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November 07, 2003

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» Holbo Vs. Frum from Matthew Yglesias
John Holbo really goes to town. For what it's worth, I think conservatives (as opposed to libertarians) shouldn't even try to philosophize since any general doctrine you could possibly come up with is going to wind up looking a lot... [Read More]

» David Frum Takedown from marginalia.org
Extraordinary (and long) hammering of David Frum’s Dead Right. The funny thing about this book is: it isn’t nearly as bad I just made it sound. I don’t think Frum is obsessed with beards or anything, actually. He sometimes seems like ... [Read More]

» Yea, though I walk from Electrolite
through the valley of the shadow of data disasters, business trips, World Fantasy Conventions, and exciting varieties of minor illness,... [Read More]

» It’s the economy, stupid! We need to cannibalize the dead! from Chrononautic Log
More interesting stuff from John of John & Belle, in this case a review of David Frum’s Dead Right. I fully sympathize with John’s curiosity as to what conservatism looks like in all its glorious and unalloyed philosophical ideal purity... [Read More]

» It’s the economy, stupid! We need to cannibalize the dead! from Chrononautic Log
More interesting stuff from John of John & Belle, in this case a review of David Frum’s Dead Right. I fully sympathize with John’s curiosity as to what conservatism looks like in all its glorious and unalloyed philosophical ideal purity... [Read More]

» John Holbo Deconstructs David Frum from Discourse.net
I don’t know if this essay by John Holbo [link corrected] deconstructing David Frum’s book is right, because I haven’t read the book it attacks. (And, if truth be told, I’m especially unwilling to jump to conclusions because I u... [Read More]

» Political Philosophers on Frum from Now That Everyone Else Has One
Speaking of David Frum, read this long rebuttal to his book if you're really bored. I didn't have the time... [Read More]

» More Assorted Reading from Three-Toed Sloth
Umberto Eco talks in Alexandria about the future of books. For something completely different, Dan Sperber on the future of writing. Peter Bergen tears apart the theories of Laurie Mylroie, who believes Saddam Hussein was responsible for both attacks o... [Read More]

» More Assorted Reading from Three-Toed Sloth
Umberto Eco talks in Alexandria about the future of books. For something completely different, Dan Sperber on the future of writing. Peter Bergen tears apart the theories of Laurie Mylroie, who believes Saddam Hussein was responsible for both attacks o... [Read More]

» Orwell and Moral Proportion from The Audhumlan Conspiracy
John Holbo from John and Belle Have a Blog has a sequel to his earlier post on David Frum. The best part is his section in the middle about Orwell's sense of moral proportion: At any rate, the fact that... [Read More]

» Dead Right and An End To Evil from Matthew Yglesias
Just read David Frum's Dead Right. It's a really good book, very well-written account of the travails of ideological (as opposed to merely "pro-business") conservatism in the post-Reagan era. It's also interesting that it's clear from The Right Man and... [Read More]

» Conservatism, democracy, Tolkien from Chrononautic Log
This essay by Philip Agre, “What is conservatism and what is wrong with it?” gets to the heart of the place where I stopped stone dead in trying to meet Gene Wolfe halfway. (It’s also a useful gloss on John Holbo’s takedown of D... [Read More]

» On Markets and Conservatism from Meandering Vaguely Around Timnah
Linking Don Herzog to John Holbo. [Read More]

» Koan. from Long story; short pier
Kyogen Osho said, it is like a man up in a tree hanging from a branch by his mouth. His hands grasp no bough. His feet rest on no limb. Someone appears under the tree and asks him, what is... [Read More]

» Spiritual awareness. from Wax Banks
In John Holbo's minor classic of David Frum-bashing, 'Dead Right' (which this post really isn't about at all but still let's go), he enjoys a delicious irony, beginning with a quote from Frum's Dead Right book: "Neoconservatives may roll their [Read More]

» Memes go to war(!), 'aestheticizing conservatism down', and other small matters. from Wax Banks
Heading over to Michelle Malkin's website for my weekly dose of schadenfreude I saw the oddest logo: Apparently Ed Morrissey and other right-wing bloggers are miffed at the name-calling that, in their view, passes for argument in some parts of [Read More]

Comments

Timothy Burke

Well, nobody could complain that you didn't take him seriously enough to engage him! Splendid, interesting read, and I think you've described not just Frum's problems, but the underlying incoherency of one species or strain of contemporary American conservatism, a kind of bastard child of moral conservatism and economic libertarianism.

Russell Arben Fox

Good heavens, man. You have a book on your hands here. A good book, too. I think you're wrong about a lot, but I think Frum is wrong about much, much more, so that's cool with me. I'd buy your book. Why the hell are you writing a blog?

Chun the Unavoidable

I can't believe I read the whole thing.

Cosma

What Fox said (except for the bit about you being wrong about a lot).

JP

Yes, that was very well done. Thanks.

Sounds to me like Frum is just hitching his cart to natural law; i.e. objective truth and morality are things that all people can just instinctively sense, and that aren't based on reason. Anyone who tries to test them with logic is just trying to lead people astray from what they know in their hearts to be true. Or something like that.

Russell Arben Fox

JP, the very idea of "natural law" is based on reason (Aristotle, Aquinas, and all that). The idea is that, if we look at nature rationally, with an eye to discovering its order, then a certain natural right will be (objectively) manifest. I haven't read anything by Frum, but if John's massive attack on the guy's writings is at all accurate, then the very last thing guiding his "philosophy" is natural law, as traditionally understood. It's closer to, as you say, a kind of instinct, though maybe of an "aesthetic" sort.

As John and bunch of us have discussed at length before, contemporary American conservatism has serious tensions in it. Older (and more philosophically coherent) forms of conservatism have been mostly marginalized. Frum's book sounds to me like an attempt to come up with some new way of resolving these tensions, and not a very successful one.

xcentrik

Just one additional factoid about the Donner party - some of its members, who organized party that attempted to break through the snow and find help - actually murdered and devoured their Native American guides. What do you suppose this says about the conservative approach?

Grant Gould

Sounds to me as though Mr. Frum has never bothered to read the Turner Thesis -- you know, the whole "Frontier in American History" thing, and the fact that when, in 1910 we definitevely ran out of frontier, we also ran out of those beardless workers he's so keen on.

Absent a frontier -- in essence, a source of arbitrarily hard problems and the opportunity to make a new life by risking your life to face them -- naturally people are going to stop being hard-bitten frontiersmen. No more Donner Passes, no more Donner Parties. Like, duh.

But modern conservatives are scared of the notion that the American moral universe has changed, ever. Not, mind you, that they've any real interest in potential new frontiers and Donner Passes presented by, eg, unfettered economic and network globalisation or private spaceflight, that might return some of that frontier risk-your-life-to-change-your-life spirit. Just that they're scared that it's gone and, my gosh, that it might have been important.

