Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Christian RIght II 72

Synopsis of John W. Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience Chapter 1: How Conservatives Think

Modern conservatives have been cautious for decades in defining conservatism itself. Russell Kirk called its essence “the preservation of the ancient moral traditions of humanity” and Abraham Lincoln's “...adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried.” William F. Buckley never gave a firm definition. William Safire called a conservative “a defender of the status quo who, when change becomes necessary in tested institutions or practices, prefers that it come slowly and in moderation.” The Oxford Companion to Philosophy explained that the “ conservative approach is empirical as opposed to rationalistic, cautiously skeptical rather than dogmatic, and, in certain circumstances, seeks to preserve the status quo rather than engage in wholesale revolution or overthrow existing institutions.” In 2005, Reagan aide Michael Deaver published the brief essays of 54 people as Why I Am a Reagan Conservative,” and Dean notes that most avoided any definition of conservative.

Leading conservative scholars reject the notion that their thinking or beliefs can be described as an ideology. Republican Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania claimed, “Conservatism is common sense and liberalism is an ideology.” Dean regards this as sophistry; conservatism does in fact rise to the level of an ideology. But there is no “classic” conservatism, no Moses who began this movement and led followers to some promised land. Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (written in 1790) may be the closest such document. But Burke's defense of monarchy and aristocracy doesn't fit well with Americans.

James Burnham defined conservatives as having thirteen core beliefs. These are: 1) there is a transcendent factor vital to successful government; 2) human nature is corrupt, and therefore conservatives reject all utopian solutions to social problems; 3) tradition must be respected, and when change is unavoidable it must be undertaken cautiously; 4) governmental power must be diffused and limited by adhering to the “separation of powers” and “checks and balances” of the Constitution; 5) direct democracy must be rejected because people are not well informed and are easily misled; 6) in states' rights; 7) each branch of government must be autonomous and must resist encroachment of usurpation by any other; 8) public support of limited government must be encouraged in order to keep government in check; 9) the Constitution's principles have permanent value; 10) government must be decentralized and localized so that power is diffused; 11) private enterprise should be encouraged; 12) morality begins with the individual; and 13) Congress should be more powerful than the executive branch.

Dean follows this footnote of Burnham's 13 points with a warning: “The conservatism of Burnham and of an entire generation of conservative intellectuals has virtually disappeared as a functional political force, because it proved unable to stand up to the waves of demagogues, bigots, fanatics, malcontents, and assorted populists who have claimed the label for their own extremist aims. Leaders such as George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms and pat Robertson – along with many more pedestrian politicians, political operatives, and social activists in pursuit of thatever narrow agendas – have easily overwhelmed and pushed aside the principles of conservativre's founders. Had conservatism been entrenched enough to prevent expediency from overtaking critical thinking, it might not have been so easily uprooted. But conservatism was built on an unstable ground, and was not sufficiently fortified to weather such political storms.”

Dean notes that liberalism evolved slowly over centuries, whereas “modern conservatism was cobbled together, if not contrived, by a relatively small group of intellectuals during a brief period in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Modern conservatism was soon brought into elective politics in the 1950s; its followers then joined forces with Southern politicians in the 19670s, and began flirting with evangelical Christians in the 1970s. Conservatism's many factions were consolidated under Ronald Reagan's Republican party in the 1980s. Less than satisfied with their lot under Reagan, however , evangelical Christians increased their religiously motivated political zealotry in the late 1980s, throughout the 1990s, and into the new century.”

Conservative foundered and fudged on history in developing their own philosophy. Some had real trouble with the Declaration of Independence and its assertion that “all men are created equal.” Some asserted this was not legally binding and not the intend of the subsequent Constitution. Some asserted that the American war for independence was a limited and minor war over separation of powers and a moderate and prudent affair.

The Constitution was profoundly radical and liberal in establishing a federal system that coexisted with state and local governments, defiantly trampling on the status quo. Madison himself stated that the founders “have not suffered a bind veneration for antiquity, for custom” but rather employed “numerous favor of private rights and public happiness.” Madison also said, “precedent could not be discovered,” for there was no other government “on the face of the globe” that provided a model.

Far from venerating the principles of the past, or feeling bound by custom, our nation's founders relied on reason, which is anathema for many of today's conservatives,” Dean tells us.

Dean notes that conservatives would be consistent with the anti-federalist position of the Articles of Confederation, an argument made by Clyde Wilson. “Fortunately such thinking did not carry the day, but it has been prevalent from the outset of the conservative movement,” Dean notes.

Nash isolated a key question facing the early conservatives: “How could a nation conceived in violence and dedicated to universal rights ever by called 'conservative'?”

Clinton Rossiter in Conservatism in America, stated that America's political roots were “progressive” and the United States was conceived out of “a Liberal tradition.”

Barry Goldwater

Goldwater defined conservatism to those born in the 30s, 40s, and to some of the elder baby boomers. He said his conservatism came from his mother's “wonderful common sense,” as well as his experiences of running a department store with his brother. Before Goldwater ran for Congress, he read the speeches of Everett Dirksen and Senator Robert Taft. Once in Washington, Goldwater read the writings of former President Herbert Hoover and became a friend. He also wrote a thrice-weekly column in the Los Angeles Times for four years, frequently defining conservatism in those columns. His definition was refined for The Conscience of a Conservative in 1960 and his definition found its final form in The Conscience of a Majority in 1970 – later saying that, “in its simplest terms, conservatism is economic, social, and political practices based on the successes of the past.” As for the conscience of a conservative, he told Dean that the conservative conscience is “pricked by anyone or any action that debases human dignity.” Dean asked him, “Doesn't poverty debase human dignity”

“Of course it does,” he replied, going on to say that if family, friends, and private charity cannot handle the job, the government must.

Dean offers the following summary of Goldwater's philosophy: “I have always thought of these fundamentals – draw o the proven wisdom of the past; do not debase the dignity of others; and maximize freedom consistent with necessary safety and order – as conservatism's 'paragon of essences,' and have considered them broad enough to address a wide range of issues, from fiscal responsibility to libertarianism (toward which the senator was strongly included) to acknowledging the threat of communism (and today, terrorism) without getting hysterical about it. Distinctly absent from Goldwater's conservatism was any thought of the government's imposing its own morality, or anyone else's, on society. In other words, the values of today's social, or cultural, conservatism had no place in the senator's philosophy.

Philip Gold, a campaigned for Goldwater in 1964, wrote take Backk the Right: How the Neocons an the Religious Right have Betrayed the Conservative Movement, in which he states thatconservativess should have retained a covenant with the fathers of conservatism, for continuityy across generations [is] the essence of conservatism.” In breaking that covenant with Goldwater, a serious loss has been created, according to Gold, for Goldwater, “...are deeply about civilization... He also was humane, one of his party's few who took issues such as civil rights, women's rights and the environment seriously.”

Dean declares that Goldwater's conservatism is dead and has been replaced by various factions. William Safire sees five such factions, the economic, social, cultural libertarian and neoconservative strains of conservatism. Safire called these a “jangling of competing inclinations.” In 1996, the Washington Times' magazine Insight offered the following list of the conservative factions (with definitions that aren't included here):

Austriocons, Buchanocons, Neocons, Aquinacons, Radiocons, Sociocons, Theocons, Republicons, Catocons, and Platocons.

A 2004 poll by TechnioMetrica Institute of Policy and Politics found that conservatives were bunched in three factions (some of whom identified with more than one faction):

52 percent social conservatives
49 percent fiscal conservatives
13 percent neo conservatives

Dean notes the strength of social conservatism in this breakout.

1 comment:

  1. definitions can be found here: