Liberal, Conservative, Pangloss, Plotinus, Galton

by John Holbo on February 1, 2016

(This isn’t part of our Walton seminar, though it’s got Plotinus in it.)

What is liberalism? What is conservatism? If you are interested in getting answers to these questions, you (probably) want the answers to do two things for you:

1) Give you the best possible version of this thing. What is the best liberalism/conservatism could be, as political philosophy? The truest, most valuable, most-defensible-in-argument versions. All that good stuff. (Obviously if you think one or the other, or both, are very, very bad and hopeless, that is your answer.)

2) Give you insight into what’s going on in real politics. What constructions of liberalism/conservatism, as philosophies, give me the best handle on what’s going on in the US election cycle, say?

There is a non-trivial risk of 1 & 2 coming completely apart. No one thing gives you both. It’s obvious why, but let me illustrate.

Suppose you think the best, most defensible philosophical conservatism would be G.A. Cohen’s conservatism.

Intellectually, that might be rather fine, yet useless for getting a grip on real U.S. politics. You can’t make sense of the Republican candidate line-up by measuring relative degrees of departure from what a British post-Marxist academic philosopher thinks conservatism ought to be. You could, of course, say something short and sharp: if Cohen is right about the good in conservatism, US conservatives are no-good conservatives. That seems right. (I think US conservatives should agree with it, if they are logical. They just think the antecedent of the conditional is false.) But this short, sharp tool doesn’t do descriptive work. You couldn’t build a ‘Cohen scale’, I don’t think, and use it to map, let alone explain, let alone predict, electoral results in Republican primaries (or whatever). It’s not that there is no relation whatsoever. Cohen is defending ‘existing value bias’ as rational. US Conservatives talk about how they are ‘losing the country’. But, seriously: if what you want is, primarily, a practical handle on US politics ‘conservatism’, for political science or journalistic or plain ordinary ‘I’m interesting in US politics’ purposes, Cohen-on-conservatism is not your go-to guy.

But, to repeat, maybe Cohen’s is the best of all possible normative political philosophies of conservatism. That no ‘actual’ conservatives believe it would not refute that proposition.

(What’s that you say? You think US conservatives really are more sensitive to ‘existing value’ than liberals? I think that’s nuts. The most you can say is that politics is positional; people get upset when they lose ground; sometimes the losers are conservatives; but that doesn’t make them Cohenesque. But, fine: believe your nutty belief. My point stands. I just need a different example. Joseph de Maistre. Maybe he is the best conservative philosopher ever, in your book. But if you read his complete works as tea leaves, to predict the 2016 Iowa Caucus results, you are seriously doing it the hard way.)

So that’s settled. 1) and 2) could come totally apart if actually existing liberals and/or conservatives are so non-ideal that thinking about what they would be like, ideally, doesn’t give us a rough template of what they are like, actually.

So assuming 1) and 2) will be jointly satisfied, to a significant degree, by any correct answer to ‘what is liberalism/conservatism?’ is a fallacy.

I call this fallacy Weak Normative Panglossianism: the partisan political world is close enough to ideal that a perfect map of the ideal partisan map (fantasy electoral football between ideal liberals and conservatives) is a rough sketch of the actual muddy scrum between actual, non-ideal liberals and conservatives.

Like I said, a fallacy.

It gets committed in two ways: Galtonian and Plotinian. That is, bottom-up, and top-down.

Galtonian Weak Normative Panglossianism

I’m thinking of Galtonian composite photography. I don’t want to say that this New York Magazine article on Iowa caucus voters commits it, but it invites it (down to the photographs.) Basically, to see what conservatism is, you just overlay all these folks and … see what you can see. What distinctive face, or faces, seem to emerge, or predominate, or whatever? That’s what conservatism is. (For now, anyway.) This might be done a couple different ways. For example, you might want to subtract all the pure transactional politics, and pure tribalism, before performing the experimental overlay. (Yes, how could you possibly do that? Indeed.)

Plotinian Weak Normative Panglossianism

Sticking with the New York Magazine article, you may read all this stuff and think of these voters as, qua conservatism, ‘less real’ than, say, prominent pundits/talk radio jocks, who are themselves emanations from think tanks/organizations/groups/movements, which are emanations from Reagan, who was an emanation from the Platonic fountainhead of Conservatism Itself.

