Posts tagged with: conservatism

France elected a new president yesterday, the socialist Francois Hollande who has vowed to rein in “Anglo-Saxon” capitalism and dramatically raise taxes on the “rich.” Voters turned out Nicholas Sarkozy, the flamboyant conservative whose five-year term was undermined by Europe’s economic crisis, his paparazzi-worthy lifestyle and a combative personality. But Sarkozy’s defeat exposes “a crisis of identity and purpose that presently afflicts much of Europe’s center-right,” according to Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg in a new analysis on The American Spectator.

The reasons for this widespread disarray on Europe’s right are partly structural. Many European electoral systems are designed to prevent any one party from governing in its own right. Many center-right parties consequently find themselves in coalitions with left-leaning groups. This blunts their ability to challenge left-wing social and economic policies.

Tendencies to tepidness are accentuated by the fact that European politics is dominated by career politicians to an extent unimaginable to Americans who don’t reside in Chicago. European center-right politicians are consequently even more focused upon acquiring and staying in office than their American counterparts. That means they are extremely risk-averse when it comes to challenging the European status quo — such as becoming associated with proposals for substantive economic reform or confronting the intolerant leftist hegemony that dominates European educational institutions.

A far deeper problem facing Europe’s center-right, however, is its intellectual-ineffectiveness. By this, I don’t mean that there aren’t any intellectually-convinced European conservatives and free marketers. In fact, there are plenty of such individuals. Their impact upon the public square, however, is minimal.

Such ineffectiveness has several causes. First, most non-left European think-tanks are explicitly associated with existing political parties and usually government-funded. Hence, the willingness of people working in such outfits to criticize their own side for failure to promote conservative principles — something many American think-tanks often do — is limited, if not non-existent.

Gregg also offers suggestions for revitalizing Europe’s conservatives. Read “Europe’s Right in Disarray” by Samuel Gregg on The American Spectator.

Below is an excerpt from an early speech given by Calvin Coolidge to the Algonquin Club in Boston, Mass. in 1915. These remarks are included in a series of speeches Coolidge published in the book, Have Faith in Massachusetts. The speeches primarily deal with his philosophy of government, which because of his emphasis on foundational beliefs, remained consistent.

In the excerpt, Coolidge quotes a “Dr. Garman,” who was a professor at Amherst College, in Amherst Mass. Coolidge graduated from the school in 1895. Coolidge’s political rise certainly coincided with a rise in popularity of the social gospel and the progressive movement. Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were progressive presidents that preceded Coolidge. The rise of the progressive era saw the belief that the ideas and ideals set forth in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence could be improved upon. Coolidge would later masterfully pick that kind of thinking apart in his presidential address on the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1926.

As stated before on the PowerBlog, Coolidge is receiving considerably more attention today. Amity Shlaes, interviewed in the Fall 2009 issue of Religion & Liberty, will release a new biography of the 30th president in June. If you are in the Grand Rapids area, I will be hosting an Acton on Tap on Coolidge’s philosophy of government on May 10.

Coolidge uses the backdrop of a lecture that mentions the purpose of Christ and his coming to earth, the value of work, service, and human nature, to check the social gospel and the progressive utopian ideal. In his remarks, he strongly posits progressive and social justice schemes within the materialist worldview.

Coolidge believed that America’s founding principles could not be improved upon, and that they were in fact the real progressive view. He believed that there were fundamental truths about man and his relationship to the state. Furthermore, he held those views because of his understanding of the fall of man. Below is the excerpt from his remarks “On the Nature of Politics:”

The State is not founded on selfishness. It cannot maintain itself by the offer of material rewards. It is the opportunity for service. There has of late been held out the hope that government could by legislation remove from the individual the need of effort. The managers of industries have seemed to think that their difficulties could be removed and prosperity ensured by changing the laws. The employee has been led to believe that his condition could be made easy by the same method. When industries can be carried on without any struggle, their results will be worthless, and when wages can be secured without any effort they will have no purchasing value. In the end the value of the product will be measured by the amount of effort necessary to secure it. Our late Dr. Garman recognized this limitation in one of his lectures where he says:

