Jeffersonian Conservatism Versus the Neocons
The late William Simon, former Secretary of Treasury in the Ford Administration, was not your normal government functionary. As evidence, his 1978 memoirs titled, A Time For Truth, became one of the most influential books of the past 50 years, for it clarified in vigorous prose the disease of governmentalism afflicting America.
Simon loved Adam Smith's "system of natural liberty" that built the culture of freedom we knew as a nation prior to 1913. As eloquent as his tome was, however, it contained a profound error. It was an error that was to grievously injure the Reagan administration, the Republican Party, and the capitalist renaissance launched by post-war libertarian intellectuals.
William Simon bought into the notion that the rising neoconservative movement in the 1970s headed by the late Irving Kristol could become a valuable ally in the fight to restore liberty and constitutional government to America. Simon was brilliant, but on this issue he failed to see the "wolves in sheep's clothing" personas of Kristol and the collectivist gang of scholars he had gathered around him -- such as Patrick Moynihan, Norman Podhoretz, Daniel Bell, Sidney Hook, etc. (with the likes of Richard Perle, Bill Kristol, William Bennett, and George Will to soon follow).
As Simon put it, these distinguished intellectuals "are still interventionists to a degree that I myself do not endorse, but they have grasped the importance of capitalism, are battling some of the despotic aspects of egalitarianism, and can be counted as allies on certain crucial fronts of the struggle for individual liberty." 1
On all three of these points, Simon could not have been more wrong. Neoconservatives have never grasped the importance of capitalism's requisites: a free market and a system of "objective law." They and their acolytes are not battling the despotic aspects of egalitarianism (its racial and sexual quotas) with anything substantive, only with lip service. And they certainly have not become "allies in the struggle for individual liberty." On the contrary, they have proven in the last three decades to be precisely the opposite.
Neocons' Ideological Roots
Irving Kristol and his neocon intellectuals were radical socialists in their youth during the 1930s and 1940s, and as adults they continue to support massive collectivism for America. Their goal is not to dismantle the welfare state, but to increase it, and make it work better by being more ruthlessly efficient. In Kristol's words, the laissez-faire vision of the Founders was a "doctrinaire fantasy" and "inadequate for a political community." 2 To adhere to it now is anachronistic foolishness; it must be phased out of our collective conscience. Neoconservatives think that the moral principles undergirding the Founders' political vision are an impediment to a stable society. Adherence to such moral principles must be discarded in favor of amoral pragmatism.
In other words, neocons believe that Machiavelli and Plato had the better idea. People need to be manipulatively led by statist elites -- via open dialogue and democracy if possible, but by deception, coercion and expediency when necessary. For example, Kristol spoke very favorably about the Prohibition era of the 1920s, and he enthusiastically endorsed censorship. "If you care for the quality of life in our American democracy, then you have to be for censorship," he proclaimed. 3
By the mid-1950s in reaction to the Stalinism that took over Russia, Kristol and his followers had abandoned the heavy Marxism of their youth and had mellowed into a powerful corps of "cold-war liberal" thinkers who were steadily assuming influential positions throughout the major think tanks and universities of America. Their goals were to promote a more gradualist collectivism for the country while staunchly opposing Moscow's brutal expansionism.
But the 1960s unfolded with a rude awakening for the neocons. The New Left revolt exploded their Fabian dream of collectivising America via liberalism and the Democratic Party. The post-war left's ideological children had grown into nihilistic vulgarians rising up to kill their donkey parents. In face of George McGovern's takeover of the Democratic Party in 1972 and the party's increasing "softness on communism," Kristol's collectivists began to migrate to the Republican Party in search of a new power base. They adopted the name of neo-conservative to distance themselves from what they perceived as failed liberalism, but more importantly to steer clear of the libertarian-conservatism of Jefferson and the Founders that animated the political right. They presented themselves as what they hoped would become a new middle ground in which the statism bequeathed to us by FDR and LBJ would be accepted as the proper way to govern among Republicans also.
Conservatives Rush to Power
Unfortunately most of the intelligentsia of established conservatism bought into the neocons' pseudo-advocacy of capitalism. Blinding themselves to the dangerous ideological roots of the neocons and their open espousals of mega-statism, established conservatives of the 1970s saw only what they wanted to see in such a merger -- a chance at political power in Washington. Since the Jeffersonian, small government origins of the conservative movement had to be discarded to accommodate these highly prominent ex-liberals, this default had to be suppressed in conservatives' minds. But so be it, for conservatives had been in the wilderness too long and craved rulership in Washington.
Sinister Greeks were thus trying to gain entrance to Troy, and William Simon's book aided them greatly. When he invited all freedom advocates on the right to welcome these "distinguished intellectuals" into their camp, the prestige of his career and the eloquence of his message lulled the conservative movement into a most ill-fated decision.
