“Carmageddon,” Car-Culture, and Conservatism


Tim Kowal

Tim Kowal is a husband, father, and attorney in Orange County, California, Vice President of the Orange County Federalist Society, commissioner on the OC Human Relations Commission, and Treasurer of Huntington Beach Tomorrow. The views expressed on this blog are his own. You can follow this blog via RSS, Facebook, or Twitter. Email is welcome at timkowal at gmail.com.

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60 Responses

  1. Avatar tom van dyke says:

    I’d think the American “car culture” is libertarian. Cars is liberty.Report

  2. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    How do we know this must be what a conservative argument must be? Andrew Sullivan might say differently (or not). There’s no argument here for why conservatism is this not that. Moreover, there’s no argument for why we’d care that what conservatism is is conservatism, if it’s not already estblished that conservatism is something and we care about it. Maybe conservatism is getting right what a right ordering might be. But if that’s true, why should it matter to me that that thing …is conservatism?! Unless I just happen to really care about that string of letters, that is. If I care about a right ordering of society, then that’s what I care about. If I find it, then I’ve found it. It doesn’t matter that I can call it conservatism. So how do we know that conservatism means that and not just the inclination to retain what works in the status quo, i.e. that Krugman is wrong to take up that meaning and label defenders of the NewDealSociety as conservatives of a kind? Beyond the fact that, within a given essay, anyone can take up whatever term they like for the purposes of the essay, define it as they please with that limitation, and proceed with a discussion along those terms, I don;t really see where Krugman (for example) is really inherently wrong to take up what is at least one not uncommon way to say what conservatism is. There may be more to the term, but on the other hand, why should I think there must be, much less that it is (for example) what you say it is here? (I understand that you haven’t attempted to put forward a full discussion of that question here, but you do simply assert that it must be the case, so it’s hard not to wonder about this…)Report

    • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to Michael Drew says:


      True, I did not attempt a full discussion on the question of “what conservatism is,” or what a conservative argument ought to look like. On the other hand, I assumed it a fairly agreeable premise that conservatism must mean more than just “preserving the status quo,” just as liberalism must mean more than just “disrupting the status quo.” Nonetheless, I submit my claims about conservatism are also aligned with Russell Kirk’s principles of conservatism.

      I doubt there is anything I can offer to satisfy those who don’t care about what conservatism is, or what liberalism is, or what anything else is. In beginning any discussion, there is an implicit precondition that the reader care something about the subject matter. Here, I seek interlocutors who care something about the categorization of political arguments and principles. By joining the discussion, have you not acknowledged you are such a person? Surely you don’t believe words are mere “strings of letters,” do you? That we choose orderings of characters and spaces for purposes of a current debate only, and then abandon them as meaningless?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Tim Kowal says:

        I mean, no. Because I choose to comment to say that I may not care much what conservatism is and that I don’t see much argument here for why I should does not mean I must care about it or what it is.

        I do believe that words are mere strings of letters until they have meaning. And so the question I am asking is, whatever conservatism is, why would I care that we might attach that string of letters to the thing that it is, even if I care about the thing that we say we might attach that string to. I mean, it’s an interesting question to me how the words themselves we use to categorize our politics, their actual meaning components, relate to the politics they categorize. So, it’s interesting that liberalism and libertarianism are both at least propositionally concerned with freedom in one way or another. I use that basis in the words themselves to help guide ,y exploration of those political ideas. But I’ve always struggled with the word conservative in this context. Conservation is a complex idea. How does it relate to the things that conservatism is concerned with? If your view is that it needn’t, then yeah, I think we’re in string-of-letters territory here. If the ideas concerned have nothing in particular to do with the word used to label them, then the word could suddenly be any word, and the only reason to care about the meaning of that word (as opposed to the ideas it labels) is if you simply do, as a prior matter. Libertarianism critiques liberalism, saying ti has lost its mooring to freedom. But liberalism doesn’t respond by saying, ‘Ah hell, I’m not claiming to be concerned with freedom anyway, whatever the root of my label’s name.” NO, liberalism holds tight to the idea around which it was formed, offering arguments for why libertarianism’s critique is based on too rigid an idea of what kinds f freedom matter, or etc. So my question is, why must conservatism mean more than conserving the status quo, and perhaps generally being restrained? Does this necessity really flow from the actual meaning components in the word “conservatism,” as I think a constant reckoning with the meaning of freedom, America’s lodestar and creed, flows directly from the very semantic components of the word liberalism? And if so, what are the meanings that flow directly from the word in that way, and how do they do that? Or is it simply that conservatism is a word, a string of letters, that you happen to care a lot about, and would like to find some good ideas to attach it to?

