Thursday, May 31, 2007

A look at conservatism and where it isn't

This is a personal outlook paper of The Jacksonian Party.

Read at your own risk.

Power Line blog has recently pointed to thsi article at The Wall Street Journal OpinionJournal "The Conservative Mind" by Peter Berkowitz (29 MAY 2007) which gives overview of major themes in conservative thought and how modern conservatism is typified by multiple strands of thought while modern liberalism has removed such from that portion of the political sphere.

This is reflected by The Corner on National Review Online with an original post by Jonah Goldberg (with previous posts by him here and here), then follow-ups by Jonathan Adler, Goldberg looking more at the "Big Three" with a review towards a correspondant via e-mail, Stanley Kurtz kibbitzing, Adler chiming in with more, Iaian Murray questioning why no analysis of Hayek is being given, John J. Miller looking at Russell Kirk (and pointing to this site on Kirk) and by Peter Lawler at No Left Turns which questions the premise of a "Big Three" in conservative thought. And that is it as of this writing without doing further link reviews outwards from there as this is stirring the realm of thought inside conservatism, even if it is not apparent to the everyday conservative working at their job. Truly this open-ness to examining underpinnings of conservatism is a blessing to that part of the political sphere and it is absent from the Left or even liberal side of the political spectrum.

Conservatism, in its modern sense, looks towards a plurality of outlooks to come to common conclusion and agreement on some basics and vital topics for humanity. By trying to look at what that *is* requires a deep review of multiple philosophers going all the way back to Plato and Aristotle. That is because conservatives like to know where their arguments are coming from and *why* they are supportable. What that means, however, is that there must be interplay between differing conservative views and a working towards some understanding and using of actual thought to work through ideas and to *not* trust emotions and gut reactions right off the bat. Conservatism does not rely on emotions as a first order premise for reasoning although it is the driving force behind reasoning and wishing to sustain what exists and understand how it works.

Leftists have moved away from that and the commonality of 19th century liberal thought which *also* had this interplay of ideas. The trends away from this were driven by a few things: the move from agricultural basis for economy to an industrial one, the rise of the corporate entity as separate from government, monetary theory which posited the amount of remuneration for given work, and, finally, Marxist class theories and their economic outlooks. Early Socialist movements tried to incorporate classical liberal outlooks on the natural rights of man, liberty and freedom, but the ethos of tying *those* to labor and then making labor paramount to understanding social order shifted the original base away from individual freedom to one of class based freedom and struggle. I have previously reviewed Socialist underpinnings for society with The Limits of Socialism and The Theory and Practice Conundrum. By putting forth mid-19th century basis for examining social order in regards to industrialization, those views became locked in even when the industrial basis was rapidly changing and morphing as it adapted itself to National cultures and further spurred on ways to adapt products to society. The 1930's, perhaps, represent the culmination of all that Marx saw on the technical side, but did not address the changing types and role of technology and society nor the adaptability of social structures to those roles. After that classical Marxist theory runs out of gas as the underpinnings for its class-based view eroded as society changed to move from a means of production basis to a means of ownership and self-sustaining via work concept.

On the other side of things, the conservatives also had to deal with industrialization and the impact of human created legal structures in the form of corporations and the fact that being a 'corporate citizen' meant being something different from the old fashioned 'human citizen'. These things culminated in late 19th century struggles to come to a common understanding that the monopoly corporation was an outgrowth of that structure and one that was inimical to changes within industrialization itself. Marx fully expected a standardization of needs and means of production while, contrarily, conservatism hewed towards freedom of interplay between forces in the industrial sphere as having a societal good. That did require actually enforcing that via anti-monopoly laws which were broadly supported: monopolies not only stifled the marketplace of ideas and creativity, but they also stifled those working for them and raised cost to society for their goods.

From those comes these emergent conservative views, and here I will use the broad summary of the Berkowitz article on them:

Kirk identified six elements that make the conservative mind: belief in a transcendent order that "rules society as well as conscience"; attachment to "the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence" as against the routinizing and leveling forces of modern society; the assumption that "civilized society requires orders and classes"; the conviction that "freedom and property are closely linked"; faith in custom and convention and consequently a "distrust of the 'sophisters, calculators, and economists' who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs"; and a wariness of innovation coupled with a recognition that "prudent innovation is the means of social preservation." The leading role in this mix that Kirk attaches to religion marks him as a social conservative; his insistence that religion provides the indispensable ground for individual liberty marks him as a modern conservative.

