Conservatives answer in the negative, liberals in the affirmative. This may be the most important difference between the warring parties. Dennis Prager explains the difference very clearly here.
Liberals will object to the 'radioactive' Man in the above title borrowed from Prager. They think it excludes women. It does not. It only excludes women if you are a liberal.
This points up another key difference between liberals and conservatives. For a liberal, nothing is immune to politicization, and everything, including language, can be pressed into service as a weapon of culture war. No word or phrase is safe from being distorted for an ideological purpose. A particularly egregious recent example is the absurd suggestion that 'thug' is code for 'nigger,' so that if one rightly describes the behavior of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, on the night he died as 'thuggish' one is hurling a racial epithet. Conservatives, by contrast, aim to preserve and protect the language as a neutral means for the exchange of ideas.
What follows is taken verbatim from Keith Burgess-Jackson's weblog. It is so good, so right, and so important that it deserves to be disseminated widely.
Barry M. Goldwater (1909-1998) on Conservatism
I have been much concerned that so many people today with Conservative instincts feel compelled to apologize for them. Or if not to apologize directly, to qualify their commitment in a way that amounts to breast-beating. “Republican candidates,” Vice President Nixon has said, “should be economic conservatives, but conservatives with a heart.” President Eisenhower announced during his first term, “I am conservative when it comes to economic problems but liberal when it comes to human problems.” Still other Republican leaders have insisted on calling themselves “progressive” Conservatives.These formulations are tantamount to an admission that Conservatism is a narrow, mechanistic economic theory that may work very well as a bookkeeper’s guide, but cannot be relied upon as a comprehensive political philosophy.
The same judgment, though in the form of an attack rather than an admission, is advanced by the radical camp. “We liberals,” they say, “are interested in people. Our concern is with human beings, while you Conservatives are preoccupied with the preservation of economic privilege and status.” Take them a step further, and the Liberals will turn the accusations into a class argument: it is the little people that concern us, not the “malefactors of great wealth.”
Such statements, from friend and foe alike, do great injustice to the Conservative point of view. Conservatism is not an economic theory, though it has economic implications. The shoe is precisely on the other foot: it is Socialism that subordinates all other considerations to man’s material well-being. It is Conservatism that puts material things in their proper place—that has a structured view of the human being and of human society, in which economics plays only a subsidiary role.
The root difference between the Conservatives and the Liberals of today is that Conservatives take account of the whole man, while the Liberals tend to look only at the material side of man’s nature. The Conservative believes that man is, in part, an economic, an animal creature; but that he is also a spiritual creature with spiritual needs and spiritual desires. What is more, these needs and desires reflect the superior side of man’s nature, and thus take precedence over his economic wants. Conservatism therefore looks upon the enhancement of man’s spiritual nature as the primary concern of political philosophy. Liberals, on the other hand,—in the name of a concern for “human beings”—regard the satisfaction of economic wants as the dominant mission of society. They are, moreover, in a hurry. So that their characteristic approach is to harness the society’s political and economic forces into a collective effort to compel “progress.” In this approach, I believe they fight against Nature.
Surely the first obligation of a political thinker is to understand the nature of man. The Conservative does not claim special powers of perception on this point, but he does claim a familiarity with the accumulated wisdom and experience of history, and he is not too proud to learn from the great minds of the past.
(Barry M. Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative, ed. CC Goldwater, The James Madison Library in American Politics, ed. Sean Wilentz [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007 (first published in 1960)], 1-3 [footnote omitted; italics in original])
Note from KBJ: This is a great book by a great (though, like all of us, imperfect) man. I'm ashamed to say that it took me 58 years to read it. Better late than never.
Comment by BV at Keith's site:
I read it back in '64 when I was 14. 50 years later I see clearly how right he was and how he might have prevented the decline of the last half-century. I remember the political bumper stickers of the day that read: AuH2O64 meaning, of course, Goldwater in 1964.
My mother did not like it that I was reading Conscience of a Conservative since she and her husband were Democrats. She liked it even less when, a few years later, I was reading hard-core Marxist stuff like Ramparts magazine at a time when David Horowitz was an editor and still a commie. Mirabile dictu, Brit Hume of Fox News was for a brief time a Ramparts Washington correspondent! You didn't know that, did you? (I just learned it.)
Further Anecdote by BV:
In those heady days of the mid-1960s I read a wide variety of periodicals and books: The L. A. Free Press, Crawdaddy!, Dick Gregory's Black Like Me, Lenny Bruce's How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man, Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media. In order to avoid my mother's 'censorship,' I had to smuggle the stuff into my bedroom. I would place the publications between the screen and window of a bedroom window, enter the house, go into my room, open the window and retrieve the material.
I sure wish I had that stuff now, especially the back issues of Crawdaddy and L. A. Free Press. They must have succumbed to a maternal purge, along with the Lenny Bruce paperback. De Chardin and McLuhan survived the purge and I have them in my library to this day. Gregory didn't make it: the old lady couldn't understand why I was concerned with the plight of black folk. I still am, which is why I'm a conservative and do battle with the destructive Left.
Correction: My old pal J. I. O e-mails to tell me that the author of Black Like Me was not Dick Gregory but John Howard Griffin, a white man who dyed himself black and travelled through the South. I was probably confusing that title with Gregory's autobiography Nigger which appeared in 1964. I believe I read both back then.
Innovations are guilty until proven innocent. There is a defeasible presumption in favor of traditional beliefs, usages, institutions, arrangements, techniques, and whatnot, provided they work. By all means allow the defeat of the defeasible: in with the new if the novel is better. But the burden of proof is on the would-be innovator: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Conservatives are not opposed to change. We are opposed to non-ameliorative change, and change for the sake of change.
And again, how can anyone who loves his country desire its fundamental transformation? How can anyone love anything who desires its fundamental transformation?
You love a girl and want to marry her. But you propose that she must first undergo a total makeover: butt lift, tummy tuck, nose job, breast implants, psychological re-wire, complete doxastic overhaul, sensus divinitatis tune-up, Weltanschauung change-out, memory upgrade, and so on. Do you love her, or is she merely the raw material for the implementation of your currently uninstantiated idea of what a girl should be?
The extension to love of country is straightforward. If you love your country, then you do not desire its fundamental transformation. Contrapositively, if you do desire its fundamental transformation, then you do not love it.
Over at NRO, I found this in an otherwise very good column by Charles C. W. Cooke:
I daresay that if I had been in any of the situations that DeBoer describes, I would have walked happily out of the class. Why? Well, because there is simply nothing to be gained from arguing with people who believe that it is reasonable to treat those who use the word “disabled” as we treat those who use the word “n***er” . . . .
Isn't this precious? Cooke shows that he owns a pair of cojones throughout the column but then he gets queasy when it comes to 'nigger.' Why? Would he similarly tip-toe around 'kike' or 'dago'? I doubt it. It is clear that he is aware of the difference between using a word to refer to something and talking about the word. Philosophers call this the use-mention distinction. Call it whatever you like, but observe it.
True: 'Boston' is disyllabic. False: Boston is disyllabic. True: Boston is populous. False: 'Boston' is populous.
Consider the following sentence
Some blacks refer to other blacks using the word 'nigger.'
The sentence is true. Now of course I do not maintain that a sentence's being true justifies its assertive utterance in every situation. The above sentence, although appropriately asserted in the present context where a serious and important point is being made, would not be appropriately asserted in any number of other easily imagined contexts.
But suppose that you take offense at the above sentence. Well, then, you have taken inappropriate and unjustified offense, and your foolishness offends me! Why is my being objectively offended of less significance than your being merely subjectively offended? Your willful stupidity justifies my mockery and derision. One should not give offense without a good reason. But your taking inappropriate offense is not my problem but yours.
In this regard there is no substitute for sound common sense, a commodity which unfortunately is in short supply on the Left. You can test whether you have sound common sense by whether or not you agree with the boring points I make in such entries as the following:
I have been and continue to be an avid reader of your wonderful blog ever since I stumbled upon your post on Wittgenstein’s anti-philosophy some years ago. And I must say that your assorted musings and reflections – even your polemical jabs - have given me many valuable lessons, even if I do not necessarily agree with every point and detail. For all that, you have the gratitude and admiration of this humble correspondent and junior fellow-traveler in philosophy (male, hailing from the Philippines, partly of Chinese descent through my father).
Now even though we do not stand on the same side with regard to several matters of value and praxis -- as I am far to your left and you are far to my right -– I nonetheless wish to civilly discuss some topics surrounding the more heated disputes. Specifically, there are some nagging political-philosophical questions in my mind that I happily share with you, and your thoughts on them (either as brief responses to each query or perhaps a sustained post or series of posts on a cluster of selected issues) would be very much appreciated. Pardon if it took me so long to reach the heart of the matter, of if I seem to ramble on too much, but here goes:
1. To what extent can one extend hospitality, generosity, or charity to the arguments and premises of one’s opponents or rivals in polemical situations? It seems to me that apart from the unflinching commitment of many of the parties involved to their respective positions despite the absence of perfect justification, there is also the issue of mutual misunderstanding and misrepresentation (unintentional or otherwise), exacerbated by the fog of war. For instance, many conservatives, libertarians, and socialists appear to be rarely acquainted with the intricacies of each other’s theoretical standpoints and values, even as they dispute about practices and proposals.
MavPhil: How far extend hospitality, etc. in a polemical situation? Not very far if the situation is truly polemical and one's interlocutor is an opponent or adversary. I make a sharp distinction between polemical discourse and strictly philosophical discourse, and I engage in both. I engage in both because both are needed in the world as it is. It is a mark of the conservative that he deals with the world as it is without illusions or evasions or escapes into u-topia (no place). In a phrase of Richard M. Weaver, the conservative stands on the "terra firma of antecedent reality," a reality logically and ontologically antecedent to one's hopes, dreams, wishes, and desires.
As I see it, philosophy ceases to be philosophy when it becomes polemical. That goes for political philosophy as well which ought not be confused with political discourse in general, most of which is, of course, polemical.
Philosophy is inquiry. It is inquiry by those who don't know (and know that they don't know) with the sincere intention of increasing their insight and understanding. Philosophy is motivated by the love of truth, not the love of verbal battle or the need to defeat an opponent or shore up and promote preconceived opinions about which one has no real doubt and refuses to examine. When real philosophy is done with others it takes the form of dialog, not debate. It is conversation between friends, not opponents, who are friends of the truth before they are friends of each other. Amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas.
There is nothing adversarial in a genuine philosophical conversation. The person I am addressing and responding to is not my adversary but a co-inquirer. In the ideal case there is between us a bond of friendship, a philiatic bond. But this philia subserves the eros of inquiry. The philosopher's love of truth is erotic, the love of one who lacks for that which he lacks. It is not the agapic love of one who knows and bestows his pearls of wisdom.