        I am interested in these questions, but when I say i don’t “care” about the word itself, it’s because I really don’t, at least not in that way I do and think I must about the questions posed by the very word liberalism. We know, at least I know, that the condition of lacking freedom is too dire a state for men to have to endure not to be concerned with the meaning of freedom — when have we infringed it unacceptably, when have we not. I am bound by, I guess, the inheritance of my country’s past to wrestles with that question. I just don’t feel similarly bound to wrestle with what is out to me by the notion of conserving; conservation; conservatism. It’s not a bad idea, but to doesn’t seem like a panacea. Certainly there are times to be unrestrained as well (as Barry Goldwater pointed out — on the question of liberty, no less). Either way, it just doesn’t seem like I have to wrestle with that matter like I <i?have to wrestle with the idea of liberty, which is raised by liberalism, unavoidably. I don’t care, as a primary matter, about conservatism. I have to be convinced to. But the problem is that you can’t just say that conservatism is x (a thing I care about and value), and have me accept that that thing is indeed part of the penumbra of conservatism. Why should I think that it is? I could well simply value that thing on it’s own, and never have to reference conservatism. Unless that thing is itself referenced in the very word, the way freedom is by liber- words.Report

        • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to Michael Drew says:


          I get what you’re saying. Actually, that linguistic phenomenon is something that bothers me a great deal. I sometimes write about words whose meanings don’t flow from their roots, as it’s a pet peeve of mine.

          Anyway, some of these themes are continued in Jason’s rebuttal to this post, and my response, on the main page. I will mention, though, that I think “liberal” is quite counter-intuitive as a label for the political philosophy (or lack thereof) it signifies. It is at least as ambiguous as “conservative.”Report

  3. Avatar BSK says:

    Perhaps this is unfair, but I find that on certain issues, the “conservative” position is too simply counter the liberal position. As Al Gore became the face of the “green movement”, conservatives seemed to become virulently opposed to all things green and rabidly in favor of that which the green movement opposed. My stepfather, fairly conservative, used to argue that conservatives/Republicans should be better trusted on issues of the environment, because there were huge pockets of the conservative base who would be greatly harmed by a lack of care for the environment (hunters and other outdoorsmen; all those guys in big sky country; mid-western farmers). However, as the political environment has become more stratified and the soundbite media culture has proliferated, you’ll now hear conservative pundits insist that we should just dump all our shit in the water because that’s our right as God’s creatures who have the Earth at our disposal. Or some shit like that.

    I don’t think this is unique to conservatives. There are plenty of liberal positions that are simply knee jerk reactions to conservative positions. But rather than actually explore the “rightness” of a position, we simply have two teams digging in their heels and yelling against whatever their opponent is arguing for, even if it violates their supposed principals.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to BSK says:

      Yeah, I’ve never really understood why environmentalism isn’t a conservative position, especially since plenty of conservatives believe we’re given stewardship over God’s creation and, you know hypothetically, that would mean not trashing it.

      Whatever. Tim’s definition of the conservative position works a lot better for me and comports with the best thinkers on the subject in my opinion. I’m glad to see you writing on this!Report

      • Avatar BSK in reply to Rufus F. says:

        We are quickly reaching a point where there are no objective “rights” or “wrongs”. Which is stupid. I’m pretty confident that having fewer cars on the road is an objective “good”. I can’t think of an argument against that basic fact. Now, not every proposal to reduce cars on the road a good or right one; many have consequences that far outweigh the benefits. The idea of caring for the environment should also be recognized as an objective good. What, specifically, that care looks like and how it should be attained is up for debate. Yet, you still get such hyperbole where people think we should dump toxic waste in the water and fill the air with soot just to piss off liberals. Well played.Report

    • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to BSK says:


      I think you point to the difference between what conservatism is versus what some conservatives do. The example of environmentalism is like my observation about transportation: do many conservatives oppose green initiatives and mass transit policies? Yes. Do they oppose them for on articulated, bona fide conservative principles? For the most part, no.

