T Nation

What Conservatism Should Look Like

What Conservatism Should Look Like

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University. He is the author of The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.

“There remains in our politics a place for an authentic conservatism,” writes Sam Tanenhaus, “a conservatism that seeks not to destroy but to conserve.” Which begs the question: Given our current predicament, what exactly should principled conservatives view as worth conserving?

Let’s take a quick inventory.

The Left has won the culture war, and, at least in the near-term, its victory is irreversible. In social relations, the right to choose trumps all other considerations: to fornicate, marry, breed, abort, divorce, and abandon.

That a single mother with six kids should opt for another eight because she feels like it captures the distilled essence of the cultural moment that we have entered. Somehow ritual expressions of support for “family values” don’t quite provide an adequate response.

When it comes to economics, faux conservatives–Ronald Reagan in the vanguard–collaborated with liberals in abandoning even the pretense of prudent fiscal management. The blindingly obvious result: debt and dependency. “Today,” writes Niall Ferguson in a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed, “America is Argentina.”

Just so. We can’t pay our bills so we pretend we’ll never have to. Those in power pay lip service to our collective obligation to future generations and then cynically ignore that obligation, appropriating trillions in the hope that somehow or other we can spend our way out of the hole that we’ve dug for ourselves.

The only obligation with which the present generation is likely to keep faith is a self-assigned one: to binge, vainly trying to satisfy its own appetite for consumption. What exactly in this Ponzi scheme should conservatives be exerting themselves to preserve?

In foreign policy, thanks in no small part to neocon rabble-rousing, the United States committed itself after 9/11 to an open-ended war aimed at asserting some form of benevolent hegemony across the Greater Middle East.

This stupid idea has cost the country dearly, yet, to be fair, it represented a logical extension of the assertions of “global leadership” by the “sole superpower” relying on “global power projection” that had long since become commonplace across the political spectrum (the far Left and Old Right excepted).

Should true-blue conservatives be working to perpetuate the celebrated American Century? Or should they wish to ring down the curtain on all that the American Century in our own day has come to represent?

Granted, there are issues where the mandate to conserve applies: The environment provides one obvious example. Yet by and large, the proper place for genuine conservatives today is in opposition, advancing a principled critique of the status quo with the hope–however quixotic–of persuading Americans to mend their ways.

When it comes to the culture, conservatives should promote an awareness of the costs of unchecked individual autonomy, while challenging conceptions of freedom that deny the need for self-restraint and self-denial. When it comes to economics, they should emphasize the virtue and necessity of Americans, collectively as well as individually, learning to live within their means.

When it comes to foreign policy, they should advocate a restoration of realism, which will necessarily entail abandoning expectations of remaking the world in America’s own image.

That such a program will provide a path to power is doubtful. Yet a genuinely conservative critique is much needed today. Advancing that critique qualifies as an honorable calling.

–Andrew J. Bacevich

Why conservatism fails:

Who’s to say individual autonomy isn’t put in check by the many organizations brought about by free people acting in their own best interests? Do we need politics to answer these questions?

[quote]LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
Why conservatism fails:

“When it comes to the culture, conservatives should promote an awareness of the costs of unchecked individual autonomy, while challenging conceptions of freedom that deny the need for self-restraint and self-denial.”

Who’s to say individual autonomy isn’t put in check by the many organizations brought about by free people acting in their own best interests? Do we need politics to answer these questions?[/quote]

How do you seperate it from politics? Seems to me that when the family, prudent discernment, and self-restraint breaks down, people look to a bigger and bigger government to clean up after their self-destructive lifestyle choices. And the shrinking pool living within their means, living a conservative lifestyle, putting off self-gratification for long term security, bear an ever increasing burden to support the entitlement state and it’s wards.

[quote]Sloth wrote:
How do you seperate it from politics? Seems to me that when the family, prudent discernment, and self-restraint breaks down, people look to a bigger and bigger government to clean up after their self-destructive lifestyle choices. [/quote]

The problem I have with conservatives is the fact that self-restraint cannot be legislated.

I agree with many of the things conservatives say about family but I do not want them to interfere with my family. I especially do not want them to take money from me to force legislation on my family that it feels is important to “family values.”

