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November 14, 2009

Zdeno on Core Principles

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Inspired by a recent post post on Libertarianism, Zdeno offers (along with his comments to the linked post) the following thoughts.

* * * *

Political beliefs have a tendency to cluster. What connection is there between abortion, gun control, welfare and the war in Iraq? On the surface, there is none – but get an average person tell me how he feels about any one of these issues, and I’ll bet even odds I can predict his position on the others. Even among the 2Blowhards readership, a free-thinking and unconventional group if there ever was one, most of us have no trouble self-identifying as broadly Progressive, Conservative, or Libertarian.

The observation that people in each of these camps tend to agree with each other an awful lot indicates that there must be some defining belief, set of values, or method of looking at and interpreting the world, that sets them apart from each other.

My question today: What are the core principles and beliefs that lead you to whatever ideology you subscribe to? If you’re a Libertarian, tell us about the core principles of Libertarianism, if you’re a Progressive etc. Let’s do some introspection, and try to come up with a unified theory of each of the major (or non-major) belief systems in existence today.

I’ll kick things off with some broad strokes, and hopefully we can refine things as we go:

1) “Pure” Libertarianism is based on the normative judgement that every human has a natural right of ownership to their body, the fruits of their labour, and the right to enter into binding contracts which may not subsequently be broken. Pragmatic Libertarianism is based on the positive belief that a society which adheres closely to the above values will be optimal from a utilitarian perspective.

2) Ideological Conservatism is based on the belief that traditions and institutions that currently exist have stood the test of time for a reason, and that we should be extremely cautious about meddling with them. Attempts to change societies and create a more “just” political structure and distribution of wealth are generally undertaken by self-interested parties whose efforts almost inevitably do more harm than good. Practically, many Conservatives are simply people who are doing well for themselves in the present order of society, and would prefer it not be tinkered with.

* * * *

My two cents are that few people fit solidly into a cluster. For instance, my wife regularly votes Republican but is strongly pro-abortion. I am basically conservative but, like many other conservatives, agree with libertarians on the desirability of small government. On foreign policy, I'm (sorry folks) essentially neocon to the extent that I'd rather fight a small war first rather than let matters drift to the point that a huge, disastrous war eventually occurs (think World War 2) -- though it's necessary to pick and choose where/when to fight small wars. I say this as an army veteran who sweated out the Berlin Wall and Cuban Missile crises that could have meant World War 3.

Over to you, readers.



posted by Donald at November 14, 2009


I think the problem for conservatives is that they have been mostly AWOL in the humanities and mainstream pop culture in the last half century. Where the Left is challenged in the cultural mainstream today is by pockets of libertarianism or liberals who are more socially conservative than their far left colleagues. This means it is hard to be a con, especially a neo con in a world dominated by the voices of lefties, with libertarians and populists taking up the contrarian slack. In contrast, mainstream jobs (like Doctor, lawyer, corporate executive) see lots of folks with a con or neocon bent. They just have little say in shaping the Modern Narrative.

Posted by: Not Gandhi on November 14, 2009 6:33 PM

This is interesting because I would argue people select their political affiliation first, based on what image they have of themselves (I bet Robin Hanson would agree), the core values are secondary. The positioning of a political movement in the political market space is what causes folks to claim affiliation. Liberal = moral nobility; Conservative = practicality and reliability; etc.

I would further argue core values are primarily relevent to the extent they form the market image of an affliation. It might be fruitful to backtrack from the image to what values support it, since I suspect that over time the core values will morph into a reflection the aggregate self-image of the believers.

Opinions on specfic issues fall into line afterwards and then only in a superficial sense. If a specific issue hits home in some personal way, most people will take a practical attitude toward that specifc issue but still hold on to their overall label even if they conflict. You are unlikely to find many blacks/hispanics who approve of gay marriage, but neither will you see them affiliate Republican.

This is part of what Obama is facing now. Everyone loved thinking of themselves as a Good Progressive, but facing the specifics policies he wants to implement they now find themselves in sharp disagreement. But very few of them would confess to not being such a Good Progressive anymore. The underlying self-image is etched in stone.

Posted by: dzot on November 14, 2009 11:24 PM

People interested in these questions may want to check out Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions and Jonathan Haidt's work on political affiliation and moral reasoning, much of which is available online for free.

Posted by: LemmusLemmus on November 15, 2009 2:43 AM

If you combine economics, genetics, and history without bias what comes out? Something very close to white nationalism if you are a white. Something similar if you are Japanese and some other East Asians but directed to themselves. For the others it comes out as some justification of parasitism.

For whites we just need to start pushing the facts and science without hesitating or apologizing. Write out the answer like its an exam that is objective. The result is outrageous to the parasites because its true. The conclusion is they are parasites and should be dealt with as such.

