Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Gerson on traditionalist conservatism

Aware that this waves a red flag in front of our paleocon readers, I think that there’s something to what Michael Gerson says. In "Straussian" terms, the good and one’s own aren’t the same.

Discussions - 28 Comments

It is not the role of political systems to strive for "the good".

I would have thought that this was so obvious as not to require explanation. Clearly I was mistaken.

I've noted here before that many of the modern "neocons", more correctly described as neoliberals, confuse and conflate the religious and political impulses. It's hardly a surprise that Gerson takes the tack he does. He has always been up front about being a Christian liberal. But what excuse do the rest of you have?

And I should add, it is not merely "paleocons" who doubt that this blurring of the lines between politics and religion is a wise move.

who believed that the Declaration of Independence is actually true, for us and for all.

If I thought it was plausible that the people who write here were capable of responding in an intelligent fashion, I'd be happy to discuss this idea in some depth.

But everything I've seen from you people over the past year indicates that you are no more capable of such a thing than of flapping your arms and flying.

Which leads me to wonder - why do you keep bringing it up?

So, government should not have morality mixed in?

So, government should not have morality mixed in?

You might want to read the article before you make yourself look stupid.

Read the article before commenting ...

It is NOT me who looks stupid.

By the way, what role do political systems and I am going to assume government overall should play if not for "the good" (assuming that it is the good of those overall)?

Yeah, yeah, we know, you believe yourself to be of such a vast superior intellect on this subject that all you can provide in your argument AND your defense are pathetic invective statements.

Get over yourself. It will go a long ways to making your life a much less stressful one.

Cheers, mate!

As both Professor Paul Gottfried and Professor Claes G. Ryn have written, both true conservatives, Strauss was indeed a man of the Left. He wallpapered over the Real West and its people with left-wing Jacobin abstractions, always invoking the bogeyman of "historicism." He thus denounced Burke, because of his championing of "the ancestral," something cherished by Zionists everyday, but forbidden to Christians of Anglo/European descent.

I think this Gerson article and the recent Brooks article on Burkean conservatism actually vindicate what a lot of us have been saying all along. And both do a decent job of stating the Burkean/traditionalist perspective. (This in and of itself is improvement, because not too long ago the idea of deference to tradition was completely off the radar screen.)



I do think Brooks got a couple of things wrong on Burke, and Gerson gets some things wrong here.



I think he sets up a bit of a straw man. American traditionalist conservatism is not morally relativistic. It is not devoid of any idea or conception of what is good. Most paleos would argue that Christian Western civilization is superior. Most would have no objection to the exportation of Christianity via missionaries. Christianity makes certain universal truth claims. Few if any paleos would deny this. But the outlook of traditionalist conservatism is parochial, not universal. Yes bad things may happen in other societies, but people are only responsible for concerning themselves with those things they actually have a sphere of influence over.



Also, the universal goods of those like Gerson are all liberal goods, so I don't think we default accept all of them as good.

I would have thought that the glaring differences between what Washington and Gerson wrote would be obvious to even the meanest intelligence. But not, it seems, to Dale Michaud.

Only tangentially related...

I just witnessed an election for premiership of Ontario. I was astonished to find out that the full name of the Canadian conservative party is the "Progressive Conservative" party?

Is that crazy? An oxymoron? Completely demonstrative of Canadian politics? I, as an American, was thoroughly confused.

Any help?

At the most basic level, the democracy agenda is not abstract at all. It demands activism against sexual slavery, against honor killings, against genital mutilation and against the execution of children, out of the admittedly philosophic conviction that human beings are created in God's image and should not be oppressed or mutilated.

Washington did not believe, as Gerson does, that Americas role is to serve as Gods Army on Earth.

Without moral absolutes, there is no way to determine which traditions are worth preserving and which should be overturned.

Of course there are. We can look at the practical results of various traditions, for instance.

history also teaches that some organic social arrangements are rotten and wormy

Indeed it does.

that it is not utopian to rescue a human life from oppression

In reality history teaches us that it may or may not be utopian to do this, depending on the circumstances.


It is not a coincidence that the great movements of conscience have generally come not from skeptical traditionalists

And it is not a coincidence that many "great movements of conscience" have resulted in disaster for all concerned.

a moral vision is equally necessary to save traditional conservatism from its worst instincts.

If Gerson was not such a through-going liberal he would know that conservatism has such a moral vision built into it. It does not require well meaning but ignorant liberals to instruct it on morality.

most people in all places, even the poor and oppressed, are capable of controlling their own affairs and determining their own rulers. If this abstract argument seems familiar, it should, because it is the argument of the American founding.

How is this working out in Iraq and Afganistan? Does Gerson actually think that the people of Egypt would be better off under the type of government which they would elect?

We don't have self government in America. Perhaps we could expend some effort in securing it here before we attempt to force it on the rest of the world at gunpoint.


But few human traditions were more deeply rooted in history than human slavery. Many traditional conservatives (though not the Whig Edmund Burke) defended this tradition

I've noticed that the neoliberals think that this is a compelling argument, but I don't see why. If anything it undermines their whole outlook. The father of conservatism was an early advocate for the abolition of slavery, at a time when the moralising liberals of the day (Madison, Jefferson) defended the practice.


the Declaration of Independence is actually true, for us and for all.