In other words, they've accepted the underpinnings of the modern-liberal philosophy -- people packed together without anywhere else to go need democracy and strong authoritative leadership; rights may come later. They just haven't worked through the implications yet, because they're scared.

And oddly, they expect people to vote for them as if they had ideas of their own.
--G

Tom Runnacles

Marvellous stuff.

I too try to read (non-libertarian) righty types quite a bit, in large part because I genuinely don't know where they're coming from - what, at base, motivates their hostility to wheelchair ramps etc.

It is indeed often hard to shift the thought that a basically aesthetic preference is doing the real work.

Still, it'd be handy if somebody felt able to recommend a recent(ish) book which does a better job than it seems Frum manages.

NB - nothing by Roger Scruton, please.

roger

Nice analysis. I have been working on an essay on what I regard as the transformation of conservative thought from 1870 to 1939 -- roughly, from James Fitzjames Stephen to Hayek. I think Stephen, who has been obscured over the years, is a pretty clear ancestor of Frum -- it was Stephen who put together the case for liberal (as in, classically liberal) economics, a morally coercive state, and imperialism. With some transformations -- for instance, the change from imperialism to anti-communism in the post World War II period -- I think that is a basic conservative template.

Stephen makes his case by massively attacking Mill's On Liberty -- a sacred text among libertarians.

It seems to me, however, that you take Frum's talk about risk too much as the general consensus about risk among conservatives. What Hayek did, and Schumpeter, and Frank Knight, was to reinstate risk as a creative function. It isn't only that risk keeps families together out of fear -- it also operates, in the economic sphere, to free up capital for creativity. This is at the heart of a contradiction that conservatives have never quite mastered. If capitalism sustains itself by embracing risk, and thereby condemning in succession great sequences of economic activity to desuetude -- creative destruction, as Schumpeter calls it -- isn't that the sort of thing to shake the discipline that, for instance, keeps families together? That a corporation moves its employees around and mingles females and males in its attempt to achieve higher ROI could have more to do with divorce than the state's coddling entitlements -- in which case, by Stephen and Frum's logic, you have to turn to... the state. You have to make divorce legally harder. This is the great and deadly problem with attempting to come up with a coherent limit on state power from a conservative point of view -- liberalizing an economy necessitates more moral coercion on the part of the state. But moral coercion isn't economically neutral: ban porno, and you are soon mandating censorhip software on videos, which is an infringement on commerce.

Scott Harris

I don't know about Frum, but I can offer my view of conservatism. To many conservatives, its really a matter of scale. Policies that we would support on a local level raise suspicion on a national level.

Frum is correct in that conservatives think we have lost something. And that something is the accountability to and from local civil society. The one-size-fits-all practice imposed by judicial fiat undermines individual responsibility and freedom.

Frum is also correct when he says many conservatives wouldn't care a whit about economic policy if our society could regain the local autonomy it once had.

Religious conservatives in particular are very suspicious of centralized power. This traces back to the Protestant Reformation, and the rejection of the central control of the Catholic Church. The deep distrust of centralized governmental authority has deep roots in the Protestant religious history of the country.

Deeply religious protestant Christians talk about these things. And just as the Pilgrims left England to exercise individual freedom, Protestant Evangelicals are very leery of a judiciary that imposes its values on national society by fiat - without being held accountable to the general public.

Social conservatives believe Capitalism is superior primarily because it requires individual freedom. Individual Freedom is the core value, not capitalism itself. To many social conservatives, if we could devise a system of equitably sharing responsibilities and benefits that could somehow be innoculated against 1) the tendency toward tyranny, and 2) the degradation of morality, then we would gladly sign on.

But, history and experience tells us that such a system does not yet exist, and capiatalism, pitting competing interest against each other is the best way to balance out the competing, sometimes beneficial, but also sometimes malevolent passions of mankind.

This is in stark contrast to those economic conservatives who really do fool themselves into believing that economic Darwinism is actually desirable. Social conservatives, on the other hand prefer a kind of collective Darwinism whereby 1)local societies can compete with one another, 2)individuals have the freedom to choose from a multitude of different types of local society, and 3) having chosen to be a member of a particular group, the individual enjoys the social benefits and protection of that society, but is also held accountable to it as well, and finally, 4) that local society has the political rights and power to expel and/or punish and individual that willingly receives the benefits, but is unwilling to be held accountable to that society.

The inherent differences between Social conservatives and left wing authoritarians are two-fold. 1) Social conservatives want to limit their societies to small local areas, while left wing authoritarians want their values imposed at large on the country as a whole. 2) The fundamental values of social conservatives are qualitatively different than those of leftists authoritarians.

This is why Libertarian ideology has so little sway with social conservatives. Social conservative want accountability and socialism on a local scale, but freedom on the grand scale. Leftists want unfettered freedom from accountability to their neighbor, but enforced standards on a grand scale.

This is also why avowed libertarians, who I classify as anarchists, are confused by both groups. Libertarians don't understand the difference in scale between the two groups.

And the classical economic conservatives. These are the ones who could live with slavery for everyone but themselves. They are the pure Capitalist Darwinians. This is what Frum was describing in his Donner party illustration, but that kind of conservatism will never be a majority in America.

Scott Harris

Of course, my above explanation of social conservatism is not pefect. There are some Social conservatives who do want their values imposed at large. See Prohibition for a relevant example. But Prohibition didn't work, just as the War on Drugs is not working.

And the problem lies in the contradictory impulses in all people. Social conservatives really do believe that their values are best, and sometimes forget that one must freely choose those values for them to have any lasting effect.

So, for example, supporting the decriminalization of Drugs on a national scale just flies in the face of moral beliefs - especially when our current judicial environment instructs us that imposing moral laws on a local level is not currently possible. And either unwilling or unable to reconcile the belief in freedom with some morally restrictive concepts, social conservatives sometimes opt for the morally restrictive codes at large.

This is also why some social conservatives can live with some of the social programs we have. Because the effects of these programs are acceptable at a local level. The internal conflict comes with ceding power to central government authority, not with the actual benefits enjoyed by recipients of the programs at a local level.

So we get back to the internal conflict we all have with reconciling our competing priorities even within ourselves. The result is inconsistency - a common human condition.

Avedon

This is magnificent. Please run it through a spell-checker and proofread it so we can quote and post it everywhere.

Realish

But at the heart of it is a sort of proto-cognitive itch; a sensibility, or feeling, or subconscious reflex.

This just nails it. In discussions with conservatives (of which I have all too many) I always come away with the same nagging sense that I'm attempting to reason them away from a deep-seated gut feeling. This accounts both for their self-described moral "clarity" and their immense defensiveness and paranoia. They don't "believe" conservative "philosophy"--they are conservatives. It is viscera you attack when you argue with them, it is their very identity, and they react accordingly.