Posted by: Old Atlantic on November 15, 2009 7:01 AM

Responding to Not Gandhi, while I agree that conservatives have seemed to be AWOL in the humanities and mainstream pop culture for a long time, I think the truth is more complex. The 'progressive' interpretation of pop culture, for example, is triumphant, but a lot of pop culture is actually conservative as soon as you examine it with non-ideological eyes.

There are a lot of collections of essays on pop culture being published that push the progressive interpretation but are really not that convincing if you are used to 'close reading'. The Lord of the Rings is a popular and successful series of books and movies, but it is clearly a very conservative one. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a successful seven-year tv series is also conservative, though all the academic interpretations claim otherwise. It is about the growth to wisdom and maturity of a warrior for the good against evil--mind you, this is underneath a surface of vampires and humor, but it is perfectly obvious where the power of the narrative is coming from.

Harry Potter is also quite easily seen as a conservative narrative--the satire of government bureaucracy in book 5 is very telling.

The 'progressive' narrative is very poor fodder to build a compelling story on and the main reason is that all good narratives are based on the struggle between good and evil and progressivism denies their existence.

Posted by: Bryan on November 15, 2009 9:31 AM

"...most of us have no trouble self-identifying as broadly Progressive, Conservative, or Libertarian."

Yes, I have no trouble self-identifying as a conservative. Needless to say, I have some flattering definitions of conservatism.

The true conservative is a serial appreciator.

The true conservative will let handy things accrue, even when socialist in nature, if they seem to be working out. What stands the test of time etc.

The true conservative knows that things are cyclical and he who extrapolates from current visible trends is always wrong.

Above all, the true conservative believes that the most important things can never be calculated. For this reason, he keeps his few pet theorists (in my case, Julian Simon, Adam Smith etc) in the back yard, never lets them into the house, is alerted by their barking, but usually has tell them to calm down and shut up.

He thinks that theorists in general should be inoculated, neutered, kept on very short leases...and put to sleep at first signs of rabidity. Libertarians and leftists (especially) are much nicer in this regard.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on November 15, 2009 2:02 PM

As a Progressive with Libertarian tendencies I think all individuals have the rights set forth in the Universal">">Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the U.N. in 1948. I believe extending these rights to all others best serves to protect my rights and freedoms.

Posted by: Chris White on November 15, 2009 4:00 PM

the reason the world is controlled by liberal voices is because of the left's stranglehold on all of the arts. artists tend to have no practical business sense about themselves so they go in for the left's ideals of "everyone taking care of everyone". so most people who write, paint, act etc. identify with the left. conservatives whine about how liberal hollywood but it's not! hollywood is one of the most cuttthroat capitalist industries on the planet but they can only produce scripts that come from all those liberal writers which is why we always get the anti-war film, the evil corperation film or the "dark underbelly of suburbia or small town america" film. hollywood producers will produce anything that could potentially make money but it's only from this pool of screenplays they have to choose from.

changing topic, i do think this country would sway less to the left if the republican party would drop the social conservatism stuff. i really think most young people just fall in with the left at an impressionable age cause they find the christian right aspect of the republican party so unnappealing that they then swallow the left's bullshit about market regulation and gun control. voting against what the modern right represents gives young liberals an insufferable arrogance about themselves cause they have this idea that it makes them rebels when there's nothing individualistic in nature about who they vote for. the right has lost the culture wars for the most part and will continue to lose election untill they seperate themselves from their past elected officials and ideals.

Posted by: t. j. on November 15, 2009 4:07 PM

@ dzot:

I agree with you and Hanson (presumably) that political affiliation is rarely about politics. Still, I think there are some unifying themes to the major ideologies - even if they are just unifying themes regarding the rationalizations we use to justify our pet theories.

@ Lemmus:

I'll second Conflict of Visions as a good read, certainly worth most people's time. But I think Sowell identifies a symptom, rather than a cause of the Left-Right divide. The unconstrained vision is not the core guiding principle of leftism, it's just a politically useful set of rationalizations for the true goals of the Progressive, which I see as redistributing power and property away from whoever currently possesses it. It's a lot easier to rally people to your entropic, anti-bourgeois cause when you aren't shy about promising the world to your would-be followers.

@ Robert:

This exercise is easiest for Conservatives, I think, because they have a very useful etymological clue. A Conservative is someone who believes that the status quo is A-OK, and we'd better think long and hard before messing with it. Progressives, literally at least, are in favour of any and all change. Progress! I don't think it's a coincidence that Conservatives tend to be a lot more optimistic about the present than the they are about the future, relative to Progressives.

It's an interesting linguistic quality though, isn't it? Our word for right-wing means, literally, no change. So the far-right vertex on our political measuring stick is the present state of affairs. "Change" has almost always been in a leftward direction, for the past few centuries at least.

@ Chris:

Thank god someone's around to carry the Progressive-ish flag in this little exercise! You're something of a minority around here, so hopefully you won't feel imposed upon if I press you for some more details regarding your worldview.