Consequently after Reagan was elected in 1980, his advisors opened the gates and brought scores of Kristol's Machiavellians into Washington power circles to run the country for the next eight years. Bush the elder followed suit in 1989, and the groundwork was laid for the ultimate coup that was to take place with Bush the younger, which pushed America into the desire to openly pursue world hegemony. By the year 2000, the neocons had wormed their way into very high places. They had become influential at the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, The Weekly Standard, Fox News, the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Council on Foreign Relations, and a slew of other think tanks and media institutions. Washington had ceased to be a dominantly liberal town; it was now ruled equally by neocons.
What is so distressing about this to original conservatives (small government Jeffersonians) is that the statist propaganda machine that controls Washington and Wall Street in America has now succeeded in blurring the paradigmatic differences between original conservatism and neoconservatism. And thus it has enabled neocon "social welfarists" to claim the mantle of "official conservatism" in the people's eyes.
Yet the original conservative movement was as far removed from Kristol's neoconservatism as the Sons of Liberty were from King George and the mercantilists. Twentieth century conservatism (at least in its political context) sprang from advocates of the Old Right such as Garet Garret, John T. Flynn, and Robert Taft in opposition to the New Deal of the 1930s and Wilsonian foreign policy of the Progressive Era. But by the 1960s the fundamental tenets of this original "individualist" conservatism had been adulterated badly by National Review's exasperating lack of backbone in face of domestic statism. As a result, the infiltrating neocons of the 1970s were able to pull off a very damaging political transformation that forced true conservatism into exile. The conservative movement was hijacked by the very enemies it was formed to fight -- Fabians, New Dealers, welfarists, progressives, interventionists, militarists, and all the rest of the collectivist ilk that was assiduously working to destroy the Republic of States that the Founders had given us.
Too many who aligned themselves with the conservative movement failed to realize that once adherence to "right principle" had been forsaken in quest of power, it would be extremely difficult to regain the lofty heights of truth and justice to which they had once adhered. Power was a frightful and addictive narcotic. Invariably it corrupts the moral sense and dissolves one's desire for rectitude. Witness the marked transformation of Alan Greenspan from laissez-faire exemplar in the 1960s to big government groveler in the 1990s, seeking so avidly to ride around in black limousines for another four years and be treated as a god by Wall Street moguls and congressional bigwigs.
Can the Republic Be Restored?
The pressing question now is: What is to be done in face of this tragedy? Can the original Jeffersonian conservative movement be rekindled -- the movement to restore the Republic launched in the 1940s by intellectuals such as Richard Weaver, Ludwig von Mises, and Ayn Rand, along with the above trio of Garrett, Flynn and Taft?
Yes, certainly it can be rekindled, for it never really died. It just shrank in influence because various wings of the movement (constitutionalists, cultural traditionalists, libertarians) split to go their own way. If such a restoration is to be brought about, however, America must learn of the philosophical stealth and fraud of the neoconservatives. And she must come to know that the true conservative movement was, from the start, a blend of political libertarianism, cultural conservatism, and non-interventionism abroad bequeathed to us by the Founding Fathers.
A much needed step toward this restoration would be to establish what a true conservative really is, or more precisely, what a true "American" conservative really is. He is not what Russell Kirk tried to make him into -- a descendant of European, Burkean, conterrevolutionary thought. He is not a worshiper of "prescription" as transcendent to "reason." For sure, he reveres the traditions of our past, but such value as he imparts to society's traditions must be balanced with respect paid to what is rational in an ideological sense.
The American conservative is not antagonistic to "ideology" as Kirk was; he is antagonistic to "irrational" ideology. He grasps full well, with Ludwig von Mises, the power of ideology in the unfolding of history. And he does not shy away from a moral perspective based upon "abstract universal rights" as Edmund Burke's followers in America have done. The American conservative traces his politics to several sources (Aristotle, Cicero, the natural law philosophers of the Middle Ages, Montesquieu, etc.) but also to Jefferson's universalization of rights in the Declaration of Independence, for he realizes that such a universalization is the moral validation of America as the ideal political system for all peoples, all cultures, all of time.
This antagonism toward "abstract universal rights" is one of the biggest flaws in Burkean conservative theoreticians approach. They condemn such a notion because they feel it links them automatically with the hideous legacy of the French Revolution and its claim of "universal rights." But this is not so. The French Revolution was worlds apart from the American Revolution, and likewise its concept of rights was also.
