You’ve Changed, You’re Not the Angel I Once Knew: David Brooks on the GOP

by Corey Robin on October 14, 2015

David Brooks is fed up with the GOP. Today’s conservative, he says, is not yesterday’s conservative. What happened?

Basically, the party abandoned traditional conservatism for right-wing radicalism. Republicans came to see themselves as insurgents and revolutionaries, and every revolution tends toward anarchy and ends up devouring its own.

I’ve been trying to combat this argument by amnesia for yearsAs he has done before, Krugman valiantly takes up my cause today in his response to Brooks. Yet the argument keeps popping back up.

So let’s take it apart, piece by piece. Brooks says the rot set in 30 years ago, in the wake of Reagan. Let’s see how today’s conservatism compares to those loamy vintages of more than three decades past. The bolded passages are all from Brooks’ column.

By traditional definitions, conservatism stands for intellectual humility,

“The conservative principle has been defended, the past hundred and fifty years, by men of learning and genius.” (Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind)

“A successful defence of freedom must therefore be dogmatic and make no concessions to expediency….Utopia, like ideology, is a bad word today…But an ideal picture of a society which may not be wholly achievable, or a guiding conception of the overall order to be aimed at, is nevertheless not only the indispensable precondition of any rational policy, but also the chief contribution that science can make to the solution of the problems of practical policy.” (Friedrich von Hayek, Law, Legislation, Liberty, Vol. 1)

“Conservatism is in general the intuition of genius, whereas liberalism is the efficiency of talent.” (Elmer More, “Disraeli and Conservatism”)


a belief in steady, incremental change,
“Every little measure is a great errour.” (Edmund Burke, Letters on a Regicide Peace)

“The American people now want us to act and not in half-measures. They demand and they’ve earned a full and comprehensive effort.” (Ronald Reagan, Address Before a Joint Session of Congress on the Program for Economic Recovery)


a preference for reform rather than revolution,

“…espouse conservatism with the vehemence of a radical. The thinking conservative, in truth, must take on some of the outward characteristics of the radical, today; he must poke about the roots of society, in the hope of restoring vigor to an old tree strangled in the rank undergrowth of modern passions.” (Russell Kirk, A Program for Conservatives)

“Because of the corruption of the term liberalism, the views that formerly went under that name are now often labeled conservatism. But this is not a satisfactory alternative. The nineteenth-century liberal was a radical, both in the etymological sense of going to the root of the matter, and in the political sense of favoring major changes in social institutions. So too must be his modern heir.” (Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom)

It is fixed beyond all power of reformation…this body, being totally perverted from the purposes of its institution, is utterly incorrigible; and because they are incorrigible, both in conduct and constitution, power ought to be taken out of their hands; just on the same principles on which have been made all the just changes and revolutions of government that have taken place since the beginning of the world.” (Burke, Speech on Fox’s East India Bill)

“The conservatives, as a minority, are the new radicals. The evidence is overwhelming.” (William F. Buckley, God and Man at Yale)


a respect for hierarchy,
No argument from me.

precedence,
“Nothing looks more awful and imposing than an ancient fortification. Its lofty embattled walls, its bold, projecting, rounded towers that pierce the sky, strike the imagination and promise inexpugnable strength. But they are the very things that make its weakness. You may as well think of opposing one of those old fortresses to the mass of artillery brought by a French irruption into the field, as to think of resisting by your old laws and your old forms the new destruction which the crops of Jacobin engineers today prepare for all such forms and all such laws.” (Burke, Letters on a Regicide Peace)

“Here the beaten path is the very reverse of the safe road.” (Burke, Letters on a Regicide Peace)

“The conservative peasant, as much as anybody else, owes his way of life to a different type of person, to men who were innovators in their time and who by their innovations forced a new manner of living on people belonging to an earlier state of culture.” (Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty)

“That [Democratic] measure reflects an echo of the past rather than a benchmark for the future….More of the same will not cure the hardship, anxiety, and discouragement it has imposed on the American people.” (Ronald Reagan, Address Before a Joint Session of Congress on the Program for Economic Recovery)

“Change is our Ally: A Tory Approach to Industrial Problems.” (Title of 1954 Conservative Party pamphlet.)


balance and order,
“The madness of the wise…is better than the sobriety of fools.” (Burke, Letters on a Regicide Peace)

“Unhappily, history proves that war is, in a certain sense, the habitual state of mankind, which is to say that human blood must flow without interruption, somewhere or other on the globe, and that for every nation, peace is only a respite….the effusion of human blood has never ceased in the world. Sometimes blood flows less abundantly over some larger area, sometimes it flows more abundantly in a more restricted area, but the flow remains nearly constant.” (Joseph de Maistre, Considerations on France)


and a tone of voice that is prudent, measured and responsible….
“Acquiescence will not do; there must be zeal.” (Burke, Letters on a Regicide Peace)

“I enjoy wars. Any adventure’s better than sitting in an office.” (Harold Macmillan)


Conservatives of this disposition…also see the nation as one organic whole.
“We’ve got to destroy the confidence of the people in the American establishment.” (Richard Nixon)

Citizens may fall into different classes and political factions, but they are still joined by chains of affection that command ultimate loyalty and love.
“We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands and now we have to fight the enemy within, which is much more difficult.” (Margaret Thatcher on the miners strike)

“Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddam face, and you’ll stay plastered.” (William F. Buckley to Gore Vidal)


The…rhetorical tone has grown ever more bombastic, hyperbolic and imbalanced.
“There is no instant of time when some living thing is not being devoured by another. Above all these numerous animal species is placed man, whose destructive hand spares nothing that lives. He kills to nourish himself, he kills to clothe himself, he kills to adorn himself, he kills to attack, he kills to defend himself, he kills to instruct himself, he kills to amuse himself, he kills to kill….His tables are covered with corpses.” (Joseph de Maistre, St Petersburg Dialogues)

“The reason why we find ourselves in a position of impotency is not because our only powerful potential enemy has sent men to invade our shores, but rather because of the traitorous actions of those who have been treated so well by this Nation. It has not been the less fortunate or members of minority groups who have been selling this Nation out, but rather those who have had all the benefits that the wealthiest nation on earth has had to offer—the finest homes, the finest college education, and the finest jobs in Government we can give. This is glaringly true in the State Department.” (Joseph McCarthy, Lincoln Day Address)


Republicans from Newt Gingrich through Ben Carson have become addicted to a crisis mentality. Civilization was always on the brink of collapse.
“In this time of moral and political crisis…” (Young American For Freedom, The Sharon Statement)

“We are at war with the most dangerous enemy that has ever faced mankind in his long climb from the swamp to the stars…If we lose freedom here, there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on Earth.” (Ronald Reagan, Speech for Barry Goldwater, 1964)


This produced a radical mind-set. Conservatives started talking about the Reagan “revolution,”
“They called it the Reagan revolution. Well, I’ll accept that.” (Ronald Reagan, Farewell Address)

…this new Republican faction regards the messy business of politics as soiled and impure. Compromise is corruption.
“Whoever won a battle under the banner ‘I stand for Consensus?’” (Margaret Thatcher)

I could go on. Instead, I’ll leave you with a song:
You’ve changed
You’re not the angel I once knew
No need to tell me that we’re through
It’s all over now, you’ve changed

And Nancy Wilson.

{ 142 comments }

1

oldster 10.14.15 at 4:49 am

Under this rubric:
“Citizens may fall into different classes and political factions, but they are still joined by chains of affection that command ultimate loyalty and love.”

one could also add this quotation from Nixon’s speechwriter Pat Buchanan, advocating for the race-baiting “southern strategy”:

“If we tear the country in half, we can pick up the bigger half.”

Brooks is a reliable fountain of propagandistic misdirection.

2

nnyhav 10.14.15 at 6:06 am

Walter Benjamin fisking?

3

John Quiggin 10.14.15 at 8:35 am

The institutions a genuine conservative should love are universities and unions. They tick all the boxes: long-established tradition, civil society, organic rather than designed, andclaiming specific historically-based rights (academic freedom, right to strike) rather making claims derived from universal principles.

As far as I know, no actually existing conservative party has ever been pro-union, and the great majority dislike universities as well.

4

Alasdair Rankin 10.14.15 at 8:37 am

Modern conservatives only respect Burke, Hayek and Friedman, for example, insofar as they provide a high-minded cover for material interest.
The Tea Party, on the other hand, is best understood as a pathology.

5

Z 10.14.15 at 9:56 am

Yep, and I would go further and say that the attitude towards union is the simplest and most efficient test to discriminate between Corey’s thesis on actually existing conservatism of the past and present (conservatism is about maintaining power structures) and Brook’s thesis on once-upon-a-time conservatism (conservatism is about “intellectual humility, a belief in steady, incremental change etc” except hierarchy).

6

Lee A. Arnold 10.14.15 at 10:15 am

It’s the Apocolocyntosis of Reagan. Pumpkinification.

“Christmas in Adventure Parks” also hits the mark:

Send postcards from the Caribbean coast in your heart
You’ve got the warmth to melt the snow
In Alaska there’s no refrigerator needed
It’s always cold and cold and cold
You could make those people sweat like never before
You heat their souls with your golden heart

When you’re with us, as long as that we celebrate
Our Christmas in adventure parks
We will wear our swimming suits under the tree
You heat our souls with your golden heart

Sing us the song that your mother sang TO MAKE YOU SLEEP
Save our souls with your golden heart

–Also one of the best pop tracks of the last 15 years, not to be missed. The appearance of a commercial advertisement before this is completely appropriate:

7

JPL 10.14.15 at 10:42 am

Has there ever been, in the entire history of this intellectual (?) tendency Corey refers to as “conservative”, any thoroughgoing and rigorous (attempt at) consistency with the general principles of ethics and rationality (intellectual honesty), or does it always end in some form of special pleading? (And then reliance on the physical mechanisms of power)

Today’s Republican Party is the latest manifestation of this long- running tendency, which is always one of social disunity (and conflict) and maintenance of contradiction in the principles of social interaction, as opposed to the social movements constantly battling these tendencies and aiming toward unification of communities (love) and coherence of the principles of actual interactions with the principles of ideal interactions (ethical principles). (I didn’t say “Democratic Party”, nor am I talking about movements that simply substitute a different social group into the hierarchical systems of dominance preserved through coercion, of which there are many.) Brooks’s “good properties” of his “mythical conservatism” are more in line with the latter (“progressive”) tendency (but he should forget about the respect for hierarchy), so why doesn’t he drop the pretense now and at least stop being an apologist for the political party whose self- given (and self-serving) label confused him for all these years? Brooks is a curious fellow. Does the paycheck really matter at this stage?

8

Z 10.14.15 at 11:33 am

Has there ever been […] any thoroughgoing and rigorous (attempt at) consistency with the general principles of ethics and rationality (intellectual honesty), or does it always end in some form of special pleading?

I think you set the bar too high: reactionary theories in the sense of Corey Robin arise as reaction to the upsetting, potential or actual, of an established power structure. However, most power structures are in fact pretty stable most of the time (if one compares the span of a human life and the temps long of social history). Because human beings are not very rational creatures when it comes to human affairs, it is absolutely true that reactionary theories will by and large try to restore irrational power structures, and thus end in some form of special pleading. However, in rough symmetry, most progressive thinkers will be about equally hapless when it comes to outlining a society in which some of the currently well-entranched power structures are removed.

For concrete examples, you can look at the case of political power in Enlightenment Europe or economic power nowadays: in both cases, there is or was a consensus among progressive intellectuals that the system is irrational, source of massive injustice and has to be deeply reformed but, in both cases, they are quite incapable of outlining a consistent alternative.

9

reason 10.14.15 at 1:15 pm

@9
Says BB at a time of almost unprecedented inequality.

