- Bruno Leoni and the search for certainty in law Alberto Mingardi, Law & Liberty
- The enduring legacy of Reagan’s drug war in Latin America Michelle Getchell, War on the Rocks
- Brexit, and the limits of empathy Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
- The lucky earth hypothesis Nick Nielsen, Grand Strategy Annex
The first post in this series concentrates on the more radical authoritarian populist side of conservatism in Europe. Before getting on to American conservatism and other aspects of European conservatism, I will respond to requests in the comments for definitions of what I mean by liberalism and conservatism. The shortest class definition I am aware of is that of David Hume in his essay ‘Of the Parties of Great Britain’ where he suggests that Whigs (liberals) favour liberty with a monarchy and that Tories (conservatives) favour monarchy with liberty. This can be expanded with little, if any controversy, to be taken as: liberals advocate liberty with order; conservatives favour order with liberty.
I will move from Hume to Benjamin Constant in Principles of Politics Applicable to all Governments. Constant is surely an unimpeachable source on what it is to be a classical liberal and it is important to note that Constant thinks there is something different in a politics based on principles of freedom than the thought of Edmund Burke. The distinction Constant makes is key to thinking about the relation between classical liberalism and conservatism, so is key to the claim that I make that (classical) liberalism are very distinct.
To increase the force of collective authority is never other than giving more power to some individuals. If the wickedness of men [an emphasis on this is a mark of conservative thinking], it is an even stronger one against power. For despotism is only the freedom of one or a few against the rest. Burke says that freedom is power. One can likewise say that power is freedom.(Book XV, Chapter 2)
This thought flows right into this thought from a later chapter:
Freedom is a power only in the sense that a shield is a weapon. So that when one speaks of possible abuses of the principle of freedom, such an expression is inaccurate. The principles of freedom would have prevented anything under the heading of abuses of freedom. These abuses, whoever their author, taking place always at the expense of another’s freedom, have never been the consequence of these principles, but rather their reversal. (Book XVII. Chapter 1)
In my summary of the above: conservatism defines freedom as limited because of a dangerous power in excess, so requiring tradition, hierarchy, and the aggressive use of state sovereignty to to curb it, while liberalism suggests that more freedom is the answer to abuses of power.
Since Burke is a key figure for those advocating some kind of kind of intimate alliance, or even identity, between (classical) liberalism and conservatism or libertarian conservative fusionism, Constant’s criticism of Burke is important. I won’t get into the detail of Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke’s central text on politics here, I will just note that the reader of this classic of conservatism will find many passages on the absolute sovereignty of the state, the virtues of rigid social hierarchy and of traditions supporting such hierarchy, along with the perfection of the British constitution of the time.
These passages, it seems to me, should raise concern to the advocate of liberty, which I believe derives its energy from the criticism of tradition, hierarchy, and existing institutions. As Constant recognises, we should not be quick to replace institutions that have grown over centuries with a perfect new design, but we should certainly not be afraid to innovate either, as we should not be slow to notice the growing faults of institutions over time as they come into conflict with new circumstances.
Burke was perhaps a bit more liberty-minded and a bit more innovation-friendly than the other famous critics of liberalism and Jacobinism – de Maistre, de Bonald and Donoso Cortés, but the understanding of liberty as particular Liberties inherited from tradition, upheld by a state that insists on its own absolute authority is something he has in common with them. For Constant, the excesses of the French Revolution are a reason to argue for more liberty, for Burke they are a reason to uphold hierarchy, tradition, and royal authority along with endless war against the French.
While addressing comments to the last post, I should refer to my fellow Notewriter, Edwin van de Haar, though thinking just as much of a previous social media conversation as his recent comment. As far as I understand, he advocates a definition of conservative liberalism that corresponds with F.A. Hayek’s views in The Constitution of Liberty and a share of GDP devoted to public spending substantially below the the average in advanced industrial countries. I’m not aware of anywhere in which Hayek used such a term, though he was certainly more sympathetic to Burke than I am here.
My argument is that there is nothing inherent to conservatism that makes it opposed to expanding the state in terms of welfare intervention or in terms of the police power of the state. Otto von Bismarck is just one particularly notable conservative from history who had a great belief in an intrusive state in various ways, including measures designed to take voters away from the strong Marxist-socialist current of the time, through incorporating socialist-friendly policies. Conservatism is a doctrine of order, state power (where national or imperial), and tradition.
