Thursday, March 08, 2007

Perhaps Cato is Wrong

Daniel J. Mitchell asserts "If Bush is a Conservative the Word Has No Meaning." The sad truth about the statement is that Mitchell just might be the one in error on this statement.

My view of modern politics is that the US was founded on a set of principles that might best be described as "classical liberal." The founders developed a refinement of classical discourse that placed a high value on individual freedoms.

The modern era spawned a large number of clowns who with an inverted philosophy where they concluded that freedom is slavery and slavery freedom. The modern liberal (progressive) decided that the next stage of social evolution would be a massive government that saves the proletariat from the perceived excesses of the free market. This new modern philosophy essentially rebranded the term liberal.

The Reagan Revolution occurred when classical liberals and conservatives formed an alliance against the modern liberal. Just as progressives were able to infiltrate and rebrand the term "liberal" (transforming its term into its opposite), classical liberals probably thought that they could infiltrate the conservative camp and feed into conservative mouths the language of liberty. While the left is extremely adept at rebranding terms (they control both the media and university), classical liberals fail at such efforts.

Rather than build on some vague assumption that somehow classical liberals and conservatives, the classical liberal would do better to admit that the Republican Party is a mix of people with different points of view.

Living here in Utah, I see that Republican politicians are well trained in reciting speeches about freedom. However, when you get down to the brass tacks of Mormonism, you find a philosophy that is exceedingly paternalistic and that favors big government controlling business and personal lives.

The deal you have to watch out for in politics is that there are groups that seek control by infiltrating and rebranding a movement. It happens time and time again that people will be supporting a cause, then at the last minute they find that a group has muscled its way into the center and changed the meaning of the cause.

Mitchell's assertion: "If Bush is a 'conservative' the word has no meaning" might better be understood as "The attempts of classical liberals to rebrand conservatism have failed." The neocons attempts to dominate have succeeded.

BTW, one of the reasons that I keep associating the terms "progressive" with "Marxism" is not that I think that all people who call themselves progressive are Marxists, but that there is a cadre of Marxist thinkers ready to step in and rebrand the term.

The classical liberals have been effectively driven out of the Republican Party. We now have two parties that support big government, but with differing opinions on what the big government should do. The classical liberal is not caught in the middle. They are squeezed out. As classical liberals are not welcome in the Democratic Party and are ineffective in the Republican Party, it makes one wonder if the US can continue the classical liberal tradition that made the country a superpower.


Scott Hinrichs said...

Very thought provoking. Where have all the classical liberals gone?

No wait, that wasn't the Pete Seeger song.

y-intercept said...

I think classical liberals have a tendency to end up in the opposition party. Classical liberalism arose through a process of discourse. I think a lot of CLs are really upset that public discourse seems to have come to a stop under Bush. The really good ideas of the day, such as MSAs and private Social Security accounts, really weren't discussed. Bush made a token stab at both issues, then shrugged his shoulders. The things he really did support were No Child Left Behidn and the Prescription Drug bill ... neither of which the classical liberal approved. The tax cut without a corresponding spending cut was also an issue that tore at the heart of free marketeers.

Charles D said...

I'm not sure I can buy your 'classical liberal' label. There is such a vast difference between the world and the world view of the founders and that of any modern political group that any attempt to use the same label is rather meaningless.

You also attribute ideas to the progressives that are not reflective of their positions at all. Freedom is meaningless unless the people can use their freedom at the ballot box and through their representatives to achieve the kind of nation they want. What we find is that for a brief period after the Great Depression, the dominant idea was that the government should actually serve the needs of the people and protect them from a free market that had collapsed. That period ended with the death of Roosevelt.

The Cold War 'liberal' was and still is a politician at war with himself. He labors under the delusion that one can continue to provide the protections and services of the New Deal while financing a military buildup to counter an alleged threat from another alleged superpower, or in today's case, The War Against Terror (TWAT for short).

When I think of big government controlling personal lives, I think not of progressive ideas, but of conservative ideas like abortion bans, banning gay marriage, eavesdropping without warrants, and jailing people without trial.

What we need today is not a return to some fictional halcyon time when there were 'classical liberals', we need to retake control of our government from the corporate interests and wealthy who now own it - lock, stock and barrel. We need to make government a servant of the people, not their master, and use government to achieve together what we cannot achieve individually.

y-intercept said...

What I actually believe is that people who call themselves "progressive" have a wide swath of opinions. Just as people who call themselves "conservative" have a wide swath of opinion. The article I cited was by a person disallusioned with Bush's perversion conservative. Since I like the Cato view of conservatism, I agree with the author; however, I realize to a real social conservative, Cato is the one in error.

In this vein my pointing out that Marxist thinkers often label themselves as "progressive" is really meant to show that progressive is used to encompass a gamut of ideas.

Again, lets look what is happening with Cato, the Liberty Fund and other organizations. They have a set of ideas that I will call Classical Liberal. In the Reagan revolution, they formed an alliance with the social conservatives. Cato thought that they had redefined the term "conservative." Meanwhile the neocons of the Public Interest went on their merry way and successfully redefined the term.

So, the Cato Institute spent all of these frustrating years (when the Democrats were in power) with a working definition of conservative. When the Conservatives finally get in power, what do they see: A group of democrats had defected from their party. Slapped on the label "neocon" and turned the party into its opposite.