It's particularly obvious with something like homosexuality--the reasoned arguments against it, such as they are, collapse into incoherence almost immediately. But at root is that aesthetic preference, that "proto-cognitive itch," that homosexuality is just icky.

So too with compromise and diplomacy in foreign policy. Icky. So too with taking money away from me to give to some poor no-account black single mother. Icky.

But here's the rub: the fact that these positions are rooted in aesthetic preference makes stronger, not weaker, in today's media culture. Liberals persist in clinging to reasons and rationales when there's no real argument happening. What's happening is a competion of symbols, of myths--what else can you get across 30 seconds but a symbol? Conservatives have mastered that language, the language of connotation, aesthetic preference, myth.

As you point out, it is the only language they have--any attempt to fashion it into a coherent philosophy crumbles--but to their great benefit, it is the dominant language in our culture. We live in a sea of visceral aesthetic groping, and the conservatives are kicking ass by waving pretty images in front of the public. Remember: Schwartzenegger won.

(This is all broad brush, of course, but hey, you started it.)

jholbo

I'll just jump in here and respond to Realish. You are quite right about me starting it. I'm feeling a little bit chagrined. But that's OK. The thing is: I don't actually believe that the only language conservatives have is one consisting of irrational aesthetic groping gestures. For example, I think Frum is quite a smart guy - with whom I disagree about almost everything. But that doesn't make me incapable of recognizing a very high degree of rationality. A very lively writer is Frum. But he (and others) have a very definite and disheartening tendency to slip into something that is really intellectually beneath them. Mistaking shallow aesthetic knee-jerk reflexes for deep philosophical impulses. Frum cannot distinguish the decline of Western Civilization from hair styles he doesn't like. I wish he would just cut out being lazy in that way. Not because I think he would then melt away but because it's a waste of his time and mine. I think if he cut out pretending everything he finds culturally disagreeable is objectively a threat to society he would turn into something far more intellectually formidable - and that would be fine by me. Mill says the true liberal prays for enlightened enemies. (I'm feeling bad about hammering the man. Can you tell? Like you say, I did start it.)

OK, now it may sound like I'm contradicting myself. Because I do say - and I do believe, and you have correctly picked up in it, Realish - that it's precisely the shallow knee-jerks that are at the heart of it all here. So what am I saying, even half-defending Frum?

I guess it comes to this. I don't have a lot of patience for cultural and social conservatism. But when I argue against such, I would prefer my opponent not utterly lower his guard with a lot of Donner party nostalgia. I'm sure Frum can do better than that. And I would rather argue against the better case.

jholbo

No, that's a terrible lie. It's fun to whack people with objections whenever they foolishly lower their guard. An irritable mental gesture on my part, do you think? Ah, human frailty.

Realish

And I would rather argue against the better case.

I commend you; I would as well.

However, we both should keep in mind that our preference for conceptual parrying is not shared by a great mass of the public. Most people do not pay close attention to politics. They witness a series of gestures, staged Kabuki-esque rituals, and above all image after image.
http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/031030/480/cdh10310300210
Right now, the conservative movement in this country is extraordinarily disciplined in their myth-making, and at least a measure of the credit goes to the personalization and psychologism (in the figure of Bush) of their message. We hear more about GW's 'fortitude' and 'resolve' than we do about his... y'know... 'plan'. We're told he won't waver.

A previous poster mentioned a contradiction that I think is central to conservatism, at least the hybrid sort Frum advocates. They want to preserve traditional virtues and habits on the one hand--for instance, preserve the sanctity of marriage--and on the other claim to revile any restraint on free market capital flow. But free capital flow makes the preservation of restrictive traditions manifestly more difficult. It's not only capital that flows. Transportation has become cheap and easy and available to every class. Jobs flow and people with them; capital has made us mobile.

So as you point out, conforming to the aesthetic Frum articulates will eventually mean deliberately imposed economic inefficiency or hardship. People will have to be re-rooted by scarcity. But as long as we have the machine, we will use it. In the long haul, the incompatible aims of conservativism will always resolve against tradition and in favor of avarice.

I'm sure Frum is a smart guy, but there's a reason your search for a cohesive (and defensible) conservative philosophy has taken such a plaintive tone. There is still a lot of gasbagging about the preservation of Judeo-Christian culture, but many virtues once imposed primarily by want are eroding in the steady flow of capital and population streams and nobody seems genuninely desirous to stop it.

I guess the only point in my previous post is this: the lack of philosophical rigor doesn't seem to be doing conservatives much harm. Perhaps the contrary.

Russell Arben Fox

Scott wrote: "The inherent differences between social conservatives and left-wing authoritarians are...social conservatives want to limit their societies to small local areas, while left wing authoritarians want their values imposed at large on the country as a whole," and "the fundamental values of social conservatives are qualitatively different than those of leftists."

Not that I wish to defend "left-wing authoritarianism," but since a lot of people tend to place contemporary communitarianism in that quadrant, I guess I'll bite. First, as regards imposing one's values "on the country as a whole": the size of the community which can be plausibly held to particular social standards (ranging from simple law and order to much deeper bonds of civic morality) depends entirely upon relevant criteria to that standard. Obviously, a social code which depends upon regular individual interaction and participation to survive cannot be effectively stretched beyond separate localities, and intelligent communitarian thinkers recognize that. But not all social standards require equal levels, or equal forms, of participation; some can plausibly be tied to other criteria (such as sharing a common history or language, or more widely distributable civic rituals like voting) which can be extended over a larger base. A national community is a misnomer in regards to some things, surely, but not in regards to all things. Second, regarding the "fundamental" qualitative difference between leftist and conservative values: I suspect you're assuming that leftists are secularists. But not all of them are...and indeed, if we're using these terms ("leftist," "conservative," etc.) in their broadest ideological sense--which, given the whole point of this thread, I assume we are--then I doubt even the majority of them are.

roger

If this discussion were being held in 1968, the references to Burke would come fast and furious. Interestingly, they are largely absent now. I wonder if this is a symptom of the turning of American conservatism?

The Burkean point of view -- the view espoused by the first big popularizer of conservatism, William Buckley -- is that the attempt to weave a political theory that fits all societies is at the root of liberalism. Burke's idea was that politics is supremely about circumstances -- which is why he could support the American revolution and abhor the French, make the case for the organic economy of India against the proto-freemarket people and advocate free markets in Ireland. What is needed is a sensibility, not a theory. This isn't a call for pragmatism -- pragmatism is about what works, Burkean traditionalism is about the effects of what has worked.