The French Revolution's "universal rights" were vaguely spelled out claims to equality and liberty that, due to their vagueness and the weaknesses of human nature, inevitably had to evolve into a right to equality of conditions in life and freedom from the difficulties of existence. But the American Revolution's concept of rights was not vague at all. The Founders specifically spoke of only the right to "pursue" happiness, not to "possess" it. And this was certainly meant as well for other values such as security, wealth, and health. They knew also that the right to freedom was the right to freedom from coercion (whether from government or criminals), not freedom from the difficulties of existence. The Founders knew that the right to equality was not a call for "equal conditions in life." It was a call for "equal rights under the law." The Founders knew that there was no such thing as equality of conditions in life, and there never could be. They were advocates of Jefferson's "natural aristocracy among men," and believed that "the grounds of this are virtue and talents." 4
Today's Burkean conservatives, for some reason, have never been able to grasp the difference between the French concept of "government granted rights" and the American concept of "natural rights." The former can be any mess of contradictions that utopian thinkers can dream up, while the latter can be only what can be validated through reason and nature in the way we would validate a mathematical theorem. The French concept of rights does not adhere to reciprocity. The American concept does. The French "government granted rights" are pseudo-rights, because in order to be implemented they must destroy the legitimate "natural rights" of man that are discovered through reason, derived from nature's God, and are requisites of our right to life. As Ayn Rand has demonstrated, there is no such thing as a right to destroy rights. 5 Thus the French concept of rights is a fraud and does not, in reality, exist.
In other words, if all men have the right to the usage and disposal of their property, then they cannot also have the right to redistribute other men's property. If all men have the right to freedom of association, then they cannot also have the right to mandate associations for others. Therefore, if whatever a man claims to have a right to necessitates the destruction of some other right, his claimed right is invalid. Legitimate rights do not require the destruction of other rights.
This is why the French concept of "government granted rights" (which has morphed into the modern liberal concept) is a fallacy. Rights cannot be formed by government fiat; they are found through right reason, and are limited by the laws of nature. They are fixed, eternal, natural. They are not created by man, and thus they cannot be legislated out of existence by man.
The point being made here is that Burkean conservatives, in their antipathy toward "universalized individual rights," have needlessly sabotaged their arguments for a free and just society. It is in their understanding of universal rights and their transcendent nature that the Founders broke profoundly from the past and its collectivist forms of government. This is what gave the Founders' system of government its grand idealism. This is what made us a nation different from all other nations. And Russell Kirk's followers unfortunately misunderstand the paramount importance of this issue.
Kirkean conservatives thus have no way to idealize America and limited government. How could they? They reject any such notion as an "ideal" form of government. In their eyes, our limited constitutional government is merely "traditional" to Americans and Englishmen, rather than "ideal" and "just" for all mankind. Since Russell Kirk's followers stake their advocacy of limited government on the fact that it has been traditional in America and England for many centuries now (and thus considered to be a workable form of government for us, but not necessarily for others), they have no way to check the relentless encroachment of Kristol's neocons who claim that limited government does not work, and it's time to move "progressively forward" into more centralized government. Kirk's brand of conservatism, by its nature, has to lose to Kristol's brand because it cannot morally denounce the collectivist-pragmatist roots that undergird Kristolian thought. It cannot morally denounce them because it shares those same roots.
The conservative political theorist, Frank Meyer, anticipated this failure and vigorously challenged the Kirkean vision with In Defense of Freedom in 1962. Kirk and other conservatives (who he denigrated as "new conservatives") failed to understand the grand revolutionary concept of American individualism, which the Old Right Jeffersonians had grasped. Kirk and his disciples, he said, "cannot free themselves from the doctrine that men find their true being only as organic parts of a social entity, from which and in terms of which their lives take value. Hence the New Conservatives cannot effectively combat the essential political error of collectivist liberalism: its elevation of corporate society, and the state which stands as the enforcing agency of corporate society, to the level of final political ends." 6
The error of Kirk and his "new conservatism" was his uncritical adulation of Edmund Burke's thought as a foundation upon which to defend free civilization. Burke's thought, Meyer pointed out, was "corrupted through and through with [an] historicist, expediential outlook," 7 It placed prescription, i.e., tradition, above all and made it our source of authority, of right and wrong. Man's reason, according to Kirk and his Burkean disciples is to be utilized only "within very narrow limits and in strict subordination to the dictates of tradition....the very notion of judging an existing society in its totality by rational standards is blasphemy. Prudence, therefore, becomes the master of reason, not its servant." 8
Kirk's conservatism thus failed to understand what made America so unique, which was its rational universalization of the fundamental principles of limited government and objective law. So caught up in Burke's historicism and love affair with whatever one's ancestors prescribed, Kirk erected a theory of government and society that had no chance to prevail. Since it could not universalize (i.e., idealize) the requisites of freedom, Burkean thought became a fragile house in face of the hurricane ideologies of the left, which were built upon a grand idealization of collectivism, grotesquely false though their idealization was.
