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Post 0

Friday, January 16 - 9:36amSanction this postReply
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Joe, I have to disagree with your approach here.  Some Conservatives are well-meaning friends of Freedom and some are enemies of freedom.

 

We no longer live in an era where all "Conservatives" are alike. To be accurate, in many contexts, a person has to say which kind of Conservative they are talking about. I have known many Conservative over the years. Some were athiests, some would best be described as "Constitutional Conservatives", some were not that political and just held strongly to the idea of a small federal government. Some would be called "Libertarian Conservatives."

 

We are witnessing an ideological evolution going amoung conservatives where we see libertarian principles growing and it is important not to confuse someone like Rand Paul with someone like Rick Santorum - it is important to support the views and movements that are going the right way and attack those that wrong.

 

If we can't encourage reasoned political growth in this area then are we implying that all political activity of the future that can be sanctioned can only come from the Libertarian Party, or from people who would never align themselves with any position if it is put forth by a "Conservative" and I can't see why that would be a principled position or a practical one.
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You wrote:

The reasons why people support an idea or institution determine how far and what context they are willing to support it.

That's true, because I only support conservatives as far as they are on the right side of an issue and I pay attention to why they support it.  But Iwon't lump a constitutional conservative with a social conservative when I can see that one is attempting to implant scripture in the law and the other is trying to get a government that lives within the constitution.
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Conservatives don't really view free markets as good in and of themselves. A libertarian might support free markets as just another instance of freedom, and believe that people should fundamentally be able to decide how they live their lives. Freedom is the goal, and free markets is just an aspect of that goal.

I've know many conservatives that view free markets as good in and of themselves.  I've know many who see it as a free market as a selfish end (to support themselves most efficiently) and believe that others have the same selfish right.  The fact that it works out as best for the majority is what they have been taught, but it isn't their core motivation - not those I've met.
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In contrast, conservatives view free markets as mere means to a larger end. They accept the morality of altruism, and believe in the moral goodness of achieving altruistic goals.

 

For conservatives, freedom is a just a means to further their own altruistic goals.

 

There is a giant difference between being brought up to believe in altrusitic principles (what portion of our populations wasn't!) and actively setting them as ones own goals such that they advocate some diminuation of liberty.  Again, I've known many conservatives who hold different altruistic beliefs (which leaves them with contradictions and occasionnally a lack of clarity) but have managed to see the altruism in their life as a private thing and government as a political thing, and they call for liberty.  Until each of them becomes aware of altruism's shortcoming, and the political lies created by Progressives and by the Religious Right, they will be vulnerable to a number of mistakes - as were many  of us here until we were able to read Rand, or some libertarian writers who allowed us to clear out conflicting principles.
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There is no acceptance of freedom on its own terms. If someone say that they own the business and they should be able to run it anyway they want, since it is their own property, conservatives would dismiss it. For the conservative, private property is simply private control of public property.

I've know a great many conservatives who own their own business and would fiercely constest that statement. They have a deep pride in what they created and a deep resentment of the Progressives who say, in effect, "you didn't build that."

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The conservative view of freedom does not extend to areas that don't promote altruistic goals indirectly. They are happy to force people to go to church, pray in school, learn creationism, prevent them from having sex or using birth control, burning American flags, etc.

You are talking mostly about the Religious Right.... the Social Conservatives. They have wiggled into politics for the purpose of pushing their scriture into law. They are the group that match your description, but they are like parasites on those Conservatives that don't share that goal and instead want smaller government, less interference, and more economic freedom.

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When everything is judged through the prism of indirectly achieving moral goals, no freedom is secure.

Achieving freedom from government abuse of our individual rights is the heart of Objectivism's political goals. We can and should judge other goals through that prism. That means that we have to discriminate between those Conservatives that don't have a proper understanding of the constitution and those who do, between those who value free enterprise because they value liberty as opposed to those who have put some collectivist goal up as their motivation.

 

The "me too - but not so much" nature of much of the opposition to Progressivisms march has come out the GOP, and to a degree the Conservative wing of the GOP who have not been able to articulate an argument since they share too many of the same altruistic principles as the Progressives.  But that means they are confused in their principles, and not in their motivations (except for the religioius right).

