Friday, May 09, 2008


I meant to link to this horrific David Brooks editorial last week, arguing for a version of conservatism unrecognizable to those conservatives who still believe in limited government.

That means, first, moving beyond the Thatcherite tendency to put economics first. As Oliver Letwin, one of the leading Tory strategists put it: “Politics, once econo-centric, must now become socio-centric.” David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, makes it clear that his primary focus is sociological. Last year he declared: “The great challenge of the 1970s and 1980s was economic revival. The great challenge in this decade and the next is social revival.” In another speech, he argued: “We used to stand for the individual. We still do. But individual freedoms count for little if society is disintegrating. Now we stand for the family, for the neighborhood — in a word, for society.”

This has led to a lot of talk about community, relationships, civic engagement and social responsibility. Danny Kruger, a special adviser to Cameron, wrote a much-discussed pamphlet, “On Fraternity.” These conservatives are not trying to improve the souls of citizens. They’re trying to use government to foster dense social bonds.

They want voters to think of the Tories as the party of society while Labor is the party of the state. They want the country to see the Tories as the party of decentralized organic networks and the Laborites as the party of top-down mechanistic control.

On the Cato blog, John Samples links to a Lyndon Johnson speech from 1964 that sounds suspiciously similar.

The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization…. For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society….

The Great Society … is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community…. It is a place where man can renew contact with nature. It is a place which honors creation for its own sake and for what it adds to the understanding of the race. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods….

Worst of all, expansion [of the economy] is eroding the precious and time-honored values of community with neighbors and communion with nature. The loss of these values breeds loneliness and boredom and indifference….

The solution to these problems does not rest on a massive program in Washington, nor can it rely solely on the strained resources of local authority. They require us to create new concepts of cooperation, a creative federalism, between the National Capital and the leaders of local communities….

For better or for worse, your generation has been appointed by history to deal with those problems and to lead America toward a new age. You have the chance never before afforded to any people in any age. You can help build a society where the demands of morality, and the needs of the spirit, can be realized in the life of the Nation…Will you join in the battle to build the Great Society, to prove that our material progress is only the foundation on which we will build a richer life of mind and spirit?…There are those timid souls who say this battle cannot be won; that we are condemned to a soulless wealth. I do not agree….”

What's scary is that David Brooks and those like him are the basis of John McCain's intellectual base.


Anonymous b.rose said...

Help me out here dude. Why are the Liberals in britain called conservatives?

I mean basically Brooks is saying that the conservatives in the US should become liberals because the Iraq war didn't go so well and because the media is causing the country to believe the US economy is in a depression caused by government somehow, rather than just bad business on the part of some speculators who caused an artificial housing boom, which has caused a period of slow growth? So then we'd have the Liberals and the Socialists, rather than the Republicans and Socialists. Is that what he is getting at?

2:03 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

In a sense, yeah, that's exactly what he's saying, although he might beg to disagree with you.

In Britain the conservative party literally is called "The Conservative Party" and it's the very same party that brought us Margaret Thatcher, the British version of Ronald Regan. Since the time of Thatcher in the 80's, the Conservatives in Britain have drifted ever leftward. Some would argue the same thing has happened here in the U.S., but I wouldn't say it's been nearly as noticeable as what's gone on in Britain.

Of course, anyone watching the Republican debates would have been sure to have noticed that not one candidate other than the crazy Ron Paul actually talked about reducing government or individual rights and responsibilities.

But so, essentially, yeah, thats what Brooks is saying.

2:14 PM  
Anonymous b.rose said...

Restoring the libertarian perception of individual rights was not discussed during the republican debates, that is a fact. Mostly because republican perception is that while privacy etc are important, fighting the war on terror makes it collateral damage. However, there certainly was chatter about reducing government and individual responsibilities however. I assume not enough to your liking and that your bombardment of McCain has to do with you expecting more from republicans. In other words, you know the Libs are trash and you typically expect more from republicans, but are sensing a shift to the political middle, which in most senses is a shift farther and farther away from libertarianism. So in one sense while McCain is the lesser of the evils among him Obama and Hillary, it doesn't matter in your mind because he represents the republican shift further away from libertarianism. And a "true" republican was your only hope for an acceptable candidate?

Correct me if I'm wrong, I'm just trying to understand why McCain irks you more than Obama and Hillary. I'm assuming you just hold him to a higher standard, because Obama is more brutal in these respects than any mainstream politician I've been exposed to and I would expect more venom for him.

3:08 PM  
Anonymous b.rose said...

and so you know my personal views, I agree with ron paul and most of you guys on all but a couple issues.

1) privacy and civil liberties. I haven't spent 2 seconds of my entire life worrying about that stuff. i feel free and have never felt anything but free.

