Monthly Archives: November 2012

Free Speech on Campus

Kelse has linked a couple of times to a great Wall Street Journal article on Greg Lukianoff, a champion for free speech on college campuses.  Mr. Lukianoff recently published a book Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate. The article offers a helpful introduction to the problem of speech codes and censorship on college campuses. Readers may also be interested in Mr. Lukianoff’s commentary on the topics discussed in his book over at the Volokh Conspiracy.

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Burke and the Arab Spring

I’ve been rough on Burke’s epistemology on this blog before. But in his skepticism of revolutionary ideologies, I think Burke was pretty clearly right. Here’s the latest update on the so-called “Arab Spring.”

An Egyptian court convicted in absentia Wednesday seven Egyptian Coptic Christians and a Florida-based American pastor, sentencing them to death on charges linked to an anti-Islam film that had sparked riots in parts of the Muslim world. . . .

Egypt’s official news agency said the court found the defendants guilty of harming national unity, insulting and publicly attacking Islam and spreading false information – charges that carry the death sentence.

Maximum sentences are common in cases tried in absentia in Egypt. Capital punishment decisions are reviewed by the country’s chief religious authority, who must approve or reject the sentence. A final verdict is scheduled on Jan. 29. . . .

The connection to the film of the other five sentenced by the court was not immediately clear. They include two who work with Sadek at a radical Coptic group in the U.S. that has called for an independent Coptic state, a priest who hosts TV programs from the U.S. and a lawyer living in Canada who has previously sued the Egyptian state over riots in 2000 that left 21 Christians dead. . . .

Some Christians and human rights groups worry that prosecutions for insulting religion, which existed to a degree under the secular-leaning regime of deposed President Hosni Mubarak, will increase with the ascent of Islamists to power in Egypt.

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Delusions of the “Reality-Based Community”

Bruce Bartlett has a new article at the American Conservative detailing his estrangement from the mainstream Right. Titled “Revenge of the Reality-Based Community,” it’s all about how the Republicans are supposedly unwilling to listen to arguments from outside their bubble of like-minded pundits, and how Bartlett “paid a heavy price, both personal and financial” for challenging right-wing dogmas.

The article is a mixed bag. Bartlett makes a few good observations. For instance, he recounts this story about some Beltway Republicans’ reaction to a New York Times Magazine article:

Not one person had read it or cared in the slightest what the New York Times had to say about anything. They all viewed it as having as much credibility as Pravda and a similar political philosophy as well. Some were indignant that I would even suspect them of reading a left-wing rag such as the New York Times.

This cocoon mentality certainly exists and it is one of the more annoying aspects of the mainstream, Beltway Right. Equally annoying is their tendency to portray liberals as hippies and communists, which Bartlett notes in Republican treatment of Obama as a far-leftist. (As I’ve argued here before, the liberals are the real conservatives and to be what most people call “conservative” is actually to be radically opposed to the existing order.)

But I think the article is mostly wrong-headed. Here are some of the worse arguments that Bartlett makes:

  1. Throughout the article, Bartlett acts like some kind of martyr for being driven out of the organized Right. But this kind of excommunication is hardly martyrdom. As the comments to the article show, for every Republican that he has alienated he’s gained the approval of ten more liberals who can laud him as someone who has “seen the light” and rejected Tea Party “nonsense.” Paul Krugman has already done this. The center Left holds a much greater amount of power in the media and in academia than does the Right, and it has at least an equal number of powerful Washington think-tanks. So it is hardly martyrdom to convert into a moderate liberal. If anything, such conversion can be a career boost. The real martyrs are people like Whittaker Chambers, who believed that he was forsaking the winning side of history and joining the losing side when he converted from communism to conservatism. Of course, a move like that takes a real personal toll—Chambers was roundly denounced in the media (not just Fox News) and suffered from depression for most of his life.
  2. Though a lot of Republicans remain willfully blind to opposing arguments, these are mostly the rank-and-file activists, not the intellectuals. Conservative and libertarian intellectuals have grown up in a university system where they are constantly opposed, by professors and fellow students, and accordingly are well-versed in their opponents’ arguments. But the same can’t be said for the liberal intellectuals. In fact, most of the people that I’ve met during my years spent in elite universities are totally ignorant of some of the basic libertarian or conservative theories. They will argue, for instance, that libertarianism is about social Darwinism, when even Ayn Rand argued in The Virtue of Selfishness that it is about social cooperation. Most conservative intellectuals can tell you who John Rawls was, but I haven’t met many liberal intellectuals who could tell you who Russell Kirk or Ludwig von Mises were.
  3. Despite his disdain for Republican cant, Bartlett buys into the bizarre theory that modern Democrats can grouped together with the Jim Crow Democratic Party. This is the kind of argument you read on True, the nineteenth century Democrats believed in slavery and then later opposed civil rights legislation. But many of them also supported localized government and the gold standard. The Democratic Party that Bartlett attacks was actually the more conservative party of its time; it has more in common with the modern Republican Party than with the modern Democrats. The old Democrats were certainly wrong to support slavery and Jim Crow, but they also advocated for other good conservative and libertarian policies that the modern Democrats would hate. To try to group the two together strikes me as intellectually dishonest.
  4. Bartlett also writes that, “For the record, no one has been more correct in his analysis and prescriptions for the economy’s problems than Paul Krugman.” If you believe that, please email me. I’ve been in touch with the Crown Prince of Nigeria, who has $2o million that he needs to deposit into your bank account. In fact, the Austrian school of economics has done a great deal of work to show that Krugman’s beloved monetary stimulus and government spending do nothing to cure depressions, but only make the economy worse and more prone to boom-bust volatility.
  5. Strangely enough, given Bartlett’s new-found embrace of Keynesian economics, he also denounces President Bush’s Medicare expansion. I guess that’s the life of a maverick.
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Obama’s Awful Drone Wars

Kudos to Ben for highlighting the Obama administration’s lawless drone violence. Undoubtedly, the best article I ever read from this past election cycle was by Conor Friersdorf, on the topic of Obama’s drone wars. Wrote Friersdorf:

[I]f you’re a Democrat who has affirmed that you’d never vote for an opponent of gay equality, or a torturer, or someone caught using racial slurs, how can you vote for the guy who orders drone strikes that kill hundreds of innocents and terrorizes thousands more — and who constantly hides the ugliest realities of his policy (while bragging about the terrorists it kills) so that Americans won’t even have all the information sufficient to debate the matter for themselves?

How can you vilify Romney as a heartless plutocrat unfit for the presidency, and then enthusiastically recommend a guy who held Bradley Manning in solitary and killed a 16-year-old American kid? If you’re a utilitarian who plans to vote for Obama, better to mournfully acknowledge that you regard him as the lesser of two evils, with all that phrase denotes.

But I don’t see many Obama supporters feeling as reluctant as the circumstances warrant.

The whole liberal conceit that Obama is a good, enlightened man, while his opponent is a malign, hard-hearted cretin, depends on constructing a reality where the lives of non-Americans — along with the lives of some American Muslims and whistleblowers — just aren’t valued. Alternatively, the less savory parts of Obama’s tenure can just be repeatedly disappeared from the narrative of his first term, as so many left-leaning journalists, uncomfortable confronting the depths of the man’s transgressions, have done over and over again.

Keen on Obama’s civil-libertarian message and reassertion of basic American values, I supported him in 2008. Today I would feel ashamed to associate myself with his first term or the likely course of his second. I refuse to vote for Barack Obama. Have you any deal-breakers? 

(Emphases added.)

The election has shown that millions of voters do not in fact have any deal-breakers, but rather will happily—joyfully—vote for someone whose behavior they would have vociferously condemned if engaged in by a Republican. I will go to my grave before I understand why Obama supporters apparently believe that continued funding for PBS is more important than ending the bombing of innocent civilians. But their willingness to accept horrible violence overseas in return for Big Bird and gay marriage at home can only be described as tragic.