 

With the exception of the Religious Right, what we need to do is help those Conservatives who are not trying to force scripture on everyone, understand why altruism is wrong, impractical, and far from benevolent.  We should be weeding out those Conservatives who can grasp how wrong it is to use political means to force religious views on others (Christian funamentalists or supporters of Shria law).  As those Conservatives acquire an Individual Rights - Constitional view of politics where liberty is goal and that any religious or athiest view is private, then we are seeing a valued event in our nations political evolution.



Post 1

Thursday, January 15 - 10:59pmSanction this postReply
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So how do you define 'conservative'?  Many characteristic opinions and beliefs of 'conservatives' are described here, but no examples of them.  Is a person conservative because he says he is?  Or because someone else who is, or is not, a conservative says he is?  Is Pat Buchanan conservative?  Or William Kristol?  (They seem to be diametrically opposed on some issues).  More clarification is needed - and some examples. 



Post 2

Friday, January 16 - 3:45pmSanction this postReply
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Traditional Conservative: Those with a general tendency to oppose cultural change and see values in the past that they want to conserve.  I don't see this as a political ideology so much as a psychological tendency arising out of insecurity or a dislike of change.

 

Fiscal Conservatives: Want a balanced budget, lower spending, and are almost always in favor of a much smaller government with less regulation.

 

Social Conservatives: Also known as Cultural Conservatives or Christian Conservatives or the Religious Right. The word "conservative" only applies in the sense that they might agree with other positions, like reduced spending, but their primary political motive is to enforce religious beliefs - like outlawing abortion, establishing prayer in public schools, no gay marriage, etc.  Like progressives who use code words rather than to be open about their goals, the religious right talks about "Family Values" or "Tradition" or the "definition of marriage."  This group is extremely well known because they are vocal, and because the mass media and the Progressives focus on them as if they were all there is to "the right" or to Conservatives.

 

Constitutional Conservatives: (aka Limited Government Conservative) They might also be fiscal conservatives, or identify with any number of other 'conservative' views, but their primary focus is that the federal government live within constitution interpreted as the founders intended.

 

Neoconservatives: Tend to be disillusioned former liberals ("Liberals mugged by reality," as Irving Kristol put it.) They usually aren't as focused on domestic affairs, and are actually more comfortable with large spending and large government than any other kind of conservative, but are more hawkish on military affairs and want more intervention. They are closer to the GOP establishment at this point. They are the chief proponents of exporting democracy via the military and of nation-building. To the degree they focus on domestic issues and the national economy, it is to advocate tax cuts as a means of stimulation, and parrot calls for more efficient domestic spending.  They are the least "conservative" of any of the Conservative groups.

 

Paleo-Conservatives:  (Like Pat Buchanan)  These are fewer in number now then decades ago. They are small government advocates, sometimes religious in their background, but not necessarily comfortable with implimeting religious views as law. They are united in their opposition to large-scale immigration and are often in support of tariffs. They are usually isolationists in that they would impose trade barriers against communist or socialist nations. This segment of the conservative movment grew out of the anti-communist movement of the fifties and continues as anti-globalism today. They are in favor of strict federalism and states' rights. They are often focused on "preserving the past" culturally. Paleocons would be libertarians in economic terms if it weren't for the comfort they feel regarding trade barriers and tarrifs.

 

Libertarian Conservatives: These are hybrids who take liberty as their primary goal and end up being close to Constitutional Conservatives and Fiscal Conservatives in regards to government's size, scope and power. They are likely to side with liberals in issues of privacy and civil rights and with Libertarians in economic issues and in terms of individual rights. Some of them still have religious beliefs, like anti-abortion positions, that they support. Rand Paul is the probably the best example. 

 

Gun Power Patriot: This refers to someone whose political views and personal political identity is tied up with an intensely nationalistic pride that involves America right or wrong, and in spite of any rational principles. They are often not as focused on issues as economic but rather taking the positions that oppose whatever liberals favor. It's a very ad hominem and unthinking form of political ideology. This kind of conservative sees the expression of military might as very nearly justified by any kind of cultural difference.

 

Tea Party supporter: These are conservatives who hold the following in common:  They are opposed to the Progressive's move towards large government, they want far less regulation, they want lower taxes, they want a smaller federal government, and they want a balanced budget.  

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Needless to say, these are often overlapping categories in that a Tea Party supporter might also be Constitutional Conservative and a Fiscal Conservative.  And they are sometimes more about psychological motivation than political principles.

