Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Sexual Revolution and the Welfare/Regulatory State

Peter Berkowtiz, in his long version of constitutional conservatism, explains why he thinks we constitutionalists need to come to term with both. I hope this long version generates a long response from Dr. Pat Deneen.

Discussions - 23 Comments

indispensableness of moderation in securing, preserving, and extending its blessings Which meaning is he using? 1. necessary: extremely desirable or useful, or not to be done without
2. having to be faced: unavoidable, especially as a duty

But the purists in both camps ignore simple electoral math. Slice and dice citizens' opinions and voting patterns in the 50 states as you like -- neither social conservatives nor libertarian conservatives can get to 50 percent plus one without the aid of the other. Yet they, and the national security hawks OK, why? The democrats and their coalition gets along because they all get something. Tree huggers get something, alternative lifestylers get something, socialist get something. What does the right give to the libertarians or even the social conservatives? Wars and big government/less freedom? It seems the war hawks get a lot. No matter what flowery crap falls from someone's mouth conservatives are not going to flip people being more like democrats. Its stinks of desperation and conjures an image of a sweaty nixon uncomfortably trying to look hip. Start giving the 'fringes' of you movement something and they won't be so disgusted with you on election day. A few years ago Limbaugh was talking about the death of the democratic party. We saw that how that came out so its unlikely that the republicans are going away. I doubt either side of the grand paradigm really wants that because then we might get some real conservaitive type that could capture the imagination of the populace with out talking about prudence and lamenting about how we can't change this or that and need to come to grips with really horrible things.

All you need to know about the problems with the GOP can be summed up by that fact that this man was a Presidential advisor.

Stop the presses! Neo-con supports the New Deal and no-fault divorce!

Not exactly man-bites-dog, is it?

You get a good sense of the problem with Berkowitz's view when you notice the way he so easily lumps Burke, Tocqueville, Smith, and Mill into the category of conservative. Conservatives are certainly in favor of liberty, as he rightly acknowledges Burke was,but there is a vast divide between what Tocqueville thinks are the conditions most conducive to cultivating the proper exercise of it versus what Mill thinks. I think the marriage Berkowtiz promotes between libertarians and social conservatives turns ou to be really to the lopsided advantage of the libertarian part of the equation

What does the right give to the libertarians or even the social conservatives?

Good points as usual Brutus. However, let's not call the Big Business/Rockefeller GOP "the right", unless you are referring to it's Big Media designation.


The focus of Bush and congress on America Imperium for the last few years does not mean they are any less Rockefeller & hostile to libertarians and conservatives than in the past.

The sooner libertarians and traditional conservatives give up the illusion the GOP is their party the better...

I think the marriage Berkowtiz promotes between libertarians and social conservatives turns ou to be really to the lopsided advantage of the libertarian part of the equation

Good point Ivan, and you could make the Holocaust of the Unborn exhibit A...

It strikes me that the core of Berkowitz's errors stems from his reliance on foreign theorists (Smith to Tocqueville) to define American conservatism. They are all profound thinkers, but no outsourcing on this issue! I may develop my thoughts into a post--the key here is his omission of the Declaration of Independence from his understanding of constitutionalism. Given his premises, why would Berkowitz have chosen Lincoln over Douglas?

He outsources the theory because with the federalist papers the founding fathers were too clear. I don't see how one can argue the intent after reading these papers. However, one can go beyond them and seek out their insprirations in order to find justifications to deviate from what they believed without having to stand up with any sort of courage and say the founders were wrong on issue XYZ. In Leftist circles this would be less of a problem, but even the most post modern conservative would be asking for a mountain of criticsim if he went against the founders in any direct way. That is wrong in a sense, we need to not have sacred cows and to evaluate things on their own. Other than the founders, America is pretty lean when it comes to philosophical schools. Outside of John Dewey and pragmatism, I don't really know of any major systems.

It might deserve more than just a long reply from Pat Dennen. I am wondering what Carl Scott thinks. In any case a lot of what Berkowist says makes a lot of sense from the standpoint of what can rationally be expected. I also wonder what Craig Scalon thinks, or more importantly I believe I agree with him when he argues that Obama is not a leftist, and so ultimately any theoretically founded political designation falls short of finding fruition(because if Obama isn't a leftist then the left exists without playable continuations) Even if Obama agreed in theory with the rantings of the Rev. Wright, which I believe he probably viewed dispationatly as an intriguing but unplayable continuation...Democratic Politics just doesn't yield to any theory that presents for it a neat hierarchy.

I would also like to hear from Dr. Sikkenga. Also in regards to Ken Thomas's question I haven't a serious clue, but it seems to me that the interpretation of Lincoln and Douglas factor into the question with a lot of force.