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Sir Thomas More and Drones

The New York Times has a nice article on the White House’s push to develop a “rule book” to regulate drone strikes. Apparently, during the campaign the Obama White House was scrambling to develop concrete procedures that would regulate how and when a hypothetical Romney administration could use drones. The article quotes an unnamed White House official admitting “There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands.” Once the election was over, however, such an attempt to institutionalize policies suddenly lost their sense of immediacy. The White House is still working on crafting a “rule book” but seem in no real rush to do so.

The overarching message from all of this seems to be: “there need to be clear standards and procedures in place; just not for us.” Rarely is liberal hypocrisy ever so blatant.

While it is reassuring that the Obama administration at least comprehends that their actions have consequences that will continue after them, they don’t seem willing to change their own behavior accordingly. The NYT article points out the very real possibility that other countries will follow suit in developing and using drones. The fact that the Obama administration sees no problem continuing to use drones that kill a startling number of civilians  (including children) without first formulating any kind of institutional regulations for ordering drone strikes shows a contempt for legal procedure that borders on the tyrannical. The fact that the entire drone program remains shrouded in secrecy only adds to the dangerous precedent being set. Set aside what such strikes do to the public perception of America in Yemen and Pakistan; it is this disregard for legal procedure- in effect, disregard for the rule of law- that will come back to haunt America.

All of this reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite movies (and plays). In Fred Zinnemann’s film adaptation of Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas More gives one of the most eloquent defenses of constitutionalism and conservatism to ever grace the silver screen.

The Obama administration may think that killing terrorists and protecting America’s security is a worthy enough goal to justify working without specific institutional procedures. But when we begin to cut down the laws that stand between us and whatever Devil we are after, that same law will be utterly unable to protect us from the Devil, as well as ourselves.

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Secession: Seriously, People?

Ben has written a thoughtful and provocative critique of charles cooke’s criticism of the recent secessionist movements. I disagree with Ben’s view.

The late paleoconservative writer Sam Francis also held a critical view of modern secessionist movements, writing in February 1998 in his Chronicles Magazine column “Principalities and Powers” of Southern neo-secessionist movements that

There are, to put it simply, two strong
reasons why secession, for the South or any other part of the
nation, is not a good idea. In the first place, it is not
practical; in the second place, even if it were practical, it
would not be desirable.

In a later section of that same column, he writes about something of an irony of contemporary american secessionist movements by pointing out that the south “begins to vanish as a cultural unity” in comparison to movements of cultures that have more legitimate claims to secession as a result of more distinctive cultural-linguistic, religious and historical traditions than the south. Additionally, the contemporary south receives much in the form of government subsidies, legal policies (e.g., affirmative action) and welfare programs.

I am not convinced that there is a “disassociation of contemporary political issues from their broader philosophical and historical contexts” of which any contemporary critic (such as any at national review) is guilty. First, history is on the side of NR, as well as the guys at Claremont.

Second, the philosophical assumptions behind ben’s position are, I think, flawed. The long view of history borders on the deterministic and integrates history and philosophy in a way that denies the very causal and ethical frameworks necessary to justify the secessionist claims. It is difficult to view the vague, hyperbolic and abstract observations about the current state of cultural and political affairs as having any actual explanatory power with regard to the current secessionist movement. At some point, the broader historical and philosophical view must be rejected in favor of something that actually provides a decent causal explanation, which does not require so long a view of time for its power. The alternative view of history, which seems to be assumed, that history is a collection of related and enduring borders on the deterministic (or inevitable) which has some serious philosophical problems to respond to. Alexander Rosenberg briefly addresses historicism in his survey of contemporary philosophy of social science which I will selectively quote here

A theory or method is historicist roughly if it holds that in order to understand and to predict subsequent states of a system-whether a whole society or an individual person-we must have detailed knowledge of the (usually distant) pas states of the system. Even to predict the very next “stage” in the development of a neurosis or an economic system, we need to know about events long past in the life of the individual {usually the patient’s infancy) or the society-sometimes even its prehistory.

He goes on to state one of the problems of historicism with regard to causality

This sort of causation bears the same problems as teleological causation. Recall in Chapter 5 (“Causation and Purpose”) the problems of future events, events that don’t yet exist and therefore cannot bring about present ones. Historicism requires that past events, which no longer exist, bring about future events somehow without affecting present ones. But if past states do not leave a mark on the present that we can identify and employ to chart the future, then their determination of the future cannot be through causal means known to the rest of science. For causation does not work through temporal gaps any more than it works through spatial gaps. There must be chains linking the earlier to the later. And a complete knowledge of the intrinsic causal properties at any link, together with laws, should be enough to determine the character of future effects, without adding information about earlier tasks.

I excerpt all of that in order to make somewhat transparent the assumption(s) behind Ben’s view of history that he employs and to suggest that the view of history has serious problems, for the simple reason that the broad view of history is unnecessary. Which is not to concede that history is an unrelated and transient set of “facts”; but rather, that the view of history that he argues simply should not be – and probably is not – a view of history that is required in order to understand the contemporary secessionist movements. There simply is no “broad historical and philosophical context” that is short changed in the critique that Charles Cooke gives of the contemporary secessionist movements. Not unless one wants to make the claim that the contemporary secessionist movements have their roots in historical “causes” of half and full and full and a half centuries past; but, these movements don’t support that type of claim. These movements don’t seem to support the broader claim of historical and philosophical context that is allegedly missing from pages of NR. This is because, most likely, the evidence that is in does not support a historicist interpretation of the secession talk, but rather an interpretation that is bound up in recent events that some people just don’t like which is the immediate, easiest and most likely best explanation for the uptick in secession talk.

More interestingly – and this should be of interest to those of us who have participated in the historicism versus the not historicism debate on this blog – it would seem that there is an odd appeal to abstract concepts and reasoning detached from the foundation and structure of concrete, lived experience in the listing of alleged flaws in the system. There is nothing in that list – nothing unique or concrete – that the historical circumstances are ripe for a breakdown of the republic, or that even the corrosion of the structure of government is any different now than it may have been in 1950 (or 1900, or 1860, etc): the point is that those grievances are not structural, but rather political and cultural; and are not specific enough to be able to be distinguished from similar laments that could have been uttered at any other time in the history of this republic. Unless we can establish a bright line with specific examples to demonstrate that yes, this is the time and the place that spells our country’s last breath, then those words are reality-denying fantasy.

Harry Jaffa writes a line that should make all traditionalists stop, take a deep breath, and think

Contrary to our “paleoconservatives,” the truths of the Founding do not depend solely upon tradition or divine revelation, but are “discerned in human nature” by human reason grounded in “self-evident truths.”

Further, Jaffa writes

Notwithstanding the great gulf between them, Kirk and Kristol have been as one in their fanatical opposition to the doctrines embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Like Carl Becker, they held that “To ask whether the natural rights philosophy of the Declaration of Independence is true or false, is essentially a meaningless question.” This has been their received and unexamined premise. They are undisturbed by the fact that it renders meaningless the American political tradition itself.

And additionally, he writes

The Declaration is today the first of the Organic Laws of the United States in the United States Code. All acts and deeds of the United States since 1776, including the original Constitution, have been dated from its signing. According to a joint statement of Madison and Jefferson in 1825, the Declaration is not only the act of separation of the thirteen colonies from Great Britain but “the act of Union” by which the thirteen became one (6). Kirk’s assertions about the Declaration are expressions of ideological fanaticism, with no foundation in history or reason.

From these few comments, one can make a claim about paleoconservatism and contemporary secession movements that suggests that at their foundations, neither traditionalist conservatism nor the secessionist movements are grounded in american tradition, history or reasoning. It is, to use Jaffa’s words, “ideological fanaticism.”


Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Secession, The Constitution, Traditionalism, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Jean Jacques Rousseau: The Patron Saint of Conservatives

Chuck O’Shea has written an excellent post about the merits of economic and political localism.

The type of social arrangement Chuck applauds is, I think, a variant of the model(s) of democratic activity about which benjamin barber and others have written.