10

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 10.14.15 at 1:18 pm

“I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.” – Jay Gould

If only we could return to the golden era (the 1880s), eh Brett?
~

11

Tadhg 10.14.15 at 1:24 pm

Fair enough if I agree with a lot of what you say, but using Harold Macmillan writing “I enjoy wars. Any adventure’s better than sitting in an office” as other than an example of upper class irony/exaggeration is a bit much… From Wikipedia: “Macmillan served in the Grenadier Guards during the First World War. He was wounded three times, most severely in September 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. He spent the rest of the war in a military hospital and suffered pain and partial immobility for the rest of his life.”

12

pongogogo 10.14.15 at 1:40 pm

This is a weak straw man argument. You could probably pull out a similar set of statements by Corbyn or Bernie Sanders and post quotes by Stalin or whatever underneath each line. What would that prove?

I have a feeling that the type of Conservatism he’s harking back to is the One Nation type espoused by Disraeli as well, which is ignored here.

13

Earwig 10.14.15 at 1:41 pm

Not an example of irony. An example of imprudence, rashness.

14

jake the antisoshul soshulist 10.14.15 at 2:09 pm

Brett, I think I just realized why you confuse me so much. I had been accepting you at face value to be the Libertarian you claim to be. But your comment about history indicates that you are a reactionary in Libertarian clothing. And I wonder how you would define those “victories of the left”.
Many of the people I know who claim to be conservatives would consider Brooks a liberal. Though most would have no idea who he is since they do not read the NY Times or listen to PBS.

15

bianca steele 10.14.15 at 2:15 pm

Too many words.

By traditional definitions, conservatism stands for intellectual humility,

Translation: I’m right; you’re insufficiently humble; s/he’s nuts.

16

Bartleby the Commenter 10.14.15 at 2:30 pm

Discussing the writings of David Brooks with Brett Bellmore?

I would prefer not to.

17

Ed 10.14.15 at 3:12 pm

I would argue that Americans can’t be “conservative”, according to how the word was used in Europe before World War 2. Its a logical impossibility. The problem is that there are just not enough American institutions or parts of American culture that have aged enough to be worth conserving.

Most of what people consider to be American culture was created in the mid-twentieth century. There is simply no relation to the American culture that even Mencken was familiar with, let alone Mark Twain. With institutions, the Ivy League schools date back to the seventeenth century. Parts of the Constitution date back to the late eighteenth century, though most of what we consider to be the American system of government was created during the Civil War, including important parts of the formal text of the Constitution, and this leaves out all sorts of important twentieth century extra-constitutional elements (such as the Federal Reserve and the CIA).

Lets see what survives after the country loses a major (as in American Civil War or world war major) war, and then you can have an American conservatism to defend that.

The original English speaking settlers in the seventeenth centuries came over either to get rich quick or were religious fanatics. There really is not much to work with.

18

Anarcissie 10.14.15 at 3:14 pm

Mr. Brooks seems to have been reading something, something along the lines of ‘Conservatives see the social order as an organism, where change must be pursued slowly and incrementally, whereas liberals see it as a mechanism, which can be dismantled and rebuilt at will.’ This would make the Democratic Party the conservative party. Certainly the Republicans have long since left that ancient domain, and lit out for the territories, yet Mr. Brooks wistfully longs for a return to it. Is this thought really worth dwelling on?

19

CJColucci 10.14.15 at 3:33 pm

Somebody has to cite Claude Raines’s Captain Renault. Consider it done.

20

rootlesscosmo 10.14.15 at 3:36 pm

“Your smile is just a careless yawn…” strikes me as not bad for Trump. (And some time give a listen to Billie Holiday’s version on the “Lady in Satin” album–her last, unbearably sad recording. (Warning: do not operate after consuming alcohol or while reading Frank O’Hara’s “The Day Lady Died.”)

21

Jim Harrison 10.14.15 at 3:43 pm

The historical record of what the right has done refutes Brooks much more conclusively than any collection of what they’ve written.

22

Z 10.14.15 at 3:46 pm

You could probably pull out a similar set of statements by Corbyn or Bernie Sanders and post quotes by Stalin or whatever underneath each line. What would that prove?

It would prove that revolutionary leftists do not stand for humility, prudence, incremental change and the like either. As nobody believe they do, write NYT columns lamenting that they don’t anymore or consider that these are their cardinal virtues that would indeed be pointless.

There is a trope (centrist intellectual history, perhaps) that says that progressives are rash, imprudent, violent, extreme but have helped tear down unjust hierarchical power structures whereas conservatives defended these structures, true, but are calm, moderate and reasonable (and hence necessary). Corey Robin has shown (convincingly, in my view) that since their birth as anti-revolutionary, conservatives have defended unjust hierarchical power structures, period.

23

Stephen 10.14.15 at 4:59 pm

Z: could you not equally say that revolutionary leftists have frequently helped to, or been those who did put up “unjust hierarchical power structures ” which conservatives (and liberals) deplored?
I’m sure you don’t need me to provide you with examples.
Cue for posts proclaiming that X, Y, Z were “not true revolutionary leftists”.

24

The Temporary Name 10.14.15 at 5:01 pm

and every revolution tends toward anarchy and ends up devouring its own.

America never needed a revolution before and it doesn’t need one now!

25

Lenoxus 10.14.15 at 6:24 pm

Brett’s problem with Brooks — that he pretends to be conservative but his true colors are moderate/liberal — is the mirror opposite of what I see time and again from liberals, that Brooks is a bad moderate because of his conservatism. Do cans of David Brooks get labeled differently for different markets?

26

The Temporary Name 10.14.15 at 7:14 pm

is the mirror opposite of what I see time and again from liberals, that Brooks is a bad moderate because of his conservatism.

I can’t say I’ve ever seen a criticism from the left that demands Brooks be a good moderate.

27

Art Deco 10.14.15 at 7:18 pm

Brett’s problem with Brooks — that he pretends to be conservative but his true colors are moderate/liberal —

A couple of generations back, editorial pages tended to maintain stables of writers with roughly similar political affiliations but distinctive voices. That gave way ca. 1975 to the op-ed page with ideological variegation, which provided more argument but tended to reduce the writer to the representative of a perspective. Seeing the work product of newspapers who resisted this (such as the New York Times and the Boston Globe), I think it’s a passable wager the op-ed page with ideological variation was a net improvement, just not everywhere. Not much to be gained from nurturing individual voices when all of your columnists stink.

Brooks is just Brooks, not a manifestation of a perspective. The irritation is caused by his salary depending on certain guises and poses with which Brooks co-operates because he needs to earn a living. The fraud really is someone else’s. Now, David Frum and Conor Friedersdorf are self-propelled poseurs, so worse.

28

Art Deco 10.14.15 at 7:20 pm

Corey Robin has shown (convincingly, in my view) that since their birth as anti-revolutionary, conservatives have defended unjust hierarchical power structures, period.

By my bridge.

29

Art Deco 10.14.15 at 7:23 pm

But, of course, they don’t take him seriously, either, and so won’t feel the blows. So the entire exerise is kind of pointless.

Yes, but reading Mr. Quiggin’s remarks consequent to the Brooks quotations is a reminder of one’s age. What’s disconcerting is that Quiggin’s old but he writes as if recycling sophistries common 30 years ago is clever.

30

Art Deco 10.14.15 at 7:25 pm

Can’t think of anything you’d like to roll back a bit? Unwed motherhood? Labor workforce participation? The cost of a college education? Everything is always changing for the better? Not a single troubling trend you’d like to see reversed? Reversing any change implies going back to the worst of Jim Crow, just like wanting a smaller government implies wanting to live in Somolia?

You should not assume that observable social conditions actually interest anyone peddling a certain sort of discourse.

31

cassander 10.14.15 at 8:26 pm

the idea that the republican party has moved right is demonstrably false. Take a gander at the contract with america, a “far right wing” document of 20 years ago. Almost every point on it could be a fit talking point in today’s republican party. On some of the issues, like the balanced budget amendment, the party has moved left. On social issues, of course, the party has galloped left. Democrats forced don’t ask don’t tell on the clinton administration a year before that was written, and they helped force DOMA a couple years later. Any argument based on the absurd notion that the republicans are getting more right wing is false on its face.

32

The Temporary Name 10.14.15 at 8:45 pm

the idea that the republican party has moved right is demonstrably false. Take a gander at the contract with america, a “far right wing” document of 20 years ago. Almost every point on it could be a fit talking point in today’s republican party.

The current Republican platform is here: https://cdn.gop.com/docs/2012GOPPlatform.pdf Maybe they just believe it more these days.

I don’t believe there’s evidence that they’re galloping left on social issues, but you might have cites.

33

Trader Joe 10.14.15 at 9:02 pm

@35
You may think that “the republican party has moved right is demonstrably false ” and I might even agree with you, but Nate Silver’s data is pretty clear that the Republican party is much further right. See the link, the relevant graph is about 2/3 the way down.

http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/scott-walker-wants-to-cure-his-party-of-its-weakness-for-moderates/

34

Trader Joe 10.14.15 at 9:12 pm

This chart, also from Silver at Fivethirtyeight shows a clear drift right (chart is about 3/4 of the way down the article).

http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/rick-perry-fell-harder-than-anyone-and-hes-the-first-to-try-again/

35

LFC 10.14.15 at 10:14 pm

@cassander

Compared to the 60s and 70s for sure, today’s Republican party is, overall, more conservative and more ideologically uniform. There used to be an identifiable cohort of moderate or even somewhat ‘liberal’ Repubs. W/ a couple of exceptions, they are all gone or have switched parties. (Lincoln Chafee, who was asked about his past as a Republican at the Dem candidates debate last night, is one contemporary example.)

36

cassander 10.14.15 at 10:16 pm

Richard nixon carpet bombed entire countries in service of american foreign policy. I can’t imagine the foul things he would say about gay marriage and he presided over a government that spent less (except on the military), taxed less, and regulated less. the idea that he was to the left of the modern GOP is absurd.

538 is almost certainly relying here on a similar methodology to that used byDW nominate, which does not prove what it claims. Imagine the only political issue in the country was the number of buttons on military uniforms. hardcore republicans want 8, moderates of both parties want 6, and hardcore democrats want 4. After several years, all the 8 republicans get defeated, and a new crop of 2 button super left wingers get elected. In such a circumstance, the country, and both political parties, would have unquestionably moved left. DW nominate, however, would should that the republicans have moved right, because they are now clustered around a single position (6 buttons) instead of 2, and the democrats have spread out over 3.

What nominate, and similar metrics, measure is not right or left wingedness, but republican or democrat-ness, which is very far from the same thing. It measures everyone relative to the current overton window, and cannot measure shifts in that window over time.

37

Theophylact 10.14.15 at 10:17 pm

I stopped reading Brooks a long time ago because he’s a one-trick pony. Every column starts out looking reasonable, perhaps even liberal, but by the fourth paragraph he’s segued into a defense of the Republican program, a generalization based on a second-hand anecdote, an utter banality, or all three. At least Charles Krauthammer doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a reactionary.

38

cassander 10.14.15 at 10:23 pm

@LFC

> more conservative and more ideologically uniform.

the latter yes, the former no. See my above explanation concerning buttons. Republicans are more homogenous than they used to be (though still less so than the dems), but their point of convergence is way to the left of conservative opinion in 1970.

39

The Temporary Name 10.14.15 at 10:47 pm

but their point of convergence is way to the left of conservative opinion in 1970.

Use examples, not analogies. Your example of the Contract on America proved (to you anyway) that since 1980 things were the same except for the Balanced Budget Amendment, fondly remembered in the current platform. (Should it be noted that Newt Gingrich was an absolute ace at getting federal money for his district and environs? Maybe that would be mean.)

40

Chip Daniels 10.14.15 at 11:50 pm

“Can’t think of anything you’d like to roll back a bit? Unwed motherhood…?”

I was a Reagan conservative in 1978 at age 18, then slowly drifted leftward to be a liberal now.
I still feel the tug of a basically conservative disposition- I prefer order and tradition and hierarchy.