      As Rufus mentioned, there is good reason to question whether conservatives’ positions on things like the environment represent a paradox. I started a list a while back,, and have been adding to it since in my notes, of similar paradoxes where political ideologies part with political principles. Seems like there’s a broader point to be made to which these observations will be relevant, but I haven’t figured out what it is yet.Report

      • Avatar BSK in reply to Tim Kowal says:


        Well said. I like that list. In the end, I think the observation I would make is: It is not about being or doing what is right any more and is only about scoring points, winning arguments, and defeating/deriding your opponent. Politics has become adversarial in a way that is completely unproductive. If a Republican says the sky is blue, a Democrat will point to clouds in the sky half a world a way. If a Democrat notes that gravity makes things fall down, a Republican will float by in a hot air balloon. It’s stupid, disingenuous, self-serving, and, unfortunately, is a trend that seems to be gaining steam.

        Nowadays, if you ask a Democrat/liberal what they believe in, they will likely state policy points rather than an ideological or principled base. Same thing for Republican/conservatives. It is no longer about having a philosophy and then advocating for that which comports with your philosophy. It is about supporting the positions supported by those you identify, whether or not they were consistent with your own beliefs. Bleh.Report

        • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to BSK says:

          Nowadays, if you ask a Democrat/liberal what they believe in, they will likely state policy points rather than an ideological or principled base. Same thing for Republican/conservatives. It is no longer about having a philosophy and then advocating for that which comports with your philosophy. It is about supporting the positions supported by those you identify, whether or not they were consistent with your own beliefs.

          This. FWIW, when I guestblogged for John Schwenkler a few years back, I did a series of posts on this phenomenon.

          Here’s one: http://www.amconmag.com/schwenkler/2008/12/02/talkers_v_thinkers/

          Then this one (one of my best-known posts ever):

          There are a couple more in the series, some at my own old digs.

          One thing I’ve been playing around with is the notion that this is all cyclical for both sides (though the cycles for each side don’t necessarily move in unison), but I go back and forth on this quite a bit.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mark Thompson says:

            One thing I’ve been playing around with is the notion that this is all cyclical for both sides (though the cycles for each side don’t necessarily move in unison), but I go back and forth on this quite a bit.

            Very nice.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to BSK says:

      I like this comment, and think it deserves a post of its own.

      I think there’s a lot more truth to this than anyone would like to admit, and I think that in those areas where it is true, we see the difference between political philosophies and political movements.

      A year or two ago, I recall a Robert Stacy McCain post in which he defined conservatism merely as being “the belief that liberalism is wrong,” or some equivalent formulation. A few months later, I recall one of the Balloon Juice front pagers argue that the defining characteristic of the Left is/ought to be (can’t remember which) nothing more than opposition to conservatism.

      What I find troubling is that to a large extent, this is an accurate analysis of the two main political coalitions in this country. There’s not necessarily a single common positive political agenda item that runs through the entirety of the Left, nor such an item that runs through the entirety of the Right. To be sure, there are positive agenda items for which an overwhelming majority of the Left or Right are likely to express support and engage in activism, or for which subgroups of the Left or Right will engage in activism. But it’s opposition to anything done or sought to be done by the other side that ultimately is what determines whether you are accepted within the movements on the Left or Right.Report

  4. Avatar rj says:

    It’s pure signaling.

    The opponents of car culture, or at least of the massive subsidy of it, are weenie Euro-bikers (you might remember that argument from the Colorado governor’s race). They fill the baskets of their Segways with organic food from the farmers’ markets, where they casually mock SUV drivers and the Bible.