Part of the reason I keep equating progressive with marxism is because a large number of modern Marxists call themselves progressive. If progressives win, they will be vying for the spoils of the victory.

You've admitted in a previous post that you never actually studied Marxism. It is a lot slicker than you imagine. There is a great deal of statements in your blog that you probably think are clever and new which can be traced back to Marxist thinking.

For example, your statement that the great depression was caused by the failure of the free market. That belief arises from Marx's belief that the free market is inherently instable. Others have made extremely good arguments that the Great Depression happened specifically because of the failure of monetary and tax policies.

The other thing you said in your rebuttal was that the freedom of the collective is more important than the freedom of the individual.

As for the abortion issue. You can trace this one back to one of the pragmas of Kant. Kant pointed out that the beginning of life is one of those things that we will never fully define. The abortion issue is really driven by one's definition of the beginning of life. If you hold that humans develop from the zygotes produced during copulation, then you will want to extend the protection for human life to the whole development process.

I guess you could say that the progressive view is that if the collective decides that a group of people ought to be killed, then we should march collectively into the killing fields and get the job done. I have a vision of the great progressive leader of the people General George Armstrong Custer riding off to answer the progressive cause of slaughtering a band of indians.

I smile at the thought of the Native Americans killing him back.

Charles D said...

I did not say that the freedom of the collective was more important than the freedom of the individual - I don't think they can be separated. If individuals are prevented from acting collectively, they are not free, and vice versa.

As for abortion, I do not hold to the human life argument at all. Since virtually all those who claim to oppose abortion based on the 'sanctity of human life' support taking human life under other conditions, and care little for the quality of human life (except their own of course), I do not take that position seriously.

In any reasonable government, the collective power exercised by the people must have limits - that power must not be used in a way that infringes the legitimate rights of individuals. That's why the people required a Bill of Rights for the Constitution, and why the UN developed a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Any power that threatens to suppress the rights of individuals, whether from external forces, national government, corporations or any other source must be effectively blocked from doing so in order to preserve freedom.

That said, nothing should prevent individuals from using corporate association or governmental association or private association to achieve their legitimate objectives, when they cannot do so on their own.

y-intercept said...

I agree that people act through corporate, religious, social and government associations. Quite frankly, I think the more of these, the merrier.

Unfortunatley, some people calling themselves progressive seem to want to consolidate absolute power in the hands of a small number of government entities. These entities are not democratic. The University is not democratic. You get to be a professor by going through a political gauntlet after which you become tenured and cannot be removed.

The great progressive leader Rocky Anderson makes his progressive decisions in closed door meetings with Hollywood superstars then dictates the conclusion of the closed door meeting as the will of the people.

The ultimate line of this line of thinking is the dictatorial leaders like Stalen, Castro and Chavez who've deluded themselves into thinking that their mongering for power is the will of the people.

I openly recognize that many government agencies have done some good things. The problem occurs when you have an organization is doing good, and try to expand its scope. There is a natural tendency for people to push their good ideas to the point that they become destructive.

The problem with a progressive ideology that states that expanding the government is always the good and correct course of action is that there is no way to judge from this philosophy when the expansion of government has gone too far. When you hold that increasing the power of government is always the good and correct course of action, you will quickly run into a totalitarian regime.

Progressivism has an extremely fuzzy definition of when and where the expansion of government has gone too far.

I conceed that most progressives are good people who see if that the government had just a little more problem, they might be able to solve social ill x. The problem is that there is really not a clear point where you stop the expansion.

In this regard, I think the classical liberal was on a better track in defining the limits of government. The classical liberal is not anarchistic.

BTW, the problem with Hegel and Marx is that they came up with a method to flip people's ideals upside down. The method takes people's ideas about how to achieve progress and channels them into totalitarian solutions.

What turned me against progressivism is that I watched people come up with really good ideas. They would then get pushed aside when the power structure decided that they were no longer useful. My experience is that classical liberals and conservatives are a little bit better at supporting the efforts of individuals.

Charles D said...

There is much truth in the old saying that "Power corrupts." We have able evidence that consolidation of power is just as bad on the left as on the right, and perhaps it's too much to ask that human nature change along with one's political beliefs. I also agree that we have a strong tendency to push good ideas beyond the point where they are effective, something that is a true of free-market capitalism as of the welfare state.

I can't speak for all the progressives and would not presume to do so. I believe in a pragmatic approach. When the market is working and people are able to obtain the goods and services necessary to life at a cost they can afford, then we should leave well enough alone. When the market fails in that task, then I see every reason to have government step in and fill the need. If government is failing to provide the necessary goods and services at a reasonable cost, then a competitive market approach should be considered, assuming it has not already failed in the past.

There is truly a power struggle involved on both sides - that's really what politics is all about after all. Many progressive ideas failed because they were ill-conceived, and others failed because they threatened to diminish the power of another major group in the political struggle, and that group worked hard to undermine the progressive scheme. In the US political culture, we have to remember the advice of Deep Throat - "Follow the money." If an idea that has little evident merit is repeatedly brought to the fore through the media, think tanks, and compliant Congressmen, we need to follow the money trail and see where that idea originated and ask who benefits and why? If an idea that clearly may have merit and is worth trying is continually badmouthed and undermined by the media, think tanks, and compliant Congressmen, then let's follow the money trail and see who would suffer financially if that idea were adopted.