This is why those conservatives who abhor ideology per se are doomed to getting overwhelmed by the tides of history when those tides become imbued with evil. The way to contest the ideologies of socialism, fascism, welfarism, collectivism, etc., is not to eschew "ideology" itself and retreat to tradition and expedience as our guides, but to rationally demonstrate the superiority of the opposite ideologies of capitalism and individualism through the use of right principle in a moral, philosophical, political and economic sense.
The Ideology Bugaboo
In The Drug of Ideology, Russell Kirk writes: "Ideology really means political fanaticism -- and, more precisely, the belief that this world of ours can be converted into a Terrestrial Paradise through the operation of positive law and positive planning." 9
But ideology doesn't need to be about "political fanaticism." It can just as well be about "political justice." Nor does it have to advocate that the world be "converted into a Terrestrial Paradise through the operation of positive law." A rational ideology would not advocate such a goal; it would teach that much of life is intractable because of the fixedness of human nature, but that men and women can still bring about progress through voluntary action and free enterprise. It would advocate that government and positive law be strictly limited. It would advocate the building of America into a shining beacon of liberty to act as an example for the world, but an example that is to be spread through persuasion rather than imposed upon the world through coercion -- an example that shows what can be done if men and women will employ not pure reason, but what conservative philosophers term "right reason" (the synthesis of reason, experience and intuition) to discern the natural laws of life and then abide by them. Ironically Kirk endorses "right reason," yet always enshrines "tradition" as what is needed above all else.
The answer to this confusing clash is that "ideology" is not man's enemy. His enemy is coercive, collectivist, irrational ideology. Webster's defines ideology as "visionary theorizing, a systematic body of concepts about human life or culture, the integrated assertions, theories, and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program." This is not baneful; it is beneficial.
Much of civilization has come from "visionary theorizing" and the integration of concepts and assertions into what is postulated as the ideal way to organize society. The Founders of America did precisely this when they brought America into being through the use of reason and adherence to correct principle. By conceding this approach to the collectivists, Kirkean conservatives have conveyed to the world that the enemies of freedom are "visionary," "rational," and "ideal," while conservatives are anti-vision, anti-reason, and anti-idealism.
Here lies the most important reason why the Leviathan relentlessly expands every decade. Those who oppose it today in the name of conservatism shun the individualist / idealist ideology of the Founders in favor of a collectivist / pragmatist traditionalism. Yet the Founders political idealism contains the only weapons capable of defending freedom from the encroachments of the tyrannical state. By rejecting an objective ideological concept of the political ideal, Kirkeans can make no claim to moral superiority over their neo-conservative enemy. And without a moral distinction made, there is not sufficient enough reason why the people should not choose the Kristolian brand of government that offers them bread and circuses while telling them that they have a "right" to such subsidies. Absent any rational moral denunciation, human sophistry is quite capable of spining out a justification for pervasive collectivism.
In 1953, Kirk's resplendent and sentimental rememberance of the past swept the political right off its feet with publication of The Conservative Mind. His immense erudition and eloquence gained for him a place of high esteem throughout the West. Kirk was indeed one of the great scholars and writers of our time (I would say the finest conservative prose stylist of the 20th century). But he built his castle on the philosophical sand of mere tradition, and it has now collapsed in the face of neocon sophistry. Kirk's nostalgic, traditional conservatism has been overwhelmed by Kristol's ruthless, amoral conservatism.
This then is why the American conservative can never be a Burkean conservative. He is not a collectivist at the philosophical level, he is not anti-ideology, and he has no desire to embrace the state as a much needed "protector of proper values" as the progeny of Russell Kirk too often do today. The true American conservative is more a descendant of the 18th century Lockean mind, than he is of 18th century Burkean traditionalists. He fights for the "rights of mankind," rather than just the "rights of Englishmen." He reveres traditions throughout society, but guided by reason within a framework of political liberty.
In other words, the American conservative movement's 20th century incarnation sprang up in defense of Jeffersonian individualism and its emphasis on the very "reason" and "universal rights" that Edmund Burke so vigorously opposed. Between 1900 and 1936 it became clear that America was abandoning her founding philosophy of Jeffersonianism. The seeds for this abandonment were planted in Lincoln's centralization of government during the Civil War (as Thomas DiLorenzo has so ably demonstrated). The mixture of these seeds with the fertilizer of 19th century Marxism brought them to fruition with the passage of the Income Tax and the Federal Reserve Act in 1913, which led to the 1920s monetary inflation, the Great Depression, and FDR's New Deal demolition of strict constitutional government. FDR's New Deal, with its wholesale regulatory bureaucracies and redistributionist programs, was the pivotal event that galvanized American conservatives to form into a movement. And as historian Paul Gottfried derisively puts it, "these anti-New Dealers did not share Burke's view of the state as the guardian of a mystical social bond." 10
A good example of what a true American conservative is and what he believes in can be found in the ideas and beliefs that Clyde N. Wilson at the University of South Carolina puts forth in From Union to Empire: Essays in the Jeffersonian Tradition. 11 Such beliefs have always been a blend of libertarian politics and conservative cultural values -- i.e., reverence for the individual over the collective, a strict constitutional government and free marketplace, no entangling alliances in foreign policy, and an objective code of morality for society as opposed to the moral relativism of modern liberals, but a code to be preached and taught, not legislated.
