Boring summary of American right-wing ideas

The point of present-day political thought is to integrate everything into a single system of technological hedonism that managers and functionaries can dominate with the aid of their ideological champions. A better and more human way of thinking would recognize that we live in a larger and less controllable world, one in which things above and below us, not to mention other people, maintain a certain autonomy.

On such a view we can’t conquer nature, establish social justice, reduce society to a perspicuous rational order, or make anything good, beautiful or true by willing it to be so. A society based on such recognitions could and should recognize transcendent goods, but it would reject the comprehensive rationalizing impulse expressed by bureaucratic centralization and the global rationalization of economic and social life promoted by the present combination of world markets and various transnational institutions. It would allow myriad nooks and crannies in which coherent local forms of life could develop and establish themselves.

That seems to be a pipe dream. The whole world is getting bulldozed and paved over (here’s a literal example a couple blocks from where I live) because of the immense power of technology, the ambitions of powerful classes and institutions, and the temptations of immediate convenience. All those tendencies are aided and indeed enjoined by present-day conceptions of reality, rationality and morality. To allow decisions to be made based on anything but strict economic and rational-bureaucratic criteria is to discriminate, and that is the worst thing imaginable.

Here are some thoughts on institutional changes that might help reverse the situation:

  • We need a stronger principle of federalism, combined with radical reduction of the responsibilities of the upper levels of government. For example, education and social welfare should primarily be the responsibility of local governments and non-state institutions. The Federal Government and similar institutions can’t know much about us, so how can they bring us up or decide what to do when we have problems? When they act in small things they act like machines, they can’t do anything else, and they turn everything local into a cog. How can that lead to a tolerable way of life?
  • One way to reduce the size and activity of the upper levels of government is to reduce their ability to tax. They should mostly have to rely on grants from the lower levels, which should also have the right to secede. Another is to reduce their ability to act directly on individuals and so force them to rely on the cooperation of lower levels. Still another is to reduce the influence of the classes interested in establishing comprehensive schemes of regulation, notably the class of experts. Attacks on scientism, credentialism, and the academic-government complex are likely to help in that regard.
  • Although the upper levels of government should have limited responsibilities, they cannot reasonably be limited in what they take into account when they act. They are human institutions, and those who run them must act as human beings. Thus, for example, they should reject secularism: they should not pretend that they have no view on the nature of man and the world, or that those things can be explained, at least for public purposes, strictly in terms of power, technology and economics. They should recognize that religious goods are genuine human goods that are naturally part of the common good.
  • Lower levels of government should have more discretion. In general, it’s not the business of the upper levels to specify in detail how life will be carried on and so reduce everything everywhere to components in a machine guided by abstract universal concepts. If Kalamazoo wants to keep out Walmart, tax foreign goods, or set up an established church, why not? Isn’t the protection of local religious establishments the original point of the First Amendment?

The astute reader, if any has gotten this far, will notice that these are mostly a collection of traditional American right-wing positions, combined with a few hints from medieval Christendom and a suggestion that we revert from the 1787 Constitution to the Articles of Confederation. So they can’t claim originality. As they stand they’re not a plan of action, if only because they’re a collection of goals that has lost contest after contest for centuries.

Still, there’s nothing wrong with putting the positions one has inherited and still seem best into a rational order and showing their continuing necessity. Pendulums swing, spirals reverse and phases change. Ways of thought affect ways of life as well as the reverse, and what seems impossible can suddenly seem practical in unexpected ways. Also, particular complaints, claims and proposals need statements of general principles to maintain comprehensibility. So if you’re going to be right-wing at all, why not stand back now and then and ask what you’re aiming at overall and what would be required to achieve it?

2 thoughts on “Boring summary of American right-wing ideas”

  1. Sign me up!
    So where can I join this political movement? No point in paying a visit to the Republican headquarters, is there?

    Seriously, I like your goals and see a lot in the general developments you seem to favor? But how can they come about? If it’s in the DNA of the rationalist class to continue rationalizing, how and when can any change for the better (ro the rest of us, anyway) occur?

    • Que sera sera
      Good question about how you could ever get anything different. Some possibilities:

      • As rationalist demands become more radical the official way of thinking becomes more and more divorced from reality. The system therefore becomes less functional and runs more and more on corruption, side deals, family and ethnic connections, even outright criminality. Eventually people stop trying to keep up appearances and and either become completely unprincipled (which can’t last long on a large scale) or try other principles. Something like that brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union. I suppose the EU is one institution to watch.
      • The flip side: as the official way of life becomes less functional and humanly less satisfying people look for something else. Eventually a self-replicating and more functional alternative emerges. An example would be the Christianization of the Roman Empire. Various semi-dropout religious groups might be the things to watch.
      • A less apocalyptic scenario would involve gradual weakening of the rationalizing impulse and rejuvenation of older more complex traditions under the influence of the foregoing processes in a mitigated form. A difficulty with that scenario is that the rationalizing impulse has such strong support from (i) modern ideas of knowledge and reality, (ii) modern institutions like bureaucracies and world markets, (iii) modern ideas of social justice and morality, (iv) social tendencies like multiculturalism, the welfare state, and perpetual mass immigration, and (v) the constantly increasing power of technology.

      My best guess is that there will be really severe crises before social life settles into a different direction. Naturally we should all do what we can to promote more of a soft landing. The world’s always complex and you can’t know in advance how far things will go.

      Rem tene, verba sequentur.


Leave a Comment