 

(There are new categories being put forth all the time, like "Federalist Conservative" "Imperialist Conservative" "Green Conservative" "Liberal Conservative" "Moderate Conservative" etc.  But I don't see the value in adopting any of these as useful categories.  And, if you Google it is hard not to find the Progressives war on Conservatism being waged in that particularly ugly far left fashion - as they term all conservatives as racists and neanderthols.)



Post 3

Friday, January 16 - 8:27pmSanction this postReply
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Steve Wolfer wrote:  'They are the least "conservative" of any of the Conservative groups.'

 

Yep.  Many neo 'conservatives' don't seem to care much what kind of government or philosophy prevails in any country as long as the USG controls it - and they control the USG's foreign policy.



Post 4

Tuesday, January 20 - 8:58amSanction this postReply
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I know one Objectivist who identifies herself politically as "conservative."

 

Drives me a little crazy, I admit.



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Post 5

Tuesday, January 20 - 7:23pmSanction this postReply
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I know where Joe's coming from. I get it, and damnit, I agree, though I wish I didn't. 

 

There's a reason people like me have a negative reaction to the concept of "conservatives."  It's probably the same reason Rand had little appreciation for them, as well.  The concept doesn't exactly conger up thoughts (not for me, anyway) of rational, liberty embracing, rights respecting individuals and leaders, though those people certainly do exist in small numbers on that side. They're just irrelevant, apparently. And very very quiet. 

 

The first thing that comes to my mind when someone says they're a "conservative" are big mouths like Rush Limbaugh and his borderline message of nationalistic fascism. He's even proud to say he's a "nationalist."  I don't think it means what he thinks it means, so  I stopped listening. The "messaging" turned into something evil, and lost anything close to being meaningful.  All he talks about are fear, terror and disgust.  Those are his emotional problems, not mine, so I stopped listening.  I won't be missed, however.  Fear, terror and disgust have a gigantic following in the "conservative" movement, and everyone knows Limbaugh leads the pack.

 

 Rationality doesn't appear to be very popular in that realm, and it's sad.  Is there any doubt that faith has substituted virtue for conservatives?  No doubt in my mind, and they're willing to use the force of government to insure it. 

 

 

Glenn Beck, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Chicks on the Right (long on sarcasm, short on real arguments,) and a plethora of others with massive following on YouTube. They're everywhere.  Same message. Same pandering to fear, terror and disgust.  

 

When I hear "conservative," I think of only fear, terror, disgust and faith at the wheel with reason tied up in the trunk. 



Post 6

Wednesday, January 21 - 8:43amSanction this postReply
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Teresa,

 

With people like Santorum and Huckabee and the other religious idiots, I completely agree.  But there are two changes that are occuring as we speak. One is demographic, where an older generation of religious folk are on the way out, being replace in part by new evangelicals, but also by libertarian leaning younger folk. When the conservative movement was young, it was religious at its root, but it was mostly an anti-communist movement (probably because communists tend to be athiest) - think of William F. Buckley.  Back then, Conservatives were a lot alike.  But today, as an artifact of the ideological change in the movement and demographics, it has some very different factions.  There are conservatives today who may still self-identify as conservative, but are aware of individual rights and in most cases, due to Ayn Rand.

 

This is important to Objectivists who want to see actual movement towards a government that is more of a constitutionally limited organization derived from individual rights.  The alternative is to sit around, gripping about how bad everything is, and being unwilling to support anything that is less than a perfect expression of Objectivism.

 

We can act on the desire for movement in the right direction with support for the Libertarian political party - and that's a good thing - but it is also a truism of the American political system that third party politics will, at most, be educational, and never be a practical alternative.

 

We have seen the democratic party evolve from a party that supported free enterprise, to a degree, and some social rights, but with a welfare safety net (sort of a Bismark state), to the Progressives of today that are just short of of being fully naked socialists. What we need to encourage is the evolution of the republican party from what it is today towards the fully Capitalist, individual rights party we'd like.  And we have to remember that what we want requires an evolution - a slow change from what we have now - not a sudden, magical transformation.  Its not that we want 'slow' but that it is the nature of political change based upon choice.

