Thursday, May 12, 2005

Jonah on Conservatism

A fairly lite article, but I agree with the following description of what defines a conservative:

Comfort with contradiction
I mean this in the broadest
metaphysical sense and the narrowest practical way. Think of any leftish
ideology and at its core you will find a faith that circles can be closed,
conflicts resolved. Marxism held that in a truly socialist society,
contradictions would be destroyed. Freudianism led the Left to the idea that the
conflicts between the inner and outer self were the cause of unnecessary
repressions. Dewey believed that society could be made whole if we jettisoned
dogma and embraced a natural, organic understanding of the society where
everyone worked together. This was an Americanized version of a Germany idea,
where concepts of the Volkgeist — spirit of the people — had been elevated to
the point where society was seen to have its own separate spirit. All of this
comes in big bunches from Hegel who, after all, had his conflicting thesis and
antithesis merging into a glorious thesis. (It’s worth noting that Whittaker
Chambers said he could not qualify as a conservative — he called himself a “man
of the right” — because he could never jettison his faith in the dialectical
nature of history.)

But move away from philosophy and down to earth. Liberals and leftists are
constantly denouncing “false choices” of one kind or another. In our
debate, Jonathan Chait kept hinting, hoping, and haranguing that — one day — we
could have a socialized healthcare system without any tradeoffs of any kind.
Environmentalists loathe the introduction of free-market principles into the
policy-making debate because, as Steven Landsburg puts
, economics is the science of competing preferences. Pursuing some good
things might cost us other good things. But environmentalists reject the very
idea. They believe that all good things can go together and that anything
suggesting otherwise is a false choice.

Listen to Democratic politicians when they wax righteous about social policy. Invariably it goes something like this: “I simply reject the notion that in a good society X should have to come at the expense of Y.” X can be security and Y can be civil liberties. Or X can be food safety and Y can be the cost to the pocketbook of poor people. Whatever X and Y are, the underlying premise is that in a healthy society we do not have tradeoffs between good things. In healthy societies all good things join hands and walk up the hillside singing I’d like to buy the world a coke.

Think about why the Left is obsessed with hypocrisy and authenticity. The former is the great evil, the latter the closest we can get to saintliness. Hypocrisy implies a contradiction between the inner and outer selves. That’s a Freudian no-no in and of itself. But even worse, hypocrisy suggests that others are wrong for behaving the way they do. Hypocrites act one way and behave another. Whenever a conservative is exposed as a “hypocrite” the behavior — Limbaugh’s drug use, Bennett’s gambling, whatever — never offends the Left as much as the fact that they were telling other people how to live. This, I think, is in part because of the general hostility the Left has to the idea that we should live in any way that doesn’t “feel” natural. We must all listen to our inner children.

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