I kid, because I don’t think anyone seriously thinks of themselves as thinking this way. (And I don’t think it’s a very sound way to think.) But here is T.S. Eliot, on political parties, sort of thinking this way. (Our Corey quotes this bit at the start of Reactionary Mind, be it noted.)

What its [a great party’s] fundamental tenets are, will probably be found only be careful examination of its behavior throughout its history and by examination of what its more thoughtful and philosophical minds have said on its behalf; and only accurate historical knowledge and judicious analysis will be able to discriminate between the permanent and the transitory; between those doctrines and principles which it must ever, and in all circumstances, maintain, or manifest itself a fraud, and those called forth by special circumstances, which are only intelligible and justifiable in light of those circumstances.

This is Plotinian in my sense. There is some ideal Form of the Political Ideal up there, and this thing – the Party – is an emanation from it. The party descends down from it, tries to rise up to it. The party gets ‘realer’, i.e. less manifest as fraud, the closer to its philosophical origin it gets. Eliot didn’t always and only think about politics this way, not even in this essay. But it’s easy to see how, thinking this way, you can feel you are getting a real handle on the real by focusing on the ideal. You are getting out in front of events, seeing what they aim at, at their most ‘real’, even if they never get there.

When it comes to committing the fallacy, people tend to be Plotinian about their own Party, Galtonian about the opposition (just as Galton was at first inspired to study criminals and other ‘defectives’.) But not invariably.

The Plotinian view might seem more elitist, but you can have Plotinian populism. And Galtonian elitism. (I’m looking at your General Will, Rousseau! At least I think I am. Chris Bertram? What am I looking at here? You are the Rousseau expert, not me.)

Trump is not a conservative on the Plotinian view, probably. But he probably is, on the Galtonian.

And the whole thing is a fallacy anyway, either way.

Just thought I’d mention it, while we wait for the Iowa caucus results to come in.

{ 211 comments }

1

js. 02.01.16 at 3:53 am

I think you need an ordering of (1) and (2). I’d say you necessarily have to satisfy (2), and then you should satisfy (1) to the greatest extent possible under the constraint of satisfying (2).

2

js. 02.01.16 at 3:55 am

Also, you’ve misspelled Corey Robin’s first name. Just a heads up.

3

John Holbo 02.01.16 at 4:03 am

Oops. Corrected. I do know better. About Corey’s name.

As to the ordering, I personally rather strongly disagree: I think it’s perfectly coherent to focus on 1) rather than 2). But, if that’s what you are doing, you’d better be clear about it. A lot of the time people aren’t. This is, of course, the good old debate between ‘ideal and non-ideal theory’. A lot of people want to say that ideal theory is just no good. But I don’t agree. At least I don’t think it’s obvious.

It’s true that eternally focusing on 1), never on 2) would be deformed. But, equally, always looking only at 2), never 1) could be just a kind of mindless horserace journalism. You want them both, overall. But you needn’t always have them both together, in everything you write about either.

4

John Holbo 02.01.16 at 4:05 am

Somehow I’ve got an occasional fingertip block when it comes to typing ‘Corey’. My brain knows Right yet I do Wrong. Sorry, Corey. Maybe I read Cory Doctorow’s stuff too much, for too long?

5

js. 02.01.16 at 4:23 am

Sorry, yes, I’m a big fan of ideal theory—in general. It’s just a bit weird when it comes to actually existing political formations. (Also, I think CR is substantially right about conservatism. But I don’t know if you, as in you John Holbo, would want to call that ideal theory or place it under (1).)

6

art grymes 02.01.16 at 4:24 am

Cohen’s a Canadian post-Marxist academic philosopher, actually.

7

John Holbo 02.01.16 at 4:31 am

He’s Canadian! I didn’t know that. Well, then, he’s obviously for Cruz. I retract my mistaken conclusion.

