Conservatism’s perpetual identity crisis under liberalism

December 11, 2015 § 94 Comments

Conservatism is a derivative political doctrine. That is, conservatism asserts that we ought to conserve something or other, but it doesn’t specify what that something-or-other happens to be in particular.  The ‘in particular’ is necessary in order to tell just what it is we are trying to conserve.

I’ve summed this up before by suggesting that conservatism has no stable essence, although that isn’t strictly true. Conservatism is the tendency to respect the wisdom of our particular ancestors and to resist critical attack on the wisdom of our particular ancestors. In practice this resistance often implies a tendency to just stop thinking about things and move on with life; and to insist that other people should stop stirring up trouble and move on too.

This tendency to respect our ancestors and traditions, to assume that there is something wrong with criticisms directed against them even if we don’t immediately see why that criticism is wrong, is a good thing generally speaking. The burden of proof is on the critic, that burden is a very high bar indeed, and that is just how things should be. Conservatism is, generally speaking, a wise and prudent approach to the political life of the community.  We can’t take the time to think everything through to its foundations personally, and if we are going to let others do our thinking for us then our ancestors have at least as much credibility as living persons with an agenda, if not much moreso.  What I have found myself is that when current generations attack the wisdom of past generations, they are almost always attacking straw men.

Usury is an example I have written about quite a bit: the ignorant, often unconscious contempt heaped upon Aquinas and the medieval Magisterium on the subject is ironic in the extreme.  Aquinas and the Medieval magisterium had a far clearer and healthier understanding of financing business ventures than any of the modern financial anti-realists; financial anti-realists who literally cannot tell or pretend to be unable to tell the difference, whose economic theories actively and malevolently suppress clear understanding of the difference, between property – which can be alienated from a person, possessed, repossessed, bought, traded, and sold, and the use of which may thus be sold for profit (as “rent”, “interest”, etc) – and personal IOU’s, which cannot be alienated from the person who makes the promise and do not exist as actual property ontologically distinct from the person who makes the promise. Centuries of contemptuous arrogance on the part of new generations, directed against ancestors who are not here to refute the armies of ludicrous straw men, has made these new generations – has made us – so stupid that we cannot see or refuse to see what is obvious right in front of our faces.

So the conservative tendency in politics is a good thing, a wise thing, a normal human thing.  It should not be disparaged, but should be valued.

The problem with our current situation, though, is that our most immediate ancestors, going back the past few centuries, were liberals. This turns modern conservatism into a self-destructive, self-hating, ignorant tendency to protect and preserve earlier iterations of liberalism.

§ 94 Responses to Conservatism’s perpetual identity crisis under liberalism

  • Kidd Cudi says:

    I really thought the link on the word “liberals” in the last paragraph was going to be to the definition-of-liberalism post.

  • Zippy says:

    If you make the wrong guess before you hover or click, you have to drink.

  • slumlord says:

    There are two types of conservatism;

    Firstly, the intuitive type, which is probably strongly related to temperament and is novelty averse.

    Secondly, there is the rational variant which takes the common sense notion that our forefathers weren’t all morons.

    In a democracy it’s the second version that is triumphant.

  • Zippy says:

    slumlord:
    It looks to me like you are (non-exhaustively) characterizing conservatives, not conservatism. That is, you are presenting your view on why, psychologically, different kinds of people are (more or less) committed to conservatism.

    It seems to me that there are all sorts of reasons why different people might come to have commitments to conservatism or liberalism. But psychoanalyzing kinds of people isn’t my main focus here.

  • Well, how far back do we have to go to get to some conservative ancestors? Any “we” here.

  • slumlord says:

    The problem, when discussing conservatism, is that no one uses the same definition of it. Conservatism is different things to different people with the differentiating factor being the way people approach it. For the majority of conservatives, it’s intuitive. For a few, it’s rational. Hence the importance of the cognitive/intuitive dimension.

  • Zippy, if you check out John C. Wright’s blog you’ll see me arguing with the host about monarchies. Which is kind of a hoot. You might be interested – post title Sic Semper Tyrannis. The post is a response to me, by the way.

  • GJ says:

    Zippy:

    I’ve read some of Bonald’s posts with appreciation before, but this one is just…

    It’s one thing to say that American conservatism can have meaningful content: it can meaningfully conserve submission to government, appreciation of legal tradition, citizenship, and parents having authority over children. But it is absurd to claim that these are “what makes an American [conservative] an American [conservative]”, since clearly these are not uncommonly valued across many cultures.

  • Hrodgar says:

    GJ:

    It might be worth rereading that paragraph without mentally inserting [conservative], paying particular attention to the first sentence: “an American is someone who is subject to a particular set of authorities.” He’s not saying that submission to government is what makes an American conservative an American conservative, but that submission to the American government is one of the things that makes an American an American.

    How true what he is saying is I’m not sure, but it’s at least a little bit more plausible.

  • GJ says:

    Hrodgar:

    That reads Bonald as saying something more absurd with either equivocation on ‘American’ or use of ‘no True American’, so I’ll pass for charity’s sake.

  • Zippy says:

    I’ve been thinking about this subject for decades without reaching an answer that I find acceptable myself. I think Bonald’s perspective is a helpful corrective, can help catalyze thought about this subject right where it needs to be catalyzed. But that isn’t necessarily an endorsement of everything he said or how he said it. Maybe he is completely right and I just haven’t wrapped my mind around it properly; maybe he’s off his rocker and a whole different way of thinking about it it needed. But either way I think Bonald’s contribution to the subject has been helpful.

    Everyone is a conservative. That is, nobody is capable of critically examining his own premises on every subject and in every way, all the way down to foundations. We aren’t omniscient or immortal, we literally don’t have the resources for the ‘comprehensively examined’ life; so we all need conservatism — cannot function without it. The problem is that conservatism as a disposition sometimes hides disorders in our thoughts, makes us reluctant to think about them and too quick to dismiss criticism.

