Monday, March 24, 2008

How Lost Is Our Cause?

I mentioned the triumph over European Communism as a high point in human history yesterday — but on a more pessimistic note, it’s worth remembering how weak the cause of conservatism, particularly free-market fiscal conservatism, really is in Europe (though avoiding outright socialist totalitarianism is of course reason to rejoice).  And I wonder: to what extent is Europe a glimpse of the future of American politics as well?

Are we now seeing not some fleeting market correction but the beginning of the kind of permanent economic sclerosis that afflicts places like Italy?  At best, is becoming like England — with its right (despite recent signs of life) almost reduced to ceremonial status at this point — our (somewhat ironic) destiny?  Like Eisenhower, the right in England seems to remain tolerated only to the extent it makes clear its belief that actually rolling back (rather than tweaking/reforming) the welfare state is unthinkable.  Why bother even fighting for that?
Of course…people (such as a feisty and problem-tackling President McCain, even if he lacked clear principles) might be willing to make budget cuts in a big enough crisis…

And if not, becoming England is at least a better fate than being saddled with the far nastier and less libertarian Continental-style left and right, with socialists on one side and on the other side senile aristocrats race-baiting the immigrants and dreaming of restoring monarchy, to oversimplify the situation just a bit.

Or, on a more philosophical note: how badly does American conservatism have to fail before we’re allowed to say the whole enterprise may have started from bad premises — that religion was never a real guarantor of liberty, that patriotism leads to excessive faith in government and thus passivity, that hatred of countercultures may have encouraged anti-intellectualism (which in turn impeded necessary critical analysis and fostered conformism), that snotty traditionalism (in which Buckley sometimes indulged) may have lost us rising generations naturally wary of their elders, that national pride and well-meaning belief in moral absolutes may have led inevitably to poor and simplistic war-planning?

How deeply self-critical is the right willing to be without becoming frightened by the prospect that it might thereby cease to be (recognizably) the right?  How critical can I be before I cease to be regarded as a friendly critic, and before the defensive shields go into place?


Jacob T. Levy said...

There’s hope for you yet, after all!

toddseavey said...

But keep in mind that this in no way makes me embrace “the liberal tradition” as some libertarians do. To wit, my next entry: