SubscribeStar Saturday: Asserting Conservativism

As I’ve been developing my History of Conservative Thought course, one of my goals is to define “conservatism” positively; that is, on it’s own terms, and not merely as a reaction to progressivism.  Too often—including on this blog—we conservatives define our movement as what we’re against, rather than what we support.

That’s understandable, in part, for two reasons:  the Left’s vicious tactics are hard to ignore, and what we think of as “conservatism” is often the other side of a liberal coin.

On that second point:  conservatives often struggle to hold truly distinct positions because we’ve embraced the underlying assumptions of liberalism.  This explains the much-derided tendency of National Review to write headlines such as “The Conservative Case for [Deranged Leftist Policy Here].”  Conservatism, Inc., is also obsessed with policing our side, punching to the right as frequently as the left (take for instance, Kevin Williamson’s piece on the Crowder demonetizing situation; Williamson can barely wait to insult Crowder as “stupid” and childish, even as he feigns to defend the YouTube star).

We also tend to see compromise as part of the hurly-burly of electoral politics, so in a practical sense, we do so out of a good-faith understanding that our political opponents will do the same.  The Kavanaugh hearings largely dispelled that myth once and for all, as Lindsey Graham’s powerful reaction to that witch-hunt demonstrated.

Such is the theme of Angelo Codevilla’s latest piece, “A Conservative Resistance?”  Thanks to photog at Orion’s Cold Fire for linking to it.  Readers will recall that I wrote some months ago about Codevilla’s excellent essay on secession.

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TBT: Reality Breeds Conservatism

Yesterday’s post, “Conservative Inheritance,” explored the deep grounding of conservatism in hard-won experience.  Rather than existing as an ideology–a framework built upon abstract principles derived in a rationalistic vacuum—per se, conservatism is the product of concrete, empirical observation.

As I’m teaching my summer course, The History of Conservative Thought, I’m delving deeper into this understanding of conservatism.  Last week I wrote about the Russell Kirk’s six characteristics of conservatism, which my students and I discussed (and which they’re writing about for today).  While preparing that lesson, I was struck by the assertion that conservatism is not an ideology.

For so long, I’d been conditioned to think of it that way—and to think of our cultural and political battles as fundamentally ideological.  I still think there is a great deal of truth to that, as the modern Right battles against a progressivism imbued with a Cultural Marxist teleology (apologies, philosophy majors, if I’m misusing that word).  But conservatives must be aware that, by playing by the Left’s rules, we’re implicitly accepting the Left’s frame.

Regardless, all of these ideas and debates were circulating in my mind as I considered this week’s #TBT feature.  I landed, finally, on a piece entitled “Reality Breeds Conservatism” from last June.  The piece is not so much about ideological battles, but about a study (linked below) that argued that fewer risks made people more “liberal”—more willing to take risks—while greater risks made people more “conservative”—less willing to take risks.

Great insights there, Washington Post.  Yeesh.

Anyway, here is June 2018’s “Reality Breeds Conservatism“:

There’s a piece in the Washington Post about how progressives (“liberals,” as the article puts it) and conservatives think differently.  Like many such pieces, it essentially reduces conservatives to being more fearful, and touts that, in the absence of fear, conservatives become liberal.

I don’t entirely disagree with the basic findings of the Yale researchers; beloved Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson makes similar claims.  Peterson argues that progressives are risk-takers, the ones who explore over the mountain or innovate new businesses, while conservatives are the managers (and conservators) of the new institutions that arise from innovation.

Obviously, this basic analysis is a generalization, a reduction that makes it a little easier to understand the world around us.  As such, there are broad exceptions:  we all know conservatives who fight hard in the culture wars, who build new businesses, and who support new ideas or techniques—many at great personal, financial, and political risk.

Meanwhile, progressives politically are still clinging to the same failed ideas that have motivated their policy proscriptions for decades—increasing the minimum wage, expanding the welfare state, pushing identity politics.

That said, the article linked above—which chillingly says “we conducted an experiment to turn conservatives into liberals” in the title—points to the fear factor as the key to determining conservative vs. progressive viewpoints.  In doing so, it points to said experiment, which is deeply flawed at its core.

To wit:  researchers conducted an online poll (a bit iffy) of 300 U.S. residents, only 30% of whom were Republicans.  Two-thirds of the survey-takers were women, and 75% were white, with an average age of 35.  This collection isn’t exactly heavy on conservatives to begin with, and it’s unclear who was offered the opportunity to take the survey, which itself has a verysmall sample size.  I’m picturing a group of undergraduate psychology chicks posting a link to a SurveyMonkey survey on Facebook, which is about the amount of rigor I would expect from the “academic” social sciences these days.

