Posts Tagged With: Culture

In Defense of Homeschooling

My colleague Joe Ptak has written a post linking homeschooling to the rise of cultural pluralism and the erosion of the civic culture, which he argues leads to a “culture of relativism.” Once you start homeschooling, according to Joe, you threaten the stability of a society and open the door to “anarchic relativism.” It’s an innovative argument, associating the rise of homeschooling with cultural disorder and a lack of cultural unity. Unfortunately, it’s also an argument that relies on several troubling assumptions, all of which Joe leaves wholly unstated.

Let me start out by admitting that there are a lot of points in Joe’s argument that I’m unclear about. For one thing, a crucial part of his argument seems to be that homeschooling leads to having a “fractured civic ontology.” Now, perhaps I am somehow out of the loop here (it wouldn’t be the first time), but I cannot, for the life of me, understand what a “fractured civic ontology” looks like nor do I understand how it differs in practice from an “intact civic ontology.” Joe does link to the Wikipedia entry for Ontology, yet somehow I doubt that Heideggarians and Cartesians coexisting together is the kind of cultural pluralism he’s worried about.

It’s also up to the reader to determine what Joe means when he talks about the importance of “civic culture”: a phrase that I take, rightly or wrongly, to be an appeal to the civic republican tradition which emphasizes the importance of having a commonly-held  set of social, political, and personal moral values. At the surface level, this might sound like a very conservative goal; in fact, Joe seems to be appealing to the sympathies of traditionalist conservative readers by using the republican (small-r) and largely conservative language of civic virtue and the need for some kind of cultural cohesion. For Joe, it seems that the real goal of educating children is not to make them educated, but to make sure that they are inculcated with the correct civic views. Of course, from a conservative perspective, the value of such civic education depends entirely upon which views are being transmitted.

What Joe doesn’t make explicit is that he implicitly considers the educational system a better source for civic virtue than he does parents. The desire to instill virtue, public as well as private, in their children is undeniably one of the major reasons parents choose to educate their children at home. Joe recognizes this, but sees home-instilled values as a “recipe for extremism” because the children will not encounter views that contradict the parents’ own.

However, if Joe is really concerned about the pervasive effects of “relativism,” this should be a good thing, shouldn’t it? Joe seems to feel that a plurality of viewpoints within a society is “insidious” while a plurality of viewpoints within the homes of (typically conservative) families prevents extremism. If opposing views can help combat extremism at the family level, then why not extend this principle to the whole society? Alternately, if a plurality of viewpoints inevitably leads to moral relativism, then why would we want to thrust the children of conservative families into moral confusion? There is an obvious double standard here, and one begins to wonder if Joe’s problem with homeschooling is not so much that it allows for a plurality of views, but that it allows for the propagation of what he considers to be the wrong view.

Secondly, Joe suggests that having a “fractured civic ontology” totally precludes us from teaching moral values to our children, but it is wholly unclear why this should be the case. Once again, Joe seems to attribute the transmission of moral and civic principles to the society writ-large (or at least to the education system writ-large) instead of placing responsibility for the moral upkeep of the young where it has been for millennia: in the hands of the church and the family. Standing contrary to this tradition, Joe seems to see such localized, bottom-up propagation of moral principles as “anarchistic” and opts to side with centralized, uniform, top-down transmission of moral principles flowing from the society directly to school children, with as little interference from the family as possible. This is certainly a way to combat pluralism in society, although the accompanying loss of liberty and local particularity make it hard to believe that any theoretical benefits outweigh the definite costs.

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The problems of moral relativism and a lack of social cohesion in society that Joe refers to are serious issues that deserve serious consideration. In bringing attention to these issues, Joe does conservative readers a great service. An honest examination of these issues, however, shows the nation’s public school system to be a large part of the reason that they are a major issue. And while Joe allows for parochial schools, his total dismissal of homeschooling seems unwarranted.

Far from being anarchistic and undermining of the culture, homeschooling has been one of the major ways that concerned, traditionally-minded families have responded to the moral relativism that pervades the contemporary American educational scene. If, from an academic perspective, the entire K-12 educational industry in this country seems more interested in producing a certain type of citizen than classically educated individuals, and if that type of citizen seems engineered to radically alter traditional American society, then wouldn’t choosing an alternative education for your child (either parochial schools or homeschooling) be a defense of the civic culture?

Homeschooling- whether for religious, educational, or philosophical reasons- has quickly become one of the most dramatic and effective rejections against contemporary American culture. In an age of increasing uniformity and decreasing local particularity, homeschooling provides the ultimate expression of decentralized control and local values. It would be a shame for conservatives to write it off due to fears that homeschooled students might turn out “different” than their public-and-private schooled peers.