The complete collapse of this strain of conservatism is evident in the discussions pro or con about Iraq. Burke thought constitution mongers were laughable, and pernicious. He hated the idea of theorists imposing an order from above on a nation that had created an intrinsic order. But from David Brooks to the staff of the Weekly Standard, the idee du jour is that robust constitution mongering is just the ticket. The only Burkean conservative left, really, is George Will -- and he is a Burkean only every third month or so.

This is a curious phenomenon. I don't really have an explanation.

Team Canada

Wow, that was intense. Good stuff

Hal O'Brien

No... Burke isn't being mentioned because he hasn't been tuaght in the schools for a generation now. Whether such a degradation of standards has arisen from a choking off of tax revenues per capita for public education, I leave to the reader to decide.

Mark Liberman

Thanks!

This made me laugh harder, and learn more, than anything else I've read in quite a while.

I was moved to suggest in
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000099.html
that such reviews should be called "frumming", on the model of "fisking." I doubt the term will catch on, but at least you have the satisfaction of knowing that someone thought your piece should be the archtype for a new genre.

Ophelia Benson

"This just nails it. In discussions with conservatives (of which I have all too many) I always come away with the same nagging sense that I'm attempting to reason them away from a deep-seated gut feeling. This accounts both for their self-described moral "clarity" and their immense defensiveness and paranoia. They don't "believe" conservative "philosophy"--they are conservatives."

So you're saying conservatives are essentially emotivist in their politics, right? I have a running argument with a convinced emotivist (not a conservative), and he's done more to convince me than I have to convince him - which I find a bit disheartening. Emotivism ought to be wrong, precisely because it does just get you people who insist, eyes bulging, that homosexuality is just wrong, period, that's all there is to it.

roger

"No... Burke isn't being mentioned because he hasn't been tuaght in the schools for a generation now"... Uh, exactly. Since around 1968.

Which is about the same time that Nixon's Southern strategy kicked in, come to think of it. Perhaps the absence of Burke has less to do with "choking off education" than with the discomfort of populist conservatives -- of the Pat Buchanon (sp?) type -- with the kind of class distinctions upon which Burke rested his particular brand of politics. Hence the way in which contemporary conservatives hammer at liberals for being "elite" -- a term of honor within the old school of conservatism. They protest too much in order to cover up a division that goes a long way back into the division that make up their own history.

Ophelia Benson

Is that why they do it? (Is that why conservatives call leftists 'elitists'?) I thought it was simply because it works. Just as it works - however inexplicably - to pretend that Bush is somehow not of the elite, simply because he pretends to talk like an ol' ranch hand.

Jay C.

To borrow a phrase from more journalistically-savvy bloggers, I think the "money graf" is here:

Frum cleaves to a radically elitist conception according to which, ideally, a narrowly-conceived set of social and cultural ideals are imposed on a potentially recalcitrant and resistant population. Why? Because he has the philosophical clarity of mind to see that the alternative is unthinkably terrible: a radically elitist conception according to which, ideally, a narrowly-conceived set of social and cultural ideals are imposed on a potentially recalcitrant and resistant population. Nothing that fits that description could possibly be good, obviously

This looks like it is the Great Modern American Conservative Creed in a nutshell: We Know What's Good for You - unlike those awful elitist liberals, who are under the foolish misapprehension that They Know What's Good for You, Unfortunately, as you have pointed out so plainly, What's Good for Us is most-often cast as a return to the supposed virtues of 18th or 19th-Century America. Whether or not this idealized Golden Age might or might not fit as a template for life in the 21st Century never seems to enter into the head of even intelligent conservatives like David Frum; still less the run-of-the-mill dolts occupying public offices across the land. Thanks also for the great quote from George Orwell: I was looking for some way to articulate that very point: I'm not at all disappointed that someone like Orwell had beaten me to it.

Kent

Thank you very, very much for this post. I laughed, several times. I didn't cry. But it did become a part of me. I will keep the ideas here in mind for a long time. Thank you.

I agree that this is a potential book, not just a blog. I hope you go for it.

Lollius

Viz. the conflict between cultural and economic conservatives, as well as splits w/in liberalism (I'll withold the author/source, lest the name derail consideration):

The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.

The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his "natural superiors," and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous "cash-payment." It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasbile chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom -- Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has subtituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto nonoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage-laborours.

The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.

"Creative destruction"? Or just destruction?

Another way to frame the question, then: at what point (moral &/or geographical) does one draw the line between "market values" and, simply, values? On what basis might one do so? Is it possible to do so without simply "spinning back the clock," with all that comes with it? Or without buying into some utopian, millenarian scheme or other?

Russell Arben Fox

Marx, of course. From "The Communist Manifesto." Excellent choice Lollius, though you might have also included the line: "All that is solid melts into air."

Regarding your question(s), I think it is important to emphasize the possibility of articulating sets of norms that are not, in fact, identitical to processes of commodification, and that doing so needn't simply be engaging in either nostalgia or utopianism. But admittedly it's difficult. A great part of the difficulty, I think, lies in thinking about (as was alluded to above) the proper "address," or "scale," of one's articulation. Modern life--capitalism, mobility, etc.--really has made some forms of shared normativity impossible. But that doesn't mean all such forms are impossible. I think one of the reasons that many people are suspicious of value-articulation on the civic level is because we have an all-or-nothing, everywhere-or-nowhere mentality; it's hard to work out arguments in such a (legal, political, and intellectual) environment that are truly pluralistic. There are broad ways of countering capitalism's destructive effects, and then there are local ways of doing so. The fact that, in any given situation, the former might seem overly nostalgic or dreamily futuristic doesn't mean that the latter necessarily are, however.

Adam Stephanides

I'm sorry, John, but this essay is off base. I disagree completely with the views Frum expresses in his book, but the way you present them distorts and misrepresents them. I don't insist upon being scrupulously fair to conservatives, when they so obviously refuse to extend the same courtesy to us; but Frum is not a candidate for anything, nor (I would guess) does his name mean anything to the average voter. Unfair attacks on him will provide no short-term political gain, while costing us long-term intellectual credibility.

To begin with your most inflammatory quotes: saying that present-day Americans don't exhibit the fortitude of the Donner Party doesn't logically require wanting more Donner Parties, any more than calling WWII veterans "the greatest generation" entails wishing for another world war. You know this, or should know this, very well. Anyway, it's Bennett, not Frum, who held up the Donner Party members as an exemplar. Frum is just quoting.

As for the paragraph about beards and keffiyehs which you have such sport with, it comes at the end of a passage six pages long in which Frum is arguing that none of the varieties of conservatives will be able to accomplish their goals without shrinking the federal government. Earlier in the passage he argued the point for Bennett's variety, and here he argues it for Buchanan's variety. And it's clear from the chapter on Buchanan, as well as elsewhere in this chapter, that Frum has no sympathy with Buchanan's conservatism (on p. 200, Frum talks about the "dangerous [potential] outcome" that someone like Buchanan might gain power). It's true that Frum in his own voice refers to "ethnic balkanization" as a bad thing (201). But, whether or not you agree with that, it's quite different, and much more defensible, than the insistence that everyone be clean-shaven which you (jestingly or not) attribute to him.