What I have described above, however, is rare in this fallen world of contention and strife. No philosophy without spectatorship, but here below we are embattled spectators. Hence the necessity of self-defense in several forms, from verbal polemic to shooting wars. The spaces of civility, wherein philosophy, science, the arts, humane living, and everything civilized flourish have always been encircled by evil forces against which one must be prepared to deploy violent remedies. Si vis pacem, para bellum. If you want peace, prepare for war. (Cf. Plato, Laws, 628d) Civility is for the civil only. One must oppose and in extreme situations kill the enemies of civilization. Last century, Nazis among others; this century, radical Muslims.
But why not stick to one's stoa and cultivate one's specialist garden in peace and quiet, neither involving oneself in, nor forming opinions about, the wider world of politics and strife? Why risk one's ataraxia in the noxious arena of contention? Why not remain within the serene precincts of theoria? For those of us of a certain age the chances are good that death will arrive before the barbarians do. Why bother one's head with the issues of the day? Many of us will most likely collapse before the culture that sustains us does.
We enter the arena of contention because the gardens of tranquillity and the spaces of reason are worth defending, with blood and iron if need be, against the barbarians and their witting and unwitting leftist enablers. Others have fought and bled so that we can live this life of beatitude. What has been passed on to us, we must passon. And so though we are not warriors of the body we can and should do our bit as warriors of the mind to preserve for future generations this culture which allows us to pursue otium liberale in peace, quiet, and safety.
The onus probandi is on the extremist in matters of belief. Extreme beliefs bear the burden of proof. There is a defeasible presumption in favor of moderate views just as there is a defeasible presumption in favor of traditional ways of doing things. Note the qualifier, 'defeasible.'
Hendrik makes no mention of the crime, the victim, and her horrible death. Instead, typical leftist that he is, he invests his interest in the perceived underdog without any consideration of why the dirty dog is in his inferior position. Hitchens puts the emphasis where it belongs. Hendrik:
The classic justifications for the death penalty have not changed much over the centuries. There is retribution—an eye for an eye, a life for a life. There is deterrence—this is what awaits you if you transgress. And there is awe—a graphic demonstration of the ultimate power of the state.
No talk of justice, but a shabby suggestion that the principle that the punishment must fit the crime is to be interpreted as a narrow lex talionis injunction, as if the death penalty is in every case like the barbarity of gouging out the eye of the eye-gouger.
There is also something curious about leftists, who are totalitarians from the ground up, the top down, and from side to side, worrying about the ultimate power of the state. These are same moral cretins who want to use the power of the state to force florists and caterers to violate their consciences.
Anyone who doesn't see the moral necessity of the death penalty in certain carefully circumscribed cases, anyone who thinks that it is always and everywhere and in principle immoral, is morally obtuse.
For many years, researchers found that women were happier than men, although recent studies contend that the gap has narrowed or may even have been reversed. Political junkies might be interested to learn that conservative women are particularly blissful: about 40 percent say they are very happy. That makes them slightly happier than conservative men and significantly happier than liberal women. The unhappiest of all are liberal men; only about a fifth consider themselves very happy. (emphasis added)
Well, it's tough being a liberal. We conservatives have our bibles and guns to cling to, but what do you have except your grievances and your utopian dreams that reality has a way of quashing? Conservatives have the capacity to appreciate what they have while you liberals are too busy being pissed off at this sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic, racist, and bigoted country to have time to enjoy and appreciate anything.
John Hawkins argues that it is in a recent Townhall piece. I agree with everything he says, except the title. It suffices to argue that liberalism is wrong. It is irrelevant whether it is on the right or wrong side of history. Allow me to explain.
The phrase "on the wrong side of history" is one that no self-aware and self-consistent conservative should use. The phrase suggests that history is moving in a certain direction, toward various outcomes, and that this direction and these outcomes are somehow justified by the actual tendency of events. But how can the mere fact of a certain drift justify that drift? For example, we are moving in the United States, and not just here, towards more and more intrusive government, more and more socialism, less and less individual liberty and personal choice, Obamacare being the latest and worst example. This has certainly been the trend from FDR on regardless of which party has been in power. Would a self-aware conservative want to say that the fact of this drift justifies it? I think not.
But if not, then one cannot argue against liberalism by trying to show that it is on the wrong side of history. For which way history goes is irrelevant to which way it ought to go.
'Everyone today believes that such-and-such.' It doesn't follow that such-and-such is true. 'Everyone now does such-and-such.' It doesn't follow that such-and-such ought to be done. 'The direction of events is towards such-and-such.' It doesn't follow that such-and-such is a good or valuable outcome. In each of these cases there is a logical mistake. One cannot validly infer truth from belief, ought from is, or values from facts.
One who opposes the drift toward socialism, a drift that is accelerating under President Obama, is arguably, pace Hawkins, on the wrong side of history. But that is no objection unless one assumes that history's direction is the right direction. Now an Hegelian might believe that, one for whom all the real is rational and all the rational real. Marxists and 'progressives' might believe it. But no conservative who understands conservatism can believe it.
One night a conservative talk show host told a guest that she was on the wrong side of history in her support for same-sex marriage. My guess is that in a generation the same-sex marriage issue will be moot, the liberals having won. The liberals will have been on the right side of history. The right side of history, but wrong nonetheless.
It's why Congress has an approval rating of 6%. It's why Obamacare is wildly unpopular. It's why D.C. and our court system have devolved into partisan warfare. It's because liberalism is a non-functional, imperious philosophy that is out of step with the modern world and on the wrong side of history.
Hawkins thinks it is a point against liberalism that it is on the wrong side of history. But whether it is or not is irrelevant -- unless one assumes what no conservative ought to assume, namely, that success justifies, or that might makes right, or that consensus proves truth, or that the way things are going is the way things ought to be going.
As I have said more than once, if you are a conservative don't talk like a [insert favorite expletive] liberal. Don't validate, by adopting, their question-begging epithets and phrases.
For example, if you are a conservative and speak of 'homophobia' or 'Islamophobia' or 'social justice,' then you are an idiot who doesn't realize that the whole purpose of those polemical leftist neologisms is to beg questions, shut down rational discussion, and obfuscate.
Language matters in general, but especially in the culture wars.
Robert Paul Wolff has an answer for us. Ready? The bolding is Wolff's own and is twice-repeated:
Because Obama is Black.
Is Professor Wolff serious? I'm afraid he is. But given that the man is neither stupid nor the usual sort of left-wing moral scumbag, how could he be serious? What explains a view so plainly delusional? How account for an emotion-driven mere dismissal of the conservative position the arguments for which he will not examine? How is it that a professional philosopher, indeed a very good one, can engage in such puerile ad hominem psychologizing? Wolff himself provides an answer in a later post:
My knowledge of the beliefs and sentiments of those on the right is based entirely on things I have read or have seen on television. I have never had a conversation with a committed right-wing opponent of the Affordable Care Act, nor have I even, to the best of my knowledge, met one. You would be quite correct in inferring that I live in a left-wing bubble [called Chapel Hill -- before that, I lived in a left-wing bubble called Amherst, MA, and before that I lived in the right wing bubbles called Morningside Heights, Hyde Park, and Cambridge.] If this strikes you as disqualifying my from having an opinion, you are free to ignore the rest of this post.
The overall quality of the Grey Lady's op-ed pages is piss-poor to be sure, but the rag of record can boast two very good columnists. One is Ross Douthat, the other David Brooks. The latter's The Solitary Leaker is outstanding and I recommend that you study it. Libertarians won't like it, see below, but I'm not a libertarian.
That said, I'll take a libertarian over a liberal any day. We can and must work with libertarians to defeat liberals.
Critical thinking is not necessarily opposed to the status quo. To criticize is not to oppose, but to sift, to assess, to assay, to evaluate. The etymology of krinein suggests as much. A critical thinker may well end up supporting the existing state of things in this or that respect. It is a fallacy of the Left to think that any supporter of any aspect of the status quo is an 'apologist' for it in some pejorative sense of this term. After all, some aspects of the status quo may be very good indeed, and others may be unimprovable without making things worse in other respects.
The notion that critical thinking entails opposition to the status quo presumably has its roots in the nihilism of the Left. Leftists are often incapable of appreciating what actually exists because they measure it against a standard that does not exist, and that in many cases cannot exist. It is the leftist Nowhere Man who judges the topos quo from the vantage point of utopia. There is no place like utopia, of course, but only because utopia is no place at all.
Just as leftists do not own dissent, they are not the sole proprietors of a critical attitude. Kritische Theorie as used by members of the Frankfurt School is a tendentious and self-serving expression.
Liberals like to say that the government is us. President Obama recently trotted out the line to quell the fears of gun owners:
You hear some of these quotes: ‘I need a gun to protect myself from the government.’ ‘We can’t do background checks because the government is going to come take my guns away,’ Obama said. “Well, the government is us. These officials are elected by you. They are elected by you. I am elected by you. I am constrained, as they are constrained, by a system that our Founders put in place. It’s a government of and by and for the people.
Liberals might want to think about the following.
If the government is us, and the government lies to us about Benghazi or anything else, then we must be lying to ourselves. Right?
If the government is us, and the government uses the IRS to harass certain groups of citizens whose political views the administration opposes, then we must be harassing ourselves.
I could continue in this vein, but you get the drift. "The government is us" is blather. It is on a par with Paul Krugman's silly notion that we owe the national debt to ourselves. (See Left, Right, and Debt.)
It is true that some, but not all, of those who have power over us are elected. But that truth cannot be expressed by the literally false, if not meaningless, 'The government is us.' Anyone who uses this sentence is mendacious or foolish.
The government is not us. It is an entity distinct from most of us, and opposed to many of us, run by a relatively small number of us. Among the latter are some decent people but also plenty of power-hungry individuals who may have started out with good intentions but who were soon suborned by the power, perquisites, and pelf of high office, people for whom a government position is a hustle like any hustle. Government, like any entity, likes power and likes to expand its power, and can be counted on to come up with plenty of rationalizations for the maintenance and extension of its power. It must be kept in check by us, who are not part of the government, just as big corporations need to be kept in check by government regulators.
If you value liberty you must cultivate a healthy skepticism about government. To do so is not anti-government. Certain scumbags of the Left love to slander us by saying that we are anti-government. It is a lie and they know it. They are not so stupid as not to know that to be for limited government is to be for government.
There are two extremes to avoid, the libertarian and the liberal. Libertarians often say that the government can do nothing right, and that the solution is to privatize everything including the National Parks. Both halves of that assertion are patent nonsense. It is equal but opposite nonsense to think that Big Government will solve all our problems. Ronald Reagan had it right: "A government big enough to give you everything you want is powerful enough to take everything you have." Or something like that.
From a logical point of view, the ‘Government is us’ nonsense appears to be a pars pro toto fallacy: one identifies a proper part (the governing) with the whole of which it is a proper part (the governed).
