Tuesday, December 26, 2006

American Conservative Exceptionalism

On American exceptionalism--of the conservative variety. From an interview discussing their book The Right Nation (British) authors Aidan Woolridge and John Mickelthwait. The authors mention 6 points about American conservatism that separates it from other Euro. conservatism, giving American conservatism its lasting vitality.

1) Religion
2) The attitude to the state. Americans—and this includes liberal Americans—are more skeptical about the role of the state than Europeans are.
3) Capitalism. America has always been much keener on capitalism than any European country.
4) Prosperity. The great sociologist Werner Sombart said that “the great ship of socialism has run aground on the shoals of roast beef and apple pie." Substitute for roast beef and apple pie DVDs and McDonald’s.
5) Tradition. Americans are very tradition-minded people, much more so than Europeans these days. Judges make decisions on fundamental issues, such as the right to abortion, on the basis of an 18th century document. If you look at the best-seller lists in Britain, it’s full of books on gardening, football, and cooking. Here it’s full of books on history.
6) Geography. America is a very big country. They have also preserved a frontier spirit, an individualistic, anti-government frontier spirit, which Europe has never really had.

Those two are something of deTocqueville's--they can see what Americans are too used to to notice--for the 21st century. I think the Right Nation is the best book on American conservatism as a movement, thought, history, I have ever read. Now to be fair the two are not just impartial observers they are promoters of the American right and their book was written under the height of Rove-ism: ie that the US was headed to a permanent Republican majority.

The Iraq War and the huge budgetary deficit and the lack of any movement on the social conservative front has distanced conservative thinkers from Republcan party. The party according to David Brooks a year in advance that it was going to lose the House of Representatives and did nothing. That is a sign of exhaustion and decay to be sure. Of coures a party is not the same as conservative thought. But neither are they completely separate in my mind either. I don't equate the two; I don't segregate them either. In intellectual terms such a division can be achieved, but in the praxis of politics the two are joined (though not identical).

In other words there are deficiencies, I think, within the modern American conservative political thought world that did play a part in the corruption of the Republican party. Particularly the modern right embrace of small/no government. I think you can't be the dominant party of the establishment whose governing philosophy is not to be the dominant player in government. It works as an opposition political voice that constantly calls out the insanity of expecting governments to fix all problems. But not very good at actually running the show. This comes from the very libertarian, Grover Norquist American Enterprise Institute conservatism.

When they got into power the joke was the only limited in that Rep. government was intelligence.

The other failure was for conservatives to back George W.Bush who in many many ways is a liberal. Or even worse than a liberal.

New Deal Democrats are/were tax and spend.
Reagan-ite thought was cut (taxes) and cut programs/spending.

Bush combined the worst of both: cut taxes and spend.

It is by the way the exact same thing he did as governor of Texas, where he also unsurprisingly ran up record budgetary deficits. Every Republican president since Nixon left the Federal Government in a worse fiscal position than entering. The line on that used to be it was because they always had Democratic Congresses--but not Bush.

And on foreign policy Bush's embrace of neoconservatism. Neoconservatism is a democratic form of Trotskyite thought. I didn't make that up. I'm quoting Francis Fukuyama. He ought to know. As Fukuyama says when he tried to talk about markets to say Bill Kristol (editor of the WeeklyStandard, New American Century member, 1st Dubya administration, etc.), Kristol had no idea about them. In other words they gave no thought to the necessity of marketization to create a middle class that could handle democracy. Hence Iraq.

Now compassionate conservatism was designed to be, I think, big tent conservatism. If the Republicans were going to become the de facto dominant party (as had been the New Deal Dems) then they would have to hold some difficult alliances together. Social conservatives and libertarians, isolationist patriots and neocons, etc. FDR aligned Northern progressives, unionists, and white Southern Democrats.

But anymore I don't know if Bush and Rove actually had a strategy for governing or whether compassionate conservatism was just their buzzword for power-grabbing. But either way, if it was genuinely intended it failed.

But back to the beginning thread. American conservative exceptionalism. American conservatism is not traditional conservatism. The Americans who were originally republican, small r, e.g. a Jefferson--what used to be liberal and republican are now reversed essentially. Hamilton, a classical liberal, would be today a Wall Street Republican.

In other words from the beginning all of them, whether Federalist or states rights, classical liberal or classical republican, all were not traditionalists.

Traditional European conservatism supported the ancien regime. It was a supporter of an aristocratic, medieval strict hierarchy. "Blue" bloods as it were. Edmund Burke, in his reflections on the French Revolution spelled out European conservatism: alliance with aristocracy, old guard, holding to traditions (like Church of England) to tamp down the mobs. His ideas on individual progress and skepticism certainly entered American conservative thought, but not his adherence to the old European order not as much.

In integral-speak all of the Founding Fathers were orange and by definition revolutionaries. Even if they were by our standards "conservatives" they were conservative revolutionaries. And that pardoxically mix of conservative, skeptical revolution is one of the key ingredients to understanding the American political experience and its divergence particularly nowadays with other Western liberal democracies.


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