    At some point this becomes unreasonable: say when the thing we are trying to conserve has catalyzed the murder of more people than all other historical ideas combined, or when it starts treating disapproval of a man surgically removing his genitals and pretending he is a woman as bigotry, or when it turns whole generations of citizens into sexually feral bonobos, or when it treats survival as a coherent community as the height of exclusionary wickedness. A few generations back, conservatives like Burke and Belloc might be forgiven for not fully and unequivocally repudiating liberalism. In our age we have run out of excuses.

    Everyone is a conservative. The question just becomes what to conserve and what not to conserve. There are all sorts of good things about America. If there are all sorts of good thing about America, it follows that there are all sorts of things about America worth conserving.

    But liberalism specifically, the propositional political doctrine expressed by Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, must come out from under that dome of protection, that sacred area protected by instinctual conservationists. When you realize that a particular parasite is killing everything you need to stop worrying about preserving nature or how that parasite has affected the history of the conservation area and eradicate the bloodsucking disease-carrying sonsofbitches: in this case, the political doctrine of liberalism has to be examined fully, understood to be the lie that it is, and purged unequivocally and utterly from ourselves.

    Don’t gaze at the fire, raptly hypnotized by its tongues of flame. Put the sonofabitch out.

  • GJ says:

    Everyone is a conservative.

    This is just a banal definition shifted to when the standard understanding falls apart (just like ‘authority is justified by the consent of the governed’).

    The question just becomes what to conserve and what not to conserve.

    As a Protestant, I’d say that the question is better phrased positively as ‘what to conserve and what to reform’ 😉

    And a thought just occurred to me: a comparison between the American political ‘conservative’ trying to conserve the classical liberal rejection of monarchy in the face of progressivism and the theologically ‘conservative’ Protestant trying to conserve some ‘correct’ standard of Sola Scriptura against postmodern, theologically ‘liberal’ rereadings might shed light on both situations.

  • Zippy says:

    GJ:

    This is just a banal definition shifted to when the standard understanding falls apart (just like ‘authority is justified by the consent of the governed’).

    Yes, that is fair, but there is a sense in which everyone is a conservative, just as there is a sense in which every government governs by consent. It is literally impossible to lead a ‘comprehensively examined’ life, because we are not omniscient and immortal. We have to pick what we will spend our limited resources critiquing, and there will always and necessarily be an infinite body of things left over which we do not critique.

    I think the comparison to protestant vs Catholic approaches is helpful. The traditional Catholic approach is not to attempt to explicitly define the content of the faith in comprehensive fashion, because doing so is impossible. As a living Church and tradition it is impossible to comprehensively write down everything that is legitimately Catholic in expression.

    The traditional Catholic approach is to condemn specific heresies when those heresies become manifest and problematic. The traditional Catholic approach is not to attempt to critically define everything under the conservation dome; it is to eject things which clearly don’t belong.

    Attempting to define everything that should be under the conservation dome is self contradictory. It requires us to take a critical view of everything comprehensively, and allow those things that pass critical muster under the dome. But the dome just is protection from criticism. It just is the body of things we try to conserve: things which, when attacked, we presume that the problem lies somewhere in the criticism even if we don’t see the problem with the criticism right now.

  • vetdoctor says:

    You have wisely avoided trying to create a theoretical alternative political system but I think some outline is helpful to create contrast to what we have now.

    You’ve defined liberalism as, “primary purpose and justification of politics is to secure freedom and (concomitantly) equal rights [elsewhere adding fraternity]”. Elsewhere I think you’ve agreed that the true purpose of politics is to achieve the common good.

    I’ll propose that the liberals have simply turned politics on its head and the proper order is: fraternity leading to equality, then freedom. I’ll loosely define fraternity as the ordered cooperation of all. I’ll stick my neck out further and assert that fraternity is based not on the individual but on the family thus the proper political system is one that works towards protecting and providing for the family.

    In this society, I think it is clear, abortion and divorce would be great evils and a public school system, if any existed, would be ordered to support the family rather than undermine. A further advantage is that the natural authority of the parents is the foundation instead of rubble to be thrown out.

    I am not so naïf* as to believe the society would be perfect. It might, for example, be more warlike than what we are accustomed to. The society would naturally be less “free” and injustices may flourish but you cannot build a house on sand and that is what we have now.

    *Love that word. Anything I say looks smarter if I can work naïf into it.

  • […] just is the tendency to conserve: to tend what is conserved, to protect it from attack and disease, and to cultivate its healthy […]

  • Hrodgar says:

    Re: GJ 7:05am

    Americans are bound to submit to American authorities, French are bound to submit to French authorities, etc. As it happens, I think an American is an American whether or not he actually does submit (and so differ somewhat from Bonald’s phrasing, though I doubt his actual opinion on the subject), but it is true that one of the characteristics universal to Americans is that they are obligated to submit to the American government.

  • Zippy says:

    vetdoctor:

    I’ll propose that the liberals have simply turned politics on its head and the proper order is: fraternity leading to equality, then freedom.

    It could be that that is what the Communists thought (you can often tell what a group emphasizes based on their name).

    But the conclusion I am moving toward is that asking what our communities would look like without liberalism (qua authoritative political doctrine) is kind of like asking what Christianity would look like without sola scriptura.

    That is, asking what reality would look like if we reject a certain falsehood can only really be answered as ‘reality, without that particular falsehood’.

  • Zippy says:

    Malcolm:

    I briefly skimmed the post and comment thread. Wright simply begs the question in favor of classical liberalism, redefining whatever has to be redefined to try to justify his commitment to it.

    But underneath it all is just the same old liberalism which gave us sodomite marriage, the abortion holocaust, and “Caitlyn” Jenner: for the Virginian superman, at least, there is no man, no human authority, to which he is subject. “Freedom” by definition is freedom to make good choices, not the inauthentic freedom of people who make bad choices — at least as long as it is never considered good to be subject to the actual, real authority of another man. Subjection to any actual authority is tantamount to slavery.

