to eliminate tyranny and establish freedom and democracy everywhere. The transformation of the world is to parallel the accelerated tranformation of the United States through effectively open borders. It’s not clear why any of that makes sense, but Bush isn’t interested in discussing the matter and calls you a racist if you raise questions.

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    "Personally opposed" Rocco

    Rocco Buttiglione acted in a more principled way than Larry Summers when he said the wrong thing, but was he principled enough? I don’t think Summers would have knuckled under to any pressure group whatever that threatened to make things difficult for him. At Stalin’s show trials the Old Bolsheviks didn’t confess simply because they were afraid of torture or wanted to protect their families but because they thought the Party really was necessarily right in the end, so there couldn’t possibly be good grounds for taking a stand against it. I think something of the same willingness to embrace fantasy in the interests of a higher good is at work in Summers’ case. It seems fundamental to his view of things that “discrimination” is a stupefying horror that has to be utterly rooted out no matter what the institutional or intellectual cost. So although he’s too confused to be principled, at least on these issues, I’m sure he’s not altogether lacking in the quality.

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    Is the EU the consummation of Christendom?

    There is a strain of right-wing thought, especially in Europe, that holds Christianity responsible for the collapse of the West into rationalized egalitarian mass society. Christian monotheism and emphasis on the equality of souls before God, it is said, undercuts particularity, diversity, and hierarchy. And in the absence of some admixture of those things all you can have is social and moral chaos ordered at most by some combination of force, fraud and money.

    The implications of such claims aren’t altogether clear. It’s as if someone said it’s been bad for my character to have the ancestry and upbringing I do. What sense can that make, when so little remains of me apart from those things? The West is simply the group of societies that were once part of Catholic Christendom, together with their overseas offspring. While Western culture is said to be composed of classical and Germanic as well as Christian elements, it’s not easy to separate the three. Christianity began in the Roman Empire, it spread, developed and grew up there, its formative languages were Greek and Latin, and the Roman Empire converted to it in accordance with its own needs. So why is Christianity foreign to Classical culture any more than Platonism? As to the Germans, they too became Christian without external compulsion—presumably because of weaknesses within paganism—and didn’t have much civilization before then.

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    An age of fighting faith

    Who says we live in a secularizing age? I say it’s an age of conquering faith. You may think the faiths are stupid, but if “secular” has to do with observable reality they’re not secular, and if strength has something to do with the will to tranform all things then they’re not weak:

    • Here’s an unusually clear discussion of the working theology of the Episcopal Church, all other mainline denominations, and (at bottom and at least implicitly) all respectable Western thinkers who retain a streak of idealism: God is love, therefore we’re already saved and justified just as we are, therefore the only sin is exclusion because it suggests that someone isn’t saved, justified and loved just as he is. The most admirable thing about the theology is its absolute simplicity. Once you get the basic idea the right answer to every question becomes obvious. Another is its ability to unite clergy, laity and the society at large. It appeals to the administrators who run Episcopal and other bureaucracies, because it means that universal multicultural expert bureaucracies and world markets are the only social institutions that can be allowed to exist and function (all other institutions are exclusionary). It also appeals to the self-satisfied consumers and careerists who do the work, buy the products, watch TV, sit in the pews, and see nothing wrong with giving up personal moral agency in favor of comfort and perpetual self-celebration.
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    Comments from elsewhere

    Communication is usually so fragmentary that people who write things are mostly convinced that no one really reads them. Maybe a better explanation is that you can’t understand anything without prior understandings, but prior understandings also make it all but impossible to see what people are getting at who see things differently. So if you want to say something and have it understood, you have to be willing to clarify. With that in mind:

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    Conservatism: death and resurrection

    So what does it mean that actual conservatism—conservatism that accepts the natural, historical and transcendent as substantive realities and so is distinguishable from the attempt to convert the whole world into a sort of rationalized industrial process—doesn’t exist in American public discussion? (I take it that paleo or traditionalist conservatism is not really part of the great conversation today.)

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    Conservatism and the antidiscrimination principle

    The question presented by current public standards regarding racial discrimination is whether it’s OK to prefer to form connections with people to whom one has an ethnic or cultural connection, on the grounds that things tend to work better that way, or whether it’s so wrong to do so that extirpating such conduct is an obvious and pressing duty, and anyone who thinks otherwise is an illegitimate person with no place in public life.