I guess I’m going to use this post to highlight the drunk uncle of intellectual conservative thought: Jean Jacques Rousseau

Although many traditionalists are critical of rousseau, the critical-negative reaction to rousseau is not universal among conservatives. Given the connection between hegel and rousseau; the continuing impact of rousseau on (at one time) contemporary debates about human nature, the modern woman and modernity, Rousseau is as relevant now as he ever would be. As wearily skeptical products of the Enlightenment, we conservatives ought to be more open to him as an intellectual father of the counter-enlightenment. His moral realism should be a welcome respite from the imaginative fantasies of the neo-jacobins; and other ahistoricists who reject the concrete for the abstract and unreality for the difficult complexities of human experience.

So, let’s re-open those books by him, examine that secondary literature, human nature and recognize his origins and re-interpret him and his work for what he did and the legacy he left, instead of accepting the image and interpretation that the babbitts and kirks of the world have left to us.

Jean Jacques Rousseau

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Ideology, Traditionalism | 1 Comment

Puritans: Then and Now

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful that, in the years since the Pilgrims first landed here, Massachusetts no longer lives under a Puritan theocracy. H.L. Mencken called Puritanism “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

But, though the old Puritan theocrats are no longer with us, it’s instructive to consider how the modern Left has evolved into a moralistic, Puritanical philosophy that tolerates no dissent. Here’s some examples from recent months:

  1. Local Democratic politicians seek to ban ant-gay-marriage restaurants from doing business in their cities.
  2. The FDA requires graphic anti-smoking images on cigarette packs.
  3. Fordham University bullies the Fordham College Republicans into canceling politically incorrect speeches.
  4. Campus speech codes prohibiting politically incorrect speech proliferate.
  5. The Southern Poverty Law Center rakes in money by creating blacklists of people and trends that the Left doesn’t like.
  6. The First Lady launches a campaign demonizing fatty foods and forcing school children to eat what she considers healthy.
  7. The UN fights (democratically approved) marijuana legalization.
  8. Meanwhile, the Obama administration starts an unprecedented crack-down on medical marijuana dispensaries.
  9. “Women’s rights” requires employer-subsidized contraception.
  10. The President is loath to allow Catholic hospitals to avoid his contraception mandate.
  11. And all the while, the people subject to prosecution and incarceration for violating federal regulatory law keeps skyrocketing. One prominent lawyer estimates that the average person commits three felonies a day.

We tend to think of Puritanism as a historical relic for elementary school Thanksgiving plays (as long as religion isn’t mentioned, lest the ACLU bring suit). But if we understand it as the desire to impose a narrow set of austere ideological preferences on both willing and unwilling alike, then Puritanism is alive and well on the modern Left. Just because the old Puritans hated drinking, atheism, and fun, whereas the new ones hate smoking, traditional religion, and fun, doesn’t mean that the two don’t share the same philosophical roots.

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Secession and Constitutional Preservation: a Response to Charles C.W. Cooke

For the most part, I try to avoid reading National Review. Whatever problems I have with William F. Buckley, he was at the very least a contemplative and thoughtful individual who cared very deeply about the conservative tradition he often represented to the American public. The same cannot always be said for the magazine he started in 1955. Charles C.W. Cooke’s recent article regarding the current discussion of secession provides a useful case-in-point.

To the reflective conservative, the prospect of secession should at least be an interesting academic exercise- one that would ostensibly involve such considerations as the origins of governmental authority, the historical nature of the American Union, and whether the current constitutional order is still salvageable. Such considerations, however, are apparently lost on Cooke. There are timely and thoughtful arguments that can be made on either side of the contemporary debate about secession. Cooke’s dismissal of the issue out of hand, however, betrays the emptiness of his supposed conservatism and contributes nothing to a genuine discussion of the merits and drawbacks of secession.

Fundamentally, Cooke’s argument falls apart because he has a myopic understanding of history. More specifically, Cooke sees only a train of “light and transient causes” in the political sphere where conservatives should see a systemic pattern of compositional disintegration in the constitutional sphere. He draws from the language of the Declaration of Independence to illustrate the differences between the historical circumstances of the American Framers on one hand and modern proponents of secession on the other:

If modern secessionists were to accept the premise that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation,” what would be on their account? Which “facts” would “be submitted to a candid world”? Obamacare? Dodd-Frank? The amnesty executive order? The HHS mandate? Please. These are serious problems to be sure, but they are political problems, not problems of structure.

This underlies a chronic vice of the type of conservative that the National Review regularly employs: the disassociation of contemporary political issues from their broader philosophical and historical contexts. The common understanding of history as “one damn thing after another” arises from this perversion of history into an unending parade of unrelated- and thus apparently transient- factual occurrences.

An honest examination of the current dilapidated state of the American constitutional order tells a different story. Consider for a moment:

- The branches of the Federal government seem more interested in colluding than in checking each other’s constitutional transgressions.

- The states have virtually no political power with which to check their agents in Washington.

- The President wages war at his own dictatorial whim.

- The rightful law-making power of Congress has been delegated to an ever-increasing executive bureaucracy, facilitating the decline from republic to technocracy.

- The American electorate that once vigorously guarded their constitutional rights now willingly surrender them without so much as a second thought.

- That most sacred of all First Amendment prohibitions, that against prohibiting the “free exercise of religion”- has recently been shown to be little more than a “parchment barrier” as James Madison predicted it would.

In short, if Mr. Cooke does not see structural problems in the American constitutional order, either he is not looking or the term is as utterly devoid of meaning as his understanding of history. By the standards of the 18th Century, the current American government is completely bereft of internal mechanisms of restraint and is thereby a de facto dictatorship.


Whether or not Texas or Georgia or any other state should secede from the Union remains to be argued. But the stakes are much higher than Cooke indicates. The current structure of government has proved itself, up until this point, to be untenable.

If Mr. Cooke is correct in calling the United States “the greatest force for good in the history of the world”, then it is surely because of the great constitutional order that we have built upon over the centuries. That order is based not upon national boundaries but upon the resonance of that order within the populace it governs. That that resonance is weaker now than ever before seems evident: as Cooke points out, the President can still say he governs by virtue of the “consent” of the American people writ large. What he cannot say, however, is that he governs by the “consent” of the people of Wyoming.

Perhaps the best chance at preserving that which is best about America- our political culture, our constitutional order, our respect for the rule of law and the Western cultural inheritance- is through the dissolution of the American state. A dismantling of the American state might not be a dismantling of the constitutional order; rather, it might be a preemptive step toward restoring an order now dead.

Mr. Cooke is correct: secession is no matter to be taken up lightly. But when the alternative is the further disintegration of the best of America, the prospect of secession deserves honest consideration.

Categories: Secession, The Constitution | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Are Hipsters Natural Conservatives?

The New York Times recently published this article trashing hipsters. Like every other red-blooded American, I also hate hipsters. And indeed, the classic hipster traits that the author points out—the constant use of irony, the listening only to vinyl records, the posting pre-washed digital photos—are easy fodder for ridicule.

Still, as the author herself intimates, “hating hipsters” is itself becoming a hipster pastime. That is, the reason that hipsters love, for instance, finding bands that no one else has heard of, is because it makes them feel like they are somehow elevated above the rest of the vulgar masses. But that same desire to cultivate an aura of intellectual aloofness is now working against hipsterism itself. As more people join the search for that perfect Brooklyn-dive-bar-with-the-extra-hoppy-microbrews, hipsterism becomes an act of conformity. To feel like a non-conforming intellectual, it becomes necessary to disdain the same crowd that you once belonged to. It’s an eternal cycle: you always want to be cool, but now to cling to the thing that used to be cool is itself uncool, just because so many other people think that it is cool. And so it goes.