So what is it, precisely, that Frum wants? Granted, it's a non-trivial operation to dig this out of the book, partly because when Frum talks about what "conservatives" think, he often doesn't make it clear whether he's expressing his own views or just reporting something that some group of conservatives believes. But Frum does in fact say what he wants pretty clearly: the "bourgeois virtues" of "thrift, diligence, prudence, sobriety, fidelity, and orderliness" (196); a "self-reliant, competent, canny, and uncomplaining" character (202). This is a far cry, as you concede, from the cringing submissiveness you accuse him of wanting. Nor is it fairly characterized as "risably [sic] twee nonsense; faux-rusticated arty-woodcrafty tourist fantasy." It's not even an "aesthetic" preference, unless you're willing to say that believing that people should be generous, compassionate, tolerant and open-minded is also an aesthetic preference. It's true Frum doesn't provide philosophical justification for preferring the bourgeois virtues, but that's not the book's goal. It's not, contra Marshall, an exposition of conservative philosophy; nor is it an effort to win converts for it. It's written for people who are already conservatives, and whom he assumes already share his love of the bourgeois virtues. Nor, unless you're a libertarian, is it self-evidently absurd to say that the government should pursue policies which foster a particular sort of character.

Once the Donner Party red herring is removed, there's no evidence that Frum wants to impoverish the middle class. What he wants to restore is not poverty, but risk, as he repeatedly and explicitly states (not that it ever really went away, but that's another story). You do sort of admit this, only to go on to poke fun at him for supposedly believing that the character traits he advocates would automatically lead to economic prosperity. Well, it's possible he believes this, but as far as I know there's nothing in the book to indicate it. In fact, the book is not primarily concerned with economics at all, hard as this may be to believe. Frum is judging policies not on economic grounds, but on the basis of their consequences for Americans' characters. And while that may be a quixotic position for a would-be political thinker, it is not self-evidently ridiculous or contemptible.

Finally, what Jay C. called the "money graf" sounds good, but I don't know where you get the second sentence from. I found nothing whatever in the book to indicate that Frum opposes what he regards as "social breakdown" because it's "radically elitist" or imposed from above. On the contrary, his whole thesis depends upon the assumption that the behaviors he disapproves of are things that people will naturally indulge in if given the opportunity, and if shielded from their potential bad consequences.

I've gone to the effort of writing this out in part because I do have a bit of a soft spot for Frum, for getting off one of my favorite political lines: "if the voters reject ham and eggs, it is because they want double ham and double eggs" (175; he's referring to Republicans who wanted to nominate a supply-sider in 1996, but it applies equally well to many lefties). More seriously, I think it's bad for our side when we post something as full of holes as this, especially when it gets widely publicized, as it has. Most importantly, it's a big mistake to underestimate one's enemy. Demolishing a straw man may feel good, but it's poor practice for the real thing. In fact, it wouldn't be that hard to refute Frum's actual views, but John's article wastes that opportunity.

jholbo

Thanks for your comment, Adam. I'll have to think about whether you are, to some extent, correct in your criticism. (It was a late-nite screed I engaged in, with no intention of garnering such wide-spread interest. But that is no excuse, obviously, only an extenuating circumstance if it turns out I am, indeed, in the wrong.)

The point you make about taking a couple quotes out of context. Hmmmm. I actually puzzled over this one before using them and concluded that Frum really does stand by their content himself. He isn't, in any of the passages I quote, just narrating a view held by some other conservative - Bennett or Buchanan - from which he wishes to distance himself. True: he does want to distance himself from these folks. But: he also agrees with them about a lot of cultural points. More specifically, he critiques them not for their cultural goals but for trying to reach those goals by inadequate routes. He does at times critique their cultural ends as well. But the stuff I quote about beards and keffiyehs and so forth does not seem to be the stuff he disagrees with. I think it is Frum talking to us here. I admit that it's not 100% clear, but this is just part and parcel of my general critique. His own view is incoherent.

As to the Donner party example. It is reasonable to retort, on Frum's behalf: but this is at worst a somewhat silly slip. He didn't mean to actually advocate starvation in the snow. It's fair to make fun of him for making this slip, but it's not fair to pretend, with a straight face, that this is seriously his view. I do try to make clear that I know he isn't seriously in favor of enforced starvation. More than that - and here I may not be clear - the problem with the Donner party example is that it seems to lead on to some thought; it seems to do your thinking for you; this is Frum's feeling about it; it feels right to him; it feels like a wise example for him. it points in the right way; but it doesn't, in fact, point towards anything. It's a dead end. And so Frum feels like he's had a thought when he has only had a completely irrelevant feeling. An itch, a sudden eruption of aesthetic sensibility.

baa

For what little it's worth, I had the same reaction as Adam Stephanides. The philosophy of government Frum reaches for can be fairly described as "Aristotle meets bourgeois virtues." This doesn't strike me as obviously crazy, nor does it seem correct to characterize it as aesthetic preference.

Your essay was, however, very funny.

jholbo

This is an interesting line Adam and baa are pushing. I really want to find the time to respond fully, not because I am sure they are wrong but because they are obviously at least a little bit right. But no more than half, I think. The basic trouble is: if Frum were really advocating Aristotle meets bourgeois values - and there is textual evidence to support this, I freely admit - he would say a lot of things he doesn't say, and he wouldn't say a lot of things he does say. I think my view - which I do admit needs clarification and further butressing - is a better fit to the data set, although not a perfect one. I'll try to get a response up in a day or two. Thanks for the honest criticism, guys.

Vicki

Coming in late, after a pointer on a mailing list:

Another point is that the neocons aren't actually advocating decentralization in order to let each community find its own solutions, based on its specific resources, desires, and needs. They're advocating decentralization of resources, and simultaneously insisting on one-size-fits-all answers. They know about economies of scale, of course--they've looked at contemporary corporate capitalism--so the obvious answer is that they don't want efficient government. They don't want us to clean the streets as efficiently as possible, get good discounts on police uniforms, or save money on textbooks (for our imposed-from-above school curricula). They want us--the actual people who live in this actual society--to be weak, and to transfer as much money as possible to large corporations that aren't supposed to care about anything but money.

This may be a coherent philosophy, but I don't see what it has to do with either the Judeo-Christian tradition or human freedom. It is the Potemkin philosophy of the plutocrats.

