By David Beilstein
WHEN G.K. Chesterton opined that within the heart of every conservative was an eternal rebel, the ironic Englishman helped erect a more stable understanding to the political context of ideological conservatism. In a recent column for Commentary Magazine, Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online took a sightseeing excursion into the possible futures of conservatism.
Goldberg, always relevant, starts out simple enough,
Indeed, given the relatively straightforward and down-to-earth meaning of the word, conservatism actually lends itself to considerable linguistic legerdemain. One can use the word to refer to a temperament, an ideology (or ideologies), an objective tendency, or simply an unwillingness to heed the forces of progress as fashion dictates.
It seems to me that the future of each of these varieties of conservatism is assured. The conservative temper stems from the crooked timber of humanity and the accumulated scar tissue of experience.
The objective tendency, whether imposed by external forces, threadbare budgets, impertinent facts-on-the ground, or a general lack of popular enthusiasm, also seems baked into the human experience for as far as the eye can see. For related reasons, there will always be realists who counsel the hotheads to slow down, earning at minimum the label “conservative” if not “reactionary.” In this sense, while there may not always be an England, there will always be something called conservatism.
I agree with Goldberg’s assessment. Whatever men believe – given accumulated experience – the nature of this world, and the anthropological grist apart of man (made Imago Dei) there will be the tendency to be conservative in some form or another.
The one with the cloudiest future is ideological conservatism. Will enough Americans remain committed, or at least open, to the bundle of principles that define modern American conservatism to sustain the movement and the Republican Party, which imperfectly carries its banner?
This, as Goldberg explains, is more uncertain. It does get somewhat old beating up on the GOP when the Democratic Party is worse for wear, but realities offer such opportunity. Having peek-a-booed the corridors and byways of conservatism of less-than-brittle formula, I’m unconvinced the Republican Party has been an all extensive preserver and animator of conservatism. In such case, it is hard to determine how much conservatism is losing. We can do the math: a beatable-as-hell incumbent; economic indicators in stagnant water, etc. But math goes both ways. Of recent memory, Democrat’s can boast of balanced budgets, relatively peaceable coexistence (at a steep price, yes, in the 1990s) and over 20 million jobs created on President Clinton’s stewardship.
True, the successes, economically especially, during the Clinton years were not a result of far leftist policies – but exactly the opposite. But who has explained that? And given the way both parties have campaigned for high office for generations, the kind of in depth thinking needed to properly ascertain the political stitches on the proverbial fastball reaches complications the American people have not been asked to identify.
Thus, politics become simplified to the point of pointlessness. Things were good, and expanding, for wide swaths of the American people under Democratic Party leadership, and things were not as good – including at least one badly managed war – during an era Republican’s ruled the roost. Add to that, the titanic collapse of the economy – in 2008 – and it becomes an old story.
It seems to me What Is Conservatism? is now the sixty-thousand dollar question needing an answer. Until it is answered intelligently and accurately, Republican’s will continue to be the scold party; unattractive, and a regional party at best. Since the DNC is racing toward hell-in-a-hand-basket; the plight of conservatism is not good for individual liberty. One of the things I’ve tried to ascertain is how a party (The Democratic Party) soaked in legislating what people eat, drink – whether they can smoke or not – gets all the credit when it comes to liberty. Sure, I’ve had my hunches, my guesses.
But Goldberg explains better,
But what allows the Democrats to seem more libertarian isn’t just cultural marketing, but a widespread acceptance of the idea that positive liberty is more important than negative liberty. The former, an idea near to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s heart, is that you can’t be free unless the state gives you the material aid necessary to enjoy life to its fullest. This was the point of his “economic bill of rights.” Negative liberty, an idea dear to the Founders, defines freedom as independence from government intrusion and meddling.
One does not have to be endowed with the cognitive abilities of Dr Ben Carson separating conjoined twins to glimpse the importance of Goldberg’s point. In essence, Democrat’s own the turf of “perceived” individual liberty in the eyes of the American people, while Republican’s have a reputation of scolding paternalists. Forget about the legislative tyranny enforced on various kinds of sovereign individual behaviours by progressive leftists across America. In past columns, I have laid the blame at the early twentieth-century progressive culture animating modern day conservatism for this knot-my-underwear reaction. As stated previously, when statements like ‘government belongs in the bedroom’ is applied to Republicans (Rick Santorum) we have a severe disconnect. We have large problems. And we should not, then, be surprised that Americans see conservatism and her proponents as opposed to free-thinking, individual liberty by diverse platoons of Americans.
I can’t see Barry Goldwater or William F Buckley flirting with such a statement even if passed-out drunk.
Needless to say, this kind of “conservatism” etiolates the conservative movement; for it is authoritarian and moralistic, not conservative. Still, Goldberg makes a larger point my smaller, but fertile mind did not consider: the ideological battle between negative liberty (the Framer’s idea), and positive liberty (the progressive school of FDR).
But Republicans, and so-called conservatives, running for high office have not made this distinction. The GOP has never explicated how negative liberty consequences weigh down individual autonomy of citizens; their property, their well-being. Not recently.
If the conservative movement is to go forward with vigour and punch, it will need to reeducate the American people on the negative liberty (it’s purpose and protection against the intrusion of a positive liberty paradigm affords) parameters of the U.S. Constitution. This will not only rebuild the legacy of the Republican Party as a serious contender of defense-of-individual-liberty political entity, but will likewise be a consistent hill the GOP continues to fight and win more battles upon each election cycle. Such winds will require a truly classically liberal controlled GOP; and as always, competent and consistent, classical liberal governance