It’s a Bad Time for Liberals

Source: National Review.

Conservatism Inc. has been re-evaluating itself and contemplating some sort of re-invention for many months. I don’t know why, exactly. The essays, however, have been numerous — and mainly too boring to share.

The brief note at the link is representative of a theme: That conservatives are really, really, “classical liberals.”

I’m like, “OK, if you say so.” But I have my doubts that it is useful to point this out.

Two specific things attracted me to conservatism once I became politically aware. (That would be during my long-haired, protest-for-peace-and-Gaia days; a long time ago.) Most important was the idea that society is always multi-generational. The consequences of this one, simple observation are enormous in every practical way I can imagine. Less important, but equally attractive was that conservatives as pundits tended to be better thinkers and writers. Thus, one day I eschewed forever The New York Times in favor of The Wall Street Journal because I grew tired of fallacy and factual incompetence.

So, while I agree that liberty is the most important political concept of the present age, I’m skeptical that re-branding Conservatism Inc. as “classical liberalism” will do much to advance the cause. The real problem is that too many people have too many wrong ideas about liberty. Some like to argue, for example, that “You can’t be free when you are poor.”

If I could advance just one concept of liberty to young people, I would warn them not to think of it in existential terms. Think, instead, of liberty as a political arrangement. That way you can focus better on the design questions. For example: What must it take to have a free country?

41 thoughts on “It’s a Bad Time for Liberals

  1. This not William F. Buckley’s National Review.

    But I must agree with this carefully worded observation. . .

    “. . . the parties of the right . . . are turning to various forms of illiberalism. ”

    Translation – Fascism is on the rise.

    Then there is this favorite “fact” of the right. . . “free nations [are] becoming less free.”

    That is a very dubious claim. Were we more free when petty Apartheid was practiced throughout the country? Were we more free when McCarthyism was running amok? Were we more free when a Presidential candidate – Eugene Debs – was sent to prison for his beliefs?

    It is a constant whine, but I have never heard any “conservative” state with any clarity what freedom or liberty they think they have lost through the progressive reforms of the last century.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. RE: “It is a constant whine, but I have never heard any ‘conservative’ state with any clarity what freedom or liberty they think they have lost through the progressive reforms of the last century.”

      The income tax and social security come to mind. More recently, various mandates and restrictions related to Covid.


      1. Covid mandates and restrictions are hardly the product of progressive reform. Such measures to protect public health go back to colonial times.

        It is hard to rebut your having to pay taxes being an impingement on your freedom. Superficially it is clear what you mean (who wouldn’t enjoy having that tax money to spend on themselves) but when you weigh up the benefits that public spending provides – especially for those whose careers were financed by the taxpayers – it is far less obvious that your freedom is reduced by the government you are paying them to. The list of vital services those taxes finance is long.

        But really, is all the “conservative” rhetoric about “liberty” nothing more than whining about having to pay income tax? Pretty thin gruel if you ask me.

        Liked by 2 people

          1. “Just earnings” is an undefined concept.

            Is it “just” for the owners of Walmart to “earn” billions while the taxpayers are forced to subsidize their labor force?

            Nobody is going to die of hunger, grow up malnourished, or suffer with curable disease if society ignores your personal choices for sex, diet or religion but if society ignores the concentration of wealth that is exactly what will happen. This is not hard to understand if you try.


          2. Not another “parable.” The world is just not that simple.

            Of course capital (more produced than consumed) must be accumulated in order to progress. But there is no law of science or economics that says it must be accumulated by wealthy individuals and not by groups or by society as a whole.

            Liked by 1 person

      2. RE: “but when you weigh up the benefits that public spending provides – especially for those whose careers were financed by the taxpayers – it is far less obvious that your freedom is reduced by the government you are paying them to.”

        You make an existential argument of the kind I warn against in my post. I suppose it is possible to design a political system that collects taxes and is also free in some sense, at least semantically as Orwell noted. The better question is whether political arrangements can be made that maximize freedom in ideal terms. In that case it matters immensely whether, say, income or sales taxes are used, or how much the government spends, and on what.


    2. Fascism from conservatives? Hardly. If it comes it will be from the progressives.

      The danger to liberty from conservatives arises from prudery.

      The danger from progressives is their lust for other people’s money. That is the seed pf fascism.


      1. Your apparent definition of fascism today is rooted in the fascism of the mid-20th Century. If you view the governments in the world that have become what you refer to as fascist, it has been from the Far Right of politics, regardless of the country.

        Overturning the results of elections LEGALLY because new laws were passed to allow politicians to disagree with the will of the MAJORITY of voters is an example of today’s fascism.

        You think taxation is fascist. I get that. I don’t agree with it, but I get it.

        I see having my vote taken away or overturned because a majority of voters agreed with me and the powers that be made bills to nullify those votes is dangerous and FASCIST. -IMO

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Words have meanings. Fascism is not just anything you don’t like. Fascism as Mussolini defined it was socialism perfected by nationalism.

