Sunday, April 15, 2012

The limits of Republican conservatism

I found a Republican website on one of my internet searches called Bearing Drift.

I want to briefly look at one of the articles from the website, because it gives a good idea of the limitations of mainstream conservatism.

The article is by J.R. Hoeft, who has served on the Central Committee of the Republican Party of Virginia. The message he wants to impart is that Republicans need to temper their enthusiasm for cutting back the role of the state.

He begins by appealing to Burke and Kirk:
Sir Edmund Burke is often cited as the founder of modern conservatism. In fact, Russell Kirk starts his profound work “The Conservative Mind” by profiling Burke.

So what does Burke say about who should govern, how they should govern, and what constitutes liberty?
I've noticed this before. Mainstream conservatives will happily appeal to genuinely conservative writers like Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk, without the genuine conservatism rubbing off. The leader of the Australian Liberal Party, Tony Abbott, does this in an especially infuriating way. He will talk intelligently about, say, the patriotic views of Roger Scruton but then adopt policy positions which are directly contrary to the principles he has just seemingly endorsed.

Clearly it's not enough to have read Burke or Kirk or Scruton. The mainstream right can do this and still adopt liberal policy positions. Their conservatism still stops short.

Anyway, Hoeft uses Burke in support of the idea that "compromise and coming to consensus on major issues, in, yes, a “bipartisan” way is positive". What I found most disappointing, though not surprising, is the way that Hoeft then chooses to define the aims of conservatism:
The shared conservative goals of limited government, promotion of the free market, and fiscal responsibility need to be the backbone for conservatism. 

That could just as easily be thought of as classical or right liberalism. Right-liberals believe that what matters is the regulation of a liberal society by the market rather than by the state. This leads to an emphasis on the individual as Economic Man - it is our participation in the economy which is thought to positively define us.

It's possible that the problem is once again that of "fusionism". The right-wing parties usually make their political appeal to both social conservatives and to right-liberals. Right-liberals and conservatives do agree that the state should not take over the role of other institutions in society, so perhaps there's an effort to "fuse" both wings of the party together on this basis of limited government.

If so, that's a loss to the socially conservative wing. It defines the aim of the party along right-liberal lines and because the liberalism remains predominant, and the logic of liberalism is for the state to intervene in society to create conditions of equal autonomy as a matter of "social justice", the state ends up extending its reach over time anyway.

The socially conservative element shouldn't accept such terms. It should aim to dominate and to keep the right-liberals appeased by including limited government as one of its policy goals. It has to seek fusion on its own terms rather than the terms of the right-liberals.


  1. The laughable farce of the supposed strife between "republicans" & "democrats" is an obvious example of Lenin's dictum, "the best way to control the opposition is to lead it" in action. The real governmental structure of the U.S. is not that of a republic or a democracy, but rather a plutocratic oligarchy that puts on "elections" to deceive the proles into thinking that they actually have some degree of influence over the tyrants, oh I mean "representatives" that rule them. Rather easy to do with a population, the majority of which would be hard pressed to find their own country on a map. The proles can't be bothered with learning anything useful, after all the ball's being thrown about on the telly again. Television & McDonald's, the panem et circenses of the modern age.

  2. "The socially conservative element shouldn't accept such terms. It should aim to dominate & to keep the right-liberals appeased....&c." This is the exact reason that social conservatives haven't a chance in any of the modern Masonic republics. They'll always be kept busy with internal strife, various factions forming & competing with one another & so on, whilst the Marxists & their cultural allies, the hedonists, neo-pagans &c. do as they will. Political liberalism doesn't generally conduce to the eradication of evil in the society at large, rather it exacerbates it, as the depravation of the masses serves as an efficient control mechanism. E. Michael Jones's book Libido Dominandi is very good on this particular subject. Only in a monarchy, or a benevolent dictatorship like that of General Franco, or General Pinochet can the right order of things be maintained for any length of time. In Masonic republics the very worst scum & worthless filth will always rise to the top, for they will carry out any order given them by those who really rule from behind the scenes. How anyone can doubt that this is so is beyond me. A man such as the American president Bongo, who speaks of 57 states & of the "Austrian language" is most probably incapable of managing a McDonalds restraunt, much less efficiently governing a vast nation of 300 millions, but obviously someone is keeping it all under control.

  3. Anon,

    I disagree.

    I take the opposite view - that the best way to ensure that a community is ruled for the common good is to encourage the average man to think of himself as a responsible patriarch - as it being a normal part of masculine development for a man to take responsibility not only for his family but also for his community and his larger tradition.

    If you leave it to a strong man to come in and fix things, then it keeps everyone in a state of passivity. It becomes yet another reason not to do anything.

    What's needed is for us to claw our way to some kind of institutional base: traditionalist schools, parishes, political and cultural organisations, media outlets etc.

    That's going to have to begin with "the remnant" as there is a level of demoralisation out there that will keep many from making the first move.

    As I've said before, there is now a sizeable traditionalist internet presence. It's a question of whether we can get to the next step of having enough people on the ground in a particular place to begin organising.

