Skip to comments.Michael Gerson, Annoying Faux Conservative
Posted on 12/22/2008 2:16:24 PM PST by vadum
I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberalsif we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is. -Ronald Reagan
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Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson's latest column in the Washington Post is yet more proof that Gerson should receive an award for Most Annoying Faux Conservative of 2008.
Gerson continues to condescend to free market enthusiasts. In describing the various strains of conservativism, he writes:
More recently (and in an entirely different league of moral offensiveness), there is also the Republican libertarianism of former representative Dick Armey, who once declared Medicare "a program I would have no part of in a free world." And of fiscal conservatives who proposed to delay the Medicare prescription drug benefit, or eliminate the president's global AIDS initiative, as an offset for spending on Hurricane Katrina relief.Mr. Gerson, if you are for Big Government, you are not a conservative. You offend real conservatives by your embrace of what some have called "compassion fascism."
That continues to be a great quote from Reagan.
between Gerson and Frum, you can see where some of the problems came from during the Bush administration. He had way too many pansy lightweights surrounding him in key communication positions. Once Ari left, the wheels came off and the message was never the same. Both Tony Snow and Dana Perino have done a solid job on their own, but it did not spread beyond their press conferences. The message was lost.
In one sense you are right. The founders recognized that human nature was such that if you give humans power, they will abuse it. So they set up a government that kept the power in the federal government not only small, but offset by other sources of power.
But they kept in place the State governments, almost completely intact, which regulated (or did not regulate) the vast majority of human conduct. The founders also recognized that human nature was such that if it is given unfettered license to behave any way it wants, will inevitably produce behavior that disintegrates the culture. And that effective government depends on a mostly moral and honest culture. So human moral behavior was left to the states and only very limited enumerated powers were granted to the feds.
The founders were the ultimate conservatives (in the modern sense of the word). They were not liberatarians in the modern sense of the word. They saw no problem with state laws prohibiting alcohol use, sodomy, divorce etc.
So it’s a little oversimplified to just say conservatives are for smaller government always and that is the heart of conservatism. Conservatives I think, stand for the smallest government that will preserve the state and the culture, consistent with what we know about human nature. And that’s the split between modern libertarianism and conservatism—libertarians make, I believe, deeply unjustified assumptions about the salutory effects of eliminating almost all state constraints on moral behavior. That error is mostly due to an impossibly rosy view of human nature. And in that sense, liberatarians and communists make the same mistake—misjudging human nature and basing a government system on that misjudgment.
Reagan was wrong. Libertarianism is simply "liberty for me, but not for thee." The core values of conservatism are:
Indeed they were libertarians in the modern sense of the word, and Ronald Reagan was wise enough to pick up on it. You’re saying exactly the opposite of the RR quote at the top and didn’t even notice it.
cfr=Council on Foreign Relations
Stone the blasphemer!!
More seriously, you make the common error of equating cultural persuasion with government force. This leads directly to the notion that government can make people "better" -- an evil so seductive that some people cling to it even after it racked up an eight-digit body count.
You have it precisely backwards. Only an absurdly rosy view of human nature could sustain the notion that government is competent to shape culture, and only a pathological level of wilfull blindness can handwave away the aforementioned eight-digit body count.
“Youre saying exactly the opposite of the RR quote at the top and didnt even notice it.”
No. I did notice the quote. But your interpretation of that statement would require that you believe Reagan advocated the libertine aspects of libertarianism, which so dominate that movement today. But he did not.
He did not, for example, support repealing sodomy laws, enacting gay-marriage laws, the legalization of abortion, nor legalizing marijuana or heroin, to name some of hot-button issues that so incense modern libertarians. Nor did he support the federal government removing from the states, the right to regulate “moral” affairs. If you had insisted to his face that his quote proved that he supported the “libertine libertarian” position on any of these issues, he would have laughed in a most genial manner and very nicely told you you were full of crap.
He took a very “founding-fathers-style libertarianism” view when he used that term. Folks who try to use that quote to impute Reagan’s support for modern, libertine, libertarianism are way off base.
OTOH, folks who use it as a way to point out his support for the basic structure the founding fathers created—a federal government that is limited and small—are correct. It is there that libertarianism and conservatism intersect and share goals.