Categories: Cultural development, Cultural renewal, Localism, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Honey Boo Boo’s Cri de Coeur

I have been thinking about writing a blog post about Alana Thompson, better known as Honey Boo Boo, for some time now.  What I’ve realized is that Alana Thompson can only be saved by you and me.  I think a lot of people know the show is horrible, but they watch it, only ironically of course.  They watch, because they get pleasure from knowing that they’re better than Alana and her mom.  They and TLC are in on the joke about exposing these horrible rednecks.  But what’s missing from that view is that Alana is a person.  A human being.  Apparently she is six years old now.  Six.  It might already be too late not to ruin this human, this person, for life.  And if you’ve watched the show you should feel complicit in it.  When, in eight short years, this poor soul turns to drugs and alcohol the watchers of this show should feel a lump of guilt in their throats.  Yes, it’s partly Alana’s mom’s fault, and yes it’s partly TLC’s fault.  But if you’re watching the show, you’re making it profitable for TLC and Alana’s mom to keep treating Alana like she’s inhuman.  You, who rail against capitalism, the evils of capitalism are possible because individuals allow them to flourish.  Turn off the t.v., I beg you, change the channel.  You can literally save a life.

I read an article once about sexually abused children.  It turns out that the ones who are able to find order and sense in the world, to find some kind of justice, are able to walk away from abuse relatively unscathed.  Those kids who feel that they can turn to figures of authority for help, and get that help, and their perpetrator is punished, find a way to function in this flawed world.  Those kids who never turn to authority fare worse, and the worst of all are those who turn to authority and are ignored, denied, or intimidated.  Those are the kids you read about who ended up over-dosing on heroine, hanging themselves in their bedroom late at night, or taking a leaping jump off a Manhattan rooftop.  These kids never find peace, can never make sense of this evil and terrible world.  For these kids all there is is senseless disorder and the crushing pain of a society that sacrificed them, rejected them, and forgot them.

Apparently Alana and her mom were recently guests on the “Dr. Drew Show.”  Most of the news articles focused on the fact that Alana apparently slapped Dr. Drew in the face.  What was less talked about were Alana’s answers to Dr. Drew’s questions.  Alana could not help but scream NO! when Dr. Drew asked if she liked being on t.v., she continued that she hates fans coming up to her all the time.  Both times Alana’s mom contradicted or ignored her; it isn’t true, she said, but Alana insisted that it is.  She complained that not even her principle calls her Alana, calling her Honey Boo Boo instead, and her mom denied it.  True or not, Alana is begging to be heard.  She is already beginning to lose hope, she is acting out in desperation that some responsible adult, some authority will save her; will restore meaning and order to her world.  Her mom won’t, her principle won’t, Dr. Drew won’t, not even after she slapped him. Do something, help me, that is her cri de coeur.

What I am asking is that you act as the responsible authority for Alana.  Decide, and mean it, that you will never watch this abuse again.  Take the show off the air.  Only we can do it.  TLC won’t do it, and Alana’s mom won’t do it.  This show will continue to air as long as it is profitable, as long as people are willing to watch.  Maybe, just maybe, if Alana realizes that adults, that Americans, are actually not interested in watching her be exploited and abused, her sense of right and wrong, of decency and justice can be restored.  Maybe she won’t need to numb the pain, or stop it altogether eight or ten years hence.

The quality of our society is determined by the quality of the aggregate individuals who make it up.  There is really only one thing you can do to make our society better, and that is to make yourself good, when you are good, your example may inspire others to be good, and then you begin to have an impact, but it must begin with being good.  Be better than Alana’s mom and TLC, not by making fun of this poor child that has been sacrificed, rejected, and abandoned, be better than them by not abusing Alana, by switching the channel and by restoring some small bit of order to our world.  Please, only you can save this girl’s life.

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Save Alana Thompson’s life.

Categories: Cultural renewal | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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

Hope, Change and the Staid President

My apologies to readers and fellow contributors to the blog; this is later in the day than I wanted to post. That being said, here it is.

Up to this post, our readers have been given advice (with one notable exception) to behave in a way that in practice results in a repudiation of the two-party system in which we participate. I do not think that voting third-party is an effective behavior; I think it is a radical behavior that is contrary to the tenets and the practice of conservatism. So, like Chuck O’Shea, I advocate the support of one of the major two-party candidates in this election. The candidate I support will be the one running against him. I believe that a conservative should support President Barack Obama for re-election in 2012.

