The End of Conservatism: How the Ideology of Reagan and Thatcher is Fading Away

Nate Diorino

Nate Diorino

Nate Diorino is an aspiring functional member of society. Yet he is also on Twitter.

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155 Responses

  1. Avatar Murali
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    says:

    I just don’t see the likes of Jonah Goldberg and David French leaving National Review and joining the Niskanen Centre in anything like the near future.

    The neoliberal centre is still comparatively dove-ish on foreign policy and very liberal about social policy. Reaganism is going to be a part of the republican party coalition for the foreseeable future, even if not a winning part.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Murali
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      The old neocon GOP has enough oomph in it, their elderly voters enough breath in them and their wealthy donor class enough interest in tax breaks, to fund the neocons and keep Jonah and French in their sinecures to the bitter end.Report

  2. Avatar DensityDuck
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    says:

    i guess it’s not particularly surprising that the influence of Reagan and Thatcher on society shrank after they were deadReport

  3. Avatar LeeEsq
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    I think this is a very Anglophone centric definition of conservatism. Continental European conservatives tended to come from places with a stronger state tradition, so tended to be much more comfortable with a big government. Very few continental conservatives believed that you could reverse the 1960s like Anglophone conservatives did. Even among Anglophone conservatives, the American branch was the one with the greatest commitments. Finally, continental European conservatives tend to be less interested in an aggressive foreign policy. Naturally, conservatism in Asian, African, and Latin American countries doesn’t resemble the Anglophone version either.Report

    • Avatar Jay L Gischer in reply to LeeEsq
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      says:

      I don’t think conservatism – with a small ‘c’ and describing a temperament – is dead at all. There are still lots of people like that. You are right. I read this piece as addressing a particular strand of political branding that was very successful but is now fading away.

      The difference is that they have stopped believing in “government isn’t the solution to your problems, government is the problem”. Which was the glue that held the conservative movement together, even though some of the strands were very, very, different.

      I agree with the OP. I noticed this with Mike Huckabee’s campaign for president in 2008. He did not hold the traditional conservative animosity for big governemnt – social security, Medicare, etc. – which suggested he thought people were mostly fine with the programs and wanted them to work. But he doubled down on the culture wars to prove his bona fides.

      Not really a Reagan coalition thing.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Jay L Gischer
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        A conservative temperament does not necessarily reflect to political affiliations. I’m pretty liberal but my temperament is on the milder/conservative side operationally. There are also people with far-right politics whose temperaments are party hard even alleged social conservatives. A lot of the times liberals get frustrated with conservatives is because we see a lot of hypocrisy in a “Do as I preach, not as I do manner.” I think liberals are tired of giving conservatives any benefit of the doubt that they speak for morality at all.Report

  4. Avatar LeeEsq
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    Or to put it differently, conservatism’s skepticism of the government depends on the local origins of conservatives. In the Anglophone world, conservatism tended to have its origins among different elite groups trying to resist the state so they can do as they please with their property. In Europe, conservatives came from groups associated with the Monarch attempting to create a strong state and centralize power. This makes them less skeptical of government than Anglophone conservatives.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to LeeEsq
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      says:

      Yes. It gets very complicated. American conservatives were trying to conserve the traditional American liberalism of the Founding fathers, who rebelled against what is essentially a caste system ruled by feudal gentry and a monarchy. British conservatism would have been trying to preserve that feudal gentry and their monarchy.

      More confusingly, in some of Europe the aristocracies, upset that all sorts of newfangled, huckster capitalists were getting rich on chaos, became radical socialists of one stripe or another because they wanted a social order based on true merit (of course they felt that had the most of that), and the idea of a government of experts that made all the decisions for everybody would restore the old aristocratic social order and the old model of rule by superiors over inferiors.

      So it’s often simpler to jettison terms that depend on the very confusing origin stories of who thought what when, and focus on the end-state economic, social, and governing philosophies and positions of the various actors.

      Many staunch American conservatives will boldly state that they’re trying to conserve traditional liberalism against discredited socialist ideas, utter nonsense, and weaponized idiocy.Report

  5. Avatar JoeSal
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    says:

    “vital government central banks are in maintaining macroeconomic stability.”

    Just for the record, over what time scales are you plugging in as a parameter? can you provide data showing government central banks are more ‘stabilizing’ (than not stabilizing) for a economy over 120 years? over 200 years?

    How do you explain the purchasing power of currency repeatedly charting (eventually) to zero for every government that has adopted a central bank?

    Is there evidence more Libertarians have drifted to liberalism than nationalist? From what I have seen, more libertarians haven’t moved left on the x-axis, so much as moved upwards on the y-axis.

    There is a particular faction that wishes all people to worship the God of Needs, the conservatives that go to that church will eventually reap what they sow.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to JoeSal
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      says:

      How do you explain the purchasing power of currency repeatedly charting (eventually) to zero for every government that has adopted a central bank?

      That’s technically true, in that if the central bank intentionally pursues a policy of moderate inflation, the purchasing power of the currency will asymptotically approach zero in the very long run, but it doesn’t matter, because nobody just holds cash for decades.Report

      • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Brandon Berg
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        says:

        Oh I agree, but the way I see it, is at the end of currency approaching zero, there is typically a exponential function.

        I don’t see how folks, even economists would say ‘this is a stable system’ if there is a unknown exponential function at the end, (that no one can predict) that will repeatedly arise.

        Is that just something that is ignored because it happens at the end?Report

        • Avatar Mr.JoeM in reply to JoeSal
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          says:

          It’s stable until something destabilizes it. We are getting better and better at spotting causes of these destablizations and dealing with them without going completely off the rails. Sadly, a takeaway from the GFC seems to be that stability is inherently destabilizing.