This same phenomenon has a lot of significance in the political realm, especially as we debate, here and elsewhere, on the futures of libertarianism and conservatism. When leftism first took over the college campuses, it was something new and edgy that could tap into young people’s desire to be different and rebellious. This is certainly no longer so. Is there anything more trite than listening to some college kid tell you how he is “tooootally okay” with all his gay friends? In the 1970s, that might have been shocking. But now it is as nearly orthodox as you can get; to “not be okay with your gay friends” is probably grounds for expulsion under most campus speech codes.

The left-wing has never really given up its 1970s understanding of itself as some embattled, idealistic vanguard. But when the last Republican president signed into law a huge expansion of Medicare, adopted a policy of “spreading democracy” overseas, fought for open borders and amnesty for illegal immigrants, oversaw a then-unprecedented increase in federal spending and national debt, and appointed the Justice who wrote the Supreme Court opinion upholding his successor’s healthcare mandate, it is hard to see leftism as anything but the establishment. And—of particular importance to the college-age hipster crowd—when 95% of college students and nearly 100% of college professors are much further to the left than anyone you’ll ever meet off campus, no reasonable person can deny leftism’s omnipresence over your life.

This means that, if you want to be edgy and intellectually different, your natural home is on the Right. In part, this might explain the high prevalence of hipsters within the Ron Paul movement. Or how Eastern European punk rockers helped spark a libertarian rebellion against communist rule behind the Iron Curtain, even while their trendy American counterparts celebrated Che Guevara and complained about the bourgeois lifestyle.

Regardless, on a college campus, nothing rocks the boat more than to say “I support laissez-faire economics” in your Intro. to Sociology class. When I did it, as a college freshman, the professor politely ordered me to stop talking.

Hopefully, as more people see leftism as a form of conformity, we will see a trend rightward among the young. As countless hipsters have noted, it is fun to be a non-conformist. The intellectual joy that I felt when I first discovered Hans-Hermann Hoppe is much like the hipster’s joy at finding some band unknown to everyone else. And, for people who really enjoy non-conformity, the derision they receive from their professors and fellow students can only be a sign that they are doing something right.

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This Is What Every Election Should Look Like

From Reason:

When Ward 5 of Manchester, New Hampshire, elected a delegate to the state legislature this month, its voters rejected a Republican from the Free State Project who favors a minimal government. Instead they picked Tim O’Flaherty, a Democrat from the Free State Project who favors the abolition of government altogether. In the words of the Manchester Union-Leader: “O’Flaherty ran against a fellow Free Stater, housemate Dan Garthwaite, whom O’Flaherty called a statist.”

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Look to City Leaders, Not Washington

Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, has an interesting article on local city leaders and their role in creating jobs and economic growth. He notes differences between various big cities such as Austin, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee, which have thriving economies and low unemployment rates, and Albany, New York, and Stockton, California, which don’t. The cities that succeed do so, not because of national leaders, but because city leaders in politics, business, and philanthropy work to create a social environment friendly to economic growth and humane social existence.

The reality is, when it comes to creating economic growth and good jobs, local leadership trumps national leadership. For instance, Austin and Albany are both capital cities in big American states. Neither city is located by a port or a natural tourist attraction with beaches or mountains. They’re pretty much alike, except that Austin wins big and Albany loses big.

The difference, in my view, is that Austin has deeply caring, highly engaged business, political, and philanthropic leaders with principles, policies, beliefs, and values about human nature that work. They understand how to build a thriving, growing economy — one that welcomes business and entrepreneurship. Albany has the opposite, as I see it: Leaders with principles, policies, values, and beliefs that discourage business and entrepreneurship, if not outright scaring them away.

Cities across the country with great leadership are filled with booming startup companies, and those cities have thriving economies that create authentic, organically grown good jobs. These cities are saving America, while the others are letting the country down.

Categories: Cultural development, Libertarianism | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Have a drink and calm down.

As I’ve been reading various election postmortems, I keep coming back to one little question, what exactly is everyone freaking out about? To read National Review’s Corner, turn on Bill O’Reilly, or listen to Rush Limbaugh, you’d think that THE WORLD IS COMING TO AN END and AMERICA AS WE KNOW IT IS OVER. To be honest, I don’t know what exactly the conservative talking heads are going on about, but I’m pretty sure what they do need is a good, stiff drink. As far as I can tell, the sun still comes up, and I continue to go to school and work, watch TV, read, think, talk, philosophize, worship, and eat in more or less the same way that I have for the last 25 years. Of course, some things have changed, I’ve turned 21 (and subsequently worked very hard on developing my beer, whiskey, and wine pallets), gotten married, created relationships with new family members, traveled, watched my beloved sports teams flame out in the first round of playoffs every year, learned more about my faith tradition, and gotten a dog; all without being affected by the person who happens to be sitting in the White House.

Of course, my lived experience is my own, so let’s look at America more generally. In a world where expressing a dissenting political, religious, or philosophical belief may get you tortured or killed, Americans can explore the life of the mind and spirit freely not only without governmental repercussion, but protected by it. When I picked up the business page the other morning, the main story wasn’t austerity, regulation, or “the makers” versus “the takers.” Rather it was an analysis of which fantastical tech company is more likely to provide Americans with more fantastical gadgets for a longer period of time. Last I checked, America doesn’t have a rising fascist party, or almost daily protests in the streets. It also seems that, despite the silly rhetoric, America has dealt with the problem of racism in a more comprehensive and final way than almost any country on Earth.

Look, I know things aren’t perfect here; there are plenty of things I’d love to change, tweak, edit, etc. In the end, though, I remember why my ancestors came to Pennsylvania in the 1700s. It wasn’t because they were ambitious and made a rational choice to find the place to maximize their earthly acquisitiveness. Rather, they came because they were quite literally being imprisoned, exiled, tortured, and executed in Europe for their faith, and Pennsylvania offered them a place to quietly worship their God in whatever way they saw fit. Things have changed since the 1700s, political parties and ideologies have come and gone, the tides of religious fervor have ebbed and flowed, but in valleys of Pennsylvania, the children of those religious refugees, both those of us who live in a more modern way and those who choose a radically simple life, are still able to quietly worship God in the way we see fit.

In the end, really, it doesn’t matter if government has a few too many economic regulations, implements social programs that might be more efficiently done by the private sector, or eventually creates a single payer health system. What matters is that, for over 200 years, America has allowed the dissidents, the unsatisfied and unwanted, to quietly live their lives according to their creeds. Rather than worrying about the future, freaking out about a changing American electorate, or decrying the evils of bureaucratic statism, I suggest that you, as a conservative, find a friend (family member, acquaintance, dog, colleague, arch enemy, I don’t care, anyone you like), pick up one of the roughly 1 billion micro brews (or macro brews, doesn’t matter, as long as its beer) available at your local bar or booze distributor, sit back, shoot the breeze, and appreciate what we have, and what I guarantee will still be here after 4 more years of an Obama presidency.

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War and Instagram

Some soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces aren’t going to let war get in the way of their social media habits. BuzzFeed has a fascinating set of photos that some of the soldiers posted on Instagram.

Most of the comments that I’ve seen either condemn these from the right (“They’re not taking war as seriously as they should!”) or condemn them from the left (“How dare they be so happy as innocent Palestinians are dying!”). I think both responses are wrong.

Both are condemnations of the natural human impulse to seek happiness and normalcy, and attempts to replace that impulse with some dour, all-encompassing ideology. To me, these pictures show how, even faced with war and universal military conscription, teenagers will try to live normal lives. If it weren’t for their government (and the governments surrounding them), it is hard to believe that any of these kids would be natural killers, or that they would be risking their lives over a border dispute, instead of going to a friend’s party or shopping.

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President Obama and the Future of Conservatism

The re-election of President Barack Obama to a second term of office has sparked some intense debate about the place of conservatism in American politics in particular and in American society more broadly. This blog is no exception in its participation in this post-election evaluation of the state of conservatism at the precipice of a second term for the Obama presidency.

