Tribes of American Conservatives

So, yesterday we took a quick look at making sense of American conservatism. If you haven’t read it, you probably should, but today’s will stand on its own, as well. Again we are basing on Matthew Continetti’s Making Sense of the New American Right. Today we’ll take a quick look at some of the types of American conservatism, which is far from unitary. That is both a strength and a weakness, I think. It gives us many strains in house, as well as some pretty loud debates, but it also can fragment us when we differ on issues. So let’s start:

The Jacksonians

Some conservatives—myself included—see Donald Trump through the lens of Jacksonian politics. They look to Walter Russell Mead’s landmark essay in the Winter 1999 / 2000 National Interest, “The Jacksonian Tradition in American Foreign Policy,” as not only a description of the swing vote that brought us Trump, but also as a possible guide to incorporating populism and conservatism.

The Jacksonians, Mead said, are individualist, suspicious of federal power, distrustful of foreign entanglement, opposed to taxation but supportive of government spending on the middle class, devoted to the Second Amendment, desire recognition, valorize military service, and believe in the hero who shapes his own destiny. Jacksonians are anti-monopolistic. They oppose special privileges and offices. “There are no necessary evils in government,” Jackson wrote in his veto message in 1832. “Its evils exist only in its abuses.”

This is a deep strain in American culture and politics. Jacksonians are neither partisans nor ideologues. The sentiments they express are older than postwar conservatism and in some ways more intrinsically American. (They do not look toward Burke or Hayek or Strauss, for example.) The Jacksonians have been behind populist rebellions since the Founding. They are part of a tradition, for good and ill, that runs through William Jennings Bryan, Huey Long, Joseph McCarthy, George Wallace, Ronald Reagan, Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, Jim Webb, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and Donald Trump. The Jacksonians believe in what their forebears called “The Democracy.” They are the people who remind us that America is not ruled from above but driven from below. Irving Kristol captured some of Jacksonianism’s contradictions when he described the movement as “an upsurge of revolt against the moneyed interests, an upsurge led by real estate speculators, investors, and mercantile adventurers, which spoke as the voice of the People while never getting much more than half the vote, and which gave a sharp momentum to the development of capitalism, urbanism, and industrialism while celebrating the glories of the backwoodsman.”

This, in essence, is what I am as well, although, at least in my case, I think Mathew underestimates the role of some of the classic writers. I find Burke important, but not paramount. In fact, I think Locke is at least equal in importance, not least because of his influence on Jefferson. Jefferson was also influenced (perhaps more than he knew) by some combination of Cranmer and Luther. A deal of their thinking runs through his writing especially the Declaration.

As Mathew says, this is a very deep strain in American conservatism, quite possibly the basis of the others, going back all the way to before the Revolution. Jackson epitomized it, but it could likely be the strain of Americanism that caused the Revolution itself. The linked article says the Jacksonian in the Senate is Tom Cotton. I daresay he’ correct on that.

The Reformocons

Reform conservatism began toward the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, with the publication of Yuval Levin’s “Putting Parents First” in The Weekly Standard in 2006 and of Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam’s Grand New Party in 2008. In 2009, Levin founded National Affairs, a quarterly devoted to serious examinations of public policy and political philosophy. Its aim is to nudge the Republican Party to adapt to changing social and economic conditions.

In 2014, working with the YG Network and with National Reviewsenior editor Ramesh Ponnuru, Levin edited “Room to Grow: Conservative Reforms for a Limited Government and a Thriving Middle Class.” The report was the occasion for a lot of publicity, including a Sam Tanenhaus article in the New York Times Magazine asking, “Can the GOP Be a Party of Ideas?

Much as I try, I can’t quite see the world through these guys eyes. I recognize a lot of what they are trying to do as good, especially their outreach to the uneducated/ uncredentialled of our society who often get shunted out of view. I’ve lived my life amongst them, and they’re at least as wise as any other group. But to me, these guys are a bit too willing to have the government (especially the federal government) do things that would be better done by a local association or at most local government. But they have a lot of ideas, and many are good.