Besides the small sample size and lack of diversity, the core flaw is the methodology.  Those surveyed were asked to imagine a scenario in which they were given one of two superpowers:  half were granted the power to fly, the other half granted the power “to be completely safe, invulnerable to any harm.”  The participants then completed the aforementioned survey.

What they found was not all that surprising, although the researchers feign as such:  it turns out that, in the absence of physical harm, conservatives become much more progressive, which—in the context of this study—basically means that they’re more open to people or situations that are different from them, and therefore inherently riskier.

Well, duh—in the absence of objective reality—to be free of any risk of physical harm, broadly-defined—I would partake in all sorts of risky activities that I would be reluctant to attempt when the threat is real.  That’s because I wouldn’t bear the costs of any of those risky actions (and as someone who broke a wrist falling from a ladder last fall, I can say that those costs are very high).

The late Kenneth Minogue wrote an essay in 2001 entitled “The New Epicureans,” in which he pointed out that, historically, only the very wealthy—the aristocratic elites of society—could afford to partake in risky behaviors, things like casual sex, drug abuse, and the like—while the rest of us plebes had to adopt a more Stoical approach to life—avoiding undue risk, living life cleanly and simply, dutifully serving our families and communities.

With broadly-spread wealth and widely-available contraceptives, however, modern chumps can mitigate the risks of a “live fast, die young” lifestyle in the same way ancient elites could—to an extent. What used to be the self-indulgent indolence of a very small group (the hated 1%!) has now become the self-destruction of a majority of modern Westerners.  And, of course, it doesn’t work out well, as most folks don’t have the means to pay for their immoral-but-convenient choices.

While we might be able to avoid more of the consequences of our actions—and, therefore, participate more eagerly in the temptations of a hedonic existence—there are still consequences, often dire ones.  I’ll write about some of these in my upcoming eBook, Values Have Consequences:  Why the West Needs Social Conservatism, but take one lethal example:  abortion.

What could more self-destructive, for more selfish ends, than to snuff out a human life?  Looking at this in the most dispassionately, economic way possible, it boils down to a calculation:  do I buckle down and adopt the Stoic lifestyle necessary to provide for this new life, thereby sacrificing my own personal enjoyment, or do I get rid of this “clump of cells” and avoid the huge costs and time-commitments of childrearing?  The major legal hurdles being removed via the disastrous Roe v. Wade ruling—and in the absence of a deep-rooted moral framework—many women, sadly, have opted for the latter option (which many, sadly, come to regret).

So, yes, if you strip away external costs and the threat of pain, people of any political or temperamental persuasion will indulge in more risk-tasking, for good and for ill, and might be more welcoming of strangers or alternative lifestyles.

But a healthy dose of Stoic skepticism about life is not detrimental.  We should not live our lives in fear, but we should govern sensibly—for example, by enforcing our national borders.  In short, conservatism is rooted profoundly in reality—it responds to real threats, prepares for real dangers, and seeks to build a life that, rather than relying on vague abstractions, grows organically from the nature of things as they are.

***

One final note:  the study found that, when witnessing acts of physical violence or hearing about one group or another causing trouble, liberals will become more conservative, even if temporarily.  This was true of the original “neocons” in the 1960s and 1970s, who were “mugged by reality.”

I believe it also holds true for those soft-liberals and centrists who saw the electoral chicanery, cultural division, racialized politics, and violent tactics of the Left in the 2016 election; having been “mugged” once again, they voted for a safety and reform.

Thank God Trump is a risk-taker.

Conservative Inheritance

In 1950, literary critic Lionel Trilling wrote in The Liberal Imagination (PDF) the following about conservatism, which he viewed as being virtually extinct following the Second World War:

In the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition. For it is the plain fact that nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation. This does not mean, of course, that there is no impulse to conservatism or to reaction. Such impulses are certainly very strong, perhaps even stronger than most of us know. But the conservative impulse and the reactionary impulse do not, with some isolated and some ecclesiastical exceptions, express themselves in ideas, but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.

It’s probably the most frequently cited quotation from a liberal among conservatives, because it did, in 1950, offer a practical assessment for the state of conservatism in the United States.  The twin struggles of the Great Depression and the war led to a triumph of what Russell Kirk called “Rooseveltian liberalism,” which sought to use the power of the government to address economic problems.  With the defeat of Nazism and Japanese imperialism, and entering the long Cold War with the Soviet Union, Americans placed great faith in the ability of their government to solve basic problems.

Indeed, the experience of conservatism since the Second World War has largely been that of accepting liberalism’s underlying propositions.  “Conservatism,” then, came to be more of reaction to the excesses of liberalism—a tapping of the brakes, not a full stop or reversal—rather than a cogent philosophical and social system on its own.

