Posts tagged with: conservatism

thomas-aquinasaugustine-of-hippoAs I noted previously, I’ve been involved this month in a panel discussion over at Cato Unbound on the issue of “Conservative-Libertarian Fusionism.”

My two most recent contributions to the discussion phase focus on possible resources for the question that can be gleaned from Augustine and Aquinas.

Augustine inaugurated a tradition of Christian reflection on the saeculum, the age of this world in which the wheat and the tares grow up together, and the implications of this for common life together. On the relevance of Augustine for modern considerations of political order, I recommend a recent lecture from Eric Gregory of Princeton University.

Aquinas in many respects, and as Gregory points out, should be read as a constructive interlocutor with Augustine rather than in opposition with him. Indeed, Augustine wrote in his Enchiridion that “although every crime is a sin, not every sin is a crime.” Likewise in his treatise on free choice, he observed, “The law which is framed for the government of states, allows and leaves unpunished many things that are punished by Divine providence.”

In this vein, Aquinas treats in systematic fashion the question, “Whether it belongs to human law to repress all vices?” As I contend over at Cato Unbound, Aquinas follows Augustine in answering negatively, and his discussion has some serious implications for how both conservatives and libertarians ought to think about the limits of the law: “Conservatives and libertarians ought to recognize that positive law is not meant to repress all vices or to promote all virtues.”

Conservatives need to stop shying away from principled, as opposed to merely utilitarian, defenses of economic freedom and its associated institutions, says Acton research director Samuel Gregg in an article for Public Discourse:

Some fiscal conservatives are certainly too sanguine about creative destruction’s unintended negative effects on our lives. But these side effects are not sufficient reasons to try to slow or even stop the process, let alone assume that higher taxes and the welfare state (which itself breeds plenty of dysfunction) are the appropriate response.

Still, it doesn’t seem wise to play down these negative impacts. Given the conservative commitment to limited government, it would seem that the authentically conservative response would be to investigate and apply Tocquevillian “civil society” solutions to such problems before looking to the state for remedies.

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little-way-ruthi-lemingIn his forthcoming book, author and journalist Rod Dreher chronicles his journey back to his hometown of St. Francisville, Louisiana, in “the wake of his younger sister Ruthie’s death.”

After spending time in St. Francisville during the final months of his sister’s life, Dreher, who left his hometown as a teenager and bounced around from city to city in the years proceeding, was struck by the support and generosity his sister received from the community.

In a column written shortly after Dreher’s decision to move back, David Brooks summarized the key drivers of Dreher’s homecoming:

They wanted to be enmeshed in a tight community. They wanted to be around Ruthie’s daughters, and they wanted their kids to be able to go deer hunting with Mike. They wanted to be where the family had been for five generations and participate in the rituals ranging from Mardi Gras to L.S.U. football. They decided to accept the limitations of small-town life in exchange for the privilege of being a part of a community.

The book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life, sets out to further explain this experience and, in the process, emphasize the importance of community. Dreher, who writes regularly at The American Conservative, is well known for his communitarian views, yet despite falling short at times on the role of the market in shaping community life, he is not overly eager to push us into a Wendell-Berry cookie cutter, recognizing that technology does have its benefits, even in community life. In a recent back-and-forth with Acton’s very own Jordan Ballor, Dreher noted that “the localism and the kind of conservatism I favor will in many cases only be feasible through the Internet.”

Finding a “balance” or “fusion” or “integration” in this wide overlap between and across economic mobility and stable community life is a tricky thing for us to understand and respond to. Based on what I’ve heard and read thus far, I trust that Dreher’s latest work will offer plenty of good meat for us to chew on when it comes to processing this and challenging our various perspectives.

In the latest Acculturated podcast, Dreher discusses the book with Ben Domenech and Abby Schachter, offering some strong challenges to modern America’s often distorted approach to flourishing. Toward the end of the discussion, Domenech asks what advice Dreher would give to a young person struggling to preserve some sense of community while contemplating things like vocation, career, and basic economic wherewithal.

Dreher’s response hits just the right notes, explaining how there’s no single path to the features he’s elevating. For Dreher, it ultimately comes down to active obedience, discernment, and attention to both individual calling and our basic human need for community: (more…)

Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, has an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal that every conservative should read—and heed:

Conservatives are fighting a losing battle of moral arithmetic. They hand an argument with virtually 100% public support—care for the vulnerable—to progressives, and focus instead on materialistic concerns and minority moral viewpoints.

The irony is maddening. America’s poor people have been saddled with generations of disastrous progressive policy results, from welfare-induced dependency to failing schools that continue to trap millions of children.

Meanwhile, the record of free enterprise in improving the lives of the poor both here and abroad is spectacular. According to Columbia University economist Xavier Sala-i-Martin, the percentage of people in the world living on a dollar a day or less—a traditional poverty measure—has fallen by 80% since 1970. This is the greatest antipoverty achievement in world history. That achievement is not the result of philanthropy or foreign aid. It occurred because billions of souls have been able to pull themselves out of poverty thanks to global free trade, property rights, the rule of law and entrepreneurship.

Some say the solution for conservatives is either to redouble the attacks on big government per se, or give up and try to build a better welfare state. Neither path is correct. Raging against government debt and tax rates that most Americans don’t pay gets conservatives nowhere, and it will always be an exercise in futility to compete with liberals on government spending and transfers.

Instead, the answer is to make improving the lives of vulnerable people the primary focus of authentically conservative policies.