I am, perhaps, in the minority on this blog, because what I am going to say in this post-election autopsy differs from the majority on this blog who express a view which I think could be accurately labeled decadent conservatism. This is a worldview that turns history and experience on its head; it is a view that, to be honest, I don’t recognize as conservative, if conservatism is to be understood, defined and delimited by the Six Canons of Conservatism laid down by Russell Kirk so many years ago in his The Conservative Mind.

  1. Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience.
  2. Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems…
  3. Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes, as against the notion of a “classless” society.”
  4. Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked…
  5. Faith in prescription and distrust of “sophists, calculators, and economists” who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs
  6. Recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress

Conservatism at its best is not supposed to be an ideology; conservatism at its best is supposed to be a practical, realistic and empirically-driven approach toward the world. In the lament over the re-election of President Obama, I think some conservatives miss out on being conservative. These conservatives have elevated the pure abstraction of ideology over the brass tacks that makes conservatism so, well, real. Really real, in a way that distinguishes it from and serves as its intrinsic appeal over all of its ideoligical opposites, such as the many varieties of leftism that have had the unpleasant fact of having existed.

However I fear that conservatism or conservatives – at least of some varieties – cannot legitimately or at least convincingly make that reference to reality in the wake of this response to President Obama’s re-election. Not if conservatives are rejecting history and experience in favor of celebrating abstract, vague and circuitous appeals to eras and ideas that are no longer relevant to the American cultural, social or political tradition. Well, a historicist cannot. A traditionalist, I suppose, can.

So, after this long, winding and lamenting encomium to conservatism, what do I think the re-election of President Obama means for conservatism? It means absolutely nothing. This is because conservatism is dying — conservatives are killing it.

If conservatives and conservatism want to begin to digest and respond to the re-election of President Obama, it would seem that we should take a page from Andrew Sullivan and read some Michael Oakeshott

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Arianna Huffington’s Fool-Proof Strategy for Reform

Arianna Huffington has a post on how now, after giving Barack Obama their unconditional support, it is time for the Left to hold his feet to the fire. Based on the Huffington Post’s past activity, this is the best I can make of her “strategy.”

  1. Vigorously promote a candidate who says he opposes war, Guantanamo Bay, and the surveillance state.
  2. Sit by and make up rationalizations while that same candidate escalates war, keeps Guantanamo Bay open, and expands the surveillance state.
  3. Vigorously promote that candidate’s reelection.
  4. Hope that now, with no future elections to worry about, that same candidate will go back to the promises he reneged on the first time around.


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The Liberal Principle of Secession

President Obama’s reelection has people talking about secession again. Unfortunately, because of the historical accident that the last American secessionists were slaveholding southerners, most people today think that secession is somehow reactionary, racist, or right-wing. The fact that Obama’s reelection served as the catalyst for these new secessionist petitions certainly doesn’t dispel that notion.

Nevertheless, the popular notion is totally wrong. Rather than being a reactionary doctrine, secession is a principle rooted in the best of the classical-liberal, Enlightenment tradition. To believe in secession is to believe in liberty, peace, free trade, and self-determination——values that liberals once held, before they fell under the spell of omnipotent government. By contrast, to believe that whatever national borders happen to exist today are somehow immutable and therefore require eternal adherence is the truly reactionary and obscurantist doctrine, more reminiscent of the divine right of kings than of anything that can fairly be called “liberal.”

The foundational principle of secessionism is the same principle embodied in the Declaration of Independence: “That to secure [people’s] rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

The secessionist principle is based entirely on individual self-determination. That is, it doesn’t matter whether people have objectively good reasons for seceding, as judged by some outside observer. All that matters is that they wish to do so. As long as the secessionists believe that a new arrangement will suit their individual ends better than the current one, then we should wish them well and let them leave. It was in this spirit that former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan—hardly a right-wing white supremacist—described the Sudanese 2011 secession referendum as “democracy at its most basic, where people are choosing their future, and how and by whom they want to be governed.”

Nor must secession lead to war or economic isolation. When the left-wing MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell advocated secession, in response to President Bush’s reelection, he correctly noted that, “You can secede without firing a shot.” For while it is historically true that most secessions have been violent, that is not an argument against the principle itself. Rather, it is an argument against those who want to hang onto their own power by nullifying their citizens’ freedom of exit. In order to avoid violence, all we have to do is to convince its initiators to not initiate it.

Indeed, as far as peace and trade are concerned, a world of small, secessionist states is much better than a world of large, centralized ones. Small states cannot afford to close their borders to foreign goods, but need to cooperate with foreigners to survive economically. Such international interdependence will also make them much less likely to solve disputes violently through war. Of course, large states also suffer if they adopt protectionist or war-like policies. But they have enough resources within their borders that they can chug along with a much lesser degree of foreign cooperation than can small ones. As an illustrative example, compare the United States or the Soviet Union’s treatment of foreign countries to that of, say, Belize or Liechtenstein.

Finally, secession promotes freedom within a given state’s territory. Because the smaller each state is, the easier it will be for citizens to “vote with their feet” and move somewhere else, small states have an increased incentive to keep their citizens happy and free. When states are smaller they also have less tax money at their disposal to fund gratuitously oppressive programs like the TSA or to imprison one in fifty of their own citizens, as the United States currently does.

It is therefore no surprise that many of the greatest liberal Enlightenment figures also supported secession. Lord Acton, who coined every Bush-era leftist’s favorite phrase (“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”), wrote to Robert E. Lee to say, “I saw in State Rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy. . . . I believed that the example [of the Confederate Constitution] would have blessed all the races of mankind by establishing true freedom purged of the native dangers and disorders of Republics. Therefore I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.” Likewise, Alexis de Tocqueville believed that the American Union was the result of a voluntary compact that could be dissolved at any time, while John Stuart Mill wrote critically of Southern secession in the specific context of the Civil War, but never denied the right to secede when it is exercised in service of admirable ends.

In response to such intellectual giants, the wise sages at . . . umm . . . Think Progress and the Daily Kos insist that there can be no right to secede. They tend to claim that the Civil War or the ratification of the American constitution emphatically ended that right, whatever it might once have been, and that to continue to advocate for it is unpatriotic.

That is certainly an internally consistent argument. I have no doubt that King Louis XIV would have found it quite compelling. But it is not a liberal argument. The classical liberal theory of government holds that all governments, if they can be justified at all, can only be justified to the extent that they serve their citizens’ ends. Therefore, if people conclude that their government lacks instrumental value, then they have the right to try something else. If they do not have that right, and if governments can create laws abolishing the freedom to leave, then government is no longer an instrument of its people. Rather, it is some kind of end-in-itself, that demands total obedience whether it aligns with all of its citizens’ preferences or not.

Let the Obama supporters argue that government is an end-in-itself that demands total obedience. (The Democratic National Convention came close.) But they have no basis for claiming that secession is somehow “reactionary” and that their nationalism is democratic and “progressive.”

Secession is a principle for those of us who really value peace, freedom, and international cooperation through free trade, and who believe that the sole justification for politics is individual welfare. The anti-secessionists, meanwhile, should stick to arguing as their eighteenth-century forebears did: for the sanctity of throne-and-altar and for the divine right to rule.

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If a Politician Will Steal for You, He Will Steal from You

The Art of Manliness has a post from a few weeks ago that relates to politics. It’s a short excerpt from a speech Theodore Roosevelt delivered in 1910. While not a fan of Roosevelt’s politics, I think he makes a good point about the dubious nature of most politicians’ promises.

The very last thing that an intelligent and self-respecting member of a democratic community should do is to reward any public man because that public man says he will get the private citizen something to which this private citizen is not entitled, or will gratify some emotion or animosity which this private citizen ought not to possess.