          Our Constitution was written to limit the will of the majority when it violates the rights of the individual. Using your definition, our Constitution is fascist.

          I’ll stick with Mussolini’s definition. as he was the founder.


          1. Words have meanings. You acknowledge that and then continue to apply your own twisted version. There is nothing “fascist” about guaranteeing basic human rights as our Constitution does.

            And, of course, there was nothing actually “socialist” about Mussolini’s rule nor that of the National “Socialists” of Germany. Both regimes were agents of the big companies who wanted a complacent work force. You are making the rookie mistake of confusing their political propaganda with the reality of their regimes where actual socialist thinking would get you killed.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. In Mussolini’s version of socialism, the economy was controlled top down through vertical organizations called ‘corporati’ after the ancient Roman guilds. The Corporati were responsible for their sector and set prices, wages and quotas.

            The only difference between that and the Soviet organization was that they were called ‘ministries.’


          3. I understand the reference. I’m asking if you, an adult man who is able to form coherent thoughts and express them in writing, believe that fascism and socialism/communism are slight variants of the same ideology?

            Liked by 2 people

          4. Socialism, communism and fascism are all forms of collectivism, the notion that the collective has a greater call on your life than you do,

            In fascism, the personification of the collective in the form of the State is stronger, but in all, your duty to the collective is higher than to your family or your self.

            That is the big factor, everything else is ‘big endism’ and ‘little endism.’


          5. Got it. So you’re not going by any of the generally accepted definitions of the term. You just see an ideology that might ask you, personally, to do something you don’t want to do. Toward which end–violent ethnic supremacy or the material wellbeing of all–is irrelevant. Equally evil in your eyes.

            Liked by 2 people

          6. There are many definitions because it has never looked exactly the same. Local boy, Robert Paxton has a good one:

            “…a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”

            Generally, it can be understood as capitalism’s response to structural crisis.

            Liked by 2 people

          7. Well, again, this is where basic historical literacy comes in. Italy responding to land seizures and labor uprisings; Weimar Germany fighting rampant inflation and a strong socialist movement; Pinochet ousting Allende…Everywhere we’ve seen it, it is acting on the behalf of capital against a threat from the left.

            Liked by 2 people

      2. “Fascism from conservatives? Hardly.”

        As you often do, you are ignoring what words mean.

        From Merriam-Webster: “a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition”

        “Fascism” has NOTHING to do with your taxes being raised based on the legitimate processes of a Constitutional democracy.

        One of our two principle political parties has many of the characteristics of fascism as defined above: Nationalism, racism (or European Civilization chauvinism, if you prefer), demands for conformity, and obeisance to a dictatorial leader whose word is the sole arbiter of truth.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Words mean things.

          Fascism, according to its founder, Mussolini, is socialism with nationalism. The fascists disagreed (violently) with communists because communists were, at the time, one-worlders.


          1. And you continue to ignore the point I was making that your equating fascism today with fascism form the mid-century is wrongheaded and misinformed.

            Mussolini may have founded fascism, but it is being perfected in differing ways today and MOSTLY by those governments running their countries form the Right. FAR right.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. China is not capitalist?

            I thought we were having an adult conversation.
            Modern China is clearly Fascist AND clearly capitalist. Just like Russia.

            The real world does not fit your ideas so off you go making up terms.

            In this case, “cronyist” is a term you made up.
            It is undefined but any non-laughable definition would not make it incompatible with “capitalism.”

            I guess you are offering – at best – a form of the No True Scotsman “logic.”

            Liked by 1 person

          3. There are approximately 5,000 corporations listed on Chinese stock exchanges, some of them former state-owned companies that have been privatized in China’s transition to capitalism. China also has some of the largest banks in the world which funnel the savings of China’s industrious and frugal people into the capital needs of those corporations in the expectation of generating profits. THAT is capitalism.

            Of course, there is cronyism in China and cronyism has influence on business decisions – just as it does here. That does NOT change the fact that they are a capitalist. And Fascist. A combination that you asked for an example of based on your apparent notion that there would be none.

            Maybe you can tell us? Since the presence of cronyism, “pull,” state influence, and/or the machinations of the old boy network negate capitalism, where now or ever is there an example of a capitalist country that meets your criteria for purity?

            Liked by 1 person

  2. ““You can’t be free when you are poor.”

    Try making bail for petty crimes if you have few resources. JTR would be out in the time it takes to get to an ATM machine. Your fellow citizen working for $9 hour has no chance.

    There is a literal and all to common example of “you can’t be free when you are poor.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You mention that bail is unfair because rich people can make bail more easily than poor people. I don’t see what that has to do with anything. Should bail not be an option for anyone?


      1. I think you could say, too, that the fairness of bail is less important than the fact of it. That is, if you are going to design a justice system that maximizes freedom, allowing for bail is a very good idea. Once established, corruption in bail administration is a different matter.


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