Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Conservatism and liberalism today

I’ve just begun to dip into this symposium on the state of conservatism and liberalism today. From what I’ve skimmed, I don’t expect to like much of it, but I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised. Any thoughts out there?

Update: Over at The Corner, Ramesh Ponnuru and Heather Mac Donald are fussing at one another over her contribution to the symposium. I’ve put together some thoughts on it as well. When and where they’ll see the light of day, I don’t yet know.

For the record, Ponnuru likes the pieces by Austin Bramwell, the almost ubiquitous Ross Douthat, and Michael Lind.

Discussions - 3 Comments

Some heart-felt and thoughtful contributions by Jeremy Beer and James Kurth, for example. Some creepy ones, but I won’t mention the authors. The symposium as a whole scores very low on the prudence-meter.

I had read Heather’s article prior to your post. I agreed with most of it...I’m one of those "skeptical conservatives." Like her, I am generally loath to root conservative principles in metaphysics. You simply can’t say such-and-such is right and good because "God has ordained it as such." Ultimately, because even revelation has depended on human minds, it just isn’t demonstrable that God ordains much of anything (with the possible exception of Nature itself). You take such things on faith, but you really can’t expect other people to do the same in reasoned debate.


MacDonald was right to point out that agnostics and atheists can be good conservatives. She should also have pointed out a couple of other things.

Christianity (as distinct from what is preached by many "mainline" Protestants and for that matter "mainline" Catholics) certainly does not mandate a welfare state or anything like it. Its strictures against too much concern with material goods apply to the poor, not only the rich. That said, however, it is sadly the case that a completely sincere, doctrinally sound Christian can indeed be an economic liberal, i.e., a statist. It is also sadly the case that a good Christian can be very weak on foreign policy and homeland security, since there are certainly seeds of pacifism in Christian teaching, thought not pacifism itself.
If Christianity were clearly anti-statist and clearly pro-defense, rather than simply permitting these positions, conservatives would have far more political power in the U.S. than they now have.

In addition, MacDonald might have pointed out that excessive reliance on God’s will, and excessive explanation of political and geopolitical outcomes in terms of God’s will, has the effect of depoliticizing conservative Christians and leaving them and their politics extremely vulnerable to adversaries who focus on politics and say, as Lincoln is supposed to have said: "I would like to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky."

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