David Brooks is fed up with the GOP. Today’s conservative, he says, is not yesterday’s conservative. What happened?
Basically, the party abandoned traditional conservatism for right-wing radicalism. Republicans came to see themselves as insurgents and revolutionaries, and every revolution tends toward anarchy and ends up devouring its own.
I’ve been trying to combat this argument by amnesia for years. As he has done before, Krugman valiantly takes up my cause today in his response to Brooks. Yet the argument keeps popping back up.
So let’s take it apart, piece by piece. Brooks says the rot set in 30 years ago, in the wake of Reagan. Let’s see how today’s conservatism compares to those loamy vintages of more than three decades past. The bolded passages are all from Brooks’ column.
By traditional definitions, conservatism stands for intellectual humility,
“The conservative principle has been defended, the past hundred and fifty years, by men of learning and genius.” (Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind)
“A successful defence of freedom must therefore be dogmatic and make no concessions to expediency….Utopia, like ideology, is a bad word today…But an ideal picture of a society which may not be wholly achievable, or a guiding conception of the overall order to be aimed at, is nevertheless not only the indispensable precondition of any rational policy, but also the chief contribution that science can make to the solution of the problems of practical policy.” (Friedrich von Hayek, Law, Legislation, Liberty, Vol. 1)“Conservatism is in general the intuition of genius, whereas liberalism is the efficiency of talent.” (Elmer More, “Disraeli and Conservatism”)
a belief in steady, incremental change,
“Every little measure is a great errour.” (Edmund Burke, Letters on a Regicide Peace)
“The American people now want us to act and not in half-measures. They demand and they’ve earned a full and comprehensive effort.” (Ronald Reagan, Address Before a Joint Session of Congress on the Program for Economic Recovery)
a preference for reform rather than revolution,
“…espouse conservatism with the vehemence of a radical. The thinking conservative, in truth, must take on some of the outward characteristics of the radical, today; he must poke about the roots of society, in the hope of restoring vigor to an old tree strangled in the rank undergrowth of modern passions.” (Russell Kirk, A Program for Conservatives)
“Because of the corruption of the term liberalism, the views that formerly went under that name are now often labeled conservatism. But this is not a satisfactory alternative. The nineteenth-century liberal was a radical, both in the etymological sense of going to the root of the matter, and in the political sense of favoring major changes in social institutions. So too must be his modern heir.” (Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom)It is fixed beyond all power of reformation…this body, being totally perverted from the purposes of its institution, is utterly incorrigible; and because they are incorrigible, both in conduct and constitution, power ought to be taken out of their hands; just on the same principles on which have been made all the just changes and revolutions of government that have taken place since the beginning of the world.” (Burke, Speech on Fox’s East India Bill)“The conservatives, as a minority, are the new radicals. The evidence is overwhelming.” (William F. Buckley, God and Man at Yale)
a respect for hierarchy,
No argument from me....
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