The Paleos

Where the paleoconservatives distinguish themselves from the other camps is foreign policy. The paleos are noninterventionists who, all things being equal, would prefer that America radically reduce her overseas commitments. Though it’s probably not how he’d describe himself, the foremost paleo is Tucker Carlson, who offers a mix of traditional social values, suspicion of globalization, and noninterventionism every weekday on cable television.

Carlson touched off an important debate with his January 3 opening monologue on markets. “Culture and economics are inseparably intertwined,” Carlson said. “Certain economic systems allow families to thrive. Thriving families make market economies possible. You can’t separate the two.”

I like these guys quite a bit. When you read me rant about short-termism in American business (a regular occurrence), I’m often drawing on paleo sources (and experience). But their noninterventionism comes perilously near to isolationism, and their horror of tariffs is misplaced. America is above all a trading nation, and that carries with it almost automatically the Mahanian necessity to control the seas. That can, of course, spill over into ill-advised adventures, so it is a balancing act. Matthew picked Mike Lee as the Senator who most represents the Paleo view, I have no disagreement with that.

And finally,

The Post-liberals

Here is a group that I did not see coming. The Trump era has coincided with the formation of a coterie of writers who say that liberal modernity has become (or perhaps always was) inimical to human flourishing. One way to tell if you are reading a post-liberal is to see what they say about John Locke. If Locke is treated as an important and positive influence on the American founding, then you are dealing with just another American conservative. If Locke is identified as the font of the trans movement and same-sex marriage, then you may have encountered a post-liberal.

The post-liberals say that freedom has become a destructive end-in-itself. Economic freedom has brought about a global system of trade and finance that has outsourced jobs, shifted resources to the metropolitan coasts, and obscured its self-seeking under the veneer of social justice. Personal freedom has ended up in the mainstreaming of pornography, alcohol, drug, and gambling addiction, abortion, single-parent families, and the repression of orthodox religious practice and conscience. “When an ideological liberalism seeks to dictate our foreign policy and dominate our religious and charitable institutions, tyranny is the result, at home and abroad,” wrote the signatories to “Against the Dead Consensus,” a post-liberal manifesto of sorts published in First Things in March.

This is the Josh Hawley group, and if you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you’ll know I’m sympathetic. The author notes that this group seems to be dominated by traditionalist Catholics, and there are truly a lot of them here.

And in a little noticed commencement address to King’s College, he inveighed against the fact that

For decades now our politics and culture have been dominated by a particular philosophy of freedom. It is a philosophy of liberation from family and tradition; of escape from God and community; a philosophy of self-creation and unrestricted, unfettered free choice.

This “Pelagian vision”—Pelagius was a monk condemned by the Church fathers as a heretic—”celebrates the individual,” Hawley went on. But “it leads to hierarchy. Though it preaches merit, it produces elitism. Though it proclaims liberty, it destroys the life that makes liberty possible. Replacing it and repairing the profound harm it has caused is one of the great challenges of our day.”

The post-liberals say that the distinction between state and society is illusory.

There is truth in all that, quite a lot of it, in fact. I hear this more, I think, in British conservatives, who are much less likely to recognize a gap between church and state. And, in truth, it is much narrower there. This is where the “Liberty is not libertinism” argument comes from, and it is a valid observation.

That’s close to a triple post today, and that’s enough. I will try to see if I can come up with some valid real-world thinking about how we work together and against each other. That may well take more than overnight, so we’ll see if I can get it done. Do read the linked article, long as this is, I skipped a lot as well.

Life, Liberty, and Property: Part II

And so, continuing from yesterday.

And what did they create? The last greatest hope of private property on earth. Is it important? You tell me. What has America meant to the word in the last 242 years? Do you suppose concepts like individual freedom, equality before the law, the right to earn what you are worth, freedom of speech, freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom from illegal search and seizure, freedom of religion, and all those other things we believe in, resonate in the rest of the world? If they don’t, how did America become the beacon of freedom to men all over the world? Why isn’t it the French Dream?

