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Ed Driscoll

Two Possible Futures for the Ancien Regime

December 20th, 2012 - 9:38 pm

In the Wall Street Journal, Peter Berkowitz proffers tips on “Conservative Survival in a Progressive Age:”

Political moderation is a maligned virtue. Yet it has been central to American constitutionalism and modern conservatism. Such moderation is essential today to the renewal of a conservatism devoted to the principles of liberty inscribed in the Constitution—and around which both social conservatives and libertarians can rally.

“It is a misfortune, inseparable from human affairs, that public measures are rarely investigated with that spirit of moderation which is essential to a just estimate of their real tendency to advance or obstruct the public good,” observed James Madison in Federalist No. 37. The challenge, Madison went on to explain, is more sobering still because the spirit of moderation “is more apt to be diminished than promoted by those occasions which require an unusual exercise of it.”

In a similar spirit, and in the years that Americans were declaring independence and launching a remarkable experiment in self-government, Edmund Burke sought to conserve in Great Britain the conditions under which liberty flourished. To this end, Burke exposed the error of depending on abstract theory for guidance in practical affairs. He taught the supremacy in political life of prudence, or the judgment born of experience, bound up with circumstances and bred in action. He maintained that good policy and laws must be fitted to the people’s morals, sentiments and opinions. He demonstrated that in politics the imperfections of human nature must be taken into account even as virtue and the institutions of civil society that sustain it must be cultivated. And he showed that political moderation frequently counsels rejecting the path of least resistance and is sometimes exercised in defending principle against majority opinion.

Madison’s words and example and Burke’s words and example are as pertinent in our time as they were in their own. Conservatives should heed them as they come to grips with two entrenched realities that pose genuine challenges to liberty, and whose prudent management is critical to the nation’s well-being.

The first entrenched reality is that big government is here to stay. This is particularly important for libertarians to absorb. Over the last two hundred years, society and the economy in advanced industrial nations have undergone dramatic transformations. And for three-quarters of a century, the New Deal settlement has been reshaping Americans’ expectations about the nation-state’s reach and role.

But just as Business Week could write “The Death of Equities” in 1979, shortly before stocks exploded in the following decade, how secure is Berkowitz’s forecast? The angry and strident bombast of the loudest proponents of big government belies a distinct lack of self-confidence, John Steele Gordon writes today at Commentary. Responding to an earlier post by his colleague Peter Wehner on Piers Morgan’s meltdown this week on CNN, Gordon writes:

This intellectual rigidity and moral preening, of course, is characteristic of a religion in decline. Think of the Catholic Church at the beginning of the 17th century as the Scientific Revolution was just getting underway. They burned Giordano Bruno at the stake in 1600 for asserting that the sun was a star and there might be many worlds in the universe, not just one. Galileo—too famous to be burned—was forced to abjure his belief in a heliocentric universe and was under house arrest for the last years of his life. The Soviet Union could never tolerate dissent for fear that the whole Communist political cosmology might come crashing down, which, of course, it did.

If liberals could win the argument with facts and logic, they would do so. But they can’t so they have to fall back on, in Ring Lardner’s immortal phrase, “Shut up, he explained.” Today the “thought” of liberals consists almost entirely of looking in the equivalent of Mao’s little red book to find out what they’re supposed to think and vilifying anyone who disagrees. The solution to gun violence? Gun control. Global warming? It’s “settled science” (a phrase as moronic as it is oxymoronic). Federal deficit? Tax the rich.

But just as the Catholic Church was soon forced to deal with reality (the Vatican Observatory can trace its origins back to 1774) and the Soviet Union ended up on the ash heap of history, the left will have to adapt or die. It is spitting into the wind and has been for decades. It’s just too bad the spit has to land on so many people trying to express a contrary opinion.

Of course, spit isn’t the only thing being thrown at the fan by the left this week: Historical dildos are being deployed as well.

On a more serious note, for those who must deal personally with the strident nature of the punitive left during the holiday season, Dr. Helen has some advice:

The media blames Republicans for every ill that comes down the pike. A storm in the Northeast? Damn Republicans caused it. You aren’t making the money you once did? A Republican did that to you. A violent young man kills 27? That Republican sitting next to you is somehow to blame. That’s what the media wants people to believe and because people are eager for a scapegoat, many listen without critical thought.

I am always surprised at those people who consider themselves intelligent, well-meaning “empathetic” types who think nothing of tossing out some nasty crack about Republicans –whether at the holiday table, in the classroom or in line at the supermarket. It puts people on the opposite side of the political fence on the defense and makes for an antagonistic atmosphere, one that is growing more hostile by the day. I used to think that people should try to be “tolerant” and not get too upset by the jabs. I was wrong.

Here is my advice: rather than just take it and fill out a poll saying you are demoralized, fight back. Even if you feel uncomfortable, even if you might wreck the holiday party, and even if it means you might be open to hostility like you have never seen before, speak up. Or, if you don’t want to talk politics, just say so and say that this type of talk makes you feel uncomfortable. If you are with friends or family and they don’t understand this, how important can they be in your life? If your well-being is that unimportant to them, why bother? Perhaps next year, you need to spend the holidays in Barbados if you can or at least in the company of those who don’t see your politics as evil.

At one point, Helen writes:

I wonder how much the media and the liberal hatred of Republicans plays into the current Republican angst. It’s almost as if Republicans are the new Jews of yesteryear where any vile dirty thing can be said about them with little blowback and less truth.

If that notion rings a bell, it might be because Jonah Goldberg made a very similar comparison in 2007′s Liberal Fascism, to bring this post full circle with Gordon’s take on the fragile nature of seemingly invincible ideologies that eventually wind up on the dust bin of history.

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