Family plays a big role in our daily lives but it is not the end-all-be-all institution of social life. And like any thing government puts its hands on it will just end up ruining it – look at the state of education, for example.

Not only just this, look at all the laws many conservatives helped pass that hamper family life. I do not trust anyone not in my family with my family’s best interest.

I just don’t think Conservatives should stop speaking of cultural issues. Someone needs to. Our popular cultural entertainment is centered around skanks, trying to raise the bar on each other. Observe!

http://www.theonion.com/content/video/in_the_know_are_reality_shows

[quote]Sloth wrote:
I just don’t think Conservatives should stop speaking of cultural issues. [/quote]

Nor will they. I just don’t want them legislating their notion of “cultural issues” on me.

[quote]Sloth wrote:
I just don’t think Conservatives should stop speaking of cultural issues. Someone needs to. Our popular cultural entertainment is centered around skanks, trying to raise the bar on each other. Observe!

http://www.theonion.com/content/video/in_the_know_are_reality_shows

[/quote]

I just don’t see what benefit social conservativism serves in the federal gov’t. I am trying to think where need fed reps commenting or legislating on anything social.

[quote]dhickey wrote:
Sloth wrote:
I just don’t think Conservatives should stop speaking of cultural issues. Someone needs to. Our popular cultural entertainment is centered around skanks, trying to raise the bar on each other. Observe!

http://www.theonion.com/content/video/in_the_know_are_reality_shows

I just don’t see what benefit social conservativism serves in the federal gov’t. I am trying to think where need fed reps commenting or legislating on anything social.[/quote]

Without social conservatism, you’ll always have a giant welfare state. This state replaces missing fathers, the church, personal responsibility, and voluntary charity.

We’ll never shrink the size of government when legions of broken homes and personally irresponsible people cast their votes for handouts and safety nets.

Advocating and legislating are very different things Sloth.

[quote]Beowolf wrote:
Advocating and legislating are very different things Sloth.[/quote]

I don’t know, Beowolf. More and more, I find myself believing that social libertarianism dooms fiscal libertarianism. A people that tends to seek instant gratification will look for others to share the burden when their lifestyles blow-up in their face.

[quote]Sloth wrote:
Beowolf wrote:
Advocating and legislating are very different things Sloth.

I don’t know, Beowolf. More and more, I find myself believing that social libertarianism dooms fiscal libertarianism. A people that tends to seek instant gratification will look for others to share the burden when their lifestyles blow-up in their face.[/quote]

I agree in principal but not in practice.

People need to limit themselves, yes, but that does not make the socially liberal things inherently “wrong”.

It is not WRONG to be gay, to use contraception, to smoke Mary Jane, to not go to church.

It IS wrong to expect people to pick up your life if you can’t handle your shit.

So, basically, we need to ADVOCATE a better lifestyle, and basically ignore those who fuck themselves over.

Sounds horrible, but private charities will pick up a lot of the slack.

[quote]Sloth wrote:
dhickey wrote:
Sloth wrote:
I just don’t think Conservatives should stop speaking of cultural issues. Someone needs to. Our popular cultural entertainment is centered around skanks, trying to raise the bar on each other. Observe!

http://www.theonion.com/content/video/in_the_know_are_reality_shows

I just don’t see what benefit social conservativism serves in the federal gov’t. I am trying to think where need fed reps commenting or legislating on anything social.

Without social conservatism, you’ll always have a giant welfare state. This state replaces missing fathers, the church, personal responsibility, and voluntary charity.

We’ll never shrink the size of government when legions of broken homes and personally irresponsible people cast their votes for handouts and safety nets. [/quote]

I guess my point is a conservative shouldn’t have to be concerned with social issues becuase it is not the feds job to worry about social issues. I was thinking more gay marriage and abortion. I would put funding social programs under fiscally conservative.

[quote]Sloth wrote:
I just don’t think Conservatives should stop speaking of cultural issues. Someone needs to.
[/quote]

Agree 100%. But I think Bacevich is also right that the Left has more or less won the culture war. But the bill will come due eventually (Britain is ahead of us on that score).

I am not sure that the answer would be to have a strictly conservative government, but the conservatives the article is talking about are needed in the government. I think it elaborates my point with the Republican Party, meaning the Republicans are not conservative. The only time they are conservative is when it is for a social program for the (poor).