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    Right and Left Sex

    No conservatism worth having can accept the ’60s revolution regarding sex and sex roles. The revolution wasn’t just another set of modifications to practices and secondary principles that are always changing anyway. Like the Bolshevik Revolution, it was a genuine modernist revolution that has created an unprecedented situation at odds with any normal way for people to understand themselves and live together.

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    Can there be a secular conservatism?

    My answer is no, at least if conservatism is to be more than the view of a few comfortable intellectuals. “Conservatism” can mean many things, but it always involves a sense that in the most basic ways life can’t be understood or controlled. At bottom, we have to accept and cooperate with things as they have been given us by God, nature, history or chance. Utopia isn’t going to happen, and we’re not even going to get close. We have to live with reality instead.

    Such an outlook won’t become the basis for carrying on social life unless people in general are willing not only to live with it but to give it their loyalty as something right and good. They have to be able to view the mystery at the heart of the world as something positive they can submit to without degradation, rather than mindless contingency that crushes them where they can’t escape or outwit it or stick its burdens on somebody else.

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    Moderate and paleo conservatism

    At times the distinction between moderate and paleo conservatism seems too ill-defined and polemical to be useful for analysis. Still, there’s something important in it worth discussing. At bottom, it’s the distinction between conservatism as a pure principle of caution, so there’s no limit to what can be negotiated or naturalized as part of the social order a conservative is called to defend, and conservatism as a defense of truths that must be maintained in the face of whatever opposition or defeat.

    In some ways moderate conservatism may seem to fit the theory of conservatism better. Conservatives tend to trust the actual functioning of society more than grand theory. As a result, they are tempted to accommodate persistent social tendencies, whatever they may be, rather than insist on particular principles not everybody agrees on. A moderate conservative may feel, in fact, that all he can demand in the end is that change be cautious, piecemeal, and consistent with practicalities.

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    Grand strategic ramblings

    From a traditionalist conservative point of view, the modern world looks doomed. Its insistence on rooting out all social institutions not based on free-floating choice and formalized expertise—that’s what “inclusiveness,” its highest moral principle, is all about—leaves no place for the settled informal connections and understandings that make possible decent human relations or even ordinary rationality. So it seems headed for chaos, tyranny and neo-primitivism as institutions stop functioning in an orderly above-board fashion and rely instead on force, fraud, bribery and durable pre-rational connections like blood and tribal loyalties. From a trad standpoint, then, the future can look like post-Soviet Russia, only with less common culture and more numerous and varied Chechens.

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    More rightwing internet futurology

    In the ’60s we had the “television generation,” the first generation to grow up watching TV. Today we have the “Internet generation.” The change in ways of finding out about the world ought to mean something, even though the effects are diffuse and so hard to interpret. Still, other people have theories on the subject, so why shouldn’t I? So here’s a proposal:

    • Both TV and the Internet present the world as immediately present, all on a level, and capable of being taken in at a glance to whatever degree is necessary without much thought, argument or subtlety. Everything’s right in front of you, so how could you go wrong?
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    More thoughts on the blue state of mind

    The ’60s, bracketed as they were by the school prayer and abortion decisions, stand for definitive public rejection of the transcendent in favor of a wholly this-worldly understanding of reality. In the absence of a superior point of reference, the social order became the ultimate moral reality and human choice the ultimate authority. For those who accept the ’60s, including those who set the standards and tone of mainstream respectable public life, the consequences include the following:

    • “Inclusion” is now a supreme moral imperative. Since the public social order is ultimate reality, to treat some people, classes or ways of living as more closely connected to it than others is to that extent to exclude them from participation in reality and therefore to annihilate them. That’s one reason Nazi imagery pops up so quickly in response to failures of inclusiveness. Similarly, to be a minor-league social dropout, to homeschool your children or live in a community that’s insufficiently diverse or whatever, is to avoid reality and your obligations to reality. It’s a violation of your obvious fundamental moral obligations as a social being. (Note that the attempt to put the public order into equally close connection to all possible persons and ways of being deprives the public order of all content. Ultimate reality becomes a void, to be filled by sensation and fantasy.)
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    Some notes on traditionalist futurology and the internet

    Can the internet and traditionalism get along? On the face of it, the net sums up the most extreme features of the modern world. It destroys particular connections by making everything equally present to everything else. With all things in the same setting and position, the meaning and significance of things has nowhere to establish itself. Personal relationships become casual. Identities change at will and disappear. Everything becomes either an object of undifferentiated appetite or aversion or else a resource for some further purpose. Money, government decree, and technical rationality become the sole principles of order that can be relied on in the face of adversity.

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