Arguing social conservatism in a technocracy

The socially traditionalist Right hasn’t been making its case in a way that makes sense to people who don’t already accept socially traditionalist views. The result is that social conservatives are made to look like crazies and people have no idea what their answers are. When the Supreme Court sees people who don’t want to have a “gay rights” ordinance the Court can’t conceive that they might have a reason other than irrational “animus.” In what passes for mainstream discussion, the relevant issues evidently never get raised.

The ultimate answer to the problem is no doubt a basic reorientation of public understandings. Still, you can’t insist on changing the world before you make your pitch. What letters do you write to the editor today? What do you say to relatives or co-workers who think things are OK and ask why you think they’re so bad?

The issue, it seems, is why ordinary people should treat the PC welfare state as their enemy. It’s not obvious to a lot of them. After all, apart from taxes left/liberal programs don’t immediately invade individual and domestic happiness. Their most obvious effect is to help people with problems, protect the weak from insult and injury, help people follow their inclinations and so on.

To see the evil done by managerial liberalism you have to take a broader perspective. That can be difficult, because the people responsible for broader perspectives — the experts — usually favor managerial liberalism. After all, the need to administer everything creates a bull market in expertise.

Still, the experts’ monopoly on knowledge and discussion isn’t absolute. The collapse of socialism has forced economically conservative arguments into the mainstream. Government can’t rearrange day-to-day life without taking it over. It can’t respond to individual details, so when it takes things over it runs them bureaucratically, like the post office. If it helps people with problems more people will claim to have problems, and fewer will avoid them or solve them on their own or with help from those who know them. And so on.

What might help social conservatives make their views seem at least sane to non-conservatives is to put them in similar functional form: social liberalism is very much like socialism. It’s an attempt to replace traditional institutions like family, religion, and cultural standards with something that seems much more rational — individual choice, contract, bureaucratic intervention, and expertise. Instead of the traditional family, which depended for its reliable functioning on traditional understandings as to parental authority, sex roles and sexual conduct, we have family court, day care centers, and therapists.

The problem with those rational institutions is that they don’t work. They can’t work, because formal public rationality can’t possibly deal with particular human motivations and relationships. On the other hand, pure individual choice isn’t steady enough to be relied on in basic social arrangements like the family. If those points can be made, it’ll be at least believable that there are problems for which progressives have no real solution and conservatives have some sort of answer. That answer — some version of traditional restraints and inequalities — is of course intolerable from the liberal standpoint, because it makes no sense as “social policy.” Much more is needed to make its meaning and justification clear. But at least discussion will have been started on the common ground of the need for arrangements that deal with basic human needs.

1 thought on “Arguing social conservatism in a technocracy”

  1. Hello Mr. Kalb,
    I see it

    Hello Mr. Kalb,

    I see it really all about Greed, (an inordinate love of lucre) and therefore the American spirit, admirable in so many ways, is actually the principle motor – oftentimes even innocently – of the despiritualization of the world, which also goes by the name of liberalism.

    AMERICA: a vast continent that needed to be worked, millions of immigrants, who wished for nothing better than to sever their ties with the past and get rich. A Protestant work ethic that found fertile ground to be put into practice… yet in time, no single culture really dominant and therefore willy-nilly an “amorphous culture” based almost entirely on Law and Money… both rational and uncultural as can be. The old glue (which is now becoming undone) was patriotism à la americana.

    Americans (with exceptions of course, especially in the South) are patriotic in a different way than say – Italians. Here we love the land, the history, the castles, the hills, the local dialects, wines, foodstuffs. One might say our attachment is atavistic. Americans instead love the system, the checks and balances and the opportunities. This already naturally predisposes them to liberalism. Our patriotism is like loving a mama and America’s is like loving a principle or – God. And in fact a foreigner debating most Americans, notices a near religious – America-can-do-no-wrong – fervor. Now of course among the new KOS Democrats, there’s the converse: America-can-do-no-right. But that too is religious fervor.

    With the downfall of Communism and the end of the great European empires, the only remaining country which unabashedly feels that she has a message for all of humanity is the USA. Life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, the joys of freedom and democracy, the American way of life. Backing this up is the most “creative” and economically successful society on earth: all the major films reflect the American ethos. A high budget European film aspires to have the cash flow of an American low-budget. A medium budget European film aspires to have the cash flow of a decent American video-clip.

    Europe is somewhere in the middle or maybe just all over the place. The Catholic countries are the only ones with a shred of local culture left. Most of the Protestant nations could do away with their national languages and move straight to the more economically-empowering English language without feeling much of a loss. Being Swedish or Dutch hardly means anything: “It’s Tuesday and on Tuesday we eat Thai, it’s Thursday and on Thursday we eat Greek.”

    The Protestant countries, all highly successful in the economic sphere are mere Money Zones, workplaces. Man there has effectively been despiritualized and reduced to homo economicus. The Catholic countries (no longer Catholic except in a decaying ethos, are catching up.) Now we too have huge shopping centers with clerks on rollerblades.

    With the exception of certain social services (like Public Health Care and free Universities) what unites United Europe is each single country’s level of Americanismo: the fast food franchises, the mega shopping centers, the jeans and Nikes, the music, the sexual liberation, the homo economicus, the greed.


