Sunday, March 18, 2012

Why has American conservatism been such a flop?
Rod Dreher links to Jim Kalb, apparently a paleocon.

It helps to define what you mean by American conservatism. The Pilgrims? The ‘Enlightenment’ deist founding fathers? Burkean? Kirkian? The Old Right? Libertarian? Neocons going back to CIA operative Bill Buckley’s Cold Warrior statism running the Old Right off? But except for the neocons it’s all in retreat (our Ron Paul Revolution’s blacked out and even if we won they’d probably throw out the election; cue Emma Goldman quote).
At bottom, conservatism is the desire to remain true to type. So American conservatism is the desire for America to remain American.
But what does that mean? WASPs/northern Protestants only? Whether or not, why shouldn’t WASPs like being WASP, Germans like being German, etc.? Nothing wrong with that. Or a concept not an ethnos, a propositional nation (but with a few English values that can be universal)? The Old Republic? Freedom, live and let live, as long as you don’t harm others? (Government limited to that phrasing of the golden rule so we can all get along. Works for immigration: welcome! We don’t want to turn you into Protestants but play by this one rule of ours, which is not exclusively any faith’s; if you don’t, bye.)
The problem is that a good answer to such questions would require a coherent tradition, but too many features of American life are anti-traditional.

At one time, the effect of those features was limited by other aspects of American life: religion, localism, family values, ethnic ties, limited government, and an emphasis on law.
Right but those first few things shouldn’t be matters for the law.
American conservatism was a series of attempts to keep the current situation from coming about.

That effort required a strong emphasis on traditional limitations, which required some sort of authority to back them up. At the popular level the authority was usually the will of the Founders as embodied in the Constitution, together with Biblical religion and a concept of America as (as Lincoln said) an “almost chosen” nation.
Yes, authority. As a believer in a religion, Catholicism, based on it (revelation and immemorial custom in an institution we believe the Holy Ghost infallibly directs), that makes sense to me. So minarchy not anarchy; somebody to enforce the rule of law. Fallen human nature minus authority = selfishness or mob rule. (Mark in Spokane: yes, rights, but what about responsibilities?)

Of course loving your country, be it as your Anglo-American ethnos (Sailer: race as family) or concept of the peaceful republic the founding fathers intended, and wanting other countries to imitate and get the benefit of the best of your system (what the Statue of Liberty really means), is good, but ixnay on the arrogance of American exceptionalism: a whiff of Protestant America flipping off Catholic Europe and a hubris that leads directly to the recent atrocities in Afghanistan for example. (I won’t harp on that because of course that’s gone on as long as there’ve been armies but in our case that’s where it came from.) By the way Lincoln was a tyrant who trampled the Constitution; he wasn’t fighting to get rid of slavery. (The South has the right to secede, Lee was a hero and Sherman a war criminal.)

Anyway Kalb’s point seems the standard paleo/European Catholic trad one: arguing for more freedom and equality is only part of the same liberal problem (‘you Americans are compromised in principle, not really conservatives’) because freedom supposedly says error has rights so by supporting freedom you’re saying there’s no such thing as truth.
That view also tells us that all preferences, and all actors, are equally preferences and actors, with no higher standard to make one better than the other.
So they want a confessional state like Ireland and Spain used to be.

That accusation seems obviously not true. (Arguably so of really selfish, nasty philosophies like I understand Randianism is: blaming the Man for oppressing your wonderful self.) A libertarian says anything that harms another is out of bounds. As friend of the blog Jim C. says, error doesn’t have rights but people do. Defend them and you defend the church and yourselves. So John Courtney Murray and Vatican II were right. (But V2 wasn’t worth the harm it did the church. Better that it had never been born, or Catholics are best off ignoring it. It didn’t define any doctrine so you can do that! Bet the libs never told you that. I live in a Novus-free world – usually only seeing that occasionally on my video shoots for work, like seeing a church of a different faith – having a weekly Tridentine Mass: lætare!)

Equal opportunity, not equal outcomes, which of course would be unfair.

I guess I’m a bit Burkean (custom and order but not for their own sakes) and obviously a lot libertarian. Mark says I’m really a conservative, which I imagine means not selfish; thanks.

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