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The Conservative Challenge

One of the most frustrating aspects of being a Reagan conservative today is witnessing the total surrender of many elements of what made Reagan's unique strategy successful in 1980.

There is an unsigned opinion piece in the The New Criterion that lays out this dilemma in blunt terms. The author quotes political philosopher David Hume and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman in warning that it is the slow incrementalism of government intrusion into the private sector that threatens our liberty more than sudden political upheaval:

"It is seldom," David Hume wrote, "that liberty of any kind is lost all at once." That admonitory sentence furnishes one of the epigraphs for Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, first published in 1943. How is freedom faring in the United States today? Peter Robinson, a scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, provided a melancholy précis in "The Loss of Individual Liberty," a column that appeared in Forbes last month. Mr. Robinson recalled a dinner he shared with Milton Friedman several years ago. He complimented the venerable economist on his role in transforming the intellectual landscape, especially in fostering widespread appreciation of the inextricable connection between free markets and individual liberty. Friedman refused the compliment. "We may have won the intellectual battle," he said, "but in practical politics, it's difficult to see that we've had any effect at all." (emphasis mine).

Historians may identify the year 2008 as the new high water mark of this incrementalism as it replaced the previous standard established by Roosevelt's New Deal legislation. The political debate today is no longer defined by principles that are essentially classically liberal, Austrian economics versus progressive leftist, Keynesian economics.

As Friedman noted, the intellectual debate is settled but the Realpolitik debate (i.e. that which is "practical" or pragmatic) is being won by the liberals just as quickly as it is being surrendered by moderate Republicans. The latter group, which is just as intellectually vapid as most members of their opposing party, must be labeled political opportunists and ideological midgets of the worst sort as well. (Yes, I'm talking to you Lindsey Graham, John Warner, Olympia Snowe, John McCain, Colin Powell, Arlen Specter and the rest of the RINO herd.)

The conservative movement faces defining decisions today that are no less important than those made during Reconstruction, or the formation of our modern financial system in the late 19th and early 20th century, or the decisions made during Roosevelt's New Deal and the revolutionary tax cuts of the Reagan era.

Recent legislation to preserve the integrity of our financial system has already invited other constituencies (the auto industry, real estate developers, and other private sector interests) to ask for federal assistance. If Republicans are to have any chance of regaining power in the Congress then they must appeal to the fundamental principles of liberty and rugged individualism that is the core (still today) of conservative political philosophy. To continue the obscene (to borrow Jimmy Carter's description of oil company profits in 1979) use of tax payer money to bail out private sector companies is to make certain that personal responsibility and private sector accountability will become a thing of the past.


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Comments (10)

Obamalala is the perfect ca... (Below threshold)

Obamalala is the perfect candidate to continue this incremental intrusion of government into every facet of our lives. If the appointments he has made are an indication of what he is up to it could be a long four years. The appointments at the lower levels which he will make as president will have just as much of an effect as the major ones maybe more so. There are lots of agencies that he will appoint heads of that will have his liberal, socialist view.

Mark Steyn's article at NRO... (Below threshold)

Mark Steyn's article at NRO is a great read right now.


"...and Nobel laureate M... (Below threshold)

"...and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman..."

I see no reason to disparage Mr. Friedman by calling him a Nobel laureate. Sure, he won the prize, but that was back in the days before the group was run by American hating socialists. Back then, that prize used to mean something. But without clarification, you are grouping Mr. Friedman in with a group of terrorist sympathizers (ex. Jimmy Carter) and plain old terrorists (ex. Yasser Arafat). He does not deserve that.

You should clarify by calling him, "Regardless of receiving a Nobel prize, Milton Friedman is still a great man."

Apology accepted in advance.

Don't forget Al Gore "the b... (Below threshold)

Don't forget Al Gore "the bore" Kevin.

The high water mark of "con... (Below threshold)

The high water mark of "conservative" sell out still remains the Terry Schiavo case.

Talk about government intrusion into the private sector. I don't know what that stuff was, but it wasn't conservative.

At least many of the politicians involved in the bailouts today don't regularly claim to be conservatives. Just Republicans.

"It is seldom," David Hu... (Below threshold)

"It is seldom," David Hume wrote, "that liberty of any kind is lost all at once." That admonitory sentence furnishes one of the epigraphs for Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, first published in 1943

I consider "Serfdom" a must read. Just finished it a few weeks ago. Much of it reads like it was written this year!

The only people who believe... (Below threshold)

The only people who believe that Friedman and the Austrians won some sort of intellectual debate are people who are wholly unfamiliar with that debate. John Rawls demolished the Austrian school of political philosophy with his Theory of Justice. Here is the problem with their philosophy: a society that on the whole enjoys greater material wealth is a greater society. However, that society could be one where 99% of the wealth is held by 1% of the people. Intuition tells us that this would be unfair, and unjust. Unfortunately for the Austrians, none of their models could account for the possibility of unfair distributions of wealth without borrowing from liberal economic models on an ad hoc basis, and thus the Austrians lost the argument.

That's a lot of paraphrasing, but there it is. If you want the longer version, consult archived journal articles at your local university, or take a graduate course on comparative meta-economics and human well-being.

Oh, and Kevin, his Nobel prize was in economics, not peace, you twit. You can't compare winners of those two prizes any more than you can compare those who win Nobel prizes in literature to those who win in physics.

>John Rawls demolished t... (Below threshold)

>John Rawls demolished the Austrian school of political philosophy ... Intuition tells us that this would be unfair

Intuition! Wow. Impressive demolition.

The operative word is 'Nobe... (Below threshold)

The operative word is 'Nobel', hyperbole speaker.

Kevin, I like that you thin... (Below threshold)

Kevin, I like that you think every recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics is a left-wing sycophant. You should start your own prize: Kevin's Prizes in Faith-Based Physics/Poetry/Peace/Chemistry/Etc. Winners receive a $40 Best Buy gift card.

Arthur: intuition is the foundation for serious moral reasoning (unless you're a divine command theorist). In conjunction with logic, it's the basis for all serious Western philosophy. So go ahead and scoff at Aristotle, Socrates, Kant, etc.. But anyway, here's how this intuition plays out:

Society A has 1,000 units of wealth divided amongst 100 people. Each person has an average of 10 units. However, five people each control 150 units, and 95 people control 250 units among them.

Society B has 900 units of wealth divided amongst 100 people. The 5 wealthiest each control 20 units, with 800 units divided among the remaining 95 people.

The Austrians are committed to saying that Society A is necessarily a better state of affairs. As that is not obviously the case (one would need more information to make such an argument), their theory is informationally insufficient, and for all intents and purposes inadequate for what it purports to show.






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