Famously, at least in libertarian circles, Hayek, an Austrian-born economist who became a British citizen and then immigrated to the U.S. in 1950, wrote a postscript to "The Constitution of Liberty" (1960), explaining why he was not a conservative. For him, "true conservatism"--which he confused with European reaction--was characterized by "opposition to drastic change" and a complacent embrace of established authority. Because his overriding goal was to preserve liberty, Hayek considered himself a liberal, but he recognized that in the face of the challenges presented mid-century by socialism, he would often find himself in alliance with conservatives. As a staunch member of the party of liberty, Hayek was keen to identify the political arrangements that would allow for "free growth" and "spontaneous change," which, he argued, brought economic prosperity and created the conditions for individual development. This meant preserving the tradition of classical liberalism, and defending limited, constitutional government against encroachments by the welfare state and paternalistic legislation.

For Strauss, what was most urgently in need in preservation was an idea, the idea of natural right. Like Kirk, Strauss believed that modern doctrines of natural right derived support from biblical faith. Like Hayek, Strauss taught that limited, constitutional government was indispensable to our freedom. But Strauss also saw that modern doctrines of natural right contained debilitating tendencies, which, increasingly, provided support for stupefying and intolerant dogmas. To arrest the decay, he turned to the classical natural right teachings of Plato and Aristotle, who were neither liberals nor democrats, but whose reflections on knowledge, politics and virtue, Strauss concluded, provided liberal democracy sturdier foundations.
Each of these has differing views and outlook on what, exactly, the shift should be within conservative thought to adjust to a highly adaptable technical sphere and social sphere that is supported by that technology. Each of these saw the 19th century concept of Progress in different lights and looked to see what they meant to society as a whole. Property rights from classical liberal viewpoints were upheld by each of them: for Kirk it was an indispensable entanglement of property rights and freedom, Hayek for the utilization of property to bring about betterment via change and protecting that from government, Strauss looked to older solution basis for property and freedom and then moved to tie those in with outlooks on politics and what is 'right' for individuals. Together they posit the individual as best suited to understand their own conditions and then to utilize the tools that society provides to work towards their own betterment as individuals.

Some of these do play important roles in Jacksonian outlook, but, by trying to ascribe social view above and beyond the personal, what is missed is the Jacksonian reliance on 'emergent behavior'. This is a more modern term for something that is pretty well understood in the fields of engineering and mechanics, along with many trades and skills: many parts doing simple things come to complex and yet understandable conclusions. This is not deconstructionism, of taking a complex system apart to try and find its irreducible components, but it is a view of the components as working parts and then seeing how the parts fit together. Each part, for a Jacksonian, has known ways to operate and may, in and of itself, be reducible to further components, but the operation of that part need not be reduced unless there is a poor reaction due to not understanding the nature of the part involved.

As an example Andrew Jackson did not trust having a centralized banking system for the United States. In that Bank Veto message of 10 JUL 1832 is the very basis for the Jacksonian message of protecting the Union, ensuring that liberty and freedom are not usurped and by proposing for multiple ways to find a solution are all present:

The present corporate body, denominated the president, directors, and company of the Bank of the United States, will have existed at the time this act is intended to take effect twenty years. It enjoys an exclusive privilege of banking under the authority of the General Government, a monopoly of its favor and support, and, as a necessary consequence, almost a monopoly of the foreign and domestic exchange. The powers, privileges, and favors bestowed upon it in the original charter, by increasing the value of the stock far above its par value, operated as a gratuity of many millions to the stockholders....

The act before me proposes another gratuity to the holders of the same stock, and in many cases to the same men, of at least seven millions more....It is not our own citizens only who are to receive the bounty of our Government. More than eight millions of the stock of this bank are held by foreigners. By this act the American Republic proposes virtually to make them a present of some millions of dollars.

Every monopoly and all exclusive privileges are granted at the expense of the public, which ought to receive a fair equivalent. The many millions which this act proposes to bestow on the stockholders of the existing bank must come directly or indirectly out of the earnings of the American people....

It appears that more than a fourth part of the stock is held by foreigners and the residue is held by a few hundred of our own citizens, chiefly of the richest class.