8

John Holbo 02.01.16 at 4:40 am

I think CR is right about conservatism, too. I wouldn’t call it ‘ideal theory’, in the usual sense, but the source of the confusion is instructive (I don’t mean confusion on CR’s part. It’s just confusing how we categorize theories.) He is noticing that there is a normative core to conservatism. You can understand a lot by seeing conservatism as a series of approaches to this reactionary ‘ideal’. But it isn’t a good norm (he doesn’t think so, I don’t either.)

The form is the theory is this: A is trying to be B. So if you can model B, you have an approximate model of A. This is Platonism, so it seems like it should be ideal theory. (That’s Plato all over, right?) But it’s also political realism. There is an ‘ideal’ model of how states act – selfishly, maximizing power, etc. You can treat existing states as, approximately, that. But it’s an additional step (which, unfortunately, some realists take) to: the world would be a better place if everyone were more selfish. CR isn’t saying the conservative movement would be healthier and we would all be better off if only conservatives would be more reflectively and effectively reactionary than they are. So his theory of conservatism isn’t an ‘ideal’ normative theory in that sense. (I actually talk about this in my Plato book. Why Thrasymachus is so interesting to Plato: an ‘ideal’ theory that is non-ideal. But never mind about that.)

9

John Holbo 02.01.16 at 4:42 am

A lot of trouble comes in with ‘try’. It isn’t right to say conservatives are ‘trying’ to be reactionary, on CR’s view. Yet they are systematically tending in that direction. Reaction is the star they orbit. So their orbits get easier to describe and predict, simply, if you posit that normative center.

10

js. 02.01.16 at 5:03 am

JH — I think I agree with all of @@8-9. And thinking about this, I can imagine painting myself into a weird corner (e.g. “conservatism”: yay ideal theory (in some sense); “conservatives”: no ideal theory! That’s a strange place to end up.) Must think more!

11

Rakesh Bhandari 02.01.16 at 5:49 am

I guess I think 2 is where the action is.

Trump’s basic promise is to protect white men by disengaging from the world after a few, final bombing campaigns until he can with the help of white men build casino strips throughout the US that the world will respect. No white person will want for a job. The hotels that he will build will touch the sky, as Palin poetically put it. Trump will turn the whole world into tourists of America.

The American net foreign position will strengthen on the basis of tourism; plus the 45% tariff on Chinese goods will make sure the casinos are supplied with American-made goods. The buffets will be great; the shows spectacular. This will be the soft power that puts the US back on top. America has under-exploited the cultural capital of Hooters and Hard Rock Cafe. No more with Trump.

People will call Trump all the time to tell them how they love being American again.

Can we add Baudrillard to Galton, Plotinus and Pangloss?

12

Phil 02.01.16 at 8:36 am

Thanks for the Cohen link. I’ve gone so far as to label myself a Tory in the past on similar temperamental grounds – given a choice between “gain X, risk losing Y” and “keep Y, risk forfeiting X” I’ll always go for the latter. (We’ve got Y, for heaven’s sake. It’s ours right now. Hands off our Y!) Like Cohen, I’m the Marxist kind of Tory.

But: you start with

There is a non-trivial risk of 1 & 2 coming completely apart.

and then devote the rest of the post to warning against different ways of pushing 1 & 2 together; the implication is that they need to be held apart. Surely you were right the first time – 1 & 2 need to be informed by each other, or in dialogue, or connected somehow or other at any rate. The question then is, how? What’s the alternative to Panglossianism here?

13

TM 02.01.16 at 8:50 am

On the other thread, the harebrained claim that eugenics (Galton) is a progressive idea was debated, and this one is no improvement.

14

John Holbo 02.01.16 at 9:26 am

“the implication is that they need to be held apart. Surely you were right the first time – 1 & 2 need to be informed by each other, or in dialogue, or connected somehow or other at any rate. The question then is, how?”

Certainly we should have an answer to 1 and an answer to 2. The fallacy is assuming that one thing will work as both. There’s a tendency to assume a rough isomorphism of is/ought. I think we shouldn’t assume that. It actually is a fallacy, and it really is regularly committed, moving in both directions.

“the harebrained claim that eugenics (Galton) is a progressive idea was debated, and this one is no improvement.”

TM, you combine indignance and indefiniteness in a distinctive way.