          Also, the above is a bit like saying “this building is unstable because it will eventually fall down”. It may be true, but the way we build buildings today is the best we know how to do, and they will still eventually fall down.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mr.JoeM
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            We are getting better and better at spotting causes of these destablizations and dealing with them without going completely off the rails.

            The Great Recession was only 10 years ago!Report

            • Avatar Mr.JoeM in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              ..and we didn’t go completely off the rails! Sure looked like almost the entirety of the banking system was going to crater possibly taking all the money with it. The great depression totally crated the financial system, but it probably would have been worse now because physical currency was a much larger share of money then.

              The risks that started the blow up were in the least regulated parts of the banks, not the highly regulated parts.Report

          • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Mr.JoeM
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            says:

            If it were a building, the scenario is that it would be turning to glass. The more social constructs built around markets the more rigid they become.

            If we know what causes the developing rigidity, are we really doing the best we can?

            I don’t think we are.Report

            • Avatar Mr.JoeM in reply to JoeSal
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              says:

              I agree that the system in place has some nasty failure modes. The fact that we came so close to most of the financial cratering entirely, is bad. Soooo, what is the alternative. Asset backed money doesn’t fix this issue, but has less flexibility to move the supply curve when the demand curve moves.

              I think there is parts that we could be doing better at. I just don’t see where abolishing central banks is on the whole better.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Mr.JoeM
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                I don’t think there will be any need to abolish central banks, they will just become obsolete. I would wager everything becomes more on the human scale, production, money, all of it. That said, I think there is another failure before it changes.Report

        • Avatar pillsy in reply to JoeSal
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          Because it’s not really an unknown exponential function over the timescales people actually need to plan for?Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to JoeSal
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      says:

      can you provide data showing government central banks are more ‘stabilizing’ (than not stabilizing) for a economy over 120 years? over 200 years?

      American economic history without central banking is a sequence of booms and severe busts driven by non-central banks inflating the currency. That goes back at least to Jackson’s destruction of the Second Bank of the United States in 1833.Report

      • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Mike Schilling
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        Previous booms and busts can typically be assigned to poorly associated currency to intrinsic value. Central banks haven’t fixed that problem, in that the bubbles are much bigger than before.Report

        • Avatar Mr.JoeM in reply to JoeSal
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          says:

          Central banks appear to have drasticially improved the problem of matching currency to intrinsic value, but with the icky side effect of slow bleed of value. The current central bank system seems to adapt very well to changing conditions and generally only needs some light tweaking at the top.

          How are you assessing the bigness of bubbles? It’s not something I have looked at.

          Most folks don’t care about the bigness of the bubble, only the size of the mess and spillover effects when it deflates. Bubble popping is currently somewhat painful, but seems to have less spillovers than prior non-centralized systems. I expect central banks will get better in time.Report

          • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Mr.JoeM
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            A decentralized bank in the past would isolate bubbles locally, lets say .000024% of GDP max.

            Central banks from what I understand have produced bubbles that are several percent GDP.

            I expect central banks to become worse in time because there is no competition, and more entanglements that have nothing to do with banking.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to JoeSal
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              says:

              Central banks from what I understand have produced bubbles that are several percent GDP.

              As opposed to …. ?

              – a central bank that caters to the demands of capital to expand opportunities to make profits?

              – a non-central banking system in which the boom/bust cycle was endemic?

              – A non-central banking system in which every stakeholder had the entirety of information God knows and held the exactly right amount of risk aversion and care about system collapse?

              Add: It’s profoundly amusing to me to hear two die hard libertarians/government skeptics talk about the ways better central banking policy can resolve problems endemic to capitalism. LolololReport

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                I really don’t believe banks should exist, but that seldom is something other folks consider.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to JoeSal
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                says:

                This is sorta absurd, Joe. A “bank” is anyone who loans or holds money at a rate. Money supply will always lag behind people’s personal economic interests, so banks (like Jesus said about the poor) will always be with us.

                If wishes were horsesReport

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                I don’t ‘wish’ them to be gone or anything, and i know they will always be with us.

                I just don’t have a default premise that they should exist.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to JoeSal
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                says:

                That strikes me as saying fly fishermen have no right to exist. ???

                At every moment in human history people have wanted access to money (capital!!) and there are – always – people to fill that demand. Banks, and heavily regulated banks!!!, make the lifestyle you and I take for granted not only possible but real.

                Where’d we be, as a society, without credit?Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to JoeSal
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                says:

                I think there is no mystery why a certain faction starts with the premise:

                “Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.”

                I mean that is flat out obvious whats going on there.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to JoeSal
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                Akshully, it’s entirely unobvious.

                Lenders and borrowers pre-date any formation of the state. I mean, cmon. You’re the social construct guy. Do you really believe that no one lent and borrowed before the socially constructed nation state?Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                From what I can tell, people cached surplus resources mostly. From excavated cache pits, it appears to have been family group-location centered.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to JoeSal
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                Who the fuck cares? ????

                {{I heard that the DeBears family scooped up diamonds from South African beaches. ??? }}Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                You asked the question about lending up there. I gave a counter that in place of lending, people historically cache surplus resources. Not that any of this will matter.

                Central caches started about the same time religious social constructs arose. I find it no mystery that the people who would come to worship the God of Need would desire a centralized cache construct.

                It all looks like ‘the sky is blue’ obvious.