    Conservatism is not ideological, it’s tribal. That’s not to say it’s racist, since there are plenty of white people who don’t belong to the tribe. But the fiscal policy to which it’s supposedly attached these days is just an artifact of the desire to spend less money on groups outside tribe. That’s why Medicare is off the table.Report

  5. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    If public transportation has come to be identified with not-Conservatives, this may be a conflation of several facts. Chicago and Munich, cities I know rather better than Los Angeles, feature city dwellers who get rid of their cars. Public transportation is usually good enough for people to get around without them, though not always: my friends would ask for rides to and from the big box grocery stores.

    Both Chicago and Munich are outposts of urbanity in a sea of conservatism. The collar counties of Chicago are among the Reddest in the country: DuPage County, especially. Metro Munich is defiantly weird in a welter of Bavarian stodginess.

    City life is expensive, there’s no getting around that fact. Paying for a parking space is often more expensive than paying rent in the burbs. Crime is worse, too: I had two cars stolen in Chicago. The tendency in Chicago is to move out to the burbs, but close enough to the METRA station so’s you can work downtown.

    St Louis, curiously, has three gorgeous little outposts of urbanity: Soulard, U City and the Central West End, all within walking distance of the Metrolink light rail. Now there’s a down and out city which has enough sense to preserve what it can in the face of genuine adversity.

    Other American cities I know reasonably well, Atlanta, Houston, Phoenix, Louisville, Minneapolis/St Paul, none of them have really nice downtown spaces, just those dreadful recycled brick buildings envisioned by loft dwellers and twee restauranteurs. They were cute in the late nineties but as we approach this century’s teen years, they’re horrid and dated. The Reagan Era construction boom (fed by the meltwater of the now-vanished glaciers of savings and loan capital released in the final months of the Carter administration) was in the suburbs and exurbs.

    I urged my kids to move downtown while they were still young and able to enjoy the amenities of the city. It’s a lovely thing, to go to a club and walk a few blocks back to your own apartment, to eat breakfast in a restaurant every day and talk to the same folks every morning, on the same schedule, to have the Art Institute and Second City around the corner, to go down to Lincoln Park.

    The suburbs are pasturelands for people raising kids. They’re big and they require cars to get around. They’re unnatural: they’re are an artifact of the car: they would have been impossible without the personal automobile. If we’d done it right as a nation, we would have little downtowns, as many farsighted villages and towns still do, if they had the good sense to preserve them.Report

  6. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    My only comment is a single word, after the following. That word is “Really?”

    [T]here is an impression—mistaken, in my view—that people who advocate to maintain existing policies are “conservatives,” and people who advocate to change them are “liberals.” Paul Krugman suggests this in The Conscience of a Liberal, urging that the left’s defense of the new status quo effected by the New Deal makes them the “conservatives” of this generation. Erik Kain has suggested the same thing here at the League.

    This approach, however, renders political theory mere sport, turning “liberalism” and “conservatism” into stand-ins for “offense” and “defense.” There must be something more to those terms.

    • Call and raise: Yes, really.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Tim Kowal says:

        I think Michael Oakeshott would beg to differ, at least on the conservative side. I may want to post about this soon, but my Oakeshott is at work. Check, in other words.Report

        • Oooops. Can’t check when you’ve been raised, Jason, if I understand those shows I watch on the weekends.Report

        • Jason,

          I’ve not studied Oakeshott. What I have done is mined his essay On Being Conservative the past 15 minutes for bits that support my premise. Here goes:

          — “To be conservative is to be disposed to think and behave in certain manners; it is to prefer certain kinds of conduct and certain conditions of human circumstances to others; it is to be disposed to make certain kinds of choices.”

          — “[T]o be conservative is not merely to be averse from change (which may be an idiosyncrasy); it is also a manner of accommodating ourselves to changes, an activity imposed upon all men.”

          — “[W]hat makes a conservative disposition in politics intelligible … is the observation of our current manner of living combined with the belief (which from our point of view need be regarded as no more than an hypothesis) that governing is a specific and limited activity, namely the provision and custody of general rules of conduct, which are understood, not as plans for imposing substantive activities, but as instruments enabling people to pursue the activities of their own choice with the minimum frustration, and therefore something which it is appropriate to be conservative about.”

