Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Failure of Conservatism

Libertarians often depend upon self styled “conservative” politicians to protect them from the unending encroachments of the collectivist sate.  However, the unabated growth of intrusive, expensive and overbearing government provides ample proof of their failure.  This disturbing trend has been sustained through Republican, Democratic and mixed governments.

The root cause of this futility is that conservatism is neither a governing philosophy nor an organizing principle for society.  As defined by its father, Edmund Burke, conservatism is an outlook that reverences a given society’s culture, traditions and institutions as gifts of Divine Providence.  Thus the culture, traditions and institutions of China are right for the Chinese, while those of England are right for the English and those of Russia are right for the Russians and so on and so forth. 

Thus Burke, who was a British MP, supported the American Revolution as he believed that the Colonies had naturally evolved their own unique culture, institutions and traditions and that the English monarch was unjustly suppressing them.  By the same token, Burke opposed the French Revolution as he viewed as destructive of uniquely French institutions, customs and traditions.  In retrospect, Burke proved to be prophetic.  The American Revolution gave birth to a great and glorious nation while the French Revolution produced a bloody train wreck that plunged Europe into decades of armed conflict.

True conservatives acknowledge that no human enterprise can be perfect and that evolutionary changes in society are not only inevitable, they are desirable.  However, like good economists, true conservatives subscribe to the law of unintended consequences.  They fear that sudden and radical changes in societal institutions are likely to produce unforeseen and undesirable outcomes for years to come.  All too often they have been proven correct as in the cases of the modern welfare state as well as with America’s institutionalized military buildup following World War II.

Because of its embrace of tradition and cautious approach to change, conservatism can easily be caricatured as nostalgic and backward looking.

Its polar opposite, Progressivism, is clearly forward looking.   Unfortunately the future that it looks forward upon is fantastical.  Progressives build castles in the sky that ignore human nature and are unable to withstand legitimate economic scrutiny.  This is why collectivists call economics the “dismal science” because it invariably lets the air out of their dreams.  That is also why Barack Obama would entitle one of his campaign books, The Audacity of Hope.  He clearly understands that it requires audacity to fly in the face of logic and reason to accept his vision for America.

But Progressivism is not about logic or reason.  It is about resentment, envy and a sense of entitlement.  Progressive organizers understand that there exists a vast pool of dissatisfied people who are willing to believe that their problems are not of their own making.  These people are eager and willing to buy into the sophistry of demagogues who promise easy answers and better days.

Left wing organizer par excellence Saul Alinsky understood that his work was unending.  His victories on behalf of one constituency would displace another who would then be ripe for agitation.  Permanent anger.  Permanent revolution.

So what is the dynamic between progressives and conservatives that causes conservatives to continually yield ground?  And what, if anything, is the antidote to the collectivist onslaught?

Remember that both conservatism and progressivism are relativist.  Today’s mainstream conservatives are trying desperately to conserve the America that they grew up in, an America that is chock full progressive innovations that they now defend including government guaranteed retirement, farm price supports, public education, subsidized markets, fiat money, central banking, income taxes,  state sponsored enterprise and public-private partnerships.

While libertarians understand that these policies have only made Americans less prosperous and less secure, progressives will argue that we have not gone far enough.  Progressives will insist that America is only another program or two away from building the kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

Mainstream conservatives find themselves unable to counter new progressive entreaties on principle because they are already defending the indefensible.  Their objections are more those of degree and of percentages, not of superior alternative vision.  Therefore, conservatives continually find themselves face down; with their fingernails clinging to dust while progressives drag them leftward by their ankles.

What is needed to combat the seemingly inevitable advance collectivism is a cogent and compelling moral case for individual liberty and free markets.  It requires an anchor composed of universal and absolute principles to which free people can moor the ship of state to avoid the drift to arbitrary totalitarianism.  It needs a compass, always pointing to true north, to steer  this vessel into the warm waters of peace, freedom and prosperity.  Libertarian philosophy provides this. 

Classical Liberals such as John Locke,  Tom Payne and America’s Founders made the moral case via Judeo-Christian teachings about human dignity, individual worth and equality before the Creator and the Law.  Others, like Ayn Rand, make the moral case via secular Objectivist philosophy.  Still others like Mises, Hayek and Rothbard demonstrate, through economic utility, how freedom elevates the human condition by facilitating peace and prosperity.   However you approach it, the righteousness of liberty is unassailable and undeniable.   

Conservatism is a sentiment which, I must admit that I share.  But libertarianism provides a philosophy and a set of principles that is based in human reality that can rationally and logically debunk the demagoguery of the progressive soothsayers.

Our job a libertarians is to make this case in our schools, our churches and in our workplaces, among our friends, families and associates.

Since I originally posted this blog, I have had occasion tho revisit F.A. Hayek's Why I Am Not a Conservative.  This is a far better treatment of this topic than which I could ever hope to aspire.

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