While that’s a controversial statement with many exceptions—there remained many conservatives, like Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, who continued to resist Rooseveltian liberalism—consider that the first Republican President since 1932, Dwight Eisenhower, accepted much of the New Deal, and left it virtually intact.  His signature achievement as president, other than ending the Korean War, was to champion the construction of the Interstate Highway System.  That was a worthy undertaking, to be sure, but the legacy of a major Republican president was to spend millions, rather than rolling back the interventionist state.

Since then, conservatism has gone through a number of permutations, many of which I’ll cover throughout my History of Conservative Thought course this summer.  My point here, however, is that conservatism, strictly speaking, cannot exist in the dominant framework of modern liberalism.

I’m not rejecting the tenants of classical liberalism—equality before God, the possession of God-given natural rights, the freedom of association—per se.  But conservatism is an empirical, rather than a rationalistic, endeavor.  Indeed, Russell Kirk argued that conservatism is not an ideology, as such, but the result of millennia of human experience.

Or, as Ted McAllister writes in “Toward a Conservatism of Experience” for RealClearPolicy, “Conservatism is an inheritance, not an ideology.”  He continues:

American conservatism emerged out of our experiences as a self-governing people who love their inherited liberties rather than abstract rights; whose laws have historically emerged out of our norms rather than a specious theory of justice; whose gift for creating and protecting political freedom (the freedom to govern ourselves, our communities, our associations) has served as the primary obstacle to the relentless drive toward an egalitarian administrative state.

McAllister’s essay—which is really a book review of Patrick Deneen’s book Why Liberalism Failed—makes a compelling case for a conservatism based not on metaphysical abstractions but on the “discovery, articulation, and defense of a reality we experience and of affections formed long before we needed to defend them.”  McAllister argues that conservatism had to adopt a more universal, ideological paradigm during the Cold War to face the major existential threat of international communism, but should return the localized, particularized forms of organic social arrangements America enjoyed prior to 1945.

Part and parcel to this restoration is a rejection of democracy’s excesses.  McAllister writes that “democratic culture overindulges a love of equality and abstract moral truths,” that it encourages a leveling of all people into bland masses and, paradoxically, hyper-atomistic individuals.  In such a culture, perverse individualism separates Americans from their communities and their heritage.  Instead, our churches, schools, social clubs, and other institutions have fallen prey to progressive ideologues, rather than serving as the glue that binds society together.

There’s a lot to chew on in McAllister’s review.  Permit me one more extended quotation:

American conservatism is rooted in inheritance, in the rough guidance of experience over abstract idealism, and in the protection of the pluralism found in voluntary association and in self-governing communities. This is why something profoundly American is lost when conservatives embrace abstraction and universal slogans in their struggle with either liberalism or progressivism….

Suffice it to say that today we lack a strong and traditionally conservative intellectual — and specifically academic — class. The easiest measure of this weakness is found in both the number and the intellectual range of conservative academics. Of particular importance here is the dearth of conservatives in the humanities. Indeed, the number of conservative scholars devoted to such studies as philology, literature, theology, philosophy, and history as well as themes such as imagination, beauty, and truth, has dwindled both in raw numbers and as a percentage of conservative academics. Of course, outside the academy, there are journals and institutions that engage the moral, literary, historical imagination, which offer some reason for hope. But the overall trend on the Right has been toward intellectual work geared toward contemporary and immediate concerns — more about power than about beauty.

In essence, McAllister argues that, while we often appeal to abstractions in our never-ending battle against progressivism, we adopt their rationalist framework by doing so, albeit out of necessity and expediency.  That said, our focus on the immediacy of political power has led conservatism to sacrifice culture—a key reason, I would argue, as to why progressives are so dominant there.

McAllister overstates the problem slightly—just look at New Criterion to see “conservative scholars devoted to… themes such as imagination, beauty, and truth”—but the Left certainly dominates our culture.

At this point, though, I wonder how we can get back the old conservatism.  It’s a worthy goal, but it seems unlikely in an age in which progressive and postmodern dogma reign supreme.  The extent to which the progressive frame infects conservatism—even down to our mental processes—is disheartening, and explains the capitulatory approach of once-great conservative publications like National Review, which can barely contain its eagerness to run and apologize to Leftists for challenging them.

In the long-run, though, conservatism’s foundation—its groundedness—in objective reality, as opposed to rationalist abstractions, will allow it to prevail in all its beautiful, localized, variegated permutations.  That “long-run” just might take a very long while to arrive.

Lazy Sunday XIV: Gay Stuff

Apparently, June is Pride Month, so there’s a lot of gay stuff going around.  If you’re part of the expansive LGBTQ2+ABCDEFGetc. community in New York City, you get two parades to show off your bedroom antics.  From deplatforming conservatives to avoiding prosecution for hate-crime hoaxes, it’s never been a better time to be out and proud.

