Saturday, August 28, 2004

Liberal/conservative is a useful construct for limiting opinion at home, but in reality it's a false choice. That's not to say these aren't both legitimate traditions; they just don't exist within the two-parties as anything other than ways to pander to the honest Americans who still honor them. Bush, to take our current example, is so far from the American conservative tradition that it's almost unreal. (Of course, the same could be said of Clinton's liberalism.) These people aren't conservative at all; they're basically American statists who believe in unfettered government expansion and centralized authority for the purposes that benefit them (and their business relationships), and "less government" for everyone else.
This is an excerpt of commentary I've posted in an outside blog.


TheRadicalModerate said...

I've been trying to figure out - "What is a neo-con?" Is it the way conservatives are today/moving toward? I know that 10 years ago cons were anti-immigration and pro-fiscal responsibility. Now they just seem to make excuses like "undocumented workers" and "deficit reduction by growth". Does this mean that I am no longer conservative on those issues?

BTW, I did not give you permission to post something that YOU wrote on my website. I want my royalty check!!!!!

J.R. Boyd said...

From what I understand of their origins, they were once establishment liberals who, at the height of the anti-war/civil rights movements of the 60's and 70's, suddenly found themselves in the "new" position of defending American institutions against the more violent and authoritarian overtones of their peers. Some were Jewish Marxists who came to the defense of Israel when they felt it was being similarly threatened. Neo-conservatism is often characterized by an internationalist outlook reminiscent of Trotskyism--the premiere Russian-socialist challenge to Stalinism, which emphasized interventionism and the "export" of socialism--except in this case as an anti-communist inversion: a new "manifest destiny" of "free-market capitalism" and "liberal democracy."

We've seen where this leads: unilateralism, and a disdain for traditional diplomacy, treaties, alliances, etc.; militarism and state expansion, particularly in areas related to defense; and a special blend of "corporate advocacy" which shifts economic decision-making and control to private conglomerates and investors, and out of the public sphere entirely.

As to whether they represent the new face of American conservatism, I doubt it. Iraq is such an abject failure even other neo-cons are furious about it. Most elite opinion objects to them, not so much in what they do as *how* they do it. Their National Security Strategy of 2002 (where they laid out their "preemptive" strategy) was widely criticized in the mainstream, not so much for what it stated (Madeleine Albright pointed out that all administrations reserve the right to attack who they want, when they want), but because it was announced to the world, openly, and with what amounted to a kind of belligerence towards even our closest allies. I think in other areas too, like domestic economic policy, the initiatives are too transparently class-motivated if one expects to maintain stability for the long-term. Business likes stability and predictablity, even if it means a limited sort of socialism. The paradox of our economic system is that without some level of state intervention on behalf of the public, the public will respond, and often in rather threatening ways. At different points in our history, the wiser figures in government and industry recognized the need to move towards a more "parental guardianship of the people," to quote a former director of US Steel, meaning that if you rob them too obviously, they're likely to start getting crazy ideas in their heads about cutting you out of the picture and running things for themselves. Since that's the last thing anyone wants, it's much smarter to mitigate the break-up of the middle class over a longer period, until people scarcely remember that it existed, or that it existed in a much more substantial form.

TheRadicalModerate said...

That was a truly great response. I think I understand now. Basically, and in my poor words, its
1) Actively export "democracy" and "capitalism"
2) A laisez-faire economic policy that is designed to one day wipe out much, if not all, government regulation.
It's kind of funny, but that seems to be the same approach that socialists would like (in reverse). That is, socialism cannot work within a single generation. Instead, it must be ingrained throughout several generations before it can work.

J.R. Boyd said...

You managed to sum it up in two sentences, which is much better.

I think it's hard to say much about the workings of socialism (which in the enlightenment tradition meant meaningful popular control of both political and economic institutions) since it's only ever existed in limited ways. That's not for lack of trying: the challenges to unjustified forms of authority and power are happening all around us.

Of course this "socialism" is quite apart from the conventional American usage (having it's own special origins), meaning some variety centralized state control on "behalf" of a particular constituency; intolerable for the same reasons as capitalism, feudalism, fascism, monarchy, or anything else: power being concentrated in the hands of a minority class, and not diffused throughout the society, as dedicated socialists throughout history have consistently made clear (and fought for against "communist" and "capitalist" regimes alike).