In other words what part of this Lincoln quote does Douglas disagree with? "It is now for them to demonstrate to the world that those who can fairly carry an election can also suppress a rebellion; that ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors of bullets; and that when ballots have fairly and constitutionally decided, there can be no successful appeal back to bullets; that there can be no successful appeal except to ballots themselves, at succeeding elections."

I don't mean to be overly cute but in a world in which president Bush hands power over to Obama, and all the Bush cronies walk free without being lynched(as some on the angry far left might desire)...it seems incredible, and it probably wouldn't occur if the divisions between Bush and Obama were as serious as some would make them to be theoretically. In other words the power transition brings change, but it falls far short of the sort of transition that Jefferson remarked would require a very bloody generational revolution.

I suppose I agree with Ivan K about the divide between Mill and Toqueville, but here again I think it depends upon the primacy you place on different passages. I like both and would reconcile them often. I might even think that Toqueville is further from Burke than he is from Smith or Mill but why not toss in David Hume and John Locke and more primacy for the scottish enlightment?

But quick enough down this road I think you will have to agree with Ken Thomas.

Brutus american philosophy came about towards the end of history for philosophy...and really what is a neo-con if not a pragmatist? And what is pragmatism but a blend of Hegel(sociology) and Mill? So if you blend Toqueville(sociology) with Mill you get? Neo-con pragmatism? Who knows? What happens if you blend Toqueville and Machiavelli? Do you get Mansfield? I think this smells a little too much like Chemistry...but the americans in chemistry despite comming late did manage to find a few new elements, not to mention create some dangerous combinations.

I am almost suprised Brutus doesn't mention Ayn Rand, but most would say that Objectivism is simply Fortified Lockeianism(In fact when I read IvanK or Lawler on the keeping Locke in the Locke box, I simply replace Locke with Ayn Rand.) I figure this is more accurate, but they don't want to mention Ayn Rand and give her power...better to mention Locke and have those disagreeing rehabilitate Locke. In any case the Objectivists disagree with Ivan K, when it comes to who comes out ahead, which makes sense seeing as how many purists view compromise in the words of Ayn Rand as a mixture of food and poison.(Objectivists don't even like Libertarians) In this mixture the poison always comes out ahead, and the compromise is always with the devil...so we can transition back to the abolitionists...we also haven't hit Emmerson or the Transcendentalists there are all sorts of ways to contest the notion that america is lean on philosophy, most of which involve changing the rules. By analogy one could say that in America is not lean on philosophical schools if philosophical schools are no longer linked to the periodic table and instead compromise compounds. In this sense howhever you no longer have "schools" but rather individual esoteric philosophy proffesors who specialize in certain critical deviations and whose classification varies depending on the variable. Philosophically I am curious to know if this is a proper way to think of conservatism(or liberalism) itself. In other words it can be basic enough to encompass a very large number of people, or it can be so narrow an articulation that it is only representative of the understanding of a single person. While not a technical framing of the question this seems fairly universal, you can then take just about anything and ask what it is. What is Catholicism? Ultimately the comprehension of the full articulation of what Catholicism is may only be understood to the Pope and a select number of cardinals, yet we always grant that the number of catholics is larger than would find shade in understanding. Liberalism and conservatism and catholicism may exist in a similar fashion, each existing with very few in the shade. At the end of the day we may only have experts of the isms themselves resting in such shade. Each prophet gathered under the shade of his own vine venturing into Nineveh to complain that politicians betray the creed.

I digress, but I can't help but think that often times politicians don't act as we might have it on "principle" because the principle in its articulation and application exists differently, in other words there are more philosophical schools, or no philosophical schools. If you take the flip side of Adam Smith's specialization and view it as Ortega's Tower of Babel curse, then you see that the only thing that can dominate is a sort of general bureaucratic centrism, because all esoteric positions negate each other, or are simplified into something they aren't.

A point misunderstood, is nevertheless understood in a different way. The broadest understanding misunderstands all the divisions among conservatives or liberals, you simply have democrats and republicans. Obama is a leftist by virtue of being Democrat and McCain a right winger by virtue of being Republican. Nevertheless rough positions on abortion, national defense and taxation and social issues are clear enough even in this smog. The more specific you get about what is conservative, the fewer the number of people living in the shade. So politicians like Obama or McCain should craft umbrellas(if lockeian), and make their own shade. Conservatives in a more refined sense should either become entrepreneurial politicians or do as Brutus laments and come to grips with horrible things outside the shade of the center. The huge handicap that conservatives have if Obama is a liberal, rests in the fact that Obama made his own shade, all too often Republicans play games with more nuanced shade(the existance of which I question, but is here refered to as conservatism) that is not their own. In other words it is horrible if Obama's words represent the crafting of liberalism, that those of a non-politician like Limbaugh represent conservatism.