I have found that it is dangerous to assume that others are essentially like oneself.
Psychologists speak of projection. As I understand it, it involves projecting into others one's own attitudes, beliefs, motivations, fears, emotions, desires, values, and the like. It is classified as a defense mechanism. To avoid confronting an unsavory attitude or trait in oneself, one projects it into another. Suppose one is stingy, considers stinginess an undesirable trait, but doesn't want to own up to one's stinginess. As a defense against the admission of one's own stinginess, one projects it into others. "I'm not stingy; you're stingy!"
I once had a superficial colleague who published a lot. He was motivated more by a neurotic need to advance himself socially and economically, a need based in low self-esteem, rather than by a drive to get at the truth or make a contribution to his subject. He was at some level aware that his motives were less than noble. Once, when he found out that I had published an article, he told me that my motive was to see my name in print. It was a classic case of projection: he could not understand me except as being driven by the same paltry motives that drove him. By projecting his motives into me, he warded off the awareness of their presence in him, or else excused their presence in him on the spurious ground that everyone has the same paltry motivations.
Most of the definitions of projection I have read imply that it is only undesirable attitudes, beliefs and the like that are the contents of acts of projection. But it seems to me that the notion of projection could and perhaps should be widened to include desirable ones as well.
The desire for peace and social harmony, for example, is obviously good. But it too can be the content of an act of psychological projection. A pacifist, for example, may assume that others deep down are really like he is: peace-loving to such an extent as to avoid war at all costs. A pacifist might reason as follows: since everyone deep down wants peace, and abhors war, if I throw down my weapon, my adversary will do likewise. By unilaterally disarming, I show my good will, and he will reciprocate. But if you throw down your weapon before Hitler, he will take that precisely as justification for killing you: since might makes right on his neo-Thrasymachian scheme, you have shown by your pacific deed that you are unfit for the struggle for existence and therefore deserve to die, and indeed must die to keep from polluting the gene pool.
Projection in cases like these can be dangerous. One oftens hears the sentiment expressed that we human beings are at bottom all the same and all want the same things. Not so! You and I may want
Harmony and understanding Sympathy and trust abounding No more falsehoods or derisions Golden living dreams of visions Mystic crystal revelation And the mind's true liberation
as expressed in that characteristic '60s song, Aquarius, but others have belligerence and bellicosity hard-wired into them. They like fighting and dominating and they only come alive when they are bashing your skull in either literally or figuratively. People are not the same and it is a big mistake to think otherwise and project your decency into them.
I'll say it again: people are not the same. We are not 'equal.' Or do you consider yourself the moral equal of Chechen Muslim ingrates who come to our shores, exploit our hospitality, go on welfare, rip us off, and then detonate explosives at the finish line of a great American event that celebrates life and self-reliance?
I said that the psychologists classify projection as a defense mechanism. But how could the projection of good traits count as a defense mechanism? Well, suppose that by engaging in such projections one defends oneself against the painful realization that the people in the world are much worse than one would have liked to believe. Many of us have a strong psychological need to see good in other people, and this can give rise to illusions. There is good and evil in each person, and one must train oneself to accurately discern how much of each is present in each person one encounters.
One mistake I have made, more than once, is to assume that since I value truth above many other things, others do as well. But there are plenty of people who do not value truth at all, or else assign it a rather low priority. There are many, for example, who value human feelings over truth. Truth is nothing to them; feelings everything. That makes no sense to me; to me it is self-evident that, although both are values (to be precise: things that ought to be valued), truth is a higher value, if not the highest value. But reality forces me to accept that others hold to the opposite value-prioritization. It is folly to project one's own values into others.
There are other people for whom truth counts for nothing, but power for everything. They interpret every type of interpersonal transaction as a power struggle. Thus if you calmly try to persuade such a person of the truth of some proposition by appealing to facts and reasoning correctly from them, he will interpret that as nothing but an attempt to dominate him psychologically. Such people are utterly blind to the value of truth and to the fact that truth can sometimes be attained by dialectical means. They project their own lust for power into everyone else interpreting everything that is manifestly not a power-move as latently a power-move.
There are plenty of leftists like this. Taking their cue from Nietzsche, they assume that everything is power at bottom. Die Welt ist der Wille zur Macht und nichts anders! "The world is the will to power and nothing besides!" Supported by this assumption, they set out to unmask (deconstruct) phenomena that manifestly are not power-driven, for example, attempts to state what is the case. Power-mad themselves, these leftists project lust for power into everyone and everything. It is a curious pars pro toto fallacy: one takes a phenomenon one finds in oneself, lust for power, and then interprets everything else in terms of it. The idea might be worth exploring that Nietzsche's doctrine of the Will to Power arose by projection. He saw the lust for power within himself and excused its presence there by projecting it outward thus transforming a psychological peculiarity into a fundamental trait of beings qua beings.
You say I'm psychologizing. True enough. But false views are legitimately psychologized. It would be the genetic fallacy to dismiss as false a proposition just because it arose from a need or serves a need or results from projection. But once a proposition has been shown to be false, it is legitimate to inquire into the genesis of the belief.
I was surprised, but pleased, to see that the late Lawrence Auster, traditionalist conservative, photo to the left, 1973, had a deep appreciation and a wide-ranging knowledge of Dylan's art. Born in 1949, Auster is generationally situated for that appreciation, and as late as '73 was still flying the '60s colors, if we can go by the photo, but age is at best only a necessary condition for digging Dylan. Auster's Jewishness may play a minor role, but the main thing is Auster's attunement to Dylan's particularism. See the quotation below. Herewith, some Dylan songs with commentary by Auster.
This Dylan song can seem amorphous and mystical in the negative sense, especially as it became a kind of countercultural anthem and meaningless through overuse. But the lyrics are coherent and profound, especially the first verse:
They say everything can be replaced They say every distance is not near But I remember every face Of every man who put me here.
The modern world tells us that everything is fungible, nothing is of real value, everything can and should be replaced—our spouse, our culture, our religion, our history, our sexual nature, our race, everything. It is the view of atomistic liberal man, forever creating himself out of his preferences, not dependent on any larger world of which he is a part. The singer is saying, No, this isn’t true. Things have real and particular values and they cannot be cast off and replaced by other things. And, though we seem to be distant, we are connected. I am connected to all the men, the creators and builders and poets and philosophers, and my own relatives and friends, who have come before me or influenced me, who created the world in which I live.
First off, some comments of mine on the video which accompanies the touched-up Blonde on Blonde track. The video is very cleverly constructed, providing a synopsis of milestones in Dylan's career. The first girl the guy with the acoustic guitar case is walking with is a stand-in for Suze Rotolo, the girl 'immortalized' on the Freewheelin' Bob Dylan album cover. But now we see the pair from the back instead of from the front. She is replaced by a second girl representing Joan Baez. (Dylan's affair with Baez helped destroy his relationship with Rotolo.) Then the guy gets into a car and emerges on the other side with an electric guitar case. This signifies Dylan's going electric in '65 at the Newport Folk Festival, a change which enraged the die-hard folkies and doctrinaire leftists who thought they owned Dylan as a mouthpiece for their views. A quick shot of a newpaper in a trash can with the headline "Dylan Goes Electric" appears just in case you missed the subtlety of the auto entry-exit sequence. After that we see a downed motorcycle representing Dylan's motorcycle accident, an event that brings to a close the existentialist-absurdist-surrealist phase of the mid-60s trilogy, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. After the accident Dylan is further from the mind and closer to the earth. Dylan the psychedelically deracinated returns to his roots in the Bible and Americana with John Wesley Harding. The girl in the brass bed is an allusion to "Lay Lady Lay" ("lay across my big brass bed") from the Nashville Skyline album. Dylan then colaesces with the man in black (Johnny Cash), and steps over and through the detritus of what remains the hippy-trippy 60's and into the disco era, his Christian period, marked by the 1979 Slow Train Coming and a couple of subsequent albums, his marriage to a black back-up singer, and on into the later phases of the life of this protean bard on never-ending tour.
By the way, that’s the first time I’ve seen “judge” rhymed with “grudge” since Bob Dylan’s “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine),” from Blonde on Blonde. Here’s the recording.
Dylan’s lyric (not for the first time) is pretty appropriate to our situation:
Well the judge He holds a grudge He’s gonna call on you. But he’s badly built And he walks on stilts Watch out he don’t fall on you.
There is now on the U.S. Supreme Court an intellectually sub-par Puerto Rican woman whose entire career has been essentially founded on a grudge against whites, a judge who makes her pro-Hispanic, anti-white agenda an explicit element in her judging. “The judge, she holds a grudge.”
Sotomayor is not the first of that kind, however. Another Supreme Court sub-competent, Thurgood Marshall, openly stated to one of his colleagues that the philosophy behind his judging was that “It’s our [blacks’] turn now.”
Thinking about the murder of motivational speaker and “positive, loving energy” guru Jeff Locker in East Harlem this week, where he had been pursuing an assignation with a young lady not his wife but got himself strangled and stabbed to death in his car by the damsel and her two male accomplices instead, I realized that this is yet another contemporary event that Bob Dylan has, in a manner of speaking, got covered. Here is the recording and below are the lyrics of Dylan’s 1964 song, “Spanish Harlem Incident,” where the singer, with his “pale face,” seeks liberating love from an exotic dark skinned woman, and is “surrounded” and “slayed” by her. The song reflects back ironically on the Jeff Locker case, presenting the more poetical side of the desires that, on a much coarser and stupider level, led Locker to his horrible death. By quoting it, I’m not making light of murder, readers know how seriously I take murder. But when a man gets himself killed through such an accumulation of sin and gross folly, a man, moreover, whose New Agey belief in positive energy and transformative love apparently left him unable to see the obvious dangers he had put himself in, there is, unavoidably, a humorous aspect to it.
SPANISH HARLEM INCIDENT
Gypsy gal, the hands of Harlem Cannot hold you to its heat. Your temperature is too hot for taming, Your flaming feet are burning up the street. I am homeless, come and take me To the reach of your rattling drums. Let me know, babe, all about my fortune Down along my restless palms.
Gypsy gal, you’ve got me swallowed. I have fallen far beneath Your pearly eyes, so fast and slashing, And your flashing diamond teeth. The night is pitch black, come and make my Pale face fit into place, oh, please! Let me know, babe, I’m nearly drowning, If it’s you my lifelines trace.
I’ve been wonderin’ all about me Ever since I seen you there. On the cliffs of your wildcat charms I’m riding, I know I’m ‘round you but I don’t know where. You have slayed me, you have made me, I got to laugh halfways off my heels. I got to know, babe, ah, when you surround me, So I can know if I am really real.
