Being a contarian sort of creature, I’ve been wanting for some time to write a post on why the progressive instinct is sometimes the right one. I’m quite certain that neither conservatism nor progressivism, properly understood, is the only possible view for the moral and reasonable citizen — and yet I find myself impeded in this by being in fact a very temperamentally conservative person.
First off, I’d like to suggest that as most precisely used “conservative” and “progressive” (I’m avoiding the term “liberal” here because it strikes me as having an even more confusing and increasingly imprecise meaning) are very relative terms. The progressive seeks to change current social structures, attitudes and political institutions in order to make them better. He seeks to progress. Conservative seeks to preserve existing structures and institutions, and when he accedes to change he urges that it be done slowly in order to avoid the disruption which rapid change often results in.
I would argue that there are some times when we should follow the progressive instinct, others when we should clearly follow the conservative one, and many in which it is a matter of debate which should be followed.
Historically the Catholic Church has had, or has been perceived to have, a rocky relationship with “freedom” in the sense that the term has come to be used in a political and cultural sense since the Enlightenment.
Freedom in the modern sense is often taken to mean, “I’m free to do whatever I want without anyone telling me what to do.” The Church, on the other hand, generally takes freedom to mean, “Freedom to do that which is good.” The Church sees sin as enslaving and as reducing one’s capacity to choose freely in the future, and as such even where acting contrary to the good is in no way forbidden, doing wrong is not seen by the Church as exercising “freedom”.
So the in the moral sense, the Church does not hold “freedom” in the sense of simply doing whatever you want to be a good. Rather, the Church holds doing the good to be the good, and freedom to be the means of achieving that.
I speak above in the moral sense. However, let us look now at the political question of freedom.
One of the arguments I’m starting to get very tired of is that when Senator Obama addressed Planned Parenthood and promised that the first thing he would do as President would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act (thus cementing a more drastic pro-abortion regime than has ever existed in the US to day) he was obviously just scoring partisan political points, and that Catholics are not only ill advised to worry about FOCA passing and being signed but that if they do so they are actively behaving in bad faith by accusing Obama of supporting something he never really meant to do.
I don’t think it’s news to anyone that politicians often pander, and to anyone who doubted it in the first place it’s increasingly clear that the only difference between Obama’s “new politics” and the old kind of politics is that the “new politics” involves Obama being president. But even if it’s common knowledge that one of the good ways of knowing that a politician is lying is to see if his mouth is moving, I don’t see how we can even discuss politics if we don’t assume that the promises which a politician expressly makes on the campaign trial represent something which the politician at least thinks would be a good idea.
Whether the next four years are spend under an Obama administration or a McCain administration, one thing that may be said with certainty is that conservatives are going to have to do some serious thinking over that time in order to come up with an agenda that can bring conservatives back into political success — and bring the GOP back into something like conservatism. Either administration will be enough to make principled conservatives cringe — though I think that an Obama one would visit greater damage upon the country.
There are lots of contenders out there wanting present the new conservative policies that will bring the GOP back to relevance. Ross Douthat is very much at the forefront of that, with his Grand New Party out in bookstores.
“If you look at the victories and failures of the civil rights movement and its litigation strategy in the court. I think where it succeeded was to invest formal rights in previously dispossessed people, so that now I would have the right to vote. I would now be able to sit at the lunch counter and order as long as I could pay for it I’d be o.k. But, the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and of more basic issues such as political and economic justice in society.