“Critics have noticed three stages in the development of human civilization. First: the let alone policy; every man to look out for number one. This is the age of selfishness. Second: the opposite pole of thinking; every man to do somebody’s else work for him. This is the dry rot of sentimentality that feeds tramps and enacts poor laws such as excite the indignation of Herbert Spencer. But the third stage is represented by our formula: every man must render and receive the best possible service, except in the case of inequality, and there the strong must help the weak to help them selves; only on this condition is help given. This is the true interpretation of the life of Christ. On the first basis He would have remained in heaven and let the earth take care of itself. On the second basis He would have come to earth with his hands full of gold and silver treasures satisfying every want that unfortunate humanity could have devised. But on the third basis He comes to earth in the form of a servant who is at the same time a master commanding his disciples to take up their cross and follow Him; it is sovereignty through service as opposed to slavery through service. He refuses to make the world wealthy, but He offers to help them make themselves wealthy with true riches which shall be a hundred-fold more, even in this life, than that which was offered them by any former system.”

Coolidge continues:

This applies to political life no less than to industrial life. We live under the fairest government on earth. But it is not self sustaining. Nor is that all. There are selfishness and injustice and evil in the world. More than that, these forces are never at rest. Some desire to use the processes of government for their own ends. Some desire to destroy the authority of government altogether. Our institutions are predicated on the rights and the corresponding duties, on the worth, of the individual. It is to him that we must look for safety. We may need new charters, new constitutions and new laws at times. We must always have an alert and interested citizenship. We have no dependence but the individual. New charters cannot save us. They may appear to help but the chances are that the beneficial results obtained result from an increased interest aroused by discussing changes. Laws do not make reforms, reforms make laws. We cannot look to government. We must look to ourselves. We must stand not in the expectation of a reward but with a desire to serve. There will come out of government exactly what is put into it. Society gets about what it deserves. It is the part of educated men to know and recognize these principles and influences and knowing them to inform and warn their fellow countrymen. Politics is the process of action in public affairs. It is personal, it is individual, and nothing more. Destiny is in you.

Former Acton Research fellow Jay Richards’ new co-authored book, Indivisible, has climbed onto The New York Times Bestseller list, holding onto a top ten spot for a second week. The book was published by FaithWords and, in an interesting cross-publishing arrangement, is also available in an Ignatius press edition with a foreword by Ignatius founder Fr. Joseph Fessio. Jay’s co-author, James Robison, is the co-host of the evangelical daily show LIFE Today.

If you’ve had the chance to hear Jay speak, or read his earlier book, Money, Greed, and God, you’ll recognize Jay’s dry wit in several places. Here’s an example of the prose style that makes the book so much fun to read (in a section on global warming):

Effect and cause—the warming and the cause of the warming—are two different things. This is a point of logic, not science. Retreating glaciers in Alaska, polar bears looking mournfully at the ocean from the edge of a chunk of sea ice, shorter winters year after year, may be evidence of warming, but can’t tell us why the earth has warmed.

The book is a high-flying overview, so it touches on everything from creation stewardship to economic freedom to the role of the family in maintaining a free society. Its organizing message is that economic and social conservatism reinforce each other in important ways that are often overlooked.

Here’s the book endorsement from Fr.Sirico:

It is relatively easy to observe that our society is fast reaching a climactic moment. How to discern a wise, credible, effective, and prudent course of action to avoid disaster is not easy to come across. Jay Richards and James Robison make an important contribution in pointing the way to avoid the worst effects of a coming cultural and economic tsunami. (Rev. Robert A. Sirico, President, Acton Institute)

If you have had the chance to read the book, be sure to add a quick review at the book’s Amazon page.

When it comes to our view of individual liberty, one of the most unexplored areas of distinction between libertarians and religious conservatives* is how we view neutrality and bias. Because the differences are uncharted, I have no way of describing the variance without resorting to a grossly simplistic caricature—so with a grossly simplistic caricature we shall proceed:

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Yesterday AEI hosted a lively discussion between Jonah Goldberg and Matt Welch on the question, “Are Libertarians Part of the Conservative Movement?” I’ve got a piece appearing tomorrow at Comment that will discuss the “fusionist” project and the relationship between so-called economic or “market” conservatives and social or “communitarian” conservatives.