Lawrence Auster died early this Good Friday morning. May he rest in peace and come to know what here below one can only believe. Here is Laura Wood's obituary. Auster's site will remain online and is well-worth reading. I must say, however, that I consider him an extremist and share Steve Burton's misgivings about his work. Auster's attacks on distinguished fellow conservatives are often wrongheaded and always tactically foolish, demonstrating as they do a failure to realize that politics is a practical business and that the best and the better are often the enemy of the good. We need a broad coalition to defeat leftists and Islamists. A certain amount of intramural squabbling is to be expected and may even be healthy, but not if it ramps up to internecine warfare. Dennis Prager is not the enemy because he is optimistic about e pluribus unum while you are not. Know who the enemy is.
With Auster and other ultra conservatives, however, it seems one can never be too far Right, and that one who grants the least scintilla of validity to any liberal notion is just as much an enemy as the hardest hard-core left-winger. From a practical point of view, such extremism is profoundly stupid. The ultras will end up talking to themselves in their narrow enclaves and have no effect on the wider culture all the while feeding their false sense of their own significance.
Ideological extremism is a fascinating topic. There are leftists for whom one cannot be too far Left, rightists for whom one cannot be too far Right, and, as we have recently observed in the case of Thomas Nagel and his latest book, atheistic naturalists for whom one cannot be too much of an atheist and too much of a naturalist.
Poor Nagel: atheist, naturalist, liberal. But still too reasonable and balanced and philosophical for the fanatics and hard-liners of scientistic ideology. Shunned by his own kind, Nagel must turn to theists, anti-naturalists, and conservatives for appreciation and serious discussion.
Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence. Burke agrees with Plato that in the statesman, prudence is chief among virtues. Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away. As John Randolph of Roanoke put it, Providence moves slowly, but the devil always hurries. Human society being complex, remedies cannot be simple if they are to be efficacious. The conservative declares that he acts only after sufficient reflection, having weighed the consequences. Sudden and slashing reforms are as perilous as sudden and slashing surgery.
How does Barack Obama stack up against this fourth principle? Permit me a slight exaggeration: Obama is the apotheosis of imprudence. Like Randolph's "devil who always hurries," he is in a big rush to "fundamentally transform America" (his words), as witness Obamacare and Obama's stunning fiscal irresponsibility. The national debt approaches 17 trillion (by a very conservative measure) and the man thinks that not a problem. Well, as Krazy Krugman says, the government is not like a household: the government can print money! Yes it can. And will.
At once a devil and a deification. We are in for it.
'Conservative sociologist' smacks of an oxymoron, does it not? So just for fun this morning I typed the phrase into my search engine of choice and was directed to The Conservative Sociologist where I encountered the graphic below. The proprietor of the site is of the female persuasion. We need more distaff bloggers, though not a federal program to encourage them.
Support for Obama among 18-29 year olds exceeds that of any other age cohort. Reason Magazine's Nick Gillespie argues that Obama is in the process of "screwing them big time." Gillespie is right. What caught my eye, however, was Gillespie's explanation of why conservatives fail to get the youth vote:
I'd argue that what makes "the conservative message" resonate less among younger people is its, well, conservatism on things such as war, alternative lifestlyes, [sic] drug legalization, and immigration. Younger people are less hung up on the sorts of things that really twist conservatives' knickers. And young people then assume that many of the other things that conservatives espouse - such as generally free markets and open trade - are similarly warped. That conservatives are so inconsistent with their basic message - We want smaller government...except when we're talking about immigrants, the gays, and the ability to kill people overseas! - doesn't help matters, either. Most people surely don't prize consistency as much as libertarians do, but the obvious contradictions at the heart of conservative philosophy are off-putting to anyone with the smallest taste for consistency.
As a philosopher, logical consistency looms large for me. And so you will get my attention 'big time' if you can lay out for me "the obvious contradictions at the heart of conservative philosophy." But if they are obvious, then presumably all you need to do is draw my attention to them.
Unfortunately, public intellectuals, not being logically trained as most philosophers are, have an egregiously spongy notion of what a contradiction is. This is true of even very good public intellectuals such as Nat Hentoff and Nick Gillespie. (Hentoff, for whom I have a very high degree of respect, thinks one is being inconsistent if one is pro-life and yet supports capital punishment. He is demonstrably wrong.)
Ignoring Gillespie's invective and hyperbole, his point seems to be that the following propositions are logically inconsistent:
1. The legitimate functions of government are limited.
2. Among the the legitimate functions of government are national defense, securing of the borders, and preservation of traditional marriage's privileged position.
Now it should be obvious that these propositions are logically consistent: they can both be true. They are not logical contradictories of each other.
It is therefore foolish for Gillespie to accuse conservatives of inconsistency. And to speak of obvious inconsistency is doubly foolish. What he needs to do is argue that the governmental functions that conservatives deem necessary and legitimate are neither. This will require a good deal of substantive argumentation and not a cheap accusation of 'inconsistency.' For example, he can mount an economic argument for open borders. I wish him the best of luck with that. He will need it.
Curiously, Gillespie's own reasoning can be used against him. Suppose an anarchist comes along. Using Gillespie's own form of reasoning, he could argue that Gillespie the libertarian is being inconsistent. For he wants smaller government . . . except when it comes to the protection of life, liberty, and property (the Lockean triad, I call it). Then he wants coercive government to do its thing and come down hard on the malefactors. He's inconsistent! If he were consistent in his desire for limited government, he would favor no government. His libertarianism would then collapse into anarchism.
So by his own understanding of consistency, Gillespie is not being consistent. The same reasoning that he uses against conservatives can be used against him. The reasoning is of course invalid in both applications. It is invalid against the libertarian and equally so against the conservative.
But I like his black leather jacket schtick. It is always a pleasure to see him on the O'Reilly Factor.
A Fox News anchor's reportage from earlier today betrays presumably inadvertent bias. The anchor said that Pope Benedict XVI is "a conservative not in favor of many reforms." A reform is not merely a change, but an improvement. The Wikipedia article gets it right: "Reform means the improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt, unsatisfactory, etc."
"A conservative not in favor of reforms" therefore implies that conservatives are not in favor of the improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt, unsatisfactory, etc. And to describe the current pontiff using the phrase in question is to imply that he is not in favor of improvement or amendment of what needs improving or amending.
The Fox News anchor could have avoided the biased formulation by reporting what is true in neutral language, e.g., "The Pope, being a conservative, is skeptical of changes." Or something like that.
Conservatives tend to resist change. That is not to say that conservatives are opposed to what they take to be ameliorative changes. For a conservative, there is a defeasible presumption in favor of traditional beliefs and practices. Note the adjective 'defeasible.' Liberals, being more open to change, lack this presumption in favor of the traditional.
The paragraph I just wrote is an example of neutral writing. It does not take sides; it merely reports a salient difference between conservatives and liberals.
As I have said many times, language matters. It is particularly important that conservatives not adopt the slovenly speech habits of liberals. Much of liberal-left phraseology is rigged to beg questions and shut down debate. That is exactly the purpose of such coinages as 'homophobe' and 'Islamophobe.' To call a person who argues that radical Islam is a serious threat to the West and its values an 'Islamaphobe,' for example, is to deflect attention from the objective content of his utterances so as to focus it on his mental state. Since a phobia is an irrational fear by definition, calling someone an Islamophobe is a way of refusing to engage the content of his utterances. It is a form of the genetic fallacy.
If you are a conservative, don't talk like a liberal!
For example, why do conservatives like O'Reilly and Hannity and Giuliani and a score more play the liberal game and speak of 'assault weapons'? Can't they see that it is an emotive phrase used by the Left -- the positions of which are mainly emotion-driven -- to appeal to fear and make calm discussion impossible?
Note the difference between 'semi-automatic long gun' and 'assault weapon.' Suppose you did a poll and asked whether ordinary citizen should be permitted to own assault weapons. I am quite sure that you would find that the number answering in the negative would be greater than if you framed the question correctly and non-emotively as "Do you think ordinary citizens should be permitted to own semi-automatic long guns?"
And why does Bill O'Reilly say things like,"Obama is for social justice? 'Social justice' is lefty-talk. it sounds good, but if the folks knew what it meant they would oppose it. See What is Social Justice?
It is the foolish conservative who acquiesces in the slovenly and question-begging speech patterns of liberals.
That is why both leftists and Islamists must be vigorously and relentlessly opposed if we care about our classically liberal values.
The trouble with the Islamic world is that nothing occurred in it comparable to our Enlightenment. In the West, Christianity was chastened and its tendency towards fanaticism put in check by the philosophers. Athens disciplined Jerusalem. (And of course this began long before the Enlightenment.) Nothing similar happened in the Islamic world. They have no Athens. (Yes, I know all about al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, et al. — that doesn’t alter the main point.) Their world is rife with unreasoning fanatics bent on destroying ‘infidels’ — whether they be Christians, Jews, Buddhists, or other Muslims. We had better wake up to this threat, or one day soon we will wake up to a nuclear ‘event’ in New York or Chicago or Los Angeles which kills not 3,000 but 300,000.
Now one would think that such a ringing statement would be greeted by two cheers of approbation, if not three, from anyone on the Right. To a fanatical right-winger, however, anyone who sees a scintilla of value in anything the least bit classically liberal is an enemy to be banished to the blogospheric equivalent of Siberia. For these ultra-reactionary extremists one cannot be Right enough. And so bonaldo the fanatic says the following:
After affirming his commitment to liberalism, MP asserts that Christianity is a false religion. Truth doesn’t need to be “chastened” or “checked”. Since truth never contradicts itself, the only thing that can check truth would be falsehood.
I have never asserted anywhere on this blog that Christianity is a false religion. The benighted bonaldo, however, takes this to be an implication of what I do say because he fancies himself to be in possession of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So fancying himself, he is blind to the importance of toleration, the touchstone of classical liberalism, and blind to the murderous intolerance that religions can breed. He quotes from a second post of mine, How Far Does Religious Toleration Extend?:
To the extent that Islam takes on jihadist contours, to the extent that Islam entails its imposition on humanity, it cannot and ought not be tolerated by the West. Indeed, no religion that attempts to suppress other religions can or ought to be tolerated, including Christianity. We in the West do, or at least should, believe that competition among religions in a free marketplace of ideas is a good thing.
Bonaldo sees something "ironic" in my position: "What about the belief system that suppresses all belief systems that would suppress other belief systems?" He ignores the fact that I have repeatedly said that toleration has limits. I am not advocating universal toleration. That would be incoherent. If one were universally tolerant, one would have to tolerate those who reject the principle of toleration. Said principle, however, is not a suicide pact. A toleration that tolerated every belief system would undermine itself. What I am saying, from the point view of my conservatism, is that:
No religion that attempts to suppress (by killing, imprisoning, or in any way harming) adherents of other religions ought to be tolerated. Toleration has limits. No religion or nonreligious ideology may be tolerated if it doesn't respect the principle of toleration. And so we ought not tolerate a religion whose aim is to suppress and supplant other religions and force their adherents to either convert or accept dhimmi status. Proselytization is tolerable but only if it is non-coercive. The minute it becomes the least bit coercive we have every right to push back vigorously.
