Robert Nisbet was certainly a conservative theorist of some prominence, as Mike Rappaport indicates. Mike was picking up on Steve Hayward’s post, which called to task today’s “quantum conservatism” for its uncertainty principle. For good reason, Mike holds Nisbet as an exemplar of the differences between conservatives and libertarians. But like Tocqueville, whose insights his best work elaborated on, sociologist Nisbet overlooks the core of American politics, which is the Declaration of Independence. Unless conservatives are selective about what it is they are conserving, they are no better, theoretically, than the radicals they claim to be combating. And libertarians cannot claim to defend…
The sixth volume in this insightful presidential election year review series builds upon the strengths of 20 years of experience. Three distinguished scholars of American politics blend their virtues to produce a fitting civic education for republican citizens. Our confidence in their judgment is buoyed by the fact that they are all self-identified political conservatives who teach at eminent institutions (Ceaser at University of Virginia, Busch and Pitney at Claremont McKenna College). Their conservatism produces balance, not bias, in their recounting of the campaign and its lessons for self-government today. Senior author James Ceaser has written several illuminating studies of…
This Liberty Law Talk is with Hoover Institution fellow Peter Berkowitz on his new book Constitutional Conservatism: Liberty, Self-Government, and Political Moderation. The book deepens Frank Meyer's conservative fusionist project by adding an Aristotelian and Burkean challenge to both libertarians and conservatives in America. Both groups must lead with political moderation, Berkowitz counsels. One example of such moderation was Ronald Reagan, Berkowitz observes, and this explains much of his success. But this sounds odd, surely Reagan stood for something. Berkowitz's understanding of moderation, however, is not that of the mealy-mouthed variety, but is found in the application of principles to the…
Mike Rappaport raises some tough questions about the conservative case for majority rule and, with it, judicial restraint. But they strike me as fundamentally consequentialist questions converging from two directions: first, the contingent fact that the Supreme Court happens now to lean conservative and thus might be inclined to confine left-leaning majorities, and second, the fact that majority rule does not necessarily produce conservative results. Both propositions are true. But neither refutes my claim that majority rule itself is a conservative principle even if it sometimes produces unconservative results.
I enjoyed Greg Weiner’s post on the Judicial Dilemma of Originalism, which has received some attention. Greg does a strong job of describing the conservative case for judicial restraint (as the competitor to conservative originalism). My problem, however, is that I don’t really understand the conservative case for judicial restraint.
It arises from man’s status as a political animal. It elevates to the status of constitutional principle the conservative’s dispositional distaste for whining, which is not to stigmatize all objections to losing positions as whining. Some objections are legitimate. It is, rather, to say that not all losses before legislatures are to be retried before courts, that part of the price of living in a political community is that one must accommodate oneself to the needs, preferences and tastes of others. One wins some battles but also loses others and one is not entitled simply to stomp off the playground—still less to shutter the playground for others—in the latter case.
Here is the problem. Majority rule – especially majority rule at the national level – is not really a conservative principle, unless it is significantly cabined by other principles. But judicial restraint toward Congress by federal courts will allow Congress largely to do as it pleases.
I understand why conservatives reacting to the Warren and Burger Courts would have favored judicial restraint. At a time before originalism had become popular, judicial restraint was a powerful way of criticizing an activist court based on a theory that made sense in a democracy. But the fact that judicial restraint made sense at a particular time for conservatives does not mean it is a principled or long term approach when it comes to constitutional interpretation.
Yuval Levin provided commentary last week on Utah Senator Mike Lee’s recent speech “What Conservatives are For,” where Lee provocatively argued that the problem with much of the Republican Party’s rhetoric is its insistence that Obamacare, among other welfare state policies, strikes at our individualism and independence. Of course, the most dramatic example of this was Romney’s famous takers’ speech and the crude materialistic anthropology it relied upon. Lee’s speech matters, I think, for the reason that he is viewed as part of a rising group of national political figures like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, among others, who seem willing to rethink standard rhetoric of liberty, limited government, free markets, rule of law and actually pour it into new wine-skins.
Conservatives are disappointed and are searching for reasons for the disappointing electoral outcome. In whom or what are they disappointed? A tempting approach is to adopt the inevitableness of changing demographics framework of the left. The left regularly focus on the story of the marginalized—women, minorities, the young and the poor—gaining ascendancy or being victimized. And certainly these four groups were active in this election and were important in delivering the presidency to Obama and perhaps the Senate to the Democrats. It would appear that it is the old white guys who held power previously that are now the victims! But that is delicious revenge for the left. Because it is all about power; you old white guys have had your turn. Now it is our turn.
But there is nothing destiny deciding or inevitable about the impact of these four categories.
In politics, our myths are more important than our history. The stories that tell us who we are as a nation are the most powerful political tools in times of economic, military or cultural stress. Good or useful myths marshal populist anxieties, giving to people who are fearful of dispossession or political dislocation a story that simultaneously affirms their central role in this nation and explains the causes of their present turmoil. In 2008 the nation needed a useable myth that could tap into American populism and turn this potent political force into a conserving power. Obama’s myth has not created a sustainable narrative of America, but it might have weakened the very capacity of the nation to believe in and live as part of a better story of ourselves.
Recent disputes over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act go to the most basic of political issues, the proper goal of government.
The nature of the political good may seem a question for the seminar room, but the answer is what distinguishes libertarians, liberals, and conservatives. More specifically, it’s what accounts for the disputes over Obamacare.
According to libertarians, the basic political good is freedom, understood as a setting in which people make their choices and pay for them. What’s available for choice is what people can provide for themselves, together with whatever other people decide to make available. Such a view leads libertarians to oppose government-prescribed health care of any kind.
Liberals agree that the basic political good is freedom, but see it as a setting in which people make choices and receive social support for them. They note that a lack of options can limit freedom, and propose that goods everyone wants, or that facilitate choice in general, be made freely available. Thus, for example, they believe that government should provide for universal health care, since everyone wants to be healthy, and good health facilitates active autonomy. They also believe that personal choice should prevail over collective moral preferences, so Catholic employers should be required to make free birth control pills available to employees who want them.
Conservatives in contrast view the political good as maintenance of an overall way of life that has been found good through experience and reason. That way of life will generally include freedom, but it won’t put it first because freedom by itself doesn’t tell us what it’s for, and if we don’t know what it’s for we can’t resolve conflicts among claimed freedoms. So to make sense, freedom has to be part of a larger system of goods that gives it direction, setting, and meaning.
Recently, a number of legal thinkers who might be described as conservative nonoriginalists have criticized originalism -- Charles Fried, Harvie Wilkinson, and perhaps Justice Sam Alito. They appear to have differing philosophical viewpoints -- a certain kind of deontology, pragmatism, and Burkianism -- but all seem to reject originalism as the primary basis for constitutional law. What is going on? Originalism has grown mightily in recent years -- greatly expanding among libertarians and even increasing among liberals. But one has the impression that the great majority of conservatives are originalists. Does this trinity suggest otherwise? I don't think so, but part of…