 

Remember, the Progressives are working very hard to smear all of the conservatives as neanderthal, knee-jerk reactionary, war-mongering, misogynistic, racists who take scripture literally.  That is their primary propoganda line.  The last thing we want to do is let them blind us to the change going on, and help them to stop the movement towards libertarian principles.

 

So, we should support the ideological movement away from the old conservatism to this new libertarian conservatism. That includes support for fiscal conservatism as a goal, and constitutional conservatism as a goal. At the same time, being very clear that the religious right are just political parasites that are trying to create some degree of Christian Sharia Law.



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Post 7

Wednesday, January 21 - 12:59pmSanction this postReply
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Conepts help human beings identify entities in reality. 

 

Postmoderism turns that heuristic on its head. Concepts can mean anything or nothing specific because subjectivism makes the rules.   

 

When someone tells me they're an Objectivist, the last thing I do is waste time sifting through all of their premises to see if they're telling me the truth. If you're a Christian, even that has a nuclear meaning that I can grasp and understand without a lot of further inquiry. 

 

It appears the concept of "conservative" can mean more than one thing, any definition of which can be utterly unrelated to any other definition. It has no nuclear meaning other than to "conserve" something. What they hope to conserve can be anyone's guess.  Their thinking can be consistent or inconsistent.  You don't know until you waste a lot of time and energy picking through their premises in an effort to understand what that concept specifically and subjectively means to them.

 

 In logic that's called equivocation. 

 

(Edited by Teresa Summerlee Isanhart on 1/21, 1:00pm)



Post 8

Wednesday, January 21 - 2:15pmSanction this postReply
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Teresa,

 

Given the way your post was written, I wasn't sure if you were implying that I'm a postmodernist, a subjectivist, a Christian, some kind of conservative, or a liar.  So, just to be clear, I unequivocally deny that I'm any of those things and I also deny that my attempts to clear up serious confusions about conservatives would fall under any of those labels.

 

What I have been doing on this thread is to help people understand what entities are subsumed by the generic term "conservative."  If someone says "Animals are X," you examine X to see what the context is that is being predicated of "animals," and depending upon what that context is you may be able to makes sense of the statement, or you might need to ask, "What kind of animals?"  Sometimes it makes sense to assert X of "socialists" but other times, we have to ask, "Which socialists? Eg., Marxists or Fabians or some other kind?"  Concepts are hierarchical.

 

The common denominator of today's conservativism may only be historical - shared political ideological ancestory.

 

"Conservative" used to have a nuclear meaning in politics that worked for nearly all reasonable contexts. But that was some time ago.

I've been trying to point out that there are now different kinds of conservatives - so much so that they need to be properly identified with their sub-category names.  That's NOT equivocation or subjectivism - it is a natural branching out where new schools of thought have arisen that differ from the ancestral root enough to warrant a new name.

 

I believe that some of today's conservatives are enemies of freedom, and some are not.  THAT is an important distinction.  Some conservatives represent what may be a strong trend within one of the two major political parties towards a government that Objectivists would approve of, while other conservatives are just would-be dicators of a different kind.  Another important distinction.

 

Anyone that wants is free to ignore this development, and they can pretend that all conservatives of today are necessarily the same in political beliefs as any conservative of 60 years ago, but that is their error, not mine.



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Post 9

Wednesday, January 21 - 3:52pmSanction this postReply
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Given the way your post was written, I wasn't sure if you were implying that I'm a postmodernist, a subjectivist, a Christian, some kind of conservative, or a liar. 

 

What a bunch of defensive hyperbole.  I have no desire to make my ideas take a back seat to your insecurity, Steve. Grow up.  I was talking about my reaction to the concept "conservative," not my reaction to "Steve Wolfer."  I shouldn't have to make that obvious for the sake of your insecurity. Jeesh!

 

The rest of your post just seems to confirm my idea that the concept "conservative" is meaningless. It could mean anything from collectivist hack to extreme rights respecting.  Does that sound like a "conceptual hierarchy" to you?  It sure doesn't to me. 

 

(Edited by Teresa Summerlee Isanhart on 1/21, 3:53pm)



Post 10

Wednesday, January 21 - 4:55pmSanction this postReply
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Teresa,

 

It's good to know that you were not referring to me as an equivocating, postmodern, subjectivist liar.  But it probably would have been better if you had cleared that up without calling me insecure and immature.    

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Does that sound like a "conceptual hierarchy" to you?