To celebrate “pride”—which I take to mean loudly proclaiming who you like to sleep with while wearing ass-less chaps in public—this week’s Lazy Sunday looks back at the influence of gay stuff on our body politic.  Enjoy!

  • Gay Totalitarianism” – This post discussed the prevalence of homosexual hate-crime hoaxes, the most ubiquitous being Empire actor Jussie Smollett’s claim that a couple of white Trump supporters assaulted him with bleach and nooses in a tony, largely gay Chicago neighborhood early in the morning.  I linked to Pedro recent piece for American Greatness, “Our Queer Decline,” which deftly analyzed this phenomenon:  if homosexuals really faced persecution, they wouldn’t feel safe lying to the authorities about being attacked.  Instead, they know they’ll have the full support of and sympathy from the government, corporations, and the media.

    As the Smollett case showed, agents within the government would simply refuse to enforce the law via prosecution.  The issue here is not that gays are receiving legal protection—like all Americans, they should be protected from assaults on their persons—but that there is a dual-standard at play.  Jussie Smollett received egregious preferential treatment in part because he is gay (and, presumably, because he’s black and connected to the Obamas).

  • Buttigieg and Buchanan: Redefining Morality” and “Bland and Gay” – These twin screeds explore South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s appeal to voters—and his ungodly misinterpretation of Scripture regarding his homosexual lifestyle.  The former essay pulls heavily from a piece Pat Buchanan wrote for Taki’s Magazine about Buttigieg’s radical redefinition of Christian teaching on homosexuality (essentially, Buttigieg’s argument is “God made me this way, so I’m supposed to ignore His teachings on homosexuality”).

    The latter essay attempts to explain Buttigieg’s appeal to voters, which seems to be waning a bit.  At the time, I argued that Buttigieg’s popularity was due to his blandness—he speaks largely in indefinable generalities, a la Barack Obama’s “Hope and Change” slogan—mixed with the mildest splash of exoticism—his homosexuality.  Now that same-sex marriage is legal and homosexual behavior is largely normalized in the United States—but still, we all tacitly acknowledge, abnormal—Buttigieg’s gayness offers the slightest frisson of excitement for voters.  The thought process seems to be “oh, he’s a safe, non-offensive, boring white guy, but I can virtue-signal on the cheap because he’s gay!”

  • First They Came for Crowder” – This piece covered the demonetizing of conservative comedian Steven Crowder, all because a flamboyant “journalist” at Vox pitched a hissy-fit.  If that’s not proof that being gay aligns you with the full power and influence of big corporations and our techno-elites, then there’s no convincing you.

There you have it!  Some celebratory reading for Pride Month 2019.  Here’s hoping your Sunday is as fabulous as Milo Yiannopoulos.

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

SubscribeStar Saturday: The Portly Politico Summer Reading List 2019

Today’s post is the first in my SubscribeStar Saturday series.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page.  For the first installment of SSS, ALL subscriber levels, including the $1 tier, will have access to this list.

Three years ago, I released my popular “The Portly Politico Summer Reading List 2016.”  It featured three must-read books for your summer, including a fourth “Honorable Mention.”  The same criteria from 2016 will apply to this year’s list.  To quote myself:

The books listed here are among some of my favorites.  I’m not necessarily reading them at the moment, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t!  These books have shaped my thinking about the many issues I’ve covered over the past two months.  I highly encourage you to check them out.

In that spirit, here is the definitive Summer Reading List 2019:

1.) Patrick J. BuchananThe Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority (2014) – I have to be honest—I’ve been reading this book off-and-on for nearly two years, and am about 75% through it.  That pace is not because it’s a bad book.

Quite the contrary, The Greatest Comeback is a must-read for any political history junkies.  After twin defeats in the 1960 presidential and 1962 California gubernatorial elections, Nixon was a national loser.  Buchanan, who worked for and traveled with Nixon during the long decade of the 1960s as a researcher and writer, gives a first-hand account, culled from what must be a filing cabinet’s worth of handwritten notes and newspaper clippings, of Nixon’s historic, unlikely rise to the presidency.

Nixon’s reputation now suffers from the railroading that was the Watergate scandal.  Lost in the Left’s never-ending victory lap is how shrewd Nixon’s political instincts were.  Nixon’s tireless support for Republican congressional candidates in 1966 led to historic gains in those midterm elections, likely hastening Lyndon Johnson’s political demise and restoring Republicans’ spot as a viable alternative to Democrats.  That loyalty paid off for Nixon in spades.

