Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Conservatism, Centrism, and the Right-Left Illusion

The Right-left continuum is a deceit perpetrated by communists who, wishing to distinguish themselves from national socialists, called them "right" wing. "Centrist" is another layer of the confusion.

There is only conservatism and fetishism. People who fetishize economic equality (for all save party elite of course) and detest traditional ways of life are socialists/communists/progressives. People who follow this suit but only tepidly are "centrists." People who aren't suckered by the fetish and the hatred are conservatives. They aren't to the right of anything. They embrace the large set of important values which they should. They don't abandon the set, either hotly or tepidly, because of a fetish or a hatred. Conservatives who think of themselves as "center-right" have been deceived into thinking of themselves in this way by progressives who wish to drive a wedge between members of the big tent of conservatism by leveraging disputes within that tent. And it is a big tent, what with all the squabbles over the large set of values. There are squabbles because the large set of values requires difficult deliberation and casuistry where their application is fraught with ambiguity. A fetish for one value, on the other hand, offers the illusory solace of simple ideology.

When a conservative, through deliberation over a particular issue, reaches the same conclusion as socialists do on that issue, this presents an opportunity for the socialist to drive the wedge, when in fact there is nothing at all anti-conservative about the conclusion reached by the conservative or about his political stance.

There is no right-left continuum. Don't say "leftist," as it promotes the confusion perpetrated by socialists, seemingly requiring the confused conclusion that somehow conservatives are "rightist." Say "socialist," instead of "leftist."

In sum, there is conservatism and those who have abandoned it for the surety of a fetish, nothing more.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Conservatism: Small Government and Liberty

We'll take a look at procedural conservatism later. For now, notice two of the values on the list of substantive conservatism: small government and liberty. These have a politically special role in conservatism.

These two values militate against totalitarianism, the cult of personality and their combination in fascism. Liberty entails the divorce of one's own fate, responsibilities, and decisions from the consensus or normative preferences. It's the difference between the General Will and the individual's rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The way in which we thrive is by viewing ourselves as individual agents, not pieces of a larger agent in society. Such a larger agent, when imagined, will also be projected onto demagogues. These will turn out to be totalitarian tyrants.

This is a peculiarly politically important component of substantive conservatism. There is so much more to conservatism, both substantively and procedurally, but little of it is this politically important. It is not the core of conservatism or its most basic premise, but it does have this peculiar importance.

This adherence of conservatism to facts about human nature might remind you of our current series on human nature. Certain ways of life - liberty and small government - are more functionally satisfactory to us than other ways, which bring totalitarian misery or at best dreary and stultified societies. When we examine human nature for indications of what is right and good, this sort of fit amongst components of human nature counts as evidence. The conservative preference for small government and liberty is clear-eyed about human nature.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Conservatism is Twofold

Here are two senses of conservatism. They are closely related.

1. Procedural Conservatism. This is the disposition to take a large set of values as important to moral and political deliberation, to attempt to preserve as many of these as possible in the determination of what to do. The determination of what to do is made precisely by discovering which action will promote the largest and most coherent set of the values to which we are committed.

Non-conservative moral and political stances, in contrast, tend to neglect large swathes of this set of values and fetishize particular members of it. For example, the libertarian makes a fetish of liberty. The left-liberal makes a fetish of helping the poor or, even worse, of economic equality, which is hardly, if at all, a member of the set of values we should promote in the first place. Excuses and falsehoods are embraced by these two characters in order to alleviate the strain of distorting the web of value so.

2. Substantive Conservatism. This is the devotion to certain values which are enumerated thusly: small government, the traditional virtues (self-reliance, justice, courage, etc.), gratitude, and liberty.

Conservatives should understand themselves in both senses 1 and 2. There is more on this in my archives, and we will be going deeper into these senses in future posts.
Human Nature and Morality III

Let's take a few cases of human functions, desires, or dispositions and examine the interface between human nature and morality.

It may be that certain features of human nature don't track well with right and wrong. Whether to use intoxicants is a moral issue not to be decided by whether using them is fitting to certain desires of fits in with certain functions of human beings. Nor is the issue of whether homosexual acts or homosexual marriage are right or wrong whether liberty and democracy are amenable to human nature.

Yet human nature counts in the deliberation over the moral status of these ways of life. How our natural inclinations are likely to receive these ways of life counts in determining whether we should pursue them. Some inclinations and natural functions may adhere to these ways of life whilst simultaneously others do not. There is a determination of preference involved in discerning the fit. How a way of life fits in with other ways of life we'd prefer to pursue is also relevant. Some components of human nature move us to do wrong, while others conduce to what is right. Human nature is not determinative. Yet, right and wrong do track with the resultant vector, as it were, of the sum of all components of human nature. This resultant vectors is discovered through ordinary moral deliberation, not merely observing human nature. It's not physics or biology that discovers right and wrong. It's prudential reasoning.

