Apart from the chorus of people telling Mitt Romney how to run his campaign, last week spawned a lot of “What is Conservatism” musings.
There is David Brooks mourning the good old days of his youth when conservatism included not just economic, but also traditional conservatives. There is Jonah Goldberg celebrating our modern voluntary tribalism against the old non-voluntary tribalism and its neo-versions in Communism and fascism. And then there is Mark Lilla in The New York Times Book Review chopping up Charles R. Kesler’s philippic on Obama: I am The Change.
I don’t know where Brooks gets his idea that traditional conservatism had been driven out of the movement. Not when people like Ken Blackwell are parsing the movement into social conservatives, Christian conservatives, Second Amendment conservatives, economic conservatives, philosophical conservatives, and national security conservatives.
As for Lilla, who accuses modern conservatives of hyperventilation, there is only one thing to say. Government, Mr. Lilla, is force. So how much government force did you have in mind before you’d agree to start hyperventilating along with us crazies? Forty percent of GDP? Fifty percent? Sixty percent? Compared to 20 percent in 1936 at the height of the New Deal.
If conservatism is concentrating upon economics right now and hyperventilating about liberals, maybe that’s because liberals have so completely screwed up the economy, from their mortgage mania to their green energy delusion to their morbidly obese entitlement programs. Oh, and don’t forget their higher-education bubble.
Maybe this really is an emergency, Mr. Lilla. And maybe, Mr. Brooks, the other stuff can wait.
Meanwhile, a few weeks before the election, let’s talk about the real difference between conservatives and liberals.
Let’s take the question of the “on your own.” Liberals insist that unless government manages everyone’s health care, education, and savings, people are left on their own, victims of exploitation and oppression. Says Lilla: the “New Deal did convince Americans that citizens are not road kill and that government can legitimately protect public welfare and basic human dignity.” Roadkill? I’d say that nothing makes Americans into roadkill more thoroughly than a central bank that doesn’t know its business — as in 1929 and 2008 — and a political elite that conjures up wonders like Fannie and Freddie.
In between our hyperventilations, conservatives puzzle that the only liberal solution to oppression and victimization is always another government program. Did I mention that government is force?
Modern conservatism, economic and otherwise, has an alternative to force. It is the responsible self.
Conservatives believe in the “responsible self,” invented in the religions that came out of the Axial Age two millennia ago. Liberals believe in lots of selves, depending on the context. They invented the creative ego to exempt themselves from other peoples’ rules and the victim ego to rile up their political supporters to give liberals the power to make the rules.