This post is broken up into two sections: the first section will provide an anchor for the argument by way of description of a practical conceptualization of the kernel of conservatism as uncertainty; the second section will shift to a description of a case (through secondary sources) for why President Obama has governed as a conservative and why this should be sufficient to persuade conservatives to support him for re-election.


Part 1: Conservatism as Uncertainty

The arguments that have dominated this blog revolve around the definition of conservatism and the corollary of who and what qualifies as conservative today? Many of us on this blog have input time and energy into answering a question that pundits more important than we are
have dwelt. This suggests a broadness, perhaps more accurately and precisely, a foundational uncertainty to be the characteristic which is hallmark of conservatism. Conservatism, in a sense, is so dysfunctional and confused (or at least antifoundational) that a prominent conservative magazine is subjecting itself to an identical tortured process that we are conducting at the same time we are conducting it.

This uncertainty can be understood as an effect of a fluidity the vocabulary of the traditionalist-historicist conservative would recognize as the universal being expressed in the particular; further, in its vocabulary, it is what the rationalist would recognize as a fundamental abstract principle being applied to or filtered by and through reality: it is a cornerstone of a conservative case to support President Obama for re-election in 2012.


Part II: President Obama as Conservative, or the Prudence of Practice

Let me move to the second portion of this post, which lays out a case for the conservative support of President Obama by a brief examination of his policies in his first term.

Bruce Bartlett summarizes the case for Obama the conservative in the following bullet points (h/t to paul krugman

His stimulus bill was half the size that his advisers thought necessary;
He continued Bush’s war and national security policies without change and even retained Bush’s defense secretary;
He put forward a health plan almost identical to those that had been supported by Republicans such as Mitt Romney in the recent past, pointedly rejecting the single-payer option favored by liberals;
He caved to conservative demands that the Bush tax cuts be extended without getting any quid pro quo whatsoever;
And in the past few weeks he has supported deficit reductions that go far beyond those offered by Republicans.

I think that list makes a compelling case for the conservative to support President Obama for re-election in 2012. This is not about abstractions such as ideological purity, pro-life bona fides or any other conceptualization of conservatism whose essence exists outside of time and space; rather, this is about an on-the-ground, historically contingent conservatism which recognizes that history puts us in a set of circumstances in which liberal “big government” of the New Deal and Great Society are essential, defining characteristics of the relationship between a citizenry and its government; furthermore, that to recognize this relationship is to be cognizant of the historical concreteness that is, allegedly, at the core of conservatism. Such that this historical reality of post-New Deal and post-Great Society liberalism means that President Obama is the one conservative candidate running for President during this election. The other choices you have – which have been discussed on this blog – occupy positions on the ideological branches of the left and the right. When the pundits recognize a continuity between the two major parties’ candidates’ policies; and, when progressives recognize you to be a conservative and make a case against your candidacy for re-election, then you must be doing something right behind which conservatives (no pun intended) can throw their support.

If other conservatives want to make a convincing case that Obama is a liberal or a left-wing President of any type, then they will have to respond to the policies that he has implemented by effectively demonstrating how they represent a liberal rather than a conservative style of governance. References to a vague, amorphous, and essentially content-less notion of history or tradition will not be a strong foundation for a persuasive case against the conservative’s support for President Obama’s re-election. Nor will an effective case be made by attempting to demonstrate that his policies are contrary to certain principles (free-market, big government, etc) which are inherently conservative, at least not in an American sense of the term; nor is it sufficient to argue (however effectively one does make the argument), that in certain instances he has been an advocate, instigator or ally of policymakers or policy proposals that are contrary to alleged tenets of traditional culture (e.g., religious freedom or individual rights in the example of the health care reform bill): cherry picking is left for the fruit, it does not belong in a philosophically abstract or an empirical argument against a case for the re-election of President Obama.

The responses the economic crisis, the policies of reform, and the foreign policy that President Obama has pursued and implemented during his first term in office, point to a candidate for re-election who chooses to maintain a steady course and extract a limited amount from the circumstances given to him. That is to say, his presidency has been a conservative one. Stories of his past notwithstanding, he makes a poor example of a radical liberal, and an even poorer boogeyman of conservative critique, analysis and alarm. President Obama has governed with restraint; he has pursued policies with an eye toward the possible and not just purity of principle; he has behaved in a way that conservatives can and should recognize to be in resemblance to the doctrine, tenets and canons of conservatism. It is easy to understand why that is the case if one disregards the rhetoric and emotion that are expended in response to President Obama, and consider for a brief moment the policies he has actually pursued and realize that he is a conservative (or at least a run-of-the-mill Democrat, who is, nevertheless, probably more conservative – in a non-ideological understanding of the term – than most Republicans or self-described conservatives are at this point in our political history).