The concept "animal" covers everything from an ardvark to a zebra.   Does that mean we need to throw it out as meaningless?

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An atheist, libertarian-conservative and an evangelical social conservative are both conservatives.   They both call themselves conservatives.   They both vote the same on a great many different positions.  They both belong to the right-wing side of the Republican Party.  They both support a much smaller government, lower taxes, greater adherence to the constitution, and far fewer regulations... Don't you see that they are both conservatives but significantly different in their motivations and underlying beliefs - different enough to warrant different categories inside the larger concept of conservative?

 

The same thing can be said of "libertarians" or "Libertarian Party Members" - both have become root categories that tell us less a bit less about the entities they subsume.  This is because with the passing of time, the types of entities have multiplied in ways that leave many different properties while still being libertarian in some important sense.  (Anarcho-Capitalist Libertarian versus Minarchist Libertarian for example).  What do you want to do - throw out the term libertarian as meaningless?  Or ignore the difference between anarchy and minarchy as if it didn't exist?  Or choose to recognize that subcategories are needed and apply them for the purpose of greater intellectual accuracy?



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Post 11

Wednesday, January 21 - 5:57pmSanction this postReply
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If "conservative" can be a political genus, then it needs a crucial distinction that prevents any of it's species to overlap into any other genus. But they obviously do overlap.  There are overlaps everywhere, so there are no crucial distinctions, other than one's subjective claim.   That's because, even according to you, making the claim makes it so.  If that isn't subjective, nothing is. 

 

One can vote to limit government power and another can vote to expand it. They're both included in the concept. That's confusing, not distinctive. 

 

What are the crucial distinctions to the genus "Conservative" that isolate it from every other political discipline? 



Post 12

Wednesday, January 21 - 10:13pmSanction this postReply
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Teresa,

 

I'm not buying what you're trying to sell.  You mentioned Ayn Rand's opposition to conservatives.  Are you saying she mistakenly believed that "conservative" was word that referred to something in reality?  If you had asked her what William F. Buckley's political category was, wouldn't she have said, "conservative"?

 

You made your post #5 about conservatives... you even named some, like Rush Limbaugh.  Are they only magically apparent as conservatives when you want to say something about them, but when I say something about them "conservative" is an empty concept, an equivocation, a piece of flimsy postmodern subjectivism?  You can't have it both ways.

 

You discussed conservatives, even listing some things you saw as their attributes.  You tell me how you define conservatives - since you clearly didn't like my descriptions.



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Post 13

Thursday, January 22 - 6:18pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks for the taxonomy, Steve.  I agree that these can be fuzzy.  While "social conservative" (Christian conservative) is defined, "fiscal", "constitutional" and "Tea Party" are hard to differentiate.  As you note many other labels are possible, such as federalist and imperialist. (I had one of the latter in a graduate criminology class.  The phrase "to the right of the kaiser" came to mind.)  But you will not find them trading favors for seats at the GOP national convention.  In other words, these are labels you can apply to individuals; they are not cliques or juntos.  

 

That said, I have to say that from my perspective, you identify yourself as a conservative and seek to "perserve the phenomenon".  

 

With one exception, none of these amalgams has an explicit philosophical basis.  The exception is the Christians, given that religion is a primitive form of philosophy.  The others all have agglomerations of specifics that they advocate, such as lower taxes and smaller government and the right to own guns along with closing the Federal Reserve, and whatever else.  But none has a consistent philsophical ethics based on an identified metaphysics with epistemology.  All of them (except the Christians) are pragmatists. I do not mean that they are "practical" but that they are implicitiy philosophical pragmatists who think that their agendas "work" and that they can and should do whatever they need to (within the political system today) to achieve their goals.

 

The only objective statistical poll that I know of sampling Tea Party members finds them admiring George Bush and believing that social security and Medicare are good programs.  (It is their age that makes them think that.)

 

Rand Paul may be the Goldwater of the new generation.  He may also be another Paul Ryan, cashing in on Ayn Rand to gain traction. We have to wait and see.

 

(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 1/22, 6:19pm)



Post 14

Thursday, January 22 - 11:46pmSanction this postReply
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Marotta,

 

You wrote:

...you identify yourself as a conservative and seek to "perserve the phenomenon".