          (Emphasis mine.)

          As always, I’m happy to be corrected, particularly by someone who actually owns something by Oakeshotte rather than copy and paste from the internet as I’ve done. Then again, all I’ve asserted is that conservatism is not a “sport,” that whatever it means, it means something more simply than to oppose, always and everywhere, whatever it is liberals might want. I’m surprised at the challenge to such a humble statement.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Tim Kowal says:

            The first passage seems ambiguous at best.

            The second clearly supports the notion that conservatives are indeed averse to change. Note he says that conservatives are not “merely” averse to change; this implies what you’d prefer to deny.

            And the third goes ahead and says it. Just with a lot of hemming and hawing.Report

            • Jason,


              all I’ve asserted is that conservatism is not a “sport,” that whatever it means, it means something more simply than to oppose, always and everywhere, whatever it is liberals might want.

              I cannot see how you’ve done anything to discredit that very modest claim.

              I will say I can understand the more general claim that Oakeshott’s conservatism is based, crudely stated, on a general reluctance to change. But he also acknowledges that there are “certain” values and defined principles of governance that also define conservatism. My point is simply that we must not oversimplify by taking the former and leaving the latter.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Tim Kowal says:

                I’d say that the claim “politics is not a sport” is not all you asserted.

                You also claimed that conservatism was something more than resistance to change. I’m thinking that while, yes, you can always supply a content to conservatism that is not mere resistance to change, if that content isn’t also explicable, at that time and place, as resistance to change, then it’s not conservatism anymore.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Or, as I argue elsewhere in the thread, you’d at least have to assert some way that the content relates to some other sense of the word itself. Otherwise you’re just arbitrarily attaching ideas you think are valuable to a word that you want to have good ideas attached to.Report

  7. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Is Andrew Sullivan a conservative? I’d think so from the values he espouses: religion, the free market, skepticism about government, humility about our ability to change the world, etc. But conservatives hate him and call him a “liberal”, though these days that’s just conservative-speak for “poo-poo head”.Report

  8. Avatar stillwater says:

    Instead, there is an impression—mistaken, in my view—that people who advocate to maintain existing policies are “conservatives,” and people who advocate to change them are “liberals.”

    Excellent point. This is something I’ve also been thinking a bit about lately, too. My view of this is that everyone with political opinions falls into the following rough category: they are conservative about institutions they like, progressive/reactionary/revolutionary about the institutions they don’t like. Liberals are inclined to support institutions that have emerged from and are consistent with liberal policies, and usually conservatives want to change those liberal institutions, often by dismantling them. But there is nothing inherently conservative about that (it seems to me that’s more radical, or revolutionary). The same observation applies, of course, against liberals as well wrt conservative institutions. But the fact remains that some institutions have needed to be dismantled for both pragmatic and principled reasons. Some currently existing ones might as well.Report

    • O’Sullivan’s First Law: All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing.

      There’s a dynamic at play here that’s not explained by the static, conservatives hate change, liberals love it. Although generally true, it doesn’t tell us as much as we need.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

        There’s also BlaiseP’s Corollary to the Second Law of Thermodynamics:

        No process is possible whose sole result is the transfer of relevance from a body of lower temperature to a body of higher temperature.

        The Conservative is always losing relevance, every minute. Conservative and Irrelevant are synonymous. The world changes, they change too, but they just don’t admit it. You may always count on the Conservative to shout down any progress in the world until at last he’s the only person who hasn’t adopted the change, then he sheepishly and surreptitiously adopts and loudly denies he ever opposed it.