15

ccc 02.01.16 at 9:39 am

John Holbo: “This is, of course, the good old debate between ‘ideal and non-ideal theory’”

Is it? It seems more to be a debate between different senses of conservative. Just like there are many possible versions of normative views that can be placed under the heading “consequentialism” there can be many different versions under the heading “conservatism”.

“real world conservatism” as seen in e.g. tea party activists or GOP talking heads seem very much engaged in a kind of ideal theory thinking, albeit sketchy, vague and inconsistent. They are in the grip of idealizing ideological fantasies. For example many appear to have idealized views about “desert”. It is one thing to say that (1) if everyone actually has the same opportunity in life then outcomes where some got better outcomes than others are justified on grounds of desert and quite another thing to say (2) even though there is huge inequality of opportunity then outcomes the system produce are still justificed on grounds of desert. Similarly many seem to at least give lip service to a libertarian property genesis mythology that looks like ideal theory plus wishful thinking. Many voice (vague) support for some idealized locke-inspired view of property but few like to be reminded of the fact that real world history does not satisfy the libertarian conditions for just aquisition and transfer of resources that Nozick set out in ASU and that he toyed with the idea of a one time massive redistribution along the lines of a rawlsian or some other egalitarian view. (Nozick’s view is multiply flawed anyway, but that is another matter.)

16

Z 02.01.16 at 9:51 am

If question 2) is broadened to include, as Yourcenar would say, “a glance towards a past epoch or a distant land”; that is to say if an understanding not only of the political system of the US in 2010 is sought, but also for instance that of the US in 1910 and/or that of Sweden, Taïwan, Italy, Russia and Tunisia in 2010, then it seems to me that question 1) quickly reveals itself to be a much too hard (perhaps borderline non-sensical) philosophical question (it might be tractable as a sociological and anthropological question).

Also

1) and 2) could come totally apart if actually existing liberals and/or conservatives are so non-ideal that thinking about what they would be like, ideally, doesn’t give us a rough template of what they are like, actually.

Who exactly is doing the thinking in this sentence? Who is “us”? If the answer is “academic philosophers” or (god forbid!) “commenters on CT”, then isn’t this the problem to begin with (conversely, Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter might think that the actually existing front runner is quite the embodiment of the ideal conservative)? To be clear, independently of any actual divergence between 1) and 2), why would you expect the mode of thinking and analysis peculiar to a very specific and fringe group to be a good model for any social reality? I bet there is a gulf between the way “we” would think about karaoke, urban planning and parent/teachers meetings and the reality of those as well.

Call that one the Weak Normative Terentian fallacy, if you wish (in fact, multa sunt a me alienum puto.)

17

Clay Shirky 02.01.16 at 9:51 am

I think the fallacy lies not with goal 1 or 2, but with goal 0, where you want your position to…

0) Give you a concordance between a given political philosophy and a given political party, such that the party behaves closely enough to the dictates of the philosophy that you can study the model instead of the organism.

As Arthur Bentley would remind anyone who would listen, politics is simply group manoeuvring. To quote Nick Lemann on Bentley’s magnum opus, “The Process of Government”*, Bentley believed that

All politics and all government are the result of the activities of groups. Any other attempt to explain politics and government is doomed to failure.

No conservatives vote as conservatives, because there is not now and has never been a conservative party in the U.S. Most conservatives who vote vote as Republicans, most Republicans are conservatives on some measures, and some Republicans are conservatives are Republicans on most measures, but Republicans are not conservatives per se. They are Republicans. (You can tell they are Republicans, because they vote in Republican primaries. People who way they are Republicans are like people who say they are Christians but don’t attend church.)

This leads to the frustration intellectuals feel about politics — we want to talk about ideas and positions and outcomes and argue about which ones will lead to which, but the raw material we have to work with — actually existing Americans, helas — maintain no such commitments.

Your problem is not that #1 and #2 threaten to come apart. The problem is that #1 and #2 were never convincingly put together in the first place.

The best antidote I know to believing that there must be a description that is both self-consistent and descriptive of voter behavior is Chris Haye’s piece, Decision Makers, which he wrote after spending a couple of months talking to undecided voters in 2004.** (Be sure to scroll down to my favorite section: “A disturbing number of undecided voters are crypto-racist isolationists.”)