Let me illustrate this by one anecdote from my own experience. A number of years ago I was engaged in cattle-ranching on the great plains of the western United States. There were no fences. The cattle wandered free, the ownership of each being determined by the brand; the calves were branded with the brand of the cows they followed. If on the round-up an animal was passed by, the following year it would appear as an unbranded yearling, and was then called a maverick. By the custom of the country these mavericks were branded with the brand of the man on whose range they were found. One day I was riding the range with a newly hired cowboy, and we came upon a maverick. We roped and threw it; then we built a little fire, took out a cinch-ring, heated it at the fire; and the cowboy started to put on the brand. I said to him, “It is So-and-so’s brand,” naming the man on whose range we happened to be. He answered: “That’s all right, boss; I know my business.” In another moment I said to him: “Hold on, you are putting on my brand!” To which he answered: “That’s all right; I always put on the boss’s brand.” I answered: “Oh, very well. Now you go straight back to the ranch and get what is owing to you; I don’t need you any longer.” He jumped up and said: “Why, what’s the matter? I was putting on your brand.” And I answered: “Yes, my friend, and if you will stealfor me you will steal from me.

Now, the same principle which applies in private life applies also in public life. If a public man tries to get your vote by saying that he will do something wrong in your interest, you can be absolutely certain that if ever it becomes worth his while he will do something wrong against your interest.

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“Vote or Die,” Indeed

Here’s someone who gives the “Vote or Die” movement new meaning (h/t Attack the System):

[An Arizona] woman critically injured her husband by running over him with an SUV during an argument about the presidential election, police said.

Holly Solomon, 28, was upset about President Barack Obama’s re-election and began arguing with her husband when she found out that he didn’t vote, authorities said.

Daniel Solomon, 36, told investigators that his wife believed her family was going to face hardship as a result of Obama’s election to a second term.

During the argument, Daniel Solomon got out of the SUV and gave his wife a dirty look, according to a police report obtained by Phoenix television station KPHO. That’s when she started chasing him through a Gilbert parking lot.

Police said he took refuge behind a light pole as she circled him numerous times while continuing to yell at him.

She struck him as he tried to run toward the road, pinning him between the SUV’s underside and a curb, police said.

According to Politico, Mitt Romney won Arizona by approximately 20,000 votes. So whether or not this woman’s husband voted for Romney is completely meaningless. The only way he could have made any kind of difference is if he were able to convince 20,001 Arizonans to switch from voting for Romney to voting for Obama–a proposition that seems . . . unlikely.

If some other ideology could motivate one spouse to run over the other in a car, it would be called dangerous fanaticism. That is especially so when a failure to conform has no real-world consequences. But the “everyone must vote” line has never corresponded to the realities of the electoral college or to the fact that aggregate phenomena are only determined by the actors on the margins. It seems, then, to have more in common with older mass hysterias like witch-burning than it does with rational political deliberation.

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Post Election Analysis: Moderation as Vice

By some sort of cosmic irony, Mitt Romney’s defeat in the presidential election is now being held up as a sign that the ultra-conservatives exercise too much control in the Republican Party. Critics charge that if the Republican Party wants to become political relevant again, it must subdue its more radical elements and start putting forth more moderate candidates. Social issues need to be abandoned in order to attract more women voters, and the Republican line on immigration needs to be reconsidered in order to reach out to Hispanics.

According to this narrative, Republicans nominated Romney as a result of their “devil may care” attitude toward the broader electorate. And while this may or may not have been true in some of the other races around the country, anyone who followed the Republican Primary, however, knows this is patently false. To the contrary, Romney got the nod mostly because Republicans felt that he was their best chance to beat Obama. That assessment might have actually been correct, at least inasmuch as Romney never promised to spend his presidency talking about the dangers of contraception, somehow resisted the urge to talk about his policy toward U-beki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, and because- no matter how much he loves America- that patriotism never lead him to cheat on his wife. Excuse me: cheat on his wives.

So it wasn’t as if Republicans were ignorantly throwing out the most radical candidate imaginable. On the contrary, Republicans nominated the candidate who they didn’t really believe in themselves: is it such a wonder that the rest of America didn’t either? Mitt Romney, the “etch-a-sketch” candidate, was supposed to be the perfect candidate largely based around the fact that he would say anything, be anyone he needed to be in order to become President.

In the end, it was Romney’s lack of conviction, his lack of authenticity that became his defining characteristic. By the end of the primary, rather than an “etch-a-sketch,” Romney became the “color-by-number” candidate: unhesitatingly trying to give conservatives, then Americans, everything they said they wanted. He became the best facsimile conservative around. He knew he couldn’t become “severely conservative” overnight, but he could be something so close that the untrained eye wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

Romney said all the right things, appealed to all the right groups, and looked the part. To give an example that Romney himself is probably fairly familiar with: he aced the job interview. And as any job applicant will tell you: when you apply for a job, you tweak your resume to fit the position you are applying for, and then you tell them what you know they want to hear. Mitt Romney found out all too late that Americans are suspicious of “cookie-cutter” candidates; in that much, at least, the general electorate is wiser than the Republicans gave them credit for.

After all of the talk of the “lesser of two evils” and all of the nose-holding-while-voting, one lesson from this election should be patently clear: the problem is not that Republicans believe too strongly in their own principles. The problem is that Republicans continually vote for the “lesser of two evils” because they don’t actually believe their principles will work in practice.

When I filled out my absentee ballot, I wrote in Ron Paul for President and I caught hell for it from family members who told me I was “throwing away” my vote. What Romney’s failed candidacy shows, however, is that the real ones “throwing away” their votes are the ones who vote for the supposedly “electable” candidate who in the end stands for absolutely nothing.

Because it doesn’t matter how moderate and pragmatic the Republican nominee is- the Left will ultimately paint him as a radical. The solution to the Republican Party’s electoral woes is not to continue moving toward the center until (to paraphrase Mittens) we allow absolutely no daylight between ourselves and the Democrats, but rather to articulate a clear alternative to their policies. Let’s face it: we’ll never out-pander the Left.

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Conservatives and Immigration

Since the defeat of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, partially due to weak support from Latino voters, many political analysts have argued that the Republican Party needs to rethink its policy positions on immigration in order to accommodate the changing demographics of the American electorate.  This policy debate among GOP consultants and strategists raises deeper questions concerning the purpose of boarders and immigration policy.  This short essay will attempt to outline a conservative approach to the issue of immigration.

Many proponents of unrestricted or minimally restricted boarders on both the left and the right argue that since America is a nation lacking a specific ethnic heritage, unity is a result of adherence to an ideological creed.  It is commonly asserted that the United States is composed of immigrants who fled from their oppressive and corrupt countries of origin in the name of ideas including freedom, equality, opportunity, and prosperity.  America is viewed as a shining city on a hill or a beacon of freedom to the world where individuals may relocate and enjoy the benefits of liberty.  To perform the function of a promised land for the oppressed around the world, the United States must adopt an unrestricted or relatively unrestricted immigration policy.  The problem of conflict between different cultures and peoples coexisting together in America is solved by the assumption that most, if not all, individuals can be persuaded to embrace a common ideological position affirming freedom, equality, and tolerance.  All individuals, regardless of place of origin, tradition, or culture, are assumed to possess a strong desire for freedom and the capacities and abilities to render liberty and good civilization compatible.  In essence, individuals will readily adopt the American creed because it corresponds to liberated human nature.  Consequently, open boarders are not a threat to American culture since the ideology of the United States is an affirmation of the natural longings and inclinations of all peoples around the globe.

Philosophical conservatism rejects the claim that America was founded by a collection of individuals having little in common except ideology.  Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the majority, although certainly not all, of the individuals who immigrated to America came from England.  As a result, the British influence pervaded the dominant political, social, legal, and religious institutions of the colonies.  Both before and after the war for independence, the colonies displayed many aspects of British culture, tradition, and custom.  Although the American and English traditions are not identical, the former evolved out of and drew heavily from the latter.  The great traditions and customs of the United States did not emerge from a vacuum but rather developed from the practice of British immigrants who relocated to North America.  As a result, it is inaccurate and misleading to claim that the United States lacks a common cultural heritage and that it is unified primarily through an adherence to a political ideology.