My first question for you would be why your faith in the UNDHR is so strong, that you regard it as the definitive text on your entire way of looking at the world. Does the slip of paper at the core of your thought process read "The UN is a divine organization, and I believe we should all honour her degrees without question." ?

Or is the UN a flawed organization staffed by fallible human beings, but despite her shortcomings, has churned out a DHR that exactly matches the rights you would set out if you were to draft the CWDHR? If so, let's say the UN had produced the same document minus, say, article 16. Would your post above then read, "I believe in the UNDHR, plus that men and women of full age...etc"?

It seems to me that either you place supreme trust in the UN, or your moral compass lines up perfectly with theirs. If the first, why? If the second, don't you think that's an amazing coincidence?

Of course, the third option is that you have a life, family and career outside of 2BH, and only had time to shoot off a quick response. Hope you don't mind if I ask you for more =)



Posted by: Zdeno on November 15, 2009 7:01 PM

Chris White:

As a Progressive with Libertarian tendencies I think all individuals have the rights set forth in the UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights adopted by the U.N. in 1948. I believe extending these rights to all others best serves to protect my rights and freedoms.

Just as a side comment, James Kalb wrote a very good point-by-point critique of that document:

Posted by: Vladimir on November 15, 2009 9:15 PM

Zdeno, Conservatism is not the opposite of left-wing. Conservatism is the opposite of neurosis.

Neurosis is an inability to see life as flux. The Conservative knows that things change and wants to let them change. To experiment and tamper without strong warrant is to doubt and distort change.

Intellectualism narrows the range for instinct, experience and commonsense. It shuts off the luck. And it's impious.

The big-lever intellectualism of a Robert McNamara or Woodrow Wilson is neurosis made policy. Similarly, to dwell on race, IQ and genetics - those lubies of certain paleocons - is to load up humanity with more assumptions and limitations (ranging from the half-digested to the utterly wrong).

Conservatives know that they don't know a lot. As they age, they've worked out that most "deep" people are bluffing anyway, so it doesn't matter.

Come to think of it, everyone's bluffing. Except God.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on November 15, 2009 10:45 PM

@ Zdeno – I have a life outside of 2BH and a tendency toward overlong comments that I'm trying to curb.

The U.N. is a deeply flawed organization but, as Churchill said when he called democracy "the worst form of government ... except all the others that have been tried", it has been the best forum for nations to find peaceful solutions to disagreements we've had in our lifetime.

The UDHR outlines a set of principals that recognizes the intrinsic rights of all individuals including their rights to join together in families, religions, and nations to preserve, protect, and defend those rights.

In a previous thread covering much the same ground I attempted to point out all the ways that many of my views could (and should) be seen as conservative, but the impulse to set up simple (and simplistic) labels made that a difficult concept for others to accept. Why is it that "progressives" tend to favor the protection and conservation of natural resources, whereas "conservatives" tend to favor radical exploitation of those resources by the most technologically advanced means available? This is the tip of an iceberg of examples that belies your "progressives are in favor of any and all change" meme. And from the cries of woe and calls for radical "solutions" to the "problems" of dozens of elements of the status quo many who claim the mantle of "conservative" might better be described as radical reactionaries.

@ Vladimir – your link did not work, but when I read James Kalb my reaction tends to be one of (a) annoyance at his [mis-]characterization of liberals and (b) disagreement with him.

Posted by: Chris White on November 15, 2009 11:26 PM

Bryan's comments show just how dominant the Lefty world view is. Buffy is conservative because it promotes fighting when faced with evil and injustice! The rest of the time it promotes the joys of Wicca and witches, lesbianism and girl power feminism. And in a show about vampires, it purposely downplayed the role of Christianity after the first season, dispensing with the important role of holy water and the church in fighting the undead. In fact, most pop art must take for granted that their audiences have core social conservatism that must be overcome. Nonetheless, liberal message films have no qualms about an all left viewpoint. In contrast, I have yet to see a single movie that rejects all the following: Pacifisim/Socialism, Feminism, Multiculturalism, Anti-American Egalitarianism, and fashionable atheism or anti-Christianity. Even a movie like Apollo 13 was pilloried by some critics for glorifying white men and male engineering. When movies like Apollo 13 are the norm and don't have to make token gestures to the civil rights movement and to feminism and diversity or attack our military I'll believe there is a coherent conservative alternative.

Posted by: Not Gandhi on November 16, 2009 6:51 AM

Robert Townshend: Above all, the true conservative believes that the most important things can never be calculated. For this reason, he keeps his few pet theorists (in my case, Julian Simon, Adam Smith etc) in the back yard, never lets them into the house, is alerted by their barking, but usually has tell them to calm down and shut up.

He thinks that theorists in general should be inoculated, neutered, kept on very short leases...and put to sleep at first signs of rabidity.

Robert, the above is probably the pithiest and the best description of "true conservatism" that I've come across. Even if I don't think I'd keep Simon in my own backyard.