I'm sure we are all familar with the Derridaesque reading of the Declaration of Independence which holds that it requires the US to "liberate" the rest of the world from their foolish practices.

But I doubt that this pathetic fool really thinks that we should wage war on Britian or Australia because they don't recognize the right to bear arms. His "moral absolutes" are liberal ones.

Just skimmed your reply, John ...

There's much to respond to, but, for now, I have to be quick ...

One thing, though, John ...

The right to bear arms is in the Constitution, not in the Declaraton of Independence.

Big difference.

You can deride me all you want, but at least get your stuff straight when you start a tirade.

Ho hum.

The things which Gerson wants the US to wage a world-wide war for, activism against sexual slavery, against honor killings, against genital mutilation and against the execution of children, out of the admittedly philosophic conviction that human beings are created in God's image and should not be oppressed or mutilated, are not in the Declaration OR in the Constitution.

But you'd have to have actually read what he wrote to be able to comment on it. Why don't you try doing that before you comment again?

I haven't agreed with all of Gerson's columns and felt he was out of line when he accused those opposed to illegal immigration of being bigots, but I agree with him, generally, on this article.

Besides, the activism he calls for can be construed in many other ways than just the military, just like how we are fighting the war on terror in the first place.

John, you assume way too much, which looks poorly on you, not on me or anyone else.

you assume way too much

I quoted you his own words, you simple minded fool.

He thinks that the Declaration of Independence is legally binding on us and on all mankind. And he has a very peculiar notion of what it actually says.

the Declaration of Independence is actually true, for us and for all.

What kind of mindless pap is this?

You can't resist the ad hominem attack, can you?

If your argument is so well founded, why the continual poor debating tactic?

Yes, let's use Gerson's own words ...

"And the democracy agenda goes a step further. It argues that the most basic human rights will remain insecure as long as they are a gift or concession of the state -- that natural rights must ultimately be protected by self-government. And this ideology asserts that most people in all places, even the poor and oppressed, are capable of controlling their own affairs and determining their own rulers. If this abstract argument seems familiar, it should, because it is the argument of the American founding."

So, John, with this activism, he also includes what you call for. But, John, you instead chose the parts of the article that best suited your own biases.

Yes, yes, I know, I am too stupid to understand ... again ... whatever.

One more thing, this simpleton notices not a thing in the article regarding the Declaration of Independence being a legally binding document.

That, it appears, came from you and what you read into the article.

What he did state was that the D of I is true for us all. Big diff.

Again, if you want play, at least have your stuff squared away.

You can't resist the ad hominem attack, can you?

I made no ad hominem attack. You are in fact a simple minded fool. I say this because you have spent this entire thread attempting to attack me instead of addressing what Gerson said. And making a fool of yourself in the process.


he also includes what you call for

What have I called for? That natural rights must ultimately be protected by self-government? I agree with this, but one consequence of self government is that it can lead to things which I and Gerson disapprove of, such as "genital mutilation and .. the execution of children".


Gerson wants certain outcomes, and considers the process invalid if it does not result in them. I want a certain process, and I know that it will in some cases result in outcomes I dislike.

What Gerson fails to appreciate is that his own "moral absolutes" are not everyone elses. Too bad you are unable to address this. You and Joe Kippenberg both, since my remarks are aimed at him.

What he did state was that the D of I is true for us all.

And what evidence did he offer to support this assertion?

this simpleton notices not a thing in the article regarding the Declaration of Independence being a legally binding document.

True. Gerson regards it being morally binding, which in his eyes is several steps above mere legality. But as you should know from reading this site, the believers in Declarationism do think that the Declaration should be legally binding.

See for yourself.

Declarationism is a legal philosophy that incorporates the United States Declaration of Independence into the body of case law on level with the United States Constitution. Its main proponents include Harry V. Jaffa and other members of the Claremont Institute.

Legally, morally, and intellectually, this is garbage. Which is probably why the people here never attempt to defend it.

Calling me stupid or looking stupid due to your assumption that I haven't read the article is not an ad hominem attack?

Darn, those dictionaries must be wrong on this.

And aren't you like the pot calling the kettle black in regards who is attacking whom?

You started off with a chip on your shoulder and when asked a simple queston you resorted to childish retorts.

Again, if you are of such a superior intellect in this matter, why do you insist on using such poor debating tactics?

Listen, even if you are right, which I am very doubtful, your method of explaining yourself makes you look like a pompous ass, which does nothing to help your position.

You are in fact a simple minded fool. I say this because you have spent this entire thread attempting to attack me instead of addressing what Gerson said. And making a fool of yourself in the process.

You keep doing your level best to prove what I say.

You'd impress the hell out of me if you'd make even a token effort to address the article which is the subject of this thread.

Here, I'll repeat what I said in commnet #1.

I've noted here before that many of the modern "neocons", more correctly described as neoliberals, confuse and conflate the religious and political impulses. It's hardly a surprise that Gerson takes the tack he does. He has always been up front about being a Christian liberal. But what excuse do the rest of you have?