You know they do, and they are all based in the right to private property. Private property is nothing less than a subset of a man’s right to himself. Private property, whether it is your house or Sam Walton‘s Wal-Mart, is nothing less than Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand made visible. It is what the market has decided that your work, your creativity, your skills, your thoughts, your determination are worth to the rest of us. It is completely objective. If I think Wal-Mart shirts are better than K-Mart shirts and most people agree; K-Mart will have to reduce the price of their shirts till we think they are worth the price asked. It really is that simple and elegant.

Capitalism is individual freedom and private property in action; nothing more and nothing less. Freedom of the individual is inconceivable without capitalism. America became the Indispensable Nation late in the 19th Century and we still are but, we have been coasting since at least the 50′s. That’s when in Ben Franklin’s words we began selling our freedom for some temporary safety, not necessarily from foreign invaders but from being responsible for ourselves.

America really is the Old West: The timid never started (they’re still in Europe, or the rest of the world), the weak died and the strong survived and thrived. That’s the real world, my friends. If you don’t work, neither shall you eat is the other quote. Someone should tell our occupiers (or maybe their parents). What little I have, I worked hard for. If you want what I have you can damn well work too. Don’t send the sheriff with his gun to take it for you, I earned it, you can, too. I earned the right to keep it, too. (Rant over, for now!)

But if you followed the link yesterday, you now realize that John Locke, who wrote the book on most of this, was, and most conservatives still are, exceptionally charitable. What angers most of us is being forced at the point of a gun (otherwise known as government) to contribute to schemes that do not and can not work. You will also find that much of our charitable work is to support those who are down on their luck, for cause, usually, not those who are looking for a free ride.

What else over the years has made America different? Honest justice has. One had a very reasonable chance of getting actual justice in an American court, until recently, anyway. How does this tie in? This way: if the courts (backed by the police or army) are corrupt, if you don’t suck up to the right people, you have no chance of keeping your property.

This is a critical point if you are Henry Ford and you just started producing the Model T, what would you do if Louis Chevrolet took Ford Motor Company away from you in a corrupt court? Raise money to build the Model A? I wouldn’t, I’d probably give up and make enough to feed my family and let the dream go. Think it doesn’t happen? It does, all over the world, all the time, that’s what started the Arab Spring. That’s also what happened to the bondholders in General Motors and Chrysler in the bailouts.

The way wealth is created is this: The creator of that wealth, owns it, to do with as he will. If he wants more, he invests it, thereby creating more wealth (and jobs!) if he doesn’t, well that’s up to him, it’s his wealth. He nearly always does, though, greed works for the common good, after all.

One more thing on property, don’t forget intellectual property when you are thinking about this. Giving a starving man a fish is good. What’s far better is teaching him to fish, knowing how to catch a fish is a very elementary piece of intellectual property. Knowing how to fish may not only feed you but, feed your family and maybe village too. That intellectual property in action. And more than a few fortunes have been founded on fishing, by the way.

What started me down this road, yet again? I was reading the other day over at Greenmountainscribes, their article on An Effective Campaign to Eradicate Poverty and I was struck by this passage:

Frankly there is not much new in this type of activity. For more than fifty years governments and charities have been focused on rushing aid to the poor and starving. Yet none of these efforts address the basic reason poverty exists in the first place. The solutions which call for more and more aid simply respond to the visual effects of poverty such as starvation, ignorance and poor health. None truly address the cause. As a result, rather than easing the situation, the number of poor continue to grow.

Most of the current anti-poverty efforts focus on redistributing funds from wealthier nations to poorer ones, either through mandatory taxation or charitable donations. This system ignores the fact that tomorrow the poor need to be fed again. Taxpayers or the voluntary donor must dig into his own funds yet again to help. The process is repeated daily, each time the poor recipient is only temporarily helped, as the tax payer or the donor become poorer themselves. Meanwhile, as massive funds are moved in and out of governments, bureaucracies are institutionalized to run the system. More and more money goes to feed the machinery of poverty than gets into the hands of the intended poor. Such a system sustains poverty rather than eradicates it.

I highly recommend that you read the entire article. [It is now a protected blog, so you’ll have to make do with this excerpt.] They do an extraordinary job of dissecting the problems in welfare programs (nationally and internationally) and proposing an effective solution.

I don’t really think Sudan needs “Black Friday”, but they’d probably like to feed their families.

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