At this point, though, I’ll simply point out a distinction I’ve made in the past between libertarianism as a political philosophy and libertarianism as a world-and-life view. The former, I think, is largely compatible with and an important part of the broader conservative political movement. The latter, however, is much more problematic. Libertarianism as a political philosophy emphasizes the proper role and functions of a limited government, and asks critically of each policy, as Goldberg notes, “Should government really be doing this?” This question is one that is, in my view, an absolutely indispensable and welcome component of the conservative movement.

Libertarianism as a world-and-life view, however, understands personal choice as the highest good and interprets everything else in light of that single guiding principle. These kinds of libertarians do not hold to a view of the world in which choice must be directed to any objective good or correspond to the moral order. No, rather, choice itself is opposed to any form of constraint, moral or otherwise. The exercise of the will is itself the supreme act of human freedom. (These, I think, are Kirk’s “chirping sectaries.”) This kind of libertarianism is much less compatible with a conservative vision of the good society, although there are probably still cases in which such libertarians and conservatives can be effective co-belligerents. I would add that this kind of libertarianism is much less compatible with the Christian faith, and in many cases much more likely to be substituted for or conflated with Christianity. Libertarianism as a world-and-life view is an ideological competitor to the Christian faith.

Respective definitions of liberty are absolutely essential to distinguishing various strands of libertarianism. Are we simply free to choose, or free to choose the good? How is the good defined, and in relation to what (the moral order?) or who (myself? God?) is it defined? Here I’ll submit Lord Acton’s definition as representative of a good answer, from the kind of classical liberal who oriented freedom to the good: “Liberty is not the ability to do what you want, but the right to do what you ought.”

When we are asking the kinds of questions raised by last night’s AEI discussion, it’s important to define our terms and clarify precisely who and what we are discussing. Libertarianism is an inherently diverse phenomenon, with a rather dizzying spectrum of perspectives unified around some core commitments. But precisely how these core commitments animate and are placed in relationship to the broader vision of the common good (if there even is such a vision) is widely divergent. A presentation by Nigel Ashford at an IHS event once outlined at least 5 basic types (with attendant subgroupings) on a continuum, you might say, of libertarianism. (It so happens, usually, that whoever is to the left of you on the spectrum is cast as a “socialist” of some form or another.)

I’ll have some more to say related to my piece tomorrow at Comment, but here I’ll just note that my conclusions about the prospects for fusionism (social and economic conservatives need each other now perhaps more than ever) are largely shared with those in Hunter Baker’s essay, “Can Libertarians and Social Conservatives Find Common Ground?” and commend Baker’s article to your attention.

On National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg reacts to musings by conservative writers David Brooks and Michael Gerson about Rick Santorum’s political rise in the GOP primaries and how his social views might be expressed in government policy. Would a President Santorum usher in a smaller but more “transformational” role for the state in addressing social ills? Gregg:

On the one hand, self-described compassionate conservatives understand there is no such thing as morally neutral laws or morally indifferent government policies. At some level (even quite remote), all laws and policies embody some type of moral logic (which is either coherent or incoherent). Thus they cannot help but shape — for better and worse — a society’s moral culture. That’s just one reason among many why the legal treatment of issues like abortion, euthanasia, pornography, and marriage matters, and why they can’t, as some libertarians claim, be simply relegated to the private sphere.

At the same time, it seems to me that many compassionate conservatives don’t fully appreciate the moral, social, and legal urgency of reducing the state’s size and reach, instead of primarily focusing upon streamlining government’s role.

Read Samuel Gregg’s “The Problem with Compassionate Conservatism” on NRO.

Yesterday, five leading Republican candidates participated in the Palmetto Freedom Forum, a serious debate on constitutional principles. Mitt Romney, Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Herman Cain answered questions from Tea Party congressmen Jim DeMint and Steve King, and Princeton professor Robert P. George.