The famous philosopher Richard M. Weaver at the University of Chicago also thought this way. Though he was fundamentally a conservative, he did not harness his beliefs to Burke in the damaging way that Kirk had. He understood the Jeffersonian concept of America and shaped his defense of freedom around abstract idealism and respect for the individual over the collective. Weaver, unlike Burke, understood the paramount necessity of strictly limiting the tyrannical danger of the state. In his essay, "Conservatism and Libertarianism: The Common Ground," Weaver wrote:
"There is a difference between trying to reform your fellow beings by the normal processes of logical demonstration, appeal and moral suasion -- there is a difference between that and passing over to the use of force or constraint. The former is something all of us engage in every day. The latter is what makes the modern radical dangerous and perhaps in a sense demented." 12
Weaver was a libertarian conservative and understood the philosophical common ground between both movements because he understood the profound importance of "universal ideals" for mankind, which he so beautifully expressed in his 1948 classic, Ideas Have Consequences.
"[C]onservatives and libertarians stand together," he said. "Both of them believe that there is an order of things which will largely take care of itself if you leave it alone." 13 Weaver was a strict constitutionalist because a constitution provided for a "settled code of freedom for the individual." 14
Return to Reason and Natural Law
Today's neoconservatives, of course, denounce any return to constitutional government and a "settled code of freedom for the individual." They consider it to be wishful nostalgia wrapped up in the naïve irrelevance of humans resisting progress. That they have been able to take over the political right with this attitude toward the Constitution and freedom is a result of Russell Kirk's flawed defense of freedom and the malleability of the National Review conservatives organized by William Buckley. Both of these intellects were influenced greatly by Edmund Burke's emphasis on the tradition of our ancestors, rather than Thomas Jefferson's universalization of the rights of man.
In the early years, the conservative movement was basically libertarian in its political-economic beliefs. Philosophically the movement understood with Jefferson that rights were either universal or they were nothing. Economically it understood with Ludwig von Mises that there could be no "third way" or "middle-ground" between socialism and capitalism. Thus it was very cognizant of the fact that there could be no centralized welfare state that would remain free. It believed that we in the West must take a stand on the fundamental principles that spawned America, and even if we were denied elective power in Washington for generations, we must remain true to those principles. Only in this way could the "shining ideal" of Jefferson's Republic of States be handed down to succeeding generations who hopefully would one day rediscover it and return the country to its lofty guidelines.
But over the past 40 years, the conservative followers of Kirk and Buckley have steadily acquiesced to the treason of the neoconservatives in order to become "media darlings" in the limelight. Such philosophic appeasement is most indubitably not the way to defend freedom. Witness its resultant explosion of government under George Bush senior and junior. Yet the conservative establishment today is proud of itself. It actually thinks that it has helped to stem the tide of statism's march with its Neville Chamberlain approach to intellectual issues.
Such perfidy masquerading as practicality is a disastrous delusion. Far better it would have been if National Review had, instead of inviting the neocons into the fold, stood its ground in the early 1970s and conveyed the following message to America:
Is the preacher's espousal of the Golden Rule a foolish anachronism? Is the physicist's Law of Gravity meant only for those prior to the 20th century? Hardly! And the greatest political document in the history of man is not to be treated like a cultural fad. Our Constitution is based upon fundamental moral laws equally as immutable as the Golden Rule and the Law of Gravity. Its restoration to American life is as vitally important as the return of reason was to the metaphysics of medieval Europe. Our Constitution is the embodiment of transcendent rational law. Only by coming to grips with its transcendent nature and its rationality can America right herself and rebuild the basics of a free society. This, the neoconservatives are incapable of doing, for they are imprisoned in the failed socialist authoritarianism of their youth and will cling to their tyrannical paradigm to their death beds. To accommodate their statism can do the cause of freedom no good. We at National Review choose to align ourselves with Jefferson and the Founders no matter how long it takes to wake up America.
But sadly it appears that William Buckley didn't really mean it when he informed America that what was needed was for men of principle to "stand astride history and shout stop!" It appears that he, like Alan Greenspan, craved adulation in the elite establishment circles of New York and Washington instead. It appears that National Review, like the neocons of the left, really wanted an Empire instead of a Republic.
What lessons are we to glean from this?