The last time you wrote something like that it was in the form of an outright lie. You said that I was a 'self-identified conservative.'  A total lie along with the lies you publically published accusing me of racism.  I can't tell you how despicable I find your unwarranted, unsupported, malicious and totally false assertions.

 

I've said again and again and again that I'm not a conservative.  Unless you want to continue to promote lies, you need to defend that statement that I "identify [myself] as a conservative..." or apologize.
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I have no interest in preserving conservativism. I want to change it.

 

Encouraging certain changes in the conservative wing of the GOP can move us towards a libertarian government much sooner than if we don't encourage those changes.

 

We should all be encouraging Republicans to disavow, to ridicule and to split off from the religious right.  And we should be educating and shifting the remaining conservatives towards libertarian principles.

 

I was very clear in writing that I encourage movement within the conservative wing of the republican party towards libertarian principles. 

We all should, for these reasons:

  1. The laws and political customs of our county make it almost impossible for a third party to acquire power.
  2. Political change for the better is unlikely to be implimented without a movement in the principles held by one of the major parties.
  3. The movement in the various factions of the Democratic party are increasingly totalitarian - and at this point in history, it has to be seen as the least likely to change in the direction of liberty.
  4. That leaves this entirely new political phenomena - elected libertarian conservatives and their enthusiastic supporters as the best leverage for to effect the political change we want.

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You wrote:

With one exception, none of these amalgams has an explicit philosophical basis. The exception is the Christians....

The libertarian conservatives have more of an explicit philosophical basis than we've seen from the others. The fact that they are not yet as philosophically aligned with Objectivism as we'd like isn't as important as the fact that they are moving in that direction. And, they are standing on political principles not pragmatism. They believe that liberty is man's proper state and that the goverment's proper purpose is to protect that liberty. That's getting much closer to what Objectivists understand and want. And, what is the alternative? Anarchy? Progressives with their stealth movements towards outright socialism?
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The political environment, like the climate, is always changing. It would be foolish to treat it as static and not try to influence the direction of the change.



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Post 15

Saturday, February 28 - 7:11pmSanction this postReply
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This is a complex topic, and I don't have time to go into that much detail.  I wanted to make a few points for clarity.

 

First, it's worth noting that I've also described liberals, or progressives, or leftists in other articles, and these were accepted even though there are probably many self-identified liberals who don't believe all of the same things.  But these are acceptable because we aren't just declaring a bunch of people to have a belief.  We are focusing on a particular cluster of beliefs, using the common label, and discussing withing that context.  I'm doing the same here.  Yes, if we stretch the term conservative to mean anyone and anything, then no statement can be true.  But that's not the purpose.  We aren't trying to slander some people by association with others. We are trying to identify the root ideology and the implications of that ideology.

 

This is true for liberals, libertarians, and conservatives.  For the most part, these are not just people who randomly picked a bunch of political conclusions.  Each group shares some fundamental assumptions that leads to a cluster of political conclusions.  Conservatives, as diverse as their backgrounds are, are surprisingly uniform in their political conclusions.  Same with liberals.  This is either a huge coincidence, an extreme case of peer pressure, or because there is some philosophical foundation that leads them to these conclusions.  I believe the latter.

 

Further, conservative intellectuals have gone further and described their intellectual assumptions.  One of the clearest views comes from Thomas Sowell in "A Conflict of Visions" and others.  But there are plenty of others.  These are not just vague statements like "smaller government".  They include metaphysical, epistemological and moral assumptions.

 

Some examples:

1.)  Imperfection of man.  Conservatives view man as imperfect and prone to immorality.  Morality needs to be encouraged and immorality discouraged.

2.)  Non-adaptability of man.  Conservatives view man's nature as fixed, and distrust leftist schemes to try to reshape society.

3.)  The Invisible Hand.  Morally worthwhile benefits can happen when selfish desires are turned towards social benefits.

4.)  Spontaneous order and the wisdom of tradition.  They accept that lots of people making little changes over time can lead to better results, even though it wasn't planned.  Consequently, they see institutions and traditions as a kind of inherited wisdom from the past.  Since they weren't planned, we don't know all of the reasons they are the way they are.  We don't understand all of the good that they do.  So getting rid of them, or making substantial changes to them, is foolish.