National Review Online has gathered reactions to the debate from notable conservatives; Acton director of research Samuel Gregg and senior fellow Marvin Olasky are among them. Gregg’s take-away is that American politics is shifting in two ways: first, constitutional conservatism is now seen as a winning message, and candidates are unafraid to disavow progressivism as a whole; and second, issues, particularly economic ones, once on the margins of political debate are now up for discussion in the mainstream.

Here is the full text of Gregg’s response.

If there was any theme linking the responses to the questions posed by Senator DeMint, Congressman King, and Professor George to five of the Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for president during today’s South Carolina debate, it was the need for America to return to its founding principles. Yes, there was substantive discussion of specific matters ranging from financial regulation to immigration. But again and again, most of the candidates articulated the principles—and subsequent policies—of constitutional conservation.

Politically this makes sense, because it helps to integrate American conservatism’s fiscal and social wings. But it also reflects many Americans’ consciousness that the last four years have seen an acceleration of a long drift away from the best of the American experiment. So whether it was different candidates quoting Jefferson at length, or Ron Paul and Robert George discussing the 14th Amendment’s finer details, evidence mounted that constitutional conservatism is going to be a major reference point for whoever ends up running against President Obama in 2012.

The second aspect of the debate worth underscoring is how issues once considered marginal to mainstream politics are becoming central. It’s no longer just Ron Paul talking about the need for sound money. The economic downturn and the failure of interventionist policies have turned the Fed and fiat money into live issues that no conservative candidate for office can ignore. Ben Bernanke—you’re on notice.

Long-time Acton Institute friend and Markets and Morality contributor Jean-Francois Orsini has a new book out. In Fight the Left (yes, it has a polemical edge!), Orsini argues that there are essentially two approaches to the world: liberalism and conservatism. His use of liberalism is decidedly contemporary (i.e., modern, not classical liberalism). His conservatism is sympathetic to the free market but, more importantly, it is “first principled,” meaning that he lays out the foundation on which conservatism must be based. In particular, it must recognize the truth about man: a being, created by God, endowed with the ability to choose good or evil. From this anthropology flows the rest of Orsini’s discussion, including a brief historical survey of conservative giants (Buckley, Goldwater, Reagan); an exposition of Catholic social teaching; and a few policy applications.

If you’re looking for a brief, easy, but nonetheless thought-provoking read, check out Fight the Left.

Political commentators have spilled a septic field of ink explaining what drives the Tea Party movement; and, sure, the movement is complex and varied, resisting any single attempt to blah blah blah. But the core of it boils down to the Saturday Night Live skit below. The analogy runs like this: The Steve Martin character and his wife represent the ruling political class in Washington; and the Tea Party is the book author.

I realize it’s not a perfect analogy. If it were a perfect analogy, the book author wouldn’t be nearly as detached, because the couple has been spending the author’s money using a credit card he had idiotically loaned them a few years before. Oh, and the husband would be accusing the book author of racism, or of being a flyover country yahoo without the sophistication to understand Keynesian economics or something.

[Hat Tip to Luke at Cornerstone University for the SNL skit.]

Acton’s The Birth of Freedom comes to six PBS stations this Independence Day weekend, and AEI’s Enterprise blog has a good post about the Christian foundations of American freedom and The Birth of Freedom: “It’s a good place to start if you’re interested in recalling, learning, or helping others to learn about the deep roots of the freedom we celebrate every Fourth of July. Those roots define, in part, what it means to be an American citizen.”

PBS Airings This Weekend
Tampa Bay, WEDU–July 4th, 9:00 p.m.
Carbondale, Illinois, WSIU/WUSI–July 4th, 1:00 p.m.
San Diego, KPBS–July 5th, 12:00 am (also July 7th, 4:00 am and July 11th 3:00 a.m.)
Baton Rouge, Louisiana Public Broadcasting–July 4th, 8:00 a.m. on LPB2
Grand Rapids, Michigan, WGVU–July 5th, 12:30 a.m.
Syracuse, New York, WCNY–July 4, 3:00 p.m.

Here’s the PBS station finder if you want to thank your station for airing it or find out if your station plans to air it later.