Strands of conservatism: a lesson on conservative thought in four parts

Recently, I have had the opportunity to joust with a few of our lefty lurker friends. Some of them have been quite courteous and seemed genuinely interested in what RS has to offer. Others have been – well, not so courteous. During the course of interacting with one of the less polite fellows, bs suggested that I expand my response describing conservatism and countering liberalism into a diary. Given the recent outstanding posts on this topic by JackSavage, E Pluribus Unum, gamecock, and SwampYankee, I am not really sure how much I can add to the debate.Part of the problem lies in the fact that the phenomenon that is American conservatism is anything but monolithic. While certain aspects are generally agreed upon by those who refer to themselves as conservatives, the methods of arriving at belief in those aspects are as varied as conservatives themselves. Very broadly speaking, I think it safe to say that a large number of conservatives arrive at their views from a general appreciation for the free market and an aversion to centrally planned economies, a large number arrive at their views from their religious convictions, a large number arrive at their views from a commitment to national defense, and a large number arrive at their views from an understanding of and belief in the ideals of republican government. Certainly there are other routes to conservatism, as well. Given this wide range of views, I find it to be overwhelmingly difficult to explain conservatism in any detailed fashion without excluding certain segments of the “Big Tent.”

Before I attempt to delve into anything like a defense of conservatism or attack on liberalism, let me first put my cards on the table so that you, the reader, may understand my position vis-à-vis conservatism. Roughly speaking, my beliefs are:

  1. Limited government along the lines of Jeffersonian “government which governs best governs least”

  2. Federalism, respect for states’ rights, and subsidiarity

  3. Free markets – and on this particular point, I do not consider the corporatist/state socialism model that has existed in the US since the late 19th century to be a genuine free market

  4. General opposition to the concept of taxes, especially income tax and property tax –I believe the flat tax has more merit than the current convoluted system that we use

  5. Strong national defense

  6. Border Security – a nation that cannot clearly define and defend its own borders is no longer sovereign

  7. Immigration reform – not amnesty

  8. Preservation of the traditional family – I oppose any attempt to redefine marriage and family as anything but a husband (male), wife (female), and their children

  9. Educating Americans about our nation’s roots in Western Civilization and the republican ideals of the Founders – I am utterly opposed to the disaster that is multi-culturalism

  10. Ethics reform at all levels of government

  11. Anti-earmarks, anti-lobbying, anti-government waste and corruption

  12. End the domination of the failed central banking (Federal Reserve) and fiat currency system

Some of those points may not sit well with all of you, but I felt it important to honestly report my beliefs and my interpretation of conservatism before proceeding to detailed discussion of it. If nothing else, at least it makes clear my definition of what conservatism means.

With the preliminaries out of the way, I will move on to the main event. Unfortunately, I believe that given the scope of this topic, I will have to post my thoughts across several diary entries. To begin with, let me first fire a few shots across the bow at our leftist friends.

I find the intellectual basis of 20th century leftism, especially that espoused by the New Left of the 1960’s era, to be based on the writings of Karl Marx, Friendrich Engels, Antonio Gramsci, the Frankfurt School, the Vienna Circle, Jean Paul Sarte, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault. Very roughly speaking, the following ideas are either products of their thinking or were expanded and popularized by them: Marxism (and its stepchildren Communism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, and Maoism), critical theory, logical positivism, post-structuralism, and deconstructionism. Much of this thinking is grounded in a particular reading of Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Friedrich Nietzsche.

In recent times (post-1950), many of these theories have been successfully challenged or debunked. For example, logical positivism was taken apart by Ludwig Wittgenstein (who ironically played a role in its creation), Karl Popper, and Willard Quine. This is quite important, since Marxists seized on logical positivism as a philosophical approach in line with their own politico-economic theories (for example, the logical positivists declared metaphysics [and much of philosophy for that matter] to be meaningless; this lends itself nicely to the Marxist embrace of atheism). John Searle took Derrida apart a few decades ago; my favorite Searle quote about Derrida cannot be reproduced here due to the PG-rated nature of RS (Google it if you are interested). Deconstructionism, on the other hand, lives on in English, history, and “cultural studies” departments across the nation despite Alan Sokal making fools of the deconstructionists in 1996. Along similar lines, “critical theory” and “post-colonial” studies are on the defensive as respectable scholars such as Bernard Porter have begun debunking the intellectual claptrap that passes for scholarship in those circles.

Despite, or perhaps because of this, the New Left has been clinging even more desperately to its sacred cows. In response to attacks on modern leftism, the doyens of the left have pushed back by claiming that conservatives are nothing more than unwashed, uneducated, inbred barbarians. Not only does this expose them for the elitists that they are (and, really, what leftist isn’t an aristocrat in his own mind), but it also supports my claim that they are clinging to the old idols of the New Left. Given the abundance of conservative authors and scholars over the past hundred years or so, including several Nobel laureates, this argument just does not hold up. Additionally, many of those on the left speak of themselves as morally superior to the right (see Thomas Sowell’s Vision of the Anointed, for example). They hold that they are the very embodiment of the spirit of tolerance, yet in the same breath display startling bigotry and intolerance. They are, amusingly, intolerant of intolerance and judgmental of those who judge. As I’ve said elsewhere, one of the many problems with the left is its moral relativism. Many lefties claim to be realists regarding science (after all, what is Marxism and logical positivism if not a slavish devotion to politically acceptable science), yet they deny that same realism when applied to moral truths. Everything becomes situational for liberals and must be viewed through the lens of their own political convictions. That, I’m afraid, is what led to the deaths of over a hundred million innocents at the hands of idealistic leftists in the 20th century.

Reading dkos, mydd, Democratic Underground, etc., one will notice the general meme that somehow conservatives are on the wrong side of history. The leftist “true believers” on such sites are under the impression – no doubt inherited from Marx – that history is moving mankind forward to the New World Order of communist paradise. Conservatives, they say, are simply fighting a rearguard action. I disagree. Time is only on the side of the unrepentant Marxist so long as he can continue to indoctrinate the youth of the world. It must be remembered that a key strategy of the left is to control the national conversation by dominance of the media and the universities – this strategy is Gramsci’s greatest contribution to Marxism. Should the devastating history of Marxism and its cousins, fascism and socialism, ever be revealed to America’s youth, many of the icons of the American left will find themselves out of work.

Now having had a bit of a warm-up by a little creative sniping at the left, I shall turn my attention to explaining conservatism. Stay tuned, part two coming in the next day or so.