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Pity a Poor Banker Who Is The Smartest of Them All?

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The Difference Between Change and Reform

by Christopher Chantrill
February 27, 2009 at 10:30 am


DID YOU notice that when Gov. Sarah Palin was campaigning for vice-president she talked about “reform?” Candidate Obama campaigned on a different theme, “Change We Can Believe In.” In case you weren’t paying attention, he had the slogan on the emblazoned on the front of his lectern.

The word “Change” is a curious one. In politics it is most often used in the context of “Time for a Change.” It speaks to the periodic need to throw the rascals out. But in left-speak it means something more. It evokes the need for “social change” or “transformative change.” Change in this sense means the secular hope for salvation in this world that the left substitutes for the transcendental hope of religion.

Conservatives do not subscribe to the notion of secular salvation. We believe that salvation only comes in the next world. So we don’t need to inject transcendental hope into politics. We think in terms of Reform, not Change.

Reform is like cleaning and tidying up a living room before a party. You know that in a couple of hours your room will look like a disaster. But you still do it anyway.

Change is like a makeover. You imagine that,with a new hairstyle, new clothes, and new makeup you life will change and a different kind of man will address himself to you.

It’s a good time to start thinking about this as we conservatives watch the change machine at work and yearn instead for good conservative reform, of the kind we might expect from a President Palin or a President Jindal, both of whom already established records as reform governors.

But, whatever we do, let’s not start the Palin or the Jindal administration in the clueless manner of the Obama administration.

We don’t yet know what the damage from the Obama administration’s zero-for-three first month will be. Nobody can. We won’t know until November 2010. But at least Republican candidates now have talking points about Democrats:

  • The party that talks about ethical government but hires tax cheats;

  • The party that talks about open government but practices lobbyist-friendly government;

  • The party that talks about stimulus but enacts “porkulus.”

Above all the Democratic Party is the party that takes care of its special interests before it steps up to fix the credit system, a party that reverses welfare reform without even a public hearing, a party that criticized a president’s defense policies for eight years and then turned around and continued them.

If Republicans are not to stumble like the Democrats we have to get our principles straight before we return to political power. It’s not enough just to have a reform program. Here are three good ones.

  1. The Hayek principle: The man in Washington cannot know enough to administer the US economy.

  2. The Novak principle: Think of society as three co-equal sectors: economic, political, and moral/cultural. None of the three should dominate the other two, and no two sectors should gang up on the other one.

  3. The Perrow principle: Watch out for “system accidents” in complex close-coupled systems.

Readers that know about Hayek and Novak may not know about Charles Perrow. He’s the liberal sociologist who wrote Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies after the Three Mile Island accident. He warned about our love affair with efficiency and complexity. It leads to accidents that can’t be controlled.

In complex industrial, space, and military systems, the normal accident generally (not always) means that the interactions are not only unexpected, but are incomprehensible for some critical period of time. In part this is because in these human-machine systems the interactions literally cannot be seen. In part it is because, even if they are seen, they are not believed.

Does this seem familiar? Forget the dangers of nuclear plants. Today we worry about excessively complex political and financial systems. And right now, it is painfully obvious, we are saddled with a credit system in which any component failure can bring down the whole system.

We’ve seen, in the last month what Change means. It means shoveling taxpayers’ money at the Democratic base to bail out the Democratic state and local governments that overspent in the boom, and to bail out Democratic homeowners who bought houses they couldn’t afford.

The next version of Republican Reform better be different. It needs to start from rock-solid conservative principles.

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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