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Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
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Lee Habeeb and Mike Leven explain why it’s essential to make the moral case for conservatism:

If there is a single reason why conservatives continue to lose the battle of ideas, it’s because we don’t make the moral case for freedom and free markets. Our political class instead makes the economic case for our philosophy. Our smart guys are so impressed with their own intelligence, they think we can win the debate using numbers and data, charts and graphs, and political tactics and strategy.

It’s the Left’s secret advantage. They create the feeling that they care more about the average American because they make the moral case for their philosophy.

[. . .]

As the state takes more of our money, there is less for us to give to churches, synagogues, and mosques who take care of the weakest among us. And not just with a check, but with a caring human being connected to that material support.We can point to 20th-century Europe’s experience. As the state grew, the churches there had less influence and eventually emptied.

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The Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) recently relaunched their flagship publication, Intercollegiate Review, and added a brand new daily website, IntercollegiateReview.com. As a companion site to the decades-old magazine, the online daily will mainly serve undergraduate readers interested in learning more about the principles of conservatism. Here are some of the featured stories you should check out:
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Given all the reassessment going on today about conservatism and its popularity and viability for governing, I recommend picking up a copy of The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election by Garland Tucker, III.

The author is Chief Executive Officer of Triangle Capital Corporation in Raleigh, N.C. Over the years, I’ve highlighted how Coolidge’s ideas relate to Acton’s thought and mission. And while I’ve read and written a lot about Coolidge, I knew next to nothing about John W. Davis. Davis was a lawyer, ambassador, and Solicitor General of the United States who hailed from West Virginia. He argued 140 cases before the Supreme Court. As the Democratic presidential nominee in 1924, he was also Coolidge’s election opponent.

Davis believed strongly in limited government and economic freedom. He criticized the policies of the New Deal saying, “Whether business is better today than it was yesterday, or will be better or worse tomorrow than it is today, is a poor guide for people who are called upon to decide what sort of government they want to live under both today and tomorrow and for the long days after.”

I reached out to the author to ask him some questions about his book and about the ideas and significance of Coolidge and Davis. Below is the interview:
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Blog author: rnothstine
Thursday, November 8, 2012
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Mississippi State Senator Chris McDaniel has written a solid essay asking “Is ‘free’ now more important than ‘freedom?” It’s a serious and much needed indictment against our culture and the political class. McDaniel is a deep thinker and his work has been highlighted on the PowerBlog before. Below is an excerpt from his recent essay:

Building on their principle of self-rule, we have always understood the need for balance between freedom and order; and we built our hopes on a society based on individual liberty, free market economics and limited government. But now, citizens seemingly stand on the edge of a precipice, embracing and adoring the weight of federal authority in a fashion never envisioned by preceding generations.

Making matters worse, our politicians are guilty of encouraging the growth of government by demanding that it sustain and shelter us cradle-to-grave, while universally neglecting families, religious organizations, community charities and others that are better able to perform needed services. Producing a guardian society, they have abandoned historic precepts found in the Constitution, and “the people” have followed suit. Instead of encouraging independence, we have placed protectors in office who have suggested countless feel-good programs, using our desires of security to fuel their ambitious careers.

Read all of “Is ‘free’ now more important than ‘freedom’?

David Brooks recently took on the conservative movement for relying too heavily on pro-market arguments and tired formulas rather than emphasizing its historic features of custom, social harmony, and moral preservation.

As I’ve already noted in response to the Brooks piece, I agree that conservatism needs a renewed intellectual foundation brought about by a return to these emphases, yet I disagree that a lopsided devotion to “economic freedom” is what’s stalling us. If we hope to restore traditionalist conservatism, we’d do well to recognize that this means restoring economic conservatism along with it. Brooks is upset that dogmatic pro-market folks have seized the Republican Party, yet this is the same Republican Party that nominated the architect of Romneycare and can’t seem to get serious about the deficit.

Conservatism is faltering all around, and the reasons for each “sect’s” demise are more or less interrelated. As I’ve written elsewhere, we need to restore a holistic conservative imagination that ties its social and economic strains together by grounding them both in Russell Kirk’s “enduring moral order.”

For David Brooks, restoration is all about “balance,” but for the true conservative, it needs to be about integration.
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Over at Y’all Politics, Mississippi State Senator Chris McDaniel penned an excellent essay on conservatism and the moral order. Deeply influenced by Russell Kirk, McDaniel’s words are worth the read. They are a reminder that sustainable political liberty has to have a proper moral order and foundation for society to flourish. Below is an excerpt of his essay:

The embrace of Judeo-Christian morality is an indispensable component of American life and conservative ideology, particularly in the State of Mississippi.

It is the acceptance of an astute understanding shared by the founders — a belief that moral truths exist and are necessary for people to responsibly self-govern their own affairs.

Although we are all imperfect, Mississippi conservatives believe that moral limits to human behavior are intertwined into our nature, not simply accidents of history. We regard such limits as something that must be conserved to protect character from avarice, envy, unhealthy ambition and destruction. As Russell Kirk noted in his masterpiece, The Conservative Mind, we have a “belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience.”

We recognize, as he did, that “political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.” Consequently, we do not reject moral certainties; we accommodate them, understanding that good individuals make good citizens.

Self-government and moral order are intertwined. Without moral order, notions of liberty often slide into chaotic license, and expanding government rushes in to fill the void and reestablish order. The result is a corresponding and often devastating loss of personal liberty.

And yet, contrary to other political philosophies which embody the might of centralized authority, we do not propose that it should be the mission of government, by force of law, to dictate to others how they must live or to remake authority in an effort to micro-manage every individual’s whims and desires.

Continue reading “Self-Government and Moral Order are Intertwined.”