(I also tend to think well of anybody who uses the word "impious" as a natural part of his vocabulary, not as a relic reserved for spurts of pseudo-irony.)

Posted by: Moira Breen on November 16, 2009 10:08 AM

The UN is not a flawed organization. It is a deeply corrupt and parasitical organization. If you threw 99% of those bums into the street, most would starve because they don't have any practical skills. The UN exists as a debating society (with any given issue a foregone conclusion). It's main purpose is to redistribute wealth from those who create it to those who create nothing.

Posted by: Bob Grier on November 16, 2009 10:22 AM

Two hundred years ago, conservatives relied on state power to block social change. Progressives were "liberals" who wanted the state to back off so change ("progress", "reform") could flourish. This included the explosively transformative factor of industrial capitalism. A hundred years ago, progressives began to resort to state coercion to enact their policies - in the extreme case, through Communist totalitarianism.

Conservatism became allied with libertarianism in common resistance to progressive state coercion.

Some other comments.

Ideological conservatism may be based on the general principle that cultural institutions of long standing represent inherited wisdom that should not be lightly discarded; it may also be loyalty to particular existing institutions.

"Conservatism" does not oblige one to support on-going processes of change. If A is a conservative and B has turned on the hot water, A's conservatism does not forbid him to turn off the hot water and preserve the existing condition of the tub.

Regarding conservatives gone AWOL from "arts and letters": Charles Murray teased an important fact from the data of the General Social Survey. Thirty-five years ago, all six major segments of the white American population were roughly balanced between "conservative" and "liberal". Since then, five of the six segments have moved slightly rightward. One segment, "Intellectual upper", has moved sharply to the left.

This has had several pernicious effects.

It has created an uncritical, self-reinforcing leftist uniformity among the "thinking" segment of America, including automatic acceptance of leftist doctrines, even when absurd.

It makes the "thinking" segment see itself as disagreeing with the rest: they of course are right and the rubes and boobs are wrong.

It has deprived conservativism of intellectual leadership and representation, and encouraged a dangerous level of populist anti-intellectualism among conservatives.

So, yes, a revival of Right intellectualism is badly needed - but I see no way to get it.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on November 16, 2009 11:33 AM

The term "progressive" can be parsed thusly:

A progressive is a communist who doesn't know he or she is a communist. Every generation gets bamboozled by the eloquent good intentions of communism, fails to realize that they're just getting sucked in by the same old evil, and applies a new name to that genocidal doctrine of economic destruction.

A progressive is one of the most confused people on this earth.

Progressives are always carrying on about the UN and "human rights." As another commenter noted, the UN is a completely useless organization... an utter waste of money and time. The UN's idea of "human rights" is accusing Israel of racism and genocide.

The "human rights" conundrum is at the bottom of the progressive's self-delusion and confusion. Unwilling to accept that humanity is imperfect, the progressive rejects the one paragon of realized human rights and freedom in this world... the U.S. ... and pines instead for a perfected world.

The natural end of the progressive vision is the old Soviet Union. It's a cliche, but it's true. Progressivism is the idiot dogma of good intentions. Progressives feel very good about themselves for these good intentions... and that's really the point of the whole exercise.

We've already tried the ideas of the progressives. Those ideas produced the Soviet Union. We'll get the same result no matter now many times we rinse and repeat.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on November 16, 2009 12:54 PM

My core principles seem to be dictated by two beliefs:

1) That, for better or worse, we're all in this together. Our actions have effects, many of them we don't normally see. Human society seems to follow the laws of physics, so that if one society is up, most likely that is dependent on another being proportionally down. I'm not in favor of "leveling the playing field" type of policies, but I am in favor of policies that hold accountable the entities that are lucky enough to succeed financially.

2) Our station in life is at least 80% luck. I take myself as an example. I was never all that highly motivated, the only thing that kicked me out of my lackadaisical nature was the birth of my first child. I went back to school and lucked into a job I had no experience in solely because I fit the image of what dot-coms in 1999 were looking for in a personality. I made the best of that, and that's where the 20% comes into play.

If I had been born in another country or to a less stable family, I have no doubt that my feckless nature would not have placed me in such a position to succeed. I'm fully aware that my relative success has been highly dependent on those in my family who went before me, who came from Portugal and Ireland and busted their asses and paid for my parents to go to Catholic school and then for my father's college education, making him the first college graduate in the family, which lead to a successful and relatively lucrative medical career, which in turn allowed me room to fail (which I did often in my youth), but always with that safety net. And less obvious, the social graces to navigate the fields that pay good money.

For those two factors, I believe that the more you succeed, the more you owe back, because success is almost entirely based on luck and the ability to capitalize on that luck.

That said, the policies that are based on this worldview, which I believe have a moral imperative, should be practical in nature, and not to simply alleviate some kind of guilt. Which I have none of, by the way. I think that is a failing of some on the left.

So yeah, not such an intellectual answer, but there you go.

