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Letter to Howie Climate Science Gets Serious

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Conservative Passing Gear

by Christopher Chantrill
April 17, 2004 at 8:00 pm


FOR A HUNDRED and fifty years at least, conservatives have been shouting: Stop! as assorted reformers and lefties have urged the world to advance boldly into the future, abandoning its shameful past.

It really is time to get over all that.  It is time to jam the old jalopy into passing gear, and yell Hit It!  And then zoom past the foolish and demoralized lefties and liberals to lead the world to a glorious future.  The problem is that, up to now, the left had all the best cars.  They were fast, they were flashy, and they had fins.  Who can forget the ’49 Marx Manifesto?  Generations of youngsters fell for its throaty growl.  And the Nietzsche Übermensch?  Then there was the Heidegger Dasein, not to mention the Sartre Nausea.  Now the trendy types are all agog over the Derrida DiffĂ©rance and the Foucault Discipline. 

OK, so those Europeans really have created some amazing concept cars, and academics and a devoted coterie of fans couldn’t get enough of their European engineering.  But there was a problem.  They all had great curb appeal, but they just weren’t too practical.  When it came to driving to work, taking the kids to soccer practice, well, ordinary moms and dads wouldn’t buy them. 

Ordinary Americans preferred the ’33 Roosevelt Democrat and the ’65 Johnson Medicare, and back in the 1930s, the Roosevelt seemed like a lifesaver.  Generations of Americans swore by it, and as they grew older, they liked the Johnson too.  But at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Roosevelt is really showing its age.  It only runs on taxes, it doesn’t really have the performance or maneuverability to take advantage of modern highways, and people are getting fed up that it only comes in a one-size-fits-all model.  As for the Medicare, you should see the repair bills.

At first, conservatives and Republicans were slow to respond.  But then, back in the 1980s, they brought out the Reagan Taxcut.  It was a big seller, but the auto industry journalists hated it, and it never got the buzz it deserved.  Then in ’96 the hotshot Gingrich design shop brought out the Welfare Reform, although they had to put a gun to CEO Clinton’s head before he’d let them ship it to dealers.  It worked like a champ, although many industry analysts harrumphed and worried about whiplash on kids riding in the back seat. 

Somehow, despite producing some really great cars, conservatives can’t get a real blockbuster, one that will forever change the way Americans think of cars.  That’s a shame because there is some great homegrown American technology out there waiting to power the next generation of automobiles. 

There’s Michael Novak’s greater separation of powers concept that he developed in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism.  It blows a hole in the politics-with-everything engineering from the Europeans by conceptualizing society with a political sector, an economic sector, and a moral-cultural sector, and each sector jealously keeps the other sectors from getting too powerful.  How about the curb appeal of that baby!  

There’s sociologist of religion Rodney Stark with his idea of churches as religious firms and preachers as religious entrepreneurs.  He gives American religiosity (not to mention burgeoning Christianity in Latin America, Africa, and China) flash and verve, while exposing Euro-secularism as dull and dowdy. 

There’s Frederick Turner and his Culture of Hope.  He’s building a new auto aesthetic that builds on ritual beloved by his anthropologist father, returns to poetic meter and rhyme by recognizing their universal presence in oral culture, and embraces Shakespeare as a prophet of Twenty-first Century Economics. 

Then there’s “integral philosopher” Ken Wilber, who might look to conservatives like a wacko New Age poseur.  But he’s produced a concept car modestly named Theory of Everything that leaves the postmodernist left eating his dust.  He proposes a society that celebrates the creativity and universal compassion that the lefties have longed for since the early nineteenth century, but insists that it must be done by transcending and including the bourgeois ethos instead of destroying it.

If conservatives powered and fueled their movement with these ideas, we would have a vehicle that could go head to head against anyone.  We would appeal to the fearful immigrant trying to make it in the city and to the ordinary suburban family that goes to work, follows the rules, pays its taxes, and obeys the law.  We could appeal both to the adventurous entrepreneur and the creative artist.  We could appeal to the conservative philanthropist and the social activist dreaming of a world of genuine caring and sharing.

We could be leader of the pack and set the national agenda for the next generation.  Best of all, we could have fun doing it.  Because Americans have always loved a great car.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing


[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm

Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust

Class War

In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status... Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher... The academics lost their power and prestige and... have been gloomy ever since.
Freeman Dyson, “The Scientist as Rebel”


Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority — the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says ‘we should...’.
Danny Kruger, On Fraternity

Conservatism's Holy Grail

What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph


“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh

Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism

Drang nach Osten

There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion


“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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