I think the true rule of a conservative would be to go back to the gold standard, where every body would have to live with in their means not just the poor. The banks as well as the Government would be on the same footing as the poor. That would be true reform

I think most people think I am a raging liberal, I think I would like to see every body have to conserve, not just force the poor to conserve. I think it would get back to where the cream would rise to the top, not where the top forces every body back down.

[quote]Sloth wrote:

Without social conservatism, you’ll always have a giant welfare state. This state replaces missing fathers, the church, personal responsibility, and voluntary charity.

We’ll never shrink the size of government when legions of broken homes and personally irresponsible people cast their votes for handouts and safety nets.[/quote]

And again:

These 2 quotes are the most profoundly accurate summation of why this country will not survive I have ever seen in these forums. The principle of self governance this nation was founded on assumed the continued national consensus of a Judeo-Christian morality as the accepted norm. It didn’t occur to them they would one day have to debate whether killing one’s own unborn children should be legal or what do with the fallout of the demise of a faithful family unit consisting of one man and one woman for life.

If people don’t like that… tough shit. Read what they said.

Morality cannot indeed be legislated, not authentically anyway. The fact that it is now under serious dispute on foundational issues like marriage and family is the absolute rock bottom disease of which every single other major problem this country is facing are merely symptoms. The sentence “fiscal conservative and social liberal” is a statement of drooling imbecility.

A) There is no proof that opening up marriage to homosexuals will at all damage society.

B) The abortion issue is a WHOLE other subject worthy of it’s own debate, and has very little to do with fiscal conservatism.

Fiscal conservatism can EASILY align with social libertarianism. Simply remove government involvement in religious morality matters altogether. Reregulate to a strict contract form of marriage, etc…

The abortion debate is not about whether or not women have the right to an abortion, or whether or not it is wrong to kill babies. It is about when a fetus becomes a living child, a nearly impossible question to answer.

[quote]Sloth wrote:
Beowolf wrote:
Advocating and legislating are very different things Sloth.

I don’t know, Beowolf. More and more, I find myself believing that social libertarianism dooms fiscal libertarianism. A people that tends to seek instant gratification will look for others to share the burden when their lifestyles blow-up in their face.[/quote]

I really dont think you can claim to be a moral libral and a fiscal conservitive. Having liberal morals means that you want things like free sex which will then mean you want free condoms and free healthcare for people with HIV. But if your a fiscal conservitive you don’t want to give up the money because you want people to pay for that stuff themselves. So yeah, good point. It’s not my fault people in Africa have AIDS why are they taking money from me to pay for it? Thats just one example.

[quote]Beowolf wrote:
A) There is no proof that opening up marriage to homosexuals will at all damage society.

B) The abortion issue is a WHOLE other subject worthy of it’s own debate, and has very little to do with fiscal conservatism.

Fiscal conservatism can EASILY align with social libertarianism. Simply remove government involvement in religious morality matters altogether. Reregulate to a strict contract form of marriage, etc…

The abortion debate is not about whether or not women have the right to an abortion, or whether or not it is wrong to kill babies. It is about when a fetus becomes a living child, a nearly impossible question to answer.
[/quote]

I think gay marriage is going to confuse ALOT of kids about their sexuality. It bad enough that girls think they have to act like bisexual sluts in order to get a decent guy. Most of Europe has gay marriage and most of Europe also has a negative population growth UNLESS you count the Muslim immigrants that don’t believe in homosexuality.

Actually we need to abandon consdervativism altogether and promote Objectivism.

[quote]Beowolf wrote:
A) There is no proof that opening up marriage to homosexuals will at all damage society.

B) The abortion issue is a WHOLE other subject worthy of it’s own debate, and has very little to do with fiscal conservatism.

Fiscal conservatism can EASILY align with social libertarianism. Simply remove government involvement in religious morality matters altogether. Reregulate to a strict contract form of marriage, etc…

The abortion debate is not about whether or not women have the right to an abortion, or whether or not it is wrong to kill babies. It is about when a fetus becomes a living child, a nearly impossible question to answer.
[/quote]

I thoroughly disagree with every point in this post, but am just not up to elucidating why at the moment.