5.)  The limits of reason.  The spontaneous order and decentralized decision making leads to a kind of institutional wisdom.  No one person can be aware of the countless reasons why the institutions or traditions evolved the way they did.  So counting on someone to use reason to figure these things out is stupid and dangerous.  It's central planning vs. free-market.  The central planners, no matter how much knowledge they have, are completely ignorant in comparison to the decentralized knowledge of the market.

6.)  Checks and balances.  While leftists think of themselves as morally elite and therefore should rule with absolute power, conservatives view man as inherently corruptible and we should always put limits on them.

7.)  Altruistic results.  Conservatives differ from liberals in that conservatives are more interested in results and not just intentions.  They are willing to utilize things like the free-market to direct selfish impulses towards socially beneficial results.  In fact, since they view man as prone to immorality, one of the primary political goals is to shape the incentives towards moral results.

 

There's a lot more, but this gives some sense of the philosophical foundation.  Note that I'm not simply dismissing conservatives as  religious nut-jobs, or complaining only about their social conservative tendencies.  These philosophical beliefs are not necessarily tied to religion (although religion can emphasize or support some of these).

 

But these beliefs do lead to a cluster of political conclusions.  They support laws that strengthen moral results, such as anti-gambling or anti-drug laws, as well as laws that strengthen marriage or provide tax incentives for charity or having children.  They are more respectful of traditions like Senate rules, and the rule of law.  They favor smaller government, because of the imperfection of man, but they strongly support some forms of government intervention as long as those satisfy the wider goals of promoting morality through incentives.  And much, much more.

 

 

All that being said, it's a mistake to assume that because people accept certain conclusions, they share the same reasoning or assumptions.  Just because conservatives seem to be for the free-market and smaller government doesn't make them libertarians, or even libertarian in those areas.  Their reasoning is different.

 

Take a certain kind of libertarian, admitting that it might not be inclusive.  One kind is the political individualist.  Each person lives amongst others, but they are living their own lives.  The goal of politics/government is to allow each individual to live his life free from the interference of others.  An individualist libertarian may support the free-market, but primarily he support the freedom of individuals to act on their own.  Free-market isn't supported because it leads to prosperity, or because it focuses selfish desires into socially desirable ends.  These may be a nice effect for the libertarian, and one that he can appreciate, but not the basis of his support.  Freedom is the politcal goal.

 

This is a huge contrast with the conservative philosophy.  Conservatives are not primarily individualists.  They are altruists, and consequently collectivists.  They don't support each individual's right to live however he wants.  They support freedom as a means of achieving altruistic goals.  But it's always "freedom with responsibility", which means freedom with limits.  You are free so long as you avoid certain kinds of choices.  You can start a business and be a billionaire, as long as you don't price gouge or hire immigrant labor.

 

In comparison to liberals, conservatives often seem to be speaking a language that libertarians understand and recognize.  But clarity comes from looking at the disagreements and understanding when agreement is superficial.  Some people are shocked when Republicans gain power and instead of shrinking government or increasing freedom, they focus on a socially conservative agenda.  But that should only be surprising to those who mistook agreement on certain conclusions as agreement on key beliefs.  Priorities will obviously vary significantly based on the actual beliefs.

 

 

None of this has anything to do with some political strategy.  I'm not interested here in trying to no offend potential allies because they are closer to my political conclusions than others.  My goal is to seek clarity.  To understand how their beliefs are different, and to anticipate where their different philosophical beliefs will result in different conclusions.  The same can be done for anarcho-capitalists.  Some would say we all agree to have smaller government, and we're far from that, so who cares about that last little bit.  But the philosophical assumptions lead to different conclusions.  We already see conflicts on that front in the area of foreign policy.



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Thursday, April 2 - 8:14pmSanction this postReply
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Excellent post, Joe!

 

When there are groups of different people that call themselves "conservatives" and have some key principles in common yet differ in other ways it becomes encumbent upon us to decide what are the fundamentals that mean someone should be called a "conservative" and what would disqualify them from being seen as a conservative. Then what divisions within the "conservative" group are reasonable to distinguish.
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Thomas Sowell is one of my favorite intellectuals. He came to his strong support of free enterprise via a long intellectual travel, having once been a Marxist!

 

You gave some clear examples of Conservativsm's philosophical background:

1.) Imperfection of man. Conservatives view man as imperfect and prone to immorality. Morality needs to be encouraged and immorality discouraged.

