Sunday, July 14, 2013

A distinction essential to conservatism

Conservatives tend to think that if something is a protective function of the government, it is worth doing, but if it doesn't protect, then the government shouldn't do it. So, for example, the military protects us, so we support it, but reforming health care isn't something where we need protection, so we shouldn't involve the government in something like that. 

But some people think that protection from disease and protection from enemies trying to kill us are not so different after all. Would you call them liberals? 

55 comments:

Crude said...

Conservatives tend to think that if something is a protective function of the government, it is worth doing, but if it doesn't protect, then the government shouldn't do it.

I think this is an extraordinarily difficult dividing line to assert.

But some people think that protection from disease and protection from enemies trying to kill us are not so different after all. Would you call them liberals?

You can recast an incredible amount of laws with 'protect' language. Pro-lifers are protecting fetuses, they're protecting men and women from immoral choices. Opponents of gay marriage are protecting the institution of marriage. Etc, etc.

I just don't think this works.

John Moore said...

Maybe it's "protect" in the sense of conserving things we already have, as opposed to pushing ahead into new areas where progress is uncertain.

Conservatives want to keep the good things we have (or had) whereas progressives are more eager to make progress and are willing to take risks for that.

B. Prokop said...
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Doug Benscoter said...

Conservatives are people who want individuals protected from others; liberals are people who want individuals protected from themselves.

Please take my comment as a lighthearted quip. :)

oozzielionel said...

Even if we are successful at defining all the characteristics of conservatives, libertarians, and progressives, it will be of no help when interacting with any individual. We will of necessity be required to interact individually on the merits alone of all values, beliefs, and the positions of the individuals. Labels are pretty useless when we are faced with a person, especially one who is thinking himself.

BeingItself said...

The essential characteristic of a conservative is an infinite capacity to endure the suffering of others.

Crude said...

In contrast, while liberals do not default to "more is better" when it comes to government involvement in an issue, they do not share the conservatives' mistrust of and reflexive opposition to the same. Government action is regarded as simply another tool in the box, which may or may not be appropriate, but on occasion can be the optimum solution.

And you can turn this right around and argue that 'liberals' default to 'government solutions are the best solutions', whereas conservatives regard government action as merely another tool in the box, which may or may not be appropriate, but on occasion can be the optimum solution.

I think one good look at popular views of the Patriot Act show how useless these labels are.

B. Prokop said...
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Crude said...

But let's not, and just say we did.

No, let's do it. And maybe it will turn out that 'liberal' and 'conservative' are many times not words that pick out meaningful, deep intellectual positions on politics, and something closer to a tribe.

That's one reason why I bring up the Patriot Act. If it was the worst thing in the world when it was associated with Bush, but it's an unfortunate necessity in a dangerous world when it's associated with Obama - or vice versa - perhaps the liberals and conservatives we're dealing with have a different standard at work than their respective valuation of freedom versus protection or vice versa.

B. Prokop said...
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Crude said...

Well, I for one detested the Orwellian-named "Patriot Act" under the previous administration, and I detest it still under the current administration.

I always disliked it. But you know what? There's quite a lot of people who angrily denounced it, and for whom this was one of the various unforgivable sins of the Bush administration... and for whom now it's either actually quite sensible, or it now ranks low, loooow on the outrage-o-meter compared to the past.

I do not think these lines get drawn neatly, intellectually. Socially is another matter.

B. Prokop said...

I was watching the 1969 movie The Battle of Britain last night, and I thought one scene in that film might possibly shed some light onto this discussion. Two RAF bigwigs (I don't remember who) were discussing Britain's chances just prior to the start of the battle and one says to the other, "So you pray to God and trust in radar, is that right?" (or words to that effect), and the other responds, "No, quite the contrary. I trust in God and pray for radar."

Sounds to me like a good description of today's liberals and conservatives. Both are aiming at the very same goals, but have presuppositions that are poles apart.

A stereotypical (perhaps even caricatured) liberal has faith that God, as David says, will bless the works of our hands, and therefore the more we do, the more we hasten the coming of the New Jerusalem. Thus liberal activism.

On the other hand, the stereotypical conservative has faith that, no matter how badly Man screws things up (as he inevitably will, in his worldview), God will nevertheless triumph. The more we do, therefore, the more we delay our arrival at the Celestial City. Thus his mistrust of government.