Posted by: JV on November 16, 2009 1:06 PM

Conservatism is dealing with man as he is. Liberalism, man as we want him to be.

Posted by: slumlord on November 16, 2009 3:19 PM

@ Rich:

Very interesting comment, I agree with most of it. In terms of a revival of intellectual Conservatism, I am a little more optimistic than you. My ability to read isn't much older than the internet, so I don't really have a frame of reference, but my impression is that it has been a lot more conducive to disseminating right wing ideas than the alternative.

Take Paul Krugman, for example. Twenty years ago, his NYT columns would be the final authority on all matters econ-related in the western world. Today, it is plainly obvious to anyone who ever reads Scott Sumner, Econlog, Mankiw, etc., that Krugman is an asshat. No more than 1% of the world reads all of those right-ish economics blogs combined, but those 1% are highly concentrated in the upper echelons of the economics information-dissemination structure. Ideas flow downhill, and the whole thing is very Enders Game-ish.

Mencius Moldbug has written that the first step in a Conservative revolution (reaction) is the construction of a truth-system that is more trustworthy than the Progressive-run "Cathedral" (the universities and press). I think such a thing already exists. Once you learn how to click, you're mind is opened to a world full of progressive fictions - keynesian econ, blank slatism, bogus climate science.

The internet makes it very, very difficult to lie and deceive. If you believe, as most presumably do, that your ideology is one of truth and goodness, you should assume that the internet will only help advance your ideas. In the corner of the blogosphere I'm most familiar with, I see a proliferation of Libertarian/Conservative blogs of the highest quality, while Progressives are represented by economists of a more Delongish character.

@ JV:

I agree with your characterization of success as mostly a product of luck. I might even take it one step further - is it not lucky to be born intelligent? Or conscientious? Both traits are highly hereditary, afaik. My disagreement with the sort of policies I imagine you'd propose is on the actual, real-world effects of said policies. I think the Great Society was a bad idea in large part because I think it worked out horribly for America's underclass, not because I don't think "we're all in this together."

@ Slumlord:

Pithy, and I agree, but... aren't you somewhat of a Liberal yourself? Please explain =)



Posted by: Zdeno on November 16, 2009 4:24 PM

Zdeno, I agree intelligence/talent is luck. I also agree the Great Society did not work, which is kind of what I meant by espousing practical policies, which I don't believe the policies of the Great Society were. The Great Society was mostly guilt-alleviating crap like no-incentive welfare.

Posted by: JV on November 16, 2009 4:46 PM

@ Not Gandhi

Some valid points, yes. Buffy hides its conservatism extremely well, which is why is it so beloved among feminists and in academia generally. But it is a narrative with a profoundly moral foundation, which I think makes it conservative. One telling episode is the one in which they confront the spirit of an Indian warrior who wants to punish the white conquerors. There ensues a very interesting debate between Willow--the progressive--and Giles and Spike, the conservatives. They win, by the way. In order to see the conservative underpinnings, you have to look past the surface, of course. I suppose that here I am implicitly claiming that conservatism is not necessarily bound to a certain traditional social structure, but rather to an understanding of the moral structure of reality.

For another conservative show, look at Firefly, though it could as easily be claimed by the libertarians. Throughout the truncated series, the old virtues of the West--the wild west--are shown positively.

A movie that "rejects all the following: Pacifisim/Socialism, Feminism, Multiculturalism, Anti-American Egalitarianism, and fashionable atheism or anti-Christianity"? That's easy: We Were Soldiers with Mel Gibson.

I think when we start to point out the conservative strains in a lot of pop culture we will start seeing them everywhere. Narratives based on progressive moral relativism are pretty much always piss-poor.

Posted by: Bryan on November 16, 2009 5:27 PM

"hollywood producers will produce anything that could potentially make money but it's only from this pool of screenplays they have to choose from."

Stuios and producers, who have millions of dollars at their disposal, routinely buy properies - novels, nonfiction books, plays - not simply sit around sifting through spec scipts.

They can commission any writer they want to write something to order. Nothing stops them from making a tempting offer to writers with a rightward leaning philosophy. Hell, they could put ads in the trade papers or even start a competition looking for conservative screenplays and they'd be deluged with submissions.

Ever hear of the film "An American Carol?" It was co-written and directed by longtime Hollywood insider David Zucker and released by Vivendi (Universal Studios). The film was a conservative parody of Michael Moore and liberal Hollywood values. The film tanked at the box office. If there's such an unfulfiled appetite for entertainment embodying conservative values, the studios would produce product to feed it. But, on the occasions when they underwrite such products, they usually fail.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on November 16, 2009 5:35 PM

Interesting point Z. You ever hear of George Lakoff? He's a Berekely Professor/Linguist. His take on this is that people cluster under two main models - nuturant parent vs strict parent, which maps to Dems vs Republicans. That's why people are against - abortion, gun control, welfare. They want rules enforced. Liberal types focus on taking care of the people and in theory they won't misbehave if they've been taken care of growing up.

