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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Conservatism vs Liberalism

Since I've finally bitten the bullet by starting my own blog, I might as well use a recent exchange as an excuse to write and post my own blog item.


First, the context:

Recently, Victor Reppert (on his Dangerous Idea blog) posted this item: A kind of conservativism [This particular post of his is just a link to an essay from 2004: Why We Deserve What We Earn and a short description of the essay]


I commented:
No doubt we've all heard the phrase/admonition (widely attributed to J P Morgan ... and Benjamin Franklin) that "Time is money." However, the truth of the matter is that "Money is time."

When the mere thief ... or the taxman ... takes your wealth, or merely your money, he is taking your time. Which is to say, he is taking a part of your life from you.


To which Mr Reppert responded:
OK, I take it we are going to need roads and schools. How do we get these without theft?


To which I responded:
Victor, that some level of governmnet is necessary does not at all mitigate the fact that government is an evil; nore does it even begin to mitigate the fact that government's sole method of funding itself is indistinguishable from a Mafia protection racket -- "Give us your money and do what we tell you to do or we'll kill you."


Mr Reppert posted a response (which is more to an Anonymous poster than directly to me), which he later reworked into a separate blog-item: Does conservatism go together?
Conservatism seem to revolve around three central ideas. One of the ideas is economic conservatism, the idea that we deserve what we earn unless it was taken by force, theft, or fraud. The second is national security conservatism, the idea of taking threats to our country seriously and being pro-active in dealing with them, as Reagan was during the Cold War and as Bush was when we launched a War on Terror that sent us into Iraq. This, I suspect, doesn't mix terribly well with economic conservatism, since war is expensive, and the money for guns and tanks probably can't be got from bake sales. And then there is social conservatism, the use of the government attempting to uphold traditional values, leading to anti-abortion/gay marriage positions. The last two increase the involvement of government. If government is out there trying to stop abortions fighting enemies, this has to be paid for.

It would be fair enough to ask if liberalism goes together as well. I suppose we could say liberals accept

1) The proactive role of government to alleviate poverty and its consequences.
2) Restraint in fighting against supposed threats to our country (not going into Vietnam or Iraq).
3) Upholding a strong doctrine of the separation of church and state, not attempting to bring the state into controversial question of value.


So, now the point of this post:

VR: "Conservatism seem to revolve around three central ideas. One of the ideas is economic conservatism, ... The second is national security conservatism, ... And then there is social conservatism, the use of the government attempting to uphold traditional values, leading to anti-abortion/gay marriage positions."

If you want three key ideas of conservativism, they are more likely to be:
1) Government ... all government .. is coercive, by the very nature of government
2) Human beings ... all human beings ... are perverse, by their very natures
3) From which two observations it follows that government is a necessary evil

All truly conservative ideas/positions take account of those observations and especially of that conclusion. For instance: "That government which governs best is that which governs least."


VR: "The second is national security conservatism, the idea of taking threats to our country seriously and being pro-active in dealing with them, as Reagan was during the Cold War and as Bush was when we launched a War on Terror that sent us into Iraq. This, I suspect, doesn't mix terribly well with economic conservatism, since war is expensive, and the money for guns and tanks probably can't be got from bake sales."

If "liberals" really were as nuanced in their thinking as they like to imagine they are, this would not be such a stumper to them.

The primary duty of government -- and, gven that it is inherently an evil, THE ONLY THING about (human) government which justifies its existence -- is that those who would govern are sworn to defend those whom they would govern; or, failing defending them, they must avenge them. A government which will not do these two things forfeits any claim to legitimacy ... and, in the nature of things, must eventually train its guns upon its subjects if it will not train them upon the enemies, both foreign and domestic, of its subjects.

Indeed, war is expensive (*). But, just as there are things worse than death, so too are there things worse than war.

(*) Pace what doubtless we both were taught in school (and I saw through it at once even as a teen), war destroys wealth; war can never generate wealth. One might as well expect that a hurricane which wipes out a city will make all its people more wealthy. A hurricane destroys wealth and lives; war destroys lives and wealth.


