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S-CHIP and Sacrifice Liberals Are Not All Alike

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Let's Steal the Ideas of the Left

by Christopher Chantrill
November 12, 2007 at 3:23 am


I HOLD THE following truth to be self evident. When solving some intractable political problem, chances are that someone has already solved it. The main thing is to keep your eyes open because sooner than you think, you will run into the solution.

Here in the United States we conservatives are worrying like Scarlett O’Hara about the problem of post-Reagan conservatism. What shall we do? Where shall we go?

Suppose someone has already invented the New Conservatism?

Last week Britain’s Conservative Party leader David Cameron went to Manchester, England, to make a speech about co-operatives. The co-operative idea is a very good thing, he told his audience. In fact it is so good that the Conservative Party was setting up a Conservative Co-operative Movement. Said Cameron:

[I]t will be a resource for Conservative activists and local community groups of all kinds wanting to set up their own co-ops to take over the management of local public services. It will campaign for innovation using co-ops in public and other community services.

The last time that a British Conservative went to Manchester was probably when Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli gave a speech at the Free Trade Hall in 1872.

In the 1840s the Conservative Party was against free trade when Manchester radicals Cobden and Bright campaigned for it. In the 1880s it was against social legislation when Manchester was solidly Liberal. In the 20th century it was against Fabian socialism when Manchester was solidly Labour.

Now Cameron is telling Mancunians he thinks the Rochdale Pioneers, a group of 28 hand-loom weavers, were really cool when they started the co-operative movement in a suburb of Manchester back in 1844.

It’s either a stupid flip-flop or a bold master-stroke; the pundits can’t be sure. From 1844 till last week the Conservative Party has had no interest in co-operatives.

But last week Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s hand shook—either with fear or with rage, the pundits can’t be sure—when Cameron challenged him in Parliament.

It had nothing to do with co-operatives, but the scent of blood was enough to make Conservative eyes twinkle with hope. Finally, a Conservative leader had laid a glove on the Labour leader. Maybe Brown lacked the political teflon of Tony Blair.

In the Anglo-Saxon politics of the last generation we have seen remarkable combinations of political talent. We have seen Reagan and Thatcher, strong on substance and strong on charisma. We have seen Clinton and Blair, extremely strong on charisma and, in retrospect, weak on substance. We have seen President Bush, strong on substance but weak on communication skills.

Now it is starting to look as if the next generation of center-left leaders could be weak on substance and on charisma. In Britain Gordon Brown is a reactionary centralizer and apparently lacking in charisma. In the United States there is Hillary Clinton. One thing is certain: in the charisma department a Bill Clinton she ain’t. And as for substance, Hillary Clinton’s record is one of mindless centralizing, in education and in health care.

This may be the luckiest break for conservatives in years. Back in the last century Democrats had leaders like FDR. He had the effrontery to dress up brain-dead bureaucratic government programs as “bold, persistent experimentation,” and people believed him.

David Cameron is a conservative leader that’s bold enough to try a little bold, persistent experimentation of his own. Why stop at stealing the clothes of the left on co-operatives? He is also trying to redefine “social justice.”

Social justice is all about the left taking money from the rich to give to the poor through compassionate social programs, right? Not according to Cameron.

Social justice really means neighbourhoods acting collectively and voluntarily. It means people fulfilling their duties to each other through the natural networks, the institutions and associations of a community.

If I were a neighborhood lefty here in Seattle my hands would be shaking with rage.

How dare, how dare those evil neo-con theocrats speak about social justice like that!

Don’t tell anyone, but it gets worse. The Conservative Party’s Centre for Social Justice is run by Iain Duncan Smith, who once served as an army officer. To heal the social pathologies in “Breakdown Britain” he proposes to help the poor with US-style welfare reform and re-jigging the tax system to favor marriage.

Back in the 1990s American conservatives were mightily upset when Bill Clinton posed as a welfare reformer, triangulating the center ground—and the Soccer Moms—away from conservatives.

Imagine a conservative leader with the charisma and the substance to do a Clinton in reverse!

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Responsible Self

[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.

Taking Responsibility

[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050

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

What Liberals Think About Conservatives

[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists,” she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican

Liberal Coercion

[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State

Moral Imperatives of Modern Culture

These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self

US Life in 1842

Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism

Society and State

For [the left] there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in. No-one but the Minister, nowhere but Whitehall, no such thing as society - just them, and their laws, and their rules, and their arrogance.
David Cameron, Conference Speech 2008

Faith and Politics

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable... [1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006

Never Trust Experts

No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense.
Lord Salisbury, “Letter to Lord Lytton”

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

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”

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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