At the end of the day, the conservative is not left wondering why he should support President Obama in 2012; rather, he is left to wonder why he should not.

Categories: 2012, Ideology, Traditionalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Replicating American Libertarianism

Kelse’s response to my post “Traditionalism and Statism,” suggests that my defense of traditionalism over some kind of rational libertarianism was off-base because I focused only on the tradition that he and I share, not on traditionalism as such. Kelse suggests that, were we to focus our attention on a different culture (he gives the example of Saudi Arabia), my argument would have much less to offer it. There are three points I would like to make in response to this: 1) libertarianism as Kelse knows it is inextricably tied to a particular historical context, 2) traditionalism offers more hope for the libertarian-minded individual in Saudi Arabia than Kelse suggests, and 3) that this form of tradition-infused libertarianism actually has more to offer than does a purely reason-based libertarianism, if one can be said to exist.

Kelse readily acknowledges that his own libertarian beliefs fit relatively well into the broader Anglo-American tradition. He stops short, however, of recognizing that this is because the Anglo-American tradition gave birth to libertarianism.

Without the Magna Carta, without a Hobbesian conception of social atomism, without a Lockean understanding of property rights and religious toleration, without the Scottish Enlightenment, Kelse wouldn’t be the same thinker he is today. It is important then to note that Kelse’s beliefs do not arise “in a vacuum independent of tradition” as he argued in an earlier post. Either libertarianism is not as “reason”-based as Kelse suggests, or else reason is not as easily divorced from tradition as we are prone to believe. Either way, libertarianism has slowly grown and evolved within a particular historical context (borrowing, here and there, from minds outside the Anglo-American tradition).

Why was it not rationally deduced all at once? Did people just not think hard enough? Was Murray Rothbard the world’s first fully rational man? On the contrary, the history of philosophy would suggest that, whatever the differences in our individual reasoning capacities, all humans are in some way bound by the limits of their own tradition’s worldview: there are certain things they can and cannot see from their own particular historical vantage point. The Enlightenment notion that we have already achieved the pinnacle of human wisdom from which no further growth is possible is, from this point of view, laughably hubristic. One might then say that Anglo-American libertarianism is the best political philosophy heretofore known (which is improbable but conceivable), but one cannot say that it is the best that will ever exist.

As a traditionalist, I am proud of my culture’s accomplishments and believe that elements of its tradition have much to offer the modern world today. Yet, I do not believe that my own tradition represents any kind of grand advancement in human development. The value of my tradition is the same as the value of every other tradition: it conveys a universal truth about humanity. If a tradition has endured over hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years, it must have some degree of staying power. Thus, although I might have serious spiritual, cultural, and political differences with members of the Muslim world, I would have to acknowledge that there must be something worthwhile within their tradition to allow it such longevity.

This is not to suggest that there are not aspects of every tradition that do more harm than good to a society. My primary cultural identity comes from being born in the American South. And while there are many aspects of my culture that I love deeply, there are also some unfortunate aberrations from that tradition: slavery, discrimination, and racial prejudice to name a few. Did slavery exist for so long because it conveyed some deep truth about human nature or encouraged human excellence? Obviously not. So, as a Southerner, I must make a conscious choice to emphasize some aspects of my tradition over others. In order to make this distinction, I admittedly must have some understanding of a higher good that transcends my particular historical tradition. In a sense, perhaps this is similar to what Kelse means when he talks about “reason.” That being said, I would maintain that universal truth can only be understood through historical tradition.

This leads to an important point I was attempting to make, perhaps somewhat awkwardly, in my previous post: as a traditionalist, I am not trying to perfectly recreate an instantiation of universal truth that has already existed in the past; I am attempting to reformulate that truth to fit new circumstances. In the process, I am also constantly trying to improve my own tradition.

The libertarian-minded individual living in Saudi Arabia has the option of doing the same thing. If he were to look back at his own culture and see that theocratic Islamist statism does indeed lead to human excellence, he might begin to reconsider his previous attachment to libertarianism. If, on the other hand, he finds within his own tradition some kind of cultural precursor for limited government, for individual liberty and property rights, then he has the option of building upon this tradition and pointing his culture toward the type of society he sees as best encouraging human flourishing.

Ostensibly, a distinctly Saudi Arabian form of libertarianism won’t look exactly like the Anglo-American libertarian tradition that Kelse is familiar with. Nor should it. Libertarianism in America itself originated within a particular culture. Why should Saudi Arabian libertarianism not? Or alternatively, why should we hold out hope for Anglo-American libertarianism thriving in Saudi Arabia?