Bonaldo speaks of "irony," but I think what he means is that my position is internally inconsistent. But it would be inconsistent only if I were advocating universal toleration -- which I am not. It would be inconsistent to maintain both that one ought to tolerate every belief system and suppress the belief system that suppresses other belief systems. But there is no logical inconsistency in maintaining what I do maintain. It is true: I want to suppress radical Muslims when their murderous beliefs spill over into murderous actions. And I extend that to radical religionists of any stripe who act upon murderous beliefs.
I'll be having more to say about ideological extremism later. Lawrence Auster is another prime offender. For just a small taste of his fanatical hostility to conservatives that don't toe his exact party line, see The Trouble with Larry.
The other night Bill O'Reilly said that a fetus is a potential human life. Not so! A fetus is an actual human life.
Consider a third-trimester human fetus, alive and well, developing in the normal way in the mother. It is potentially many things: a neonate, a two-year-old, a speaker of some language, an adolescent, an adult, a corpse. And let's be clear that a potential X is not an X. A potential oak tree is not an oak tree. A potential neonate is not a neonate. A potential speaker of Turkish is not a Turkish speaker. But an acorn, though only potentially an oak tree, is an actual acorn, not a potential acorn. And its potentialities are actually possessed by it, not potentially possessed by it.
The typical human fetus is an actual, living, human biological individual that actually possesses various potentialities. So if you accept that there is a general, albeit not exceptionless, prohibition against the taking of innocent human life, then you need to explain why you think a third-trimester fetus does not fall under this prohibition. You need to find a morally relevant difference -- not just any old difference, but a difference that makes a moral difference -- between the fetus and any born human individual.
Bill O'Reilly is not the brightest bulb on the marquee. And like too many conservatives, he has an anti-intellectual tendency. If I ran these simple ideas past him, he night well dismiss them with his standard Joe Sixpack "That's just theory" line. And that's unfortunate. Still, it's good to have this pugnacious Irishman on our side.
Could you add an addendum to your post on Bill O'Reilly explaining why you think a fetus is a human being? To me that sounds odd -- like saying that a tadpole is a frog. What makes a fetus so different from a tadpole or an acorn, that whereas an acorn is not an oak and a tadpole is not a frog, a fetus is a human?
Well, a tadpole is a frog, it is the larval stage of a frog. Of course, a tadpole is not an adult frog, but it is a frog. Morphologically, a tadpole is very different from an adult frog. It has gills not lungs, a tail not feet, etc. But there is more to it than morphology. Biologically, a tadpole is a frog.
We should also note that human beings, unlike frogs and butterflies, don't have a larval stage.
An acorn is not an oak tree. But a tadpole is a frog, and a fetus is a human being. So your last sentence is just wrong.
When the world and its hopelessness are too much with us, one can and must beat a retreat into the private life. Body culture, mind culture, hobbies, family life, the various escapes (which are not necessarily escapes from reality) into chess, fiction, religion, meditation, history, pure mathematics and science, one's own biography and the pleasant particulars of one's past, music, gardening, homemaking . . . .
I pity the poor activist for whom the real is exhausted by the political. But I detest these totalitarians as well since they seek to elide the boundary between the private and the public.
So we need to battle the bastards in the very sphere they think exhausts the real. But it is and must be a part-time fight, lest we become like them. Most of life for us conservatives must be given over to the enjoyment and appreciation, in private, of the apolitical: nature, for example, and nature's God.
One cannot be a philosopher without believing in the power of reason. But one cannot be a conservative without doubting its power to order our affairs and ameliorate our condition.
Equally, one cannot be a philosopher without doubting -- doubt being the engine of inquiry -- and one cannot be a conservative without believing, that is, without accepting as true much that one cannot prove.
To live well we must somehow tread a razor's edge between unexamined belief and beliefless examination.
It turns out that conservatives are happier than liberals. But why?
Conservative explanation. Marriage and religious faith are conducive to happiness. More conservatives are married than liberals, and more practice a religion. Ergo, conservatives as a group are happier than liberals as a group.
Liberal explanation. Conservatives are happier because they turn a blind eye to the injustices of the world. They are oblivious to inequality. And when they do see it,they rationalize it. Ignorance is bliss. Conservatives naively believe that people can better themselves by the practice of the old virtues of frugality, perseverance, hard work, self-control, deferral of gratification, and the like, when the truth is that people are products of their environment and need government help to do well.
As a conservative, I of course consider the liberal explanation to be bogus.
Do we conservatives, ostrich-like, ignore injustice? The answer depends on what one takes justice to be. The liberal tendency is to see justice as fairness, and to understand fairness in terms of material equality, equality of wealth and equality of power. A just society for a liberal, then, is one in which material inequality is either eliminated or severely mitigated. Along these lines the prominent political philosopher John Rawls puts forth his famous Difference Principle the gist of which is that social and economic inequalities in a society are justified only if they benefit the worst off, i.e., only if the worst off are better of than they would have been without the inequality.
But why should my having more than you be considered unjust unless it benefits you? Of course, my having more than you will typically benefit you. "A rising tide lifts all boats." My roof was leaking in two places. Now I could have done an amateur patch job myself: roofing ain't rocket science. But I decided to have the entire house professionally re-roofed with all that that entails in terms of new flashing, etc. My ability to afford such an expensive job gave support to a local company and all its jobbers, not to mention the crew of workers who had employment for a week. And having extra dough, I laid $60 in tips on the workers. I could give a hundred examples of how my having more than certain others benefits those others. When's the last time a poor man made a loan to a friend, or a contribution to a charity? How many poor people give people jobs? And of course people like me who are modestly well-off have been benefited in innumerable ways by people who are wealthy. Think of those who have endowed art museums and university chairs.
But suppose, contrary to fact, that my having more did not benefit others. Why should that affect the justice of my having more? If I work harder, longer, and smarter than you, and practice the old-fashioned virtues that liberals mock even when they themselves owe their success to them, then it is a good bet that I will end up with more than you. Unless I engage in force or fraud I am entitled to what I earn or what I inherit or what falls out of the sky into my lap. Take my intelligence and my good genes. Do I deserve them? No, but I have a right to them. I have a right to them and right to what I acquire by their use.
I grant that a certain amount of luck is ingredient in every success. But I have a right to my good luck even though I don't deserve it. Of course, liberals often 'see' luck where there is no luck at all but hard work and the exercise of conservative virtues. Hence the conservative saying, "The harder I work the luckier I become." The point is that what the liberal misconstrues as luck is really not luck at all but effort. Should we help life's unlucky? I should think so. But not if the helping is really a harming, a making of the recipients of charity weaker and more dependent.
Liberals consider it legitimate for the state to use its coercive powers to promote material equality by taking from the highly productive and giving to the unproductive and less productive. This cannot work in the long run. The well-off will resist being ripped off by government functionaries who line their own pockets and feather their nests with perquisites purchased at taxpayer expense. Many will expatriate. Government, it is clear, is too often a hustle like any hustle rigged by those who benefit from it for their own benefit. Government needn't be a hustle, but too often it is, which is why vigilance on the part of the citizenry is necessary to keep it in check.
The value of liberty trumps that of material equality. This is a key difference between conservative and libertarian on the one side and leftist on the other. Naturally I believe in formal equality, equality of treatment, treating like cases in a like manner, not discriminating on the basis of irrelevant criteria such as race, sex, or creed.
Of course, it depends on the creed. If you are a radical Muslim out to impose sharia and subvert our way of life, and act upon your beliefs, then you ought to be deported, or jailed, or executed, depending on the nature of your actions. You should never have been let in in the first place. After all, toleration, though a good thing, has limits, and if he do not see that it has limits then you are hopelessly foolish. In a word, you are a liberal.
Conservatives have broader moral sense than liberals. All praise to Haidt for having the openmindedness and courage to change his view, but I marvel at how incurious and bigoted he was before his metanoia. What sort of person ignores whole swaths of the intellectual terrain without any desire to explore at first hand? That sort of narrowness among supposed intellectuals has always amazed me. Analytic philosophers are a particularly bigoted bunch. Not all, of course, but far too many. Some even brag of their ignorance. "I have never read Hegel and I have no intention of reading him."
Then get out of here you contemptible bigot!
Before stumbling across the Muller anthology, the popular former University of Virginia psychology professor thought of conservatism as a “Frankenstein monster,” he says — an ugly mishmash of Christian fundamentalism, racism and authoritarianism.
So without any first-hand acquaintance with conservative thought, Haidt bought into an ugly misrepresentation. But, as I said, he has come around and ought to be praised for that.
At Yale, Mr. Haidt majored in philosophy to find some answers. Discovering that academic philosophy had abandoned the big questions of human nature, morality, and the good life, Mr. Haidt turned to psychology — and found his calling.
It is simply false to say that academic philosophy has abandoned the Big Questions. That was true in the '30s, '40s, and '50s for the logical positivists and some of their successors and fellow travellers, but by the time Haidt went to college in the '80s the Big Questions were securely back in the saddle even in the mainstream. To give but one example, consider Thomas Nagel 1979 collection of essays entitled Mortal Questions.
Q. Can an irreligious person really be a conservative?
A. Of course he can. The essence of modern conservatism is the belief in limited government power, respect for traditional values, patriotism, and strong national defense. The only one of those that gets snagged on religion is the second. But while traditional Western society has had a religious background, it has usually made room, at all points of the political spectrum, for unbelievers. Plenty of great names in the Western cultural tradition have been irreligious. Mark Twain, America's greatest writer, was a complete atheist; and one has one's doubts about Shakespeare. In any case, as Bill Buckley has pointed out somewhere, the key word is respect. Respect for traditional values implies respect for religious belief, even if you don't share it. The really interesting question is not "Can an irreligious person be a conservative," but "Can a militant God-hater be a conservative?"
I'd go a bit further than that. Conservatism, including (including especially, I think) religious conservatism, has at its core an acceptance of, a respect for, human nature. We conservatives are the people who see humanity plain, or strive to, and who wish to keep our society in harmony with what we see. Paul Johnson has noted how leftists always used to talk about building socialism. Capitalism doesn't require building. It's just what happens if you leave people alone. It arises, in short, from human nature, and only needs harmonizing under some mild, reasonable, laws and customary restraints. You don't have to build it by forging a New Capitalist Man, or anything like that.
Leaving people alone, I like. Capitalism, I like. Social harmony, I like. Human nature . . . Well, it has its unappealing side. I don't count religious feeling as necessarily on that side, though; and I do count religious feeling — stronger in some individuals, weaker in others, altogether absent in a few — a key component of the human personality at large. To be respected ipso facto.