Where conservatives have favoured market-friendly and relatively small state polices, they have done so in order to preserve order, the core of state power and tradition. Economically liberal conservatives like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were also great believers in narratives of restored national grandeur, the security state, ‘law and order’ and ‘war on drugs’ polices expanding state power, while sucking an increasing number of people into the extreme state-socialist institution of prison.
As far as I can see Thatcher and Reagan are the heroes of ‘liberal conservatism’. With all due respect to their valuable economic reforms, the liberalism seems to me to be very subordinate to the conservatism. As I pointed out in the last post, ideas of aggressive populism are growing in the conservative world, ideas which have deep precedents in the ways that Bismarck figures have mobilised nationalism, statism, and reactionary identity politics against liberals.
Oculus Rift, recently purchased by Facebook and partnered with Samsung, and HTC Vive, manufactured by HTC with Valve technology, have lead the 2010 wave in developing virtual reality headsets. These technologies, innovative by today’s standards but primitive by science fiction’s, mark the beginning of a differently structured society. They also mark a starting point for a new debate about privacy, the social affects of videogames, and especially censorship in media.
Virtual reality (in its not-too-distant actuality) offers an opportunity to behave outside of social norms in an environment that is phenomenologically the real world. The only comparable experience for humankind thus far is lucid dreaming, for which the rewards are less intense and the journey less traversible than the quick promises of virtual reality machines. One inevitable development for these machines is violent, sexually explicit experiences, available for cheap and accessible 24/7. To see how VR might be received, the closest industries to analyze are the videogame and pornography industries.
Interestingly, pornography has a very liberal history, in comparison to other “societal ills,” like drugs. Erotica dates back to ancient cultures — notably, the Kama Sutra, hardcore by today’s standards, is still a staple of contemporary sexual experimentation — and today’s perversions were common themes: bestiality, pedophilia, etc., although pornography with an emphasis on violence might be a more modern trend. This isn’t to ignore, however, the roles typically played by women in ancient Western folklore and mythology, which are degrading by today’s feminist standards.
The case could be made that today’s censorial views on pornography come from a far more malevolent or oppressive stance toward women than two millennia ago. The free expression that pornographic media once enjoyed was severely deflated over the 20th century. Only two years ago, a plethora of activities were banned from pornography in the United Kingdom. Reacting to the legislation, commentators were quick to criticize what was seen as policy that was specifically anti-female pleasure. Female ejaculation, fisting, face-sitting, and many forms of spanking or role-play were among the restrictions. There are puritanical, “moral outrage” elements to the restriction, but many noticed the absurdity of banning face-sitting: said one producer, “Why ban face-sitting? What’s so dangerous about it? … Its power is symbolic: woman on top, unattainable.” (There has been well-intended censorship as well. Los Angeles county passed Measure B in 2012 to require condom use during any pornographic scene with anal or vaginal contact, to combat the spread of venereal disease.)
Nowadays, there are plenty of porn directors that have learned to focus on both male and female pleasure, and reintroduced artistic merit to their directions. With the equalizing force gaining momentum in porn, it’s curious what the vehement, persistent condemnation springs from, when not focused exclusively on abusive sex scenes. In addition, the negative effects of pornography’s presence in society are still being debated. Just the other day, a study which led to headlines like “Porn doubles the risk of divorce” and “porn signifies a death knell for marriage” was criticized by Reason magazine for failing to address important underlying factors that more plausibly contribute to both pornography consumption and an unhappy marriage leading to divorce. There seems to be an obsession on behalf of the great majority of the public in assigning pornography to some sort of social harm.
Research on photographic pornography’s effect on society began early and aggressively. The Meese Report (1986), commissioned by Reagan and still frequently cited by anti-pornography advocates, determined pornography to be detrimental to society and family relations, and especially for women and children. Arguments built on similar reports attempt to connect sexually explicit material with rapes and domestic violence, alleging that the desensitization to rough sex carries over from the depictional world into the real one. Henry E. Hudson, the Chairman of the Meese Commission, alleged that pornography “appears to impact adversely on the family concept and its value to society.” The Meese Report, however, has been challenged extensively for bias, and is not taken seriously as a body of research any longer. One criticism by writer Pat Califia, concluding a traditionalist narrative embedded in the research, states that the report “holds out the hope that by using draconian measures against pornography we can turn America into a rerun of Leave It to Beaver.”