                But still my default premise is banks don’t have to exist, if they have to exist to make others world view complete, no problem, no worries.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to JoeSal
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                says:

                Without banks we wouldn’t be talking about how society could have attained such a high standard of living or quality of life. I mean, this is obvious, dude. What I’m saying isn’t statist or anti-staist, liberal or conservative, social construct or anto-social construct. It’s just descriptively accurate. Systemitized credit was the greatest invention of the financial sector, without which America would not be Great Again again.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to JoeSal
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                says:

                Pray tell, where would people put their money without banks? Under their mattress? Doesn’t seem like a prudent way to save.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to LeeEsq
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                says:

                This is wrong, Lee. Putting your money under your mattress was so effective that for lotsa people for a very long time it devolved to a cliche. The problem is that putting your money under your mattress isn’t *the best* use of your money. That’s one reason why banks.Report

              • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to JoeSal
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                says:

                You can find cogent arguments against fractional reserve banking wrt monetary stability as well as arguments in favor of banks as publicly-owned utilities rather than profit-seeking corporations (see State Bank of N. Dakota) but some sort of banking is pretty essential to any economic system utilizing money, that is, any actual viable economic system.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Road Scholar
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                says:

                Actual viable economic systems have surplus tangible capital, so i don’t start with the premise that a bank is needed in those conditions. It may be useful, yes, but i don’t start from a position that it is required.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to JoeSal
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                says:

                This is, again, absurd. Without a formalized concept of credit we’d still be in the dark ages or worse.

                OK, prolly not worse. The dark ages were pretty bad.Report

              • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                I didn’t think it would go this far, but it appears there needs to be some unpacking to make it clear.
                First I will split it between empirical objectivity and social objectivity.

                On the empirical objectivity side, I agree with what you are saying. The empirical truth component is banks provide efficiency in financial and regular economic systems. They provide a service that people do desire. Economic systems develop faster and wealth is produced that would not otherwise be produced. I have no problem with saying any of that. I do not agree that we would be in some type of ‘dark age’ without them. On those grounds if you need some type of ‘win’ then hats off. You win the empirical objectivity argument of that, which was not the main point of my belief.

                I think my comment up above that inspired question was: “I really don’t believe banks should exist.” I used ‘should’ in that sentence very deliberately. It derives from questions in social objectivity, that I consider unresolved.

                If the social factions tend to wish equal outcomes, should banks exist?

                If the tall trees are to be made shorter, should banks exist?

                If banks are creating unequal distributions of wealth, should banks exist?

                If banks are distorting outcomes by affecting chance processes, should banks exist?

                If it is better to have a more equal society than wealthy society, should banks exist?

                If it is better that people learn to cache than to borrow (with interest), should banks exist?

                I hold a counter notion that I could be wrong, and may just be a bit twitchy on the is-ought stuff.Report

              • Avatar Mr.JoeM in reply to Stillwater
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                Stillwater: Add: It’s profoundly amusing to me to hear two die hard libertarians/government skeptics talk about the ways better central banking policy can resolve problems endemic to capitalism. Lololol

                I certainly enjoy the humor. I am not proud of ending up here. I have a natural distaste for both capitalism and central banking. However, they are the best of the options, as far as I can see. One of the reasons I read this site, is it has a higher probability that most places to actually articulate such a thing.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to JoeSal
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              says:

              Read up on the length and severity of the busts of the 19th century before assuming things are worse now.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mike Schilling
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        American economic history without central banking is a sequence of booms and severe busts

        IIRC, this was the (empirical !!!) thesis that made Marx famous. Well, close to it anyway. I guess I just wonder why anyone thinks a Central Bank will be the silver bullet to a fundamental aspect of capitalism.Report

        • Avatar Mr.JoeM in reply to Stillwater
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          Central banks are not a silver bullet. It is rough ugly patch to deal with the expectation of the populace that money will not fail. As you alluded to, failure is a key aspect of capitalism functioning correctly. I think history has shown that if money left to pure capitalistic means, the failures (both institutional and economic) are more than people seem willing to tolerate.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mr.JoeM
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            The failures significantly affect people who did not significantly participate in the gains. (Look at 2008 as an example. Lots of job losses among people who weren’t part of the grifting, I mean “financial” sector.) When you’re barely afloat and the assholes who caused the crash are living comfortably on what they grifted during the boom, it’s easy to see why the situation is considered intolerable.Report

  6. Avatar Oscar Gordon
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    says:

    tl:dr version: Conservative populists have effectively mugged conservative intellectuals and left them bruised and bleeding in the alley.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Oscar Gordon
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      says:

      The Bush tax cuts of the early 2000’s failed to deliver the economic prosperity that their proponents claimed they would.

      This is because they not only were not paired with spending cuts, but were in fact followed by large spending hikes. It would be too strong a claim to call the failure of the Bush administration’s profligacy to lead to lasting prosperity a full-on vindication of limited government, but it sure as hell wasn’t an indictment.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg
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        says:

        I had meant that to be a top-level comment, but sometimes you just have to let them choose their own paths in life.

        Also, conversely, the 90s were characterized by virtually flat federal spending, after adjusting for inflation and population growth, resulting in a decline in federal spending from 21.5% of GDP in 1991 to 17.5% in 2000. Again, while this isn’t a slam-dunk case for small government, it’s suggestive of such.Report

    • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Oscar Gordon
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      Huh, the conservative intellectuals I know continue to have full wallets and no bruises. Hillary on the other hand……Report

      • Avatar North in reply to JoeSal
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        Nobody anywhere ever mistook Hillary for a liberal intellectual. Hillary the politician certainly lost the general election by a hair but she didn’t see every principle she’s espoused ejected from her own party. Conservatives on the other hand…Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to North
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          Hillary the politician certainly lost the general election by a hair but she didn’t see every principle she’s espoused ejected from her own party

          I am tempted to say that this is only by dint of being completely unprincipled in the first place. But that would be unfair (even if really funny).