1) The great majority of today's conservatives have tragically divorced themselves from their Lockean / Jeffersonian roots. If they sincerely desire freedom for our nation, then they are going to have to part company with the interlopers of neo-conservatism and return to the real thing -- the libertarian-conservatism of the Founding Fathers. Fortunately the Ron Paul phenomenon offers us great promise in this regard. With his example, the political right may begin to reestablish itself as a genuine opposition force to welfare-statism.
2) By ideologically supporting the establishment's welfare-state paradigm, today's conservatives have gained wide social approval. They have gotten their mugs on TV, they have been invited to myriad palace dinners in Washington, and they have hobnobed with the black limousine crowd. But they have done nothing to stem the tide of the political-economic destruction growing so exponentially in our midst.
3) Conservatives like Bill Bennett, George Will, Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, etc. have merely opted for inclusion into the prevailing statist establishment rather than staking out a heroic stand for true freedom and constitutional government. They have opted for popularity over principle, celebrity over integrity. Unfortunately throughout history this has been the nature of far too many pundits and scholars.
4) Ruling establishments are always heavily saturated with conformists and courtiers, glib instead of wise, irrelevant in the long run because they are not concerned with the big picture -- being either unwilling or unable to grasp it. The driving force behind most establishment intellectuals is obsessive cultivation of their own personal status and the adoption of whatever ideology (or anti-ideology) happens to be fashionable at the time.
5) Has this not become the essence of the conservative movement today? Its leading lights have chosen to worship with liberals at the mobocrat's altar of unlimited democracy in order to revel in ever-expanding portions of power and popularity.
Myopic Men in Power
To sum this up, in their obsession with gaining establishment acceptability and power in Washington, today's chameleon conservatives have abandoned everything for which their movement was created in the aftermath of World War II. They have not furthered the cause of freedom and justice for our world. They have helped to bring Western civilization to the morass of expedient bureaucratism and socio-economic decadence we now endure. The form of rule they espouse, if different in degree of despotism, is no different in principle than history's monster leviathans.
It is not to be expected that such blindly pragmatic minds will be able to face up to their overweening irrationality, for it is the nature of myopic men in power to draw blinders around what little vision they possess so as to avoid facing the decadent turmoil wrought from their ignorance.
What is to be expected, however, is that the strong, open-minded intellects of America, who no longer wish to be party to the collectivization of her soul, will be willing to face up to the requisites of a truly free society -- which are limited government and objective law.
Freedom is not for the schemers of this world seeking the legitimization of privilege. Nor is it for the courtiers of life obsessed with popularity. It is for the stalwart possessed of heroic hearts and fiery souls -- the spiritual sons of those who strode into history 220 years ago to set down on parchment its first great idealization known to man.
If conservatives wish only to rule rather than reform, then they are not just the Stupid Party, they are cowards. Their historical legacy will be pusillanimous abdication, and America's future as a shining ideal for all the world will be dead.
To merely be rulers and wield power is such a petty intellectual goal. It is certainly not why the Founding Fathers fought the revolution. They fought valiantly to establish "truth" and a "just ideal" of political-economic liberty. Today's chameleon conservatives and country club Republicans had best re-evaluate the meaning of America. It is not about maintaining Great Societies from Washington. It is about protecting the seamless web of freedom, so that individuals can build their personal lives and local communities on their own to the highest level of their capabilities.
If we abandon the Founders' legacy in principle, then we will have destroyed it in fact. Our efforts today are far too short on principle and much too concerned with power. Is this the statement that we wish to inscribe on the pages of history as our life's contribution to the great drama of existence -- that we scrambled for and squabbled over only power? That we craved celebrity instead of integrity? A free America cannot be saved with such a selfish approach, and what goal is there more worthy than the salvation of a free America?
Jeffersonian Conservatism offers us salvation. Its fundamentals of reason, universalized natural rights, and moral idealism are the vital antidotes to reverse the plague of authoritarian statism presently destroying the West. Without its restoration, an alien dark age will curse our children and all those coming after them. Our lives will have been for naught. Surely we as a people have the moral fiber to reject such a fate.
1. William E. Simon, A Time For Truth (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978), p. 227.
2. Irving Kristol, "Looking Back on Neo-Conservatism: Notes and Reflections," The American Spectator, November 1977, p. 7.
3. Irving Kristol, "Pornography, Obscenity and the Case for Censorship," New York Times Magazine, March 28, 1971, p. 114. See also "The Case for Censorship," Weekly Standard, August 23, 1999.
4. Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, 1813, Saul K. Padover, Thomas Jefferson on Democracy (New York: D. Appleton Century, 1939), p. 82.
5. Ayn Rand, "Man's Rights," Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (New York: New American Library, 1966), pp. 286-294.
