Seeing a fair amount of discussion as to what “conservatism” is or is not cropping up on various threads — and not having time to write a massive treatise on the topic — I’d like to put forward a few basic thoughts on the topic and then turn it loose for conversation with our readership, which clearly has a number of opinions as to the matter.
I would argue that conservatism is, to a great extent, a relative term. Conservatives seek to preserve the ways and institutions of the past. In the ancient Greek and Roman world, there was a worldview present among conservatives that there had been, in the past, a literal golden age — in the age of the great heroes. Among modern conservatives, resistance to change is rooted more in a suspicion of programs of change based upon ideologies that seek to remake the human person or society into new forms. In this sense, conservatives do not necessarily hold that the way things have been in the past are necessarily good, but they lean towards the fear that drastic change will make things worse.
This Newsweek article about Nobel Prize-winning economist and NY Times columnist Paul Krugman contained an interesting biographical detail:
Krugman says he found himself in the science fiction of Isaac Asimov, especially the “Foundation” series—”It was nerds saving civilization, quants who had a theory of society, people writing equations on a blackboard, saying, ‘See, unless you follow this formula, the empire will fail and be followed by a thousand years of barbarism’.”
His Yale was “not George Bush’s Yale,” he says—no boola-boola, no frats or secret societies, rather “drinking coffee in the Economics Department lounge.” Social science, he says, offered the promise of what he dreamed of in science fiction—”the beauty of pushing a button to solve problems. Sometimes there really are simple solutions: you really can have a grand idea.”
I was somewhat fascinated the other day, when participating in a discussion of school vouchers on another blog, to hear someone make the assertion that public schools are “more democratic” than vouchers because everyone must use the curriculum which is decided via “the democratic process” in public schools, whereas with vouchers someone might attend a religious (or otherwise flaky school) teaching things you do not believe to be true.
This strikes me as interesting because it suggests to me a view of democracy rather different from my own. Thinking on it further, I think there are basically three reasons why one would consider deciding things democratically (defining that broadly here as “by majority vote, either directly or via elected officials”) to be a good thing:
Smart takes from Manzi and McArdle. A question: I understand the political argument for an automobile industry bail-out. Unions are a valued Democratic constituency, and many of the potentially affected employees and suppliers live in swing states.
But is there a good argument for the bail-out on policy grounds? If GM can’t convince investors to buy additional equity or debt in the corporation, why should the U.S. government tax other companies (struggling in the same economy) to make an investment the market is unwilling to make? Is Congress better at spotting good investments?
Update I: See also Ryan’s comment on the “National Money Hole” thread.
Update II: Blackadder has a good post up about the administration of the bailout.
Okay, maybe not.
But one of his characters was more intellectually- and existentially-consistent that many (or even most) Americans of any religious affiliation, including Catholics. I’m talking about the hitman Vincent in the 2004 film Collateral, starring Cruise and Jamie Foxx and directed by Michael Mann.
It is election season in the United States, and so there is even more than the usual amount of fuss in Catholic intellectual circles in this country about the place of Catholics within our republic.
Can a Catholic vote for a politician who is “pro-choice”? Can a Catholic vote for a politician who supports the Iraq War? Can a Catholic support capital punishment? What is a “Catholic response” to the economy? What is a “preferential option for the poor”? Is it true that “universal health care” is a “life issue”?
Some, who claim to be more in touch with that illusive entity “the rest of the world”, inform me that it is uniquely American for people to engage in these sort of knock-down, drag-out fights about how it is that our faith tells us we must vote. This may be, though I must admit that I find it a little hard to accept, since it seems nonsensical to me to claim that people in other countries vote on the basis of something other than what they believe to be right — and that they determine what is right by some means other than consulting their moral and theological/philosophical understanding of the world.