          But the fact is that for almost every principle Clinton has espoused at one time or another, she has espoused the opposite as well. She used to be against SSM before she was for it. She used to be for harsher sentencing before she was for criminal justice reform. She used to be for free trade before she became against. She used to lead smear campaigns against victims of sexual harassment before she became in favour of believing victims. About the only thing she is more or less consistent on is her hawkishness on foreign policy and the dems have mostly repudiated that too. So sure, not every principle she has espoused is currently rejected by the party, but that is largely because she has tended to follow the party line rather than shape it.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Oscar Gordon
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      says:

      Conservative intellectuals who used thinly disguised nativism and racism to sell their economic program are finding out that the disguise doesn’t fool anyone any more.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Mike Schilling
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        Conservative intellectuals who used thinly disguised nativism and racism to sell their economic program…

        This is wrong, but how it’s wrong is very instructive. The conservative movement was an alliance of traditionalists and economic libertarians who found in communism and the mixed economy a common enemy. There was/is overlap, but these are two different groups and they are beginning to fray.

        We can see this quite clearly now when the Koch Brothers are funding efforts to end the drug war and restore voting rights to felons and Tucker Carlson and Ann Coulter railing against free-market capitalism.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to j r
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          Yeah.

          I dig this comment.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to j r
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          Granting your comment’s truth, is it really an objection to Mike’s critique of conservative intellectuals*? Ie., weren’t so-called conservative intellectuals aware of this division all along, and doing their best to hide it for political purposes?

          *insofar as they are/were what we standardly call “intellectuals” **

          **my own view is that the term “conservative intellectual” is an oxymoron.

          Add: to further that last point, has anyone ever been described as a liberal intellectual? Seems to me the term “intellectual” kindasorta entails the liberal part.. Maybe I’m wrong….Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater
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            Ie., weren’t so-called conservative intellectuals aware of this division all along, and doing their best to hide it for political purposes?

            I think that assuming a master plan or eleventeen-dimensional chess on their part is overestimating them by a damn sight.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird
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              No master plan or eleven dimensional chess required. Just the individual desire to overlook reality in service of a paycheck ideology.

              I read a post today by Romesh Ponururrru with the thesis that our liberal abortion laws permit infanticide without any acknowledgment that the same principle – our liberal laws with respect to gun ownership- leads to untold massacres of innocent citizens. He’s waaaay too smart to not realize the contradiction.Report

          • Avatar j r in reply to Stillwater
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            Granting your comment’s truth, is it really an objection to Mike’s critique of conservative intellectuals*? Ie., weren’t so-called conservative intellectuals aware of this division all along, and doing their best to hide it for political purposes?

            To be honest, I’m not really sure what that means. There is a whole range of people who talk about policy. Some of them are political operatives who say what they need to say to get their team in office. To say that political operatives do things for political purposes is redundant.

            If you want to claim that the conservative movement has been insufficiently interested in issues of racial justice, I’ll nod in agreement. But in practice, I’m not sure how much conservative operatives were using racism to sell free-market economics. Even the famous Lee Atwater quote implies the opposite: selling free-market economics without regards to how it impacts racism.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to j r
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              Sure you know what the means. It means that they phrased evidence and arguments with an intentional bias away from overt representation.

              That said, thanks for the reply. And fair enough, as far as it goes. (I mean that sincerely!)(.Report

          • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Stillwater
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            Nativism and Racism weren’t even the plan.

            The plan was Global International Finance Capitalism… a rising tide floats all boats… reducing taxes on the rich will create more jobs… jobs will strengthen the family, strong families will start their children on paths that will help them avoid children out of wedlock (abortion), jobs will lift people out of poverty and will create a virtuous cycle. Free Markets and Free Trade will end the malaise of Free Love.

            …and that’s still the gambit. Just today in connection with the kurfuffle over at Redstate I moseyed on over and encountered just about as pure a distillation of the Right-Libertarian snow-job to the Social Cons as ever I’ve seen:

            Unlike the Christian left, Schneider has actually read books on economics. He explains that until the coming of capitalism most people got their wealth, if they didn’t inherit it, from theft, fraud or looting in war. Capitalism empowered humanity to create new wealth and most affluent people have gained their wealth through honest work, making it a blessing from God. As for helping poor emerging market countries, he recommends the excellent work of Dr. Hernando de Soto, especially his book The Mystery of Capital.

            The backlash against Global International Finance Capitalism on the right is the the backlash of disgruntled buyers…Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to j r
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          The history of the relationship between economic conservatives and social conservatives is interesting. Reagan did a lot for the former, remaking the tax system to favor the wealthy while divorcing federal revenue and outlays for good (popular since economic conservatives care much more about low taxes than balanced budgets.) He did very little for social conservatives, but they loved him so much they didn’t mind.

          Bush pere had to claim to be a social conservative (his insisting he was adamantly pro-life but had never even thought about whether a woman who has an abortion should be punished for that, in a debate with Dukakis, was one of the most unconvincing things I’ve ever seen.) Bush fils was pure social conservative but gave economic conservatives tax cuts. (He also presided over the wrecking of the economy.) Trump doesn’t embody any of the purported social or economic conservative values, but as long as he signs tax cuts, attacks liberals, and abuses immigrants, it’s all good.Report

          • Avatar j r in reply to Mike Schilling
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            Definitely an interesting relationship. But for the most part, the people who want lower taxes and less regulation want lower taxes and less regulation. And the people who want racism and xenophobia want racism and xenophobia. There’s no reason to play that kind of shell game.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to j r
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              If I understand you correctly, this makes absolutely no sense, especially from an intelligent person like yourself.

              So I must not understand you.

              Suppose that the low taxes/low regulation folks know that they don’t have enough votes to pass that kind of free-standing legislation. Whadyado? Well…..

              I mean, what you appear to not comprehend is politics 101, yeah?Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to Stillwater
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                Yes, that makes sense in theory. In reality, I don’t think it happened that way. To use the examples from above, I think that the Koch brothers are right-libertarians who threw in with conservatives (tolerating the populism) because they thought it gave them the best chance of success. And I think that Carlson is a right-populist who threw in with conservatives (tolerating the libertarians) for the same reason.

