Killing Frankenstein’s Monster

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Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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25 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak
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    says:

    uhhh could the current republican party get more anti-intellectual, nationalist, and nativist??? Not much , without becoming a regional party without having a new idea in decades. ooops.

    it would do the R’s good to actually have some libertarianism that they stick to. pretty much now and through the bush years, they had, at best, a convenient libertarianism.Report

  2. Avatar matoko_chan
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    says:

    No need for killing, Mark.
    Right now the GOP is a dying two-headed monster staggering along in its deaththroes. The hideous monster consists of Thom Jefferson’s body with an extra Jerry Falwell head crudely sewn onto its right shoulder.
    The monster’s blood boils with leucocytes and t-cells fighting rejection battles between two deeply incompatible ideologies.
    Eventually one of the stinking supporating heads will undergo organ rejection and fall off.Report

  3. Avatar Will
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    says:

    Here’s a question for you, Mark: Is agreement over first principles or agreement over immediate policy a more durable basis for political collaboration? As long as the Republican Party doesn’t morph into something akin to Europe’s Christian Democrats, you have to assume that social conservatives will continue to provide the most reliable small-government constituency. So even if libertarian first principles are closer to the Democratic Party’s core philosophy, should that really matter in terms of real, practical politics? I feel like your proposed coalition privileges intellectual purity over actual policy-making.Report

  4. Avatar Cascadian
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    says:

    Will: “you have to assume that social conservatives will continue to provide the most reliable small-government constituency”

    What makes you think so? How are you using ‘small-government’?Report

  5. Avatar Mark Thompson
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    says:

    Will:

    Good questions. I started drafting a response, but for a variety of reasons, it’s going to be best left for a full post later on, perhaps tonight. Suffice it to say that a lot of it builds on the whole theory of political coalitions you may or may not remember that I developed at my old site.Report

  6. From Mark:

    “So the differences between an open-minded liberal and an open-minded libertarian should ultimately be resolvable, because both liberals and libertarians generally share a similar vision of a morally just society, even if some policies advocated by either group arguably fail to achieve or even outright undermine these goals.”

    Doesn’t that statement describe the basic differences between any two well-intentioned parties ? I would contend that all kind-hearted socialists, conservatives, labor, green, you name it desire a ‘morally just society’. Maybe I completely misunderstand libertarianism but I don’t see how their vision of ‘morally just’ is any closer to liberalism than conservatism.Report

  7. Avatar matoko_chan
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    says:

    Is agreement over first principles or agreement over immediate policy a more durable basis for political collaboration?
    Well….I was really personally hopin’ for the Falwell head to fall off, but it looks like Will thinks the monster can keep staggering along for a while.Report

  8. Avatar matoko_chan
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    says:

    Or in other words….Will is perfectly cognizant that the core values endorsed by the conservative base are repulsive, anti-humanist, anti-thetical to both liberalism and libertarianism….. and illiberal, and he is still committed to collaboration.
    Fine, you invited the vampires into the house.
    The only way to get rid of them now is to stake them thru the heart, and since you don’t have the nads to do that, you’re going to have to burn the house down.Report

  9. Avatar Mark Thompson
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    says:

    Mike: I’ll admit that my use of the phrase “morally just” was perhaps inartful, since I wasn’t so much getting at a moral vision of society as I was getting at a shared vision of ordered liberty. The conservative mindset, at its most pure, places tremendous value, perhaps even primary value, on the preservation of cultural, political, and social institutions. The liberal and libertarian vision, however, places primary value on protecting the rights of individuals to choose the most possible courses of action….in essence, it emphasizes cultural, political, and social dynamism.

    Now, in many ways modern (but still classically-based) conservatism likewise holds liberal freedoms in equally high esteem as do liberals and libertarians. But the basis for this is, I think, less a commitment to liberal ideals unto themselves than it is the fact that liberal ideals are a tremendously important part of our social, cultural, and political traditions at this point. In some respects, one could argue – and I think Larison actually has argued – that this actually makes philosophical conservatives more passionate about protecting existing freedoms than liberals, and maybe even libertarians.

    This is a really nuanced distinction, I know, so I’ll point to an area where the distinction is a bit more clear: same sex marriage.

