Monday, January 25, 2010

As You Get Older, It's Hard to Have a Movement That You Really Appreciate

I wish that I could say that this little screed was merely one of a long line of smug, self-satisfied, vaguely holy attacks on the conservative movement, but I'm afraid that it's about 85% correct:
Dear Conservative Movement...

First, you’re obsessed with yourself. You try everything in the culture—The Incredibles, Wal-Mart, Crocs—and you ask: Is it conservative? This makes us look like creep socialists from the 1930s, debating endlessly about whether something is sufficiently proletariat. Weren’t we supposed to defend truth, beauty, and goodness (like St. Thomas Aquinas?) You ask us to measure Bill Watterson, Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton by one measure: conservative/not conservative.

You go so far as to encourage people to fabricate their entire identity from the Republican platform. Look at S.E. Cupp. She used to be a person! Now, under your influence, she is one of the lamer Rush Limbaugh monologues from the Clinton era. She’s a copy of a copy of Xerox of a rejected P.J. O’Rourke riff. How can you live with yourself, conservative movement?

You may not know this. But all the smartest people on the Right are basically ashamed to be associated with you. Your “success” in building a set of near-permanent institutions, think-tanks, and magazines to promote your ideals in an uncontaminated environment leaves us with two choices:

1) Sell out to the movement. That is, we may occupy ourselves by explaining that whatever the GOP is promoting—whether it be torture, pre-emptive war, Mutually Assured Destruction, or supply-side economics—is an enduring Western value. If John Boehner is doing it, we're supposed to figure out why Edmund Burke would support it.


2) Sell out the movement. That is, pitch our articles to liberal audiences. Trash the movement (like I’m doing), and trade our actual conservative convictions for the ephemeral respect of our peers.

If one of us tries to walk a fine line between these two, we’ll be accused of either disloyalty by the hacks or of hackery by the principled and aloof. One way merits a secure gig in the movement's intellectual ghetto. The other may win a few of us a higher status but a more insecure job at a respected outlet.

This situation makes actual arguments difficult, since everyone assumes we are simply enacting long-term branding strategies, rather than stating our views honestly. You’ve made it impossible for us to have a conversation.
Well, I'm not trying to pitch my articles to anybody, but, being a person of conservative impulses and hiding myself under the moniker, "The Radical Moderate" ought to tell you something. One of the reasons I started writing this blog was to try to reconcile the "good" conservative impulses with effective politics while jettisoning all the other excess baggage.

So, maybe it's time to start from first principles, for about the eightieth time. Here's what needs to be conserved:
  1. Right now, Government does not have the knowledge, technology, or competence to centrally manage complex systems like the economy and culture, so it shouldn't try to do so right now.

  2. Even if Government did have the knowledge, technology, or competence to centrally manage complex systems like the economy and culture, the managers would be corrupted, so it shouldn't try to do so ever.

  3. Fortunately, complex systems are self-organizing, mod a few pathological conditions, and therefore need little management. NB: This does not mean that the few identified pathologies shouldn't be legislated against, but it does mean that you'd better be awfully careful about identifying them.

  4. People tend to do fewer really stupid things if you don't protect them from the consequences of their own actions.

  5. People tend to be happier and less anxious if you don't assault their way of life just because you disagree with it.

  6. Sometimes you need to kill Really Bad People. Sometimes you need to destroy Really Bad Governments. The preemptive form of the Golden Rule (do unto others before they do unto you) needs to be applied extremely judiciously.

  7. Other than that, the regular form of the Golden Rule works pretty well.
Have I missed anything important?

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