  • Zippy says:

    Notice this too, in his follow up post:

    (the gentleman seemed to be arguing that that were my legal and social inferiors with no right to argue with me — a somewhat elliptical point of view to take)

    Notice how he immediately positions himself as the free and equal superman; anyone who is willing to be loyal to a king or other human authority as Low Men.

  • GJ says:

    “Freedom” by definition is freedom to make good choices, not the inauthentic freedom of people who make bad choices

    Yeah, it’s just ‘hate speech is not free speech’ in another guise.

  • Zippy says:

    GJ:

    A libertarian will tell you that your right to throw your fist stops the moment your fist hits his face. Anti-hate-speech is just the consistent application of this principle: your right to throw your sound waves stops the moment your sound waves hit my ears.

    And my ears are everywhere.

  • itascriptaest says:

    I think the comparison to protestant vs Catholic approaches is helpful.

    This does seem to be the common dividing line among the various discussions here, with the Protestants generally supporting Liberalism. The problem of Liberalism is inescapably religious in nature.

    Was there ever really a time conservatism at least in the Anglo-American world was not a species of liberalism?

    I wonder what John C Wright would say in response to Pope Leo XIII-

    The main factor, no doubt, in bringing things into this happy state were the ordinances and decrees of your synods, especially of those which in more recent times were convened and confirmed by the authority of the Apostolic See. But, moreover (a fact which it gives pleasure to acknowledge), thanks are due to the equity of the laws which obtain in America and to the customs of the well-ordered Republic. For the Church among you, unopposed by the Constitution and government of your nation, fettered by no hostile legislation, protected against violence by the common laws and the impartiality of the tribunals, is free to live and act without hindrance. Yet, though all this is true, it would be very erroneous to draw the conclusion that in America is to be sought the type of the most desirable status of the Church, or that it would be universally lawful or expedient for State and Church to be, as in America, dissevered and divorced. The fact that Catholicity with you is in good condition, nay, is even enjoying a prosperous growth, is by all means to be attributed to the fecundity with which God has endowed His Church, in virtue of which unless men or circumstances interfere, she spontaneously expands and propagates herself; but she would bring forth more abundant fruits if, in addition to liberty, she enjoyed the favor of the laws and the patronage of the public authority.

    I suppose Leo must have been a tyrant as well?

  • GJ says:

    The problem of Liberalism is inescapably religious in nature.

    Indeed. Liberals belong to different sects all worshiping the unholy trinity with the True Worshippers being the ubermensch and the outsiders the Low Men. Naturally, they approve greatly of their own religious praxis and theology but condemn the abominable deviants of other so-called ‘liberals’.

    Some have as their Holy Writ the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence, others believe in the need to aggressively evangelise and spread ‘liberal democracy’ via invasion and replacement of government, and so forth.

  • John C. Wright is a Catholic.

  • GJ says:

    malcolmthecynic:

    I read your latest post on your exchange with Wright.

    Generally I have abandoned trying to talk liberals out of their particular strain of liberalism because it’s about the same as trying to convince someone to get out of a cult – again it is useful to view Liberalism as essentially religious in nature.

  • GJ says:

    Addendum:

    “I do not take the divine gift of liberty lightly.” – John C. Wright

  • GJ says:

    Zippy:

    Amen. It could be stated in another form:

    1. Freedom, by definition, is necessarily Good.
    2. But some so-called freedoms are clearly bad.
    C. Therefore those ‘freedoms’ are No True Freedom

    So redefinitions occur and the internecine fighting among liberals follows (“How dare you disregard that freedom!”).

  • itascriptaest says:

    John C. Wright is a Catholic.

    Yes a convert who is clearly not imbued with a Sensus Catholicus.

  • Eavan says:

    Zippy: Could you comment on the concept that freedom is not the realization of will, but the submitting of will to goodness? “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” –Pope John Paul II

    Has liberalism redefined freedom? Because while I can see that freedom has become the right to do what one wants, the understanding in previous times in the Western world is that freedom is not being constrained from pursuing the good and liberalism’s definition of freedom seems piggybacked off this concept – we just disagree about what is good. Where did this concept of freedom to pursue virtue get perverted? Or is the underlying concept equality producing freedom rather than freedom demanding equality?

    Along with other commenters who have mentioned this, your reflections on liberalism have changed how I see, although my understanding is certainly still quite muddled and dark.

  • Zippy says:

    Eavan:
    It is true that a virtuous man is free in a sense, because it is always possible to choose good action or inaction and the virtuous man wills the good. So his will is in that sense unconstrained.

    However, freedom becomes self contradictory when it is made a principle of politics. Politics just is the resolution of controvertible cases, that is, of cases where one vision of the good can at least in principle conflict with another. Because unconstrained will – letting everyone do as he pleases – cannot in itself resolve controverted cases, this gives rise to equality. And since equality takes the place of the good, it over time becomes identified with the good.

    “Of Liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.” – Thomas Jefferson

  • Silly Interloper says:

    After my short attempt, I’ve concluded that J.C. Wright isn’t much worth talking to. When he gets challenged in ways that he thinks he can manage, these are “intelligent” challenges. But hit him where he is weakest and unprepared and he completely loses his hinges, insulting his interlocutors and obfuscating the challenges. The intelligent reader will see straight through it, and no amount of explaining will help the non-intelligent one, so there was no point in continuing.

    But, I tell you what, all of this “God-given” liberty to do this and that has got to be condemned for the blasphemy that it is.

    Check this out:
    http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/abortion-god-given-right-liberal-leader-declares

    Yeah. Mr. Wright keeps good company.