Russell Arben Fox

I don't think this is right Vicki, or least not insofar as you choose to label what you call a "Potemkin philosophy of the plutocrats" as "neoconservative." To be sure, after nearly three full years of the Bush administration, figuring out who is a "neocon" and who isn't is harder than ever. Still, however you define your terms, it should be pretty clear that those who want to starve the government, make it inefficient and (perhaps not coincidentally) therefore a poor agent for social change and justice, aren't the people writing for neoconservative magazines like The Weekly Standard. You're talking about Grover Norquist-types. The "national greatness" neoconservatives--of which Frum may or may not be one; I have no idea--may be in practice hung up on the issue of actually paying for the powerful (imperial?) government they prefer, but in theory at least you can't say they don't acknowledge that the government needs to be efficient and capable. There's a reason why these folks like Alexander Hamilton, after all.

Adam Stephanides

When John posted his first response to my critique, I told him that I'd wait until I saw his more considered response before replying. But that more considered response doesn't seem to be coming, and there were a couple of points I wanted to make. So I hereby declare myself released from my vow.

"But the stuff I quote about beards and keffiyehs and so forth does not seem to be the stuff he disagrees with. I think it is Frum talking to us here. I admit that it's not 100% clear, but this is just part and parcel of my general critique. His own view is incoherent."

As regards keffiyehs, you may be correct. However, if does disapprove of keffiyeh-wearing, it's as a symptom of "ethnic balkanization" (201), not because he thinks that keffiyehs are incompatible with bourgeois values, as you implied. But as for beards--nuh-uh. To me at least, it's evident that the passage about beards you quote is simply an analogy, nothing more. (And as far as I know, there's nothing else in the book to suggest that Frum has an aversion to beards.) His next sentence is "If the owner of the gas station across the road from mine smiles a lot, and I don't, I will find myself forcing a cheerful manner myself, no matter how snarly I may inwardly feel." Presumably he isn't claiming that people should smile all the time whether they feel like it or not.

As I said in my original post, it is hard at times to distinguish Frum's own views from views he is just quoting. But as I also said, this is not because Frum's own view is incoherent (still less because he is making coded appeals to cannibals and beard-haters), but because the book is not a work of political philosophy. It's an argument about political strategy, directed at an audience of conservatives who are assumed to basically share the same views of what's wrong with American society (except for the Buchananites).

"As to the Donner party example. It is reasonable to retort, on Frum's behalf: but this is at worst a somewhat silly slip. He didn't mean to actually advocate starvation in the snow. It's fair to make fun of him for making this slip, but it's not fair to pretend, with a straight face, that this is seriously his view. I do try to make clear that I know he isn't seriously in favor of enforced starvation. More than that - and here I may not be clear - the problem with the Donner party example is that it seems to lead on to some thought; it seems to do your thinking for you; this is Frum's feeling about it; it feels right to him; it feels like a wise example for him. it points in the right way; but it doesn't, in fact, point towards anything. It's a dead end. And so Frum feels like he's had a thought when he has only had a completely irrelevant feeling. An itch, a sudden eruption of aesthetic sensibility."

I'm sorry, but I don't see anything, here or elsewhere in the book, to suggest that the Donner party has any more significance to Frum than as a quote to use as a springboard for his own argument: an aside, more or less. Just because Frum generally agrees with Bennett on social values (and the focus of his chapter on Bennett and other "moral conservatives" is not his agreement with them on values, but his disagreement with them on strategy), it doesn't follow that he agrees with everything he quotes from him. If anything, the Donner party are a problem for Frum's thesis, since the "lack of a net" didn't prevent them from trying to "jump across the big top." (For that matter, surely Bennett's point was not that starvation automatically breeds fortitude, but that the pre-existing fortitude of the members of the party evidenced itself in the way they reacted to extremity: hardly an absurd idea, or deserving of the ridicule you heap upon it, much as I enjoy seeing Bennett ridiculed.) Nor does it seem to me that Frum idealizes the nineteenth century. Insofar as his social ideal reflects any particular era, my impression is that it's the 1950s (minus Social Security, federally backed home mortgates, and the G.I. Bill, of course) more than anything else.

John's second post, addressed to me and baa, is too indefinite to comment upon, really. I was a bit peeved to see myself described as "pushing a line," particularly since I didn't say anything about Aristotle (mainly because I know very little about Aristotle's social and political thought, but based upon what little I do know, Frum doesn't seem that closely akin to him). As I said in my original post, I have no desire to defend Frum's social and political views, or even his quality as a thinker. He's wrong, but not ridiculous, or at least not ridiculous in the ways John claims he is. We liberals/lefties/anti-Bushies might as well hold on to our intellectual integrity, since it's about all we've got right now.

jholbo

I'm still working on Frum, part II. I drafted it, but it sort of sucked - just didn't say what it needed to say. And so I didn't post it. I don't really mean to retract much, ultimately, so I didn't feel too pressed to get it out. And all this lit crit I've been distracting myself with? Well, it's sort of related to my professional work, as Frum is not. That's my excuse, for what it's worth.

Two things: first, in direct response to Adam, I didn't mean to be slighting or critical with 'pushing a line'. I actually meant that as compliment: insisting on one's argumentative line, and not backing down (at a time when lots of people were patting my Frum post on the back and saying I was right.) Strength of your convictions. Good stuff. And worthy convictions. I do think that the line Adam and baa were taking is eminently respectable, even though I don't buy it ... just haven't finished explaining why yet. But I'll try to get it done soon. Adam's request for satisfaction is most reasonable. I have not been timely.

Second, I'll just make a quick little substantive point in response to Adam's comment, just in case the relevance of what I eventually say to what Adam says gets lost in the meantime. There is a misunderstanding. I hereby attempt to clear it up. Adam makes the point that the Donner party is nothing more than a springboard for Frum's argument. It starts him off on the direction he wants to go. My point is that I know it's supposed to be just a springboard, but it doesn't spring anywhere. (I know I've been unclear on this point. Last time I said something like: 'It does your thinking for you', which isn't quite it.) Why it doesn't spring anywhere is actually a very intricate and involved question. But here's a preview: the example springs you on to the thought that it ought to be the government's job to enforce hardships on the citizenry, even if the government could efficiently alleviate those hardships, and even if the citizens want it. This is quite absurd. Frum doesn't think this, exactly, so the Donner party springs him where he doesn't want to be.

It might be retorted that there are more reasonable thoughts in this springable neighborhood. To wit: it is nice for people to be tough, not fat-bellied (for what it is worth). And the government can encourage undue dependency, hence cost and inefficiency and many other evils, by trying to help people too much. The trouble is: although Frum does think this, he also needs more. He can't stop here. Because there are positions consistent with all this that Frum regards as utterly intolerable. The problem is that if he pushes further, to exclude the positions he loathes, he ends up where he really doesn't want to be. Just using the Donner party example - which might seem to suggest some sensible interpretations, masks the fact that Frum does not want those sensible interpretations. So the Donner party is telling because it amounts to a rhetorical avoidance of any genuine formulation of a conservative philosophy. And, yes, Frum does use the 'ph' word - he's got to put paid to it in some way. He doesn't.

