You Got to Be Kidding Me!

Politics Again…

Posted in Politics by Stacy McMahon on November 13, 2006

Reading this review-of-a-review in Reason shows a very sensible point in defense of the skeptical American brand of conservatism.

to say we should “rely on tradition” doesn’t actually relieve us of the responsibility for making our own moral judgments, for much the same reason the argument that the argument [sic] that we need religious texts as a guide to morality doesn’t go through. There are multiple traditions to choose from, and multiple strains within each tradition, so an apparent “deference to tradition” always still involves the exercise of one’s own judgment. (In the same way that you may outsource your health decisions to a doctor, but you’re still responsible for finding a wise doctor.)

So unlike, say, the Iranian mullahs (or European tories), American conservatives are not actually harking back to some imagined golden age of righteous autocrats and moral purity. They are instead demanding (like an old Porsche ad I remember) that “change must, without fail, bring improvement.” Of course, finding the change that brings improvement involves testing your ideas–this is where deference to tradition still involves exercising your own judgement. It’s also the part where a conservative is skeptical of people who think they’re going to come up with a clean-sheet design for human society:

Hayek’s argument is meant to show why tradition’s evolved rules are likely to produce better results than a wholesale constructivist rationalism.

The human race, like the natural environment we live in, is too complex for all of human knowledge to fully grasp, let alone an individual person such as the authors of the great 20th century totalitarian ideologies. Unfortunately, there’s a strong strain of “paleoconservatism” that rejects even an incremental approach to progress and prefers the realists’ definition of stability as enforced social and political stasis. That worldview shows up in the comments.

The Iraq War was a very unconservative venture based on pie-in-the-sky “we can remake the world!” ideas

No, it was based on the idea that centuries of “realistic” engagement with dictators (which amounted to propping many of them up, given the disparity in resources between the west and the rest of the world) had failed and created mass discontent that was now being channeled into terrorism and fascist political movements. The long-term solution was to abandon the pragmatic approach and actively overturn authoritarian governments, starting with those that actively supported violence against Americans. This was an incremental approach, not a constructivist one, because (media assertions aside) nobody suggested trying to “remake” Afghanistan or Iraq as a clone of America. The idea was simply to sweep aside the totalitarian regimes and give the people some breathing room to establish their own brand of representative government. Not to put too fine a point on it, the American public doesn’t know this because the Bush administration didn’t make its case, and reporters are too ignorant to understand the difference.

The worst result of the midterm elections isn’t the accession to power of communists and plain dolts, but the return to policymaking of the Republican realists, last seen counseling Bush I to abandon Shiite Iraq to its fate following the Persian Gulf War. Between Nancy Pelosi, Frank Murtha and Bob Gates, “cut and run” is now a virtual certainty. That could change, and hopefully will, but at this point we should all be ready to see the helicopters on the embassy roof in Baghdad.

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