And your stupid response is to stupidly ignore what both I and Gerson have said. Respect is something you earn. All you have earned here is contempt.

Calling me stupid or looking stupid due to your assumption that I haven't read the article is not an ad hominem attack?

Calling a non stupid person stupid is an ad hominem attack. Calling you stupid is not, any more than calling Danny DeVito "short" would be.

For you to not see that I have addressed some of what you and Gerson wrote is astounding.

One other thing, John, a lot of what is in the Declaration of Independence, especially the list of grievences, is codified in the Constitution.

Which makes your rant all the more ridiculous.

What do you want, John?

Seriously, what do you America to do and/or be?

One other thing, John, I would not have dealt with you much if you had not resorted calling me names or rather a name.

It was apparent from the start that you really did not want a debate, just a fight.

a lot of what is in the Declaration of Independence, especially the list of grievences, is codified in the Constitution.

If you had a brain larger than a pea, you might wonder why the Declarationists want to incorporate the complete document into the Constitution, and not just the portions the people who wrote it deemed appropriate to codify. In other words, to modify the Constitution without the bother of a constititional amendment. But you don't so you won't.

Incorporate the complete document ...

Hmmmmmm ...

Doesn't the Constitution give the ideas expressed in the Declaration a reality? Isn't the Constitution a vehicle that attempts to let people live with liberty in pursuit of their own happiness?

What about the Declaration of Independence that makes you see red, John?

Is it the notion that all men are created equal?

That our Creator, ie God, gave us certain rights that only governments affirm?

That a government is only viable with the consent of those governed?

That a tyrannical government may be abolished by the people, with caveats (something a lot of folks tend to ignore by the way)?

What is bad about these ideas, John?

And, as I stated above, doesn't the Constitution satisfy most of what is in that document?

Let the name calling continue.

Doesn't the Constitution give the ideas expressed in the Declaration a reality?

No. The Constitution was not written to "give the ideas expressed in the Declaration a reality". It is it's own creature. It does not need to be compared to the Declaration to determine how closely it approximates that document.

What about the Declaration of Independence that makes you see red, John?

Nothing about the Declaration of Independence makes me see red, you simpleton. What makes me see red are those people who seek to alter the Constitution, our fundamental law, in an unconstitutional manner by "incorporating" the "principles of the Declaration" into it without the trouble of a Constitutional amendment.

For some reason, this is too complicated for you to grasp, no matter how often it is explained to you.


The Constitution applies to America and Americans. The Declarationists believe that the Delcaration is the foundational law, not the Constitution, and that it apples to all mankind, not Americans. They are universalist utopians, not conservatives of any sort.

Is it the notion that all men are created equal?

I can tolerate a little foolishness in the Declaration, so I don't object to this phrase, silly as it is. The trouble is that the Declarationists don't regard "all men" as meaning "all Americans", but "everyone on Earth". And if somewhere somebody on Earth is having his inalienable rights alienated, they think we Americans have a moral and legal obligation to do something about it. Because the Declaration applies to all people everywhere for all time, in their eyes.

We the people may be able to alter the Constitition, but we can never do so in a way which runs counter to the Declaration, goes the theory. And we can never alter the Delcaration either.


Of course, I've been painstakingly explaining this to you for some time, And you still don't even understand the questions under discussion, let alone the answers to the questions.


That a government is only viable with the consent of those governed?

The Declarationists don't believe in the consent of the governed. Ask them. Ask Joe Kippenberg, or Harry Jaffa, or Gerson. Left to themselves, the people may do things the Declarationists dislike. Important moral decisions must be left to a council of wise elders. That is the entire point of Declarationism. Their beef with the Constitution is that it is democratic, and the democratic process may or may not lead to outcomes which they find compatible with their "moral absolutes".


Let the name calling continue.

If you like. I am still waiting for you to address this issues raised in this column, you simple minded fool. But since you need me to explain what Declarationism is to you, and since you point blank refuse to read anything I write, you'll be a long time gaining the neccessary knowledge. How's that?

"When it [traditional conservatism] begins to question the importance or existence of moral ideals in politics and foreign policy, it is far less attractive."

This is the gist of Gerson's column.

John, Gerson in this column in not arguing for replacing the Constitution for the Declaration of Indepedence, which makes your assertions in regards to this column towards me unfounded and truly ridiculous.

It appears, with this column, you are fighting something that is just not there.

Now, maybe (and that is a very big maybe), Gerson has argued in the past for surplanting the Constitution with the Declaration of Independence, but nothing in this article even hints of such a thing.

Couple this with your sophmoric charaterizations of my character and, ultimately, my intellect, one can only wonder as to why you went the way you did on this thread.

Then again, one who identifies himself with Pat Buchanan, as you do John, should be taken with a grain of salt.

"I agree with this, but one consequence of self government is that it can lead to things which I and Gerson disapprove of, such as "genital mutilation and .. the execution of children."

So, ultimately, John, you are of the view that one should do as the want or can, just so long as it falls within the definition of self-governance that you espouse, no matter the morality involved.

No? Really?

Bulls#@t!

Your ideas are dangerous and, appropriately, are ignored.

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