Libertarianism, to the extent that it has been separated from its original cultural moorings, has proved to be a more destructive than positive influence. If the Saudi Arabians want a more libertarian culture, then they should develop one within their own cultural context.

Categories: Cultural development, Libertarianism, Traditionalism | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Not Taking the Easy Way Out

Ben’s reply to my post (which linked traditionalist conservatism with left-wing statism) focuses in large part on the benefits of the “greater” old Anglo-American tradition.  Ben argues that traditionalists like Burke actually had many libertarian inclinations, such as supporting constitutionalism and opposing imperialism.  It is in reference to the greater tradition, Ben believes, that we can recognize statism to be an aberration.

These kinds of arguments are often made by traditionalists.  I even made similar arguments myself once.  But those were just the follies of youth.  After all, what college kid hasn’t gone through an Edmund Burke phase?

I reject these arguments now, as I see that they fall into the trap of what we call, in law school lingo, “fighting the hypo.”  For example, imagine that a professor poses to me the following hypothetical question: “If you are driving drunk and hit a jaywalker, can you get the jaywalker’s lawsuit against you dismissed for contributory negligence?”  I would be “fighting the hypo” if I replied, “Well, I wouldn’t drive drunk in the first place so this situation wouldn’t arise.”  By focusing on the idiosyncrasies of one particular driver (me), I’m missing the broader principle that the hypothetical was originally posed to uncover.

Therefore, it is no defense of traditionalism to claim that the Anglo-American tradition has lots of good aspects to it.  I freely admit that, as a libertarian, the Anglo-American tradition has all the best stuff and is the best tradition to be born into.  But that’s only a nice coincidence, where my rationalist political beliefs just so happen to align with the broader tradition that I was born into–just like it is nice that, because I don’t drive drunk, I personally won’t have to worry about the jaywalker’s contributory negligence.

The real question is whether traditionalism itself is a better guide to conduct than rationalism itself.  To answer this question, it makes the most sense to look to some harder cases.

To take one such case: what if, instead of being born in Massachusetts, I had been born in Saudi Arabia?  Suppose also that I decide to spend my life in Saudi Arabia, rather than moving somewhere else and adopting a new tradition  Does that mean that, since the “greater tradition” that I was born into and live under has no hints of respect for liberty or for strong property rights, I should be an Islamist theocrat instead of a libertarian?

If so, isn’t it a problem that our answers to really important political issues–like the individual’s relationship to the state–depend on accidents of birth?  Why should my political beliefs be constrained by what tradition I happened to be born into in the first place?  If I can figure out while living in America that government power is destructive of the values necessary to a functioning society, why can’t I do the same in Saudi Arabia (assuming access to the same books as the American, translated into a language I can understand, etc.)?

Conversely, if I shouldn’t be an Islamist theocrat, then why not?  Is it because we realize that doing so would be socially and politically destructive, even though it would also be totally within the mainstream of Arabian culture going back to Biblical times?  But if that is the reason, then it seems that we have abandoned traditionalism and are now judging beliefs rationalistically.

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

Some Cultural Skepticism

Ben David kicked off this blog with a post on “cultural renewal.”  There’s a lot in that post—much with which I agree and much with which I don’t—and hopefully one of the themes of this blog will be to draw out some of the many implications for cultural conservatism discussed in that post.

For my part, however, I am skeptical of the entire project of “cultural conservatism” itself.

To start, it seems that in discussing “culture,” Ben is assigning an objective value to what is in fact a subjective phenomenon.  That is, it makes no more sense to me to say, “culture should follow such-and-such pattern,” than it does to say “you should like to eat lobster” or “you should enjoy Nicki Minaj’s music”—each is just a personal taste which cannot be rationally proven or disproven as right or wrong.

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The case for cultural renewal

At the outset of this blog, I would like to exploit a political theorist’s prerogative and direct the reader’s attention away from the immediate political concerns of the day by asking a more fundamental question: what is the relationship between politics and culture? In particular, to what degree are changes in one dependent upon hospitable conditions in the other?

All too often, I fear, conservatives tend to focus upon political issues and demonstrate a lack of interest in cultural change. At the risk of superimposing a theoretical coherence over the seemingly haphazard and self-contradictory nature of so-called “mainstream conservatism,” I would suggest that while conservatives today rightly emphasize the stultifying effects government programs can have on American society, they fail to understand that the obverse is also true: that spiritual and intellectual weakness in a society can set a ceiling for what is possible in the political realm.

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Categories: Cultural renewal | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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