However, age has taught me that even the best of things has a dark side.

For example, I love traditional forms of art and architecture- think of those magnificent 18th century European manor houses. Who wouldn’t want to live in a world where that was the cultural norm?

But then I reflect that they were constructed and financed literally by slavery and the worst sorts of oppression. They are magnificent precisely because they are massive concentrations of illegitimate wealth, beyond any human’s ability to create- they could not possibly have been constructed by any egalitarian society. A single manor house would house fewer than a dozen nobles, supported by 30 servants, the wealth itself created by hundreds or even thousands of peasants, in turn resting upon colonial slavery and slaughter. None of whom ever enjoyed the fine tapestries, ornate leaded glass or marquetry flooring.

Can we disentangle one from the other?

Is it possible to embrace certain positive aspects of the past, while cleansing them of the oppression and injustice?
Conversely, is it possible to criticize aspects of the present without uncritically embracing the entire past?

Suppose we criticize unwed motherhood and absence of fathers. When have men ever been better fathers? Weren’t aristocrats famous for fathering bastards and abandoning their servant mothers? Didn’t the much vaunted stability of marriage occur partly because women were forbidden to divorce cheating husbands, no matter how many bastard children he had or how many beatings she suffered?

What golden age could we possibly return to, that contained less injustice than we currently have?

41

Layman 10.15.15 at 12:06 am

“I can’t imagine the foul things he would say about gay marriage and he presided over a government that spent less (except on the military), taxed less, and regulated less. the idea that he was to the left of the modern GOP is absurd.”

Unfortunately, that line of argument ‘proves’ that Bill Clinton was to the right of Ronald Reagan.

42

UserGoogol 10.15.15 at 12:07 am

I figure David Brooks is probably sincere in his belief that gentility and not reaction has historically been the driving force of conservatism. It’s not particularly true, (even if Corey is cherry-picking, he’s certainly describing a rather significant faction) but his position at the New York Times encourages him to focus on the genteel side of things. People like Brett have been calling him a RINO and a fake conservative for ages, but as long as the GOP isn’t too overtly reactionary, he can ignore them and think of the Republican party as more respectable than that. Only in the post-Tea Party era is he forced to admit that that’s not really how things are.

43

LFC 10.15.15 at 12:26 am

cassander @40
Richard nixon carpet bombed entire countries in service of american foreign policy. I can’t imagine the foul things he would say about gay marriage and he presided over a government that spent less (except on the military), taxed less, and regulated less. the idea that he was to the left of the modern GOP is absurd.

Nixon set up the Environmental Protection Agency; Nixon put on, at one point, wage-and-price controls/guidelines. Somewhat to the left, when it comes to domestic policy, of the current GOP mainstream.

I’m hardly a Nixon fan, quite the opposite. But I do think the Repub party has shifted to the right in various ways.

44

LFC 10.15.15 at 12:37 am

@cassander

their point of convergence is way to the left of conservative opinion in 1970.

I do not believe this is true, except perhaps on selected ‘social’ issues on which the whole country basically has moved, and I think good narrative-analytic histories prob have shown that it isn’t true. In 1970 John Lindsay, iirc, was a Republican. No way someone of his general outlook wd be a Repub today. The names cd be multiplied.

Re DW nominate: know essentially nothing about it, not competent to discuss it. But there is other evidence than DW nominate. (Not all relevant evidence here is quantitative; if you add ten thousand or however many pieces of qualitative data, you can get a pretty good evidentiary picture in this area.)

45

ZM 10.15.15 at 12:45 am

Ed,

“I would argue that Americans can’t be “conservative”, according to how the word was used in Europe before World War 2. Its a logical impossibility. The problem is that there are just not enough American institutions or parts of American culture that have aged enough to be worth conserving.”

Someone like Wendall Berry reminds me of a conservative of past American traiditions, I guess Rod Dreher who is brought up often by John Holbo and Belle Waring is like that too as he is called a “crusty conservative” and likes farmer’s markets.

If you ask what sort of traditions they are conservative about, there is a 60s book called The Machine In The Garden, which is about American pastoralism (not of the Phillip Roth novel type, although I guess he probably read the book sometime before he wrote his novel as otherwise it would be too great a coincidence) and the entry of industrialism into this. The author argues that the European settlement of America developed with the idea of “the middle landscape” which is something in between untampered with nature and the civilisation of cities. Thomas Jefferson’s design for the University of Virginia is meant to be an example of this ideal going back to the Founders, and probably his ideal of a nation of yeoman farmers, despite himself owning slaves and not being a yeoman farmer.

The Machine In The Garden looks at how modern machine based industry threatened and potentially destroyed the Amercian pastoral, for instance, when the raft in Huckleberrry Finn is destroyed by a steamboat. Although to be honest, I don’t think this tradition is solely conserved by conservatives.

46

Alan White 10.15.15 at 1:52 am

If someone thinks that Republicans have not moved to the far, far right at least in some venues, then welcome to Wississippi, formerly known as Wisconsin. 2010 gave us the Obama-off-year-backlash Tea Party majority along with Walker: Taxes Ranger as Koch-Puppet-In-Charge. Act 10, destroying public unions and cutting take-home salaries of public employees. Photo ID voting. Rolling back access to abortion services by requiring hospital admitting privileges and including now defunding Planned Parenthood. Redrawn voting districts to gerrymander Republican favoritism for the foreseeable future. A brazen failed attempt to cancel the progressive Wisconsin Idea, but followed with abolition of UW tenure as state statute, consecutive cuts to the tune of a quarter of a billion dollars to UW, introduction of concealed-carry bills to arm students at all UW campus classrooms, increasing campaign contribution amounts by a factor of two (they wanted three) while also allowing retiring politicians to use campaign balances for personal spending, and most all of this without the least public hearing, input, or consultation.

This is “government” without true representation of the public, taking advantage of power to implement ideological purity put in place by an off-election year by mostly racist reactionary response to the election of the first African-American President.

Yes, oh yes. As far right as that political arm can be twisted.

47

Lenoxus 10.15.15 at 2:35 am

Art Deco:

Z:

Corey Robin has shown (convincingly, in my view) that since their birth as anti-revolutionary, conservatives have defended unjust hierarchical power structures, period.

By my bridge.</

Well, sure, they’ve defended unjust structures by your bridge. They’ve also done so by my bridge, and by my neighbor’s pool, and by their plumber’s car, and just about everywhere they could. ;) Sorry, couldn’t resist.

The Temporary Name:

I can’t say I’ve ever seen a criticism from the left that demands Brooks be a good moderate.

Hmm, maybe I’m vaguely recalling his being accused of BSDI-ism, an accusation which is generally lodged against people who claiming to be moderate, or at least are perceived as making that claim. When outright conservatives or liberals engage in something like BSDI-ism, it’s just simple partisanship, but the “both sides do it” approach is normally used by those trying to be Above It All.

But if his Wikipedia article is anything to go by, he’s a conservative plain and simple (however out of tune iwht other conservatives he may be), so in all likelihood my memory is completely false and I’m mixing him up with some other pundit.

=====

Regarding whether the GOP has moved right or left or whatever… it seems like a largely semantic question, based on which policies one weighs as more significant to the definitions of “conservative” and “liberal”. I think social forces have dragged them more to the left regarding some social issues — cassander mentioned gay marriage. But I don’t think that counts as the party “moving” in any active sense. (I also think economic forces have pulled the Democrats to the right on economic issues, for what that’s worth. Maybe in general it’s a good time to be a libertarian, though they don’t seem too happy.)

One counterpoint that comes to mind is the attitude about feminism — while you’d be a lot more hard-pressed to mind a modern Republican (or Democratic) politician who thinks all women should stay at home than you would in the 70s, it’s also the case that the 1976 platform expressed strong support for the Equal Rights Amendment, as did the Democratic one. The following presidential year’s platform hedged much more on the subject, and after that it vanished. (It’s been on every Democratic Party platform from then to now.) Then again, maybe the 70s is not as correct a reference point as the 90s.

But in a larger sense, I’m not sure how definable the original question is. For example, today we would say that the more a politician is anti-abortion and pro-gun-rights, the more conservative she is. But abortion wasn’t much on the radar even of the Christian Right until after Roe v Wade (at which point the Republican Party’s stance is mixed, only becoming resolutely pro-life two elections later), and gun control is a particularly infamous example of shifting attitudes. When Reagan supported it, was he succumbing to a liberal position in the aftermath of the attempt on his life, or was gun control legitimately a conservative stance that later became the liberal one?

Or to look at things a different way, what’s the “most liberal” position on, say, hate speech prohibition — not necessarily the position actual flesh-and-blood liberals endorse, but the one that is furthest to the left? I honestly couldn’t say, because left-wing thought has a solid history on both sides of that debate. It often comes down to the context, just as either side’s positions on guns could come down to whether the nation as a whole imagines the representative gun-toter to be a white God-fearing nationalist who believes he is defending himself from crime, or a black socialist anarchist who believes he is defending himself from police.

Finally, I’m not sure how coherent it is to say that one ideology or the other is fundamentally about preserving things the way they are because it’s the way things are, or is about making change only in gradual, reasonable steps. Sometimes ideologies are framed that way, but it sounds like a rationalization when you can’t actually justify the status quo on real moral grounds. It seems more sensible to suppose that all ideologies have in mind a way things should be and (where necessary) work toward that, either slowly or quickly as they feel they want to, or can. (I grant there is a sensible argument to make for slow change in itself — phasing programs in slowly, grandfathering people under the older system, etc. But I don’t see that this should be inherent to any ideology, it’s more about the temperament of the ideologue.)

The only reason some conservatives have sneered at utopianism is that they happened to feel closer to their personal utopia than liberals did to theirs. In fact that may be the simple reason why today’s conservatism looks so much more radical than the past. Perhaps the sort of people who are suspicious of dramatic change found conservatism congenial, and are now (here in the 21st century) getting the shock of realizing that their crowd actually wanted things to stay that way forever, not just some way forever, and that furthermore the crowd says we have to go back to that way right away, no matter the cost.

48

Omega Centauri 10.15.15 at 3:26 am

I’m much closer on this issue to Pongogogo. But I pay more attention to what politicians with at least a realistic chance of power say/do. My perception of the change is very Brooks like. I used to be an independent, sometimes choosing R’s sometimes D’s, but I would very much claim the Republicans have left my viewpoint far far behind. I think the perception of much of the population (at least of those who pay attention to policy issues) is similar. Sure on a couple of social issues they’ve been dragged leftward, although they clearly harbor contingents who would roll them back given half a chance.

Clearly on the environment, Nixon created the EPA, Republican’s today want to destroy/dismantle it.

R politicians at least made a decent show of appearing to be thinking and susceptible to a decent argument, not today.

I think this has little to do with Reagan, and a great deal to do with technological changes to media. These changes have enabled media fragmentation which allows for the creation of echo chambers. And echo chambers as big money making entertainment, where the way to fortune and fame is to be more extreme than the other guy. We no longer watch the same TV news, and/or read the same newspapers, we for the most part choose media according to our predominant ideology. And that allows for an increasingly strong bifurcation of the political spectrum. There appear to be some personality differences between those attracted towards the left and right ends, and I contend that those on the right are far more vulnerable to the extremist echo chamber as entertainment which now dominates the right half of contemporary “conservative” thinking. Intellectuals don’t matter much to contemporary popular thinking -except perhaps in academic philosophy departments, we are a society dominated by entertainment media, not by intellectual discourse.

49

John 10.15.15 at 4:23 am

Tony Judt on the bozo airhead Brooks
http://mondoweiss.net/2014/10/friedmans-criminal-invasion

50

John Quiggin 10.15.15 at 4:30 am

Art Deco @34 illustrates one of my favorite points. He doesn’t score the full bonus for mis-spelling, but the comment is, as expected, both hostile and spectacular in its capacity to miss the point.