The United States’ Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, preceding the Meese Report and commissioned by Lyndon B. Johnson and Nixon, was unable to find evidence of any direct harm caused by pornography. (Although Nixon, despite the evidence under his administration, believed porn corrupted civilization.) It is curious that a new federal study was requested only sixteen years after the first extensive one, but maybe not too unusual given the growth of porn with technology (from adult stores and newsstands to unlimited free online access; the internet just celebrated its quarter-centennial birthday); also not too unusual given the absurd and expensive studies already undertaken by the federal government. It is also worth pointing out that pornography, though often connected to feminism, is a divisive issue within 20th century and contemporary feminism: some thinkers, like Andrea Dworkin, condemned it as intrinsically anti-women; others feminists like Ellen Willis argued for pornography as liberating and its suppression as moral authoritarianism. The debate along lines of sexuality, online or otherwise, culminated in the feminist “sex wars,” with groups like Feminists Against Censorship and Women Against Pornography popping up. Thus, the debate is open across every ideological camp, and support of pornography is neither necessarily liberal nor necessarily feminist.
[In the next post, I discuss violent pornography’s cross-media transformation into videogames, more sociological research and the general point, and insecurity, of prohibitory measures.]
I have serious problems understanding the definition of the term ‘RINO’. The term is supposed to mean a Moderate Republican, i.e. a Republican that shares views with a Democrat. However, the term is used by so many contradictory parties that it lacks real meaning. Many people hold up President Reagan as the hard definition of a true conservative, with his quote of “the soul of conservatism is libertarianism”.
In the 2012 election, the four Republican candidates each represented a key demographic of the current Republican base. There was Mitt Romney, a Mormon westerner who had become merged with the moderate eastern Money Trust Rockefeller establishment. There was Rick Santorum, a right-wing Catholic obsessed with social issues and ready to wage a Christian jihad. There was Newt Gingrich, a Baptist-turned-Catholic career politicians who’d passed centrist legislation throughout the Clinton administration. And of course, Ron Paul, a libertarian carrying the youth vote, ironically carrying views of a politician born in the 1890s, who would have been a member of the bipartisan anti-Roosevelt Old Right coalition.
The idea of a RINO came into existence around the campaign of Barry Goldwater, an Arizona Senator, who won the 1964 nomination instead of Nelson A. Rockefeller, the grandchild shared by John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil and Senator Nelson Aldrich, who pitched the original idea for the Federal Reserve. Even though he won the nomination, Goldwater was written off as an “extremist” by many, and Rockefeller was considered a “moderate”. But what does this really mean?
As America was still very homogenous in 1964, most regions had a strong local culture. At the time, the Republican base was comprised of Midwestern Lutherans, Western Mormons, wealthy New England Episcopalians, and transient career military families. At the time, most Southern Baptists and Catholics were still largely Democrats. Goldwater winning Southern states in 1964 did not permanently secure the Solid South as red states, despite the widely toted myth. (Third party Wallace of 1968 and Democrat Carter of 1976 prove this.) As a general phenomenon, the lower-middle-class flyover demographics were known as the extremists, while the upper-middle-class city and suburban folk were known as the moderates.
Despite being categorized as a “right-wing extremist” in 1964, Goldwater still had little in common with the heartland evangelicals of today. Goldwater had no connection to fundamentalist Christianity like Governors Perry or Palin. One side of his family was Jewish, and the other side was Yankee Episcopalians, and Goldwater was an Episcopalian his whole life. Goldwater supported no legislation in regards to gay marriage, drugs, or abortion. Goldwater is directly quoted as saying, “Mark my words, if and when these preachers get control of the Republican party, and sure they’re trying to do so, there’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly these people frighten me”.
Everything Barry Goldwater predicted about the Christian fundamentalist hijack eventually came true. Now the term RINO has a whole new meaning than when two socially liberal Episcopalians were vying for the nomination in 1964. Many Republicans referred to John McCain (a career military man with no regional ties) and Mitt Romney (a flip-flopper from the far left state of Massachusetts) as RINOs or moderates. But when Obama ran against them in 2008 and 2012, his campaign spent countless efforts painting the two candidates as right-wing extremists
Since 2008, the mainstream liberal media outlets have generally painted all Republican candidates in the same stereotype: old, uncool, racist, sexist, cranky, corny, money-hoarding, miserly Mr. Scrooges, obstructing Obama’s hip-and-groovy “CHANGE”. It mattered little how moderate McCain’s and Romney’s records were, the media rhetoric implied that anyone running against Obama had a closeted agenda with the same motivations as the Thurmond, Wallace, or Duke campaigns. Vice President Biden shouted out to an audience during a debate with Paul Ryan, “Romney is gonna put you all back in chains”. The MSM saw no problem with this.