Not sure that I totally buy this but I think there is something to it.

Posted by: Ed on November 16, 2009 6:12 PM

LOL, how you conservatives are full of yourselves!

Conservatism is dealing with man as he is. Liberalism, man as we want him to be.

Conservatism is pretending that man is a rational actor, that corporations will police themselves or the market will do it for them, that only governments are capable of abusing power, that the poor are all poor because they're lazy, etc.

Okay, but let me explain why I'm a liberal/progressive with some libertarian tendencies:


Pure capitalism has several systemic flaws, most of which come down to one thing: more capital equals more power. As long as everybody has the same power, capitalism is extraordinarily efficient. But when power begins to precipitate, it warps the economy in a way that lets the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Communism, of course, has one enormous systemic flaw: it goes against human nature.

The answer, then, is capitalism combined with serious regulation and counterweights to every kind of power: unions, trust-busting, auditing, progressive taxation, the whole nine. While Republicans and conservatives like to pretend that this is equivalent to communism or socialism (because it's rhetorically convenient to do so) in reality it's nothing like it. The underlying system is capitalism. Everything else is just designed to keep it humming along smoothly.

Socially, broad:

While hard work is important, luck is an enormous factor in success. Not just opportunity luck, but accident of birth luck. I have a great job because I was LUCKY enough to be born a few SDs out on the right side of the bell curve and LUCKY enough to be born to educated parents who could afford to send me to good schools and who motivated me to do well enough to get a good job. That's all on top of lucky enough to be born an American as opposed to, e.g., a Guatemalan.

Consequently, I think that it's proper and appropriate for those of us who are lucky to help those who are unlucky. And government is the appropriate tool for that help, for several reasons. The first is that it may compel the lucky to help the unlucky even when the lucky convince themselves that they are not lucky but deserving. Again, this is not communism, because the engine of the economy is still capitalistic -- it's just a carefully cultivated capitalism. The second is simply that government is exactly the organization of all of us. It's simply the most appropriate level at which to do that sort of thing.

Socially, narrow:

I am not only skeptical that society can be centrally planned; I am convinced it should not be. Consequently, anything which can not be definitively shown to harm other people against their will should be allowed. Gay sex, gay marriage, polygamy, private drug use, religion, assisted suicide, pornography, self-mutilation -- all should be legal. Society, to me, is an emergent phenomenon and I am not biased towards "traditional" society the way conservatives are.

Hot-button issues:

I'm for gun rights. (The right to life in my mind implies a right to self-defense.) I'm for abortion rights, as I don't see the great harm in killing something that is not yet an actual person (possessing self-awareness and consciousness.) I'm for freedom of and from religion. I'm for free speech, even hate speech or flag burning. (I'm also for harsher punishments for hate crimes, in that they harm more than just the supposed victim.) Anti-discrimination laws are just a subset of the regulation of capitalism required to protect the less powerful from the more powerful. I'm becoming opposed to many implementations of affirmative action although not to the underlying concept.[

Posted by: JewishAtheist on November 17, 2009 9:31 AM

Taking a morning lap through the thread results in a few thoughts.

First, I'll put my money on Donald's two cents that few people fit solidly into any easy to define cluster. We label, systematize, stereotype, and simplify because it makes dealing with the actual complexity of things somewhat easier. Individuals will always have diverse attitudes and contrary opinions, the greater the number of people, the wider their diversity, the more complex the equation.

Zdeno sets forth three broad categories of political orientation and asks what "core principals" underlie them. Some respond by selecting the category they think best fits them and commenting accordingly; Robert Townshend, for example, gives us his elegant and witty view of conservatism. Others identify the category they find least appealing (on this blog that mostly means progressivism) and attack it. This impulse is unfortunately too well represented in the comments.

It is clearly seen as Woodstock's Rush Limbaugh gives us his tired and false equation that all progressives (wittingly or not) are ultimately communists bent on a "genocidal doctrine of economic destruction." Just a tad overblown, wouldn't you say? This is the mirror image of the impulse some on the left have to claim that all conservatives (wittingly or not) are racists bent on fascism. Old Atlantic's comment, with its oblique appeal to white nationalism and call for dealing with Others as parasites, might be offered by a leftist as evidence of this impulse on the right.

slumlord offers the pithy; Conservatism is dealing with man as he is. Liberalism, man as we want him to be. -

Forgive me, but this doesn't ring true. Or rather it is no more or less true than saying the reverse; Liberalism is dealing with man as he is, Conservatism, man as we want him to be.

Man-As-He-Is can be expected to go where the water is, the jobs are, or to get away from the guy with the machete hacking his neighbors to death, regardless of borders. Man-As-He-Is finds Matt Damon thrillers with villains who are greedy trans-national corporate military elite more worth the price of admission and popcorn than films where Joe the Plumber and a former Miss America have a series madcap adventures in which they deal with an inept, transgendered, illegal immigrant and the jerk-wad college art teacher sheltering him ... er, her ... or it. Man-As-He-Is would like universal health care, even if it means diminished profits for the health care industry.