It is well known by now that NRO has cut its ties with John Derbyshire ('Derb') over the latter's publication in another venue of The Talk: Nonblack Version. Both Rich Lowry and Andrew McCarthy have commented on this severing of ties and both sets of comments are unbelievably lame. Here is the substance (or rather 'substance') of McCarthy's response (numerals added):
 We believe in the equal dignity and presumption of equal decency toward every person — no matter what race, no matter what science tells us about comparative intelligence, and no matter what is to be gleaned from crime statistics.  It is important that research be done, that conclusions not be rigged, and that we are at liberty to speak frankly about what it tells us.  But that is not an argument for a priori conclusions about how individual persons ought to be treated in various situations — or for calculating fear or friendship based on race alone.  To hold or teach otherwise is to prescribe the disintegration of a pluralistic society, to undermine the aspiration of e pluribus unum.
Ad . Well, don't we all (including Derb) believe in the equal dignity of human persons regardless of race, creed, national origin, sex, age? Is McCarthy suggesting that Derb rejects this principle? But of course equality of rights is not the same as empirical equality. That people are not empirically equal is a factual claim in two senses of 'factual': it is a non-normative claim, and it is a true claim. That people have equal rights is a normative claim. The non-normative and normative claims are logically independent. One cannot infer empirical equality from normative equality. More importantly, one cannot infer normative inequality from empirical inequality. For example, human infants are pretty much helpless, but this fact does not detract from their equal right to life. Women are on average shorter than men, and less muscular, but these facts do not detract from their status as persons, as rights-possessors. 90 year-olds tend to be more frail than 60 year-olds, but this fact does not entail that a 90 year-old is less of a person, has a lesser normative status, than a 60 year-old.
Ad . Who could disagree with this bromide?
Ad . It is in his third sentence where McCarthy ascends into Cloud Cuckoo Land. Suppose it is a fact that "Blacks are seven times more likely than people of other races to commit murder, and eight times more likely to commit robbery." A fact is a fact. There are no false facts, and there are no racist facts. There are racial facts (facts about race), but a racial fact is not a racist fact. Now suppose I encounter at night, in a bad part of town, an "individual person" in McCarthy's phrase whom I do not know, a person who is young, male, black, and dressed gangsta-style. His dark glasses prevent me from seeing his eyes and judging his sobriety. His deep pockets might conceal a pistol. Would I be justified in using statistical common sense and avoiding said individual? Of course. The guy might be harmless, but I do not know that. I do know that he fits the profile of an individual who could cause me some serious trouble. Common sense dictates that I give him a wide berth just as I would with a drunken Hells (no apostrophe) Angel exiting a strip joint. There are no black Hells Angels, by the way.
Does that mean that I don't consider the black man or the biker to have rights equal to mine? No. It means that I understand that we are not mere rights-possessors or Kantian noumenal agents, but also possessors of animal bodies and socially formed (and mal-formed) psyches and that these latter facts induce empirical inequalities of various sorts.
Am I drawing an a priori conclusion when I avoid the black guy? Of course not. My reasoning is a posteriori and inductive. I am reasoning from certain perceived facts: race (not skin color!), behavior, dress, location, time of day, etc. to a conclusion that is rendered probable (not certain) by these facts. And note that in a situation like this one does not consider "race alone" in McCarthy's phrase. If I considered "race alone" then there would be no difference between the dude I have just described and Condoleeza Rice.
Is my inductive reasoning and consequent avoidance behavior morally censurable? Of course not. After all, I have a moral duty to attend to my own welfare. (See Kant on duties to oneself.) If anything, my reasoning and behavior are morally obligatory. And I am quite sure that Andrew McCarthy would reason and behave in the same way in the same circumstances.
Ad . What McCarthy is saying here is nonsense and beneath commentary. But I will point out the tension between calling for a "pluralistic society" while invoking the phrase e pluribus unum, "out of many, one." One wonders how long before McCarthy cries for more "diversity."
The Pee Cee conservative is an interesting breed of cat. We shall have to study him more carefully.
I'm a first year undergraduate philosophy student with some very muddled political views. My father has always been a staunch supporter of the Left to the point of being prejudiced against all things on the conservative or Right side as 'religious' and 'money grubbing' . I never questioned any of his beliefs until perhaps a year or two ago. Now that I have began studying philosophy I cannot ignore this lazy neglect and the time has come to develop my own political views.
The next time you talk to your father point out to him that there is nothing in the nature of conservatism to require that a conservative be religious. There are conservative theists, but also plenty of conservative atheists. (I am blurring the distinction between religion and theism, but for present purposes this is not a problem.) Below you mention David Horowitz. The Left hates him for being an apostate, but his conversion to conservatism did not make a theist of him. He is an agnostic. Conservatism at one end shades off into libertarianism, one of the main influences on which is Ayn Rand. She was a strident atheist.
Opposition to conservatism is often fueled by opposition to religion. But surely one can be conservative without being religious just as one can be religious without being conservative. There is a religious Right, but there is also a religious Left, despite the fact that 'religious Left' is a phrase rarely heard. Here in the States a lot of liberal/left mischief originates from the Reverend Jesse Jackson, the Reverend Al Sharpton, and the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. (One may well doubt whether these gentlemen are worthy of the 'R' honorific, not to mention the 'G' honorific.)
As for 'money-grubbing,' you might point out to your father that there are money-grubbers on both the Right and the Left, and that there is nothing in the nature of conservatism to require that a conservative be a money-grubber. In fact, studies have shown that conservatives are much more charitable and generous than liberals/leftists. See Conservatives are More Liberal Givers. It is sometimes said that capitalism has its origin in greed. But this is no more true than that socialism has its origin in envy.
To feel envy is to feel diminished by the success or well-being of others. Now suppose someone were to claim that socialism is nothing be a reflection of envy: a socialist is one who cannot stand that others have things that he lacks. Driven by envy alone, he advocates a socio-political arrangment in which the government controls everything from the top, levelling all differences of money and status, so that all are equal. Surely it would be unfair to make such a claim. Socialism does not have its origin in envy, but in a particular understanding of justice and what justice demands. Roughly, the idea is that justice demands an equal distribution of money, status and other social goods. Conservatives of course disagree with this understanding of justice. What we have are competing theories of justice. Just as it is a cheap shot to reduce socialism to envy, it is a cheap shot to reduce a free market approach to greed.
It was namely for the philosophical content that I started reading your blog but I gradually became enthralled with your conservative views . They have uprooted many of my fickle Left-leaning political ideas . Now I am left increasingly uncertain about many political questions that I commonly held as beautifully obvious. I have began noticing the phenomenon of 'political correctness ' at University and am not entirely sure what to think of it.
Are there specific books you recommend for anyone who wants to find some sense in this Liberal climate ? I have been considering picking up some of Horowitz' writings.
I am glad that my writing has had the effect of opening new perspectives for you. Unfortunately, universities have become hotbeds of political correctness and indoctrination when they should be places where ideas of all sorts are critically and openly examined. I would recommend Horowitz to you, in particular, Destructive Generation, Left Illusions, Radical Son, and Unholy Alliance. He has also written a couple of books on the politicization of the universities. Among academic philosophers, I recommend the works of John Kekes.
Liberals tend to oppose cooperation to competition, and vice versa, as if they excluded each other. "We need more cooperation and less competition." One frequently hears that from liberals. But competition is a form of cooperation. As such, it cannot be opposed to cooperation. One cannot oppose a species to its genus.
Consider competitive games and sports. The chess player aims to beat his opponent, and he expects his opponent to share this aim: No serious player enjoys beating someone who is not doing his best to beat him. But the competition is predicated upon cooperation and is impossible without it. There are the rules of the game and the various protocols governing behavior at the board. These are agreed upon and respected by the players and they form the cooperative context in which the competition unfolds. We must work together (co-operate) for one of us to emerge the victor. And in this competitive cooperation both of us are benefited.
Is there any competitive game or sport for which this does not hold? At the Boston Marathon in 1980, a meshuggeneh lady by the name of Rosie Ruiz jumped into the race ahead of the female leaders and before the finish line. She seemed to many to have won the race in the female category. But she was soon disqualified. She wasn't competing because she wasn't cooperating. Cooperation is a necessary condition of competition.
In the business world, competition is fierce indeed. But even here it presupposes cooperation. Fed Ex aims to cut into UPS' business -- but not by assassinating their drivers. If Fed Ex did this, it would be out of business. It would lose favor with the public, and the police and regulatory agencies would be on its case. The refusal to cooperate would make it uncompetitive. 'Cut throat' competition does not pay in the long run and makes the 'cut throat' uncompetitive.
If you and I are competing for the same job, are we cooperating with each other? Yes, in the sense that our behavior is rule-governed. We agree to accept the rules and we work together so that the better of us gets the appointment. The prosecution and the defense, though in opposition to each other, must cooperate if the trial is to proceed. And similarly in other cases.
Is assassination or war a counterexample to my thesis? Suppose two warring factions are 'competing' for Lebensraum in a no-holds-barred manner. If this counts as a case of competition, then this may be a counterexample to my thesis. But it is not that clear that the Nazis, say, were competing with the Poles for Lebensraum. This needs further thought. Of course, if the counterexample is judged to be genuine, I can simply restrict my thesis to forms of competition short of all-out annihilatory war. Or I could say that rule-governed competition is a species of cooperation.
Competition, then, contrary to liberal dogma, is not opposed to cooperation. Moreover, competition is good in that it breeds excellence, a point unappreciated, or insufficiently appreciated, by liberals. This marvellous technology we bloggers use every day -- how do our liberal friends think it arose? Do they have any idea why it is so inexpensive? Competition!
Not only does competition make you better than you would have been without it, it humbles you. It puts you in your place. It assigns you your rightful position in life's hierarchy. And life is hierarchical. The levellers may not like it but hierarchies have a way of reestablishing themselves.
My two cents on why so many people who hold conservative views come across as inarticulate: most of the values that ordinary, conservative people live by do not require much reflection or explanation. After all, how much justification does a man need for being loyal to his friends, not cheating his customers, and being kind to his neighbors? It is the man who seeks to undermine those values who needs the rhetorical dodges and obfuscations. It takes little mental skill to tell a lie, but it takes quite a bit of deviousness to construct a justification for abolishing the principle of honesty altogether . . . .
My correspondent supplies part of the explanation. For those with a conservative bent there is a defeasible presumption in favor of traditional practices, beliefs, and values. They place the burden of proof on those who would question the traditional practices, beliefs, and values. For the conservatively inclined there is no need to justify that loyalty is good, cheating is wrong, being kind is better than being cruel, and that killing infants is murder. Feeling, with some justification, no need to justify his practices, beliefs, and values, the conservative rarely acquires the skills to do so, and so comes across as inarticulate and unreflective to those skilled in the verbal arts. Of course, I am talking not about conservative intellectuals but about ordinary conservative folk and their political and talk-show representatives.