  • itascriptaest says:

    Silly Interloper,

    Wright reminds me of the crass sort of Americanism characteristic of someone like John Zmirak. With these types if one dares to criticize any aspect of American freedom one is immediately branded as a supporter of the Inquisition, Crusades, slavery and mass genocide and all the other anti-Catholic slurs. Wright is another one who seems more at home with Evangelicals or Mormons than with traditional Catholics. It’s too bad too because people like Wright and his sidekick Theodore Beale aka Vox Day posture as being some kind of antiliberal vanguards riding to save Christendom when in reality they are just gatekeepers for liberalism.

  • Mike T says:

    if one dares to criticize any aspect of American freedom one is immediately branded as a supporter of the Inquisition, Crusades,

    Ironically, Vox Day is actually something of a supporter of the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades. The very fact that you think of him as some sort of principled libertarian speaks to your ignorance.

  • Hrodgar says:

    Re: itascriptaest

    Eh, Wright’s not all bad. He’s never seen anything wrong with the Crusades, he writes good books, and it’s more or less his fault I’m Catholic, so I owe him a personal debt. Yes, he’s a right-liberal and more ecumenical than is wise, but less on both counts than he used to be. The man IS a recovering libertarian in a fundamentally liberal culture, after all. Who knows? Maybe another decade will bring him round.

    But, yeah, Americanist is probably a fair description of his behavior in the most recent scuffle, though anti-Catholic slurs never entered into it. Sure, he was calling those who disagreed with him slaves, but he never said they KEPT slaves.

    Re: MikeT

    Considering that Day repeatedly calls himself a libertarian, I don’t see how calling him a libertarian is a sign of ignorance. And given that libertarianism is a form of liberalism, and it’s been more or less established around these parts that liberalism is self-contradicting and incoherent, I don’t see why we should doubt that he is a principled libertarian.

  • itascriptaest says:

    Mike T,

    Oh I know he claims he’s post libertarian or some sort of nationalist libertarian nonsense. It is just all incoherent drivel but you obviously find his writing really profound and are constantly regurgitating it here for everyone.

    I think it’s pretty humorous that a Bible thumper freethinker “nationalist libertarian” like Beale who claims that “American freeDUMB was lost because Catholic immigrants and their inability to understand Magna Carta!” somehow feels qualified to make all kinds of fantastic predictions (btw his political predictions are notoriously wrong) about Europeans rising up and throwing out immigrants all the while living in nominally Catholic Italy. Ironic? Beale and his pickup artist companions are much more akin to the philososphes of the 18th century- cosmopolitan, individualist, decadent and mostly irreligious, in a word-they are classic liberals, sophists, like Voltaire. It’s clearly evident that with most of these people despite their voluminous reading and their pretense to being Renaissance men have a very shallow understanding of philosophy and history. In Beale’s case I remember him writing something so profound as how “Plato was the first statist/fascist.” That’s like first year philosophy 101 level analysis there.

    European culture is already effectively dead and it was not destroyed by Islamism or by welfare socialism it was destroyed by Americanism decades ago the same sort of Americanism that Beale, John Wright and John Zmirak all embody. None of these men have the intelligence to admit this or even acknowledge it. If there was ever a genuine return to traditionalism in Europe the United States would be the first country to go in and crush it either through soft power or through “humanitarian intervention.”

    I suspect that people like Wright not to mention Beale would be just as unhappy and subversive in a traditional Catholic society as they are now. Wright’s recent post seem to be just an apologia for Wright’s open declaration of non-serviam.

  • Mike T says:

    Considering that Day repeatedly calls himself a libertarian

    Actually, for a while now he’s been very publicly distancing himself from libertarianism. As a matter of fact, he’s even gone so far as to openly take positions on liberty that would be anathema to libertarians, such as utilizing whatever measures are available to so thoroughly deprive SJWs of practical liberty that they cry uncle and abandon their antics.

    This comment by Ita Scripta Est is a good example of why the critiques of their liberalism rings hollow:

    The NRA and the so-called “conservatives” who support them should just come out and adopt the slogan “safe, legal and rare” when addressing gun violence.

    As most “victims” of gun violence are criminals and people who have decided to commit suicide, they are on almost precisely the opposite end of the spectrum of moral innocence from human babies.

    So clearly, rejecting liberalism doesn’t have a strong correlation with making good moral judgments.

  • Mike T says:

    If there was ever a genuine return to traditionalism in Europe the United States would be the first country to go in and crush it either through soft power or through “humanitarian intervention.”

    The US doesn’t have the cultural currency with Europe to counter the rising nationalism in Europe with soft power. It also doesn’t have the military strength to “crush” them through more direct intervention. As a matter of fact, it is reasonably believed that if the US were to get into a conventional war with Russia in Europe or the Middle East, the US would lose hard to the Russians today.

  • Mike T says:

    I suspect that people like Wright not to mention Beale would be just as unhappy and subversive in a traditional Catholic society as they are now.

    The only known examples of traditional Catholic societies we have are ones that actually existed. Ones that might rise up will almost certainly be different from the previous iterations. I think a lot of self-styled traditionalists raised in liberal societies would find that they are not, in fact, as traditionalist as they fancy themselves to be and would find it much a culture shock.

    I suspect that many a modern traditionalist who is opposed to torture would miss many of the legal principles of liberalism when charged with Lèse majesté for calling the King’s practice of torture despicable.

    Mark Citadel made a wise comment on here. Can’t remember the exact quote, but it was that embracing the opposite of liberalism is even worse than embracing liberalism. That is something that many self-styled reactionaries do, and it would be tragic comedy indeed to see many of the same deal with a society that has simultaneously rejected God and a pretense of freedom-equality. (You shall see a side of society that is so vicious, so totalitarian it would make you want to despair).

  • Zippy says:

    I’m not especially interested in turning my comboxes into a discussion forum about particular persons. But I will make two observations here:

    1. The contempt Wright shows toward his commenters who won’t agree that loyalty to a king is contemptible slavery and that death is preferable to loyalty to a monarch demonstrates the point I’ve been making for years: that liberalism, including right- or classical liberalism, implies that everyone who disagrees with liberalism or stands in the way of its utopian march through history is the contemptible Low Man. Even otherwise decent human beings who commit to any form of liberalism will, by the internal logic of that commitment, divide humanity into the free and equal superman versus the subhuman contemptible oppressor — with all that that further implies.