Technically man is not, and never will "morally perfect" in the concrete - not while still being understood as having choice. We can move towards perfection of whatever sort we define.  But conservative philosophy has a taint to that simple truth, where they assume man will naturally tend towards immorality and that is probably because altruism will always motivate away from what is objectively good, and altruisism's dislike of the individual.

2.) Non-adaptability of man. Conservatives view man's nature as fixed, and distrust leftist schemes to try to reshape society.

"Man's nature" is a phrase that refers to something that exists. And (baring some major change in our most basic universal traits over a massive amount of time), human nature is fixed. Both the left and the right want to reshape society - just in different ways and to different degrees.  Objectivists want the recognition of man's nature to guide us in achieving a society based upon free choice.

3.) The Invisible Hand. Morally worthwhile benefits can happen when selfish desires are turned towards social benefits.

Where the conservatives and Objectivists are in nearly complete agreement.  We just don't have that result as our justification of the invisible hand.

4.) Spontaneous order and the wisdom of tradition. They accept that lots of people making little changes over time can lead to better results, even though it wasn't planned. Consequently, they see institutions and traditions as a kind of inherited wisdom from the past. Since they weren't planned, we don't know all of the reasons they are the way they are. We don't understand all of the good that they do. So getting rid of them, or making substantial changes to them, is foolish.

Certainly some truth there, but it is often used to support resistence to change out of fear, or out of a desire to hold tight to Christianity when they see society moving away from it.  The left and the social right are both often less than honest about revealing their actual goals.

5.) The limits of reason. The spontaneous order and decentralized decision making leads to a kind of institutional wisdom. No one person can be aware of the countless reasons why the institutions or traditions evolved the way they did. So counting on someone to use reason to figure these things out is stupid and dangerous. It's central planning vs. free-market. The central planners, no matter how much knowledge they have, are completely ignorant in comparison to the decentralized knowledge of the market.

This is true in the private market and just one reason to avoid central planning. But traditions, beliefs, and institutions are man-made and should always be examined with reason. The bright line here is between voluntary and involuntary associations. No matter what the belief, tradition or institution one should reason about it, but never force those beliefs on others.

6.) Checks and balances. While leftists think of themselves as morally elite and therefore should rule with absolute power, conservatives view man as inherently corruptible and we should always put limits on them.

Excellent point.

7.) Altruistic results. Conservatives differ from liberals in that conservatives are more interested in results and not just intentions. They are willing to utilize things like the free-market to direct selfish impulses towards socially beneficial results. In fact, since they view man as prone to immorality, one of the primary political goals is to shape the incentives towards moral results.

Altruism is the failing of the conservatives. That and those who use politics to attempt to enforce scripture.
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...it's a mistake to assume that because people accept certain conclusions, they share the same reasoning or assumptions. Just because conservatives seem to be for the free-market and smaller government doesn't make them libertarians, or even libertarian in those areas. Their reasoning is different.

True (and important).  But we should encourage whatevers seeds of true libertarianism that we see starting to grow amidst the conservatives.

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Conservatives are not primarily individualists. They are altruists, and consequently collectivists.

Yes, but they aren't always explicitly aware of these philosophical items and many hold mixed concepts. The incursion of libertarianism can be seen as a way to shift those who aren't conservative because it supports altruism and collectivism. I've know many conservatives who had absorbed altruist principles - to a degree - and were vulnerable to demands for sacrifice, but their hearts weren't in it.  You saw the fire of a stronger belief when you talked about political freedom and liberty. These are the conservatives that can become libertarians of the proper sort when they understand the principles of individualism.
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Republicans gain power and instead of shrinking government or increasing freedom, they focus on a socially conservative agenda.

There is a difference in this depending upon whether the Republicans that gain power are more establishment types, or conservatives. And if they are conservatives, what kind? As long as they are conservatives instead of libertarians, we will only get mixed results at best.
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I'm not interested here in trying to no offend potential allies because they are closer to my political conclusions than others. My goal is to seek clarity. To understand how their beliefs are different, and to anticipate where their different philosophical beliefs will result in different conclusions. The same can be done for anarcho-capitalists. Some would say we all agree to have smaller government, and we're far from that, so who cares about that last little bit. But the philosophical assumptions lead to different conclusions.

Well said.



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