In a discussion of why self-described conservatives aren’t conservative, criticising an argument by claiming that it was popular 30 years ago* is pretty silly.

* I’m not claiming originality for this argument, and would be interested if anyone could point out earlier versions.

51

Sebastian h 10.15.15 at 5:00 am

It is amazing to me how many of these conversations go so far without focusing on the major political figure to engineer the change in the conservative tribal game: Rush Limbaugh and his imitators. You aren’t understanding the phenomenon at all if you focus on the party side without understanding the Limbaugh side.

52

dn 10.15.15 at 6:18 am

Ed, yes and no. Obviously American “conservatives” aren’t conservative in the European sense, but that’s merely to say that our traditions are not the same as those of other nations. (To suggest that we have no tradition worth speaking of ironically strikes me as a sort of perverse version of American exceptionalism, of which I have to say I’m skeptical.) True, America does not have a full-blown throne-and-altar tradition and corresponding historical power structures in the European manner; we do, however, have our own distinctive traditions of social stratification, particularly those based upon race. “Worth conserving” is in the eye of the beholder, and those particular traditions happen to hold considerably appeal for a hell of a lot of white Americans. (Besides which, for Americans getting rich and/or being a religious fanatic is its own kind of tradition; no surprise that these are two of the main pillars of Republican ideology.) I would even venture that the Civil War may have made an authentically American conservatism possible: it was a sufficiently dramatic and revolutionary event, unique to this country, that gave would-be conservatives the requisite bygone era to pine for, mythologize, etc.

53

bad Jim 10.15.15 at 8:46 am

John Dean, an associate of Goldwater, described conservatism in “Conservatives Without a Conscience” as, in effect, the liberalism of John Stuart Mill. If we take Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the exemplar of American liberalism, the distinction isn’t particularly clear. Dean’s book deals mainly with the psychology of authoritarianism, drawing on the work of Bob Altemeyer. In this regard, Heather Digby Parton’s comment on the parties seems apposite:

Republican America is a dystopian hellscape in which evil, violent foreigners are trying to kill us in our beds while rapacious jackbooted government thugs try to wrestle our guns from our cold, dead fingers and Planned Parenthood sociopaths are committing mayhem on children and selling the body parts. And that’s just for starters.
Democratic America is a very powerful nation struggling with a declining middle class and economic insecurity at the hands of the ultra-rich, requiring some energetic government intervention to mitigate income inequality, solve the looming crisis of climate change and manage global crises without plunging the nation into more wars. They also must hold off that anarchistic opposition which sees the world as a dystopian hellscape and that may be the greatest challenge of all.

54

bad Jim 10.15.15 at 9:30 am

Which is to say that the American right wing cannot be discussed as a coherent ideology. It’s a bundle of fears. Debt and deficit, which they don’t distinguish, are existential threats when the president is a Democrat; otherwise it’s party time! Tax cuts for everyone!

Saint Ray Gun sold missiles to Iran, then sided with Saddam Hussein against the ayatollah, and funded Osama bin Laden, and is still considered the very model of muscular foreign policy. Around the same time the Soviet Union collapsed, as Kennan predicted long ago, as did everyone who paid attention.

All the fears of communism are still with us, though they’ve become detached from their former referents. We’re still afraid. What’s the problem? Gays, Muslims, unmarried women. God hovers above us, about to unleash His wrath!

There’s no point in taking this seriously. Everyone who objects to single motherhood also objects to double motherhood.

55

JPL 10.15.15 at 9:59 am

Z @8
Thank you for your thoughtful response.

I’m assuming that the intellectual tendency currently manifested by the Republican party and its apologists (like Brooks) includes the kind of intellectuals Brooks likes to cite: people like Kirk, Oakeshott, Hayek, Burke. In my comment I was curious about the kind of justification thinkers like this have given for their programmatic assertions: how far have they pursued the foundations for what they claim is their preferred system of governance, into more general ethical and rational principles that either most people capable of critical thought accept or which they would call a fundamental disagreement. I don’t know the answer to this question; we sometimes have to rely on the expertise and integrity of our colleagues who have done the necessary reading. To what extent have these thinkers tried in good faith to provide these justifications? Because what I want to know is if it is logically possible to support their main programmatic claims in a way that is consistent with these more general principles, or whether there comes a point beyond which they can not go. Is a fully coherent “philosophy of conservatism” in this sense logically possible?

You seem to view the problem as something like the current Republicans saying they’re going to come up with an alternative to Obamacare or a fully specified budget proposal: we know they’re not going to even bother to do the work, because “what’s the point, we just want to get what we want”. Currently I don’t see anybody from that camp seriously trying to provide the kind of justification I’m talking about; have they stopped trying, or has it always been like this? (Given other duties, I don’t have time to read extensively in these areas. Right now, however, Republicans are not even talking like normal people, so even the possibility of a real dialogue on these questions seems impossible.) I was not concerned in my comment with the question of the practical irrationality of the “system”, but with the logical irrationality of the arguments, the structure of support for their desiderata. Progressives may not yet have developed a coherent philosophy of government of their own, but I think they accept the regulative principle that they should aim for coherence with basic ethical principles.

56

reason 10.15.15 at 1:10 pm

Bad Jim @58
“Everyone who objects to single motherhood also objects to double motherhood.”
Great line. Did you just make it up, or is it a borrowing?

57

jake the antisoshul soshulist 10.15.15 at 2:41 pm

Brett, there are many variations of libertarian, and as far as labels go, there are liberaltarians, conservatarians, propertarians, etc. I suppose I view a true Libertarian as being laissez faire both socially and economically. A conservatarian would be laissez faire economically, but would more socially conservative. A properatarian sees all liberty devolving from property rights.
My issue with reactionaries is that the idealized past they wish to return to never existed.
And even standing athwart history is a lot like standing on a beach praying against the tsunami headed straight toward you.
To quite Joe Straczynski through the mouth of Susan Ivanova, “We have to create the future or others will do it for us.” We can’t recreate the past, or even graft it onto the future.

58

Roger Gathman 10.15.15 at 3:35 pm

One of the problems, famously, that Buckley faced was how to integrate a conservative European tradition into the American discourse of conservatism. I”ve read that he started and failed to finish a book on Ortega y Gasset with that purpose in mind. The standard answer is, of course, that conservatism is a temperament more than a political philosophy. Its a temperament in search of a populist expression – which Buckley found in Joe McCarthy, and which the GOP may be finding now in Donald Trump. In the end, Buckley settled on Reagan,but by that time he was not a major figure in the movement he’d founded anymore.

59

Layman 10.15.15 at 3:45 pm

“It’s not enough to get SSM, for instance, if you get it by judicial sophistry, overriding democratic decisions to the contrary on a specious basis, you have abandoned the rule of law.”

Then you must also decry the judicial sophistry which treats the 2nd amendment as an unlimited personal right, rather than the right of a state to maintain a militia, as this is a new interpretation which flies in the face of centuries of settled law. Do you?

Aside from that, reading an argument from an espoused libertarian, to the effect that liberty isn’t inalienable but instead must flow from legislation, is a damned funny thing.

60

Bruce Wilder 10.15.15 at 4:19 pm

Roger Gathman: The standard answer is, of course, that conservatism is a temperament more than a political philosophy. Its a temperament in search of a populist expression . . .

I think this formulation confounds and confuses critically useful distinctions. First, it confuses the attitudes of followers with the goals of leaders, and obscures the extent to which power-seeking is the defining, conservative temperament, one for which hypocrisy is always convenient and often necessary as a cover story. Populist expression is necessary to fool the followers.

61

Layman 10.15.15 at 4:29 pm

“My position is somewhat more nuanced than you make it out to be.”

Your position is that rulings with which you agree demonstrate adherence with the rule of law, while rulings with which you disagree are judicial sophistry which abandon the rule of law. Isn’t that right?

62

The Temporary Name 10.15.15 at 4:42 pm

You can’t abolish the rule of law just when doing so is beneficial. Abolish it for one little gain, and you open the door to a host of evils.

Which year has recorded the most abolishments of the rule of law? Is it the same year that the hosts of evil sprang up from hell?

63

Layman 10.15.15 at 4:53 pm

@ Brett Bellmore, you begin with ‘nope’, and then go on to agree with my characterization. When you agree with (the rationale of) a ruling, it’s an exercise in the rule of law; but when you disagree with (the rationale of) a ruling, it’s judicial sophistry which breaks down the rule of law. Is that not a fair rendering?

64

dn 10.15.15 at 5:14 pm

What a shame. I was all set to ask Brett to explain postmodernism to me.

65

Bruce Wilder 10.15.15 at 5:32 pm

Brett Bellmore @ 62: It’s not enough to get SSM, for instance, if you get it by judicial sophistry, overriding democratic decisions to the contrary on a specious basis, you have abandoned the rule of law.

Good thing we didn’t get SSM by “judicial sophistry” “on a specious basis” then.

Brett Bellmore: If you can dispense with following the rules to achieve a good end, you are rid of the rules, and they no longer get in the way of bad ends, either. After all, what you think a good end, somebody else will think a bad end, and visa versa.

Are the rules an end, then? If people disagree about what constitutes a good end, why expect that they won’t disagree about what constitutes a good rule?

People are going to disagree. Some choices, by their nature, are inevitably collective, others are essentially private and individual. Sorting them out properly — which are to be centralized and which de-centralized — is itself a collective choice, and has to be accomplished by an appropriately effective institutional mechanism. The “rules” and the “process” are about sorting out that centralization/decentralization of choice alongside the resolution of disputes.

The hypocrisy of conservative libertarians is on full and open display when they start arguing for the unbridled right of democratic majorities to make, collectively, decisions of an essentially private and personal nature. It is just the flip side of arguing for the neo-feudalism of allowing private property owners unrestrained authority to impose their will on disempowered public, but it should not go unremarked.

66

Bartleby the Commenter 10.15.15 at 6:12 pm

“What a shame. I was all set to ask Brett to explain postmodernism to me.”

Discussing postmodernism with Brett?

I would prefer not to.

67

Barry 10.15.15 at 6:39 pm

LFC: “Nixon set up the Environmental Protection Agency; Nixon put on, at one point, wage-and-price controls/guidelines. Somewhat to the left, when it comes to domestic policy, of the current GOP mainstream.”

After it was passed by a veto-proof majority.

68

bob mcmanus 10.15.15 at 6:41 pm

I tend to agree with Bellmore about these sorts of threads that are neither concrete or universal but partisan and tribal, and do more to obfuscate the meanings of words and concepts than elucidate. I am afraid that the net effect will be, and is intended to be, that if I see something in a Democratic Party organization, I will be told it can’t be hierarchy because that is what Republicans do. So the $20k a plate HRC dinners are about equality.

“We did a study of meetings on the two parties, and in Republican meetings women spoke 20% of the time, and in Democratic meetings women spoke 30% of the time, which proves definitively that Republicans don’t let women speak.”

69

Bartleby the Commenter 10.15.15 at 7:46 pm

Discuss equality with bob “leftier so much leftier than thou” mcmanus?

I would prefer not to.

70

CJColucci 10.15.15 at 8:03 pm

My conception of good reasoning isn’t yoked to my conception of good policy, which is more than any living constitutionalist can say.

Brett would be in the best position to assess the truth of the first half of this sentence, though no one is obliged to accept his assessment. The second half is just false.

71

LFC 10.15.15 at 8:20 pm

Barry @78
thks. i don’t have time to follow up on this right now.

72

bob mcmanus 10.15.15 at 8:30 pm

Equality, huh?

Well, as leftier, I am interested in the various ways liberalisms…classical, neoliberal, and current Democratic social liberal…have categorized and essentialized its excluded as the “Other:” barbaric, savage, violent, uncivilized, superstitous, etc and what the internal uses of this process have been and are. Liberalism is always hegemonic, colonizing, imperialistic and needs barbarians to justify its aggression. As it expands and grabs space and resources, it portrays itself as the victim of irrational resistance.
Damn the Rebellious Sepoy, Sioux, and Boxers, full speed ahead!