Put in those terms, liberalism might be termed the more incarnational, Catholic philosophy, and conservatism would be the more Calvinistic (total depravity).

toddes said...

"...conservatives instinctively mistrust government and default to a "less is better" stance on all issues."

This is misleading. Most conservatives (and please don't confuse a conservative with a Republican as they are not interchangeable) view government as essential but instinctively mistrust government bureaucracies especially those at a great distance from the core unit of civilization, i.e., the family.

For that matter what type of conservative is being discussed: social, fiscal, small-government?

And I'll have to disagree with Bob. To progressives and/or Democrats, government is a hammer and every issue looks like a nail.

toddes said...

"On the other hand, the stereotypical conservative has faith that, no matter how badly Man screws things up (as he inevitably will, in his worldview), God will nevertheless triumph. The more we do, therefore, the more we delay our arrival at the Celestial City. Thus his mistrust of government."

Sorry, Bob, but that is inane. The typical conservative (encompassing all areas of conservatism) believes that social works are to be done voluntarily through the individual, the family, and the corporate church body not forced through government mandate.

B. Prokop said...
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Crude said...

You are (reasonably enough) looking for some idealized definition of conservatism. I am trying to define how the term is actually used at present.

By who? Who defines conservatives as, basically, 'people who do nothing but think God will sort everything out, and that all of our attempts are in vain' and liberals as 'people who try to solve every problem, believing they are instruments of God'? That's pretty close to what you wrote.

The only way I can see that as tracking to any meaning would be 'a sugared up version of a baseless stereotype'. Except I'm not even sure who would have that stereotype. Do people really think that if you don't think the government should solve certain problems A, B and C, that A B and C should not be attempted to be solved, period? That all solutions are government solutions?

Crude said...

And for the record, I think there are a variety of 'liberal' categories. I think there's 'the government should help people down on their luck' broadly socialist thinking to 'I watch MSNBC exclusively, think Fox News is nothing but lies, and all people who disagree with me have even been fooled or are evil' extremes.

I probably qualify as a liberal by some definitions since I'm sympathetic to limited protectionism, and oppose illegal immigration in part on worker concerns. Except that very opposition would get me thrown into 'conservative - or worse!' categories for many.

B. Prokop said...
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Crude said...

The incumbent, Parris Glendenning, was a proven incompetent, but his opponent, Ellen Sauerbrey, was a certifiable lunatic. What choice did I have? I held my nose and voted for the incompetent!

Great. And what was Romney's certifiable lunacy?

Who has been fooled, and how?

I absolutely do believe that a measurable percentage of people with whom I disagree have been fooled (else why in the world would I disagree with them? Duh!).

You really think it's a stark choice? Either your political opponents have been fooled, or they are evil? There's no "they are neither, but they disagree about the best way to approach some problems, or whether some things are in fact actionable problems"?

B. Prokop said...
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B. Prokop said...
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Crude said...

Even you Crude, have got to believe that those with whom you disagree are incorrect in their views. If you did not think so, you would obviously not disagree with them.

There's disagreement over core principles, there's disagreement over the best way to achieve the same goal, they're incidences of out and out error in reasoning, and more. I don't want to conflate those.

You said they were fooled, or else why would you disagree with them? That's what I objected to.

And you know what? This is a great opportunity. I come at these questions largely from the perspective of a 'conservative Buchanan-leaning' Christian. What do you disagree with in my view of politics? Let's see if the perception matches the reality.

B. Prokop said...
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Crude said...

Bottom line: I see no good reason to differentiate between how I myself should act and how my government should act.

So you reject the separation of Church and State?

Crude said...

If it is proper for an individual to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and shelter the homeless, then it is likewise proper for our community, our society, and yes, our government to also do so.

For the record, Dorothy Day had strong sympathies with distributivism - which has a built-in hostility towards big government over community, individual and small-government solutions.

If the individual(s) and the community are acting 'rightly, justly and charitably', you've obviated the government. And if they are not, the view Day espoused saw that as the problem to fix - not replacing these things with the government.

B. Prokop said...
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B. Prokop said...
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Crude said...