VR: "The last two increase the involvement of government. If government is out there trying to stop abortions fighting enemies, this has to be paid for."

2) Human beings ... all human beings ... are perverse, by their very natures

Yes, stopping abortions before they are performed, or punishing those involved if the abortion could not be stopped would have to be paid for. By then, the same is true of stopping and/or punishing other forms of murder.

You really do need to do better than this -- your "liberalism" does not equate to an incoherency in conservatism.


VR: "And then there is social conservatism, the use of the government attempting to uphold traditional values, leading to anti-abortion/gay marriage positions. The last two increase the involvement of government."

Again, you really do need to do better than this.

The best -- meaning, the least coercive -- government will not be at war with the society it seeks to rule. As Reagan pointed out: "We are a nation that has a government-not the other way around. And this makes us special among the nations of the Earth. Our Government has no power except that granted it by the people."

With us, it is the nation, not the government, which is important and which properly sets the tone.


VR: "It would be fair enough to ask if liberalism goes together as well. I suppose we could say liberals accept

1) The proactive role of government to alleviate poverty and its consequences.
"

The *only* proactive way to alleviate poverty is to generate wealth. "Liberal" "solutions" to poverty destroy wealth, both by destroying already existing wealth and by putting a damper on the creation of new wealth. But, "liberals" seem constitutionally unable to grasp the concept of baking new pies -- all they seem to grasp is slicing an ever-diminishing pie into smaller and smaller pieces.

Besides which, *where* does the US Constitution give even a hint that it is within the competence of the general government to "alleviate poverty and its consequences?"

VR: "2) Restraint in fighting against supposed threats to our country (not going into Vietnam or Iraq). "

That's right! It was conservatives who got us into Vietnam, despite that conservativism had been moribund since the time of that would-be fascist FDR.

You know, the problem with Vietnam, as with Korea, is not that we were there, but that we were not there to win it and to win it as quickly and humanely as possible.

The problem is so typically "liberal" -- we've stopped treating war as war; rather, we insist upon treating war as policing.

VR: "3) Upholding a strong doctrine of the separation of church and state, not attempting to bring the state into controversial question of value."

"Liberals" do so like to fool themselves, don't they? Seriously, who in his right mind can say with a straight face that "liberals" are not all about "attempting to bring the state into controversial question of value." Hell, "liberals" can't convince the people to their schemes, that's why they so love the coercive apparatus of the state.

The fact is, to govern just is to rule on questions of value and morality.

7 comments:

Darrin said...

//The fact is, to govern just is to rule on questions of value and morality.//

While correct on a man-in-relation-to-man level, the question here is whether government ought to rule on man's relation to God. Here, I won't even hold up an example of the Spanish Inquisition, but an example of your own Calvinistic brethren: the English Commonwealth.

The theonomy desired by so many Republicans fails on this account - stating that a rule of theists beats the rule of a single theist won't work, as the theists can still reach an un-Godly conclusion and implement it. Gordon Clark blasted this into obvlivion, as have many other Calvinists and non-Calvinistic nonliberals alike, so why don't you guys follow and join the libertarian party? :)

Shameless advertising over.

Ilíon said...

Darrin: "The theonomy desired by so many Republicans fails on this account ..."

Do they, now?

I turned 18 not too long after the voting age was changed from 21 to 18; and, in all these years, I've missed only a few off-elections (you know, the ones they organize to get "voter" approval for tax increases and then don't much talk about in the expectation that the upcoming election will slip the minds of most voters) due to inattentiveness, and one general election, due to moving to a different State just days before the election.

Except for that first election, in my callow youth, I have never voted for a Democrat. Later, after I determined that, due to their institutional insanity, I cannot in good conscience vote for any Democrat for any office, I registered as a Republican (I was raised to be, and intended to be, "Independent").

And yet, I have totally missed this desire of "so many Republicans" to impose theonomy upon the nation.

