Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Elegant evisceration of sulky Sullivan

Jonah Goldberg performs the operation on Andrew Sullivan’s new book. Here’s the conclusion:

Sullivan turns Oakeshott’s reverence for tradition and custom on its head: He enthrones the all-justifying righteousness of conscience, in particular his own, in a moral pragmatism that says that orthodoxies have no binding authority. Pragmatism was built on the arrogance of intellectuals who believed they were smarter than anyone who lived before; Sullivan’s divinization of conscience performs a similar task, with similar vanity. He dedicates page after page to illuminating the grandest mysteries of existence with the only lantern Sullivan trusts: his own conscience. Without this, we would all be lost. Indeed, he seems to believe that his own intense internal struggles (Sullivan always wins these fights, by the way) are mirrored in the struggles of the Republican party — indeed, the nation itself. The cover of the book depicts two elephants tied at the tail, presumably fighting for the soul of conservatism. This is, among other things, evidence of an enormous category error in which Sullivan endeavors to make the conservative temperament the foundation of a political program.


And it is here that the mansion of nonsense most obviously implodes. The notion that certainty is at odds with a just constitutional order, decency, and All Good Things founders on Sullivan’s own hypocrisy. Not only is it a Monty Pythonesque absurdity to imagine a serious political movement founded on such bumper-sticker slogans as “We’re not sure!” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, certainty has got to go!” Sullivan himself proves that a politics based solely on one’s own glorious conscience is just as capable of the sort of rigid, moralistic, self-righteous preening and us-versus-them logic that Sullivan’s conservatism of doubt claims to stand against.

Of course, you shouldn’t just take Goldberg’s word for it. You should read the book, especially if you can find a way of doing so without lining AS’s pockets. (I have to confess that I actually purchased it, and am somewhere close to halfway through the thing. AS is a gifted polemicist, but surely not the fairest expositor of positions with which he disagrees.)

Discussions - 3 Comments

If that’s conservatism, then Oakeshott a man in the face...just like Cheney!

I’ve just about had my fill of "Webb" Conservatism and "Sullivan" "Conservatism". How ’bout instead, we take another look at REAGAN CONSERVATISM?

After all, like us, he found himself in the Wilderness in the 70’s--and with his characteristic optimism, clarity of purpose, confidence and dedication to principle, he triumphed. Maybe, just maybe, that’s the voice we should listening to.

Here are some excerpts from some of his 70’s speeches I’ve posted at my blog:

"Since our last meeting we have been through a disastrous election. It is easy for us to be discouraged, as pundits hail that election as a repudiation of our philosophy and even as a mandate of some kind or other. But the significance of the election was not registered by those who voted, but by those who stayed home. If there was anything like a mandate it will be found among almost two-thirds of the citizens who refused to participate.

Bitter as it is to accept the results of the November election, we should have reason for some optimism. For many years now we have preached "the gospel," in opposition to the philosophy of so-called liberalism which was, in truth, a call to collectivism.

Now, it is possible we have been persuasive to a greater degree than we had ever realized. Few, if any, Democratic party candidates in the last election ran as liberals. Listening to them I had the eerie feeling we were hearing reruns of Goldwater speeches. I even thought I heard a few of my own."

"What side can be taken in a debate over whether the deficit should be $52 billion or $70 billion or $80 billion preferred by the profligate Congress?"

"We gave just enough support to one side to encourage it to fight and die, but too little to give them a chance of winning. And while we’re disliked by the winner, distrusted by the loser, and viewed by the world as weak and unsure." "Can we live with ourselves if we, as a nation, betray our friends and ignore our pledged word? And, if we do, who would ever trust us again? To consider committing such an act so contrary to our deepest ideals is symptomatic of the erosion of standards and values."

"I don ’t know about you, but I am impatient with those Republicans who after the last election rushed into print saying, "We must broaden the base of our party" -- when what they meant was to fuzz up and blur even more the differences between ourselves and our opponents." "A political party cannot be all things to all people. It must represent certain fundamental beliefs which must not be compromised to political expediency, or simply to swell its numbers."

"Let us show that we stand for fiscal integrity and sound money and above all for an end to deficit spending, with ultimate retirement of the national debt.

Let us also include a permanent limit on the percentage of the people’s earnings government can take without their consent.

Let our banner proclaim a genuine tax reform that will begin by simplifying the income tax so that workers can compute their obligation without having to employ legal help."

"Our banner must recognize the responsibility of government to protect the law-abiding, holding those who commit misdeeds personally accountable.

And we must make it plain to international adventurers that our love of peace stops short of "peace at any price."

We will maintain whatever level of strength is necessary to preserve our free way of life."

"Why should we become frightened? No people who have ever lived on this earth have fought harder, paid a higher price for freedom, or done more to advance the dignity of man than the living Americans—the Americans living in this land today. There isn’t any problem we can’t solve if government will give us the facts. Tell us what needs to be done. Then, get out of the way and let us have at it."

"I have seen the conservative future and it works."

"When a conservative states that the free market is the best mechanism ever devised by the mind of man to meet material needs, he is merely stating what a careful examination of the real world has told him is the truth.

When a conservative says that totalitarian Communism is an absolute enemy of human freedom he is not theorizing -- he is reporting the ugly reality captured so unforgettably in the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

When a conservative says it is bad for the government to spend more than it takes in, he is simply showing the same common sense that tells him to come in out of the rain."

"I refuse to believe that the good Lord divided this world into Republicans who defend basic values and Democrats who win elections. We have to find tough, bright young men and women who are sick and tired of cliches and the pomposity and the mind-numbing economic idiocy of the liberals in Washington."

"Families -- not government programs -- are the best way to make sure our children are properly nurtured, our elderly are cared for, our cultural and spiritual heritages are perpetuated, our laws are observed and our values are preserved."

"Elected officials, their appointees, and government workers are expected to perform their public acts with honesty, openness, diligence, and special integrity."

"My friends, the time has come to start acting to bring about the great conservative majority party we know is waiting to be created.

Our task now is not to sell a philosophy, but to make the majority of Americans, who already share that philosophy, see that modern conservatism offers them a political home. We are not a cult, we are members of a majority.

Let’s act and talk like it.

The job is ours and the job must be done. If not by us, who? If not now, when?"

Before we rush into 0-Eight, let’s reconsider Eight-0. That’s the Voice of Victory--Ronald Reagan.

Reagan was responsible for building up Saddam Hussein’s military(inluding chemical and biological weapons) and sold arms to Iran. He also retreated after the slaughter of U.S. marines in Lebanon. Not exactly a conservative by the standards of the conservatives today. Under his watch the federal deficit also grew to record levels. Must have been the fault of... FDR!

I didn’t want to pay Sullivan either so I read through his book in the bookstore. His was the first blog I went to with any regularity, not because I always agreed with him, but because his comments were always interesting and thought-provoking. Sometime early in the Spring of 2004, President Bush announced that he supported a Constitutional Amendment supporting traditional marriage, and at that point Sullivan went down the rabbit hole and ever since he has been exploring just how deep the hole goes. His book is an effort to justify this journey. But he is as much a fundamentalist as those he decries except that his ideology is narcissism rather than Christianism or anything else he doesn’t happen to like at the moment. His effort to attach Oakeshott to the backside of his ego is wholly unpersuasive. The book does show, at times, a serious intellect at work, and for that reason it is all the more pitiable. The intellect that could so acutely diagnose Bush Derangement Syndrome in others, cannot recognise the illness in itself. Precisely how Sully got to this point is a mystery. I suspect it has something to do with gay marriage.

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