Saturday, May 26, 2007

More conservatism

David Rye and I continue our discussion of liberalism and conservatism in comments below. But I want to add a critique of one more paragraph from the Townhall column I first criticized in "Dumb Stuff":

Unlike liberals, conservatives tend to be primarily concerned with pragmatism, not niceties. This is one of the biggest reasons that conservatives have such a healthy respect for the traditions and institutions that have been proven to work over time and such contempt for those that don't, like the United Nations and the federal government.

Skip over the puerility of the first sentence, then consider the two institutions that conservatives, we are told, hold in contempt. First, while everyone, including me, ridicules the federal government, take the long view: If we agree that some sort of federal government is necessary, then we could be a whole lot worse off that we are. Federal power in the U.S. historically has expanded in times of crisis: After the failure of the Articles of Confederation, which resulted in a Constitution that is still the model for the world; after the Civil War, which upheld the supremacy of the federal government, banned slavery and extended constitutional rights to the states; during the Depression and World War II, which made America the world's supreme power and a beacon of freedom and prosperity to the whole world. We may, in fact, be the best governed country in history. That's a record that deserves contempt?

The United Nations is inept and ineffective, but what did you expect? The odds that it could ever have been a roaring success were never good. The whole idea flies in the face of hundreds of years of international conflict. Countries that are strong aren't restrained by the UN; countries that are weak attempt to manipulate it to find the strength they can't find elsewhere. Of course it doesn't work well. It's a bold, wacky experiment that could hardly have been expected to change the course of human history in just a few decades. But to my mind, at least, it's an experiment worth investing in because it doesn't cost much and its potential benefits, somewhere down the road, are great.

Let's see: the world's most successful democratic government and history's bravest attempt to resolve international conflict. If these are the sort of institutions conservatives hold in contempt, then what could possibly earn their respect?

2 comments:

Chuck Rightmire said...

A real problem lies in the fact that many of the "tried and true" answers of the past are not solving the changing issues of the present. The biggest problem the federal government has is in dealing with the challenges of today while dealing with those who would hang onto the solutions that worked when the world was simpler and less knowledgeable. And the United Nations certainly doesn't work well when the most experimental government in the world (even after 200+ years) works against it. Conservatives like to put down liberals because they want to help people deal with today's problems. Conservatives want to move things back into the past and many of them who call themselves conservatives would reject that past 200 years of learning and ignore the scientist and science for something that arose when we were ignorant as to the answers to the mysteries of the world at that time.

Mark T said...

The country in general is pretty right wing - we really have no left here. Kennedy attacked Vietnam, Clinton attacked Serbia, Clinton starved all those kids in Iraq (hush!). It was Carter who flew Somoza out of Nicaragua on a Red Cross plane and who backed the fascist Shah of Iran to the hilt. Clinton had a plan to privatize Social Security, Bush tried to carry it out. If you're paying attention, you'll see an awful lot of rightism on our so-called liberal left.

The only real difference I see is that on the right there are are allowed real wingnuts - Brownback's and Tancredo's fit right in, McCain's and Bush's and all their extremism are considered mainstreamers. There is no parallel to that on the other side - even the faintest hint of true leftism leads one straight to the margins to live with Dennis. "Mainstream" Democrats pretty much fit the DLC mold of somewhat moderate conservatives.

I regard these debates about right and left in the US to be pretty much Coke v Pepsi. And about as relevant.