December 6, 2012

Define “conservative”

Because I don’t know what it means any longer — particularly when the term has become has been so diluted that it now includes among its members those who voted for Obama and believe critiques of the Obama phone are “racist,” or cheer on deals that would raise taxes and raise the debt ceiling without significant cuts in spending, while simultaneously blasting conservative candidates for daring to give honest voice to the conservative planks in the GOP platform.  Which are there, evidently, merely to bring in the social con vote.

I’ve said this before, but the new media “conservative” opinion leaders are able to lay claim to that appellation largely because the political spectrum has skewed so far left. This is no reflection on John Hawkins, whom I happen to like, or his list, which I’m on.  Just a statement of troubling fact, especially as the redefining begins to ossify, even among actual conservatives.

— Who, along with classical liberals and some libertarians, are now Birchers and Hobbits.  While conservatism has come to mean GOP boosterism.

Language matters.  Until it doesn’t any longer.

(thanks to JohninFirestone)

Posted by Jeff G. @ 11:13am

Comments (30)

  1. For awhile I goaded a pw site pest to produce a liberal manifesto — some body of thought that legitimized and defended a system built on envy, covetousness, and discrimination. None ever came.

    The irony with defining conservativism is that it has an entire architecture stretching back hundreds of years to define it, and it does so on a number of levels, including deep into the higher reaches of the human spirit.

    Envy, covetousness, and discrimination not so much.

    My point is that when dealing with evil at some point you resort to other battles for other reasons.

  2. If you don’t like this set of principles, I have others.

  3. Well, you beat out the good man from LA, so there’s that.

  4. BTW, when did Rachel Lucas (#16) start blogging again?

  5. “Only looking to Washington for solutions while decrying that everyone only looks to Washington for solutions.”

  6. Rachel Lucas’s link doesn’t even work. A dead link gets 15th place.

    What is this fucking world coming to?

  7. Oh. Apparently her blog is not dead; it’s just currently malfunctioning.

  8. Jacques Barzun took a crack at definition in the summer of 1989 in an essay entitled “The Great Switch” observing that:

    The political reality, the present character of the state, is of course a thorough mixture of tendencies impossible to identify simply. But for anyone who wants to talk principle, there is no difficulty. The menu goes like this:

    free enterprise, free trade, freedom to vote and run for office, free speech and religion are Liberal achievements;

    tariffs, the income tax, the S.E.C., zoning and generally the regulation of social, economic, and even moral behavior, rest on Conservative ideas;

    the post office, the police and fire departments, public schools, city buses, and national parks are Socialist, indeed Communist, institutions

    It follows that a sensible person today is at once a Liberal, a Conservative, and a Socialist.

    Just to stir the pot.

  9. BTW, when did Rachel Lucas (#16) start blogging again?

    Quite awhile now. She’s in Italy (Turin?) and struggling with Italian.

    She also just got a new dog.

  10. The general guideline I learned in Intro to American Gov’t and Politics just a few years after Barzun penned that essay was that in any conflict where the rights and/or interests of the group would collide with that of the individual, the conservative would tend to come down on the side of the group, while the liberal would tend to defer to the individual.

    This explaination had it’s own version of the Great Switch, in that it was acknowledged that liberals had decided that the best way to promote the individual was by promoting the group(s) to which the individual belonged, whereas conservatives sought to protect the group by protecting the interests of the individuals of which the group was comprised.

  11. That Hewitt piece is quaint in its own way. Like watching that bald kid try to kick the football the little girl is holding.

  12. I wasn’t aware that Barzun had passed away until now.

  13. “Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: 1. Those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes. 2. Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depositary of the public interests. In every country these two parties exist, and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves. Call them, therefore, Liberals and Serviles, Jacobins and Ultras, Whigs and Tories, Republicans and Federalists, Aristocrats and Democrats, or by whatever name you please, they are the same parties still and pursue the same object. The last one of Aristocrats and Democrats is the true one expressing the essence of all.” –T. Jefferson

    “Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth — are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.” –R. Heinlein

    We need more curmudgeons. Proud, stubbon, insistent curmudgeons.

  14. Interesting how Jefferson presents the division one way, and then lists the opposing parties in the opposite.

    The name “Jacobin” right there in the middle ought to leap out to everyone as a caution against trusting those who claim to trust and cherish the people.

  15. It follows that a sensible person today is at once a Liberal, a Conservative, and a Socialist.

    That’s ‘cuz of the sloppy defining of the categories.

    For example, a conservative believes in free enterprise and free trade, but also sees a constitutional role for government to regulate practices to keep it free, and a conservative believes in the post office, the police and fire departments, and public schools, just not as government entities. Or at least not at the federal level.

    As for the morals thing, everybody’s got’em, and reflect them in their politics. Just some believe (for example) taking the choice of abortion off the table for pregnant women is immoral, others believe abortion itself is immoral. What’s odd is, only those forming their moral code around Judea-Christian principles are called moral scolds. Everyone else (with morals formed elsewhere) is self evidently righteous in their demand for social conformity.

    Is why we have abortion on demand, but not 40 oz sodas.

  16. All the labels are temporally and context sensitive, so they are kind of meaningless on their own.

  17. Ernst:

    -Jefferson wrote sympathetically of the Jacobins – that tells us something about him.

    -You might enjoy Roger Kimball’s review of From Dawn To Decadence from June 2000.

  18. Jefferson is undoubtedly the original limousine liberal.

    Thanks for the link.

  19. the original limousine liberal.

    maybe the “carriage class”?

  20. ‘The Original Limousine Liberal’, I like that. Can I use it? Full credot will be given – of course.

    You’re welcome.

  21. You’ll find some useful Jefferson anecdotes along that line in Jack Rackove’s Revolutionaries.

    That’ll be two bars of gold pressed latinum.

  22. As for the morals thing, everybody’s got’em, and reflect them in their politics. Just some believe (for example) taking the choice of abortion off the table for pregnant women is immoral, others believe abortion itself is immoral.

    Hey, that didn’t get categorized! There.

  23. Counter-Offer: Double or nothing in a game of Dabo.

  24. Mr. Belvedere, thanks for the link. Not that Dean Brigg’s bones should care, but I have a Bachelor of Science degree and took two years of Latin in college while obtaining it, so his observation may be generally true but it certainly is not universally true.

    But I digress. Just ordered a couple of Barzun’s books to add to the reading list.

  25. “That’ll be two bars of gold pressed latinum.”

    Now, now! In the 24th century we labor solely for personal satisfaction, challenge as a means of continuous self improvement, and we can afford to do that because chicken sandwiches and coffee just mysteriously happen behind little slots on the wall.

  26. A Jacques Barzun Reader makes for great bed-time reading.

  27. I shall have to buy that Reader.

  28. Right now, I’m reading bits of Kirk’s The Conservative Mind at bed-time – the chapters on John Adams, Edmund Burke, and John Randolph.

  29. D. “Smilingly surrendering yellow with electric red rouge and staunchly black glass eyeballs.”

  30. Mike, I was on Rachel Lucas’ site this morning. She’s blogging again, although the frequency has dropped. And she just got a new dog, so she’s got a new lab animal for experimenting with canine humiliation….