And oh yeah, #killallwhitemen.

73

The Temporary Name 10.15.15 at 8:40 pm

Liberalism is always hegemonic, colonizing, imperialistic and needs barbarians to justify its aggression.

So who’s gonna be up against the wall when the revolution comes? Our beloved brothers?

74

Bartleby the Commenter 10.15.15 at 8:58 pm

Sorry bob not gonna argue with you about whether sexism, racism and homophobia are cool. Why? Simple:

I would prefer not to.

75

Dave Maier 10.15.15 at 9:38 pm

Ha, that’s funny: I read dn’s comment @75, and I thought “cue Bartleby!” and bang-o, there he is @77, stating his preference in the matter exactly as I suspected he might.

76

bob mcmanus 10.15.15 at 9:50 pm

Cultural Imperialism follows and supports economic imperialism. When a previously included group suddenly or gradually becomes the Barbarians, the essentialized Other, one should immediately ask where the money is going, what commons is becoming enclosed, what public is being privatized, where is the accumulation by dispossession.
In the case of Republicans and the rural, one could look at IP, agribusiness and other extractive industries, tourism, suburbanization and real estate inflation, and globalized multinational corporate control of local political and economic processes.

Internally, the Other will be used to justify and disguise distinctions and stratification, as in “Jennifer Lawrence deserves every penny of her $20 million dollar payday” cause sexism.

Just cause Republicans are assholes doesn’t mean they aren’t getting screwed.

77

The Temporary Name 10.15.15 at 10:14 pm

So nobody’s up against the wall when the revolution comes.

78

Bartleby the Commenter 10.15.15 at 10:55 pm

Discuss Jennifer Lawrence and sexism with Bob M?

I would prefer not to.

79

steven johnson 10.15.15 at 11:03 pm

“Just cause Republicans are assholes doesn’t mean they aren’t getting screwed.”

It’s because they’re assholes they’re getting screwed. Being Republican is, metaphorically, lube, makes the experience easier.

80

cassander 10.16.15 at 12:09 am

@LFC and Lenoxus

First off, it is disingenuous to simply cast aside the left’s overwhelming, crushing victories in the cultural sphere. Feminism, gay rights, divorce, premarital sex, single sex education, the list goes on and on. The right occasionally managed to fight a successful rearguard action on something like school bussing, but those were few and far between, they almost never actually moved policy to the left, merely stopped it from going right. If you don’t like how many of these victories were “merely social” rather than something else, then it is up to you to question your priorities and the movements you support. it is most certainly not evidence that the left was unsuccessful.

On the subject of economic matters, though, you were not less successful. You talk about nixon founding the FDA. Nixon’s FDA had a budget of 1 billion dollars and 4000 employees. the modern is 8 billion and 16000. The idea of any republican cutting the EPA in half or a quarter is laughable. Nixon’s government also spent 10% of GDP on the military, almost half of all federal spending. Today, the figure is 4% and 20%. John McCain’s and Lockheed Martin’s wildest dreams to not come anywhere close to what Nixon actually spent on arms. Nixon spent 4% of GDP on entitlements, we spend 12%. Even ron paul didn’t suggest cutting entitlements to anything like what Nixon spent. You’ve even managed hold the line on taxes, the single issue that unites the republican coalition. Taxes as a share of GDP are exactly the same as a share of GDP today as they have been since the korean war, and the average from 1950-80 was identical as that from 80-2010. And no, they haven’t gotten less progressive. the richest 1/5 has gone from paying 55% of taxes on 45% of income to paying 70% percent on taxes on 52% of income. There is nowhere today where the US is to the right of where it was in 1970, and there are precious few places where it is to the right of where it was in 1980 or 90.

81

The Temporary Name 10.16.15 at 1:07 am

First off, it is disingenuous to simply cast aside the left’s overwhelming, crushing victories in the cultural sphere. Feminism, gay rights, divorce, premarital sex, single sex education, the list goes on and on.

Losing doesn’t mean you’ve drifted leftward.

82

LFC 10.16.15 at 2:46 am

@cassander
For heaven’s sake, in the middle of the Cold War, detente notwithstanding, and w the Nixon/Kissinger agonizingly protracted and costly ‘extrication’ from Vietnam, of course Nixon was going to be spending a higher percentage of GDP on the military. It’s completely unprobative on, and irrelevant to, whether the gravitational center of the Republican Party has moved to the right ideologically since 1970, which was the issue under discussion.

83

cassander 10.16.15 at 3:05 am

@the temporary name

>Losing doesn’t mean you’ve drifted leftward.

when you’re on the right, that’s exactly what losing means. how else could you possibly define it?

@LFC

>It’s completely unprobative on, and irrelevant to, whether the gravitational center of the Republican Party has moved to the right ideologically since 1970, which was the issue under discussion.

How on earth do think that the success or failure of right wing political issues is irrelevant to the question of of whether or not the country is moving to the right?

84

LFC 10.16.15 at 3:10 am

In “Rule and Ruin,” his wonderfully detailed new history of moderate Republicanism, Geoffrey Kabaservice makes a strong case that modern Republicanism was hardier than we remember. Kabaservice acknowledges its eventual defeat but argues persuasively that Republican moderates remained a powerful, even dominant, political force well into the 1970s.

That’s Timothy Noah reviewing the Kabaservice bk in NYT a few yrs ago. Not sure about the word “dominant,” but that there were moderate Repubs once and really aren’t any more, is the point. Just this evening I heard someone make the pt that when Natl Review was founded in 1955 it was directed ideologically against Eisenhower and what was then called “modern Republicanism.” The deity of today’s Repubs is Reagan. Eisenhower is almost never mentioned by them.

85

LFC 10.16.15 at 3:21 am

@cassander
How on earth do think that the success or failure of right wing political issues is irrelevant to the question of of whether or not the country is moving to the right?

I thought the issue on the table was not whether the country had moved to the right but whether the Republican Party had. Also, historical context: Vietnam war, Cold War, proxy wars w USSR in the developing world, clients that needed to be propped up etc. Any admin in 1970 was going to be spending fairly heavily on the military. So yes, the percentage of GDP Nixon spent on the military does not prove what you want it to. Moreover, btw, the so-called Nixon Doctrine envisioned allies doing more on their own, less direct U.S. military involvement in ‘local’ conflicts.

86

LFC 10.16.15 at 3:38 am

Why am I even arguing w cassander about the history of the 20th-cent Republican Party? It’s not a subject I care that much about, and although I know more about it than cassander, that’s not saying very much.

87

The Temporary Name 10.16.15 at 3:52 am

when you’re on the right, that’s exactly what losing means. how else could you possibly define it?

As the Republican party not moving leftward and simply failing miserably, HA HA HA. It’s pretty easy unless you define the Republican Party as America, in which case you’re probably kinda screwy.

88

The Temporary Name 10.16.15 at 3:53 am

LFC, thank you for the effort.

89

LFC 10.16.15 at 4:05 am

@The Temporary Name
sure

90

Cassander 10.16.15 at 4:22 am

@lfc

>I thought the issue on the table was not whether the country had moved to the right but whether the Republican Party had.

Last I checked, the republican party was part of the county.

>It’s not a subject I care that much about, and although I know more about it than

You seem to have awfully strong opinions I. The subject for something you don’t care about. Demonstrably wrong opinions, as demonstrated by your complete surrender on the questions of social spending, taxes and the size of the epa, not that that stops you from resorting to name calling when faced with facts you dislike.

91

The Temporary Name 10.16.15 at 5:41 am

Last I checked, the republican party was part of the country.

The part of the country that didn’t/doesn’t want to lose those social battles.

Demonstrably wrong opinions, as demonstrated by your complete surrender on the questions of social spending, taxes and the size of the epa

There was zero surrender that I saw, and it turns out that there are two parties sharing responsibility for all this stuff, though I guess it does Republicans credit if they’ve been helping preserve Social Security all this time.

92

John Quiggin 10.16.15 at 7:19 am

@59 I’m inclined to think that Oakeshott was the real deal as far as conservatism goes. He didn’t think much of Hayek or Thatcherism, according to this piece by John Gray (another idiosyncratic conservative who’s broken with the political right) http://www.newrepublic.com/article/114223/margaret-thatcher-reviewed-john-gray

But Corey has the goods on Burke, Kirk and the rest of the alleged theorists of conservatism. They’re just reactionaries. Same for Hayek, although he claimed to be a classical liberal rather than a conservative.

93

casmilus 10.16.15 at 10:32 am

See Honderich’s “Conservatism” for a survey of the various claims made for conservative political theory.

94

Z 10.16.15 at 12:37 pm

JPL

Thanks for the kind words about my comment (undeserved, in my opinion).

Is a fully coherent “philosophy of conservatism” in this sense logically possible?

If you set the bar low (not completely incoherent), then yes, starting with Plato (or Constant, if you want a post-revolutionary thinker). If you set the bar high, then I don’t think this exists but I don’t think a coherent progressive philosophy exists either.

they accept the regulative principle that they should aim for coherence with basic ethical principles.

I’m not sure you can draw a principled line between conservatives and progressives so easily in that respect. Each time a progressive argues for the evolution of a social institution based on a given basic ethical principle (say the reform of the economic system because it denies millions of people basic means of subsistence), a conservative can answer that the currently existing system at least provides a modicum of satisfaction of said ethical principle (in our example, billion others have their basic needs fulfilled) so that, on prudential ground, it would be better to uphold it absent a coherent alternative. And coherent alternatives are hard to devise.

By and large, all I’m saying is that coherent philosophies are hard to built, generally speaking, and that coherent political philosophies are particularly vexing in that respect.

95

LFC 10.16.15 at 12:39 pm

cassander @91
Nixon’s [EPA] had a budget of 1 billion dollars and 4000 employees. the modern is 8 billion and 16000. The idea of any republican cutting the EPA in half or a quarter is laughable.

You (cassander) are assuming that there is a direct causal arrow between ideological preferences and policy outcomes. But there isn’t. Govt programs, once set up, often develop a kind of internal momentum, and also e.g. in the case of environmental protection, genuine problems keep arising. Also, a strong congressional minority in the U.S. can often block what a congressional majority wants to do, etc.

Reagan, I think (not taking the time to check here), was not v. successful in shrinking the growth rate of federal spending over his 8 years in office, despite his commitment to do so. That does not show that Reagan was not a right-winger; it shows that it’s sometimes difficult to fully translate ideology into policy, for a variety of reasons.

In the U.S. context, at any rate, the ideological complexion of a party is best seen and gauged through its public pronouncements and discourse (and through who is made to feel welcome in the party and who isn’t), not through whether it is able to actually enact all of its program or turn all of its desiderata into reality. Hence such facts as the current size of the EPA don’t bear v. much on the question of how the Republican Party’s ideological complexion has changed over time.

96

LFC 10.16.15 at 12:50 pm

p.s. In fact, as is well known, Reagan increased military spending fairly sharply and that, coupled with the tax cuts early in his term, caused the budget deficit to rise. Should the contradiction between Reagan’s rhetoric about the need for a balanced budget and what happened to the deficit under his watch cause one to alter the ideological box into which Reagan is put? No. It just underscores that there is sometimes a divergence between rhetoric and policy outcomes. On the other hand, some Reagan policies *did* conform to his rhetoric, starting with his breaking of the air-traffic controllers strike and their union.

97

Layman 10.16.15 at 12:52 pm

In Cassender’s view, if the Mets manage to beat the Cubs, the Cubs will become Mets.

98

cassander 10.16.15 at 2:41 pm

@LFC 1

>govt programs, once set up, often develop a kind of internal momentum, and also e.g. in the case of environmental protection, genuine problems keep arising. Also, a strong congressional minority in the U.S. can often block what a congressional majority wants to do, etc.

