Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Original Zinn

Brother Hayward, I’ll see your James Burnham and raise you a Joseph Cropsey. In an essay included in Left, Right and Center, Cropsey dismantled Howard Zinn’s critique of patriotism, 42 years before Zinn wrote it:

“[Liberalism] envisions the natural fraternity of mankind. The liberal view is that man’s nature prepares him to live uncoerced in society. [It] aspires to the transcending of the nation, if only through the union of the nations. Rightly repelled by vain self-love, it is dogmatically blinded to just self-respect and conceitedly captivated by a priggish self-depreciation. Liberalism, which makes a by-word of pluralism and recoils from ‘absolutes’ however misunderstood, should welcome the diversity of nations, and their sovereign security upon which that diversity rests, as a valuable guarantee of the freedom of men to go their separate ways in the quest for justice or for the truth about justice. It must be conceded, however, that the highest good known to liberalism is not truth or even liberty itself, but fraternity and its alter ego, equality. Politically speaking, this has come to mean that the highest good known to liberalism is peace, or self-preservation.

“If it is narrower, it is also more human, surely more civil, to love what is near and similar, as such, than what is remote and strange, as such. [Patriotism will necessarily] be extinguished by the doctrine that exhibits it as offensive to peace, as an ignorant expression of ethnocentric bias, the neurosis of aggressive personality types, the posturing of the fatuous for the edification of the gullible, or the delusion of innocents seduced by schemers after wealth and power.

“The liberal view is consistent with itself in applying to domestic as well as to foreign affairs the dictum that trust edifies and absolute trust edifies absolutely.”

These observations appeared in an essay on “Liberalism and Conservatism.” They show that while pacifists like Zinn, Noam Chomsky or Cindy Sheehan make conservatives angry, they make mainstream liberals nervous. The problem is that the hard left follows liberalism’s premises to their logical conclusions. The soft left doesn’t, but only because it knows that proclaiming these conclusions would be, politically, self-annihilating. Liberals cannot explain what principled differences separate their position from Howard Zinn’s. And because they cannot explain that difference, they can only hope to stand far enough away from Zinn so that no one notices the resemblance.

Discussions - 10 Comments

To understand all of this even better, readers should pick up your essay on Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. in the latest CRB. It was excellent.

And what, I wonder, do we get if we follow American conservatism to its "logical conclusions"?

What do you think those logical conclusions are, Damon?

Damon Linker, It doesn't work that way with us. Conservatism is neither ideological nor "scientific."

Of course, if you mean just AMERICAN Conservatism, you just get a pretty darn good regime. Start with Politics 101 with any number of contributors to NLT.

Cropsey writes: "... the highest truth known to liberalism is not truth or even liberty itself, but fraternity and its alter ego, equality."

This is just a semantic point (and not an original one), but if "liberalism" is not primarily concerned with liberty, why do we persist in using the word "liberalism" as the label for that point of view? By continuing to refer to the Clintons, Pelosis, Obamas, Schumers, Cuomos, Breyers, Ginsburgs, Rawlses, Dworkins, Ted Kennedys, et al, as "liberals," aren't we (by "we," I mean those conventionally called "conservatives") granting them an unwarranted advantage - the claim to represent the continuation of the tradition of the advocates of liberty through history, the claim to be the successors of both Jefferson and Lincoln, while modern "conservatives" - the people actually concerned with preserving liberty - are derided (often explicity) as the successors of the Loyalists and the Confederates. Why should we inflict this wound on ourselves? Can't we just refer to the other side as "the left," or perhaps come up with some other, more accurate label?

Modern Conservatism, tinged with Modern Libertarianism ...

Could that be called classical liberalism?

Could modern liberalism in American be deemed hidden fascism?

Why not? Am I wrong? Why7

Seems likely Carey Wilson McWilliams' magisterial the Idea of Fraternity in America was written in response to charges like Cropsey's, in which fraterity blurs into the modern idea of equality.

Dan Fish, that terminological confusion was set in (American) stone a long time ago. Undoing it is impossible, and even if it were possible, I wouldn't quite welcome it. I prefer to think of myself as a conservative than as a liberal. PERHAPS, with Christopher Wolfe, I would accept the tag of a "Natural Law Liberal," and I would certainly accept a tag like "Tocquevillean Liberal," but honestly, I'd prefer "liberal" to be the adjective to the noun, as in "liberal conservative." We simply know too much these days about the blind spots and the progressivist susceptibilities of Jeffersonian, Lockean, and even Madisonian liberalism to categorically line-up with the Founders' Liberalism, even though we must be determined to promote the reverence and study of their thought, and we must demand (of ourselves also) strict adherence to the Constitution. In this we are in a situation unlike the one Lincoln was, and are thus unable to go to Philadelphia and praise the wisdom of Jefferson to the skies.

To address another comment, someone, perhaps on the left or in the center, ought to write a SOBER account of "what our greatest fears are of what conservatism logically and socially could lead to if succesful." That would be valuable, but it would have to be written by someone with a sterling reputation for fairness and decency toward those they disagree with.

I like Mark Twain's subtle critique of patriotism.

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