Darrin: "... so why don't you guys follow and join the libertarian party? :)"

Oh, I don't know. Perhaps it has something to do with what happens when regular people, such as I, look at (small "l") libertarians and think to themselves, "These people are insane!"


Ilíon: "The fact is, to govern just is to rule on questions of value and morality."

Darrin: "While correct on a man-in-relation-to-man level, the question here is whether government ought to rule on man's relation to God."

Oh, now! I think that was settled, as a practical matter, by the history of the Jews in the centuries prior to Christ, and as a theoretical/philosophical matter when Christ said: "Therefore, give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."

That human beings -- acting as members of a society -- haven't yet quite digested the message, is a different matter. Human society is almost like a real person: it has personality/character ... and persistence. And, since most of the additional individual human beings who are joined to any society happen to be uncivilized barbarians (I speak, of course, of our children), it takes generations or even centuries for a generally successful society to change, much less recognize that certain of its characteristics are undercutting its further success.


Darrin: "While correct on a man-in-relation-to-man level, the question here is whether government ought to rule on man's relation to God."

Those whom we in America tend to call "liberals" have yet to -- or refuse to -- learn a certain lesson here. Discounting the hard-core leftists who seek to use "liberals" as tools, is it not the case that what generally differentiates the sorts of policies favored by "liberals" from those favored by conservatives has to do with government attempting to rule on the individual man's relationship to God?

For instance, God commands (*) us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This command isn't about human-to-human relationship, but is rather about our relationship to God ... it is part-and-parcel of the command to love God with our whole being.

Now, what are "liberals" forever seeking to use governmental compulsion to do? Why, precisely to compel *other* human beings (somehow, this compulsion is rarely to be directed at themsleves) to "love" their fellows as themselves: welfare, "hate crimes" legislation, opposition to the death penalty, and on and on.


(*) God's commands are generally blessings, rather than merely commands as a dictator might make. For instance, what sane person can fail to see that the very first command God gave to men -- "Be fruitful and multiply" -- is primarily a blessing?

Ilíon said...

Oh! Welcome to my blog.

Darrin said...

We're in absolute agreement on the liberal's form of government. No question about that.

Perhaps I should have said "Dominionism" instead of "Theonomy," come to think of it. My case in point is: gay marriage. The proper response from a conservative who debated Hector Avalos on this very issue is that it forces tax dollars from him in support of values he does not endorse.

This is a violation of fundamental rights - but so is outlawing, via implied force, the marriage of two rational beings of the age and ability to engage in such a commitment, which was this particular debater's solution. How the libertarian solution - to make marriage private and only police them for marrying dogs, children, or other entities not rationally capable of understanding or choosing this sort of thing - can't be reached from this (like, say, you guys' valid notion of vouchers for private schooling to solve the prayer in schools issue) is something I don't grasp. Unless, of course, the ulterior motive is that such a value should be legally enforced, i.e. making laws against an issue which is necessarily relevant to the couple's individual relationship to God as rights are not violated between men.

Ilíon said...

Here is a good comment by Douglas Wilson which is somewhat related to these things -- No Tar, No Feathers, No Nothing

Roger said...

Ilion, you write: Government's sole method of funding itself is indistinguishable from a Mafia protection racket -- 'Give us your money and do what we tell you to do or we'll kill you.'"

This does not seem to allow for a conception of government that is an institution run by the country's citizens, that is, a republic. The government performs a few necessary functions fot its citizens. If it were constitutionally limited to performing only those functions, and charged its citizens an annual fee, do you think most people would be unwilling to pay, say, 10% of their income? Yes, one would have to deal with the free-rider problem of people willing to give up their citizenship to save that 10%. But I think that problem would not be insuperably great, given the risky status of resident alien.

Ilíon said...

Roger, I said what I meant and I meant what I said -- ultimately, *all* human government is grounded in compulsion by threat of violence, up to and including the threat of death.

'Government' is the fictional person who commands us to do this or refrain from doing that. Changing which real individual person or group of persons "owns" government does not change the nature of government.