        For though he claims to be a Man of History, the Conservative’s grip on history is weak. It’s a form of amnesia, history as soap opera. When asked, the Conservatives cannot name one useful step toward progress they ever opposed.Report

        • Avatar stillwater in reply to BlaiseP says:

          But conservatives do advocate change, don’t they? In particular, to use Tim’s phrase, change of ‘existing policies’? I’m pretty partial to Jason’s point upthread – that conservatism is at it’s core a belief structure that is resistant to change, but it’s not change from existing policies, or existing institutions. It’s change that moves away from a usually unstated (and I think unstatable) conception of how things should be. Too often, tho, ‘how things should be’ is understood only opposition to liberal policy, of whatever kind. But it also seems to me that the conservative isn’t opposed to change full stop. If that were the case, they wouldn’t be advocating for dismantling New Deal and Great Society programs.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to stillwater says:

            Too true, Stillwater. They wish to return to a Past that Never Was, a blank and darkly hilarious recapitulation of their Islamic brethren, the Salafists. In the days of yore, manly men strode across the world, doing manly things, quite unlike the Liberal degenerate scum, them and their tolerance of others and their human rights crap and concern for the poor. The Salafists at least believe in charity, today’s American Conservative does not. That’s chalk on the board for the Salafists.

            The Way Things Should Be. History didn’t really happen, you see. Let’s attack education, since those goddamn union teachers are out there instilling impressionable little kids with the virtues of tolerance and doing it from the old history books. New ones shall be written, where the heroes are the Confederates and the bastards are the Abolitionists. Never mind that there will be few actual citations, but we’ll be sure to put in all those terrible court cases which led to the Downfall of the Nation at the hands of those Liberal shits and their Activist Courts. Clarence Thomas will personally burn all the ladders whereby the wicked poor ever climbed out of poverty and hurl them back into the abyss from which they rose, lest anyone be confused by the idea of black people at Lilywhite U being anything but Affirmative Action cases. Everyone will have to take a new Oath of Loyalty, administered by Michelle Bachmann, where none but Constitutionalists may be elevated to judgeships and marriage rights shall be denied to anyone they don’t like.

            Why, it’s just like the 14th Amendment was never passed! Hooray!Report

          • Mr. Stillwater, that was fair. The “conservative” is more likely to use and know how to use the “Undo” button, is all. The “progressive” is disinclined, far more likely to add error upon error, doubling down in the Martingale until all is lost.

            Another gambling term for Mr. Kuznicki, applicable to poker when one is “steaming,” on tilt, throwing good money after bad.

            In the current fiscal crisis, the Keynesian Martingale has been in play: keep doubling down until you finally win one, and make back all your losses. Big math, with all kinds of cool symbols that everybody around here likes is here:


            However, one cannot cheat forever:

            We can use it, for example, to prove the impossibility of successful betting strategies for a gambler with a finite lifetime and a house limit on bets.

            This is why there are table limits at casinos. Anyone with an infinite amount of money will make back his losses eventually. It only takes one win.

            But this is not the real world. There is no one poker hand or roll of the dice that will set things aright in a complex economy. Neither are the lenders [China, T-Bills, Greece, Portugal, the casino] willing to extend credit forever.

            In the current crisis, we have hit the table limit. But because the USA has been the one exceptional nation, it’s been in our creditors’ interest to let us keep playing: if we go bust, we can’t even pay the interest on what the casino has lent us.

            But at some point, if they discern we can’t even create enough wealth to pay our interest due—the vig—better to cut us loose, let us perish, and feast on our carcass.

            “Conservatives” are attempting to hit the Undo button. The progressives have doubled down.Report

            • Avatar stillwater in reply to tom van dyke says:

              But Tom, don’t you find it ironic that conservatives hit the undo button only during Democratic presidencies? Don’t you find it suspicious that Reagan ran up bigger deficits than Carter; that GWB ran up bigger deficits than Clinton? Don’t you find it strange that Dick Cheney, rather than a Democrat, is famous for saying ‘Deficits don’t matter’? Don’t you think Medicare Part D, tax cuts for the wealthy, and instigating two wars – GW’s legacy to this great nation – ought to be part of the debt/deficit discussion?

              And don’t try to sneak TARP into the mix here: that was signed by GW.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

              And if an asteroid appears on the radars tomorrow morning, we shall all be burned to crisps of human bacon.

              Would that we had behaved ourselves like Keynesians over the last few decades, running surpluses during good times so when the bad times arrived, there might be something in the cupboard. Alas for the world, that was not the spirit of Reagan nor yet any other Conservative of our times. If we are to bring up the subject of Cheating, let the little matter of our war on Iraq, a trillion dollar war waged on the basis of a pack of lies, be put on the table. Mountains of leftover war materiel is being left in Iraq. Qui bono? Halliburton and Bechtel, those reliable and thrifty corporations who’ve never bilked the government for a dime, nossir.