In short, there is no straight inference from a feature of human nature to morality. Preference and prudential reasoning intervene. We'll see just how so in subsequent posts in this series.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Reasons to Vote for John McCain

1. Here is the main reason to vote for McCain. It is two reasons in one. There are two essential values which need protection in this election:
  • It has been proven over and over again that tax-and-spend policies impoverish people, balloon the national debt, and curtail liberty. We need smaller government and lower taxes, not bigger government and higher taxes on employers.
  • It is now well-established that it is very wrong to quit a foreign war, conceding defeat and throwing the locals by the million to the wolves.
McCain will protect the first of these two values with plans to cut taxes and pork. Having protected the second value by steadfastly calling for more troops in Iraq long ago, he will likely show good judgment in foreign and military affairs in the future. Obama threatens both of these values with his promise to balloon the budget and increase taxes on employers, his tripling of wealth redistribution via IRS, and his call to pull the troops out of Iraq instead of winning the war. On these two values, Obama has obviously poor judgment and McCain has obviously good judgment.

You may wish to question McCain’s support of the invasion of Iraq in the first place. However, the view that this showed obviously poor judgment on his part is simply not a serious view. There is a strong argument that invading Iraq was both in America’s interest and morally permissible, an argument that most people would now accept if, as McCain urged, enough boots were on the ground during the 2004-2006 period and we had crushed al Qaeda in Iraq years ago instead of only after the surge McCain kept calling for.

The American economy is under duress. McCain will keep the government burden on it light, instead of piling on more debt, more government, and more taxes - with the resulting increase in unemployment.

Americans and other people wishing to be free have enemies. McCain will fight them in the right way.

This is the two-fold principle reason to vote for McCain. Now it's out on video.

That should be enough. But let's look at the other reasons:

2. After 50 years of public service, it is obvious that McCain has a moral compass of his own and one that is respectable. At 47 years of age, Obama, in contrast, has a record that is both empty of actions and dubious in its inseparability from the corrupt Chicago Machine and a far-left milieu. If you are wondering why so many critics of Obama have attacked his unsavory associations, it is because he has no resume to attack. McCain, on the other hand, has a respectable resume, including nuggets such as blowing the whistle on the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mess years ago.

3. McCain will treat the health insurance problem as just that: a problem that might be ameliorated with solutions such giving you a tax cut for your health insurance expenses and getting rid of the laws against buying insurance across state lines (which would enable insurance companies to compete for business everywhere, lowering prices and increasing quality.) Obama treats the problem as a crisis demanding big-government tax-and-spend policies, forcing employers to pay for their employees’ health insurance, and providing government health insurance for all. Obama’s rhetoric about Americans’ deserving the same health insurance Congressmen have is as silly as saying that Americans deserve the same salary Congressmen have. Is that what you want? Government health care? Or do you want someone to fix this thing by keeping government out of the way?

4. Sarah Palin is an effective executive who has a record of reducing corruption and pork in government. Meanwhile, Joe Biden is useless. His major accomplishment in 35 years in the Senate is to embarrass Americans every time a conservative nominee to the Supreme Court has been up for confirmation. He has done nothing of which Americans can be proud.

5. Finally, Joe the Plumber. Joe represents the American dream: to be self-reliant, to aim at a personal goal, to achieve it, and to create wealth for oneself and others, all without being hindered by the government. Joe is a member of a classless society, in which the love of liberty unites people of all positions on the scale of wealth and in which the poor can move up the ladder. McCain understands that and wants to protect it. Obama thinks it is unfair and prefers to “spread the wealth around,” and make poor Americans entitled to receive dividends from Joe’s business. Obama will inhibit the American dream with a redistribution of the wealth via the IRS, since he views the country in terms of fixed economic classes. Having spent his whole life in a leftist milieu, he has no instinct for liberty but only for redistribution and ballooning the size and cost of government. He instinctively mocked Joe (“How many plumbers you know that are making a quarter-million dollars a year?”), rather than encouraging his dream and promising to keep government out of his way.

There's more here, here, and here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Two More Reasons to Vote Against Obama

1. Obama will increase the number of Americans on welfare by millions. He will do this by loading up the tax code with extra tax credits and having the IRS cut checks to income tax filers, so that many who pay little or no taxes now will have a negative tax burden every year: a welfare check. In effect the millions of business owners across the country will have to write dividend checks every year to the lower half of income tax filers. This right to those dividends makes them, in effect, part owners of those businesses. This is not only welfare but socialization of American businesses. It is a powerful weapon against liberty, private property, and self-reliance. (Here's more.)

2. Obama campaigned for Marxist terrorist Raila Odinga of Kenya last year (report, report). After losing the election, Odinga used mass murder to force the winner to give him a position in the new government.