* http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/08/11/conflict-of-interests
** http://chrishayes.org/articles/decision-makers/

18

Clay Shirky 02.01.16 at 9:53 am

Ugh.

“People who say they are Republicans and don’t vote are like people who say they are Christians but don’t attend church.

Also: Hayes’

19

TM 02.01.16 at 10:57 am

14: “The fallacy is assuming that one thing will work as both. There’s a tendency to assume a rough isomorphism of is/ought. I think we shouldn’t assume that.”

I don’t think this is news to anyone on CT. It is a common topic around here that real world self-described US conservatives are not committed to any political philosophy that is recognizable as “conservativsm”. If you are trying to make an original point, I missed it.

You start by appealing to the conventional “liberal vs. conservative” framework. The other thread I mentioned is instructive in that it shows how confused American political terminology is. To wit, Cowen claimed that “progressives” were not “liberal” enough (because they allegedly support eugenics) but he really tries to smear self-declared liberals by association with an ideology that is only supported among self-declared conservatives, and when he refers to liberalism (in the Mill sense), he really means conservatism, although claiming that self declared conservatives are in the tradition of Millian liberalism is obvious BS. Basically, liberal and conservative in US political discourse are meaningless terms, and it would be better to refer to Democratic and Republican politics rather than imputing any coherent ideology, which just doesn’t exist.

20

John Holbo 02.01.16 at 11:46 am

TM: “It is a common topic around here that real world self-described US conservatives are not committed to any political philosophy that is recognizable as “conservativsm”.”

This is, I think, more false than true. You are committing the fallacy I diagnosed in the post, TM, just in reverse. (Perhaps it was my fault for not making the point clearer.) You are inferring from the fact that conservatives, in real US politics, don’t subscribe to conservatism in a moderately ideal (or seminar room, or otherwise significantly elevated) sense that therefore they don’t subscribe in any sense. (Yours is the reverse-Plotinian fork of the fallacy, then, to be specific.) To the contrary, a lot of US conservatives clearly have clusters of semi-coherent beliefs and values they call ‘conservatism’. Read Corey Robin’s book. This cluster of ideas and attitudes people have, which they agree in labeling ‘conservatism’, is, in a sense, conservatism. It isn’t unreal. It just isn’t very good.

Z: “Who exactly is doing the thinking in this sentence? Who is “us”? If the answer is “academic philosophers” or (god forbid!) “commenters on CT”, then isn’t this the problem to begin with …”

‘Us’ refers to the usual suspects, at least in my mouth. (We have met the referent of ‘us’, and he is us!) So: both academic philosophers AND commenters on CT, turns out. (Even God Himself cannot forbid it at this point! It’s a done deal!)

But I don’t actually think it’s such a bad result. It isn’t just us. You write: “To be clear, independently of any actual divergence between 1) and 2), why would you expect the mode of thinking and analysis peculiar to a very specific and fringe group to be a good model for any social reality?”

I don’t think you should, but people make mistakes. Specifically, I was reworking some stuff I’m working on in which I make the case that Rawls commits this fallacy extensively. And then I put it down and read the blogs and there’s Rush Limbaugh making the same mistake. I figured if Rawls and Rush are both guilty, maybe I’d better mention it. Even if it’s just us here.

Hi Clay, I don’t agree that politics is just group maneuvering. But I accept your 0 statement.

Gotta run.

21

engels 02.01.16 at 12:16 pm

given a choice between “gain X, risk losing Y” and “keep Y, risk forfeiting X” I’ll always go for the latter

Iirc this isn’t a political position but awidespread cognitive bias

22

TM 02.01.16 at 12:35 pm

“To the contrary, a lot of US conservatives clearly have clusters of semi-coherent beliefs and values they call ‘conservatism’.”

And this is the *contrary* of what I said exactly why? Just analyzing this statement would be a great seminar topic, for whoever cares enough. What is expressed in that claim? Look at all the disclaimers: “a lot”o f conservatives, “clusters”, “semi-coherent”, beliefs that “they call ‘conservatism'”. Of course all of this is sort of true, but what follows?

23

John Holbo 02.01.16 at 12:37 pm

“And this is the *contrary* of what I said exactly why?”