              Who could you point to as a genuine fiscal Conservative?Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

                It’s a shame you can’t make an affirmative argument, BlaiseP. It always comes back to how your ideological enemies suck. Be hatin’ all the time. This is not philosophy, this is not clarity. It is cant, and a muddying of the water.

                I did like your drill sergeant story. For once, your argument-by-biography was relevant because it comports with what can be verified independently, if your gentle reader bothers to look.

                One can play compass in these things, but get yrself in the way, and you’re a lodestone that interferes with the function of the other fellow’s own compass.

                Lesson: be a compass, don’t be a lode. I have no desire to harp on errors of fact, even when blatant: I’ve been quite gentle and gentlemanly in noting them for the record, and no more. I have never been an admirer of the tactic of impeaching the witness. That is for the sophists, who are unconcerned with truth and only concerned with winning.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

                One of the few artifacts of my previous life is a Brunton compass.

                Those were the days before GPS, but I got pretty good with a theodolite and a transit. Taught it, too. Every map has a mag declination market on it: what you call a lode I call the way of the real world.

                With usura
                no picture is made to endure nor to live with
                but it is made to sell and sell quickly
                with usura sin against nature,
                is thy bread ever more of stale rags
                is thy bread dry as paper,
                with no mountain wheat, no strong flour
                with usura the line grows thick
                with usura is no clear demarcation
                and no man can find site for his dwelling.
                Stone cutter is kept from his stone
                weaver is kept from his loom

                Where are the fiscal Conservatives? This is not Las Vegas, your gambling metaphor fails utterly. Finance and economics do not succumb to similes, it’s all a matter of numbers. We’re in debt because we decoupled taxation from the proposition of meaningful budgets, both as states and as a nation. We waged wars and didn’t raise the money to pay for them at home. We’ve abused our credit while times were good. Now is not the time to pretend the rich can’t afford to pay taxes on their manifest gains: they’re the only people doing well and they can afford to pay out of their profits. That’s sanity.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

                A man with bad facts is like a lodestone standing next to a compass. The odds of him standing to the north are small.

                The Martingale analogy isn’t an analogy here. it’s fact, doubling down on the dice roll. But it’s more like doubling down everytime on the roulette wheel. It has more numbers than you have money, plus there’s a table limit.

                There’s not enough money in taxing the rich. your math is rhetorical.

                As for wars, they are one-offs. No man calculates the cost/benefit of his own survival. Survival is worth all you have and more. Perhaps these wars were bad decisions, but your premise is nonviable.

                Clearly I’m getting nowhere here. Perhaps I should just harp on your factual inaccuracies. You want it that way, well, you know, I won’t play it anyway. Winning on a blog is empty.

                Rock on. You occasionally speak truth and I’ll content meself with that. But you should really double-check your facts on occasion, just in case your memory is failing you. Yr batting avg has been hurting lately. Rosa Parks didn’t plan her protest; Bill Clinton didn’t lead the way on welfare reform. I think our readers have noticed these craterings and your lack of acknowledging such corrections of fact as well.

                This is a smart bunch of people here gathered. They don’t miss much.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Bad Facts? I’m toying with the idea of starting another band, and that seems like a great name. There are no Bad Facts. There are only facts, however unpleasant they might be.

                Don’t condescend to me, Tom. I’m acutely aware of what a martingale is, I build trading strategies for myself and for others. The one thing a martingale proves is this: he who gambles shall eventually lose his money and the more he gambles, the more he shall lose. I don’t gamble, I trade, and there is a difference.

                Rosa Parks did plan on getting arrested, whatever she might have said. She had been a member of the NAACP since 1943 and been forced to relinquish her seat that year. It wasn’t until 1955 when Dr. King brought the Montgomery Bus Boycott that she saw fit to repeat her little protest of 1943. She had been trained in nonviolent tactics not two weeks before.

                Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, knowing perfectly what was going to happen upon her being arrested. Neither you nor I were there to deny that conclusion, but let me tell you for a fact, Dr. King and E.D. Nixon were loaded for bear when she was arrested.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Fine, call Rosa Parks a liar, BlaiseP. You done wore me out. You have your own facts and you’re entitled to them.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Pretty much, yeah. E.D. Nixon was looking for exactly this sort of case, so was the whole NAACP and Dr. King as well. That was the NAACP’s strategy from the beginning.Report

        • Avatar tom van dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

          BlaiseP, the conservative is an ahistorist: man’s permanent problems are permanent, perennial. The progressive is the historicist; he believes in human progress, not just for man’s institutions, but for man himself.

          No doubt this has stood in your way of completing your Strauss-Kojeve thesis. The classicist—and we may include the “classical liberal” here—is ahistorical. The “progressive liberal” is a creature of modernity, that not only more perfect systems can be devised, but more perfect humans can be “educated” to inhabit them.

          For we are all liberals, even Leo Strauss. We must subtract the term “liberal” from both sides of the equation, as it’s a constant.

          One can dig into Hayek’s “Why I Am Not a Conservative” and find this distinction. If no progress is possible, Socrates, Strauss and Hayek are wasting their time. Clarity is progress, or at least a victory over entropy. And that will have to do.

          By contrast, Alexandre Kojeve [the philosophical godfather of the European Union], an idiosyncratic interpreter of Hegel, believes in a genuine human progress, where all men become philosophers. My own egalitarian self was sympathetic to this proposition, until I read the Strauss-Kojeve correspondence appended to Strauss’ On Tyranny. [Of course you know all this; I mention it for the gentle and interested reader who comes in late.]

          The last thing a “conservative” claims is to be a Man of History: that is modernity ala Kojeve. The “conservative” respects certain claims about man and his nature that have been made since antiquity, and unlike the modernist, has an a posteriori case that the only schemes and regimes that are functional and sustainable are those that have proven themselves.

          This is not to say the progressive cannot be right: it’s that for every good idea, man has had a thousand bad ones. And that’s a proven fact, too.

          On the other hand, a different formulation of one of Edmund Burke’s best-known quotes:

          “We must all obey the great law of change. It is the most powerful law of nature, and the means perhaps of its conservation.”
          —Letter to Sir Hercules Langrishe (1792)

          I like that one even better.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to tom van dyke says:

            Well, yes. So stipulated. Change is inevitable but it can be denied. I reached a point with my Strauss / Kojève paper where it just wanted to rest a while. It was becoming tedious, sorting out the dialectic into anything which might make sense in these times. I came to believe Kojève was a monstrous old fraud: when he wasn’t reinventing, he was misinterpreting. Strauss is a model of clarity by comparison: at least Strauss was ready to lie consistently. Both men had a studied contempt for their own times, and neither has aged well in the bottle, for neither gave any credence to truth.Report

  9. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I think I need something explained to me.

    Let’s say that the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks and everybody got in this wacky conspiracy around a table and had the following conversation:

    “The best way to end this policy that we find immoral is to bring it to the national stage.”

    “Oh, I agree. What’s the best way to get in the papers in New York and Hollywood and everywhere and, more importantly, get people to feel bad for us instead of thinking that we’re making trouble?”

    “Well, we can have an old lady get arrested. One without a record, one who goes to church on Sunday, one who will make everybody who reads the story think about their own grandmothers.”

    “Oooh. Let’s use Rosa.”

    “Agreed. Rosa, break the law and we’ll come out like a bat out of hell and get in the paper and we’ll put an end to this.”

    Okay. Let’s assume that they conspired and had that conversation.

    So what?Report

  10. Avatar Art Deco says:

    Accordingly, can it be said that maintaining a car culture of the magnitude seen in Los Angeles is properly considered a conservative position? I would be very curious to hear that argument.

    An aspect of the Los Angeles’ car culture is the socialization of costs. If the full cost of maintaining your expressways were borne by tolls, if the full cost of the rest of the road network were met by a combination of gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees, and if you had congestion pricing of parking places, the car culture would be less intense. You might also take the price controls off auto insurance.Report