So whatever conservatism is, it should be articulated by a republican politician. Barring this we can accept the broader shade of Dittoheads, or more esoteric academic/columnist shades, but it simply seems a riduculous/narcisistic exercise to make it up and expect it to be an accurate enough representation on which to form expectations on the behavior of republican politicians.

Of course I suppose it would be no less ridiculous than to assume that by understanding catholicism one could understand catholics. It is simply too fine a point to put on something that represents what is held in common by a group larger than oneself.

Given his premises, why would Berkowitz have chosen Lincoln over Douglas?

You know, that question makes no sense whatsoever. By all the evidence Berkowitz is a simon-pure neo-con. Whatever their other faults, support for slavery is not among them.

As shocking as this must seem to people in the Jaffa camp, it is actually possible to dismiss the "principles of the Declaration" and still oppose slavery. Britain opposed both of these things.

The scare quotes are deserved since those "principles" are all in the eye of the beholder.

Good comments, Ivan and Brutus.

Brutus, I (and other conservatives lurking around here, such as P. Lawler) are not adverse to saying the founders were wrong about various things. Particularly Jefferson, even though I know that we all owe a lot to him. I agree with probably 80% or more of the T. West and Jaffite praise of TJ. But I do hold that he was wrong about various X's, Y's, and Z's (and also about the XYZ affair itself!)

Truly amazing isnt it, how quickly people assume truths because of reason when in reality it is an extension of their will. Both parties democrats and republicans are going to fail because of the fact that neither go into power with the simple idea of NO GROWTH IN GOVERNMENT, if a small bloc of libertarians kept both parties from having a majority faction in the house and senate, then the government could atleast move toward that principle. However, since there are only two parties who categorically vote against the other and refuse compromise, the size of government grows, whether in one direction or the other, it grows. Berk needs to stop trying to stitch us together and say what needs to be said.

Harry Jaffa most emphatically did not reduce the difference between Lincoln and Douglas to the debate between anti-or pro-slavery: It was about two understandings of democracy and ultimately of freedom and human being. That is the genius of his Crisis of the House Divided, which, 50 years later, scoffs at neo-, paleo, and traditional conservatism, as it mocks liberal historiography. Jaffa turned the liberal shibboleth of equality into a conservative principle. His later book, A New Birth of Freedom, attempts (less successfully, in my view) to turn another liberal shibboleth, the social contract, into a principle of limited government. Jaffa is about standing conventional understandings on their heads, and thus is the Socrates of our time.

I take it that KEN is mightily impressed with Jaffa................

Thanks for showing everyone what creepy cultists the Jaffaites are, Ken.

most would say that Objectivism is simply Fortified Lockeianism

Most what? Most Objectivists?

Dr. Lewis, I know the audience here so I figured even mentioning her would be dismissed off hand.(If i'm wrong then I appologize because I don't really know many people on here personaly so I substitute memories from ashland when it comes to rand) However, I am curious to talk to someone with a great knowledge of Rand in terms of the current economic collapse. I have tried to think about it in terms of an Atlas Shrugged scenerio. Is there an interpretation out there where we can view it in this way. I see big bussiness people doing things that seem to hurt their own interest and I can't help but thinking they are killing their own bussiness with the help of the parasites. I guess what I am curious about is are they shrugging or are they killing intentionaly. I know the statue in the middle of rockefeller center might suggest that big business is aware. Are we just in an age of nothing but Reardens. Also, where does the culture of the heavens be damned but I get my bonus fall in idea of logical self-interest. These are the two main questions I have concerning our current economic situation.

Just read Jaffa's books--it's not revelation or faith, it's reason.

After a bit of argumentation.......So whatever conservatism is, it should be articulated by a republican politician. Barring this we can accept the broader shade of Dittoheads, or more esoteric academic/columnist shades, but it simply seems a riduculous/narcisistic exercise to make it up and expect it to be an accurate enough representation on which to form expectations on the behavior of republican politicians.

In otherwords, the status quo (remember the status quo is two parties, one euro-socialist, the other slightly more "pragmatic" socialist).

Who said academics were not "conservative" in the "preserve the status quo at all costs" sense?

I say once again, until traditional conservatives and libertarians unhitch their wagon from the GOP (and stop listening to "conservatives" such as P Lawler and J Lewis) we are in for 20, 30, 60 years of more of the same - what M. Thatcher correctly identified as the "ratchet" effect...

Christopher, I would note that Thatcher hitched herself to a political party. The party had "Conservative" in it's title, but when she took over as leader, the Conservative Party was alot less conservative than today's Republican Party. It may have been less conservative than today's Democratic Party.