You implied it didn’t exist. But it does.

24

John Holbo 02.01.16 at 12:39 pm

You are going to be picky, so I will quote your sentence exactly.

“It is a common topic around here that real world self-described US conservatives are not committed to any political philosophy that is recognizable as “conservativsm”.”

This statement expresses a falsehood. You imply that they don’t have any philosophy that is recognizable as ‘conservatism’. But they do. It just isn’t the seminar room thing.

25

Mdc 02.01.16 at 12:44 pm

One shortcut around these problems would be to discern a particular issue of decisive salience- what I think people used to mean by a ‘litmus test.’ This allows you to quickly see how liberal or conservative a figure is, without having to settle questions about first principles. I know what issue I’d use.

26

Clay Shirky 02.01.16 at 12:59 pm

But I think group behavior explains enough of the anomalies in the ‘a party is a bundle of philosophical commitments’ notion to be taken seriously.

Rather than me making this argument, let me point you to an interesting philosophical post from about 15 years ago, about the gap between what politicians say and what they mean:

It’s really true, I suspect, that when most conservatives say that they don’t buy this global warming junk science, what they really mean to do is, simply, signal ‘I’m in favor of capitalism’. If you are a conservative, talking to conservatives, and you say you think the scientists might be right, your audience is going to hear you refusing to send an ‘I’m in favor of capitalsim’ signal. Needless to say, this means conservatives can’t have reasonable discussions of global warming unless they are free from worries about what they are signalling, as opposed to saying. Which they never are, at least if they are politicians.

Doesn’t the use of philosophically ungrounded in-group signalling suggest enough group maneuvering to make trying to understand the GOP’s real philosophy a mug’s game?

http://crookedtimber.org/2011/09/03/must-we-act-as-if-they-mean-what-they-say/

27

engels 02.01.16 at 1:02 pm

A traditional conservative is a guy who’s so scared of his house being burgled that he sits at home all day with his phone by his side. US conservative is the same guy, armed with a machine gun, convinced ‘they’ are already doing it, and firing at everyone in the neighbourhood. The underlying phobia is perhaps the same but it’s the difference between neurosis and violent psychosis.

28

TM 02.01.16 at 1:13 pm

24: “You imply that they don’t have any philosophy that is recognizable as ‘conservatism’. But they do.”

But you cannot define that philosophy, can you? And if you could: suppose you present us a reasonably definite description of a certain political philosophy and claim that that is the philosophy that “a lot of US conservatives” ascribe to. How would we test that claim? I’m really not trying to impose an unreasonable burden of proof on you. But to defend your claim, you would have to overcome at least these two hurdles: define the philosophy “conservatism”, and show that “conservatives” (*) actually subscribe to it. And that is going to be pretty hard, but I’ll be curious if you try.

(*) You said at 20 “a lot of conservatives”. It is unclear how many (a plurality? a majority? almost all?) you would need to make your case stick. We haven’t even mentioned the very plausible possibility that different conservatives ascribe to different kinds of “conservatism”. I think in order to prove me wrong, you’d have to show a minimum degree of philosophical coherence within the group of self-described conservatives.

29

BenK 02.01.16 at 1:42 pm

We are back to the more complex problem of leadership within a complex association that is not really a single organization. How do political philosophers serve and influence? Partly by describing and explaining, partly by shifting and influencing. They need to be recognized and recognizable by the ‘rank and file’ and then the ‘rank and file’ may listen to them, some of the time, in attenuated form. The leaders attempt to lead, the community embraces them or not, in part or in whole.

Sometimes the leaders of one party want the approval of the other, or to influence the other, so they color outside the lines in appealing to people outside the base. This either broadens the tent or makes the leader ‘X in name only.’ Libertarian philosophers who say things that Marxists think are even marginally ethical are either speaking universal platitudes or are well on their way to being outside the libertarian fold, if you will. Maybe it will earn them some golf claps from the other side, but at some risk, unless the other side is in such ascendance that the goal is to avoid political persecution personally.

