Columbia JReubs

Friday, June 09, 2006

Whither conservatism?

So, I've been trying to think of something controversial to blog about (per Cliff's original request) for the last several days. It's tough. This appears a season of conclusions -- the trick is finding the new, important controversy (e.g. "42" -- but what's the question?).

So, to turn you all into temporary pundits, I'd like to ask the following: whither conservatism? I.e. where did the most intellectually vibrant policy agenda of the last quarter century go wrong, and what is to be done about it?

I think it's obvious that conservatism is in crisis. To think otherwise (a la the Provo residents in the article Nancy highlighted) is just playing silly buggers (yes, I will afflict you with English-isms for the foreseeable future). The current administration's appalling corruption and ineptitude, however, is not the real issue in my view. The problem is conservatism's failure to produce new ideas to answer new problems.

It is too late at night for me to want to explain how conservatism has failed to provide efficacious new ideas for the following major issues. You will have to either assume the failure with me or imagine my reasoning (or just go read Fukuyama's latest attempt to save face -- it's suggestive). I'll get around to it, I promise. My purpose, anyway, is to instigate one of those roiling, maddening free-for-alls of yore (though it would be nice to come short of calling each other "cowards"). That said, the big recent issues, where conservatism has failed markedly:

1. Terrorism and globalization (they go hand-in-hand).
2. Fiscal policy (assume that the recent spate of Republican spending sprees does not result from a crop of exceptionally profligate politicians -- rather, it may be either an indication that government does need to be "big" or that conservative fiscal restraint is a doctrine about as realistic as clerical celibacy).
3. Growing economic inequality (I expect our budding cadre of tax lawyers to speak up here).

There are others, of course, but those are the three that I'm most interested in.



  • Are you sure you meant conservatiism? I am not so blind as to think that all is well in this predominantly conservative country, but when I consider the states of our two major political ideologies, it would seem to me that liberalism is in the midst of a much greater crisis than conservatism.

    By Blogger Ben James, at 7:50 PM  

  • I think Matt is right, in that conservatism isn't providing any great answers to the problems that he listed (especially #2). However, I think Ben's point is that liberalism isn't doing any better (especially #1). I was thinking today that with the country so polarized around "values" issues, that perhaps the big changes in the near future will be on fiscal and social-program issues. The GOP is going to have to decide if it is going to be "compassionately conservative" or fiscally conservative, and this might produce some interesting intra-party dynamics.

    By Blogger Cliff, at 11:18 AM  

  • Just to elaborate on Cliff's point: of course liberalism is in crisis. It's been so since at least the early 1980s. And, therefore, it is not a plausible policy alternative (broadly speaking) to conservative prescriptions.

    I think Ben's comment is illustrative though of the problem: many conservatives still think they're fighting Reagan's battle. It's over. The right won that one, for some good reasons. But, in turn, conservatism is repeatedly failing to grapple with the new issues. That's the problem.

    That said, I don't know if I really have a stomach for this debate, if there is one.


    By Blogger jennejohn, at 11:25 AM  

  • Roil, madden, free-for-all!

    Alright, actually I won't roil or madden, but I will free-for-all by saying, I agree with both point of view as Cliff assesses them. Call it the Death of Ideas (although I don't think this death is anything new. We might be talking about a Phoenix here, but one that spends much more time in the ashes than rising from them).

    One partner I work with said it this way, "I wanted to go into politics until I realized politics is more about power than policy." You may disagree. I think policy always takes a backseat, though. Maybe not some places (isolated think tanks or public servants or fervent ideologues, but certainly by the time anything 'gets done'--whatever that means.)

    gamesmanship, push-polling, and quickness to disagree take what ought to be reason's (or least open-mindedness's) place. This is particularly true since Bush-Gore. (I'm sure it was often true before then--but I wasn't paying attention as much.)

    By Blogger Machu Picchu, at 6:41 PM  

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