But you do have something of a point. It is unhealthy that conservatives are living and dying by the politcal fortunes of the GOP. Conservative should be seeking to develop and advance an issue agenda that can speak to a wide majority. By influencing the debate, they will influence politics despite the ebb and flows of the fortunes of a particular political party. I was struck while reading Obama's THE AUDACITY OF HOPE, that he advanced criticisms of the pre 1996 welfare system that were very similar to some of Charles Murray and Lawrence Mead's observations. At least one set of conservative policy reforms (bitterly controversial at the time)made it so far into the mainstream that even a very liberal pol like Obama either bought into it or felt that he had to pretend to buy into it. That is more the effect that conservatives should hope to have in our politics in the long term.

But lets not fool ourselves either. Good and popular conservative ideas are more likely (in the short run) to be adopted by GOP pols than Democrat pols and third party politcs are probably the deadest of dead ends except in some special circumstances.

The added verbiage does not render Prof. Berkowitz' conceptions any less inane.

I hesitate to say it, that is, to endorse the word "inane" when applied to a man like Berkowitz who taught me a number of things in times past, but Art Deco is right. The piece repeats stuff one has heard endlessly. And worse:

THE PROBLEM IS MISLEADING. I don't see that the big problem Berkowitz identifies, social cons and libertarians parting ways, is any worse right now than it has been in the past. Indeed, the defeat of Giuliani, and some of the concessions he made along the way, were reassuring to this social con. The long-term drift of our culture into what Brink Lindsey has called "liberaltarianism" remains frightening, but it seems Berkowitz's article shows that social cons and libertarians were probably more likely to split back in the 60s, as I think they might also have been in the 1990s. Nor is this ongoing probelm a major reason for the Republican losses in 2008.

THE LABEL IS MISLEADING: All I get from the essay is that Berkowitz wants us all to re-endorse Frank Meyer's "fusionist" conservatism, but to understand that it should have been called "Constitutional conservativism," because the first label bugs him(b/c it concedes too much to social cons? I dunno...) and because it was all about defending the legacy of the founders. Uh...even President Obama or Senator Schumer say they're all about defending the legacy of the founders. But when we really get down to how "Constiutional conservativsm" should conserve the Constitution itself, all that Berkowitz endorses is "The appt. of judges who understand that their duty is to interpret the Const. and not to make policy, and who bring to their task a presumptions of vindicating constituional principles and vindicating liberty." He then says they should defer to the democratic process where Const. is vague. All well and good, but do take a look at what I've italicized. Do you see anything there that, say, Justice Brennan would not endorse? Indeed,he uses almost precisely such words in his famous Georgetown address defending living constitutionalist interpretation. Sorry, by 2009, after the disasters of justices Souter and Kennedy, no-one who is serious about preserving the Constitution can be satisfied with vague words like "vindicating liberty" and "constitutional principles." And, without a stern defense of the Constitution at it's heart, then Berkowitz' "Constitutional conservatism" is simply a new label applied to the old Frank Meyer formula, right?

THE SOLUTION IS BAD: The solution is basically Bush minus the social conservative trimmings. That is, libertarians, learn to live with big gvmnt, social cons, learn to live with ongoing march of the sexual revolution. (I say "ongoing march," because while some Catholic intellectuals will say "let's go back banning contraceptives," almost NO social conservative pundits or politicians say this. Yes, many denounce the Griswold decision, but that is not the same thing as endorsing the policy it made unconstitutional. That is, social cons do accept, if reluctantly, the bedrock of the sexual revolution--they'd just like to mix some pre-60s principles with the post-pill situation so that society doesn't destroy itself!) So tired, this stuff. And I'll join smart libertarians in groaning at the facile suggestion that their true aim, or that of the big-tent conservative platform against big gvmnt, is to get back to pre-FDR government size. These are caricatures. As occasional Rovian tactical necessity, i.e., according how the electoral numbers crunch, various compromise moves might be justified for various conservative candidates. Might. But to say that these "learn to live with" stances lay at the heart of a new (or, newly revived) understanding of true conservatism? Would Frank Meyer be cool with that?

Just read Jaffa's books-

I've read "Crisis". My comments about your absurdly over-the-top worship of Jaffa stands. He's an odd figure to become the basis of a cult-like following.

Rand, who likewise formed a cult around herself, at least had a better claim to fame. And that's not saying much.

Jaffa is about standing conventional understandings on their heads, and thus is the Socrates of our time.

The scary thing is that you don't feel the slightest twinge of unease as your write such inane twaddle. But nor did those who proclaimed that Ayn Rand was the greatest person who had ever lived or would ever live.

"Standing conventional understandings on their head" would make Jaffa the next Nietzsche, not the next Socrates. But he fell well short of even that level.

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