30

LFC 02.01.16 at 1:47 pm

J. Holbo @8/@9
Corey R. can speak for himself, but if all he were saying in The Reactionary Mind (RM for short) is that conservatives “systematically tend” in a reactionary direction the book would be less interesting and provocative than it is. There are in RM, as I recall, several more specific claims about “the normative core” (to use your phrase) of conservatism, although the lines between the normative core and the actual behavior may get blurry; e.g.: (1) conservatives/reactionaries are above all interested in preserving hierarchy in ‘private’ (e.g. workplace and family) as opposed to public domains, though they care about the latter as well; (2) conservatives/reactionaries have a special affinity for violence and war, though they often prefer to celebrate these things from a certain distance; (3) conservatives/reactionaries relish and draw energy from fighting (figuratively or literally) against revolutionary forces, meaning they are happiest when there is some kind of ‘revolutionary’ threat to be confronted; conservatives admire revolutionaries’ disdain for caution and willingness to use sometimes extreme means in the effort to achieve their ends.

The interesting and controversial aspect of RM is thus, IMO, not the claim that there is “a normative core” to conservatism but rather the book’s depiction of the contents of that “normative core.”

31

John Holbo 02.01.16 at 1:57 pm

“Doesn’t the use of philosophically ungrounded in-group signalling suggest enough group maneuvering to make trying to understand the GOP’s real philosophy a mug’s game?”

Touche! But I think I would say that what they believe is neither the seminar stuff nor what they say they believe. But it’s still interesting to figure out what they really do believe.

“I think in order to prove me wrong, you’d have to show a minimum degree of philosophical coherence within the group of self-described conservatives.”

I think there is a kind of coherence: regularities, patterns. Substitute ‘ideological’ for ‘philosophical’ and see if its something that sounds plausible.

“We haven’t even mentioned the very plausible possibility that different conservatives ascribe to different kinds of “conservatism”. “

I think we can safely assume as much. I don’t think I implied that there could only be one thing (besides the seminar room thing) that all the non-seminar room conservatives subscribe to.

32

Clay Shirky 02.01.16 at 2:25 pm

What they ‘believe’ is that their group should be in charge, which is why they change sides even on seemingly rock-ribbed conservative commitments, e.g. cap-and-trade or Romneycare. If they can’t even commit to market outcomes without first asking ‘Who gets the credit’, well, that’s not much of a philosophical commitment to anything. That’s just the usual place-swapping between the party of envy and the party of greed.

Lemme read you some of the (really quite interesting) Hayes’ piece:

The majority of undecided voters I spoke to couldn’t name a single issue that was important to them. This was shocking to me. Think about it: The “issue” is the basic unit of political analysis for campaigns, candidates, journalists, and other members of the chattering classes. […]

But the very concept of the issue seemed to be almost completely alien to most of the undecided voters I spoke to. […] At first I thought this was a problem of simple semantics–maybe, I thought, “issue” is a term of art that sounds wonky and intimidating, causing voters to react as if they’re being quizzed on a topic they haven’t studied. So I tried other ways of asking the same question: “Anything of particular concern to you? Are you anxious or worried about anything? Are you excited about what’s been happening in the country in the last four years?”

These questions, too, more often than not yielded bewilderment. As far as I could tell, the problem wasn’t the word “issue”; it was a fundamental lack of understanding of what constituted the broad category of the “political.” The undecideds I spoke to didn’t seem to have any intuitive grasp of what kinds of grievances qualify as political grievances. Often, once I would engage undecided voters, they would list concerns, such as the rising cost of health care; but when I would tell them that Kerry had a plan to lower health-care premiums, they would respond in disbelief–not in disbelief that he had a plan, but that the cost of health care was a political issue. It was as if you were telling them that Kerry was promising to extend summer into December.

http://chrishayes.org/articles/decision-makers/

And this seem like ‘What’s The Matter With Kansas and New Hampshire and Idaho and South Carolina and…”, here’s a bit from the much more recent piece, Millennials’ Political Views Don’t Make Any Sense:

On government’s role in our lives:

Conservatives can say: 66 percent of Millennials say that “when something is funded by the government, it is usually inefficient and wasteful.”
Liberals can say: More than two-thirds think the government should guarantee food, shelter, and a living wage.

