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Conservatism

Compromising with Socialists?

According to a Gallup poll, "a majority of Democrats and liberals say ... they have a positive view of socialism, compared to a minority of Republicans and conservatives."  Thankfully, members of both parties respond positively to "small business, free enterprise, and entrepreneurs."  The terms polled are noteworthy--Walter Lippmann invented the term "big business" as derisive, just as Marx (or his contemporaries) did for "capitalism."

Democrats today appear to be very much in the spirit of the man FDR called "their commander-in-chief," the future president who declared that socialism and democracy are in principle the same.

While Dems (apart from the outbursts of a silly staffer, of which the Hill is full) will likely not begin appealing explicitly to socialism, its functional equivalents of community, civil society (of a certain sort), and solidarity may appear more often in their rhetoric.  They would be better off heeding Bill Galston, who tries to dispute Harvey Mansfield's assault on Obamacare. 

Over 20 years ago the late John Wettergreen loved to call out liberals who labelled themselves "civic republicans" or such, in the spirit of the founders.  He once got a prominent American historian to admit that her talk of "republicanism" was simply a "chicken word for socialism."  Gallup seems to confirm that more on the left have gotten the courage of their convictions, or at least of their feelings.

Categories > Conservatism

Discussions - 9 Comments

Good points, Ken. In the big book on republicanism, Creation of the American Republic, Gordon Wood is fairly explicit. He write, "republicanism was essentially anti-capitalistic, a final attempt to come to terms with the emergent individualistic society that threatened to destroy once and for all the communion and benevolence that civilized men had always considered to be the ideal of human behavior."
Steve H. quotes this in his fine essay on Wood:
http://www.claremont.org/publications/crb/id.1274/article_detail.asp
P.S. When conservatives call liberals "socialists" aren't they technically correct? Social democracy is the ideal toward which liberals want to move the U.S. And social democracy is socialism.

Of course, Wettergreen's actual words were that "civic republicanism" (or "communitarianism") was a "chickens--- word for socialism." But NLT is a family-friendly site (except for my occasional PG-13 posts), so I understand the bowdlerization. I do miss that guy a lot.

Steve, he gave you the esoteric chicken message, I got only the exoteric one! But he was talking to a lady.

Thanks--doesn't Wood retract some of this argument? I know James Morone in The Democratic Wish uses the Wood scheme to describe periods throughout American history, with less than spectacular results.

The prominent historian doesn't seem to have been a careful historian of ideas. Yes, I know this is not the main point.

If Wood has repudiated that understanding of republicanism, it's news to me. I think Radicalism of the Revolution reaches a different moral judgment about the goodness of the American republic, after the founding. Wood, as far as I know, says he's been consistent.

The Wilson selection is very revealing but, besides the fact that he was at the time he wrote it only a future president, when did he write it and what was his situation (professor, college president, governor?).

Richard R: August, 1887
Richard S.: Yes, you've clarified my confusion on that point.

Thanks. Judging from the year, Wilson was a professor at Johns Hopkins University, where he was awarded a Ph.D., and had recently published "Congressional Government," his critique of the government established by the Constitution.

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