Anyway, sort of a lot of ink spilled over this one no doubt badly and comically chosen example of Frum's.

More to follow - I promise. A day or two. I'll really do it this time.

tristero

I got halfway through and gave up. You were so bloody right and Frum was being so foolish there is no reason to continue.

But thanks. Very funny. Never in my wildest imaginations did I think Bill Bennett had advocated bringing back the Donner Party.

kydd

yeah I made it to about the Donner Party too ... I still think Rush is just an ignorant asshead. Its not an itellectual movement its a bunch of greedy bigoted assholes IMO

perianwyr

If everyone I ever fenced against just dropped their point and let me just walk up and hit them with a direct extension, I wouldn't be fencing.

Benjamin Rosenbaum

Actually, I am afraid I find this article rather specious.

You seem to willfully misread "let us make sure people are rewarded for their own efforts, and punished for their mistakes, for that will give them the incentives to grow to become responsible, capable, and adult" as "let us terrorize and impoverish people because it will make them subservient".

And everything after that misreading pretty much depends upon it.

I don't agree with Frum -- I like a nice big safety net, myself, and I'd like to see ours expanded a good bit.

But the opposite of "government-run social safety net" is not *necessarily* "abject misery and degradation". It might also be "prosperous, self-reliant populace".

Now, *I* believe misery would follow from the removal of the net. But *Frum* doesn't.

So it's an absurd misreading to suggest that he wants (or unthinkingly and accidentally implies that he wants) to promote poverty and thus subservience. What he wants to promote is responsibility. Not merely the Donner Party -- also the Gold Rush. But he wants prosperity to be the result of effort, and failure to have consequences. The idea is not that this will make people afraid to take risks. It is that it will educate them in which risks they should take. When they fail, it will require their families, neighbors, religions and associations to rescue them, which will strengthen these institutions (which Frum, I expect, believes have intrinsic advantages over the government as caretakers of the social web).

The result of this is not that people won't be risk-takers. It's that they will be *intelligent*, responsible, mature risk takers.

My politics are close to yours, and far from Frum's. But your exegesis of him is just plain silly.

It's a very easy out to say "what he seems to say is absurd; he must not really be thinking."

You might first try "what he seems to say is absurd; in all likelihood I have misunderstood him."

Benjamin Rosenbaum

Actually, I am afraid I find this article rather specious.

You seem to willfully misread "let us make sure people are rewarded for their own efforts, and punished for their mistakes, for that will give them the incentives to grow to become responsible, capable, and adult" as "let us terrorize and impoverish people because it will make them subservient".

And everything after that misreading pretty much depends upon it.

I don't agree with Frum -- I like a nice big safety net, myself, and I'd like to see ours expanded a good bit.

But the opposite of "government-run social safety net" is not *necessarily* "abject misery and degradation". It might also be "prosperous, self-reliant populace".

Now, *I* believe misery would follow from the removal of the net. But *Frum* doesn't.

So it's an absurd misreading to suggest that he wants (or unthinkingly and accidentally implies that he wants) to promote poverty and thus subservience. What he wants to promote is responsibility. Not merely the Donner Party -- also the Gold Rush. But he wants prosperity to be the result of effort, and failure to have consequences. The idea is not that this will make people afraid to take risks. It is that it will educate them in which risks they should take. When they fail, it will require their families, neighbors, religions and associations to rescue them, which will strengthen these institutions (which Frum, I expect, believes have intrinsic advantages over the government as caretakers of the social web).

The result of this is not that people won't be risk-takers. It's that they will be *intelligent*, responsible, mature risk takers.

My politics are close to yours, and far from Frum's. But your exegesis of him is just plain silly.

It's a very easy out to say "what he seems to say is absurd; he must not really be thinking."

You might first try "what he seems to say is absurd; in all likelihood I have misunderstood him."

Benjamin Rosenbaum

Oops -- sorry for posting twice!

Benjamin Rosenbaum

Oops -- sorry for posting twice!

Hiram Hover

On hardship and character--

Someone help me out here -- how is it that conservatives think both that:

1) hardship builds good character;

2) people get stuck in hardship because of ... bad character.

A truly vicious circle.

rakehell

Great essay. On a minor point, I find it amusing that "Frum" is so down on beards at a time when many men are growing them to avoid being tagged as gay in a culture that is in the full throes of a moral panic about homosexuality. I vaguely recall a pic of Frum--clean cut, bespectacled. I doubt he would meet with much approval in working-class culture where conformity to norms that have nothing to do with one's viability in the economy is considered more important.

Brian

Two years later (having been pointed here by Matt Yglesias), I have to add an anecdote.

I was just up in Alaska, where an old friend was getting married to exactly the rugged individualist woodsman of the Cons' wet dreams. J is a commerical fisherman in summer, bringing in halibut to Kachemak bay on the F/V Vigor. Winters, he lives alone, deep in the interior of AK, fur trapping. He's the man other macho Alaskans want to be. As somebody said to me: "He walks into the woods, and five months later he walks back out again."

And J is for damn sure a liberal.

He's a liberal because he remembers his shipwreck back in '96, when a Coast Guard helicopter went out in 90 knot winds (gusting higher), and yanked J and his shipmates off their liferaft. As he tells his libertarian friends, "All the taxes I'll ever pay in my life won't be enough to pay for that copter."

If J had died, of course, we wouldn't have his stoic account of the shipwreck on display at the local history museum. But it's not his business to be an object of aesthetic contemplation for anybody.

jholbo

Brian, thanks, that's a fantastically funny anecdote (in the context of the post. At the time I'm sure it was much more serious for those involved.)

Virginia Postrel

I actually say something stronger and less Frumian than "capitalism [will] usher in a bright new age of individual liberty, in which people try new things for the sheer joy of realizing themselves." I say that "play" is not merely an outcome but in fact a major source of economic progress within a market system. The argument is more fully developed in The Future and Its Enemies, but I gave a shorter version of it as a fairly polarizing AEI lecture in 1991, text here: http://www.dynamist.com/speaking/speeches/speeches-bradley.htm

And, by the way, could you get rid of the spam in your comments?

jholbo

Spam gone.

Point taken.

kiss

Thanx a lot for the very interesting info. Got to know a nice resource to accompany a free evening:)'http://mp3lycos.org/

abb1

Benjamin Rosenbaum,
Now, *I* believe misery would follow from the removal of the net. But *Frum* doesn't.