    2. If it is true that Vox Day has repudiated his libertarianism, the the most important thing we’ve learned about Vox Day is that he has a propensity to be wrong about politics. It is great if he is starting to discover life outside the padded walls; but the first thing to do upon discovering the world post red pill about something obvious is to start wondering where there might be infrared pills. If he has in fact made it to the world outside the padded walls that doesn’t show that he has learned much of anything: it just shows that he might be ready to start learning. So readers should approach his political opinions from that perspective.

  • Mike T says:

    I’m not going to defend what Wright said, but I will say that for many guys like him the hardest thing thing to accept is that ultimately the kind of government you get is primarily the result of the particular men running it. A king can govern his country with a very light hand, be pro-guns, pro-privacy, a low taxer, etc. and a democratic leader can be the opposite of all of those things. We have no assurances, except perhaps the character of a man, as to what sort of authority he would be.

    What made it possible for me to take a step back in a meaningful way from liberalism on a great many things was the realization that aside from systems founded on formally bad philosophy (ex. Communism), no system systematically produces better results than the next. It’s all up to the particular man, good, mediocre or bad, that holds the power over my head.

    The next hardest thing to reach guys like that is that most self-proclaimed reactionaries (you and King Richard aside from what I’ve seen), don’t seem to be particularly interested in discussing the limits on political power. That doesn’t do much for their efforts to not make it sound like they pine for an absolute monarchy.

  • GJ says:

    I’m not going to defend what Wright said, but I will say that for many guys like him the hardest thing thing to accept is that ultimately the kind of government you get is primarily the result of the particular men running it…

    What made it possible for me to take a step back in a meaningful way from liberalism on a great many things was the realization that aside from systems founded on formally bad philosophy (ex. Communism), no system systematically produces better results than the next.

    My hypothesis is that it is very hard to resist the respective eschatological programming* that in the Enlightenment/American Revolution(/Reformation) human history has turned its great corner, light has dawned on us all, a new age has begun/novus ordo seclorum etc etc.

    As regards American political conservatism, the myth results in the delusion that we have the magic bullet, the panacea which will solve our ills so long as it is put into place properly. It is therefore very, very hard to admit that no, we’re still ‘stuck’ with no really good solution to our political problems.

    *Here I am indebted to the theologian N.T. Wright for the eschatological analysis

  • williamluse says:

    but it was that embracing the opposite of liberalism is even worse than embracing liberalism.

    What is the opposite of liberalism?

  • GJ says:

    Addendum to the addendum:
    Make no mistake: to bend your knee, as was the original topic, to any man, requires that you must first be free to do so…If you are free, then you are throwing away the very gift Christ was tortured and brutally killed to bring to you, as have many others since.

    Jesus died to give you political Liberté!

  • GJ says:

    Mike T:

    The next hardest thing to reach guys like that is that most self-proclaimed reactionaries (you and King Richard aside from what I’ve seen), don’t seem to be particularly interested in discussing the limits on political power. That doesn’t do much for their efforts to not make it sound like they pine for an absolute monarchy.

    I have noted for some time that secularists have a theocracy Bogeyman. Similarly, people like Wright have a monarchy Bogeyman; that they instantly assume that ‘monarchy’ always means ‘really really really absolute monarchy’ is a problem that lies with them and not with their interlocutors, reactionary or otherwise.

  • Mike T says:

    What is the opposite of liberalism?

    It can be many things to many people. The point he was trying to make, as I understood it, was that an attitude of “now that I am not liberal, I will reject what liberalism embraces” is wrong in its own right and can lead to equal errors. This is why I’ve said that unless liberalism is rejected during a religious revival, you can expect American attitudes to more closely resemble pagan Romans during the imperial era of their history than from the early republican era (when Roman paganism had many virtuous elements).

  • Mike T says:

    that they instantly assume that ‘monarchy’ always means ‘really really really absolute monarchy’ is a problem that lies with them and not with their interlocutors, reactionary or otherwise.

    With the case of most internet reactionaries, it doesn’t help them that they are prone to cite regimes like Franco’s and Pinochet’s as examples of good non-liberal regimes. When Pinochet took over, he was hardly an improvement over Allende in a lot of ways. And if you dig beneath the surface, you find that these regimes often have their own serious issues with things like a political culture that tolerates extrajudicial punishment, including murder.

  • Zippy says:

    Bill:

    There is no opposite of liberalism, because liberalism is rationally incoherent.

    Mike T:

    The next hardest thing to reach guys like that is that most self-proclaimed reactionaries (you and King Richard aside from what I’ve seen), don’t seem to be particularly interested in discussing the limits on political power. That doesn’t do much for their efforts to not make it sound like they pine for an absolute monarchy.

    Part of the problem too though is that liberals always want assurance that they have license to start murdering people the moment the sovereign does something imprudent, with which they disagree. They are like kindergartners, incapable of talking about authority without constantly being patted on the head and reassured that there are some extreme circumstances in which they might be morally licensed in theory to start killing people in violent revolution.

    For example regulation of weapons falls under prudence, but most gun libertarians will start grandstanding about blood soaked liberty the moment you suggest that even if the sovereign makes imprudent weapon regulations this does not translate into an immediate and plenary right to violently rebel.

    Their liberty is blood soaked all right. Hundreds of millions of innocents, piled into mass graves and medical waste bins.

  • Mike T says:

    For example regulation of weapons falls under prudence, but most gun libertarians will start grandstanding about blood soaked liberty the moment you suggest that even if the sovereign makes imprudent weapon regulations this does not translate into an immediate and plenary right to violently rebel.

    An imprudent regulation is one like Virginia’s regulation that expressly prohibits guns in religious institutions. It’s imprudent for many practical reasons and unjust because it restricts the rights of the congregation’s leadership to decide for themselves how that should be handled within their sphere of authority.