  4. Actually, in the US at least, the issue is more blended than you are supposing. That is, the coalition between social conservatives and right liberals has gone on for so long that they are quite intertwined, and not just for purposes of political expediency. The social conservatives in the US are also, almost all of them at least, very much free market liberals -- the two ideologies have been dancing together for so long that they are now intertwined. There are some exceptions to that among the more populist right (like, say, Pat Buchanan or, from the other side, Ron Paul), but by and large, and especially among the "rank and file" of retail politics, these two are intertwined in their minds, and are not really a "coalition" any longer, but rather a merged ideology.

    You can see this reflected in the recent Republican presidential campaign. The "fight" was between "pragmatic moderates" (who support Romney) and "true conservatives" (who supported a series of candidates one after the other, who really only shared in common the fact that they were not Romney). The "true conservatives" supported Perry, then Cain, then Gingrich and then, finally, Santorum because there was nobody else left to support other than Romney. It wasn't because Santorum was more "socially conservative" -- certainly people like Gingrich and Cain weren't, and they had the support of the "true conservative" wing of the party in the primaries before they flamed out due to scandals.

    So, in other words, the strands you are pulling apart here are intertwined in the US, and not by means of a coalition within the party, but my means of an intertwining inside the heads of individual rank and file conservatives.

  5. Brendan, that's a good point. You can see it perhaps as well in the Tea Party which has more of a "limited government" flavour than you'd get in a populist movement here in Australia.

    However, it's true, isn't it, that the Republicans have won over a white working class vote that was once held by the Democrats. Presumably that's because these voters hoped that the Republicans would be more socially conservative on issues like immigration and the family.

    Isn't it the case too that rank and file pressure has, at times, led Republican candidates to present themselves as being less favourable to amnesty than they really are?

    And why does someone like Hoeft bother to quote Burke and Kirk? Why do that if you identify in a straightforward way with classical liberalism? Why not quote Mill or one of the more classically liberal of the founders?

  6. Mark --

    Those are the kinds of questions to be asking.

    The white working class voters really shifted over to the Republicans in 1980 with Ronald Reagan. To a substantial degree, this happened as a result of the increasing degree to which the Democratic party became aligned with identity politics (i.e., blacks, gays, women, other non-whites). It was a transition that took place mostly because the Democratic party stopped representing the interests of the white middle class. It was a gradual transition, but it seems more or less complete now (Obama's campaign has stated it isn't seriously contesting this part of the electorate). I don't think that these people are all social conservatives. Some are and some are not. Generally, they aligned with the Democrats when the Democrats were the party of the working guy over and against the Republicans who were the party of the manager class. When the Democrats shifted to being the identity politics party for everyone who wasn't straight, white and male, the white working class gradually shifted over to the Republicans, but in terms of issues, they are kind of all over the place. Family life in the working class is very weak right now, at least in the US, so they aren't really all social conservatives. They just are skeptical of a party that touts everyone's interest but their own, really.

    On the immigration issue itself, in the US it's often tied up with economic ideas as well, but in a muddled way. It's true that there is definite grassroots support for immigration controls among this class of voters -- it varies by geographic region very strongly, however (Arizona and other border states being places which are more hotbeds of immigration control than northern states are). But the anti-immigration idea is less based on ethny than it is on economics -- i.e., why have all of these people coming in, using our tax-paid services, and taking lower wage jobs (driving down wages) and so on. So it's looped together with a kind of populist economics.

    With the Tea Party, what we saw was a very interesting stew. Populist economics (many are skeptical of free trade, want immigration controls, want more banking controls), yet small state-ism and a distaste for Democratic identity politics (while being a mostly white movement itself). It's an odd mix.

    I think that some of the conservative public intellectuals will cite Burke and Kirk's book (which almost every intellectual conservative in the US has read) as evidence of drawing on a broader tradition, beyond just the founders (and they do generally also talk a lot about the founders). Mill doesn't get much play because he was also very socially liberal, which the Republicans in the US are generally not (small wings like the "California Conservatives" are, but they are swamped by the social conservative/right-liberal amalgam that makes up the bulk of the party). Most of your typical Republican voters, however, have no idea who Burke or Kirk are, really.

  7. Conservatism, in Australia at least, seems to me to have a pretty straight forward base to form on. Menzies and in some ways Howard got the formula right.
    Small government, Free Enterprise, and freedom of the Individual. Base every policy and decision on those 3 basic tenets and your well on the way to an Australian Conservative.
    Our conservatives try to be a bit of everything and as such have really become nothing at all.

  8. Left out, I disagree.

    What you describe is classical liberalism rather than conservatism. It's not enough to hold together a tradition - it doesn't conserve so it shouldn't be called conservatism.

    There is more to life than the individual in the market and politics should reflect this.

  9. Left out,

    Based on those three premises why should you maintain your Western values or ethnic mix? These are the seas in which individualism and the free market etc can operate, however, unless they're acknowledged and protected they will fall.