6. Frank S. Meyer, In Defense of Freedom (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1962), pp. 131-132.
7. Frank S. Meyer, The Conservative Mainstream (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1969), p. 33.
8. Meyer, In Defense of Freedom, p. 77.
9. Cited by Patrick Buchanan, "State Religion," The American Conservative, December 3, 2007, p. 12.
10. Paul Edward Gottfried, Conservatism In America: Making Sense of the American Right (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007), p. 8.
11. Clyde N. Wilson, From Union to Empire: Essays in the Jeffersonian Tradition, Columbia, S.C.: The Foundation for American Education, 2003.
12. Richard M. Weaver, Life Without Prejudice and Other Essays (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1965), p. 161.
13. Ibid, p. 163.
14. Ibid, p. 163.
Posted by Laurie L on 04/04/10 04:56 PM
Click to view link
for Constitutional, comprehensive, conservative reform.
Posted by Doug on 04/04/10 09:45 AM
I agree. One might argue that the hypocrisy of continuing slavery while implementing an instrument designed to ensure individual liberty (The Constitution) laid part of the reason for the Civil War and the destruction of American Federalism (part of course!). It's almost as if (if you are a religious person) The U.S. is still being punished for slavery.
Posted by Doug on 04/04/10 09:40 AM
I don't disagree with that. One might argue that the hypocrisy.
Posted by Doug on 04/04/10 09:15 AM
The flaw was that it basically failed in it's job from keeping the U.S. Federal Authority from aggregating power. Madison and friends did not go far ENOUGH in decentralizing power.
Reply from The Daily Bell
The flaw was the Civil War.
Posted by Milton on 04/04/10 12:33 AM
Of course the fatal flaw in this discussion is that these rights only applied to White People and a Black man was only a percentage of a human being. These rights also did not fully apply to women. These mistakes still haunt us to this day.
Reply from The Daily Bell
Yes, many in the libertarian community might argue that the Constitution was flawed in numerous ways.
Posted by Doug on 04/03/10 11:20 PM
I'd factor George Will out of the group of statists above. His recent editorials have been pro libertarian of late.
Reply from The Daily Bell
Oh, has Mr. Will swayed yet again with the rising wind?
Posted by Bob on 04/03/10 10:08 PM
Reminds me of time the apple fell my head. I had stumbled upon the text of Ron Paul's 2004 "Neoconned" speech. I couldn't believe it was real until I watched youtube video of him reading it in famed halls of Congress.
Posted by Ted Berthelote on 04/03/10 02:38 PM
Outstanding analysis of contemporory politics/governance. For a classic explaination of the inevitability of Statism's triumph over individualism, see "Our Enemy, The State" by Albert Jay Nock.
In it he shows how, Hultberg's assertions notwithstanding, "Nowhere in the constitutional period do we find the faintest suggestion of the Declaration's doctrine of natural rights; and we find its doctrine of popular sovereignty not only continuing in abeyace, but constitutionally prevented from ever reappearing.
Nowhere do we find a trace of the Declaration's theory of government; on the contrary, we find it expressly repudiated." The individualist and his natural right to pursue happiness were excluded from the Constitution in favor of the idea of an organization of the political means standing ready to be put in the service of one set of economic interests as against another.
When Jefferson returned from France in 1789 he was "greatly depressed by the discovery that the principles of the Declaration had gone wholly by the board".
Reply from The Daily Bell
Jefferson does not seem to have been a fan of the Constitution.
Posted by Mark Humphrey on 04/03/10 01:50 PM
Thank you for this brilliant and illuminating essay--the most impressive political tract I've read in a long time. You made so many powerful and important points, but one in particular impressed me.
You referenced the conviction of neo-conservatives that deception and treachery are appropriate means to the attainment of policy goals. Of course, this view is common to all proponents of the Big State, as they shovel around people as if they were so much sand and gravel in their welfare-and-warfare schemes.
To anyone who reads history, there is compelling--overwhelming, actually--evidence of official treachery in the conduct of American foreign policy over many years. Deception and lies in domestic politics and institutions is somewhat more generally acknowleged, but not to any extent approaching realism.
Jean Francois Revel wrote a great book "The Flight from Truth" in which he explained why deception is essential to the existence of authoritarian regimes. Thank you again for this outstanding article!
Posted by Bruce Bryant on 04/03/10 01:20 PM
Sheesh! And I thought I had given this problem some thought .Apparently logic and reason are as rare in public discourse as they ever were. Obviously, we still haven't accepted the idea that WANT and RIGHT are different concepts.
Posted by Terry Haney on 04/03/10 11:44 AM
Very well written. Having grown up in the USA and ecucated here, these are things we were for obvious reasons, never taught. As they say, history is always written by the winners. I have been more fortunate than most, in that throughout my life,(I am 60 years old).
