A continuing narrative on these pages has been the grossly asymmetric way that the Right (conservatives, libertarians) and Left (socialists, liberals) treat each other’s expression of ideas and beliefs in the public fora. A corollary to this narrative is how narrow and broad are the spectra of news sources and commentaries that each side consumes. This morning’s papers and news sites are chuck full of examples.
Comparing those of collectivist vs conservetarian bent, I ask -
• What’s the relative frequency of the Left vs Right assembling, organizing, and transporting a legion of hoodlums and rioters to block Right vs Left gatherings – political gatherings (e.g. here and here), conventions, economic conferences, religious meetings, … ? (Here the progressive reader should do his best in the attempt to distinguish between a peaceful demonstration and a disruption requiring the presence of armed police to keep the peace).
• Which political cohort has subverted our educational system to become the outlet for disseminating their ideology and enforcing ‘correct thinking’ about every social issue of significance?
• Which political cohort has commandeered the humanities in the nation’s institutions of higher learning, and in the process created a generation of intellectually vapid students who must be actively and selectively shielded from politically incorrect, insensitive, and sometimes outrageous ideas and modes of thought?
• The congressional members of which party have politicized science and are now actively attacking corporations, think tanks, and scientific agencies to criminalize public skepticism of the causes and portents of global warming?
• People of which political philosophy are actively promoting policies and laws that continually diminish the public’s use of public lands and public waters.
• Which political extreme takes as ground truth that if an individual is only against government funding of some activity, then that is indisputable evidence that they are actively trying to proscribe or censor that activity per se.
• People of which political philosophy are actively promoting objectives and "sustainable development" policies which are stated (here) in the UN’s Agenda 21 (while vehemently denying that they are doing any such thing).
But here’s the asymmetry, this kind of connections only work for people on the Right. One must never claim that, say, just because George Soros is a Democrat, therefore his founding or funding of a number of leftwing organizations – e.g. Open Society Institute - means that the Democrat Party founded those organizations or has a material relationship with them. And the same can never be said of the Democrat Party’s relationship with the Clinton Foundation just because the Billarys and other executives of the foundation are high-level Democrats.
So coming full circle – they ain’t like us.
[1may16 update] This kind of post has usually elicited a more in-depth discussion of the nuances of ideological orientation – where we fit in the multifarious universe of socio-political beliefs and under what labels do we wish to be known. And I’m happy to say that in that the above scribblings continue to serve.
In such discussions I cannot claim to stand on an alabaster pedestal of unvarnished truth, but only attempt to explain in a coherent and cogent way how the ideological landscape has appeared and made sense to me over a span of some six decades. Some readers may be aware that I have a penchant for the operational/pragmatic scheme of things that successfully answers questions like ‘how can I tell if (insert proposition) is true or works or exists or …?’ For that reason I have made available my credo (q.v.), my teachers, my stance on issues, and what I have chosen to call myself.
Even though any real palette of political colors is much more complex than the widely and long accepted Left/Right spectrum, in most of the daily round we have to live with the established lexicon. Unfortunately, in our effort to distinguish ourselves elevator speeches don’t permit many details, especially of the nuanced kind. Fortunately in these pages we can go a bit, but still not much, beyond elevator communications.
An issue of interest here is how to understand and where to put people self-described as libertarians. In the common lexicon of the day, libertarians are located to the right of center in the one-dimensional R/L spectrum (see graphic here). But some time ago David Nolan and others sought make things more explicit and came up with various graphical representations of more complex political spectra. The most popular and enduring is the Nolan Chart which has been much discussed in these pages over the years (e.g. here and here). For images of such representations google ‘Nolan Chart’ and look at the images.
But the main conclusion here is that modern liberals and conservatives are quite a bit different than the people who claimed those labels in the 19th century – especially in its early part. Conservatives hewed to various forms of autocracy represented by monarchical and empire forms of governance which included more or less strict behavioral guidelines usually enforced with the co-operation of the state’s religion. Economies were strictly corporatist in which the state took its cut and in turn limited competition from entrepreneurial newcomers.
The (classical) liberals of that century were those who sought to follow the teachings of Enlightenment thinkers such as Bacon, Descartes, and Newton, and to compromise the contentions of such social philosophers as Locke and Hume (compare here) into a practical picture of man under beneficial governance – none more successfully than our Founders. The American experience was studied, reported, and summarized by men like de Tocqueville and Bastiat, the latter’s distillation in The Law (q.v.) ranks high in the scriptural basis for today’s libertarians and conservatives.
