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Welcome to the Democrats' Julia Crow Era Smashing the Tyranny of the Democrats' Cliches

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What Conservatives Really Think About Community, Mr. Dionne

by Christopher Chantrill
May 30, 2012 at 12:00 am

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IN THE YEAR of Julia, liberals sometimes say the darnedest things. Last week Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne told his liberal readers that “Conservatives used to care about community. What happened?” Next week, perhaps he’ll turn his pen to: “Liberals and the new community of one: What happened to Julia.”

Things used to rub along between liberals and conservatives, you see, despite clashes over McCarthyism and the Vietnam War. But now things have changed. “Conservatism today places individualism on a pedestal” whereas it used to insist “upon the primacy of society to the individual — historically, logically and ethically.”

Modern conservatism’s rejection of its communal roots is a relatively recent development. It can be traced to a simultaneous reaction against Bush’s failures and Barack Obama’s rise.

While President Obama has “emphasized a better balance between the individual and the community”, conservatives have revolted. They won’t agree even to budget deals “that tilt heavily” to spending cuts, to “energetic” expansion of health insurance, or to “new rules” to make capitalism “more stable.”

Good point, E.J. But it’s a pity that a chap like you, who has “long admired the conservative tradition and for years [has] written about it with great respect”, completely misunderstands the whole tradition. If you want to understand conservatism today you must start with the fact that conservatives today believe that the liberal welfare state destroys “community.” This belief was stated best by British Prime Minister David Cameron back in 2005. He said: “There is such a thing as society. It’s just not the same thing as the state.”

Conservatives believe that community dies when the government grows. Instead of government coming in to solve every problem, we believe that the health of society depends upon everyone, even the struggling poor, coming forward to take up communal responsibilities. Every time a bureaucrat issues a ukase instead of people deciding in a little platoon, community withers.

So when President Obama proposes to achieve a better balance between the individual and the community with a gigantic government takeover of the health insurance market conservatives believe that the result will be a disaster for “community.” When we argue for spending cuts we do it not because we no longer care about community, but because we believe that current government spending will make the government “go Greek” with a follow-on demolition of “community.” We regard the financial regulations of the last ten years--from Sarbanes-Oxley to Dodd-Frank--as making things worse, because these bureaucratic laws take responsibility away from the financial and business community and set failed government regulators in charge.

E.J. Dionne apparently knows about Edmund Burke. How about Herbert Spencer? Liberals love to tag him as the inventor of “social Darwinism,” but Spencer the railway engineer made the obvious point that when the relief of the poor is done by the state then “the payment of [taxes] will supplant the exercise of true benevolence, and a fulfillment of the legal form, will supersede the exercise of the moral duty.” Bureaucracy destroys community: who knew?

Dionne has apparently read his Robert A. Nisbet. What about conservatives like Berger and Neuhaus? In To Empower People they urged the importance to community of “mediating structures” between government and individual. Michael Novak in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism has suggested what I call a Greater Separation of Powers between the political, economic, and moral/cultural sectors, and Lawrence Cahoone has written within the last ten years his Civil Society: The Conservative Meaning of Liberal Politics that argues for the importance of the institutions of civil society between government and the individual.

Liberals like E.J. Dionne that “admire” and “respect” conservatives are asking the wrong question. When the land agent comes up to the Towers and tells his lordship that the peasants are revolting, the question needs to be not “how dare they” but “what is bothering them?”

Could it be that government has never spent so much? Or that government has never interfered with ordinary life so much? Or that government is failing to teach our children, and especially the children of the poor? Or even that government has promised $100 trillion in welfare state benefits beyond the ability of the current tax system to deliver?

But the great lords throughout history have usually not asked that sort of question. Instead they have complained that today’s peasants are just not like the old ones, the generation that trusted and respected their betters.

Here’s a tip for E.J. Dionne. The dirty little secret about community is that it has always been women, especially women in the neighborhood, who have been the backbone and the sinew of community. It’s telling that the modern liberal woman, the faceless cartoon Julia, doesn’t have time for community until she retires from her web design career.

But your average married white women with children tends to vote Republican. What happened?

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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