You’ve got the hot button issues for libertarians wrong, as is typical. As to RR’s libertine aspects, you are aware of course that he was divorced, or does he get a mulligan on that one? Your take on RR’s position on homosexuality is wrong, too. Suggest you read https://www.nationalreview.com/murdock/murdock200312030913.asp. Bottom line, too many paleoconservatives want the government to have too much power.
Reagan went onto to say:
"Now, I cant say that I will agree with all the things that the present group who call themselves Libertarians in the sense of a party say, because I think that like in any political movement there are shades, and there are libertarians who are almost over at the point of wanting no government at all or anarchy. "
"But again, I stand on my statement that I think that libertarianism and conservatism are traveling the same path."
Other than a desire for fiscal responsibility in government, over the last 33 years, libertarianism hasn't traveled the same path as conservatism.
I heard Gerson interviewed on C-Span. He talked like some nutty zealot about eliminating aids and malaria in Africa. He was influenced by some priest while he was at Georgetown. This is a source of Bush’s big government, “compassionate” conservativism. These people should just join a church with an active missions program. Spare the taxpayer their do goodism. Let this be a lesson to voters—keep the Sunday School zealots out of the White House. If these nuts want to try to earn their way to Heaven through good works, they can do it on their own dime, not mine.
I think of places like Costa Rica: little to no government. It's rife with corruption, and fairly hazardous to civilized life.
Let's see.....who to believe? Jibaholic or Reagan?
Hmmmm. That is a tough one.
“As to RRs libertine aspects, you are aware of course that he was divorced, or does he get a mulligan on that one?”
He’ll have to answer to his maker for that. But I never mentioned divorce in my post. Frankly, I think government should get out of the marriage business altogether. It’s a religious covenant.
“Your take on RRs position on homosexuality is wrong, too. Suggest you read https://www.nationalreview.com/murdock/murdock200312030913."
Actually, I think it’s completely consistent with my post. I mentioned advocacy of homosexual marriage. Nothing in that article suggests that Reagan thought the state should endorse homosexual behavior, which is the whole point of the homosexual marriage dispute. He thought the state should tolerate it—which is the position of most paleos.
“asp. Bottom line, too many paleoconservatives want the government to have too much power.”
Actually, I agree with you on this to an extent. The difference is, conservatives believe regulation of moral behavior is within the appropriate sphere of regulation by State governments. Libertarians do not. If you recognize the appropriateness of State government regulation of moral behavior but argue about whether it should engage in such regulation, you are a conservative with a disposition toward less regulation, not a libertarian.
Valid arguments can be made about this regulation or that regulation of moral behavior—but liberatarians want to put the argument into a you have no power to do that mold, not a, “should we do that” mold. So ff you recognize the power of the State governments to regulate moral behavior but argue about whether it SHOULD engage in such regulation, you are a conservative with a disposition toward less regulation, not really a libertarian.
For example, murder is immoral behavior that should be regulated by the state—that we can all agree on, I hope. Infanticide, I would hope also. On a theoretical level, I’m very sympathetic to the libertarian argument about, say, drug legalization. In my youth, I believed it was correct. But in the real world, I now believe it would be the choice of the worse of two bad alternatives.
That’s why I became a conservative. Libertarianism’s nice clear lines based on government power to act are very appealing but frequently don’t take into account the messy nature of the real world—or more accurately, are based on fundamental Rousseauian misconceptions about human nature. Conservatives often get it wrong in practice. But we try to conform government to real human nature and the real world.
One more fundamental difference between the two comes out of Hayeck. He was deeply conservative in certain regards. He correctly pointed out that successful societies evolve with rules that, objectively, work. But we frequently don’t know why they work or what rules are important and what rules aren’t. Nor do we have any good way to evaluate the effect of changing this rule or that one because societies are complex systems that produce unexpected results in response to changes.
So the conservative response to, say, changing the societal rules about contraception is “It ain’t clearly broke, so don’t fix it.” The liberal and libertarian response would be, “my theory says it’s broke, so by all means, fix it.” The unintended consequence of what seemed like a sensible decision at the time has been the demographic crash throughout the West and the ascendancy of Islam.
I think you overstate the libertarian case against certain societal conventions. Libertarians are rarely doctrinaire. Speaking for myself, I just want some reasonable justification for places where the state gets involved. We may well disagree where the line should be drawn. I won’t bore you with examples as it’s time to get out of politics for a while and say “Merry Christmas!”
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