I am amused to see you invoke the sort of public choice arguments you would almost certainly challenge if I made. That said, I must again reject your attempt to dismiss large portions of progressive gains as somehow “not counting” by reason of method. The fact that progressives have massive tax payer funded organizations with multi billion dollar budgets dedicated to their causes is not evidence of progressive weakness.

>That does not show that Reagan was not a right-winger; it shows that it’s sometimes difficult to fully translate ideology into policy, for a variety of reasons.

So a genuine right winger was elected, tried to enact right wing policies, and failed. And you think that this is not evidence of progressive strength?

>In the U.S. context, at any rate, the ideological complexion of a party is best seen and gauged through its public pronouncements and discourse

Sorry, I live in the real world, not the world of rhetoric. The way to gauge these things is to look at the policies actually implemented, not the nonsense politicians spew forth to placate voters.

>No. It just underscores that there is sometimes a divergence between rhetoric and policy outcomes.

which is precisely why we should judge policy not rhetoric.

@laymem

>In Cassender’s view, if the Mets manage to beat the Cubs, the Cubs will become Mets.

If after losing, the Cubs started wearing Mets’ uniforms, playing in the Mets’ field, and saying the things the Mets used to say than, yes, I call them Mets. What would do you call them?

99

Lenoxus 10.16.15 at 2:53 pm

Like I said, I agree with some versions of the premise that the GOP has been dragged leftward on social issues. Arguably conservatism itself has been pulled that way.

As a side note, one of the odd things about culture wars is that if a battle has been won thoroughly enough, the losing side is forced to pretend it was never on that side to begin with. The conservative who says in 1960 that mixed-race marriage is a slippery slope to gay marriage can’t say in 2015 “Told you so!” Nor can the 1960 progressive who thought the USSR had the right idea admit it now.

100

js. 10.16.15 at 3:01 pm

Yes, Cassander, you lost, and you’ll keep on fucking losing! And we will keep on kicking you while you’re down. Is this what you want to hear?

101

LFC 10.16.15 at 3:20 pm

@cassander:
You seem not to understand the meaning of the word ‘ideology’ and what it means for a political party to embrace a particular ideology. The notion that rhetoric is merely nonsense is itself nonsense.

We are not talking about progressive or conservative ‘strength’ or ‘weakness’, but about a particular party’s reigning ideology. Was it irrelevant that the Labor Party in Britain (sorry for the American spelling of “labor”) was committed to public ownership of the means of production until it repealed Clause 4 of its charter, even though it never nationalized everything in the economy? Ideologies matter partly because they do have some effect on policy, even if there’s not a one-to-one correlation, and also because they create a context in which policy debate occurs. Would the EPA be a (yet) more powerful agency today if the whole ‘deregulation’ buzz, nurtured in conservative circles, had never happened? Probably. And yes, the EPA has a substantial budget, but how often does it get it what it ‘wants’ vs industry? One wd have to look at particular issues/outcomes, not just at the agency’s size. Also, how active was the EPA under different administrations? Was there a difference in how the agency acted under G.W. Bush and how it acts under Obama? Etc.

102

Roger Gathman 10.16.15 at 4:03 pm

Burke is a pivotal figure in the anglo world, but contra JQ, I don’t think he was a reactionary. Samuel Johnson was a reactionary – deep in his heart, he wanted the Stuarts back. Burke of course towers above a pipsqueak like Brooks. Brooks and Will offer a pretty sad moment in conservative history, when one of the things conservatives are excellent at – literary style – is marked down into sheer dullness and banality.
Burke, on the other hand, was not only a great and purposeful stylist (in spite of Paine’s crack that he pities the plumage but forgets the dying bird), but was also dedicated to exposing the crimes of imperialism in India, as well as making a less publicized struggle for civil rights for Catholics in Britain. I’m a great fan of Conor Cruise O’Brien’s book on Burke, The Great Melody, and there is a phrase of Burke’s quoted in that book that has stayed with me. It was in reply in a letter to a woman who objected to Burke persecuting Warren Hastings, and he wrote: I have no party in this business but among a set of people who hve none of your lilies and roses in their faces, but who are images of the great pattern as well as you and I. I know what I am doing, whether the white people like it or not.” It is a phrase that could have come from a Jacobin, and it was certainly to the “left” of anything Jefferson was capable of, or actually any US politician up until the middle of the 20th century. Personally, I think Burke is a complicated guy whose minority background has to be taken into account – even as he did forge the modern or at least Anglo modern form of ideological war,

103

Art Deco 10.16.15 at 4:44 pm

But Corey has the goods on Burke, Kirk and the rest of the alleged theorists of conservatism.

No, “Corey” is a man who does not listen, as are you.

104

Sebastian H 10.16.15 at 5:05 pm

“But Corey has the goods on Burke, Kirk and the rest of the alleged theorists of conservatism.”.

Not particularly. This post is a close equivalent to the Sanger believed in eugenics and sterilizing black people therefore the left is bad argument.

105

Sebastian H 10.16.15 at 5:06 pm

The above isn’t a defense of the Republican Party btw, which definitely is trying to fuck the American public.

106

The Temporary Name 10.16.15 at 5:16 pm

Sorry, I live in the real world, not the world of rhetoric.

You live in a kindergarten sandbox where politics is explained by cooties.

107

Roger Gathman 10.16.15 at 6:11 pm

I think what is “probative” about the direction of the Republican party since Nixon’s time is the takeover of the South. There were approximately 5 republican senators from the South in 1969 – the rest were democrats. Some of them were democrats like Fulbright – from a progressive point of view, he would get a 100 for foreign policy and an F on civil rights. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/91st_United_States_Congress#Senate_3

In the 111th Congress, 2012, the situation is completely reversed – there are now 5 democratic senators from the south. However, I don’t think you could say that one of the Republican senators from the South is even close to a moderate – the way there were moderate Dems from the South in 1969. They are all hardcore Republicans. The voting block for the Dems in the south effectively impedes the kind of ideological factions that used to occur in the Dixie democratic party camp. Oddly, in a state like Texas, for instance, the number of Dems is such that if they switched over and voted in the Republican primaries, given that a GOP candidate is going to be the inevitable winner, they would have more ideological power. Given this situation, the GOP is going to have a very large faction within it of the most conservative southerners, even as the south is not as conservative on many issues as it once was.

108

Lee A. Arnold 10.16.15 at 6:46 pm

Art Deco #114: “No, “Corey” is a man who does not listen, as are you.”

A foolish comment which hearkens back to another couple of your foolish comments, at #314 and #318 in this thread:
http://crookedtimber.org/2015/09/15/why-corbyn-won-the-peter-mair-explanation/#comment-644476

Perhaps you will prove that you, yourself, do indeed listen, and answer the question that I asked you there (at #317), and you could answer it in this thread, instead: What are the ways in which lawyers rule America that are not mentioned in Domhoff’s excellent book, Who Rules America? — and therefore, by their omission, disproves his argument, as you claim? Just write it here in 50 words or less. Or are you going to avoid the question, or run away again?

109

Alex K. 10.16.15 at 6:58 pm

How exactly do cherry-picked quotes refute the following conservative principles:

1) In a social world that’s impossible to fully comprehend and manage, we should stick to working, time-tested, hence robust to many challenges, systems.

and

2) Time-tested moral systems that enjoy public support derive their value from more than just their content: the very fact that a large part of the public is coordinated in its commitment to those norms is a valuable aspect of those moral systems.

You could defend those two principles quite independently of whatever people labeled as conservative –whether geniuses or clowns– said.

Additionally, those two principles do not necessarily lead to “always be moderate” behavioral recommandations.

If the system you’re attacking has clearly failed the test of time (e.g. communism) then it’s perfectly consistent with the two principles mentioned above to be quite radical in attacking that failed system. Nor do those principles imply that one has to be moderate in attacking laws that are a few years old, just because they are in some sense part of the current furniture of society — the time-tested element is missing.

So Corey Robin’s attacks of conservatism seem very weak to me.

He doesn’t help his case by having no aversion to silly arguments. For instance, it is really that hard to imagine that it’s possible to be intellectually humble about the possibility of fully comprehending the effects of society-wide changes — and at the same time be very proud of the intellectual caliber of some conservative thought? Where is the contradiction?

110

Bartleby the Commenter 10.16.15 at 7:10 pm

“In a social world that’s impossible to fully comprehend and manage, we should stick to working, time-tested, hence robust to many challenges, systems.”

I could ask how well do these “time-tested” systems actually work and who exactly do they work for? However I would prefer not to.

111

Lee A. Arnold 10.16.15 at 7:25 pm

ALEX K. #120: How exactly do cherry-picked quotes refute the following conservative principles:
1) In a social world that’s impossible to fully comprehend and manage, we should stick to working, time-tested, hence robust to many challenges, systems.
and
2) Time-tested moral systems that enjoy public support derive their value from more than just their content: the very fact that a large part of the public is coordinated in its commitment to those norms is a valuable aspect of those moral systems.
You could defend those two principles quite independently of whatever people labeled as conservative –whether geniuses or clowns– said.”

The short answer to this is because they are not the essence of conservatism, and apply to progressive ideas too.

Also, as Bartleby accurately has scriven, it is also not the case that something won’t go wrong, and then will need a new fix, a new bit of “planning”. Which is where all the “time-tested” ideas came from, IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Or to put it another way, evolution can lead to dead ends, as any biologist would say.

This is much the problem with Hayek, though I agree with JQ at #103 that Hayek probably was a classical liberal, although not a very scientific one. (Actually he’s rather “scientistic”, to use his own derogatory term.) Hayek would provide good retrospective material for a book entitled, Early Mortal Errors by Early Systems Theorists, but it ends there, for me (and I would not expect big sales for that book, though I would purchase it).

Hayek’s basic errors are two, and speak quite to this point: 1. he supposes that the “market system” is spontaneously generated; and 2. that therefore, it is better, because spontaneity is better than planning. Both wrong; both unexamined in any deep way.

Instead they are multiplied into vast discussions of “constructivist rationality” (which is supposed to be evil) against — what? — the real rules of reality, I presume. But in reality (our reality) what we REALLY don’t want is dictators — even those who tell us, like Hayek, that “social justice” cannot exist, because it is “constructivist rationality”. And we don’t want the dictatorship of the market either!

I just plowed through Law, Legislation, and Liberty (not really a masochist; I am ever in search of a new idea) and all I can say is, what a headache, don’t bother, nothing new there. Hayek’s errors 1 and 2 are once again posited without examination, (just a little redefinition, giving an appearance of examination to the unwary ), and after that, you slog through 650 pages of variations on a single sentence that would go something like: “We need rules, but too many rules are not good.” So that’s my book review.

112

js. 10.16.15 at 7:25 pm

@Bartleby — You should check out Interlocutor’s comments on the Harvard thread. I think you’ll find some things there you’d prefer not to discuss.

113

Bartleby the Commenter 10.16.15 at 7:46 pm

js. I will think on it but in the end I may prefer not to.

114

Stephen 10.16.15 at 7:47 pm

Z@105: I think that Isaiah Berlin, with his emphasis on incommensurabilties and incompatibilities, would have agreed with you. Whether you would welcome his support, I don’t know.

115

Stephen 10.16.15 at 8:02 pm

Roger Gathman@113: I think you’re right about the complexities of Burke, but I think you may overlook the complexities of Johnson. Agreed, he was opposed to the outstanding corruption of Walpole & Co, as were many others (Pope for example), but to say that “deep in his heart, he wanted the Stuarts back” does seem to me to be looking deeper into his heart than is reasonable. By George III’s reign, had he not come to accept the Hanoverian succession? And to say that a man who could ask “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of Negroes”, and give as a toast in an Oxford college “Here’s to the next insurrection of the Negroes in the West Indies” was a reactionary – well, really!