                Mike’s comment implies that people like the Koch’s are really secret right-populists who sell free-market economics to advance their real racist/xenophobic agenda. I don’t think that accurately describes the Koch’s or even the people who do want the racist/xenophobic agenda.Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Oscar Gordon
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      “Country club republicans get tromped by the man who owns the country clubs. Elites hardest hit.”

      or

      “George Will’s conservative neighbor gives him a wedgie and shoves him into a locker.”Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Oscar Gordon
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      People like Chip Daniels and Mike Shilling would have you believe that there’s no such thing as a conservative intellectual, only a conservative populist who refuses to admit it.Report

  7. Avatar Rufus F.
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    This ideology combined a belief in shrinking the size and function of government, expanding the role of the market and the private sector, opposing post-1960’s liberal social attitudes, and engaging in a more hawkish and assertive foreign policy.

    Here’s the thing though- could you see the Democrats running someone like this? Because I could. To be fair, I think the Clintons eventually came around on same sex marriage. But, even forgetting them, I could easily see the Democratic Party running a candidate who espoused all of these “common sense” notions and winning because Trump stinks on ice.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Rufus F.
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      I can, if I squint hard enough to give me a headache, see the Dems running an economic centrist to center right platform- though it’s enormously unlikely. There is no fishing way in hell they’d run opposing liberal social attitudes.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Rufus F.
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      says:

      I would guess you disagree but I think the Democratic Party has moved substantially on the left for these issues and I can’t see them running like this. The electorate of the 1990s was very different it was much more white and much older on average. You still had a lot WWII and silent gen types who were turned off by hippies.

      The new demographics are younger, more diverse, and socially liberal and because of the Fiscal Crisis more into the welfare state and what might or might not be “socialism” depending on your point of view.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Saul Degraw
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        says:

        If someone like Rufus describes won the Democratic nomination this cycle, I would be incredibly surprised. Except in the event some regional power going openly to war with the US (eg, attacks on US military assets in the region, cyber-attacks on US infrastructure, etc) — everyone gets a whole lot more “conservative” when there’s a shooting war going on.

        I agree with you about demographics for the Democratic Party. For the country as a whole, well, you’re still stuck with us Boomers. We won’t be hitting the age where we start dying off in significant numbers for another 15 years or so :^)Report

      • Avatar Dave in reply to Saul Degraw
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        says:

        The new demographics are younger, more diverse, and socially liberal and because of the Fiscal Crisis more into the welfare state and what might or might not be “socialism” depending on your point of view.

        Younger, more diverse and just as ignorant as we were at that age if not worse because they’re more righteous than I ever was.

        Oh, I can’t wait for these people to try to make an impact on policy. I joined Team Blue for this very reason. Go me!Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Dave
          Ignored
          says:

          I have no problem with Ocasio-Cortez shooting for the moon on a Green New Deal. I have no problem with Warren proposing a wealth tax. Or Harris going in for Medicare for All. Fact is, most Americans (often including a majority of conservative voters!!!) agree with policies which are conventionally attributed to “progressives”, or “the radical left”. So it’s not the yoots who are driving the sentiment towards progressive policies in American politics. It’s everyone. But the youngs *are* setting themselves up for some serious brow-furrowing and tears when none of their preferred policies become the law of the land.Report

          • Avatar Dave in reply to Stillwater
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            says:

            Shooting for the moon is encourage if not expected. Ask for the world, get pushback, settle at or close to where you thought you would in the first place. I’d call that a good day.

            Fact is, most Americans (often including a majority of conservative voters!!!) agree with policies which are conventionally attributed to “progressives”, or “the radical left”.

            I don’t think that’s a fair explanation although that’s not how I personally look at it. A majority of the people think M4A is a good idea, and frankly, so do I. I think there are a lot of good things that have happened because of the ACA, but on the payor/provider side, it’s a mess and it’s gotten worse – a predictable consequence of giving insurers the power they have.

            Would I support it now? No. I think it would have horrific consequences on healthcare providers and the delivery of services. Having insurance to pay for healthcare services is one thing. Getting access to them is an entirely different animal.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Dave
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              says:

              I’m slightly confused by what you wrote. Are you saying the ACA has made it harder to implement a single payer plan like M4A? If so, could you elaborate on why that’s the case?Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F.
      Ignored
      says:

      I mean, I hear that the Democratic Party has moved substantially to the left, but it reminds me of when my Fox News loving mother telling me that the country is on the verge of a socialist revolution because Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is so likeable. I think time will tell, but I think a lot of the ideas we cite as “conservative republican” ones are still treated as accepted laws of nature by most people in Washington. I will, however, concede that liberal social attitudes are pretty much accepted as “common sense” by both sides of the aisle now.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F.
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        says:

        But the real problem the Republicans will have is trying to keep a personality cult going after the figurehead leaves office.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Rufus F.
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          says:

          Maybe. The Tea Party precedes Trumpism and was driven by a delightful combination of ignorance, arrogance and imbecility, which the Trumpist base seem to have an unending supply of.

          Add: now that I think about it – given the response to Trump’s tariffs and shutdown stunt – maybe not. So you may be right. There’s hope. 🙂Report

      • Avatar InMD in reply to Rufus F.
        Ignored
        says:

        This is part of the weird realignment we’re in. The liberals won the culture war but mostly at the expense of giving up on the class war. The big C conservatives of the Reagan era won a generational victory in the class war but the side in the culture war they relied on to do it is mostly dead, either literally or figuratively, as a movement.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to InMD
          Ignored
          says:

          The liberals won the culture war but mostly at the expense of giving up on the class war.

          Could you elaborate on that? I don’t quite understand what you mean. For context, my impression is that liberals/dem voters have been pretty effective at voluntarily surrendering on the class war over the last many decades, so it’s not like conservatives *won* anything on that score (granting that the GOP is usually identified as the Party of capital). It just wasn’t on their political radar in the way it is now. But now ( you know, NOW!!!) the Dems have ramped up the class war element to the degree that it pervades just about every one of the sexy policy proposals being offered.

