Thursday, October 15, 2009

America and the West: Out With a Whimper?

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When we think about what's happening in America we sometimes fail to see ourselves as a part of a larger collapse -- that of the West, taken as a whole. What is happening here -- reckless deficit spending, multiculturalist abandonment of our heritage, failure of our educational system, Leviathan government, usurpation of sovereignty and liberty -- has been moving apace in Western Europe for decades and is rapidly approaching critical-mass momentum. The American left is in near-perfect alignment with the European left, and the right, as in Europe, forsaking principle, capitulates.

What happened to the right? Some say that, by that by the absorption of liberal memes, (1) the fundamental beliefs of conservatives have been attenuated. I prefer this explanation: that the prevailing cultural curriculum (embedded in education, media and political power) is essentially dominated by liberal feelings and ideas. In short the left owns the Western narrative, and conservatives, wanting critical skills not taught, have failed carefully to examine the assumptions to which they have unconsciously stipulated. Simply put, received knowledge that forms the basis of our thoughts and beliefs is shot through with unrecognized error. It is fair to say that, from the middle of the last century, the right has been intellectually and spiritually neutered.

This is commonly demonstrated by the thinking of "moderate" conservatives who pathetically appeal to the assumed but rarely seen good will and comity of liberals. The politics-as-war disposition of the left offers no quarter, takes no prisoners. The right, ignoring contrary evidence, repeatedly takes the pure hypocrisy of the left's feel-good mantras at face value, denying or failing to see that liberals have no interest in ideas but are solely driven by the lust for power. On this issue the conservative learning curve remains flat (2). Charlie Brown with Lucy and the football.

The singular need to manage and control the lives of others the first principle of the left (3). The history of socialism -- from the communist regimes in Russia and China to the fascism in Europe that served the ends of socialist power to the more recent events in Cuba and newly in Venezuela -- clearly illustrates the arrogation of power by the few to control the many. Worth noting is the glaring contrast between the stated goals of these regimes (improving the lot of the people) and the consequences measured in tens of millions of lost lives, imprisonment and servitude. Power and control.

The latest manifestation on the grand scale is the creeping domination of states by the European Union. With Ireland having caved on the Lisbon Treaty there seems little resistance left to overcome in the EU consolidation of power (4). Improving the lives of the people, again, is the ostensible purpose of this emerging Leviathan. What is exchanged for the organization's stated altruism is personal liberty, jurisdictional sovereignty at every level and, ultimately (ironically) what robustness remains in the economy. Power and control.

What is interesting in the case of Europe is that the brazenness of the EU seizure of authority is met by a near-total meekness of popular opposition. Europeans, more than most, should recognize the resurrection of the patterns from the last century. But they are spiritually and intellectually neutered.

If there is any hope for the survival of the West, it lies in America; but I am concerned whether America -- especially seen in the context of the present administration -- is only a couple of steps behind Europe. Still, there are elements in the traditional American character -- independence, individualism, belief in capitalist meritocracy, robust religious convictions and an innate distrust of government -- that are distinctive. The question is whether these traits have been bred out by liberal indoctrination. The tea parties, townhalls, Tenth Amendment initiatives and the rise of conservative media suggest they have not. The next questions would address numerical distributions, determination (will), and suitable methods of resistance.

Changing the administration at the polls will not be adequate to restore American conservatism. Much of the real power of the left in government is held outside the immediate confines of the White House, Congress and the courts. The enormous, powerful and bloated bureaucracies, like the education establishment are overwhelming liberal. A new Republican administration -- even if conservative -- has little power to curb the ongoing subversion of bureaucracies.

To date there have been no serious confrontations between states asserting Tenth Amendment rights, but I think it is only a matter of time, and that in the short term. How aggressively the government will act may determine the future course of this movement (5).

Modern secession is not out of the question. To be effective it would require a new confederacy of states that would be drawn outside the geographic lines of the Southern Confederacy. Despite the position taken by the left to the contrary, secession -- like nullification -- rests on solid legal ground today as it did prior to the Civil War (6). The Lincoln government responded by illegally asserting Northern power outside the authority of the Constitution. A similar government response to a new secession can be expected, but more swift and violent.


Whether the Western Tradition survives the postmodern philosophy that is the foundation of modern liberalism is anyone's guess. The erosion of critical thinking and sound education augurs against it, but there are signs of a modest revival of conservatism in Europe, and what may be the beginning of an energetic popular sovereignty movement in America.

I believe we have gone too far along the road to centralized government power to effect a reversal at the polls; change, if it comes, will be occasioned by a confrontation between state and federal powers. What form that confrontation might take and what consequences would follow cannot be known. On the other hand, the states may choose not to assert their rights against the general government. Therein lies the choice between whimper and bang.