Is there no danger to our liberty and independence in a bank that in its nature has so little to bind it to our country? The president of the bank has told us that most of the State banks exist by its forbearance. Should its influence become concentered, as it may under the operation of such an act as this, in the hands of a self-elected directory whose interests are identified with those of the foreign stockholders, will there not be cause to tremble for the purity of our elections in peace and for the independence of our country in war? Their power would be great whenever they might choose to exert it; but if this monopoly were regularly renewed every fifteen or twenty years on terms proposed by themselves, they might seldom in peace put forth their strength to influence elections or control the affairs of the nation. But if any private citizen or public functionary should interpose to curtail its powers or prevent a renewal of its privileges, it can not be doubted that he would be made to feel its influence.

It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society the farmers, mechanics, and laborers who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing. In the act before me there seems to be a wide and unnecessary departure from these just principles.

Nor is our Government to be maintained or our Union preserved by invasions of the rights and powers of the several States. In thus attempting to make our General Government strong we make it weak. Its true strength consists in leaving individuals and States as much as possible to themselves in making itself felt, not in its power, but in its beneficence; not in its control, but in its protection; not in binding the States more closely to the center, but leaving each to move unobstructed in its proper orbit.

Experience should teach us wisdom. Most of the difficulties our Government now encounters and most of the dangers which impend over our Union have sprung from an abandonment of the legitimate objects of Government by our national legislation, and the adoption of such principles as are embodied in this act. Many of our rich men have not been content with equal protection and equal benefits, but have besought us to make them richer by act of Congress. By attempting to gratify their desires we have in the results of our legislation arrayed section against section, interest against interest, and man against man, in a fearful commotion which threatens to shake the foundations of our Union. It is time to pause in our career to review our principles, and if possible revive that devoted patriotism and spirit of compromise which distinguished the sages of the Revolution and the fathers of our Union. If we can not at once, in justice to interests vested under improvident legislation, make our Government what it ought to be, we can at least take a stand against all new grants of monopolies and exclusive privileges, against any prostitution of our Government to the advancement of the few at the expense of the many, and in favor of compromise and gradual reform in our code of laws and system of political economy....
That is something based on an understanding that the freedoms provided by the Nation should not be put at risk nor danger by government monopolies. Good government is seen as a strong interaction between multiple levels of the Nation: Federal, States and the People. The strength of General Government is *not* in its centrality but in its diversity and abundance of having smaller and accountable units spread out to hold each other in balance. From those things Government must be safeguarded against favoring the rich and powerful over the poor and weak so that just and equal governance can be had for all of the People. Therefore government may not legislate in favor of this or that rich individual or group, but must adhere to making a good life for all of the Citizens.

To put it bluntly: the business of America is industrious Citizens making as good a life for themselves as can be had by the fruits of their labor.

And yet we get a very strange thing coming from modern conservatives: 'free trade frees people'. It is the ability to own goods and have them safeguarded *against* government that frees people. Selling to people who may have their rights revoked or goods confiscated by a dictatorial regime is not 'freeing' those individuals unless some structure goes with it. Government is the safeguard of property rights not the SOURCE of them. Too often trade with dictatorial or tyrannical regimes is seen as 'good' to modern conservatives as they can use free trade dogma to shield themselves from the fact that profit is being made from tyrannical regimes and that nothing is being done to *end them* by such trade.

When Government makes trade policy that puts forward trade with Nations that seek to endanger the United States, the primary safeguard of trade and foreign policy is being put under the dictates of corporations to get profit from suffering and tyranny. Even worse is that when the United States does so, those suffering under such regimes see that freedom is not being used in a constructive fashion to help others. By putting no conditions on such trade or reciprocity of outlook towards freedom and personal liberty to have individuals enriched by the fruits of their labors, modern conservatism is stuck in a really quite nasty rut of 'realism'. Somehow that economic 'realism' of stable trade does lots of good for corporations and their shareholders, but not much for the ideals of freedom and liberty for all of mankind. From that America gets hated because the Nation is seen as empowering tyrants that enforce repression and authoritarian rule. By not addressing this conservatives have fallen into the larger, polyglot category of the Right: putting commercial entities above physical ones and empowering those entities due to their long existence above those that are merely mortal.

As Jackson looked at the Central Bank so this modern era must look at Transnational Capitalism and elitism, along with the flux of Transnational Progressivism to dissolve Nations as meaningful units amongst mankind. President Jackson's veto lasted until 1913, and that awful decade that changed America for the worse. The trust put on the behavior of the States and the People to find a good way and *create* a common and good society without oversight and guidance from the Federal level has been eroded by those in the Right realm that puts large, transnational capitalist and corporate affairs ahead of those of the People and the Nation which the People hold in common between them. A Central Bank with a private profit motive puts the Nation at risk as the fruits of labor of the People are open for exploit by those that have pure financial gain as their motive. By putting corporations and freer trade ahead of the values of the Nation for freedom and liberty, the Right also erodes at those very freedoms at home and the liberty that sustains them.