Consider, too, the challenges that faced Nixon going into the 1968 presidential election:  he had to defeat liberal Republicans within his own party (Buchanan expends a great deal of ink explaining the odious treachery of George Romney and Nelson Rockefeller), while also fending off potential challengers to his right, namely California Governor Ronald Reagan.  An increasingly-unhinged anti-war (and all-too-often pro-Communist) Left reviled the old “Red Hunter,” and their dominance of the press continued to hound Nixon’s every move.

And through it all, Nixon persevered, engineering the titular “greatest comeback.”  He would go on to win a forty-nine-State landslide in 1972, losing only deep-blue Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.  For that story, check out Buchanan’s sequel, Nixon’s White House Wars:  The Battle that Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever (2017), which I will probably finishing sometime during Nikki Haley’s second presidential term.

To read the rest of The Portly Politico Summer Reading List 2019subscribe now for $1/month or more on SubscribeStar!

What is Conservatism?

Today I’m launching a summer class at my little private school here in South Carolina.  The course is called History of Conservative Thought, and it’s a course idea I’ve been kicking around for awhile.  Since the enrollment is very small, this first run is going to be more of an “independent study,” with a focus on analyzing and writing about some key essays and books in the conservative tradition.  I’ll also be posting some updates about the course to this blog, and I’ll write some explanatory posts about the material for the students and regular readers to consult.  This post will be one of those.

Course Readings:

Most of the readings will be digitized or available online at various conservative websites, but if you’re interested in following along with the course, I recommend picking up two books:

1.) Richard Weaver‘s Ideas Have Consequences ($6.29):  this will be our “capstone” reading for the summer.
2.) The Portable Conservative Reader (edited by Russell Kirk):  we’ll do some readings from this collection, including Kirk’s “Introduction” for the first week.

Course Scope:

I’ll be building out the course week-to-week, but the ultimate goal is to end with 2016 election, when we’ll talk about the break down of the postwar neoliberal consensus, the rise of populism and nationalism in the West, and the emergence of the Dissident Right.

After the introductory week, we’ll dive into Edmund Burke, then consider the antebellum debates about States’ rights.  I haven’t quite worked out the murky bit during the Gilded Age, but we’ll look at the rise of Progressivism in the early twentieth century, then through the conservative decline during the Great Depression and the Second World War.

After that, it’s on to Buckley conservatism and fusionism, as well as the challenges of the Cold War and international communism.  Paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan and (if I’m feeling edgy) Sam Francis will get shout-outs as well.

Week 1:  What is Conservatism?

That’s the basic outline.  For the first day, we’re going to look at the question in the title:  what is conservatism?  What makes one a conservative?  Feel free to comment below on your thoughts.

After we see what students think conservatism is, we’ll begin reading through Russell Kirk’s “Introduction” in The Portable Conservative Reader.  It’s an excellent overview of the question posed.  The first section of the lengthy “Introduction” is entitled “Succinct Description,” and it starts with the question, “What is conservatism?”

Not being one to reinvent what others have done better—surely that is part of being a conservative (see Principle #3 below)—I wanted to unpack his six major points.  Kirk argues that though conservatism “is no ideology,” and that it varies depending on time and country, it

“may be apprehended reasonably well by attention to what leading writers and politicians, generally called conservative, have said and done…. to put the matter another way, [conservatism] amounts to the consensus of the leading conservative thinkers and actors over the past two centuries.”

Kirk condenses that grand tradition into six “first principles,” derived largely from British and American conservatives.  To wit:

1.) Belief in a Transcendent Moral Order – conservatives believe there is higher authority or metaphysical order that human societies should build upon.  As Kirk puts it, a “divine tactic, however dimly descried, is at work in human society.”  There is a need for “enduring moral authority.”  The Declaration of Independence, for example, draws on the concept of “natural law” to complain about abuses of God-given rights.  The implication is that a good and just society will respect God’s natural law.

2.) The Principle of Social Continuity – Kirk puts this best:  “Order and justice and freedom,” conservatives believe, “are the artificial products of a long and painful social experience, the results of centuries of trial and reflection and sacrifice.”

As such, the way things are is the product of long, hard-won experience, and changes to that social order should be gradual, lest those changes unleash even greater evils than the ones currently present.  Conservatives abhor sudden upheaval; to quote Kirk again:  “Revolution slices through the arteries of a culture, a cure that kills.”

3.) The Principle of Prescription, or the “wisdom of our ancestors” – building on the previous principle, “prescription” is the belief that there is established wisdom from our ancestors, and that the antiquity of an idea is a merit, not a detraction.  Old, tried-and-trued methods are, generally, preferable to newfangled conceptions of how humans should organize themselves.

