We read the same Bible and follow the same Jesus. We go to the same churches and even agree on the same social issues. So why then do liberal and conservative evangelicals tend to disagree so often about economic issues?
To explore that question I recently wrote a series of posts explaining “What Liberal Evangelicals Should Know About the Economic Views of Conservative Evangelicals.” The posts covered 12 principles that generally drive the thinking of conservative evangelicals when it comes to economics:
1. Good intentions are often trumped by unintended consequences.
2. Our current economic and historical context must be taken into account when applying Biblical principles
3. To exploit the poor, the rich need the help of the government.
4. We love economic growth because we love babies.
5. The economy is not a zero sum game.
6. Inequality and poverty in America is more often a matter of personal choice than structural injustice.
7. The best way to compensate for structural injustice is to increase individual freedom.
8. Saddling future generations with crippling debt is immoral.
9. Social mobility — specifically getting people out of poverty — is infinitely more important than income inequality.
10. Jobs that lead to human flourishing are the most important part of a moral economy.
11. Free markets are information systems designed for virtuous people
12. Free markets are the best way to serve free people.
To make it easier to read, I’ve compiled the entire series into a single essay, which can be downloaded in PDF or text format here.
What we oppose is “the Revolution,” by which we mean the political and social system embodied in the French Revolution… What we combat, on principle and without compromise, is the attempt to totally change how a person thinks and how he lives, to change his head and his heart, his home and his country—to create a state of affairs the very opposite of what has always been believed, cherished, and confessed, and so to lead us to a complete emancipation from the sovereign claims of Almighty God.
The French Revolution was the first and most brazen attempt of this kind. Thus, like Edmund Burke, we do not hesitate to focus our attack on this monstrous Revolution. To forestall any misunderstanding, I ask only of my readers, be they adherents or opponents, to bear in mind that the enduring power of an idea is different from its fleeting expression in that one event.
As an idea, the Revolution turns everything topsy-turvy, such that what was at the bottom rises to the top and what was at the very top now moves to the bottom. In this way it severs the ties that bind us to God and his Word, in order to subject both to human criticism. Once you undermine the family by replacing it with self-chosen (often sinful) relationships, once you embrace a whole new set of ideas, rearrange your notions of morality, allow your heart to follow a new direction—once you do this the Encyclopedists will be followed by the Jacobins, the theory by the practice, because “the new humanity” requires a new world. What the philosophers, whose guilt is greater, did to your minds and hearts with pen and compass and scalpel (and would like even more boldly to do to your children) will be carried out by the heroes of the barricades with dagger, torch, and crowbar. (more…)
While working on a recording together, Johnny Cash asked Bob Dylan if he knew “Ring of Fire.” Dylan said he did and began to play it on the piano, croaking it out in typical Dylanesque fashion. When he was done he turned to his friend and said, “It goes something like that, right?” “No,” said Cash shaking his head. “It doesn’t go like that at all.”
I can understand how Cash felt; I often get the same feeling when people talk about conservatism. For example, a friend of mine once wrote that, “Conservatism is what it is and it’s not subject to interpretation. It’s not a ‘living’ concept subject to the vagaries of public opinion. It’s small government, low taxes, and muscular foreign policy in its simplest form.” Although many conservatives in America would nod in agreement to that tune, all I can think is that while some of the words are right, “It doesn’t go like that at all.”
No one seems to be able to agree on what the term conservatism means anymore, so we’re forced to keep adding modifiers—neo-, paleo-, pomo-, crunchy—to clarify what we intend. That being the (unfortunate) case, let me add one more for consideration: Waughian conservatism.
William F. Buckley, Jr. considered Evelyn Waugh to be “the greatest English novelist of the century.” His novels are certainly are worth reading (A Handful of Dust is a personal favorite) but it was a travel memoir that provides some of his most intriguing and overlooked thought. In his book, Mexico: An Object Lesson, Waugh presents what could be considered a succinct manifesto of his British, Catholic-influenced conservatism. (I’ve taken the liberty of breaking up the text into paragraphs to make it easier to read):
Peter Robinson, host of the Hoover Institution’s Uncommon Knowledge program, interviews playwright David Mamet about his book The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture and his conversion to conservatism. The blurb on the video notes that, “Mamet explains how, by studying Jewish and Christian texts such as the Talmud and the Bible, he came to approach arguments from a new perspective that aligned itself with conservative politics.” Throughout the interview, which runs about 35 minutes, “Mamet discusses his newly found conservative position on several issues, including social justice and civil rights, the decline of the family and the sexual revolution, affirmative action and race, and domestic politics and foreign policy.”
A recent piece in The Washington Post by Lori Montgomery reports that conservative U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan has been working on solutions to poverty with Robert Woodson, solutions rooted in face-to-face compassion, spiritual transformation and neighborhood enterprise. The Post seems to want to praise Ryan (R. Wis.) for his interest in the poor, but to do so it first has to frame that interest as something foreign to conservatism:
Paul Ryan is ready to move beyond last year’s failed presidential campaign and the budget committee chairmanship that has defined him to embark on an ambitious new project: Steering Republicans away from the angry, nativist inclinations of the tea party movement and toward the more inclusive vision of his mentor, the late Jack Kemp.
The Post’s tendentious description of the tea party movement is contradicted by data laid out in Arthur Brooks’ Gross National Happiness, which shows that conservatives, on average, give a significantly higher percentage of their income to charitable causes than liberals do.
In its defense, the article does have a poster child for its misleading stereotype of conservatism — Paul Ryan’s 2012 presidential election running mate Mitt Romney, the multimillionaire caught on film writing off the bottom 47% of American earners as unreachable freeloaders who don’t pay any taxes. But what Romney has to do with your rank and file tea party conservative is never made clear in the article.
As noted earlier this week on the PowerBlog, 2013 marks the 60th publication anniversary of Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot. This monumental work’s significance derives from its encapsulation of several centuries of conservative thought – fragments, to borrow liberally from T.S. Eliot, shored against the ruins of mid-20th century liberalism, relativism and other brickbats of modernity.
The importance of Kirk’s book (as well the remainder of his extensive body of work) should be obvious to those who share the Acton Institute’s Core Principles and possess a passing familiarity with Kirk’s Ten Conservative Principles. For those new to principles espoused by Dr. Kirk, however, a brief and thoroughly incomplete overview of the latter is in order.
The Ten Conservative Principles began as Six Canons listed in the 1953 edition of The Conservative Mind. Kirk subsequently revised what began as his doctoral dissertation to add the poet and essayist T.S. Eliot to the list of preeminent Western conservative thinkers initially begun with Irish statesman Edmund Burke and originally ending with George Santayana. Similarly, he revised the Six Canons to what became a conservative’s Decalogue.
A conflation of Kirk’s principles for the sake of space limitations might read: There exists an enduring moral order; humankind is imperfectable; property rights are imperative for any free society; community is preferable to collectivism; personal passions abjured for prudence; political power restrained; and, finally, the need for reconciling permanence and change. This conflation hardly does justice to Kirk’s thought, but should serve as an entrée for those subsequently seeking the full 10-course intellectual banquet replete with Master Chef, sommelier and full orchestra. (more…)