There is no logical path from "I believe that just and moral behavior is the same for individuals as it is for the state" to "there should be a state-sponsored religion".

That's not where the start on this logical path began. It began here: My politics are openly, admittedly, and explicitly Gospel-centered. I want my government to behave in the precise same manner that an individual should (which is rightly, justly, and charitably). If it is proper for an individual to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and shelter the homeless, then it is likewise proper for our community, our society, and yes, our government to also do so.

Explicitly Gospel-centered. The government should act the way the individual does. There's a logical path there, Bob. Nor is an official state-sponsored religion the only barrier of separation.

And hey, if you don't think these things should be separate - if you think you it's just fine to impose an 'explicitly Gospel-centered view' into the machinations of the state, alright. But let's admit it. Instead it seems like you want to work out some limbo where you get to say that your political will is Gospel-centered, but somehow religion has nothing to do with it in a relevant sense.

is that President Buchanan, or Patrick Buchanan?

Pat Buchanan.

The question remains: then what is wrong with the conservative? Better yet, the conservative Christian who wants to solve these same problems, but who believes the government is not the best tool for the job?

B. Prokop said...
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Crude said...

I'm not trying to impose anything. You asked me what my political philosophy was. I wouldn't dream of trying to impose my views on anyone else. I think they're sensible enough to stand on their own merits and triumph in in any fair marketplace of ideas.

If you believe in electing people who will implement your political philosophy, or voting for enforced laws consistent with that philosophy, you believe in imposing it on others.

And who said there was anything wrong with conservatism?

You, at various times in the past. C'mon, don't play this card as if I'm new here.

I'll even ask: is there anything wrong with conservatism?

B. Prokop said...
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toddes said...

Bob,

As for the definition you gave of conservative, I definitely disagreed with it but you deflected with the definition of inane.

Another definition of inane is also 'silly'. I have no doubt you knew that.

You began by trying to provide a working definition of conservatism, I tried to clarify where I saw an error. IMO, you are defining from the outside in, while I am defining from the inside out.

Conservative (small c) does not denote a political party, Republican does. So to conflate the two only confuses the matter. (As currently used, the term progressive is interchangeable with the Democrat party. Also what does it say when Presidential advisers and czars sing the praises of people such as Mao. Can we then currently confuse the Democrat party with communism? The current Democrat party platform supports abortion and SSM which is in direct conflict with Catholic teaching. How is there no dissonance there?)

The only significant difference, I see, between the Democrat and Republican parties would be the number of social conservatives. Both parties have an abundance of government expansionists and a lack of fiscal, limited-government conservatives.

(For that matter, fiscal, small-government conservatives who are social libertarians would like nothing better than to see social conservatives relegated to an annex outside the big tent.)

I also disagree with you, in part, that "[i]f it is proper for an individual to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and shelter the homeless, then it is likewise proper for our community, our society, and yes, our government to also do so." That the individual, the community, and especially, the Church, has failed to provide for those in need does not mean that those responsibilities default to the government. The government is not Christ's representative in this world. That falls to the Christian and to the Church. The moment we shrug our shoulders and say "Well, we can't to it all so we need to government to do it for us," we have replaced God for an idol. What the government has succeeded in doing by usurping the Church's responsibilities is to create generations of government dependents and the dissolution of the traditional family.

toddes said...

Sorry, Bob, I missed the negative aspect of the defintion.

You state: "conservatives instinctively mistrust government and default to a "less is better" stance on all issues"

This paints conservatives as little more than reactionaries, i.e., instinctively mistrust. As though they give no thought or consideration as to why they hold this position.

While the definition you give of progressives (or American liberals) makes them appear to be the epitome of rational, reasonable lucidity.

This, IMO, is the same M.O. used by atheists against us. Paint your opponents as unthinking and your side as reasonable? Nothing negative in that.

You then compare conservatism to Calvinism and progressivism to your own beloved Catholicism. While a conservative who holds to Calvinism may not find any offense in this, those of us who do not hold to Calvinism (or Catholicism for that matter) just might.

B. Prokop said...
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toddes said...

Wow, Bob, over-react much.

In everyday discussions, people usually state they vote Democrat or Republican. Elected officials are referenced to as Democrats or Republicans. It was a mistake hastily written in a blog comment. (If I truly wished to be hyperpartisan, I could have easily referred to the Demon-cratic Party or Party of Death.)