    On that issue, a purist, dynamic (to borrow Virginia Postrel’s word from Ross Douthat) liberalism almost has to come down on the side of permitting SSM (and I do). But the conservative mindset – and here is where I disagree with Br. E.D. Kain and Andrew Sullivan – almost has to come down against it, and not necessarily on religious grounds. It is, to the conservative, a fundamental change in a critical cultural and social institution that has evolved from the combined understanding and knowledge of countless generations; that this knowledge could seemingly be thrown away over the course of a few years strikes the conservative as folly.
    The two viewpoints are effectively irreconcilable because they ultimately boil down to differences on principle rather than the means of protecting common principles. But both viewpoints are also deeply principled, honest, and sincere. (And yes, there are some, even many, who oppose SSM on completely bigoted grounds; but there are also many who oppose it because they legitimately believe it to be a fundamental systemic change that flies in the face of hundreds of years of cultural knowledge).Report

  10. Avatar matoko_chan
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    says:

    “It is, to the conservative, a fundamental change in a critical cultural and social institution that has evolved from the combined understanding and knowledge of countless generations”
    The prevailing normative form of marriage in history was polygamy and dominated from the EEA to the advent of agriculture, many hundreds of thousands of years.
    It persists in the “sacred books” of the monotheist religions.
    By your argument polygamy should be the preferred form of marriage for conservatives.Report

  11. Avatar Mark Thompson
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    says:

    Matoko:
    No. True conservatism is not about recreating long-dead traditions; it is about preserving existing traditions. If SSM were to be legalized today, 100 years from now the appropriate conservative position on SSM would be to preserve it if there were a movement to eliminate it.Report

  12. Avatar matoko_chan
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    says:

    If that is true….then conservatism is anti-thetical to everything I know about Evo Theory of Culture.
    And therefore a doomed paradigm.Report

  13. Avatar IM
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    says:

    “If SSM were to be legalized today, 100 years from now the appropriate conservative position on SSM would be to preserve it if there were a movement to eliminate it.”

    But that is the problem with conservatism, it is always drifting. And there is a movement to eliminate the institutions created by the New Deal, but it is called movement conservatism. Shouldn’t conservatives defend for example Social Security?Report

  14. Avatar Mark Thompson
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    says:

    IM:
    It’s important to distinguish movement conservatism from conservative political theory. You have to remember that movement conservatism, just like movement liberalism (to the extent it exists), is kind of a Frankenstein’s Monster of various forms of conservatism, plus libertarianism, plus some other constituent groups that aren’t so easily classified.
    The nature of the coalition was always such that the libertarian viewpoint was always the most influential on issues of economics.
    So while it was appropriate for conservatives to resist implementation of social security and to even seek to reverse it in the years and initial decades after it passed, once it became fully institutionalized, a truly conservative position would have sought to preserve it, though perhaps with some slight modifications useful in ensuring its survival. But traditional conservatism by the 1980s or so had ceased to have any relevance to formation of movement conservatism economic views.Report

  15. Avatar Dan Miller
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    says:

    Question–what kind of political organization could a) advocate for an end to the notion of economic growth as a necessity and b) win any election, anywhere, ever? In the end, the positions espoused by Larison/Patrick Deneen/Rod Dreher are an interesting philosophical offshoot, but they will never represent a viable political movement.Report

  16. Avatar E.D. Kain
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    says:

    “If SSM were to be legalized today, 100 years from now the appropriate conservative position on SSM would be to preserve it if there were a movement to eliminate it.”

    I was talking with my wife about the irony of religion, which acts in a similar fashion. It preserves traditions and makes them difficult to change. So, if SSM ever becomes widely accepted in religious communitites, it will in a sense be better preserved, harder to destroy. And at the same time, the religious elements within society also have provided the most resistance. So it’s an Ironical Situation. But I think despite all the pushback from religion to things that have become widely socially acceptable, in the end its very valuable to preserve human tradition – new tradition is not a paradoxical statement either – and I think conservatism fills a similar role in politics and culture as well.Report

  17. Avatar Mark Thompson
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    says:

    Too many good comments on this thread! Alright, last response from me until tonight.

    Dan – I think your question is pretty similar to what Ross is arguing are the flaws in my argument, so I’ll have a nice and long answer tonight. But the short, short response to your more specific question is that this imagined new conservative coalition along the lines of Deneen, Dreher, and Larison need not be “anti-growth.” It’s much more “pro-stability.” There is some pretty interesting polling data out there that would suggest such a platform would be quite electorally viable – one really good example of that is the fact that a significant majority of Americans are opposed to free trade (at least as long as you don’t associate the concept with either party), even though it’s close to indisputable that free trade spurs economic growth. Part of that, I think, is that people really do place a lot of value in stability and security.