          Add: Ahh, are you talking about political priorities? (Even then I think Dems gave up on class-based politics voluntarily, in large part because of Clinton’s neoliberalism.)Report

          • Avatar InMD in reply to Stillwater
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            says:

            Sorry it took forever to respond. There was a surrender by the Dems epitomized by the 1992 Clinton campaign. However I think that was caused (maybe even necessitated politically) by a real Conservative win in the class war. The middle class, broadly defined, was convinced to get on board with trickle down/supply side ideas.

            Obviously that’s now changing but those ideas don’t reach the level of ascendancy they did without convincing a lot of less-than-millionaires to get on board. To the sub generation of boomers that came of age in the 70s rhetoric that sounds crazy post-2008 probably made a lot of sense. No one was laughing at the Laffer curve yet.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to InMD
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          says:

          I think if you look at the areas that have become liberal strongholds: academia, publishing, mass media, and the Democratic Party in particular- most of them have barriers of entry that increasingly tilt against the children from blue collar backgrounds. So, it’s understandable that culture war issues took precedence over social issues. I went to university with those sort of liberals- they weren’t very comfortable with “townies” usually.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Rufus F.
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            says:

            The barrier to entry in those fields isn’t *blue collar* but talent, seems to me.

            Just the other day I was in a discussion with someone who thought that people who are better/best at their field constituted an “elite” which conservatives are justified in rejecting. Is the conclusion of that observation-based argument that *stupid* people should hold those positions? If so, that’s the most devastating indictment of contemporary conservatism: the idea that idiots should guide our policy and politics.Report

            • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              Sure, talent & money. I’d love to believe a talented child of a cab driver could work an unpaid internship at a NY publishing house after completing their MFA at an elite university, but I think it’s less common than we think.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Rufus F.
                Ignored
                says:

                There’s a wide chasm between “Liberals* control all the entry points to success and influence” and “poor people are at a disadvantage in attaining success and influence”.

                *Especially when the term “liberal” means “someone who rejects evidence to promote a political agenda”. Which is apparently something all the AGW deniers and waaaayyy too many conservatives in general believe. (I offer that, without charge, as a litmus test, bro!)Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                There’s a wide chasm between “Liberals* control all the entry points to success and influence” and “poor people are at a disadvantage in attaining success and influence”.

                Fair enough. But I wouldn’t say all the points of entry to success and influence. Just a few. I wouldn’t be surprised if oil company execs were a lot farther to the right than the heads of humanities departments, while having more influence and achieving more success overall. And it might well be the case that poor people are at a disadvantage at getting their foot in the door there too.

                I just know the humanities and higher ed because I spent a decade or so in that world and we were usually liberals- or worse! And we were vaguely aware that it’s become a lot harder than it once was to get one’s footing in that world without a spouse to support you or parents to support you or a kind and loving bank to support you. But we didn’t think much about how that skews the focus of liberalism in the long run.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Rufus F.
                Ignored
                says:

                Or:

                “I’d like to believe a talented prospective lawyer could be successful even tho her parents are financially poor and don’t understand how higher education works.”

                I mean, our system isn’t ideal but the idea that we should attain some sort of God-like view of people’s ability and foster them accordingly is an ideal that wafts away at the next inhale.Report

  8. Avatar Chip Daniels
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    says:

    In the early 90s when the Berlin Wall fell I remember reading that it signaled also the death of Reagan/ Thatcherism, on the grounds that their type of conservatism was a reaction against the march of socialism. Without that opponent, they had nothing left to say.

    I think that is pretty much the case, even if we are grasping it several decades later. I think this dovetails with Corey Robin’s thesis that small c conservatism is a reactionary movement seeking to preserve the privilege of power, in our case white male power.
    Looking at the span of 1988 to 2018, I see American conservatism gradually drifting farther and farther away from any concepts of economics and international policy, and deeper into the swamps of white male supremacy.

    Most of the flash point issues we deal with today (guns, immigration, abortion) are totems, symbolic of the divide between a white male supremacy and a multicultural world.Report

    • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels
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      says:

      Conservatism is doomed!Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Chip Daniels
      Ignored
      says:

      Corey Robin’s thesis that small c conservatism is a reactionary movement seeking to preserve the privilege of power, in our case white male power.

      Robin’s argument is hackish. It only succeeds by conflating the de re claim that conservatives throughout the ages have wished to preserve, or harken back to older ways of living/ organising society etc and these ways of living happened to be ones where the particular groups that conservatives belonged to were in power with the de dicto claim that conservatives really just care about preserving their own power by any means necessary.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Murali
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        says:

        You don’t agree that contemporary American conservatives care only about preserving their own power (that is, the power of white males) by any means necessary?

        I see mountains of evidence to support this argument.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Chip Daniels
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          says:

          Chip, Robin’s claim is not about contemporary American conservatives, but conservatism since Edmund Burke onwards.

          Contemporary American conservatives are not a monolithic group. Many have mistaken beliefs about what a good and just society would look like but may very well be sincere in their desire for a good and just society. Many have racist beliefs, but these are not tied to any specific desire to remain in power. For instance, believing that those people are intrinsically criminally inclined is racist, but it is not a matter of preserving one’s own power. About the only people of whom we could properly attribute “care only about preserving their own power (that is, the power of white males) by any means necessary” are white nationalists. And even of trump supporters, white nationalists form only a fraction.

          To sum up, not all contemporary american conservatives support trump. Not all trump supporters are white nationalists.Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Murali
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            says:

            The problem is that there is a kind of damming by association. Maybe not all Trump supporters are die-hard white reactionaries/nationalists but they are certainly voting for someone for whatever reason. At a certain point, is there a moral responsibility to abandon a goal because the journey to the goal is morally odious and destructive?