If you've read carefully, I am not a fan or proponent of the Republican Party myself I just view the candidates representing that party as a much lesser evil than those from the opposition.

I would though appreciate seeing what the Republican Party supports that you view as a greater cause of dissonance than abortion and SSM supported by the Democratic Party.

B. Prokop said...
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toddes said...

It was a mistake and no ill-will was intended. It's unfortunate that you cannot or will not see that.

The priorities you list clarify why you find a greater affinity with the Democratic Party platform. It seems odd that two positions (abortion and SSM) which are directly in conflict with Biblical and Catholic teaching should be so "far, far" down the list.

If you choose to respond, yours will be the final word as far as I am concerned. May God bless you and keep you.

B. Prokop said...
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Crude said...

All in your head, my dear crude, all in your head. You've repeatedly over the years tried to tar me with the "partisan" brush, but have never come up with a scintilla of evidence to back up the charge.

That is flat out bogus. What I've done is come up with evidence, which you have unconvincingly begged off as a joke. And since you just accused me of having no evidence, I'm forced to bring this quote up again, emphasis added:

I heard that speech and cheered! Until we as a society realize that we are all in this together, and act upon that realization, we will continue to be in the unholy (deliberately chosen word) mess we are currently in. Makes me wish I lived in Massachusetts so I could vote for her. (But wait, I already live in the bluest of Blue States, Maryland. Hooray!!!)

But seriously, and more to the immediate point, do you actually find anything negative (not "wrong") in the definition of conservatism I earlier proposed on this thread? I honestly don't, and would love to hear why someone else would.

What, the one you proposed? Yes, it's implied negative. You made it sound as if conservatives were against any attempts to 'fix' problems, period, and left it all up to God. While liberals are in favor of any attempt to 'fix' things.

What, exactly, is the positive description of 'conservatives' there? Faith in God and that's it?

Crude said...

The Republican Party's stand on economic justice is 100% contrary to everything taught by all the prophets and by Jesus.

Fine - explain why. I dislike the GOP's stance on economics. But 'economic justice'?

You're going to have severe trouble justifying this, and I predict you won't realize this until I demonstrate it.

B. Prokop said...
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Crude said...

I don't find this topic interesting enough to pursue to the degree you seem to want to. I'm already getting bored with it.

You don't find political topics and justifications of Gospel-centered political philosophy interesting?

I'm being civil but admittedly forceful here. How about we work something out for a change? Maybe you'll find that your picture of conservatives is deeply flawed. Maybe your picture of liberals is too.

Simple answer to your challenge is the many-times repeated admonition by all the prophets that how a society treats "the widow and the orphan" (read: the disadvantaged) is the measure of its justice. The explicitly stated positions of most major figures in the GOP are the complete opposite of this.

And here's where your mistake comes in.

Society != Government.

If I oppose a federal government handout to a single mother, it's not because I oppose handouts, full stop, to single mothers. I can and frankly will support private charitable efforts. I may find state or local government initiatives vastly preferable. I may regard the problem as cultural. I may regard those programs as *doing serious harm*.

Rather, this is what I will say if you cite opposition to state handouts. But you haven't even named a conservative, much less GOP, belief that is flawed. Name them. But you've already seen a hint of how your arguments are in trouble, if you assume that to not solve something through government action, especially federal government action, is tantamount to 'society' turning its backs on people.

If you believe that, then it turns out that government isn't one tool among many for you, against your earlier claims. It is the only tool.

B. Prokop said...
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Crude said...

In your dreams. I haven't seen anything here to cause me to doubt my political convictions in the slightest. If anything, the comments of "toddes" strengthened them.

I'll rephrase: if you're at all being reasonable, you're going to see how your arguments are in trouble.

You've already made the mistake of regarding government inaction on a policy issue with societal inaction. I've shown how this view is tragically flawed.

Yes, government is not the same thing as society. But I very much believe the two entities should behave in an equivalent manner, and by identical principles. If it is incumbent upon the individual to be charitable to the less fortunate and to welcome the "alien in your midst" (Deuteronomy), then yes, it is equally incumbent on government to do likewise.