Conservatism also rejects the assumption that individuals are naturally qualified for liberty.  The constitution or governmental institutions of a particular country are a reflection of the dominant character type existing within the nation.  The glaring dearth throughout history of constitutional governments respecting individual liberty strongly suggests that the character qualities which render free society possible are difficult to achieve.  The mere desire for freedom is not sufficient for the coexistence of liberty and good civilization since individual rights and liberties depend on the existence of a certain character type capable of placing restrictions on expansive appetites and passions which are destructive of freedom and order.  As a result, limited government and individual liberty are products of hard, protracted effort by generations of individuals within a particular tradition.  Consequently, the assumption that human beings are naturally endowed with the characteristics necessary for freedom is problematic.

If ordered liberty in the United States is a result of the efforts of generations of individuals working within the Anglo-American tradition, and if people are not naturally qualified for liberty by the mere fact of their existence, it follows that a large migration of individuals from competing cultures and backgrounds into the United States is unlikely to result in the perpetuation and strengthening of American order.  Consequently, an unrestricted or minimally restricted immigration policy is problematic for maintaining the American practice of limited government and individual liberty.

Conservatism recognizes that one of the purposes of restricting, although not completely prohibiting, immigration is the protection of the culture and traditions which render a particular political society operative.  A mass influx of individuals affirming traditions which are incompatible with the historically evolved order of a particular country can lead to a breakdown of order since participants within political society must possess some degree of common ground.  However, since no particular tradition is a complete or final expression of the good, the true, and the beautiful, and since different societies often articulate diverse aspects of the universal, it is possible that cultural exchange between countries can have mutually beneficial results.  One society may articulate some aspect of universality in a manner superior to another and thus the latter may be able to gain from the example of the former.  One way that a particular country can benefit from the cultural heritage of another is through selective immigration which permits the possibility of creatively incorporating good aspects of a foreign tradition into a domestic one.  Consequently, neither an unrestricted nor a completely prohibitive immigration policy is desirable for enhancing the quality of the traditions of a nation.

In summary, the debate over revising immigration policy among Republican Party pundits in the aftermath of the past election raises questions concerning the purpose of immigration policy.  A philosophically conservative approach to immigration recognizes the importance of protecting and maintaining a common cultural heritage conducive to good order and civilization.  As a result, restrictions on immigration are necessary while complete prohibitions are unnecessary.  In contrast to the two extremes, a restrictive and selective immigration policy both protects the existing American culture and allows the potential for the transmission and incorporation of the best of other civilizations into the American tradition.  Consequently, an appropriate immigration policy attempts to aid the struggle toward a superior articulation of universality in the United States.

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Bill Kristol: Tax the Rich Democrats!

Yesterday, I wrote that it is a fallacy to believe that political will can override economic law.

Today, Bill Kristol says that Republicans should be willing to raise taxes on millionaires because . . . half of all millionaires are Democrats and apparently half of them live in Hollywood.

The arm-flappers keep flapping, but political revenge can’t negate economic reality.

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Post Election Analysis: Ok Guys. Pep Talk

What was it the Mayans said about 2012? Anyway, about last week: it could have gone better.

Let’s be honest here. The political future is bleak. A good portion of the populace would prefer the sham security of the state to liberty, with all the wondrous uncertainty that it entails. We can try to convince people, but it’s not that they don’t understand freedom; it’s that they don’t want it. It’s not that they don’t see the value of local control; it’s that they don’t want to take the responsibility themselves. As Ross Douthat explains: “Lesson of this election is always bail out, never touch entitlements.”

We took a beating, but that doesn’t end the world. From Deadwood (language alert):

I have no illusions about what Romney or the Republicans would have done if things had gone differently last week. If the Republicans had won we would have faced the same frustration that followed 2004, and 2000, and 1988, and 1984…etc. Things would have continued more or less in the same statist direction. Nevertheless, I do see the election as a clear ratification of statism in a way that a Romney victory was not. Even though Romney offered little in the way of an alternative, it was at least an opportunity for the electorate to say, “Well, to hell with this!” even though they would have to say the same thing in four years. That didn’t happen. If anything, the parties will both shift to the left (an illegitimate political term from the French Revolution, but you know what I mean). Certain encouraging trends that Kelse notes aside, it still means a repudiation of traditionalist and libertarian ideas. I’m happy we have those eight good YAL-endorsed candidates, but we have little else.

However, it is possible that the Republican Party will not shift to the left and become more statist, but more libertarian. It’s a dubious statement given the likely political fallout, but nonetheless it is probable that libertarians will have a larger microphone within the opposition party in the coming years. Neoconservative Bill Kristol affirmed the increasing presence of the Pauls and their type in the future of the Republican Party on Fox News. Apparently a hard pill for him to swallow.

I’m ambivalent as to whether this is a good thing. On the one hand, I like the Pauls for reasons Ben outlined before and I look forward to the increasing presence of Rand Paul on the national stage; on the other, many who claim to support them are fools. So when we say that followers of the Pauls will have an increasing role in the Republican Party, I don’t know that it will be a good thing for reasons that will become clear below.

Everyone, including the talking heads in the video posted above, have asserted that conservatives have lost on social issues. Maybe they’re right. In 1980, two thirds of people defined the family as father, mother, and children. Today, one third or less define it that way. All social conservative values essentially trend around the central place of the family. A decline in the traditional (as in the basic mom, pop, kids) understanding of the family tracks a decline in social conservative values. Many libertarians deny that the changing attitudes are a problem. Like the nineteenth century utilitarians they hate the intermediary institutions that circumscribe the individual, the family most of all. It alone is able to shape individuals from the cradle through all of their formative years. They see the collapse of the family as only one more step in the march of individual freedom. Unfortunately, in my experience, the Pauls pull a lot of support from this brand of libertarian.

The problem that should concern libertarians—and does concern traditionalists—is that the family is the unit that trains people to be self-sufficient and provides them with a financial (and emotional) safety net to keep them free from the need for government aid. Persons without that background will turn to the state to provide that security. If a kid wanted to go to college, the family would rally around and provide the means to get him there or at least co-sign on the loan. If he wanted to start a business, he would turn to his family for the starter loan. At least then, if the kid couldn’t make the payments he would have to work it off for mom and dad or dad’s brother Sam. But what if kids don’t have two parents? What if the only possible back up plan is to stick it to Uncle Sam (the proverbial Uncle Sam, not their actual Uncle Sam) when they don’t get a job or can’t make the payments?

No amount of ratiocination regarding the free market (and I like the free market) will convince them that their lives will be worse without guaranteed healthcare and guaranteed retirement funds and all the rest. The local community composed of family and friends used to provide for individuals financially when times were tough. Now we just turn to Ole’ Uncle Sam. The election is an indication that more and more people see things that way, either because they can’t imagine an alternative or because they aren’t willing to take the risk.

This is another way of saying that persons are more than homo economicus. Libertarians often make the same mistake as Marxists in thinking that people are only their economic interests: appeal to those and you win. The fact is, you don’t. Which is both reason for encouragement and discouragement. On the one hand, we have the trends on filial decline noted above: that’s the bad news. On the other hand, it means that we can still articulate a case for traditionalism and libertarianism and actually have a chance of prevailing.

This is all to say that the pre-political matters for politics. The political outcome of any election will only reflect the possibilities inherent in the pre-political elements already in place. The question then is: how can we influence those?

So let’s turn now to an oldie but goodie, Albert J. Nock’s 1936 essay in The Atlantic, “Isaiah’s Job.” Nock was notorious for his belief that speaking to the multitude was useless. He believed he was speaking to a Remnant who would endure through the contemporary civilizational crisis and rebuilt civilization once it became possible again. He uses the prophet Isaiah as the symbol for the man God calls to minister to the Remnant.  Isaiah, however, is confused as to his role. It doesn’t seem like any significant portion of the people will listen to him.

“Ah,” the Lord said, “you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it.”

It’s a great article. The problem is that it works from the premise of despair. Whatever traditionalists and libertarians want to say about the Republican Party and its presidential candidate, the election was still a repudiation of our values and ideas. People by and large embrace what Obama offers. This isn’t reason to despair. Renewal is possible among many people, not just a purported Remnant that will rebuild when all has fallen. Historically, it’s happened under worse circumstances.