    I’m an American citizen who’s lived most of his adult life in Italy. I try to imagine my great little, privately owned café-bar down the street running national commercials… and I laugh… but I’m fairly sure that the last laugh will be on me. There are already MacDonald commercials on TV… and fast food is already killing the privately run rosticcerias of old.

    Anyhow, when I last went to the States, I walked into a Starbucks and asked for a cappuccino. The student serving me (they all seem to be students who can’t wait to move onto something better, i.e. more remunerative), immediately asked if I wanted it regular, medium, large, or jumbo with a discount on a T-shirt, baseball cap, a rock concert, a CD… and he asked if I had coupons. I stared back in a daze. “What strange world is this?!”

    He had a tag on his shirt with his name. Everything, from his smile, attitude, the offers, the decor etc. had been decided for him in a skyscraper thousands of miles away. He also asked me if I wanted Brazilian beans, Ecuadorian beans, Malaysian beans, Colombian beans, Tanzanian beans…

    I just wanted a cappuccino… I was offered the world and about $500 worth of goods. Plus an opportunity to sign petitions against land-mines, whale-hunting, plus offers to explore the marvelous and mysterious world of Coffee, Chocolate and Tea… And naturally the place had WIFI! $500 worth of goods and about 2 Gigabytes of information.

    But you know what was lacking, Mr. Kalb? Everything that I loved about my café-bar back home (and used to love when I lived in the USA and was wont to frequent old-fashioned diners): a good, lovingly served coffee and humanity.

    I guarantee you that my day-café, owned by Bruno, with Giorgia, Daniele, Stefania, etc. and my night-café with Fabio (Persian), old Luciano and sometimes Martina (a Moldavian girl) and sometimes Carmen, (Roman as can be), despite the low technology and lack of discounts and special offers, is a thousand times more satisfying.

    What’s the message? Starbucks, 1000 different beans and only 1 kind of barman. DEHUMANIZED.

    Bruno’s bar? One good bean and different kinds of real people. No name tags, but you know their names and sometimes even the names of their children. No petitions to sign, but you can talk about land-mines and whale hunting and sex and politics and religion and silly nail polish with them and even the other patrons, if they’re so inclined.

    You can play. In fact with Fabio, the Persian, we have a running gag: I’m a Jew who’s privy to all manner of conspiracies and he asks me for the real lowdown of what’s happening in the world (as ordained by the Mossad from their mazuzah shaped underground bunker, the one floating on the blood of Cossacks). With Carmen, I shamelessly flirt and so does old Luciano from behind the counter. And we have romantic competitions… and she regularly sends us both to hell. Whereupon we talk real bad about women and she talks real bad about men.

    I walk out of my café-bars thoroughly nourished in spirit. We love each other and would cry if one of us died prematurely. You couldn’t put such things in a nationwide commercial “I’m luvin’ it” even if you tried. Carmen would be too fat, Luciano would be arrested for harassment, Fabio and I would be denounced for racism.

    Dear Mr. Kalb, I remember witnessing a debate about who makes the best pizza at the “conservative” Free Republic forum. Everyone was comparing the products of billion dollar franchises. I kept my silence, but I wanted to talk about old Ivo in Trastevere who could make a Giotto-perfect round pizza with a single smash of his palm… Or about the new guy up the street, a Tunisian, who has my kids chanting: “Pizza! Pizza! Pizza!” every time I ask them: “What should we have for dinner?”

    Where am I going with all this besides occupying bandwidth? I have little doubt that the biggest force of runaway liberalism is the marketplace. A sort of godless Calvinism.

    Americans complain about their immigration invasion, but she is so little aware of how she has invaded other countries without people or troops… but only with her far superior logic, efficiency, cost-effectiveness, material offer. With her excellence and virtue regarding all matters pecunious.

    One can’t really call it an invasion… but a sort of Manifest Destiny, with contrary organizations like Slow Food acting as old-fashioned cranks and snobs. Which is what they really are. Slow Food (which I saw you linked to) was born out of the Italian Communist party and is effectively run by elitist homosexuals (trust me I went to their headquarters in the town of Bra not far from Turin).They too are a franchise. Neverthless their overall message is admirable inasmuch as it is an attempt to swim against the stream.

    The cruel paradox in all this is that America is innocent: AMERICA: a vast continent that needed to be worked, millions of immigrants, who wished for nothing better than to sever their ties with the past and get rich. A Protestant work ethic that found fertile ground to be put into practice… yet in time, no single culture really dominant and therefore willy-nilly an “amorphous culture” based almost entirely on Law and Money… both rational and uncultural as can be. AND VERY SUCCESSFUL.

    The whole world loves that American dream. The whole world longs to have that discount on the original sin that Americans seem to have.

    Big multi-nationals and franchises cannot really work without all the nonsense about diversity, hate speech, inclusiveness. In their realm of Law, fairness, MONEY they are genuine virtues. The way I see it, the real problem facing conservatives is trying to put the worm of humanity back into the apple.

    Perhaps we should begin to consider ourselves, or at least our humanity, as some sort of enangered specie. And perhaps theologians can assist us in being less virtuous.

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