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Thursday, May 31, 2007

George Will And The Conservative Bogeyman

The conservative bogeyman: Government.

I have to hand it to George Will for honestly laying out his view of true conservative values.

Conservatism's recovery of its intellectual equilibrium requires a confident explanation of why America has two parties and why the conservative one is preferable.

Indeed. Though I kind of smiled at the phrase "intellectual equilibrium." What the hell does that mean, exactly? I'd guess that it is a reactionary term, counterposing the drunken binge which has been standing in for "conservatism" of late.

Today conservatives tend to favor freedom...

As opposed to what they used to favor? Doesn't much sound like you're "recovering" the "equilibrium" there. Is conservatism "progressing" in some fashion, George?

George has lots to say about what "liberals" are all about. It's important for him to outline this in order to move the argument forward, y'know:

Liberals are more concerned with equality...

Liberals tend, however, to infer unequal opportunities from the fact of unequal outcomes. Hence liberalism's goal of achieving greater equality of condition leads to a larger scope for interventionist government to circumscribe the market's role in allocating wealth and opportunity. Liberalism increasingly seeks to deliver equality in the form of equal dependence of more and more people for more and more things on government.

Wow - I had no idea. If I didn't know that Will was much to intellectually honest to construct a straw man to do battle with, I'd think he was constructing a straw man to do battle with.

Steadily enlarging dependence on government accords with liberalism's ethic of common provision, and with the liberal party's interest in pleasing its most powerful faction -- public employees and their unions.

Yea, George, because you know that I lay awake at night contemplating the breathtakingly magnetic qualities of government employees and the sweet agony of their siren song.
Conservatism's rejoinder should be that the argument about whether there ought to be a welfare state is over. Today's proper debate is about the modalities by which entitlements are delivered.

Holy crap, George, are you getting wobbly here? The argument against the welfare state is over? I didn't get that memo. Without that particular straw man to rail against, what is left to debate? Oh... modalities.

Modalities matter, because some encourage and others discourage attributes and attitudes -- a future orientation, self-reliance, individual responsibility for healthy living -- that are essential for dignified living in an economically vibrant society that a welfare state, ravenous for revenue in an aging society, requires.

That would be, um, social engineering, right? Do you have any feet left to shoot?

This reasoning is congruent with conservatism's argument that excessively benevolent government is not a benefactor, and that capitalism does not merely make people better off, it makes them better.

Nothing like cutting your teeth on the social Darwinism of capitalism to make you a better person. After "merely" making you rich, it moves on to saving your soul, too.

Liberalism once argued that large corporate entities of industrial capitalism degraded individuals by breeding dependence, passivity and servility. Conservatism challenges liberalism's blindness about the comparable dangers from the biggest social entity, government.

OK, We can stop there. I'm not quotin' you anymore, Will. That's just a lot of stupid. Comparing "corporate entities" with "the biggest social entity" is a huge error in reasoning, and it reveals the nut of the problem with so-called conservatives. They refuse to accept any possibility of a cohesive social contract amongst us humans, unless of course there is an explanation for it which can be understood by them - that being profit. Any cooperation undertaken which does not involve profit is somehow nefarious, and that is why they are quick to characterize all government as some sort of Other, rather than what it really is: the arena where the people are represented outside of the profit motive.

We are talking here, of course, of the experiment that is the American republic - the latest, strongest attempt to have government of, by, and for the people.

Of course, this is an idealistic description of what government is for - since first formed, it has been under constant assault by those who see that vast pool of public resource used to subsidize grand ventures of profit-making. This misuse of public resources is redeemed in their eyes because, again, profit is good, and the market decides everything.

Look - the "government" is us, the people. More properly, it should be us - all of the levers, mechanisms, charters, procedures, etc., etc. are all in place, designed to be used by us. But the anti-governmental bias, casting it as an Other, opens a space for profit interests to cynically talk about drowning it in a bathtub while the rest of us cheer. Never mind that this is deliberate, and all of the levers, mechanisms, charters, procedures, etc., etc. are still in place, only now our blood and treasure is once again serving social Darwinists who talk about self-reliance out of one side of their mouth while helping themselves, without shame, to their own brand of government "welfare."

The whole reason this sort of conservatism has any traction whatsoever is that too many people attain a kind of cheap intellectualism when they complain about the "government" and its "intrusions" on our space. It's funny, because this is right and just, after all. If we give up our identification with the government, there are others who are more that happy to claim it as their own (all the while deriding it, as we see conservatism doing today). If we, however, recognize its role as our only collective representation, then good things can happen with it.

Unless, of course, you think that money, social Darwinism, and every man for himself is the best model. Then, you're just a pirate, pure and simple.


Update: I left out a few things. BooMan takes care of that.

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