What are we to do? Remember the scene from Deadwood above:

The world ends when you’re dead. Until then you got more punishment in store. Stand it like a man and give some back.

Edmund Burke reportedly said something similar, “Never despair, but if you do, work in despair.” Kelse could be right; renewal could be on the horizon. Either way, whether for the Remnant or for the masses, we’ll keep blogging and attempting to articulate those permanent values that become clearer to us as we study and discuss the traditions of order and liberty we inherited.

Categories: 2012, Cultural renewal, Libertarianism, Traditionalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Heart Has Its Reasons

Michael Brendan Dougherty has an excellent article on Pat Buchanan’s life and legacy at the American Conservative. One section in particular should interest people who have followed the “conservatism” debates on this blog:

[Buchanan] liked many of National Review’s writers, to be sure. But when Garry Wills asked him if they had any influence, he could recall none. “I was going to say Burnham, but when I read Suicide of the West I already agreed with it,”  Buchanan says before quoting Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, “The heart has reasons that reason does not understand.” Years later he would tell the 1992 Republican convention that the party needed to reconnect with people who don’t read Adam Smith or Edmund Burke, but who remain “conservatives of the heart.”

I’m not sure whether “conservatives of the heart” are a winning coalition any more. Then again, as Buchanan’s books and Dougherty’s article make clear, neither does Pat Buchanan. Still, the idea of playing to people’s hearts and emotions rather than trying to win them over logically can’t be a bad strategy. See here for a convincing argument that this is the same strategy that Obama employed, with great success.

That’s not to argue against the primacy of reason. It is just to say that rationally deduced conclusions can be effectively promoted through emotional appeals. In a sense, it is also what the arch-rationalist Ayn Rand did decades ago, when she promoted her ideas through emotionally-charged books like The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

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No Compromise!: More Election Thoughts

In 2008, I was happy to see the Republicans lose. I hoped that a crushing defeat would force them to reevaluate the direction that the Party had taken during the Bush years, and to finally turn against war, the surveillance state, and economic interventionism.

Needless to say, that reevaluation never occurred. If anything, the Romney campaign represented a doubling-down on Bush’s foreign policy–a doubling-down that reached its most absurd when, in his RNC acceptance speech, Romney darkly denounced President Obama for simply “talking to,” rather than attacking, Iran.

Likewise, on the economic front, Tea Partiers are a definite improvement over the rank-and-file from the Bush years. But even still, they tend to only envision a rolling back of the regulatory state to the level it was at in, say, 1982, rather than engaging in a fundamental rethinking of the entire post-New Deal philosophy. They may dislike Obamacare, but they don’t like to question its predecessor, Medicare, too deeply. And their rush to embrace Mitt Romney, who enacted the same healthcare plan in Massachusetts that the Tea Party denounces on the national level, should give any consistent conservative or libertarian pause.

My old hope, then, that the Republicans would reevaluate themselves turned out to be totally misplaced. But if the Republicans refused to reevaluate themselves after 2008 (or 1992, 1996, or 2006), then what reason is there to think that they’ll do so after 2012?

Indeed, even if they did reevaluate and suddenly returned to being the laissez-faire, non-interventionist party of Robert Taft that I’ve been waiting to see, I am not at all convinced that that would bring them any more electoral success than they actually got. However difficult it may be for some of this blog’s intended audience to accept, the masses of people who opposed Mitt Romney did not do so because they thought he was just a watered down version of Barack Obama (as many of us did). Instead, it seems that they voted against him because they actually bought into the Democrats’ caricatures of Republicans slashing government programs, or waging a “war on women,” or something–however little these caricatures actual correspond to the reality of Romney’s political career.

Yes, it is tempting to believe that everything would go swimmingly as long as the Republicans adopted my own beliefs. But I don’t see any evidence to believe that, at this point in time, my own beliefs are nationally popular (despite smaller-scale, encouraging signs).

Many commentators take this electoral rejection of libertarian principles as evidence that the Republican Party needs to give up its appeals to the “anti-government” crowd and go back to being the “moderate” party of Eisenhower and Nixon. Apparently, according to such people, the two-party system already gives voters too many choices–what we really need are two parties that offer only oh-so-slightly different variations of the same liberal platform.

But the argument for moderation misses the hugely important fact that the choice between, for instance, increasing or decreasing taxes on the rich is not simply a question of whether the majority gets to implement its will. Indeed, what is at stake is not really a question of will at all; it is a question of economic law, which can no more be defied than can the laws of gravity.

If the majority believed that the way to achieve social prosperity was to jump out of tall buildings and flap your arms until you fly away, then people who understand physics are duty-bound to demonstrate that the majority program is doomed to failure, regardless of whether people want to listen or not. The same is true regarding economic issues, whether taxation, debt, inflation, or Obamacare. People who understand economics and fear for the fate of their neighbors should not give ground and adopt their enemies’ program. Rather, if they really care about their neighbors’ well-being, then they should continue to expose the fallacies of the majority even more vigorously than before. It was in this spirit that the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises identified as his life slogan, from Virgil’s Aeneid: “Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito.” (“Do not give in to evil, but proceed ever more boldly against it!”)

As far as economics is concerned, whether the Tea Party decides to moderate its rhetoric or whether Barack Obama can claim a mandate for higher taxes is entirely beside the point. Actions have consequences that democratic majorities cannot abolish. Higher taxes will stifle savings and investment, and therefore economic progress, regardless of whether voters want them. As Mises proclaimed, a failure to understand the economic consequences of certain political actions “will not annul economics,” but will instead simply lead to general destruction and impoverishment. (Human Action: The Scholar’s Edition, p. 881.) (For more detailed arguments on why taxing the rich is economically destructive, see, e.g., herehere, and here.)

Of course, there is little hope that the Republican Party will become an effective vehicle for these ideas. If after eight years of Bush and four of Obama the best they could give us was Mitt Romney, then I take that as ample evidence that they are incapable of changing. That’s not to say that we should neglect the opportunity to elect a Rand Paul or Justin Amash if the chance arises, or even to search for and recruit other like-minded candidates who are yet unknown. But I do believe that placing our hopes for the future on reforming the Republican Party is an enormous waste of time.

Rather, the long-term interests of libertarians and conservatives can only be served by looking “beyond the GOP.” Ultimately, politics is only the manifestation of underlying cultural and ideological forces–what people on this blog call the pre-political. If you can change people’s hearts and minds, then they will cease supporting awful people like Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, and politicians will have to adapt in turn.

Thankfully, culture is the area where libertarian ideas are meeting with their greatest success. Ron Paul became popular among the youth not by channeling Richard Nixon, as the cheerleaders for moderation would recommend, but by presenting a refreshing and radical alternative to the status quo. This is the same phenomenon that catapulted The Road to Serfdom to #1 on the Amazon bestseller list, eighteen years after its author’s death, and that made the fledgling Ludwig von Mises Institute–a tiny think-tank in the Alabama hinterlands, with no source of federal funds–a vibrant and hugely popular educational source for libertarian students and scholars all over the world.

In a sense, it is disheartening to know that there is no viable political party that represents our ideas. But the times that we live in are doing much of our recruitment for us. The manifest failures of statism are becoming clearer and clearer. As people begin to realize that persistent problems of economic stagnation, higher prices, and falling living standards are not going away, they will start looking for non-mainstream political alternatives. We see this now in Europe, although, there, popular dissatisfaction has been translating into support for fascistic parties like the Golden Dawn in Greece and for real, flesh-and-bones socialists in France.

Nevertheless, “more statism” need not be the only alternative to Obama or Romney’s middling interventionism. Our job must be to promote a plausible and humane option that people can turn to as a credible means of improving their lot. Such educational promotion doesn’t have the luster of an election campaign, but, with the political world as it is, it is the only permanent cure for statism.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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