    Their liberty is blood soaked all right. Hundreds of millions of innocents, piled into mass graves and medical waste bins.

    Gun libertarianism may be tied closely in modern times to liberalism in general, but so is the general practice of trying to restrict law-abiding men from owning and carrying weapons.

    It just simply is a fact that good authorities have nothing to fear from the law-abiding majority owning weapons and carrying them. By definition, those are not people who want to harm the authorities or their neighbors. All gun restrictions are implicitly oriented at the law-abiding. As the meme goes, no one says “I was planning to commit murder, but damn, they passed a gun law so I better give up my plans and turn this piece into the nearest police station.”

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    Gun libertarianism may be tied closely in modern times to liberalism in general, but so is the general practice of trying to restrict law-abiding men from owning and carrying weapons.

    There has been no shift in attitude since the time of the founding of America. There is just the perspectives of different kinds of liberals.

    Liberals who see the government as ‘on their side’ will favor control of weapons by the government, so that the Low Man can be put down with impunity. Liberals who see the government as representative of the Low Man will be in favor of widespread weapon ownership, again so that the Low Man can be put down.

    It is all about maintaining the material means to kill the Low Man.

    It just simply is a fact that good authorities have nothing to fear from the law-abiding majority owning weapons and carrying them.

    Nor do bad authorities. If the innocent are protected from bad authorities by widespread gun ownership which keeps bad authorities in check, then how do you explain the abortion holocaust?

    Weapon obsession in America – on both sides – is not about protecting the innocent. It is about protecting liberalism. It is about each group of liberals attempting to increase and maintain its material capacity to kill those whom it sees as the Low Man, the less-than-human contemptible oppressor.

  • Mike T says:

    A few other things to consider:

    1. Most of these imprudent regulations are pushed without a concrete case for how they make the public safer. They are part of an agenda that is intended to lead to disarmament irrespective of whether that is objectively good (it is not, but that’s for another time).

    2. The politicians that push these restrictions invariably push for wording that is merciless when put into practice. For example, most “imprudent” regulations turn even well-meaning violations into felonies and contain nothing which would lead to honest mistakes being treated as such. A law that is designed to ruin the life of a good person over a simple mistake that objectively harmed no one is not just imprudent, it is an instance of tyranny.

    3. Most of the laws are utterly irrational. Irrationality enforced by the state, in all forms, tends to lead to evil outcomes.

  • Mike T says:

    Liberals who see the government as representative of the Low Man will be in favor of widespread weapon ownership, again so that the Low Man can be put down.

    Or as many actual gun libertarians put it, it’s a means by which the Low Man can be defend himself from liberalism. Liberalism demands disarmament by the Low Man because a well-armed Low Man might be positioned to butcher the Free and Equal Superman. Hence why you only see enthusiasm for mass restrictions and disarmament among liberal societies and states.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    Your most recent comment is completely beside the point. Discussing the prudence of weapon regulation is a red herring, a distraction designed to put a smokescreen in front of what is really taking place.

    Dispute about weapon regulation in America has almost nothing to do with prudence. It is an ideological dispute between different kinds of liberalism, each of which is trying to maintain its material capacity to offer sacrifice of blood, mostly the blood of the Low Man, to the god Liberty.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    Or as many actual gun libertarians put it, it’s a means by which the Low Man can be defend himself from liberalism.

    Yes, it is all about authentic liberals having ready means to kill inauthentic liberals and other oppressors.

  • Mike T says:

    Yes, it is all about authentic liberals having ready means to kill inauthentic liberals and other oppressors.

    Well, now we know how you feel about the idea of the Jews standing their ground against the Nazis rather than meekly getting on those trains.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    Well, now we know how you feel about the idea of the Jews standing their ground against the Nazis rather than meekly getting on those trains.

    Perhaps at some stage you’ll realize that, rather than having the effect you wish, your incontinence on this subject demonstrates my point; much as Wright’s blood rhetoric, blasphemy, and contempt towards his commenters also demonstrates it.

    Again, if the point of widespread gun ownership in America is to prevent mass holocaust of the innocent, it has obviously failed.

    But that isn’t its point. The point isn’t to defend the innocent victims of liberalism; it is to defend liberalism.

  • Mike T says:

    I think you are going for simple answers because they complete the equation, but human behaviors are not math problems. We frequently do and believe things for the most insane reasons and show remarkable inconsistency where it should be obvious.

    I would point out that it is irrational for you to expect people to revolt over abortion when the mainstream pro-life response to Dr. Tiller’s murder was shrieking outrage. I don’t advocate his death either, but FFS, the man made millions doing partial birth abortions. That’s not a tragedy.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    I think you are going for simple answers because they complete the equation, but human behaviors are not math problems.

    I am not ‘going for simple answers’. It is a fact that there is widespread gun ownership in America. It is a fact that there is ongoing mass holocaust of the innocent in America. It follows straightforwardly that if the purpose of the former was to prevent the latter, it has in fact failed.

    I would point out that it is irrational for you to expect people to revolt over abortion when the mainstream pro-life response to Dr. Tiller’s murder was shrieking outrage.

    I am not expecting people to do anything. I am pointing out that the support for widespread gun ownership in America by certain kinds of liberals is not fundamentally about practical measures to protect the innocent from mass holocaust. If it were about that, then supporters of it would simply acknowledge that it has – for whatever reason – failed. I have advanced no theories as to why it has failed, was or was not a stupid idea to begin with, or what have you. Doing so is a waste of time, because the whole notion that widespread gun ownership is advocated in America to protect the innocent from being mass murdered is wrong in the first place.

    Given that the facts do not support that protecting the innocent from mass murder is the reason why many Americans support widespread gun ownership, that raises the question of why they actually do support it. To determine that, you just have to listen to them.

    What they will tell you is that widespread gun ownership is a guarantor of political freedom: liberty.

