Tuesday, September 25, 2012

David Brooks' Conservative Mind

My love/hate relationship with David Brooks continues. I was amazed at this morning's column, The Conservative Mind, in which he identifies the two strains of conservative thought:

The Economic Conservative –
These were people that anybody following contemporary Republican politics would be familiar with. They spent a lot of time worrying about the way government intrudes upon economic liberty. They upheld freedom as their highest political value. They admired risk-takers. They worried that excessive government would create a sclerotic nation with a dependent populace.
The Traditional Conservative –
[I]ntellectual heir to Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Clinton Rossiter and Catholic social teaching. This sort of conservative didn’t see society as a battleground between government and the private sector. Instead, the traditionalist wanted to preserve a society that functioned as a harmonious ecosystem, in which the different layers were nestled upon each other: individual, family, company, neighborhood, religion, city government and national government.
Because they were conservative, they tended to believe that power should be devolved down to the lower levels of this chain. They believed that people should lead disciplined, orderly lives, but doubted that individuals have the ability to do this alone, unaided by social custom and by God. So they were intensely interested in creating the sort of social, economic and political order that would encourage people to work hard, finish school and postpone childbearing until marriage.

This conservative believes in prudence on the grounds that society is complicated and it’s generally best to reform it steadily but cautiously. Providence moves slowly but the devil hurries.
In the polarized political conflict with liberalism, shrinking government has become the organizing conservative principle. Economic conservatives have the money and the institutions. They have taken control. Traditional conservatism has gone into eclipse. These days, speakers at Republican gatherings almost always use the language of market conservatism — getting government off our backs, enhancing economic freedom. Even Mitt Romney, who subscribes to a faith that knows a lot about social capital, relies exclusively on the language of market conservatism. 

It’s not so much that today’s Republican politicians reject traditional, one-nation conservatism. They don’t even know it exists. There are few people on the conservative side who’d be willing to raise taxes on the affluent to fund mobility programs for the working class. There are very few willing to use government to actively intervene in chaotic neighborhoods, even when 40 percent of American kids are born out of wedlock. There are very few Republicans who protest against a House Republican budget proposal that cuts domestic discretionary spending to absurdly low levels.

The results have been unfortunate.
Read the whole thing here.

And don't miss the three part response of reader Dave Scott of Cornwall Bridge, Conn., which begins:
Traditional conservatism is impossible these days because of technological change. Traditional conservatism assumes that the basic parameters of life do not quickly change, and this is just not true. The Internet is a huge change in the basic parameters of life, and may be as big a change as literacy in our social nature. These huge changes have been coming fast the last century. Antibiotics, atomic bombs, movies, radio, television, automobiles, computers, passenger jets, cell phones, the Internet, space flight -- technologically, a continuing avalanche of change.

In such an environment, traditional conservatism is utterly detached from reality. We have no customs for twitter except by analogy, and if analogy is allowed clever people can justify anything. Traditional conservatism might be very good at creating rules for the new realities, but it will refuse to do so because it is traditionally conservative and does not like new things.

Our reality changes rapidly and we are going to have to create new rules. Conservatives are just going to have to accept this.
Without government regulation, the free market self-destructs. Somebody wins, and competition doesnt happen any more. Or a small group win and cooperate with each other, like OPEC. Or they kill the goose that lays the golden egg, like overfishing codfish. Or scams proliferate and huge resources are devoted to scamming and not being scammed. Or contracts are enforced only for those who pay more than those on the other side.
and ends:
The traditional conservatives now belong in the Democratic party. Mr. Brooks is becoming -- is perhaps already -- a closet Democrat, albeit a conservative one. The country lacks decisive leadership and needs it, so Mr. Brooks can set an example and inspire others by coming out of the closet. Or he can continue to stay in the closet and illustrate one of our biggest problem[s].
 Interesting stuff.

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