The practical exercise is always figuring out how to structure those various means by which a given "cluster", namely the one defined by national borders, operates.

One model is the Supreme Leader. Examples of this approach abound through the ages, perhaps because it is quite effective at maximizing the power and spoils for a very small elite. It is a pretty straight line from the Pharaohs, Tsars, and Sun Kings to Kim Jong Il and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The other model is whatever patchwork quilt of accommodations and compromise the downtrodden masses cobble together after they've had enough abuse and rise up in revolution. All too often, this ends up being a reshuffling of the elite and the elevation to power of a new Supreme Leader.

Sometimes the populace gets lucky and the result is some variant of democracy. In this case the people must deal with the inefficient and messy business of seeking compromise and consensus, of keeping various factions within the populace from turning on each other and thus heading back in the direction of a compact, homogeneous elite led by a Supreme Leader.

Unless someone can legislate away differences in race, gender, religious preference, sexual orientation, ancestral heritage, birth order, and all the other characteristics that make each human unique, there will always be factions that might be loosely grouped as Progressive, Libertarian, and Conservative ... as well as Green, Fascist, Socialist, and a plethora of other plausible groupings. The ultimate in seeking for all men (and women) to be what we want them to be rather than what they actually are is to claim only one of these political cluster groups holds all the correct answers so everyone must sign on, join up, or get out of the way ... and if they don't they must be silenced or eliminated.

Posted by: Chris White on November 17, 2009 9:57 AM

Chris White:

The U.N. is a deeply flawed organization but, as Churchill said when he called democracy "the worst form of government ... except all the others that have been tried", it has been the best forum for nations to find peaceful solutions to disagreements we've had in our lifetime.

Could you please give a few concrete examples where the U.N. has effectively served as a forum for finding peaceful solutions to disagreements? Having personally seen the consequences of various U.N. "peace" initiatives and operations in the corner of the world where I come from, I would be curious to read about some examples that are contrary to my experience.

I guess you could make a case that the Security Council provides a convenient brokerage forum for the representatives of a handful of world's greatest powers. However, something similar could easily exist without the need for the accompanying sordid and criminal "United Nations" masquerade.

your link did not work, but when I read James Kalb my reaction tends to be one of (a) annoyance at his [mis-]characterization of liberals and (b) disagreement with him.

Strange, the link works for me. But just in case, here it is again:

I find the critique well thought-out and, if anything, moderate and restrained.

Posted by: Vladimir on November 17, 2009 5:00 PM


The internet makes it very, very difficult to lie and deceive.

I strongly disagree. The problem is that on the internet, anyone can publish anything, but this means that all conceivable viewpoints will be voiced, included all the dishonest and deluded ones, and something is necessary to separate the signal from the white noise when one decides what information to believe. Studying the entire multitude of offered viewpoints on every subject -- and for the most people, even any single subject -- with a perfectly open mind and filtering out all the falsities and fallacies is clearly impossible.

Thus, unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority of people on the internet end up getting their information from the web outlets of the same official respectable institutions as in the real world. An unconventional blog, especially if anonymous, stands in the same relation to the web pages of the New York Times and Harvard University as an anonymous guy handing out strange xeroxed pamphlets on a street corner compared to the printed material published by these institutions. At the end of the day, if you look at what the government might actually do in practice, it is still restricted to the ideas that the economists from the NY Times and Harvard find respectable. And they still have as much freedom to lie and deceive as they've ever had.

Besides, the supposed uncensorability of the internet is a complete myth and delusion. The present anarchic freedom of speech on the internet is merely a consequence of the fact that you can host your web pages in the U.S., which has an extravagantly broad legal concept of protected speech, without parallel anywhere else in the world. But a government that really wants to censor the internet can do it without any real trouble; if anything, the internet is even more easily censored than many of the conventional media.

Posted by: Vladimir on November 17, 2009 5:30 PM

I think that dzot is mostly right. I've been mulling over a post on The Politics of Self-Image for quite some time, but since I write an apolitical blog I have nowhere to post it, so it sits on the shelf.

Another issue, I think, is that I think that most people have relatively few firmly held convictions. But we're sort of expected to have an opinion on everything, so we listen to the guy who agrees with us on gun control and believe him and buy into his vision because he agrees with us on abortion. Meanwhile, the guy with the opinion on abortion listens to the fellow traveller on that subject when he talks about gun control. So we cluster.