Presumably 18th century English economists didn't really believe that "a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled" either.

g

John,

I think you make a fundamental error in choosing who to label a "conservative." Authentic, traditional American conservatives are an endangered species, and rarely encountered. What we have instead is a new mutant variety that bears no resemblance to the real thing. In my view, what has happened is that a bunch of rightwing yahoos who were determined to indulge in their worst impluses (tax cuts for zillionaires, imperialism posing as foreign policy, rolling back civil liberties, environmental protections, etc....) has commandeered the term 'conservative', and our dipshit mainstream media was more than happy to aid and abet them in this scam. They allied themselves with the bible-thumpers and gun maniacs in order to create a sufficiently large base of funders and voters, and they call it The Republican Party.

They are raadicals, not conservatives; let's not help them by providing cover.

Jeffrey Harris

Very interesting post from John H. Solzhenitsyn, in his masterpiece "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," about life in Stalin's Gulag, captured the essential disconnect of the elite with the less fortunate who are effectively in their thrall. The guards in their warm hut look on as the poor zek scrubs the floor, and the narrator says "how can someone who is warm ever understand someone who is cold?" Of such stuff are revolutions, both big and small, made.

Frank the sales forecaster

Conrats on getting to the nub of capitalism.
"the thing that makes capitalism good is that, by forcing people to live precarious lives, it causes them to live in fear of losing everything and therefore to adopt"

Schumpater never said it better. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but Pressure is the father. Conservatism is just better positioned to benefit from this feature of our technological society.

Doctor Jay

It's my experience as a martial arts instructor that Pressure doesn't inspire invention so much as it inspires chaos and craziness.

Except when it is handed out to willing receivers in carefully controlled doses, so the students learn to cope with it.

Grace under pressure is definitely a quality we admire, train and aspire to. But that's just it, it has to be trained, and in our culture it has to be through the choice of the trainee.

DaveL

John, I suggest you read "Hellfire Nation," by James Morone. You will find that Frum is not a "conservative," not a "libertarian," but rather a "puritan," though perhaps a secular one.

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Roger H. Werner

I have a couple of thoughts about modern conservatism. First: Modern conservatism is not monolithic and liberals would do well to keep that in mind. The Bush administration has been largely dominated by Neoconservatives such as Dick Cheney and Condi Rice (and their minions). However, Bush has also played around with Frum's seeming brand of conservatism and the flavor of the month for the wing nut right: Social conservatism. Finally, we get to what John Dean (and presumably his mentor Barry Goldwater0 would call real conservatives: Those conservatives believing in small government, balanced budgets, and individual freedoms (I've always thought these people sounded more like libertarians than conservative but whatever...).

I think Holbo makes it clear that social conservatives are simply batshit crazy…on so many levels that a rational person simply cannot fathom what they believe (in part, as Holbo explains, because they don't understand their beliefs). The lunatic fringe right bears about as much resemblance to libertarianism as they do to liberals but sadly, they seem to constitute perhaps as much as 25% of the American electorate...a scary thought.

Secondly, if we examine traditional conservatism what we find really is that it represents a carefully crafted form of Social Darwinism, a notion that drifted south more than 100 years ago. Not one conservative or libertarian aspiring to public office would ever publicly claim adherence to anything resembling Social Darwinism because it has been thoroughly repudiated as a repulsive ideology (National Socialism is Social Darwinism taken to an extreme). Yet, truthfully, if we listen to economic conservatives speak they honestly preach a sugarcoated form of Social Darwinism. I am always amazed by how obvious this is to the rational thinker but how fervently conservatives deny, dare I say, the connectedness.

As for myself, I do not much care for the purported benefits of pure socialism nor do I much like the results of pure capitalism (such a thing however, has never existed by the way. The system we have today such as it is, was established to favor the haves (the business class if you will). Occasionally, an underlying scraps and fights his or her way to the top (Buffet, Gates, and others of their type come to mind) but largely the notion of upward mobility is anathema to conservative thinking (Holbo notes this satirically many times). What is more, the great majority of people do not want to fight their way to the top of the heap; they simply wish to live their lives with a modicum of comfort and quiet dignity. Conservatives however cannot stand this. How dare someone be unwilling to screw his or her neighbor to 'get ahead.' Why that is in-American!! Yet, truthfully, most Americans would just as soon wake up, go to wrk, collect a decent wage for what they do, and spend the rest of their time doing something else. Conservatives find this distasteful and consequently, many people of the conservative persuasion see people (workers) are commodities (Americans call them 'human resources' how charming). Personally, I believe that just because a person prefers being part of the work force rather then an entrepreneur they should not be subject to the whims of the latter. Yet that is precisely what conservatives believe is perfectly reasonable because to people like Frum workers should not accrue the same dignities of those who struggle for great wealth and win: Note I use the word dignity and it is important to discriminate dignity from wealth. Most people do not want wealth parity but they think parity with respect to dignity and fair treatment is a fine idea.

Both socialism and capitalism ideologies are extremist and there is middle ground or a third way. The problem for third way thinkers (and I am not referring to Democratic Leadership Council 'Third Way Politics') is that anything veering from the pure capitalistic ideology is labeled 'socialism' except of course when benefits accrue to the business class. Thus, Social Security is a form of socialism and Hillary Clinton's 1993 healthcare plan was 'socialized medicine' yet the bail out of AIG and the rest of Wall Street with taxpayer dollars represents an 'investment in America's future.' How many times has anyone heard administration supporters and or the mainstream media call the takeover of portions of American banks what it really is: Socialism--I heard one pundit on NPR this afternoon actually use the 'S' word! A first!!!). Of course, this takeover is a form of socialism. So what? The only thing that really counts is what works. Wall Street financiers and the conservatives who support them have once again proven themselves poor stewards of America's future. As with the banking crisis of 1893 that led to the creation of the Federal Reserve and Theodore Roosevelt's Fair Deal regulations, and, the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed that led to further regulation and the what conservatives like to call the 'modern welfare state;' the present economic crisis is a direct result of capitalistic mismanagement and greed in the same sense that the crash of the USSR was the result of mismanagement and greed of Communist Party members.

Conservatives hate to admit that when we view capitalism in its purist form, success in the system requires an inherent greed; the need to succeed promotes greed. I do not say this as if it were a bad thing: I am merely describing basic human nature. Society through its agent, government, has an obligation and a right to curb greed and to ensure that capitalist markets in fact operate in a manner that does little or no harm to the general welfare. If this means significant regulation, so be it. If it means government becoming part owner of banks I am fine with that. In 1980, Reagan crowed that government is bad and people bought into it. What we are seeing today is that bad government is bad and even a potentially good government can be wrecked by inept leaders. Government in and of itself is merely an instrument and it can be used to promote the social welfare or feather the nests of the business class: For almost three decades we have seen government do the latter. I am surprised the present economic crisis did not occur in the 1990s and I suppose we have the Saudis and Chinese to thank for keeping us propped up although I am not so sure we owe them an actual thank you.

Vance Maverick

Seven years later, the spam is back!

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