Jacksonians have few problems with corporations so long as they are: non-monopolistic, competitive in the realm of markets, and do not try to influence, guide nor dictate the foreign policy or trade policy of the Nation.

Those Nations that wish to do trade with us and are tyrannical and repressive regimes are somehow equated as 'lost markets' to US Companies if we do not trade with them. They are *not* as they are not free people. Supporting the rights of individuals by refusing to trade or endorse tyrannical regimes gains benefit once those people are FREE as they will have seen us abiding by what it takes to ensure that tyranny gets no help from the United States. To do that today would cause a massive upheaval in the United States and the world because of the number of corrupt, repressive and tyrannical regimes that we allow *any* trade with from the United States. That would be a *good thing* to suddenly put a price on being tyrannical and repressive towards one's own people. The effects would be enormous because of the amount of time and depth of trade the United States has had NOT supporting freedom and liberty and, instead, expanding corporate profit.

Because modern conservatism does not put this forward as a necessary good of the People, they get shifted under the umbrella of the Right and National capitalism. That talking for viable ideas is very well and good, but the elite of the political and economic class adhere to a different ethos based on Transnational corporatism, thus losing the ability to have the National espoused and getting stuck with the anti-democratic Transnational. And as conservatives see no value in limiting those corporations that have become scofflaws, who have had multiple individuals commit crimes, by not enforcing the penalties that such crimes accrue, by not putting forth that a corporation must have a societal good beyond mere profit, and by allowing such to influence taxation, trade and foreign policies to their benefit, that diversity of voices is LOST as it finds no means to actually speak on these issues and propose changes to benefit the People. At least discussions are still *happening* , unlike the Left and liberalism which has succumbed to group think and the echo chamber effect of hearing the same thing so often that no other thoughts can work their way in edge-wise. Yet the reinforcing of the idea that the activity of trade trumps freedom and liberty is one that is slowly marginalizing conservatives on the National scale. They put forth NOTHING to restrain corporations and remove their influence from public policy.

One of the very strangest ideas I've had is to take this idea of a 'Corporate Citizen' and fully utilize it. Give them rights, responsibilities and the franchise in the way of one, single, solitary vote. Then a 'Three Strikes and You're Our' Law for any corporation that has officers found to commit felonies for the corporation. At the full upholding of the third felony the corporation is fully liquidated and brought to an end. That means that a corporation actually has a vested interest in operating within the law and ensuring that it does not violate the law: it is lethal in the long run not to do so. As corporations are not mandated by heaven and are purely the constructs of mere mortals, they are amenable to the tools of mere mortals and the laws of mere mortals. And if society wants to give them quasi-rights, then lets back that up with the full panoply of rights and restrictions put upon REAL individuals. Which means they pay PERSONAL INCOME TAX, not corporate. That means they have limits on campaign contributions exactly equal to that of one Citizen. Yes, fully and highly extreme! It gives long life to those entities that adhere to the law, act as good citizens and otherwise make sure that the Nation is supported. Those that do not do so find themselves at an end and that 'market segment' opened up for new and law abiding corporations.

You will not get that from the Right these days. Corporations are supposed to be sacrosanct in their privileges and immunities and able to influence government and society by those things. That doesn't sound right to me, nor is it all that 'conservative' this letting unaccountable corporations change society to meet their needs instead of them changing to support society.

And start eliminating this 'prostitution of Government to the advancement of the few'.

I see a LOT of that going on with 'earmarks' and illegal alien amnesty these days, and saying there are 'jobs that American's won't do'. They have obviously never watched Dirty Jobs. And I don't see a lot of illegals in many of those jobs, either... you know, real jobs that real Americans work at to make a better life for themselves. And perhaps it is time for conservatives to break with the Right and actually call those pushing corporatism as a *good* for America and ask if it is any good FOR Americans when such are able to denigrate the blue collar workers and undermine them via Federal subsidies and not getting Federal law enforced. That looks to be undermining the Nation.

But then, I am no conservative.

I am a Jacksonian and I stand for the United States and its proposal that all men are created equal because that is 'self evident' beyond any single religion.

1 comment:

Devil's Advocate said...

Check out an article I wrote titled, “Reviving the Constitution in Exile.” It is about the importance of Limited Government.

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