Posted by: Trumwill on November 17, 2009 9:05 PM

@ Vladimir – Whatever problem I previously had with the link has been remedied. Not that it changed my reaction. I find Kalb too intent on making his case by liberally sprinkling red herrings (if I may be granted the puns), distortions, and presumptions throughout his critique of the UDHR. I have no doubt that he could similarly tear apart the language of our own Constitution with its Bill of Rights, categorizing it as clever subterfuge on the part of an elite bent on tyranny. Vague and idealistic language is dismissed for lack of specificity; specifics are dismissed as unenforceable or extraneous and so it goes. Yes, it was a document crafted by diplomats with varied and even contradictory aims seeking to address issues beyond the capability of any such document to ever fully or completely address, as are virtually all such declarations.

In any case, I certainly have no interest in being drawn into a debate about the efficacy of the present day United Nations, nor in picking nits over the UDHR, a document from 1948 when the U.N. was young and the world was attempting to regain its balance after the Great Depression and World War II. Rather, as part of the exercise in this thread for comments to outline our "core principals", I offered it as a reasonable and reasoned compilation of many of the core principals I hold; principles based on the importance of individual rights and the injunction that governments protect those rights.

BTW, I am in complete agreement with your assessment of the internet and its signal to noise ratio ... even if some of what you might judge to be signal, I might deem noise and vice versa.

Posted by: Chris White on November 17, 2009 11:50 PM

Zdeno re Slumlord:

Pithy, and I agree, but... aren't you somewhat of a Liberal yourself? Please explain =)

No I'm deeply Conservative, though I may appear Liberal at times. When I an a Liberal agree on something, it's for two totally different reasons.

I would urge anyone who wants to understand my worldview to read Ed Feser's excellent essay on the subject, The Metaphysics of Conservatism.

Conservatism is premised on certain axioms of the human condition, from which flow prudential considerations of politics, economics, aesthetics and so on.

For instance, as a Conservative, I don't have any formulaic answer to what is the most appropriate size of government. I would say that the size of government is contingent on the circumstances. But were it up to me to decide how big government should be, it would be a small as possible to adequately serve the circumstances. In a society of intelligent and virtuous men, the Government would naturally be small. But in a country of proles, the government needs to be big.

Likewise conservatives believe in the doctrine of original sin. That is, that evil lies in all of us as a part of our natures. No amount of education, social leveling, boosting or uplifting of any kind will eradicate the evils of the world, we will always have it with us. Some evils may be ameliorated by the reorganisation of scoiety. But when a man rapes and stabs a woman, it's because he's an arsehole, his social conditions don't matter.

Conservatives also recognise that facts matter, even inconvenient ones. Anyone who has looked at the matter with a moderate degree of objectivity will realise that nuclear power is the way to go with regard to energy provision in the future. Renewables are bullshit. Yet the idiot left pillories the technology in favour of its chosen cause; renewables. The point here is that you can present all the facts in the world to the Left but once it's made up its mind that this is the "way it's meant to be", no further discussion is necessary. The conservative has the open mind grounded in reality, the liberal the closed mind pinned to fantasy.

But yes in some ways I do appear liberal even though I'm not. Traditionalists thought Blacks were inferior human beings, I don't. But that's because any man who has spoken to an intelligent black man will realise that he is just that, an intelligent man. They are the facts. Traditionalists believed that women were inferior to men. I don't. But then again I don't subscribe to the Left fallacy that women are the same as men. When the Left accidentally hits the truth of a subject, I agree with it. Conservatives are never Liberals, rather Liberals can hold some positions which are actually conservative.

Posted by: slumlord on November 18, 2009 6:57 AM

While I understand the natural tendency of the precise writer to want to use symmetrical terms, it is really kind of stupid to describe your wife (or anybody else except possibly me) as "pro-abortion." Pro-abortion would logically imply that she is in favor of abortions. Unless she is in the habit of sending fruit baskets to Planned Parenthood clinics and blaring "Another One Bites the Dust" out of a portable audio system at NARAL rallies, I rather doubt she is really in favor of abortions per se.

If one were to want to use symmetrical terms, it would be much more logical to use "pro-choice" and "anti-choice," as that is both consistent and descriptive. If one respects the (silly) position that both are actually arguing "for" something, then "pro-choice" and "pro-life" are as good as it's going to get.

Posted by: StM on November 18, 2009 10:23 AM

"Conservatives are never Liberals, rather Liberals can hold some positions which are actually conservative."

Ridiculous. The most self-satisfied comment yet on this thread. More likely, people can't be categorized so neatly, so of course there are issues in which 2 people who self-identify as different political groups can agree on.

Posted by: JV on November 18, 2009 12:00 PM

The most self-satisfied comment yet on this thread

Self-satisfied or not, it's true.

Posted by: slumlord on November 19, 2009 6:22 AM

Slumlord, oh, it's true? Well, OK then. Ha.

Maybe it's true on a personal level for you, wherein the only time you agree with someone who identifies as a liberal is on a traditionally conservative topic, because perhaps you never veer towards the left on anything. But I can vouch for a few of my conservative friends who agree with me on a few traditionally liberal topics, mostly social ones like gay marriage and drugs.

Posted by: JV on November 19, 2009 1:08 PM

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