116

Roger Gathman 10.16.15 at 8:13 pm

126 – I thought of that. But that the “left” took up the cause of abolition is, to my mind, an event on the left – the French revolutionary policy in Haiti shows how hard it is to predict the white European response to slavery. Whereas Johnson, a solid christian, would, I think, find it perfectly consistent with his Toryism to be against slavery, He was very opposed to the American revolution for just the reason you present. In fact, from the point of view of an early 21st century lefty, it is hard to support the American revolution. Much tosh has been written by repentant “humanitarian interventionist” lefties about the Terror and how this led directly, by a hop skip and a hundred 20 years, to Stalin. But who writes about how the Declaration of Independent’s support for slavery and ethnic cleansing led to Hitler? Yet you could make the case – Hitler himself did, with his approving references to the reservations. All of which shows the difficulty of impressing our current sense of ideology on a predominantly non-industrial past.

117

steven johnson 10.16.15 at 8:31 pm

The US equivalent of the Great French Revolution is the Civil War. That’s what a lefty wants to talk about when analyzing the American revolutionary heritage.

118

cassander 10.16.15 at 11:23 pm

@js.

>Yes, Cassander, you lost, and you’ll keep on fucking losing! And we will keep on kicking you while you’re down. Is this what you want to hear?

I would much prefer a left that admitted its victories rather than perpetually maintaining the fiction of being the underdog. It might lead to a more honest assessment of your failures. Unfortunately, you are too emotionally committed to that underdog myth to ever give it up en masse.

@LFC

>We are not talking about progressive or conservative ‘strength’ or ‘weakness’, but about a particular party’s reigning ideology.

you are correct, I should have spoken of progressive advance or retreat, not strength or weakness.

>Was it irrelevant that the Labor Party in Britain (sorry for the American spelling of “labor”) was committed to public ownership of the means of production until it repealed Clause 4 of its charter, even though it never nationalized everything in the economy?

What was relevant was whether or not the labour party kept nationalizing things (or at least trying to), not whether or not they had clause 4 in their charter.

>Would the EPA be a (yet) more powerful agency today if the whole ‘deregulation’ buzz, nurtured in conservative circles, had never happened? Probably. And yes, the EPA has a substantial budget, but how often does it get it what it ‘wants’ vs industry?

very often.

>One wd have to look at particular issues/outcomes, not just at the agency’s size. Also, how active was the EPA under different administrations? Was there a difference in how the agency acted under G.W. Bush and how it acts under Obama? Etc.

The EPA, like most regulatory agencies, passes regulation that is virtually never repealed. Republican administrations, at most, slow things down. You can look in more detail if you like, but the flow is always in one direction, and it isn’t rightward. I can count on one hand the number of times the Bush administration actually repealed or weakened pre-existing rules.

@Roger Gathman

>I think what is “probative” about the direction of the Republican party since Nixon’s time is the takeover of the South. There were approximately 5 republican senators from the South in 1969 – the rest were democrats. Some of them were democrats like Fulbright – from a progressive point of view, he would get a 100 for foreign policy and an F on civil rights. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/91st_United_States_Congress#Senate_3

this is true, but your selection of dates is off. the 100th congress had only 7 republicans. The shift you speak of occurred mostly between 1990 and 2000, with a similar pattern in the house. the usual story about the southern strategy is quite inaccurate.

119

The Temporary Name 10.16.15 at 11:33 pm

this is true, but your selection of dates is off. the 100th congress had only 7 republicans.

On the one hand I think you want to rewrite this and on the other you come from some crazy alternative reality, so could be.

120

cassander 10.17.15 at 12:12 am

clearly, I meant 7 southern republican senators.

121

Anarcissie 10.17.15 at 1:01 am

cassander 10.16.15 at 11:23 pm @ 129 —
I think the reason the Republican Party is seen as being increasingly ‘conservative’ is that the word is being misused. The proper term would be ‘rightist’, where the Right is (as of old) the side of power, authority, social status, private wealth, military virtue, etc. In the US, the primary concern of the ruling class (Capital) is to maintain, expand, and enjoy its superior power in the US and all over the world. One may argue over which major party best serves this interest, but a reasonable argument can be made that the Republicans appear to be attempting to do the better, more thorough job. Capital does not care one way or the other about environmental politics, the deficit, feminism, Gay rights, gun rights, gun control, school prayer, race, and so on except insofar as they provide opportunities to divide and rule the lower orders, the schmucks. They can handle all that stuff without even breathing hard. Wars, surveillance, increasing inequality of wealth and income, unlimited expansion of IP — these are useful and maybe important, and they’re cooking along just fine. Agreed, in both parties, but the Republicans seem to be the more overt, more determined, more passionate servitors.

122

bad Jim 10.17.15 at 8:10 am

Completely incompetent, though. Debt limit, anyone? Who needs a budget? Deficit, debt, what’s the difference? Back in one of the 1992 debates, Clinton was the only one to listen to a questioner who confused them.

123

Anarcissie 10.17.15 at 1:36 pm

The weakness of the Left has enabled the Democratic Party to move rightward (in my sense) taking up territory previously held by Republicans, and forcing the latter into ever more difficult ideological terrain, populated by mutually hostile tribes, such as serious racists, fundamentalist Evangelicals, and libertarians. Competence about real issues, already hard to find among politicians, is virtually impossible in such a landscape. Meanwhile the Democrats get to say ‘We may not look like much, but we’re the ones who aren’t crazy.’ It’s a living, for a while anyway.

124

Cassander 10.17.15 at 5:52 pm

@Anarcissie

I’ve extensively discussed how the republicans are moving left, not right, on almost every issue even by your standard. The idea that the old WASP elite would look at modern republicans and think they held power, authority, social status, private wealth, or military virtue in higher esteem than they did is laughable. Please stop building mental palaces on the fantasy that the left isn’t winning.

125

Bartleby the Commenter 10.17.15 at 6:11 pm

I could point our local right wing nut to the tax plans released by the Republican candidates. But I would prefer not to.

126

Roger Gathman 10.17.15 at 7:06 pm

cassander, you are overlooking a key year in the breakup of democratic dominance of the south – 1980. The dems lost senate seats in alabama, georgia (unseating Herman Talmadge – a major marker of the southern stategy’s success – Florida, and North Carolina. There had been nothing like this since the last years of Reconstruction. The tide for Republican governors was delayed until 1986, but then the south underwent a true sea change. The GOP had been picking up seats in the 1980s – Missouri, Arkansas, North Carolina – but in 1986 Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama went GOP. The Southern stategy is no myth. It wasn’t immediately successful, but in the eighties the presidential preference, the senatorial preference, and the gubernatorial preference of Southern states became predominantly GOP. Reagan, of course, in 1980 in his speeches on civil rights – where he was strongly sympathetic to the “states rights” narrative, as for instance in his speech in Philadelphia Mississippi – was definitely playing the Southern strategy, and it did work.

127

Stephen 10.17.15 at 8:32 pm

Roger Gathman@127: I do entirely agree about “the difficulty of impressing our current sense of ideology on a predominantly non-industrial past”. I would go further, and say that early US C21 ideology is very difficult, if not impossible, to impress on much more recent pasts, or non-US presents.

128

cassander 10.17.15 at 8:36 pm

@Roger Gathman

Reagan won 44 and 49 states in his two elections, and bush won 40 in his first. In 80, 9 of carter’s 10 top polling states were in the south, and none of reagan’s top polling states were. That’s not a southern strategy, that’s a whole country strategy, and it worked worst in the south.

It would have been hard for the GOP to not pick up a few southern seats in such circumstances. They had done so the 1920s and 1950s, and did so again in the 80s. But most of those 86 gubernatorial pickups went back to democrats in 1990. It wasn’t until 94-98/2002 that you saw republican governorships becoming the norm in the south. That flirting with republicans in 80s wasn’t unimportant, it laid the groundwork for what would be coming, but the real change didn’t happen until the 90s.

129

Not Likely 10.17.15 at 9:41 pm

I’m a rightwing English professor, really, and I’ve always been surrounded by contemptible assholes who are forever congratulating themselves over being small-minded conformists: they’re all liberals, which is reason enough for me to disagree.

130

Roger Gathman 10.17.15 at 11:47 pm

cassander, of course that is a southern strategy. I don’t see where your objection is focused. It seems to me that the victories of the GOP in the South before, and the failure to build on those victories over a decade – over two or three election cycles – shows that the GOP did not have a southern strategy under Hoover or Eisenhower. That the dems didn’t break up completely in the 80s doesn’t mean that the strategy they had was not working – after all, this section of the country had a solid hundred years of one party dominance. It did mean that they were determined to capture the conservative democratic voters, and they did. Now, of course, the one party dominance is reversed, and definitely this is not due to some accident. It took very hard work by the republicans. I think people like Pat Buchanan, or Lee Atwater, would be astonished to hear that it was not by work, but by some seachange in the heads of the electorate that these results came about. There are failed strategies: the GOP strategy for appealing to middle class black households, which Lee Atwater flirted with, has borne no fruit whatsoever. Kevin Phillips, outlining the way to campaign for the GOP in the South in his 1969 book, the Emerging Republican Majority, was proven right. True, he now says he was just pointing to the effect of demographics, but he matched demographics to the “cultural’ war.
The results of the GOP strategy are pretty clear. Here’s a recent WAPO story about how deep the GOP hegemony is in the deep south
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/10/17/meet-the-last-democratic-statewide-constitutional-office-holder-in-the-deep-south/

Hood ;the attorney general of Mississippi’ is the only Democrat who holds a constitutional statewide elected office in the Deep South. In Mississippi, Republicans — Sen. Thad Cochran and Sen. Roger Wicker — hold both of Mississippi’s U.S. Senate seats. And to be clear here, Mississippi also has a Republican governor, lieutenant governor, and secretary of state. Its House and Senate are GOP-controlled and Republicans serve as state treasurer and the state’s insurance and agriculture commissioners.

In every other Southern state, things are pretty much the same. But Hood has managed to defy that, winning his first attorney general election in 2003 and reelection bids in 2007 and 2011. He is currently seeking his fourth term and leads in the polls.

131

John Quiggin 10.18.15 at 12:20 am

@Roger Gathman (and Stephne) I agree with what you’ve said about Johnson and the difficulty of justifying the American revolution, as I said recently in my critique Locke. I think Johnson himself undermines your final sentence that “All of which shows the difficulty of impressing our current sense of ideology on a predominantly non-industrial past.” This is a problem if we try to make much of Johnson’s sentimental preference for the Stuarts over the Hanoverians, but not at all a problem in relation to slavery.

As regards Burke, I agree that he’s a complex figure, but that doesn’t prove anything one way or the other. He was on the left of British politics before 1790, but that doesn’t say much about the writing and political activity for which he is actually remembered. On this score, I am convinced by Corey’s argument that he was a reactionary. Do you have any counter-argument?

132

Roger Gathman 10.18.15 at 12:47 am

JQ I suppose the counter-argument would be Burke’s, which is that his political philosophy was consistent throughout his career. In a sense, I’m uncomfortable with a way of nabbing leftists and rightists by saying, oh, he’s opposed to slavery and we love that, thus he must be on the left. That simply isn’t true in any historically concrete sense. Jefferson, notoriously, was a great supporter of the French revolution and went out of his way to fuck with Haiti when he was president. Les Amis des Noirs, as Susan Buck Morss points out in Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History, were not associated with the far left in the French revolution but with the Girondins. Robespierre absented himself from the convention when it voted to abolish slavery and did not sign the decree. I would think that we would place Robespierre on the left and Sam Johnson on the right, but race has never tracked exactly clearly through our ideological divisions. Another ethnicity we should consider to make the same point: the Irish. Burke was a big supporter of lessening the penalties against Irish Catholics, and became more radical about it after 1790. Partly this was because he was afraid that the same conditions that led to the French revolution were present in Ireland, with a disenfranchised peasantry. In supporting the franchise for Catholics, Burke took up a position that Liberals in England didn’t dare take up until the 1830s. The contemptuous attitude towards Irish catholics contributed greatly to what I would call the terror famine of the 1840s, when the British state’s head of famine relief, Trevelyn, felt that God in his providence was reducing the population and that could only be a good thing.
So – I think it is a mistake to think that Burke became a reactionary in 1790. On the other hand, I do think he helped invent the politics of reaction in 1790. However, it was for others to carry it out in practice, like Pitt. Burke himself was a liminal case.

