Monday, October 30, 2006


Fascinating speech and respnose from Andrew Sullivan and David Brooks on the state of conservativism from C-Span BookTV. Whatever one may think of their respective views, both deeply engaging speakers/presences.

Listen really intently to what Brooks has to say--quite brilliant I think.

Sullivan does a wonderful job of explaining the core principles of conservative thought: epistemological doubt, moral doubt (not moral relativism), but doubt that any of our plans or actions are ever perfect, that anything human is perfectible. A Lockean emphasis on returning to the facts and a Hobbesian notion that human nature includes evil and therefore government must promote objective restraints which it backs up by force, if necessary (Leviathan). And even in the force to hold open the possiblity that that force is easily corruptible: power corrupts, absolute power.....absolutely.

But then Sullivan applies that core principles to what he calls Christianism. I agree with Brooks that the conservative doubt benchmark should be applied rather to the federal government and this administration. The so-called arrogance of power. And that social conservative "Christianists" have been used by Bush, as by Reagan (and Nixon), for political ends and are mostly pawns in their game (see David Kuo's new book Tempting Faith, former 2nd at Office of Faith-Based Initiatives). And even worse the fragmented tribalism of our day.

Like Brooks I also believe that conservatism of the Hayek variety is the intellect's suppository, flushing it of nonsense and bad-sense. But never should be the governing phlosophy AND that one must have a governning philosopohy. The absenting oneself from having such a view, participating allows far worse elements to fill that vacuum.

George W. Bush's 2000 campaign's slogan of "compassionate conservatism" spoke to that. It was a realization that conservatives could no longer just be the Party of Reform ('94 Contract) but were now the mainline party as the Dems were during the New Deal Days. And that running the federal government is difficult and for all the talk of a Grover Norquist of shrinking that gov't to the size whereby it can be drowned in the bathtub is--by conservative logic of non-centralized planning--not going to happen. Bc, among other things, a la Brooks, conservatives also remember that human beings are prone to evil and brutality and you need, as a necessary evil, a Leviathan around. And truth be told, that Leviathan is never going to be dis-interested, is always going to want a piece of the pie (outside of military exploit). Human beings are not econoomic self-interested machines.

Because conservatism has a proper place for subsidiarity: the notion that decision making shoul be left to those on the scene, closest to the action (hence suppport for free-er markets). But that notion taken as a unchangable tenet is one of the prime problems of the so-called post 9/11 world.

Globalization can (and does) empower super-individuals (or 19 of them if you like). Subsidiarity here can cause a dereliction of duty and nature abhors a you-know-what. And then Sullivan's fundamentalists enemies will be there to fill that void. Though CATO Insitute folks will hate it, there have to be rule sets created on a universal scale commensurate with our core "creed" as Brooks calls it---rule of law, freedom of worship/belief.

Otherwise subsidiarity and traditionaal European (Sullivan is British) aristocratic conservatism will just leave room for global guerillas.

40-60s Liberalism, the Great Society and all the rest failed. Contract with America Republicanism also has failed. So sadly did an attempt to bridge the gap: compassionate conservatism. Or rather not as much failed as sadly never saw the light of day. Partly that was a result of the terrorist attacks, but less so than most imagine in my view. Gandhi was once famously asked what he thought about Christianity. He said he was all for it, too bad nobody had ever actually tried it out. Same for compassionate conservatism.


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