As Kirk writes, “Conservatives argue that we are unlikely, we moderns, to make any brave new discoveries in morals or politics or taste.  It is perilous to weigh every passing issue on the basis of private judgment and private rationality.”  In other words, there is great wisdom in traditions, and as individuals it is difficult, in our limited, personal experience, to comprehend the whole.

It’s like G. K. Chesterton’s fence:  you don’t pull down the fence until you know why it is built.  What might seem to be an inconvenience, a structure no longer useful, may very well serve some vital purpose that you only dimly understand, if at all.

4.) The Principle of Prudence – in line with Principles #2 and #3, the conservative believes that politicians or leaders should pursue any reforms only after great consideration and debate, and not out of “temporary advantage or popularity.”  Long-term consequences should be carefully considered, and rash, dramatic changes are likely to be more disruptive than the present ill facing a society.  As Kirk writes, “The march of providence is slow; it is the devil who always hurries.”

5.) The Principle of Variety – the “variety” that Kirk discusses here is not the uncritical mantra of “Diversity is Our Strength.”  Instead, it is the conservative’s love for intricate variety within his own social institutions and order.

Rather than accepting the “narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems,” conservatives recognize that some stratification in a society is inevitable.  Material and social inequality will always exist—indeed, they must exist—but in a healthy, ordered society, each of these divisions serves its purpose and has meaning.  The simple craftsman in his workshop, while materially less well-off than the local merchant, enjoys a fulfilling place in an ordered society, one that is honorable and satisfying.  Both the merchant and the craftsmen enjoy the fruits of their labor, as private property is essential to maintaining this order:  “without private property, liberty is reduced and culture is impoverished,” per Kirk.

This principle is one of the more difficult to wrap our minds around, as the “variety” here is quite different than what elites in our present age desire.  Essentially, it is a rejection of total social and material equality, and a celebration of the nuances—the nooks and crannies—of a healthy social order.  “Society,” Kirk argues, “longs for honest and able leadership; and if natural and institutional differences among people are destroyed, presently some tyrant or host of squalid oligarchs will create new forms of inequality.”

Put another way:  make everyone equal, and you’ll soon end up with another, likely worse, form of inequality.

6.) The Principle of the Imperfectibility of Human Nature – unlike progressives, who believe that “human nature” is mutable—if we just get the formula right, everyone will be perfect!—conservatives (wisely) reject this notion.  Hard experience demonstrates that human nature “suffers irremediably from certain faults…. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created.”  An Utopian society, assuming such a thing were possible, would quickly devolve into rebellion, or “expire of boredom,” because human nature is inherently restless and rebellious.

Instead, conservatives believe that the best one can hope for is “a tolerably ordered, just and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering continue to lurk.”  Prudent trimming of the organic oak tree of society can make gradual improvements, but the tree will never achieve Platonic perfection (to quote Guns ‘n’ Roses:  “Nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain”).

Conclusion

Kirk stresses in the rest of the introduction that not all conservatives accept or conform to all of the six principles again; indeed, most conservatives aren’t even aware of these principles, or may only dimly perceive them.

That’s instructive:  a large part of what makes one conservative is lived experience.  “Conservatism” also varies depending on time and place:  the social order that, say, Hungary seeks to preserve is, of necessity, different than that of the United States.

Conservatism, too, is often a reaction to encroaching radicalism.  Thus, Kirk writes of the “shop-and-till” conservatism of Britain and France in the nineteenth century:  small farmers and shopkeepers who feared the loss of their property to abstract rationalist philosophers and coffeeshop radicals, dreaming up airy political systems in their heads, and utterly detached from reality.

If that sounds like the “Silent Majority” of President Richard Nixon’s 1968 and 1972 elections—or of President Trump’s 2016 victory—it’s no coincidence.  The great mass of the voting public is, debatably, quietly, unconsciously conservative, at least when it comes to their own family, land, and local institutions.  Those slumbering hordes only awaken, though, when they perceive their little platoon is under siege from greater forces.  When they speak, they roar.

But that’s a topic for another time.  What do you think conservatism is? Leave your comments below.

–TPP

Leftism in a Nutshell

You’ve got to admire the balls of the Left.  Yes, their wild policy prescriptions come from a combination of ignorance, wickedness, and magical thinking, but that doesn’t stop them from putting out some crazy ideas.

Take this piece from Gavin McInnes’s former rag, Vice:  “The Radical Plan to Save the Planet by Working Less.”  The headline says it all:  let’s just not work so hard, gah!

Naturally, click-bait headlines like that don’t tell the full story.  The “degrowth” movement the piece discusses is classic progressivism:  we should support a robust public transportation system and give generous welfare benefits so people can spend less time working.