What my correspondent may not appreciate, however, is that it is not enough to have the right views and values; one must also know how to articulate and defend them when they come under attack. And this is where conservatives are woefully inadequate. How many conservatives could say what I said in the preceding paragraph? Can you imagine George W. Bush speaking of "a defeasible presumption in favor of traditional practices, beliefs, and values"? Even if he could get the words out without stumbling, could he explain what they mean? His defense of marriage consisted of the repetition of the flat-footed, "Marriage is between a man and a woman." A gratuitous assertion, however, calls forth a gratuitous counter-assertion. His mere assertion, unexplained and unjustified, makes him appear a bigot to those who find opposition to same-sex marriage 'discriminatory.' What he ought to have done is provide a brief justification of why the state is involved in marriage in the first place and why same-sex 'marriage' is not something the state should support. But could he do that off the top of his head? I doubt it. He's got the right view, but he can't defend it. And that's the problem.
Or consider Charlie Sykes the talk-show host I mentioned the other day. He claimed that the reasoning in support of the moral acceptability of infanticide was "academic gobbledygook." When you say something like that about careful and clear reasoning, you make yourself out to be a dumbass, allergic to distinctions and nuances. You come across as a rube, a redneck, a hick, a yahoo, an anti-intellectual, an Archie Bunker, a beer-swilling, sports-watching, tobacco-chewing ignoramus, a benighted denizen of fly-over country. Many others who got worked up over that infanticide article claimed that it was 'illogical,' thereby betraying a failure to understand what logic is. They thought that since the conclusion is morally outrageous, which of course it is, the reasoning to it had to be incorrect. But that's an elementary mistake since one can reason correctly to a false conclusion.
A local talk show guy, Mike Gallagher I think it was, was fulminating againt the article in question and came out with the remark that 'medical ethics' is an oxymoron. Well of course it isn't. What he was trying to say was that a medical ethicist who argues that infanticide is morally permissible cannot be an ethicist . . . .
Or consider my man O'Reilly. He often points out that we live in a capitalist country. It's true, more or less. But citing a fact does not amount to a justification of the fact. What O'Reilly may be incapable of doing is to provide arguments including moral arguments in favor of capitalism. That is what is needed in the face of libs and lefties who, when told that we live in a capitalist country, will respond, "Well then, let's change it!"
But having a nasty streak of anti-intellectualism in him, O'Reilly would probably dismiss such arguments as mere 'theory' in his Joe Sixpack sense of the term.
Conservatives, by and large, are doers not thinkers, builders, not scribblers. They are at home on the terra firma of the concrete particular but at sea in the realm of abstraction. The know in their dumb inarticulate way that killing infants is a moral outrage but they cannot argue it out with sophistication and nuance in a manner to command the respect of their opponents. And that's a serious problem
To beat the Left we must out-argue them in the ivory towers and out-slug them in the trenches. Since by Converse Clausewitz politics is war conducted by other means, the trench-fighters need to employ the same tactics that lefties do: slanders, lies, smears, name-calling, shout-downs, pie-throwing, mockery, derision. And now I hand off to Robert Spencer commenting on Andrew Breitbart.
Politics is war and war is ugly. We could avoid a lot of this nastiness if we adopted federalism and voluntary Balkanization. But that is not likely to happen: the totalitarian Left won't allow it. So I predict things are going to get hot in the coming years.
The problem with conservatism is that it is a school of political activity based almost completely on nonconfrontation. It is quietist, scholarly, and unassuming, acting very much in the mode of the upper-class William F. Buckley and the reclusive Russell Kirk. This is not altogether a bad thing. Conservatives have always argued -- with some justice -- that a major goal of the movement is to maintain standards, to avoid descending to the level of the opposition. But like anything else, it becomes a bad thing when it is taken too far, when conservatives allow themselves -- as they so often do -- to be bullied out of the arena and on to the sidelines and irrelevance. (Buckley, to his credit, and as Gore Vidal well knows, never allowed it to go quite this far.) This is so common that it shocks both sides when it occurs otherwise. Recall the "blue-blazer riot" at the 2000 Florida election recount, with all the staid, Brooks-wearing paleos banging on the windows and shouting, "I say there," at the vote-counters. Nobody ever saw that before. The problem is, we haven't seen it since, either.
This is not meant as an attack on the bow-tie brigade. We need those types. We need the WASP ethos and the civilized behavior that it promotes. But we also need the hard boys in their black t-shirts and shades who can jump into the trenches and give as good as they get -- the kind of cadre that conservatism has for many years lacked.
As I write, the 'infanticide is just post-natal abortion' controversy is being discussed by Charlie Sykes who is sitting in for Dennis Prager on the latter's radio show. Sykes is obviously intelligent, but he just did something that is not uncommon for conservatives to do but is harmful to the conservative cause, namely, display an anti-intellectual attitude. He used the phrase "academic gobblydegook" to refer to the reasoning in After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live? (My discussion of the issues here.)
The article's reasoning, however, is clear and free of unnecessary jargon. For the anti-intellectual, however, any attempt to make necessary distinctions and couch them in a technical vocabulary is dismissed as 'gobbledegook,' 'hairsplitting,' 'semantics,' etc. It's unfortunate but it is the way too many conservatives are. I am not talking about conservative intellectuals, but conservatives that have influence. Bill O'Reilly is an example. He does good work, and his influence is mainly salutary. But when a guest begins to nuance the discussion with a distinction or two, O'Reilly dismisses it as 'theory' using the word in the way of Joe Sixpack. (That would make a good separate post, "Joe Sixpack on 'Theory'")
Conservatives have the right views but are too often incapable of defending them. This makes them easy targets for leftists. Liberals and leftists lack common sense including moral sense, but they possess verbal facility in spades. So if you talk like George W. Bush or dismiss careful, albeit wrongheaded, reasoning as 'gobbledegook' you just make yourself look stupid, not just to liberals but to everyone who values careful thinking.
1. Toleration is the touchstone of classical liberalism, and there is no denying its value. Our doxastic predicament requires it of us. We have beliefs galore but precious little knowledge, especially as regards the large and enduring questions. Lacking knowledge, we must inquire. For that we need freedom of inquiry, and a social and political environment in which inquiry is, if not encouraged, at least allowed. But people who are convinced that they have the truth would stop us. "Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies." (Human All-Too-Human #483) This is typical Nietzschean exaggeration, but there is a sound point at its core: People who are convinced that they have the truth will not inquire whether it really is the truth. Worse, they will tend to impose their 'truth' on us and prevent our inquiry into truth. Many of them will not hesitate to suppress and murder their opponents.
My first point, then, is that toleration is a good because truth is a good. We must tolerate a diversity of views, and the people who maintain them, because we lack the truth and must find it, and to do so we must search. But we cannot search if we are under threat from fanatics and the intolerant. Freedom of inquiry and freedom of expression are important because truth is important.
This implies that we must tolerate many views and actions and people who are deeply offensive to us. The 'artist' Serrano of "Piss-Christ" notoriety is a good example. He has a right to express himself as he does, just as we have a right to protest against him. He has no right to taxpayer money, however, and any liberal who thinks that a refusal of government sponsorship amounts to censorship is an idiot pure and simple.
2. But how far does toleration extend? Ought one tolerate those who do not respect the principle of toleration? To me it is self-evident that one ought not. If toleration is truly a value, then one ought to demand it not only of oneself but of others. My toleration meets its limit in your intolerance. I cannot tolerate your intolerance, for if I do, I jeopardize the very principle of toleration, and with it the search for truth.
Radical Islam, in its fanaticism and murderous intolerance, has no claim on the West's tolerance. It is no breach of tolerance on our part to demand that they behave themselves. We must also demand of them that if they want to be tolerated, they must tolerate others, Jews for example. They must not be allowed to benefit from the West's tolerance in order to preach intolerance and hate. Just as they have right to their beliefs, we have a right to ours, and a right to enforce our beliefs about toleration on them if they would live in our midst.
3. Toleration is a value because truth is a value. A toleration worth wanting and having is therefore not to be confused with indifference towards truth, or relativism about truth. Leszek Kolakowski makes this point very well:
It is important to notice, however, that when tolerance is enjoined upon us nowadays, it is often in the sense of indifference: we are asked, in effect, to refrain from expressing -- or indeed holding -- any opinion, and sometimes even to condone every conceivable type of behaviour or opinion in others. This kind of tolerance is something entirely different, and demanding it is part of our hedonistic culture, in which nothing really matters to us; it is a philosophy of life without responsibility and without beliefs. It is encouraged by a variety of philosophies in fashion today, which teach us there is no such thing as truth in the traditional sense, and therefore that when we persist in our beliefs, even if we do so without aggression, we are ipso facto sinning against tolerance.
This is nonsense, and harmful nonsense. Contempt for truth harms our civilization no less than fanatical insistence on [what one takes to be] the truth. In addition, an indifferent majority clears the way for fanatics, of whom there will always be plenty around. Our civilization encourages the belief that everything should be just fun and games -- as indeed it is in the infantile philosophies of the so-called 'New Age.' Their content is impossible to describe, for they mean anything one wants them to; that is what they are for. ("On Toleration" in Freedom, Fame, Lying, and Betrayal, Penguin 1999, pp. 36-37.)
4. To sum up. A toleration worth wanting and having is valuable because truth is valuable. It is threatened in two ways. It is threatened both by those who think that have the truth when they don't and those who are indifferent to truth. What is interesting is that the postmodernist nincompoops who deny truth in the name of toleration are powerless to oppose the fanatics who will impose their 'truth' by force. If all is relative, then the fanatics have all the justification they need to impose their 'truth' on us: it is true for them that they possess the absolute 'truth.'
What do you do when a beggar approaches you on the street? Do you give him money? I've given away food, but as a general rule it is foolish and wrong to give money to bums. Once, in downtown Phoenix, I came out of a rib joint with a box of luscious leftovers. A beggar approached asking for money for food. I opened the box, showed him the ribs, and said, "If you are hungry, you can have these." He thankfully accepted the gift and we both went away satisfied.
But if a bum asks for money, I refuse, sometimes adding, 'Get a job.' This isn't the Great Depression. There are jobs galore. That's why there is a Mexican invasion.
Beggars are for the most part scammers and liars. A bum in Hawaii once asked me for a quarter to make a phone call. I foolishly gave him the quarter. Later in the day, he passed me again and again asked for a quarter to make a phone call. (No, I am not hasty generalizing, I am illustrating a general proposition to the effect that bums are for the most part liars and scammers.) If you give beggars money, they will buy alcohol or drugs with it. Do you want to contribute to their further degradation? Do you want more inebriated people on the streets? Do you give any thought to what the bums do to others when drunk? But even if they use the money for a good purpose, by giving them a handout, you undermine what little work ethic they have.