In the latter 19th century the wing of post-monarchial liberals tended to a progressive amalgam of Hobbesian and Marxist worldviews and ultimately adopted the progressive label but also co-opted ‘liberal’ in the public mind. Those who sought to retain (conserve) the teachings of the earlier classical liberals and differentiate themselves from the new breed of collectivists satisfied themselves with the ‘conservative’ label especially as they incorporated Anglo-Saxon cultural memes and the Christian religions into their expanded beliefs.
But highlighting a weakness of the Nolan chart, modern conservatives are not ‘low’ on personal freedoms, and hew more to what Bastiat taught and described in his nature of the individual living under beneficent governance. So where old-time conservatives (e.g. Tories) wanted to, say, conserve the trappings of monarchy, the modern American conservative wants to conserve the originalism of the Constitution and the economic dynamism, entrepreneurialism, and individualism that was practiced in the 19th century.
Into all this in America arose a potpourri of political philosophies that grudgingly adopted the label of libertarian. Those so moved and motivated were a disorganized lot. Scholars studying the matter have concluded –
What it means to be a "libertarian" in a political sense is a contentious issue, especially among libertarians themselves. There is no single theory that can be safely identified as the libertarian theory, and probably no single principle or set of principles on which all libertarians can agree. Nevertheless, there is a certain family resemblance among libertarian theories that can serve as a framework for analysis. (more here)
Today a leading source of libertarian light and cohesion is the Cato Institute which seeks to unify the various libertarian threads. One of its scholars David Boaz has recently revised/written what may be considered a libertarian manifesto in his The Libertarian Mind (2015). A very readable history of libertarianism can be accessed here. (Full disclosure – I am a longtime supporter and member of the Cato Institute.)
Today most, but not all, the ideologically formed would assign libertarians to the Right in the simple everyday political spectrum. Only in more detailed analyses do we separate libertarians from conservatives, and then not always successfully. As mentioned above, the Nolan chart’s simplistic format low scores on personal freedoms are attributed to conservatives, a tenet which no modern conservative would accept.
Modern conservatives also eschew the religious restrictions of their forebears, and today promote free public expression of all religions – at least of all religions that do not promote the destruction of America as an obstacle to God’s plan for mankind.
Attempting to reconcile what conservatives and libertarians claimed as their own, I found a middle ground that I labeled conservetarian – being basically a libertarian with a conservative foreign policy outlook. I could not go with my libertarian brethren who seem to promote the idea of a defenseless yet commercially successful and wealthy state surviving within a community of nations whose major hegemons have demonstrated their intent to violate the Westphalian convention (q.v.) at every opportunity. Hence I am a conservetarian who promotes a kick-ass foreign policy rather than one of a kicked-ass kind.
Since my own declaration, conservetarianism has risen of its own accord within a community of other like-minded ideologues. We now even claim a manifesto in Charles Cooke’s The Conservatarian Manifesto: Libertarians, Conservatives, and the Fight for the Right’s Future (2015), note the spelling variance. Such an essay was required given that both the modern conservatives and liberals had equivalent documents they could cite. For the liberals of an historically progressive bent I point you to the extensive oeuvre of Anthony Giddens’ socio-political writings that include what may be considered his summa in The Progressive Manifesto (2013). I’m somewhat blown away that for a number of years the man was Director of the London School of Economics.
So in sum, I cannot claim to be anything more than a student of the exciting and important subject of socio-political philosophies and related disciplines that inform us how we build and maintain societies. All such labeled philosophies are really fuzzy sets whose tenets are gathered, sometimes willy-nilly, by various pundits and proponents. But almost all of them have leaked out of their carefully fashioned nests and are found to also populate other belief systems, many of which claim them as uniquely their own. I tend to ideologically label people by what I see as the preponderance of their displayed attributes, and those primarily selected by how they walk instead of only talk. And even in that I often err.
Finally, for anyone who thinks they have a well-formed ideology, especially one deserving of a name, I invite them to put down a dated comprehensive list of its tenets. Absent that, all arguments of what this or that labeled ideologue may believe come with flaws, often tolerable but always congenital.
[5may16 update] Heard Bernie Sanders on NPR this morning reveal his latest socialist shibboleth about what is corporate welfare. The man told us that Walmart is a recipient of corporate welfare because some of its employees get checks from the government for various kinds of benefits for which they qualify. With that broad brush he painted literally every employer in the country as a recipient of corporate welfare without even pausing to let his intellectually bereft constituents contemplate the larger and more comprehensive social perversion that he glibly purveys across the country. And that is his ‘self-evident’ truth that an employer is responsible for supplying all the needs of his employees that money can buy.
To the extent that the employee gets remunerated or his needs satisfied from some other source(s), to that extent the employer is then subsidized by that/those source(s). For those listening to Sanders, as for those who listened to Lenin, there is no need to stop and think before confirming again that capitalism and private enterprise are intrinsically evil – just move along there.