The “degrowth movement” is an inversion of Obama-era economic thinking.  Recall the sluggish recovery following the Great Recession, and how Obama informed us that low-growth was the “new normal” we’d all have to learn to love in America.  Now that the economy is roaring under President Trump, progressives are flipping the script:  “oh, wait, too much growth is a bad thing because climate change!”

Like most Leftist economic ideas, it’s premised on denying people choice and subsidizing loafing with generous bennies:

Degrowth would ultimately mean we’d have less stuff: not as many people working and producing materials, so not as many brands at the grocery store, less fast fashion, and fewer cheap and disposable goods. Families would perhaps have one car instead of three, you’d take a train instead of a plane on your vacation, and free time wouldn’t be filled with shopping trips but with non-money-spending activities with loved ones.

Practically, this would also require an increase in free public services; people won’t have to make as much money if they don’t have to spend on healthcare, housing, education, and transportation. Some degrowthers also call for a universal income to compensate for a shorter work week.

I’m all about saving money and avoiding empty consumerism.  I’ve written that there is more to an economy than faceless efficiency units slaving away for plastic crap from China.  I’m not unsympathetic to the idea of taking more time for family and personal edification (as a good deal of the workweek is wasted in meetings and busy work).

But this “degrowth movement” is absurd.  It’s all premised on a government somehow funding a massive welfare state as the citizenry becomes less productive.  Even the sympathetic economist they interview for this ideological puff piece argues that cutting growth to reduce carbon emissions would only have a marginal impact environmentally, but would be devastating socially and economically.

It just goes to show you that the Left hates the idea of hard work.  For them, work is an imposition, and we’d all be better off enjoying endless relaxation and luxury.  It’s the seduction of never-ending childhood: a paternalistic state provides all the goodies so we can watch TV and pursue pleasure all day.

Work is ennobling.  It’s important to earn a living wage for honest, valuable, productive work.  But beyond that, work provides a sense of purpose and accomplishment (I think this is particularly true for men, although women derive great satisfaction from work, too, especially the difficult, important work of raising children).  There is an identity to holding a job, and a sense of satisfaction from doing that job well.

Can one enjoy a good quality of life by pursuing a more minimalist approach?  Yes, of course:  if anything, Americans spend far too much money, a good deal of it on empty baubles.

There is a simple joy to minimalism, and I enjoy “spending” money on savings (it’s very satisfying to watch savings and investments grow).  But subsidizing lollygagging and calling it “investing in infrastructure” is not the sign of a great nation or civilization.

Patriots Fill Gap in Border Wall

As the federal government struggles to fulfill its basic duties, private citizens are increasingly taking matters into their own hands.  I wrote awhile ago about the GoFundMe page to fund the border wall.  That project is still underway, but seems to have stalled well short of its goal of raising $1 billion.

But there is hope.  The organization connected to that fundraising project, We Build the Wall, constructed a half-mile of wall along a notorious gap on the New Mexico border.

A half-mile is precious little along a border hundreds of miles in length, but it is something.  Further, the specific half-mile section the wall protects is a heavily-crossed gap in existing border fencing.  From The Daily Wire:

The half-mile segment of border wall, the group says, closes a gap frequently used to smuggle both people and drugs. [Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris] Kobach added that on a “typical night” around 100 migrants and $100,000 worth of illegal narcotics passed through the half-mile hole.

The Trump Administration was working on a plan to construct around 234 miles of steel fencing, effectively sealing off the southern border with a “border wall,” but attempts to secure funding for the project have stalled. Congress refused to agree to any funding for the border wall beyond the $1.6 billion promised in the 2018 budget, and President Donald Trump’s “national emergency” declaration — which would have detoured funding to the border wall from other Army Corps of Engineers projects — was halted by a judge pending ongoing litigation.

This excerpt brings up another important point:  the consistent obstruction from Democrats and activist judges of President Trump’s America First agenda.  Even with the declaration of a national emergency, the president has been blocked from making substantial progress on the border wall.

Of course, Republicans passed up a golden opportunity to act on the border wall in 2017 or 2018.  Voters need to send a strong message to candidates in both parties that getting control of the border is important.  Tax cuts and economic growth are wonderful, but for American citizens to benefit, we need strong border security, including a robust deportation system.

I’m encouraged to see private citizens banding together to solve their problems when the government won’t—few things are more American.  Nevertheless, it’s the federal government’s constitutional responsibility to protect our national sovereignty.  It shouldn’t slough off that responsibility and hope that good-willed patriots will pick up the slack.

TBT: Open Borders is the Real Moral Crisis

I’ve been writing quite a bit about immigration lately, as it’s the major issue facing the West today.  Our leaders’ inabilities to address the crisis of immigration suggests their ineffectiveness—and, perhaps, their callous indifference to the damage unrestricted and illegal immigration wreak.

