This conversation with Gordon has been fun, and hopefully will continue. I appreciate him taking time to dialogue with us and hope that some of my other readers might join in.
This has spurred me to think about the ideological underpinnings, or perhaps, lack of, to our political dialogue. This isn't a shot at conservatives or Gordon, merely a reflection of American history. We have never been an ideological people. As many European observers noted, we have a penchant for pragmatism. Turner explained that as a product of the frontier.
I suspect that I could quiz many liberals and find them struggling to define what liberals believe. Most of our current beliefs are in the "any thing but W" camp. But I am not convinced that Gordon is presenting (no offense intended, of course) a clear apology for conservatism as a principled ideology.
If I were a conservative.... well, I used to be.
But if I were to defend conservatism, I would start with the fear of an encroaching centralized state. I would suggest that governments have historically been the dominant actors that locked people up without due process, or loaded them onto cattle cars. I would stress that if individual liberties meant anything, they had to exist in a system that cautiously guarded those precious liberties. If I were to continue, I might then try to defend the market economy as the "invisible hand" that offered the best opportunity for ulitimate fairness and predictability, in an essentially darwinian sense, and that those who were left behind or run over by that market system became the responsibilities of the moral framework outside government.
I can argue the first point with some conviction. It seems to me that governments are a threat to personal liberty--ours included. In my study of the past, I understand the fear that government grows almost like a living beast. I have studied the inner workings of Bureaus that began with small intentions and then grew into behemoths that required constant feeding well beyond their intention. I would, and could argue that government has to always fear that explosion.
I could also argue, since I am really unclear on this even as a liberal, that government action can encourage a kind of dependency. I am not talking the mythic welfare queen of Reagan fame, but in many walks of life. In fact, I would argue that many self-identified conservatives bash government and welfare dependency without recognizing how much they benefit from some kind of government action--government action that if withdrawn, would dramatically alter their lifestyle. Perhaps not as much as the welfare mother who relies on government to feed her kids, but still dramatic.
I would argue rather convincingly that as a person of faith, I hate war and any forms of violence, but also recognize that this is a violent world. I would, and have, supported a strong military.
I could do much of that with conviction...
But then my defense crumbles, especially since the modern (read recent) conservative movement, the one who lambasted Clinton for Ruby Ridge and Waco has become rather shockingly complicit in the erosion of civil liberties. I would further argue that the free market economy, so loved by many conservatives, is largely a construct--more mythic than real. When the late Ken Lay had access to either the Clinton administration or the Bush/Cheney "energy" panel, the free market is not free. Certainly not for those smaller energy producers who lack the resources of Kenny Boy.
Further reading suggests that the agricultural market is also incredibly unfree. My small farmer relatives believe they raise cattle in a free market, but don't seem to realize that ADM artificially manipulates the price of cattle to maximize their own profits and market share.
I would then recall the warnings of Eisenhower against the military industrical complex and wonder how dangerous our current military situation is made more dangerous by the tremendous profits of war. I would look at the role that Haliburton plays in public policy and suspect that old Republican General was on target.
Ok, enough for tonight.