            Hypothetically, let’s say this: Sean Penn and Gwenyth Paltrow somehow become the Democratic picks for Pres and VP in 2024 and they are promising to deliver on long-term Democratic goals. They are also sprouting a lot of woo and nonsense. A lot of Democratic voters feel that the “very serious people” will be all over the media lecturing Democrats and Democratic politicians on how it is important not to give into Penn/Paltrow and that it is time to abandon those goals for the time being for the greater good.

            Trump is basically running his admin as a highly Orthodox Republican despite some pretend odes to Medicare and Social Security and welfare during the campaign. He did huge tax cuts which benefit the corporations and the wealthy. He is appointing really conservatives judges loved by Christian fundies and the Federalist society. He is rolling back regulations, etc. You will see people like Jeff Flake and Ben Nelson furrow their brows and express concern about his ugliness but then they vote for the stuff in Congress anyway and furrow some more.

            Lots of people try to excuse Flake and Nelson’s non-action by stating “but these are long-term goals.” If someone has sympathy for Republicans in these positions but not a Democratic politician, don’t you think that is hypocritical or a sign of partisan sympathy.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Murali
            Ignored
            says:

            “In conclusion, American conservatism is a land of contrasts.”

            Which is a truthful statement, but largely irrelevant.

            The Never-Trumpers are one by one being exiled, marginalized, or co-opted into silence of surrender. Read the news today of the divorce/ exile of several masthead writers from RedState.

            And mostly, (IMO) because they are unable to construct a vision of conservatism that is:
            a) different than mainstream liberalism and
            b) addresses contemporary facts on the ground.

            Those facts would be the inability of elected conservative officials to deliver the promised results.
            Reference Brownback in Kansas, and Walker in Wisconsin.
            Reference also the inability of the social wing to deliver any meaningful vision of morality, and the massive exodus of young people from it.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali
            Ignored
            says:

            Chip, Robin’s claim is not about contemporary American conservatives, but conservatism since Edmund Burke onwards.

            Robin’s claim is that the distinction you’re making here isn’t valid. He’s drawing (or trying to draw) a throughline from conservatisms Burkean past to the present moment.Report

            • Avatar Murali in reply to Stillwater
              Ignored
              says:

              This is not exactly the genetic fallacy, but a kind of reverse genetic fallacy. John is a bastard so all his forbears must be bastards too?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali
                Ignored
                says:

                It’s been a long time since I read Robin’s book, but as I recall he doesn’t offer any arguments along the lines of bastardization (or corruptions, or impurities, etc). He’s looking for a mechanism, a means, by which conservatism in all it’s disparate forms and alterations are united such that we call them “conservative”. Alsotoo, he’s not offering an *analysis* of what conservatism is, but identifying one property which conservatives and conservatism seems to be motivated by. So it’s an empirical account and not a philosophical theory. At least in my view.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Stillwater,

                Alsotoo, he’s not offering an *analysis* of what conservatism is, but identifying one property which conservatives and conservatism seems to be motivated by. So it’s an empirical account and not a philosophical theory. At least in my view.

                There is a motte and bailey thing going on. Here is the motte: To some extent people’s choice of moral and political ideology tends to be influenced by their interests. For people in power, their interest in remaining in power influences their choice of moral and political beliefs by inducing them to support ideologies like conservatism according to which they ought to remain in power. This is a not entirely uncontroversial motte, but it seems like a plausible enough motte provided it is applied across the board. Hence socialists’s choice of ideology is also in part driven by their will to power as well. You can’t get much ideological mileage out of it unless you claim implausibly that people on your own side don’t have a will to power or that its okay if your side has it but not the other.

                The bailey is the claim that conservatism is just a reactionary expression of the will to power. This where he gets more ideological mileage and gets to de-legitimise all claims that conservatives make. We need not treat conservatives as co equal citizens if conservatism is just the expression of their will to power. Dismissing conservatism as just reactionary will to power makes room for a lot of self-congratulatory back patting. Of course when pushed on this, you can retreat to the more plausible motte where it is just one influence among many.

                Also, it seems that to say that conservatism is X is to provide an analysis of conservatism. Moreover, people who self-identify as conservatives do not generally go around saying “we are doing this for the sake of white men everywhere”. So, it cannot be a purely empirical enterprise.

                There is a huge interpretive task. It is a matter of figuring out what conservatives in general really care about vs what they claim to care about. To the extent that he is engaging in this interpretive task, he is saying that conservative political preferences throughout the ages would be most rationally justified if conservatives only cared about retaining or recapturing power and privilege. This is most definitely not an empirical project. This requires rigorous philosophical analysis of the claims that are supposed to underlie conservatism; analysis which Robin does not provide.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali
                Ignored
                says:

                #notallconservativesareprivilegeholders 🙂

                #noteveryoneexpresseswhattheytrulybelieveReport

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Murali
                Ignored
                says:

                Except that conservatives pretty much make Robin’s case for him. Explicitly, every day.

                There doesn’t seem to be any straight line that connects the policy preferences of Republicans/ conservatives, other than whatever happens to benefit white males, at the particular moment.

                If you tried to make a matching “will to power” statement of liberals, you would be forced to say “whatever benefits men and women, whites and nonwhites, gay, straight and trans, rich and poor.”

                In other words, I think it is pretty easy to make the case that liberal policy tend to benefit a very wide base of citizens, whereas conservative ones benefit only a few.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                Well, if white males stand to gain from conservative policies, then they stand to lose from progressive ones right?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali
                Ignored
                says:

                Exactly. You’re one step away from white nationalism. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                So the question is: is it legitimate for people to exercise their will to power in the political realm? i.e. is it legitimate for people to vote a certain way simply because it is to their advantage? If yes, then white nationalism if no, then all this talk about ideology only ever being expression of the will to power is rubbish. Because there is nothing apart from ideology which could tell someone that she should not vote a certain way just because it benefits her.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali
                Ignored
                says:

                So the question is: is it legitimate for people to exercise their will to power in the political realm? i.e. is it legitimate for people to vote a certain way simply because it is to their advantage?

                Sure. Of course. But that’s not the only question. Another question might be this: if a majority of people in the US decided to destroy the planet with nuclear bombs to expedite the rapture, would we agree with them?Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                Sure, limits on democracy work too.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali
                Ignored
                says:

                That’s a different issue 🙂Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Murali
                Ignored
                says:

                Can you articulate how?Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                Well, if conservatives stood to gain with progressive policies, given that they care only about their own advantage they would vote for progressive policies right?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                Could be wrong about this but Robin’s thesis isn’t that white males determine what constitutes privilege in political contexts, but rather that the prospective *loss* of privilege (in whatever form it may take) is what drives conservatism, while granting that rich white males are the pinnacle of the privilege pyramid.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali
        Ignored
        says:

        “Robin’s thesis is obviously ridiculous. He can’t even get his tenses right!”Report

      • Avatar Dave in reply to Murali
        Ignored
        says:

        “Robin’s argument is hackish.”

        People take him seriously? Who knew?

        Is the patriarchy in there somewhere too?Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Dave
          Ignored
          says:

          Hmmm. Suggesting Robin is hackish because he’s a patriarchy believer is like mocking climate scientists for believing in radar.Report

          • Avatar Dave in reply to Stillwater
            Ignored
            says:

            I’m just suggesting he’s hackish because I don’t find people like him worth the time. I threw patriarchy in there for dramatic effect, which you took as a serious point though it wasn’t meant to be.

            *shrugs

            I get enough headaches listening to that side of the political aisle, especially when it comes to the sandbox I live, eat and breathe on a daily basis.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Dave
              Ignored
              says:

              S’all right. Lots of people don’t like Robin’s views *and there’s nothing wrong with that*. 🙂 He takes a very academic-y approach to this stuff, which isn’t everyone’s cup o’ tea.

              Adding: one thing that I like about Robin’s effort on this topic is that unlike conservatives, he’s actually offering a coherent view of what drives the conservative political impulse. Whether you agree with him or not, the scope of his view has a lot more explanatory power than merely repeating the nonsensical view that conservatism stands athwart history yelling stop.Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                I have nothing against good academic literature, and I’ve read papers written by the academics working out of UC Berkeley on healthcare policy – especially on how consolidation in both the payor and provider spaces is wreaking havoc on healthcare costs borne by individuals.

                I read a number of different healthcare sites, download white papers, read testimony, etc.

                I may be just a dumb real estate guy, but I have to know everything there is to know about healthcare and then some and some of the academic literature is useful even if it’s written for a different audience with a different perspective.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Dave
                Ignored
                says:

                Sorry. I didn’t mean to imply that academic-y stuff *in general* doesn’t appeal to people (or to you), but that a certain *type* of academic-y stuff doesn’t . Eg., stuff originating in liberal arts departments. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Dave in reply to Stillwater
                Ignored
                says:

                All good. I didn’t think negatively of your comments or thought you were thinking things you weren’t. I just clarified is all.

                I try to read most people here charitably anyway even when I’m my usually old cranky ass self. People know where to find me anyway in case there are concerns. 😀Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
      Ignored
      says:

      Black and Asian conservatives would strongly dispute that assertion.Report

  9. Avatar Stillwater
    Ignored
    says:

    Off thread (!!) but the sidebar (and state of discussion page) show comments I can’t access when I click on them. Been going on for months, seems like. Is the problem on my end?Report

  10. Avatar Kolohe
    Ignored
    says:

    Good post and interesting discussion. I like the concept of ‘winning the class war and losing the culture war’ is what defines turn of the century conservatism – and vice versa for liberalism.

    From the beginning of US history, you can always identify two major factions in American politics, which nominally can be considered ‘conservative’/’right-wing’ and ‘liberal’/’left wing’. But often, specific policy preferences shift between those coalitions, both as their composition changes, as well as the larger economic and social organization of the US changes.

    The shift of people who had been Jeffersonian/Jacksonian Democrats from 1800 to 1964 is now complete (it’s taken a full 50 years to make that transition). So now the Republican party is trying to an intraparty balancing act of both Hamilton and Jackson, which of course creates a lot of friction and incoherence. (The Democratic party is, to a lesser extent, trying to a balancing act of Hamilton and Eugene Debs, but it has Jefferson, and ironically enough, Wilson, in there trying to smooth things out)

    Though really, the biggest problem the Republican party has right now?

    They, and especially their most vocal backers in their media bubble, are dilettantes with no shred of honor.

    Which is also nonetheless a blessing, for America, in a sort of Field Marshal Moltke analytical framework. (re: four types of officers)Report

  11. Avatar Philip H
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    says:

    Brandon Berg: Also, conversely, the 90s were characterized by virtually flat federal spending, after adjusting for inflation and population growth, resulting in a decline in federal spending from 21.5% of GDP in 1991 to 17.5% in 2000. Again, while this isn’t a slam-dunk case for small government, it’s suggestive of such.

    And all done under a centerist neocon “liberal” Democratic President, who left an operating surplus to the “compassionate” conservative who followed him. Whether or not he has sexual relations with that woman, Mr. Clinton tried really hard to deliver on Reagan’s promise.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Philip H
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      says:

      Economic prosperity doesn’t count when it occurs under a Democratic President because everybody knows they are insincere about it. Just waiting for the first opportunity to collectivize the means of production and send Evangelicals to the gulags.Report

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