    The central issue in dispute over gun ownership in America has nothing to do with whether or not it protects innocent victims from being mass murdered. It has already been established – as straightforward fact – that it does not do this.

    The central issue in dispute over gun ownership is making sure that liberals have, ready to hand, an easy way to kill anyone who threatens liberalism. Again, some liberals see government as guarantor of liberty and thus want to disarm the populace; some see government as the tyrant and thus want to arm the populace.

    But in both cases their fundamental motivation is to be easily able to kill people who stand in the way of liberalism.

  • Aethelfrith says:

    Among all this talk about guns, I wonder when someone will point out the politically correct hatefact that gun ownership can/does lead to the loss of innocent lives?

  • Aethelfrith says:

    Don’t get me wrong–I’m against banning civilian gun ownership, but every time 2A types handwave mass shootings (especially when the guns are acquired legally) the parallels with abortion become painfully clear.

    “Who cares if innocents die because MUH FREEDOMS”

  • CJ says:

    I’m against banning civilian gun ownership, but every time 2A types handwave mass shootings (especially when the guns are acquired legally) the parallels with abortion become painfully clear.

    I don’t handwave them, but I don’t know what to do about them given the state of the US as it is. I am allergic to the sort of thinking that says “we must do something, this is something, therefore we must do this.”

  • Mike T says:

    “Who cares if innocents die because MUH FREEDOMS”

    You would see car enthusiasts taking a similar attitude if urban liberals started a concerted campaign to license and regulate car ownership and driving out of existence in most of the country.

    The reality is that most people don’t care about the minority of actual innocent victims of gun violence. They’re a small minority of the people who die by gun violence. They’re just a bloody shirt to be waved by liberals who see an armed population as an impediment to the latest frothing madness of their ids.

  • Aethelfrith says:

    >You would see car enthusiasts taking a similar attitude if urban liberals started a concerted campaign to license and regulate car ownership and driving out of existence in most of the country.

    But people don’t buy cars in order to safeguard themselves against tyranny.

    >The reality is that most people don’t care about the minority of actual innocent victims of gun violence. They’re a small minority of the people who die by gun violence.

    Thanks for proving my point. People who die by gunfire don’t really matter since most of them are Low Men.

  • Mike T says:

    But in both cases their fundamental motivation is to be easily able to kill people who stand in the way of liberalism.

    To the extent that you focus on those examples, that’s true. However, when you factor in the unprincipled exceptions that actually motivate people, that model falls apart. There are plenty of libertarians that really don’t want to hurt anyone in authority and try to obey even laws they adamantly disagree with. Actual lived experience with many liberal authorities has shown that trusting them with your life is often as smart as trusting a career criminal with your life.

  • Mike T says:

    Thanks for proving my point. People who die by gunfire don’t really matter since most of them are Low Men.

    You keep saying I prove your points without even understanding what I’m saying in the first place. I didn’t say they don’t matter, what I said is that most people don’t care about them. They’re a bloody shirt, a propaganda tool. What is my evidence? That among many things, the same people are not concerned about a host of other negligent things that kill far more people like negligence in hospitals and on the road.

    At a public policy level, rulers must balance the lives lost against the lives saved. You can’t just say this policy saved 100 lives in 2015 by taking guns out of the hands of negligent people. You have to ask how many people might have needed a weapon and suffered for not having one, such as people being stalked.

  • Zippy says:

    FWIW, I think Mike T’s comparison of firearm enthusiasts to car enthusiasts has merit. But driving is considered a privilege, not a right.

  • Zippy says:

    And of course the reason carrying a loaded gun is considered a right not a privilege is because of the reasons already discussed. It is not to protect the innocent: it is to be able to readily kill anyone who threatens liberty, a.k.a. liberalism.

  • vetdoctor says:

    If a man be a nuisance to his neighbor, or injure his property, family, or person, let him be actionable; but in his own affairs let everyone with impunity do what he will in company with his own family, and with those who willingly join him.

    Augustine busting on the Romans. Seems liberals reach a ways back

  • Zippy says:

    vetdoctor:

    Seems liberals reach a ways back …

    I’m missing where Augustine says that – or even suggests that – the justification for political authority is maximizing individual liberty within the confines of equal rights. That the just powers of government derive from the consent of the governed. Or asserts anything remotely like political liberalism.

    I think, in short, that you may be making the mistake of identifying liberalism with subsidiarity; when in fact liberalism destroys subsidiarity.

  • Zippy says:

    Said differently, if perhaps less precisely:

    “Your Majesty: the more hands off your governance of the disparate communities in your care you can be, the better. A wise and just hand governs lightly.”

    … does not have remotely the same meaning as …

    “What justifies political power, without which it is invalid, is making sure, good and hard, that nobody can tell anyone else what to do.”

  • Mike T says:

    I’m missing where Augustine says that – or even suggests that – the justification for political authority is maximizing individual liberty within the confines of equal rights. That the just powers of government derive from the consent of the governed. Or asserts anything remotely like political liberalism.

    Augustine, however, asserts much of what I was asserting in previous threads which is that good authorities understand that liberty is a public good even if freedom cannot be a primary political value. It is not good for society to be governed by an overbearing political authority, no matter the authority’s philosophy. Especially given the nature of political authority as the one primarily empowered to use violence to carry out its will, it should consistently act with restraint in its exercises where possible.

  • Mike T says:

    And of course the reason carrying a loaded gun is considered a right not a privilege is because of the reasons already discussed. It is not to protect the innocent: it is to be able to readily kill anyone who threatens liberty, a.k.a. liberalism.

    This is yet another example of how your tendency to shoehorn facts into your worldview limits the impact of your arguments. A great many people carry them for personal protection. In fact, most people carry guns in public with more intent to aid the police by acting as a distributed auxilliary where the police cannot be present than to go Rambo Galt on the nearest cop who says “license and registration.”