It is not easy to be genuinely helpful to others. It takes thought, lest you make them worse.
Of course, I don't expect the typical liberal to understand this. For a guilt-ridden, feel-good liberal, one who substitutes emoting for thinking, one shows 'compassion' by contributing to people's dependence and degradation. It is not that liberals intend to degrade and make dependent, but that is the unintended consequence of their unthinking 'compassion.'
The conservative who refuses to aid and abet unproductive behavior is the man of true compassion. For he gives the bum a reason to cease his bumming. This is why the expression 'compassionate conservative' is ill-advised. True conservatism is compassionate by its very nature. The expression 'compassionate conservative' is a foolish concession to the Left, suggesting as it does that conservatives are not as a rule compassionate. It is an expression like 'articulate black,' which suggests that blacks are not as a rule articulate.
The better people are hard on themselves. The exemplify the anti-Bukowski property: they try. They set themselves difficult tasks and strive to complete them. They make intellectual, moral, spiritual, and physical demands of themselves. They are alive to the discrepancy between what they are and what they ought to be.
But they also know how to relax and enjoy life. Be hard on yourself, but honor yourself and permit yourself a bit of self-congratulation at obstacles overcome and goals attained. The true conservative knows how to appreciate and enjoy -- and that includes appreciating and enjoying dear old self.
In an earlier post I pointed out against Robert Samuelson that Social Security (SS), though in ways like a welfare scheme, is not a welfare scheme. Others are chiming in with Samuelson:
Social Security is a welfare program masquerading as an insurance program. People may think of it as forced savings, but that isn't how the program really works.
The trust fund and individual account aspects of Social Security are accounting gimmicks. The payroll taxes we pay in are not really saved for our retirements. They are already paying for the benefits of the current retirees. When we retire, if we are very lucky, we will live off the payroll taxes of the poor working stiffs who remain. The trust fund is stuffed with IOUs; the government has already spent the surpluses. Al Gore's lock box has been picked. Millions continue to draw benefits after they've already gotten back everything they paid in plus interest.
The second paragraph is wholly unexceptionable. But consider the fact that to be eligible for SS benefits, a worker must have completed 40 quarters of employment. That fact alone suffices to make it literally false that SS is a welfare program. Add to it the fact that the amount paid out also reflects how long one has been employed and what one's level of compensation has been. So although it is true that SS is like a welfare program in the ways Samuelson mentions, it is not, strictly speaking, a welfare scheme.
Language matters. Precision matters. And if not here, where? If you say what you know to be false for rhetorical effect then you undermine your credibility among those who you need to persuade. Conservatives don't need to persuade conservatives, and they will not be able to persuade leftists. They must pitch their message to the undecided who, if rational, will be put off by sloppy rhetoric and exaggeration.
I note that W. James Antle, III, the author of the linked article, refers to the SS system as "the liberals' Ponzi scheme." But of course it is not a Ponzi scheme. A Ponzi scheme, by definition, is a scheme set up with the intention of defrauding people for the benefit of those running the scheme. But there is nothing fraudulent about the SS sytem: the intentions behind it are good ones! The SS system is no doubt in dire need of reform if not outright elimination. But no good purpose is achieved by calling it a Ponzi scheme. That's either a lie or an exaggeration. Not good, either way. The most you can say is that it is like a Ponzi scheme in being fiscally unsustainable as currently structured.
Conservative exaggeration is politically foolish. Is it not folly to give ammo to the enemy? Is it not folly to choose a means (exaggeration and distortion) that is not conducive to the end (garnering support among the presently uncommitted)?
Despite their name, liberals seem uninterested or insufficiently interested in the 'real' liberties, those pertaining to property, money, and guns, as opposed to the 'ideal' liberties, those pertaining to freedom of expression. A liberal will go to any extreme when it comes to defending the right to express his precious self no matter how inane or obnoxious or socially deleterious the results of his self-expression; but he cannot muster anything like this level of energy when it comes to defending the right to keep what he earns or the right to defend himself and his family from the criminal element from which liberal government fails to protect him. He would do well to reflect that his right to express his vacuous self needs concrete back-up in the form of economic and physical clout. Scribbler that I am, I prize freedom of expression; but I understand what makes possible its retention.
Taxation then is a liberty issue before it is a 'green eyeshade' issue: the more the government takes, the less concrete liberty you have. Without money you can't get your kids out of a shitty public school system that liberals have destroyed with their tolerate-anything mentality; without money you cannot live in a decent and secure neighborhood. Without money you can't move out of a state such as California which is 'under water' due to liberal fiscal irresponsibility.
Taxation is a liberty issue. That is one thought as April 15th approaches. Another is that the government must justify its taking; the onus is not on you to justify your keeping. Government exists to serve us, not the other way around.
Conrad Black provides some historical perspective. A balanced assessment as the following excerpt demonstrates:
Roosevelt's social programs were left essentially unaltered for 20 years after he died, until President Lyndon Johnson cut taxes while expanding the social ambitions of the federal government with his Great Society War on Poverty, and massive job retraining efforts, coupled to great and long-delayed advances in civil rights. Kennedy and Johnson favored civil rights more actively than had their predecessors, and backed conservatives into pious humbug about the Constitution not allowing for federal imposition of voting rights and official social equality for African Americans. Johnson overcame that opposition and it was one of liberalism's finest hours. But the long Roosevelt-Truman-Eisenhower consensus frayed badly when Johnson, who had been a congressman during the New Deal years, determined to take it a long step further and proposed a policy extravaganza that promised to buy the end of poverty through social investment. As all the world knows, it was a disaster that destroyed the African American family and severely aggravated the welfare and entitlements crises.
Not Fade Away. The dingbat won't slink off into the sidelines. Pretty face, though. Too bad there's nothing behind it.
The late Ted Kennedy's favorite song actually was The Impossible Dream. Figures. It sums up the Left so well: the pursuit by any means of impossible mirage-ideals without regard for consequences. "To be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause." To be willing to break 100 million eggs for omelet-in-the-future.
So conservatives don't have ideals? Not at all. Ours are reality-based, grounded in genuine potentials of human action, and respectful of hard facts about man and nature.
I just heard Dennis Prager use this PC expression. I should send that boy an e-mail the gist of which would be: "If you are a conservative, don't talk like a liberal. Language matters." It's an asinine expression like so many leftist coinages. I won't repeat my reasons.
'Conservative activism' has an oxymoronic ring to it. Political activism does not come naturally to conservatives, as I point out in The Conservative Disadvantage. But the times they are a 'changin' and so I concluded that piece by saying that we now need to become active. "Not in the manner of the leftist who seeks meaning in activism for its own sake, but to defend ourselves and our values so that we can protect the private sphere from the Left's totalitarian encroachment. The conservative values of liberty and self-reliance and fiscal responsibility are under massive assault by the Obama administration . . . ."
We conservatives are at a certain disadvantage as compared to our leftist brethren. We don’t seek the meaning of our lives in the political sphere but in the private arena: in hobbies, sports, our jobs and professions, in ourselves, our families, friends, neighborhoods, communities, clubs and churches; in foot races and chess tournaments; in the particular pleasures of the quotidian round in all of their scandalous particularity.
We don't look to politics for meaning. Above all, we conservatives do not seek any transcendent meaning in the political sphere. We either deny that there is such a thing, or we seek it in religion, or in philosophy, or in meditation. A conservative who denies that there is ‘pie in the sky’ will certainly not seek ‘pie in the future.’ He will not, like the leftist, look to a human future for redemption. He understands human nature, its real possibilities, and its real limits. He is impervious to utopian illusions. He will accept no ersatz soteriology.
A conservative could never write a book with the title, The Politics of Meaning. Politics for a conservative is more like garbage-collecting: it is a dirty job; somebody has to do; it would be better if nobody had to do it; and we should all lend a hand in getting the dirty job done. But there is little by way of meaning, immanent or transcendent, in garbage collecting and sewage disposal: these are things one gets out of the way so that meaningful activities can first begin.
I’m exaggerating a bit. To write is to exaggerate, as a Frenchman might put it, which amounts to a meta-exaggeration. But I’m exaggerating to make a serious point. We conservatives don’t look for meaning in all the wrong places. And because we don’t, we are at a certain disadvantage. We cannot bring the full measure of our energy and commitment to the political struggle. We don't even use the word 'struggle.' We are not totally committed to defeating the totally committed totalitarians who would defeat us.
But now we need to become active. Not in the manner of the leftist who seeks meaning in activism for its own sake, but to defend ourselves and our values so that we can protect the private sphere from the Left's totalitarian encroachment. The conservative values of liberty and self-reliance and fiscal responsibility are under massive assault by the Obama administration. So if you value your life and liberty, you are well advised to inform yourself and take appropriate action.
So get off your conservative duff and vote! It matters. We must divest 'conservative activist' of its oxymoronic ring. There is too much at stake. Next week's election will be a watershed event.
"The poor" are to liberalism roughly what "the proletariat" is to Communism--a formalistic device for legitimating the assumption of power. What matters, for practical liberals, is not that (for example) the black illegitimacy rate has nearly tripled since the dawn of the Great Society; it is that a huge new class of beneficiaries has been engendered--beneficiaries who vote, and who feel entitled to money that must be taken from others. It is too seldom pointed out that a voter is a public official, and that the use of proffered entitlements to win votes amounts to bribery. For this reason John Stuart Mill pronounced it axiomatic that those who get relief from the state should be disfranchised. But such a proposal would now be called inhuman, which helps account for the gargantuan increase in the size and scope of federal spending. Corrupt politicians make headlines; but no honest politician dares to refer to the problem of corrupt voters, who use the state as an instrument of gain.
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The enemy, for socialism, is any permanent authority, whether it is a long-standing church or a holy scripture, whose tendency is to put a brake on political power. In fact power and authority are often confused nowadays: the thoroughly politicized man who seeks power can only experience and interpret authority as a rival form of power, because it impedes his ambition for a thoroughly politicized society. But authority is more nearly the opposite of power. It offers a standard of truth or morality that is indifferent and therefore often opposed to current desires and forces, standing in judgment over them. If God has revealed Himself to man, the progressive agenda may find itself seriously inconvenienced.
For this reason, religion is a source of deep anxiety to the liberal. He harps on its historical sins: Crusades, Inquisitions, witch burnings, wars. He never notices that the crimes of atheist regimes, in less than a century, have dwarfed those of all organized religions in recorded history. He sees Christianity's sporadic persecutions as being of its essence; he regards Communism's unbroken persecution as incidental to its potential for good. He warns of the "danger" posed by American fundamentalists (one of the most gentle and law-abiding segments of the population) and is unchastened by the results of "peace" in Vietnam and Cambodia.