1. Memetics, a hypothesis that wants to become a theory, is superficially attractive because it seems to add explanatory power to cultural shifts. In the end, though, it is at best shorthand for an old idea (learning by osmosis), and it adds little benefit to social analysis.
2. Conservatives naively assume that the left shares their commitment to the traditional rules of civil society.
3. Capitalism, individualism is anathema to control. Free people are by definition unpredictable -- hard to control.
The need to control is an interesting human phenomenon. I find myself wondering if there is a genetic marker at work. If one if discovered some day, I believe I could predict the outcome of a correlation with political leanings.
4. The Lisbon Treaty essentially establishes the EU constitution that was initially rejected by referendum. That document, running to about 40,000 pages, will empower Brussels to micromanage every aspect of the lives of European citizens.
5. About 17 states have either introduced or passed Tenth Amendment resolutions. The resolutions do not have the force of law, but they serve notice to the Federal Government that they are prepared to exercise powers of nullification.
6. There remain legalistic arguments to the contrary, but it is clear that it was generally acknowledge as the right of every state prior to the Civil War. Lincoln, himself, endorsed the concept in an 1847 speech supporting the secession of Texas from Mexico. Only when he became president and sought to consolidate Northern power did he argue against it. He based his new argument on the idea of the "perpetuity" of the union, which was written into the Articles of Confederation but was expressly rejected by the Founders during the Constitutional Convention.

Note: In future posts I intend to address questions of states' rights and secession in some detail. There are some signs that interest is growing in both Tenth Amendment initiatives and secession. About a month ago I ran a Google search on the string, "new secession" and found about 3.3M returns; yesterday the same search yielded 4.45M. Google Trends shows an interesting graphic report.
It is interesting to observe that certain groups are anticipating the emergence of civil conflict. Federal law enforcement produced a study designed to identify possible enemies of the state. On the other side of the coin, an organization called Oath Keepers (law enforcement and current and former military) has made a preemptive move to pledge that they will refuse orders to disarm or use force against citizens. Still others are concerned about the growth of anti-riot/crowd-control weaponry being acquired by law enforcement.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Conservative Reform and the RNC

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We are accustomed to thinking that all conservatives are Republicans, and that is roughly true. But we commit the fallacy of affirming the consequent when we assert that all Republicans are conservative. In fact, most are not.

Defining 'conservative'. Conservatives are persons who believe in principles of liberty, the rule of law, small government, capitalism and a free-market economy, the sanctity of private property and contracts, and, above all, respect for the Constitution as it was originally conceived and formulated.

Measuring the actual performance of our elected and appointed officials against the standards of conservatism, though, can be dicey. The American Conservative Union (ACU), which rates congressmen by voting record, is a useful resource. A 100% record of conservative votes leaves no doubt about the principles (and courage) of a legislator. Conservative voters may see voting records at, say, an eighty or ninety percent rating, as a strong endorsement of their elected representatives, but here one must be cautious.

The rub of analysis lies in exactly where (on what issues) a congressman deviates from conservative principles. In the case of my senators, they had spoken in favor of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and, absent the angry groundswell of public opposition, I suspect they would have voted for it. For that and other reasons I have serious doubts regarding their conservative fides.

I have come to realize that any rating below 100% leaves room for a lot of mischief and requires careful analysis. What to do? In order to assure a majority of principled conservatives in Congress it seems to me that constituents providing incentives for the RNC and liberal Republicans to align politically with conservatism holds promise.

The Republican Party and Conservatism

For some time I have seen the Republican Party leadership (RNC) as bureaucratic, ingrown, contemptuous of conservative principles and thoroughly feckless. Like their opposite number (perhaps by emulation) they have come to embrace statism as the expedient way to win elections. To be sure, winning elections is properly the business of the party, but at what cost?

Republicans have become the party of appeasement in domestic politics as Democrats long have been in foreign policy. As conservative principles have been allowed to languish, the party has become defensive -- reactive -- to political opposition. (1) By doing so they implicitly communicate that Democrats are in control of the rules of debate. Representatives of the Senator John McCain stripe reinforce that impression by demonstrating a willingness to sacrifice principle in the interest of comity.

Too many, nominally on the right, seem to argue that conservative principles cannot attract the votes of independents and loosely committed Democrats, and they make the case for a "Big Tent" approach. Michael Medved, for example, asserts that voters in traditionally liberal northern states cannot be won over by conservative ideas; therefore, conservatives must agree to compromise on principle in their campaigns. He cites the example of Olympia Snowe and others, who as representatives of a liberal constituency, must not stray too far to the right. In other words, what good is it to uphold doctrine and lose elections?