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    … good authorities understand that liberty is a public good …

    Only if we beg the question by defining liberty to mean subsidiarity — the subjection of everyone to all sorts of different legitimate morally binding authorities in a hierarchical network — not individual liberty.

    Especially given the nature of political authority as the one primarily empowered to use violence to carry out its will …

    You seem to be assuming that monolithic authority is the norm, as opposed to a perversity produced by liberalism (the demand that government justify itself by keeping people free).

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    A great many people carry [guns] for personal protection.

    The fact that you think that is at all relevant just reveals the muddiness of your thinking. What is at issue is why carrying a gun is viewed as a right as opposed to a privilege (like driving a car), not reasons why various particular people happen to carry guns.

  • Mike T says:

    The fact that you think that is at all relevant just reveals the muddiness of your thinking.

    It was in response to your point about carrying guns to protect the innocent. Most people carry them primarily for self-defense against criminals. In other words, most people don’t have “liberal reasons” for carrying except in many cases realizing that liberal governments actually don’t care about their safety on the street which is a whole other can of worms.

    What is at issue is why carrying a gun is viewed as a right as opposed to a privilege

    The real question should be why carrying a weapon is a right, not a privilege. I would argue that there exist so many common scenarios in which the right of self-defense is gravely limited without a weapon that the right is functionally crippled to the point of near uselessness without a corollary right to keep and bear arms.

  • Mike T says:

    Only if we beg the question by defining liberty to mean subsidiarity — the subjection of everyone to all sorts of different legitimate morally binding authorities in a hierarchical network — not individual liberty.

    That and a philosophy of authority that understands that restraint is usually a virtue in the exercise of authority for a variety of reasons. Helicopter parents, for instance, are technically acting within licit boundaries though they are overbearing in the extreme. That doesn’t mean that objectively their parenting style is actually good for their children.

  • Zippy says:

    There’s the water, horse.

  • […] grandstanding, refusal to engage, insulting of his own fans and readers, and, some would argue, blasphemy, Wright apparently backpedaled to the following […]

  • […] And yet another is to nominally accept the critique of liberalism, and then immediately set about trying to justify the same positions one has long held on the basis of liberalism in putatively non-liberal terms.  You’ll see this as commenters cling for example to the notion of the ‘right to bear arms’ (see for example the combox discussion which starts here). […]

  • King Richard says:

    Most people fail to discuss the logical, moral limits of monarchical power for (in my experience) 1 of 2 reasons:
    1) They assume that ‘monarch’ means ‘unchecked absolute monarch’ and can almost never be persuaded any other sorts exist.
    2) They are familiar with monarchies and understand that absolute, unchecked monarchies are rarer than dictators in democracies and, as aberrations, must be seen as exceptions.
    I think one of the most egregious examples of the former that I have encoutnered was about a year ago on another blog where no amount of reference to historical or contemporary monarchies could alter the view that ‘monarchy is either useless figurehead or absolute tyrant’.

  • Bonald says:

    Darn, I must have done a poor job explaining myself in my “American Conservatism” essay. As I recall, here is what I meant:

    Being an American just means being subject to the authority of the American government. Some people like to distinguish the “nation” (political entity) from the “country” (cultural entity), but I ignore such distinctions for this purpose. Nor do I discuss the duties of foreigners abroad to their hosts, which differ from those of genuine subjects. Similarly, being English means being a subject of England’s government, etc. Implicit recognition of the government’s authority is of course not limited to conservatives or the particularly law-abiding. Authority can’t exist (it is not “established”) if it is not generally recognized. The state functions because everybody, regardless of political persuasion, knows that they have to obey traffic signs, police officers, judges, IRS form instructions, etc. Liberals have false theories of why we must obey (because the government is the will of the majority, because it advances freedom, or whatever). The conservative believes in legitimacy in a more conscious, reflective way. He recognizes it as a good thing, as an intrinsic part of the good of the unity, the common life of a community.

  • Zippy says:

    Bonald:
    I probably contributed to the confusion by failing to treat “what is America” and “who is an American” as distinct questions.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    King Richard,
    Could you give examples of monarchs, limited or not, checked or otherwise?
    Were the Tsars ‘unchecked absolute monarch” or not?
    I think they were “unchecked absolute monarch. Yet, even that did not make most of them tyrants.

    So, what defines tyranny is not absoluteness of the monarch but perhaps that he acts contra the common good of his people.

  • […] Conservatism means making sure that there are plenty of ways around to dissipate the natural human instinct to conserve, providing an outlet so people can whine ineffectually without actually questioning liberalism. […]

  • […] respond to the situation conservatively, by denying that perversion and murder are in objective fact the telos of the object of their basic political […]

  • […] gives rise to those conclusions. And one of the simplest ways to inspire quietism in folks with a conservative disposition is to give them examples from antiquity: to show that, whether X is good or evil, it has been with […]

  • […] everyone else, and want to exist in “live and let live” peace and freedom alongside conservatives and vibrant minorities.  As long as everybody respects each others’ equal rights, […]

  • […] noticed a tendency in cafeteria traditionalist or conservative commentary to treat the opinions and selective saint-citation of dead clergymen or scholars as […]

  • […] face different real-life limitations.  Different individuals and communities are committed to conserving different things; usually in such a way that liberalism itself is not challenged. Different […]

  • […] the case of liberalism, left liberals play offense in the bailey while right liberals (a.k.a. conservatives) play defense from the motte. […]

  • […] It may seem like it isn’t nonsense on the surface; but that only works as long as we refuse to think about it any further.  That one thinks the USA puts the right sort of people in prison and North Korea puts the wrong […]

  • […] equality) and constrains (contra liberty) like actual, real, existent particular things.  And conservative liberalism, as the more sane and commonsensical sphere of liberal societies, makes the mistake of […]

  • […] on fire and lob over the walls into the motte where modern conservatives (those who work hardest to conserve modernity) live, breathe, and have their being.  I’ll start with a few, and encourage folks to improve […]

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