President Trump rose to national prominence and won the presidency campaigning on fixing illegal immigration.  His efforts so far have been a mixed bag, as duplicitous, progressive judges overreach from their elitist perches and block Trump’s efforts at reform.

It seems a distant memory now, but all the faux-outrage from the Left just a year ago was about the “child separation” business at the border.  One still reads some echoes of those melodramatic headlines, but the underlying problem has gone unaddressed.

In fact, it’s gotten worse:  immigrants now realize that if they cross the border with a minor child, they can be swept into the interior of the country.  Once an illegal immigrant is in the nation, it’s incredibly difficult to get him out again.

It’s a sad testament that President Trump and Congress have been unable to accomplish more on this front.  As such, it’s shame that this week’s TBT still sounds all-too-familiar.

Here is “Open Borders is the Real Moral Crisis“:

I typically avoid wading into fashionable-for-the-moment moral crusades, but the hysteria over children being separated from their parents at the border is ludicrous, and demonstrates the typical “facts over feelings” emotionalism that mars our immigration debate.  That feel-goodism is why we’re even in this mess—if it can be characterized as such—in the first place.

Because I’ll be deemed a monster—“Won’t somebody please think of the children!“—for not unequivocally denouncing this Clinton-era policy, I’ll issue the usual, tedious disclaimers:  yes, it’s all very tragic; yes, it could be handled better; yes, I would have been terrified to be separated from my parents at such a young age; etc.

Now that the genuflecting to popular pieties is out of the way, let me get to my point:  this entire situation would be a non-issue if we had simply enforced our immigration lawsconsistently for the past thirty years.  President Trump isn’t the villain here (if anything, Congress is—they can take immediate action to change the policy or come up with some alternative—but I don’t even think they’re wrong this time); rather, the villains are all those who—in the vague name of “humanity” and “human rights”—ignored illegal immigration (or, worse, actively condoned it).

Sadly, it is an issue.  But what else are we to do?  Years of non-enforcement have sent the implicit but clear message to potential illegal immigrants that we don’t take our own borders (and, by extension, our national sovereignty and rule of law) seriously, and that if you’re sympathetic enough, you’ll get to skip the line.  Folks come up from Mexico and Central America fully expecting that, after some brief official unpleasantness, they can dissolve into the vastness of the United States and begin sending remittances back to their relatives—who may then pull up stakes and come.

Further, sneaking into the country illegally is a crime, and the United States has every right to enforce its laws, including those pertaining to immigration.  Mexico, similarly, has that right—and uses it unabashedly to police its own border (or to let Central American migrants waltz through on their way to the Estados Unidos).  Naturally, the punishment for breaking laws is often detainment, and the kiddies don’t join dad in his cell.

To give a common example:  what happens to the children of, say, an American heroin dealer when he’s arrested and sentenced to ten years in a drug bust?  His children—if they have no relatives willing or able to take them in—go into the foster care system.  It’s tragic, it’s terrible, but it’s part of the price of committing a felony.  No one wants it to happen, but it’s a consequence of one’s actions.  This reason is why crime is so detrimental to society at large, even beyond the immediate victims.

Unfortunately, a combination of winking at immigration enforcement (“eh, come on—you won’t get deported”), feel-good bullcrap (as my Mom would call it), and Emma Lazarus Syndrome(trademarked to The Portly Politico, 2018) have contributed to the current nightmare situation.  Now that an administration is in office that actually enforces the duly legislated law of the land—and at a point at which the problem has ballooned to epic proportions due to past lax enforcement—the problem is far thornier and more consumed with emotional and moral peril.

As any self-governing, self-sufficient adult understands, sometimes doing what is necessary is hard.  I do feel for these children who are stripped from their parents arms (although, it should be noted, usually for only a matter of hours), but who cares about my feelings?  We can have compassion for those who try to arrive here illegally, as well as their children, without attempting to take on all of their problems, and without sacrificing our national sovereignty and our laws in the process.

The United States is the most generous nation in the world—and the most prosperous—but we cannot take everyone in; to do so would not make everyone else better off, but would rather destroy what makes America the land of compassion, liberty, prosperity, and charity that it is.

***

For further reference, I recommend the following videos, the first from the brilliant Ben Shapiro, the second from Dilbert creator Scott Adams:

 

I’d also recommend this piece from National Review columnist Richard Lowry, which is quite good:  https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/05/illegal-immigration-enforcement-separating-kids-at-border/

And, finally, this piece from Conservative Review‘s Daniel Horowitz, which explains the true moral toll of illegal immigration—and misplaced compassion—very thoroughly:  https://www.conservativereview.com/news/the-immorality-of-the-open-borders-left/