So what are the concrete issues that make or break the difference between the RINOs and a non RINO? Is it the military, war, and foreign policy? Is it economics? Is it Christian social issues? (a dead horse, as far as I’m concerned) Are the rants espoused by Limbaugh, Hannity, and other Fox News anchors the policies that anyone who runs as a Republican are “supposed” to have? Fox anchor Ann Coulter referred to libertarians as “pussies”, and implied that supporting drug legalization was RINO/moderate, by mashing different ideologies from left and right. Everyone has different definitions of RINO.
So this brings up the question: Was Ron Paul a “RINO”? Fox News certainly said so in the 2012 election. Were Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater “RINOs”? Many Democrats who hate the Tea Party would say so today. Although one must acknowledge Ron Paul’s ultraconservative personal views, one should realize he would give power back to the fifty state governments, with the intention that each American demographic can carve out a haven. There is no point pretending that Ron Paul is a hip guy with young libertarian social ideas: his views have changed little since he was a medical student in the 1950s.
Despite this, Ron Paul had the potential to represent a purge of many issues that the left hates about the Republicans; policies relating to drugs, gays, abortion, corporate bailouts, but most importantly, the wars in the Middle East. This was only exacerbated by Rick Santorum’s extremist Christian authoritarian rants, and his comment that he wanted to “fight against libertarian influence in the Republican party”. Despite the Obama administration’s continued drone warfare allover the Middle East, the Obama 2012 campaign repeated the same 2008 rhetoric that this was Bush’s personal, Republican, corporate, Islamophobic war. Simultaneously, the other three Republicans called Ron Paul an isolationist coward for his foreign policy. Ron Paul could have been the perfect moderate with ideas compromising from both sides, and yet they trashed and defamed him every possible chance.
Unfortunately, it is the Tea Party, and not moderate Republicans or Democrats, who have been blamed for the government shutdown. Personally, I think the Republicans handling the shutdown is a poorly planned reactionary idea. This kind of political activism only works if the libertarian-leaning Republicans were to shut down the government about the wars in the Middle-East, or the incarcerations of non-violent drug offenders. Otherwise, the MSM will just paint them as quintessential obstructionist right-wing cranks, as they have done so far.
McCain’s machine of moderate Republicans have marched in lockstep behind Obamacare, in an attempt to make Ted Cruz and other libertarian-leaning Republicans look like the “extremists”, Obama-haters, and Confederate secessionists. Despite the fact that libertarians are supposed to share a good bit ground with progressives, Democrats and moderates are together pointing to libertarianism “the far right fringe”. Moderate Republicans need to keep in mind that when is all over, the liberal media outlets will put all Republicans, moderate and conservative, in the same category as tongue-speaking, back-alley-abortion-causing, end-of-times, Limbaugh-hypnotized, warmongering, theocratic neo-confederates no matter what.
If liberal Democrats prefer moderate ‘Rockefeller Republicans’, or big government Republicans, let them have each other. If they think the enemy is small town, small business people, let them feel that way. Democrats can have Republicans like the Bushes, an old New England Money Trust family, long term ally of the Rockefellers, with CIA connections and investments in the baby Standard Oil corporations. After all, when corporate exploitation, global imperialism, and war profiteering makes millions, they can cash in and use the money to look humanitarian later in life. Just don’t dress him up like a Texas good ol’ boy, and then blame flyover folk for him.
Not Reagan, Goldwater, Taft, Coolidge, Eisenhower, or possibly even Bush, Sr. would ever have done what George W. Bush did in Iraq and Afghanistan, or what Nixon did in Vietnam. (both cited for the claim: “Republicans are warmongers”) Meanwhile, Democrats Wilson, Truman, and Johnson started long wars based on the idealistic grounds of “spreading democracy”. It is the imperialist Republican war machine and CIA added to the liberal Democrat dream of international government that make a poisonous combination together.
Maybe a RINO is what we want. If RINO means secular Republican; with no evangelical Christian dogma influencing government policy, then RINO is good. If RINO means Republican who embraces science and new technology, then RINO is good. If RINO means anti-war Republican, who wants to cut military spending, then RINO is good. If RINO means socially liberal Republican, then RINO is good. If RINO does not recite unoriginal reactionary propaganda from Fox News, then RINO is good. If RINO is opposed to neo-conservative foreign policy, then RINO is good. Maybe RINO is what we need after all.