Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Question for my Conservative Friends

This excellent post from Jacob Sullum over at Hit & Run puts forth some questions to conservatives that I have always tried to get solid answers to. Ultimately, I want to know what makes you a conservative? Is it that you hold certain specific beliefs, and if so, what are they; what happens if you only mostly hold to conservative beliefs? Is there an underlying philosophy to which you adhere? Anyway, Sullum puts some of these questions out there using specific examples. For instance he writes:
I have long searched for the unifying thread that ties together the seemingly disparate positions typically advocated by people on "the right." Why does opposition to gun control tend to go hand in hand with support for drug control (National Review's editors being an honorable exception on that score)? What does banning flag burning have in common with repealing restrictions on political ads? Why does pro-life on abortion and assisted suicide become pro-death on capital punishment? How does support for freedom of contract jibe with opposition to gay marriage? What do lower taxes have to do with prohibiting cloning? How is support for free markets reconciled with bans on migrant labor and online gambling?
I think he has some serious questions, especially the juxtaposition of the pro-life and anti-death penaly question. It seems to me that these are purely relative positions. The only real thread tying the two issues together is the government authority that allows (in most every instance) people to tell other people what is "good" and "right."

I don't want to violate anyone's copyright, but I hope citing much of this post is fair (or at least acceptable use). Here goes:

"It's impossible to say that conservatives want 'small government' above all," he concedes, "when most of us want expanded governmental efforts to crack down on terrorists, crooks and illegal immigrants. Yes, we generally favor 'less regulation,' but we also want more restrictions on abortion, pornography and desecration of the flag." Is there some theory about the proper role of government underlying those policy preferences? Medved never really says, beyond the idea that the government should foster good things and crack down on bad things.

One of those good things is capitalism, except when it isn't (emphasis added):

We favor free markets and small government not for their own sake but because the profit system represents the best possible means to encourage wholesome, constructive choices. The only way to make money in a free marketplace is to benefit and bless other people: to provide them with a product or a service they choose to buy. You enrich yourself and enhance your own power by providing your neighbors with what they want.

As long as it's not drugs. Or gangster rap. Or pornography. Or lap dances. Or abortion. Or an opportunity to bet on football. Presumably Medved-style conservatives see no benefit or blessing in these activities because they are not wholesome or constructive. (Does that mean no one makes money by providing them?) Yet many left-liberals are willing to tolerate such transactions, even while seeking to ban the sale of handguns, trans fats, harp seal fur, or drinks in smoky bars. Is this because they do not draw distinctions or care about consequences? Or is it because they draw different distinctions and care about different consequences?

Likewise, Medved asserts that "liberals want us to continue to pour foreign aid into the most dysfunctional nations on earth." Like Iraq? No, not like Iraq, because Saddam was evil! The rulers of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia "aren't all that good," Medved concedes, but they're our friends. So much for eschewing moral relativism and making clear distinctions between right and wrong.

Instead of elucidating the differences in values and principles that distinguish modern American conservatism, Medved settles for smugly assuming his own moral and intellectual superiority. The "core of conservatism," it seems, is a dark, mushy mess.

It seems to me that conservatism and liberalism share one common thread - if we believe something is good or bad, we will outlaw it or require it as we see fit. It's ultimately like each is its own populist culture, and the two battle back and forth for the power to determine what is "good" and what is "bad." Unfortunately, what gets caught in the crossfire tends to be individual liberties. The sad thing is that each group really only cares about collective rights. Like the rights of parents, but only to the extent that they don't spank their kids or don't tell them that certain lifestyles are good or bad. It's really rather ridiculous how the views of self-identifying conservatives or liberals will change based on the substitution of certain factors or buzzwords.

Hopefully, someone can explain to me what makes someone a conservative or a liberal because it damn sure isn't a coherent philosophy.

Kid Handsome



Blogger The Management said...

No worries.. In Otter Land, it will be I who decides for you what is right and wrong.


10:55 AM  
Blogger Kid Handsome said...

Thanks, I'm wildly reassured. You should just see the excitement on my face. I know I'll be well taken care of - awesome. :)

1:46 PM  

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