Jessica Margolin, who blogs at Solvation on topics that I would broadly call “political economy” and emergent trends within the moderately liberal, techno-VC–silicon valley – futurist-”social capital”, business culture, writes in to me:
“Hi. As an educated and articulate libertarian person, could you PLEASE point me to conservative points of view that aren’t espoused by retarded ranting weirdos? I know there must be some. Help”
This cri de coeur caused me to ponder.
Compared to my more leftwing blogfriends at ProgressiveHistorians or NewsHoggers, Margolin does not seem to me to be more than
mildly liberal liberal/progressive but, she lives, if I recall, in an area not noted for a high proportion of conservative residents. If all I saw of conservatism were the bombthrowing personalities in 30 second MSM clips, I’d think the Right was composed of wingnuts too.
It isn’t, of course, any more than the Left is exclusively populated by Hugo Chavez worshipping, Cindy Sheehan clones. I think the problem in the mutual perception of respective Left-Right wingnuttery comes down to three factors:
3. The Infotainment Media Business Model
Number three is the most significant factor. Bombastic clowns draw an audience. Reasoned discourse puts viewers to sleep. The media is a business, not a charity organization or even a totally one-sided political machine. Basically liberal broadcast networks will air a few conservatives who bring in ad revenue. Period. This model is a driver to propagating corrosive, demonizing, political rhetoric in the public discourse and it garners attention far beyond the actual numbers of people who genuinely support such positions
The most aggravating figures in political life are really more partisan than ideological. Something about the intrinsic one-sidedness of partisan rhetoric, I suspect. Richard Nixon and George W. Bush were not very conservative in their policies but they were aggressive partisans. Bill and Hillary Clinton are partisan Democrats as was Jimmy Carter (the much maligned Carter enraged stalwart liberals among the House Democrats). By contrast, LBJ, Obama and Reagan are/were more ideological than partisan presidents. Eisenhower, JFK and Ford were neither sharply partisan nor ideological but epitomized pragmatic consensus politics.
Ideology is the bedrock of political conviction. Certain people though prefer purism to policy “wins” and are willing to go down with flags flying rather than compromise their principles. We can even find this praiseworthy, in retrospect; men like Barry Goldwater and Hubert Humphrey appear far more admirable in the eyes of history than the opponents who beat them for the presidency. By contrast, others appear to be a little cracked, impractical and unreasonable tilters at windmills and political ass-clowns who only injure their own party with buffoonish antics.
Returning to Jessica’s question, conservatism is a coalition and not a movement, like liberalism. There are real and important philosophical differences between factions on the Right – neocons, paleocons, libertarians, moderates and the religious right – that do not have counterparts on the Left. The Right tends to stick together based more upon what they are against than what they are for.
Here are some voices in the different conservative factions that I find to be “reasonable”, most of the time. It is an imperfect and admittedly arbitrary list composed of pundits, media personalities, philosophers, bloggers and historical figures. I do not claim to have read every word each person has ever written or that I endorse all of their views. I am using these labels very broadly ( Ayn Rand rejected the term “libertarian”, John Adams was also a radical because he was a republican revolutionary, etc.) and my familiarity with religious right figures is very weak. I did not include a category for “moderate conservatives” – something that probably describes most GOP general election voters who often do not bother to vote in the primaries.
All I am saying is that these individuals are among the better representatives of different kinds of conservatism in the Anglo-American sense of the term, the a couple of figures are probably borderline, depending where you stand.
Arnaud de Borchgrave, W. Pat Lang, Bernard Finel, George Will, Fabius Maximus, Milt Rosenberg, Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley, George Kennan, Robert Taft, Whittaker Chambers, Edmund Burke, John Adams
Amity Shlaes, Virginia Postrel, Charles Murray, Thomas Sowell, Stephen Chapman, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, Friedrich von Hayek, Murray Rothbard, Ludwig von Mises, Barry Goldwater, Thomas Jefferson, Tom Paine
The Religious Right:
Comments, criticism, complaints, suggestions. Open fire in the comments…..
By acclamation from the learned gents in the comments section, 20th century American political theorist James Burnham and 19th century French philosopher Frederic Bastiat, are officially added to the list.
I have not read either, though I’ve seen Bastiat frequently quoted by libertarian writers. Joseph Fouche of The Committe of Public Safety blog did an excellent series on Burnham which you can access here.