Absent careful examination, the argument is appealing. But I find at least three flaws in this line of reasoning. In the first place, it fails to acknowledge the obvious fact that there will always be some (many?) who cannot be wooed away from hard-case liberalism. In this case targeting votes on the hard left amounts only to squandering resources. Second, it seems to ignore the fact that conservative principles, persistently and well articulated, appeal to the majority of Americans. Finally, the argument does not take into account the naturally conservative disposition of most Americans. (2)

But I will concede one point: liberal states, generally more populous, are heavily represented in the electoral college. But that fact suggests that these states are liberal monoliths. History shows us that they are not. (3)

Changing the Party

I began this essay with the intention of exploring only various (and unexciting) strategies for enabling conservatives to become the new (or renewed) face of the Republican Party. I have since come to recognize that unfolding events in the grassroots political arena may offer unexpected support to those strategies.

The tea parties, townhall confrontations and the steady ascendancy of conservative media at MSM's expense may be taken as signs that America is moving toward the right. Ironically, we have liberal overreach, seen in the bullying tactics of the hard left to undo traditional American institutions, to thank. I think citizens instinctively understand that the hastiness, scope and "foreignness" of legislation pushed so hard by the current administration, is a naked attempt to expand and consolidate extraconstitutional powers without practical restraints.

How to take advantage? It appears to me that the RNC has been typically slow to appreciate the popular movement towards conservatism (or away from liberalism), and it lacks the responsive agility to seize opportunities. Where one sees leadership is at the level of elected conservatives and the various organizations with which they are associated.
From that I conclude that it is conservative congressmen, with the support of like-minded constituents, who can change the party from within.

Another Strategy

In the past I have contributed money to the RNC and to representatives in my state. But about two years ago, I chose another course. I had come to recognize that the Republican Party, itself, undermines conservatism. So also, do candidates who, like the party, sacrifice principle for victory at the polls. Where once I would have made donations to the RNC and local Republican candidates, I now opt to support only hundred per cent conservatives from any state who a.) show outstanding leadership and b.) are in closely contested races.

This strategy is loudly opposed by less-than-robust conservative spokesmen in the media. They argue that hewing too closely to principle does not win elections; does not guarantee pluralities. While that assertion has merit in the short term, where is the benefit of a liberal-Republican majority? John McCain, Lindsey Graham (for examples) and many others demonstrate that the question has already been asked and answered. "Moderate" Republicans and their Democrat counterparts till the same soil, and the harvest, predictably, is not conservative. (4)

Leaners and standers. Many Republican politicians "lean" toward the conservative platform, but they have absorbed the liberal memes
of the sixties that became popular orthodoxy, and they have been unable to think themselves out. Unconsciously and uncritically they have bought into the facile, seductive and intellectually specious (5) notions of Utilitarian philosophy -- the greatest good for the greatest number. Worse, they embrace the liberal perversion (6) of Jesus' admonition not to judge, believing that judgment must be suspended in all things. The result is a destructive combination of "touchy-feely" sentimentality that drives public policy accompanied by the inability to evaluate the need for it or the results that follow from it.

On the platform of conservative thought, standers, on the other hand, are not averse to the exercise of judgment. That is especially true in matters of social and fiscal legislation where conservatives recognize that public displays of pious "caring" seldom translate into actions that do not exacerbate the conditions they were meant to improve. The New Deal and Great Society programs being notable examples.

What Might Be Helpful

1. Conservatives should identify themselves more closely with Constitutional principles than with the Republican Party. Foremost among those principles, liberty.
2. To the extent that financial support is directed away from the RNC to bona fide conservative politicians, wobbly conservatives (and eventually, the party itself) will likely discover that their interests are best served by a political shift to the right.
3. Upholding conservative principles (clearly and consistently articulated without apology), will attract more support among voters than bargaining them away in cynical, expedient compromise. While they are privately (though often transparently) held in contempt by liberals, American voters have a remarkable ability to sort out hypocrisy. (7)

(1) Stipulating to the multicultural smarminess that passes for liberal values, pro forma apologies or denials inevitably precede comments that might potentially offend some identity group.
(2) Pew Research Center, Gallup, Rasmussen and other polls.
(3) Consider Reagan's electoral votes: 1980 - 489; 1984 - 525.
(4) While the ideological shortcomings of McCain and Graham (for the latter most recently) are well documented, even Senate Minority Leader, John Boehner, though among the best spokesmen for conservative positions, seems not above short-term political compromise.
(5) The greatest good for the greatest number. This idea, associated with the work of Jeremy Bentham, cannot sustain the weight of logical analysis or practical application. Though it was quickly refuted by Bentham’s contemporaries, it persists as a favorite liberal mantra.
(6) One of many good analyses is found here. I chose this citation because it is concise and well documented. To the list of examples offered by the author I would add Jer. 5.1
(7) I argue here that Barack Obama was perceived by voters as less hypocritical – more devoted to principle -- than John McCain. The hypocrisy of Obama lay in his false representation of the principles he held rather than his fidelity to them.