2) iraq. libertarians support a quick pull out. i do not. whether to go to war or not was one policy decision. this is another seperate decision. now that we're in a war, you let petraeus fight the war.

and i get the sense you guys are a little bit protectionist, which I'm not a fan of at all. i believe in forming alliances through mutual generation of wealth. what these fuckin dems in congress are doing w/ columbia is awful. could be wrong about libertarians perspective on protectionism; economically and militarily.

aside from that, i think im on board.

3:15 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

In our bi-polar political world, we're given two choices, Democrats who are supposedly more liberal and Republicans who are supposedly more conservative. I don't try to look at things from that bi-polar perspective- I'd rather examine issues from a libertarian standpoint of limited government, individual freedom, and good old rationality. (Or as Reason magazine puts it, free minds and free markets.)

Democrats are pure and unadulterated statists, beleiving they can wield the power of government for the betterment of the whole. Republicans tend to be better, but truth be told are really much more of a mixed bag. Some support essentially liberal notions of government authority, while some are not very different from "get the hell off our backs" libertarians.

I don't feel the need to point out the obvious flaws of Clinton or Obama because they are Democrats and they are liberals. Neither I nor anyone else has any illusions that they stand for small government or that any of their supporters really want small government. No need to beat a dead horse.

To make a long story short, I'm tougher on McCain because I'm worried about the future of conservatism. It's not just McCain, but the Republican party and the leftward drift of conservative thought as a whole. If you look at Mike Huckabee who did so surprisingly well in the primaries, you see a candidate who earned the votes of many self-identified conservatives with a platform mixing social conservative values and an economic policy that may as well have come from John Edwards. As the Republican nominee, McCain's political philosophy and the ideology of those who support him matter because even if I don't vote for Republicans all the time, a world in which the two major parties are both the parties of big government is a scary one.

And on a completely different note, I've always felt that conservatives (or at least true philosophical conservatives) and libertarians tend to disagree on issues of more ambiguity. Get rid of the liberals and all the terrible policy they bring on trade and economics and let libertarians and conservatives fight out the bigger issues of the day.

As to your final few points, if you ever have a chance to go back and read older postings, you'll see plenty about privacy and civil liberties. Civil liberties remain a concern of mine and always will be a concern. I think the Bush administration has mishandled aspects of the war on terror from a legal perspective, setting aside too much power in the executive branch, and not setting up clear policy from the outset as to how different types of terror suspects will be handled. For instance, an enemy combatant captured on the battlefield is different than an enemy operative captured by the CIA in a foreign country which is different from a citizen suspected of terrorism apprehended on American soil. We don't need to give every terrorist a trial, nor do we need to shut down Gitmo, but to this day we're lacking clear procedures. And as I've blogged about before, much of the fault there lies with critics just as much as with the Administration. For all the complaints I've seen very few plans on how real live terror suspects that may have information vital to U.S. security should be handled.

As to privacy, it's all just a big joke. People worked up over the FBI checking out your library books? Please. Even the whole warrantless wiretapping brew ha ha? Much ado about nothing. I've yet to see a case where an American citizen was prosecuted for some offense discovered through a warrantless wiretap. The war on drugs concerns me as a civil liberties matter because I can literally count the bodies of innocent victims. I'm not about to worry about wiretapping and library books while the war on drugs is still an issue.

And more importantly, I think to be realistic, you have to accept the fact that in this modern technological era, every government is going to be engaged in all sorts of spying and espionage. It's not enough to get me worked up until the government actually starts to actually violate rights with information from spying. For now, I'm not all that worried if some spook happens to here part of a phone call with my grandmother.

As to the war .. ehhh, yeah most libertarians do. It's probably the biggest divide between libertarians and those libertarians who tend to find themselves aligned with conservatives. I'm not sure where I stand at this point- that's probably a whole topic to blog about- but I had been a very strong supporter of the war.

And finally, libertarians don't believe in protectionism. They believe in open and free trade. Ron Paul's a bit of anomaly because he opposes free trade agreements like NAFTA on what amounts to technical grounds. Technically, Paul believes in free trade, although I'm not sure all his supporters do. Personally, I look at free trade like the rest of foreign policy- sometimes we need these complicated "free trade" agreements because that's how the world works.

9:05 PM  
Anonymous b.rose said...

Good to see you look at civil liberties that way. I thought it was more along the lines of the whiny lib college students who think bush is listening to them talk to their boyfriend/girlfriend. That's a logical perspective.

And yeah, SCARY is the only word for how much support Huckabee got. Absolutely terrifying. If McCain takes him somehow, I will flip. In one of the debates Huckabee claimed we could be energy independant in 10 years; i was watching this live. Romney had to catch himself from just laughing at the guy. I think Obama and Hillary would be horrible presidents, yet I'd almost prefer them over Huckabee.

But that gives me better insight into your thought process and basically the issues where I thought we disagreed, it is, as you said, more an instance of ambiguity than real serious differences.

Is there anyone McCain could take for VP that would appease you?

9:33 AM  

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