by David Beilstein
Dr Thomas Sowell’s 1995 book, The Vision of The Anointed, offers stiff competition to one of the decades best books about ideological visions coarsening across American politics.
What grabs the attention, however, – or should – in our day is the chapter where the good doctor explicates the left-right political divide, refuting a simplistic symmetry; a symmetry that benefits the progressive left in campaign after campaign and caricatures the ideological convictions of the American conservative.
Interestingly enough, Dr Sowell points out “conservative” is not the most apt term for American classical liberals (conservatives); showcasing those those from Frederich Hayek to Milton Friedman shunned the term.
Dr Hayek himself wrote a famous essay entitled Why I am Not A Conservative.
Essentially, Dr Sowell lays out that the caricature so often expressed by progressives of conservatives in the media and other political entities – as a status quo movement; one seeking to get back to a status quo ante, is false. Dr Sowell explains that from Dr Hayek to Dr Friedman, both men routinely raged against the status quo and proposed policy positions no society had implemented before.
In essence, “conservatism” best animates and preserves the ability for society to change.
There was no school voucher program before Dr Milton Friedman proposed it – nor was there a model for it in some golden age gone by. The policy was directed toward underprivileged minority communities, and where allowed to be implemented has met resounding success.
Also, Dr Sowell demonstrates how a commitment to free minds and markets – an empirical understanding of systematic causation in society made up of millions of individuals, is what “conservatism” preserves and animates. Such preservation does not preserve the status quo, but is an animation most likely to change the status quo in ways without imposing on diverse peoples problematic consequences to life and property.
But Dr Sowell’s comprehensive findings are more interesting some 18 years after the publication of his book: that is, the popular conservative movement has become – or expressed itself in many ways – according to the caricature of the conservative ideological position expressed by progressives.
As in life, half-truths can be deadly. The Republican Party has so winnowed down for general consumption what classical liberalism is, conservatism has become no more than a punch line. Nothing more than an adjective.
Describing an unsophisticated group of morons, unable to deal with the rigors of modern life.
Tuesday, Nov. 6 was proof enough more and more Americans believe that is what conservatism is – without refutation, without a robust classical liberalism, the future of American politics (and Republican fortunes) seems to be prescribed in the recent past.
Therefore, meaning defeat.
Classical liberalism has its weaknesses. One of them is when stripped of its weighty and nuanced intellectual reasoning, it becomes an easy ideology to mischaracterise and make roundly unattractive to common peoples. A stripped down classical liberalism is also easy to illumine as not having the answers to common life.
The Democratic Party and the Obama campaign have done a good job caricaturing a feeble conservatism – one bereft of its sophistication and intellectual heft.
One of the strengths of classical liberalism is that its intellectual ideas are anchored to the tragic vision – one where facts and empirical data both reside. It is this – more maddening than anything – that the greatest weakness conservatism is perceived to have by more and more Americans, seems be conservatism’s inability to acknowledge reality.
Consequently, this can only be the case because the popular expression of what one might call “conservative” is a joke – unfit for public consumption; unanchored from its Constitutional and intellectual complexity.