Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Conservatism

The Crisis of the New Order (Cont.)

As we have noted before, one way to look at our heated politics is to see them as the death throes of the New Deal Order, as the historians sometimes call it.  That's part of the reason why it is so hard to make a deal in Washington.  More than usual, we have two groups of people who see the problems and needs of the day differently.

Robert Samuelson recently put it this way:

The old order, constructed by most democracies after World War II, rested on three pillars. One was the welfare state. Government would protect the unemployed, aged, disabled and poor. Capitalism would be tamed. A second was faith in economic growth; this would raise everyone's living standards while permitting income redistribution. Growth was ordained, because economists had learned enough from the 1930s to cure periodic recessions. Finally, global trade and finance served countries' mutual interests.

All three pillars are now wobbling.

Charles Krauthammer puts it this way:

We're in the midst of a great four-year national debate on the size and reach of government, the future of the welfare state, indeed, the nature of the social contract between citizen and state. The distinctive visions of the two parties -- social-democratic vs. limited-government -- have underlain every debate on every issue since Barack Obama's inauguration: the stimulus, the auto bailouts, health-care reform, financial regulation, deficit spending. Everything. The debt ceiling is but the latest focus of this fundamental divide.

The sausage-making may be unsightly, but the problem is not that Washington is broken, that ridiculous ubiquitous cliche. The problem is that these two visions are in competition, and the definitive popular verdict has not yet been rendered.

We are only at midpoint.

That seems about right.  It has been enlightening to watch the shouting heads on TV lately.  They are in two different conversations.  Conservatives blame Obama and the Democrats for obstructionism.  Progressives see the exact opposite picture.  Neither side trusts the good faith of the other.

Victor Davis Hanson adds depth to the argument.  The problem is that the Progressive view is crashing.  Social Democracy is not a workable political system.  (One could say that's the point. It is called "social democracy" not "political democracy" because it makes the social primary.  The trouble is that men are not merely social animals by narture (like other mammals, I suppose). The trouble is that we are political by nature.  That is connected with what Hanson calls the "tragic view."  The conversation about what is justice is unending, as is the problem of scarcity.  Moreover, the problem of the human desire to get have more, and work less, is inescapable, as is the math of entitlement.  The rise of sociobiology is also giving strength to the conservative view of human nature. Hanson notes:

Social Security reform used to be the third rail that politicians dared not touch. But is that prohibition really still operative as big government approaches insolvency? Expect soon not just the retirement age to jump, reflecting modern longevity, or automatic cost-of-living increases to cease, mirroring the reality found in the private sector, but also the entire notion of disability to change as well.

Quite simply, the dogma that a teenager with dyslexia or a mature man with a bum knee will receive years of Social Security disability benefits will be assessed as an historical aberration of the last twenty years. A decision by an insurance company or government agency that a 62-year old must settle for arthroscopic surgery on a chronically torn meniscus rather than a complete knee replacement will not be interpreted as social cruelty.

We are winning the debate because Progressism is unnatural.  It had its day, and now is a reactionary force.  That does not mean it can't take America down with it, however.

Categories > Conservatism

Discussions - 8 Comments


As far as the current debt crisis--I don't have the perfect solution to this. But I do think the current GOP should stand its ground--knowing it may lose. I'll tell you why:

In 1942 the U.S. and Japan engaged in an attrition war at Guadalcanal. The pre-war U.S. Navy was in many ways basically done in as an offensive force by that campaign (and the follow-on ones up the Slot), especially the carrier forces. But so were the Japanese. Exhausted by their losses, both sides had to stop any ideas of major offensives for a year or so. The trouble for the Japanese, of course, was that America was nearing the completion of an entirely new Navy that would more than make good the losses--while Japan really didn't have the industrial capacity to compete. Japan, naturally, lost the war.

Back to today. The GOP needs to stand its ground and make this a meeting engagement. The power of the MSM is on the wane. The education bubble is about to burst. In Clausewitzian terms, we are at yet another culminating point of the engagement--*if* the GOP stands their ground. Take the losses as they come, and have hope for the future--in the form of an American people that are *still* capable of self-governance with prudence and wisdom, and will recognize the true needs of the Republic if only given enough time.

Hold fast, and hold the line.

As a clarification--the goal should be to have both parties at a mutual state of exhaustion afterwords--the GOP because the media can still demonize with some ability; the Democrats because they will have laid down their final markers of unseriousness. The second will prove more fatal than the first--and the GOP will be able to claim, with truthfulness, that they were willing to politically die in order to prevent the country from fiscally doing so. If Americans will not eventually reward that, then the entire exercise is pointless anyway. But I do not believe for a second they in the long run won't. They did not give up on the Cold War, they won't forever be blind to this either.

Horatius: were you in favor of the original bill put forward by Speaker Boehner? I'm not clear on what you define as standing our ground.

Social democratic practice may be advisable or inadvisable. It has not, however, been your problem these last three years. Your problem has been...

1. A financial bubble and attendant banking crisis, and...

2. A chronic incapacity or unwillingness to balance ends and means. The large public sectors of the social democratic political economy exacerbate the effects of this problem. They do not generate the problem, which lies in collective and competitive self-deception. Michelle Bachmann and Ronald Reagan have been nearly as guilty as the incumbent President in this regard, if not more so.

Oh, we do have another crisis.

What Donald Douglas has called a 'problem of collective action' is badly exacerbated by our institutional architecture. Who in the TEA party is going to be able to process that.

Interesting that VDH should mention sociobiology and conservativism in the same breath. I think he is spot on in this regard -- ultimately, the welfare state will always be undermined (i.e., gradually made unsustainable) by human nature (i.e., work less, make more). I think most people who are NOT addicted to Federal spending understand this in some implicit way and I, like Horatio, think that the American people will reward responsible behavior IF it's timely. The longer we wait, the more addiction will be produced and the less chance we'll have of true reform.

Hanson does not mention sociobiology. I should have been clearer about what points he was making, and what points I was adding that add strength to the overall point of the post.

Thanks for the clarification -- it didn't sound like him (classicists rarely fall back on biology). Nonetheless, sociobiology is the only scientific basis for the conservative worldview. While Judeo-Christian theology has been the basic bulwark of our ideology, it has grown less effective over the last few decades, and it's hard to criticize the Left for blind faith in human perfectibility when your own ideology is also rooted in blind faith.

Unfortunately, of course, transiting to new philosophical underpinnings will cause dissension in our ranks. Alas.

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