So we're right back to the destruction of the separation of Church and State. Or you're going to have to give up ground, and say the government and society's roles are not after all equivalent.

I didn't ask you to list your favorite and least favorite politicians. Repeat:

But you haven't even named a conservative, much less GOP, belief that is flawed. Name them.

Name the beliefs, the conservative principles. My guess? You'll either butcher the principle itself, or butcher what it cashes out to.

Prove me wrong.

B. Prokop said...
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Crude said...

We have a very different understanding of what is meant by the "separation of church and state". I take the phrase to mean that the state does not recognize any particular denomination or faith as the "official" one (as in, at least in theory, the U.K.)

Alright. So it's entirely possible to pass laws - say, against gay marriage, against abortion, for welfare, for or against this or that - in order to make them conform with, at the very least, broad religious beliefs. We can pass laws based on Christian values, apparently.

Here's a fun one: do you think these views are very popular with self-described 'liberals'?

Crude said...

And let's see those horrible conservative principles. If you think Ayn Randish 'charity is evil' dominates most conservative thought, as opposed to 'government handouts are often harmful, but personal charity is another matter', well, that'll be an interesting mistake to make.

B. Prokop said...
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Crude said...

I think Ayn Randianism does indeed dominate contemporary conservative thought. (Obviously not yours, crude, but you are not a "major conservative figure".) No question about it. It most certainly dominates the outlook of the names I listed that you pooh-poohed. Evidence? Countless on-the-record speeches and papers in recent years, way too many to mention.

Then you shouldn't have trouble mentioning one or two.

Rand Paul? He's more major than I am, but he's more of an outlier among the GOP. Are you aware that his first name is 'Randy'? Ron Paul denies naming him after Ayn Rand.

Let's see the quotes and speeches from the GOP platform, or from Scott Walker, that are evidence of an adherence to Ayn Rand's views on, say... Charity, or 'extremism' that dictates society, apart from the state, should not give to the poor or help the less fortunate.

Again: you just said there's a tremendous abundance of quotes you can pull. So pull 'em. So far, you've said Rand Paul is named after Ayn Rand, and a simple wiki check speaks against that.

Crude said...

The reason I'm going on about this, Bob, is to get past the usual 'liberals are great/terrible and conservatives are evil/awesome' schtick. I think you have 'conservatives' wrong. It's not just that I think you're wrong in your criticisms - I think you have considerable trouble even identifying what a conservative view actually is, much less the problems with those views.

You could well be wrong about this political divide. Hell, it may be time for you to ditch some loyalties to 'liberals' and Democrats alike. Because as near as I can tell, your 'Gospel-situated' of politics isn't exactly welcome in the DNC. And, as you've reported already, your silence on social issues (gay marriage, abortion) is no longer acceptable. (And arguably hasn't been, at least on abortion, since Casey was denied being able to speak at the DNC for the crime of being pro-life.)

B. Prokop said...
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B. Prokop said...

I've just made a New Year's Resolution (in July) to refrain from all political discussions on this website. In keeping with that, I've deleted all my comments to this thread except the first.

I will confine myself in the future to topics of faith, theology, and philosophy (and science, which I include under philosophy). Which is why I left the first comment in, because it was an (unsuccessful) attempt to move the conversation onto a philosophical plane and out of the political.

Crude said...

I've just made a New Year's Resolution (in July) to refrain from all political discussions on this website. In keeping with that, I've deleted all my comments to this thread except the first.

Your decision. But I thought this was an entirely polite conversation, and had far more to do with belief than politics in a way. I was defending conservative political philosophy - you wanted to talk about political parties, and I thought that was a good opportunity to show that what you think is the case politically, is not.

The offer stands to any Christian liberal who wants to discuss the evils of conservatism. I have my own complaints about these things, but I think many are misinformed about what 'conservative' views even are.

B. Prokop said...

" I thought this was an entirely polite conversation"

It was indeed - no question about that! It's not the tone of such conversations that I wish to avoid, it's the subject matter itself. It's not why I visit this site.

I actually do every now and then make "political" comments on the web under a pseudonym. (Anyone skilled in linguistic analysis could probably figure out who is me.) But from now on I wish to compartmentalize my involvement even further. And like I said, the main reason is politics is not why I read dangerous Idea.

Crude said...

Fair enough.