    I guess one way to think of it is this: would you rather be in a situation where you knew you would be able to have the same job for the next 20 years, earning $40,000 a year that whole time ($2,000,000 total) or where you would likely have to change jobs every four or five years, possibly move to a new city once or twice in the process, but also likely earn 50% more in the process (maybe allowing you to retire a little sooner)? For me, I’d probably choose the latter….but even for me, it’s not an easy question.Report

  18. From Mark (seems this comment was ripe for reply):

    “No. True conservatism is not about recreating long-dead traditions; it is about preserving existing traditions. If SSM were to be legalized today, 100 years from now the appropriate conservative position on SSM would be to preserve it if there were a movement to eliminate it.”

    Maybe this is where my notion of a Progressive Conservatism verses a static ‘Father-Knows-Best’ type of conservatism comes into play. I would argue, and Disraeli and T. Roosevelt did as well, that forward movement is inevitable. The contrast between conservastism and liberalism, in my mind, is simply on the pace of change and if it takes old norms into account or throws them out whenever a new idea comes along or there is a crack in the wall of contemporary social barriers.

    My position on SSM, to use your example, is that the basic power of marriage i.e. two people taking responsibility for one another and building something that is stronger than its individual pieces, is something we should offer to more people, not less. So that is forward progress I guess. The conservative in me though says let’s be really careful as we expand access and watch the results closely. We have our ‘traditions’ for a reason and I think conservative restraint is what keeps liberals from mashing the accelarator to the floor every chance they get.

    To paraphrase something I heard recently….traditions are not good because they are old, they are old because they are good. Thousands of years of mostly man/woman marriage seems to imply something beyond bigotry and close-mindness. I just want to listen to that voice as well as the new ones.Report

  19. Avatar Mark Thompson
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    says:

    Mike:
    That sounds about right. I may have been a bit curt with that comment, since conservatism is not completely about putting a halt to progress; but it is very much about keeping progress from going too fast. It may well be better described as anti-radicalism, making sure we’re not tossing out hundreds of years of accumulated/cultural knowledge on a whim.

    Regardless, conservatism is not usually a forceful engine of change, wheras liberalism (both classical and modern) very much are. Again, though, I view this as a very important and necessary role.Report

  20. Mark:

    I agree that conservatism, at least classical American conservatism, tends to not be an agent for change. So then the question is whether or not it is worthwhile as a leading ideology? If it can’t implement change, then it would seem its role remains, as you put it, anti-radicalism, or rather, to pump the brakes now and then or to grab the wheel when liberals push too far/too fast. I guess in a culture where we like to have clear leaders and clear subordinates, what would this say about the power structure in Washington?

    I’m also thinking about certain other issues like education, where i believe conservatives are actually leading by offering more serious alternatives like vouchers and charter schools. This seems to contradict the reality that both you and I admit to which is that conservatives are usually not out front on these kinds of issues.

    Ross Douthat would certainly argue that conservatives can be agents for change as well, with some of the innovative family-centered policies he is suggesting.Report

  21. Avatar Mark Thompson
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    says:

    Mike: There’s a subtle point that I think a lot of people are missing here, perhaps understandably. But that point is that you have to imagine what conservatism would be like if it did not have any libertarian wing (simultaneously, you have to imagine what liberalism would be like if it lost some of its more populist wings).

    The example you give, vouchers, is a proposal that as far as I know originated with the libertarian wing of movement conservatism. It is, to be sure, an idea that has a lot of appeal to other types of conservatives, but for vastly different reasons than it appeals to libertarians. For the traditionalist who supports vouchers, the idea has appeal not because it will introduce competition to the school system but because it will allow them to have more control over the values their children learn. In other words, most conservatives who support vouchers do so primarily because it allows them to make sure they preserve traditional values, since public education is of necessity secular.

    And this isn’t to say that conservatives of a Burkean variety are incapable of proposing change; rather it is to say that a conservative worldview will emphasize changes that promote stability over growth.Report

  22. Mark: Libertarians promoted vouchers first. Fair enough. This may be more evidence that a constantly-evolving parlimentary style of coalitions, centered around issues, would be a better route to take. Libertarians could caucus with liberals on issues like SSM and perhaps immigration, while caucusing with conservatives on education (common approaches / different goals).Report

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