I have travelled to 90 countries and had a chance to see first hand what is really going on in the world. Some of the things I have seen were merely small influences on my condititioning and others were profound.
The result leave one feeling like Diogonese looking for and honest man. Although I do not always agree with The Bell thoughts, they continue to provoke thoughts and help in my search.
The internet has been a great help in uncovering the universal manipulation of the minds of the masses. Many of the ideals of those in power are so well written and so persuasive that anyone who is easliy swayed will fall for it.
To those who have just started looking for the truth, I can only say keep your mind open and look for the truth no matter how it may seem to initially offend your senses. Conditioning is is very hard to break, but once free of it you are truly free to think as an individual.
Reply from The Daily Bell
Thanks for the thoughtful feedback.
Posted by Mpresley on 04/03/10 10:32 AM
"...neocons believe that Machiavelli and Plato had the better idea. People need to be manipulatively led by statist elites."
This explanation of Plato's thinking is, I presume, offered due to space constraints. To argue that "people" need to be manipulatively led is both a loose and rather casual interpretation of the Republic.
Plato understood that different men have different "natural" abilities, and that as a result not everyone is capable of governing. Also, because of these natural limitations, not all are capable of understanding.
The author's reductionist interpretation was, for instance, one of the major criticisms of Popper by both Strauss and Voegelin. Too, we must remember that a major theme of Republic (and several other dialogs) is the tension between "received" knowledge (the poets) v. discursive knowledge (philosophy).
Sadly, as the real story of Socrates highlights, few men can ever hope to understand philosophy, but everyone is able to laugh at the words of Aristophanes.
"...the American conservative traces his politics to several sources (Aristotle, Cicero, the natural law philosophers of the Middle Ages, Montesquieu, etc.) but also to Jefferson's universalization of rights in the Declaration of Independence..."
Today, unless one is up to armed revolt (Daily Bell is against violence, by the way), one must be careful basing much at all upon the Declaration, but understand it for what it was: a polemic against the King and his policies; also a statement of specific grievances leading to war.
Jefferson's unfortunate words ("all men are created equal"), while at the time having a specific meaning to those involved in insurrection, have now taken on an understanding independent of whatever Jefferson was writing about.
Mr. Hultberg appears to be correct when he writes that a naive universalization is, therefore, believed by neo-conservatives to be appropriate to "all cultures, all of the time."
Again, this would not be understood by classical natural law theorists as a valid argument, at all. A principal problem modern-day conservatives must confront is the distinction between modern and classical views of natural law. Modernity (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau) tends to begin from the question: from whence does the state derive, and how is this different from the state of pre-civil men?
Classical natural law (Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas) tended to view the state as the "natural" condition of man, and classical thinkers were then more concerned with understanding how this "natural end" of man within an organic state could flourish. Remember, the Republic proceeds on a dual track--what is virtue (justice) for the individual, and the state.
Reply from The Daily Bell
An erudite analysis.
Posted by Gul on 04/03/10 09:50 AM
A great thought provoking and incisive look into the ideology behind the "disease of Governmentalism", as Dr. Hultberg states it. Thank you DB for giving us the opportunity read this.
Reply from The Daily Bell
You're welcome. We're grateful to Mr. Hultberg for supplying it.
Posted by Bert Van Roekel on 04/03/10 09:30 AM
History is too complex and unruly. What really works is logic and understanding and when these two work together they create wisdom.
Simply put America was created with wild and wooly capitalism! No men or man can control what works naturally, and it is true that capitalism may work slower than rules and laws. But rules and laws are totally heartless and without soul.
Rules and laws that ignore our most important commodity, the individual. Even if one innocent is hurt that makes those rules and laws to dangerous. Trying to force individuals into a group, party or any other kind of organization is very destructive, because everyone is different, not two people are the same ! At least rough and unruly capitalism allows each of us to be what ever we want to be. And the only rule we need is: "I can do what ever I want as long as I don't hurt anyone !".
As an example, everyone knows that innocent people are hurt by criminals. Everyone knows ! Yet those mindless rules and laws continue monstrously to hurt individuals and nothing ever changes !
Posted by Robert Adams Goodfellow on 04/03/10 09:28 AM
Extremely well written and analysis of Conservativism. I personally attended classes at Lafayette College with William E. Simon and kept in touch with him as Sec. Treasury. While in the Navy a second time (Age 82) I was to voyage supplying Thule Greenland airbase summers 1951 and 2. We exchanged correspondence when Bill traversed the Northwest Passage with his own ship.You are correct, I am decendent of Samuel Adams and John Adams and I am a proponent of true Conservativim and am personally concerned of the direction our Govenment has chosen during the past several decades. Alarming and hopefully rectifiable. Robert Adams Goodfellow