133

kidneystones 10.18.15 at 1:34 am

143. Thank you for the sensible and informed comments. As you rightly point out, Robespierre did not support the abolition of slavery in 1794 in French colonies. It is less clear, however, whether his objections were based on principal, rather than on his natural conservatism. His arguments against war were not, history suggests, rooted in pacifism, but instead on fears for the survival of the revolution. On your more general arguments, I quite agree. Burke isn’t the cartoon character some very bright people choose to demonize. He’s insightful in ways Paine isn’t. Burke was a Tory, but not conservative in all matters.

Even the terminology we employ to discuss slavery is encumbered with the baggage of the last two hundred years. Slavery was a state ready to capture any and all. Liberty had to fought for and won. Neither term had anything to do with race, except in practice. The English of the 18th century prided themselves as lovers of liberty while building an empire on the backs of the enslaved and oppressed, in Ireland and elsewhere. Christian critiques of slavery originating in Britain won the day, not those of Rousseau or even Montesquieu. France’s leading Christian abolitionist Gregoire was an active supporter of the revolutionary government. The blood shed in the chaos of revolution in France and the Antilles mixed. Few in France objected when Napoleon legalized the slave trade once again in 1802.

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cassander 10.18.15 at 3:28 am

>It seems to me that the victories of the GOP in the South before, and the failure to build on those victories over a decade – over two or three election cycles – shows that the GOP did not have a southern strategy under Hoover or Eisenhower.

I object to a couple things. First, the idea that nixon enacted some sort of southern shift. Nixon did poorly in the south in 68 and did well literally everywhere but massachusetts and DC in 72. The shift in southern voting patterns didn’t start under nixon, it started, at the earliest, under reagan, but wasn’t significant until the 90s. And again, Reagan did well everywhere, not just, or even especially, in the south.

Second, I object to calling a decade plus long realignment a strategy. American politics is not nearly well organized enough for that. The shift was made by individual political actors, not as part of some grand strategy dictated from a bunker beneath the RNC HQ. And while it did take hard work by republicans, at least as much work was done by decades of democrats actively alienating the south.

>Kevin Phillips, outlining the way to campaign for the GOP in the South in his 1969 book, the Emerging Republican Majority, was proven right. True, he now says he was just pointing to the effect of demographics, but he matched demographics to the “cultural’ war.

Phillips said he could do in the 1970s what wasn’t done until the 90s. His timing was way off, and that matters. the GOP didn’t win over the southern voter of the 70s, he stayed mostly democrat. it took an entire generation of new voters emerging to make the shift happen.

>The results of the GOP strategy are pretty clear. Here’s a recent WAPO story about how deep the GOP hegemony is in the deep south

Again, I don’t dispute that the GOP took over the south, I just dispute when they did it. It happened in the 90s, not the 70s.

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John Quiggin 10.18.15 at 4:29 am

@Roger I think this shows more the limitations of a left-right characterization of politicsin general than of historicity. Robespierre was to the left of the Girondins in the same way that 20th century Leninists were to the left of social democrats. I don’t have any trouble picking sides here.

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dn 10.18.15 at 6:31 am

cassander’s accounts @139 and @145 are masterpieces of cherry-picking. The idea that Southern voting patterns didn’t start to change until after Nixon is just ridiculous. In 1964 Barry Goldwater, although he was crushed in the nationwide popular vote, won five states in the Deep South, a couple by absurd margins (87-13 in Mississippi!). While of course Nixon didn’t succeed in winning over the “Wallace voter” in 1968, this was naturally because the Wallace voter in 1968 could vote for the real thing, Wallace himself! But four years later, with no Wallace in his way, Nixon did get his biggest margins in the South, winning at least 65% of the vote in every single Confederate state and 70% or more in the states Goldwater had won – a performance he totally failed to match in most of the old North.

Likewise, while it’s true that Carter’s top 10 states in 1980 were mostly Southern, Carter’s top 10 does not correspond to Reagan’s bottom 10. The latter in 1980 included such notable bastions of Jim Crow as Minnesota, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, and New York. The difference in these states was Rockefeller Republican John Anderson’s independent campaign, which did terribly in the Confederacy but racked up results of 7, 8, 9, 10% or more elsewhere – as much as 15% in Massachusetts and Vermont. Moreover, Carter’s advantage in the South was of a profoundly different nature than that of previous Southern Democratic Presidents, as his strong showing in both 1976 and 1980 was built on the overwhelming support of black voters; according to exit polls, in both of Carter’s elections a majority of white Southerners pulled the lever for the Republican, which obviously would have been unthinkable before 1964.

I haven’t seen anyone here claiming that there was some Illuminati-like conspiracy to turn the whole GOP into a Southern party, or that it all happened at once with a magical snap of Kevin Phillips’ fingers in 1968 or 72, or that the Democrats’ ideological choices had nothing to do with the eventual success of this approach. I simply point out that it’s profoundly silly to deny the existence of a deliberate strategic decision at the national level to pursue the South by courting the “Wallace voter” when a) that’s exactly what Phillips, Atwater et al. flat-out said that’s what they intended, and b) the actions of national Republican figures starting with Nixon make perfect sense when understood in this way but very little sense otherwise.

None of which is to suggest that the South is the whole story. Reagan’s largest margins were won in neither the old North nor the South, but in the West: in 1980 the only states west of the Mississippi in which Reagan failed to outperform his national popular vote percentage were Washington, Oregon and Arkansas. This is one of the major storylines of the GOP since Goldwater – not just the capture of the South, but the steady fusion of Southern politics with Western, which has continued into the Obama era. The deepest-red states for decades have been the likes of Utah, Wyoming and Idaho, which every GOP candidate since at least Gerald Ford has won by massive margins.

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kidneystones 10.18.15 at 11:07 am

@146 Please elaborate with specific examples, unless by ‘left’ you mean authoritarian, paranoid, blood-thirsty, and puritanical. Robespierre has proved a mercurial subject for many historians. William Doyle and Colin Haydon discuss some of various problems in their introductory chapter of their study of Robespierre. There’s no doubt some Marxist historians clasp him to their bosom, but there’s conflicting evidence he’d welcome the embrace. Cobb and Schama see him as a loony. Unless one happens to be a big fan of summary executions without the right to defense, it’s hard to see Robespierre as anything but as a narcissistic sociopath who met his end about sixteen months too late.

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Stephen 10.18.15 at 11:08 am

Roger Gathman@143: Trevelyan wasn’t exactly the ogre you make him out to be. He was a senior civil servant whose job was to implement the policies of the parliamentary government. In the early stages of the Irish famine, under Peel’s administration, the policy was to import food using government funds: Trevelyan did that, efficiently, telling his subordinates “The people must not be allowed to starve”. And nobody starved then. Then Peel fell from office, and was succeeded by Russell whose policy was that market forces, assisted by public works, would solve the problem. That didn’t happen, so policy changed back to public provision of food: at the height of Trevelyan’s effort, his organization was feeding three million a day. Not exactly, I think, a terror famine; not a good example of competent government decisions, either.

To revert to the inappropriateness of left and right in earlier times: Peel was a Conservative, Russell was a Liberal. Which was the left-winger?

It’s not just slavery and famines, either. Consider the various Factory Acts to restrict the hours and improve the conditions of labour. Pushed through by Peel, Michael Sadler, Shaftesbury: all Tories. And was Bismark, when he introduced sickness insurance, industrial accident insurance and old age pensions, acting as a left or right winger? Come to that, should the Emperor Napoleon I be considered as left or right wing? Does that question make sense?

I agree with you about Burke, though.

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Roger Gathman 10.18.15 at 4:55 pm

Stephen, I must say, I still agree with John Mitchel’s original assessment of the Irish famine (God sent the blight and the British sent the famine). Interestingly, Mitchel ended up fighting for the confederates, which shows you that not all anti-colonial struggle can be easily resolved between left and right. Trevelyn, with his laissez faire views, was, it is true, a middle man, but the ideas he had were shared by Tory and Whig, and he did more than anyone else to publicize the government’s ideological position – the moral imperative not to interfere with the “market” and the view that it was working against God’s purpose to try to save the “excess” population in Ireland. Trevelyn called the famine a “transient evil” that led to a good – an Ireland shrunk to a manageable size. The ideology of minimum government interference was transferred to India, which under British rule suffered famines that dwarfed Stalin’s and were only equaled by Mao. There used to be a joke in Ireland about the revisionist Irish historians that they somehow couldn’t find the famine at all, much to their satisfaction. The latest wave of revisionist have revisited the older revisionists and are finding that the old story, that it is only nationalist myth that makes the British the villain, just isn’t true. Famously, Trevelyn at first declared the famine over in 1847 – a bizarre but influential announcement – and had the officials dealing with the famine, in an ideological twist, copies of Adam Smith’s wealth of nations. If Stalin had sent officials dealing with the Ukraine famine copies of Das Kapital, surely this would have been evidence of his evil dealing and the making of the famine into an instrument of state poicy. I see no reason to hold the British to a lower standard. Besides which, of course, they continued this kind of thing in India. As noted by Melissa Fegan in Literature and the Irish Famine, in the Orissa famine of 1865, british officials referred to Trevelyn’s Irish Crisis book as their blueprint for how to deal with the famine, and congratulated themselves that the market and providence worked: only 1, 365,529 people died.
It is here that the accusation against Burke has some merit. Although he criticized rigid fidelity to an economic ideology in the Reflections, in Thoughts on Scarcity he seemed to succumb to that disease and urged no government interference in the market in agricultural commodities. Ironically, if there were no government interference in the market in agricultural commodities in the Britain or the EU of today, the farming sector, the very anchor of conservative values, would be simply wiped out. Every developed country spends an enormous amount supporting the farming sector.

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Anarcissie 10.18.15 at 5:46 pm

Stephen 10.18.15 at 11:08 am @ 149 —
People who want to control and exploit other people can have many reasons for benefiting the people they want to control. In the case of Bismarck’s and subsequent editions of the Welfare state, the main purpose has evidently been to forestall competing controllers and also the possibility that the lower classes might find some way to organize themselves in a more egalitarian and libertarian manner, thus possibly putting their rulers out of business. Included in the arsenal of power has been the ability to alter language, so that Welfare becomes ‘leftist’ even though it supports established authority, and resistance becomes almost unsayable and almost unthinkable.

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LFC 10.18.15 at 10:56 pm

dn @147
Thank you for this excellent comment (even if it’ll be lost on cassander, it’s helpful to have this laid out).

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Stephen 10.19.15 at 4:10 pm

Roger Gathman@150: John Mitchel’s blaming the famine entirely on the British was no doubt wholly sincere: though he had decided, before the famine, that Britain was to blame for everything in Ireland, more or less by definition. But his denunciation of the British government for letting, or making, the Irish export enormous amounts of food during the famine, that would have been enough to feed everybody in Ireland, had what some might regard as a serious fault. It wasn’t true. Subsequent Irish historians have studied the port records, tabulated the amounts imported and exported, and have concluded that food exports fell remarkably in the famine, that they weren’t, by an order of magnitude, anything like enough to cope with the lack of potatoes, and that food imports increased enormously, thanks to the efforts of people like Trevelyan.

I would add that Daniel O’Connell thought, at the time, that closing the ports would only have made things worse. I would not pretend to understand 1840s Ireland better than Daniel O’Connell.

As for the Orissa famine of 1865: all I know about that comes from the Wikipedia article, which states that during that drought-induced famine the government of British India spent some 9.5 million rupees on shipping about 50,000 tons of rice to Orissa for famine relief. I would not call that “relying on market forces”; would you?

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