On government size:

Conservatives can say: 57 percent want smaller government with fewer services (if you mention the magic word “taxes”).
Liberals can say: 54 percent want larger government with more services (if you don’t mention “taxes”).
http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/07/millennials-economics-voting-clueless-kids-these-days/374427/

If you had to list ways of describing those sort of commitments, I don’t the phrase ‘philosophically coherent’ would be in the Top 10.

33

TM 02.01.16 at 2:27 pm

Look JH, you could have said, in response to 19: “I actually disagree with this, and here’s why”, and provided some argument, which we could then have discussed. Instead you said things like “You are committing the fallacy”, “This statement expresses a falsehood”, but there is no argument following, only unsubstaintiated and not very coherent claims (in 31 you agree that some philosophical coherence is required and then also agree that there is no one conservatism – what then is your point?).

I will rest my case with 28. If you are willing to take a stab at the two hurdles I described, I’ll be back. Otherwise, there’s just no substance to argue about.
(Btw, ironically, I essentially agreed with you in my first comment at 19, I only questioned the novelty. Whatever, it doesn’t seem that you care so why should I).

34

TM 02.01.16 at 2:37 pm

32, interesting stuff.

35

bianca steele 02.01.16 at 3:06 pm

There is a non-trivial risk of 1 & 2 coming completely apart.

I might suppose this is a joke, because of course it’s trivial, and of course they’re going to come apart! But the objection itself is trivial. More Plotinus! More Hellenistic philosophers generally! (Maybe not first thing in the morning, though.)

36

Trader Joe 02.01.16 at 3:25 pm

Can we play this game from the other direction?

For question 1) Lets suppose I am certain that the bedrock of conservatism is: racism, sexism, capitalism and elitism….and therefore for question 2) the real politic application is to say or do whatever’s necessary with respect to a given topic while not revealizing the four bedrock conservative values.

Someone wiser than I may know of an ‘ideal’ philosophy which embraces this. Once they do, part 2 takes care of itself as defined.

The Wizard of Oz is closest I can think of at the moment, except maybe the witches win a bit more often than Dorothy (the liberal) does and the Tinman looks more like Trump.

37

Richard Cottrell 02.01.16 at 3:38 pm

The trouble with this post is that none of the contributors have ever been functional politicians, you know, at the coal face. So they are glued to watching an ant’s nest in a jar. They see don’t see the vital difference between politics – and politicians. Its rare they square perfectly. Politics is about thought that leads to active ideas, whether good or bad. Politicians are about arm waving theatricals. Strictly personal (Thatcher, Blair, Cameron).
And please there is no objective truth in politics, nor should there be.

Politician on European Front, Strasbourg. (retired).

38

Rakesh Bhandari 02.01.16 at 4:04 pm

@30 very helpful. Does that imply in the absence of a revolutionary threat there are no reactionaries, though “reactionary” suggests to me someone who is after the wheels of history have turned trying futilely to return the world to an imagined status quo ante, e.g. Hayek trying to revive Gladstonian liberalism.

Shouldn’t we differentiate between the core beliefs of a reactionary from the core beliefs of a conservative? Zingales and Rajan have a book titled saving capitalism from the capitalists; couldn’t someone issue a call for saving conservatism (1) from the conservatives (2)?

Or in today’s language of political economics the Republicans are not *conserving* inclusive institutions or the open-access liberal order but presiding over the transmutation into extractive and closed-order institutions.

39

bianca steele 02.01.16 at 4:11 pm

JH: But it’s still interesting to figure out what they really do believe.?

Incidentally, if you start from the idea that conservatives have the best handle on “existing value,” then it would seem to be necessary to figure out what they believe, no? Not just “interesting,” in some dilettantish, let’s see what the animals in the zoo are doing kind of way? Which I don’t, start from that idea (I think “the best conservatism” is plausibly “existing value in about 1480,” maybe), but regardless of that.

40

LFC 02.01.16 at 4:25 pm

Rakesh B @38
Shouldn’t we differentiate … the core beliefs of a reactionary from the core beliefs of a conservative?

Many would say yes, of course. However, CR in The Reactionary Mind argues that “the core” of conservatism *is* reactionary. (I don’t necessarily agree with that thesis completely, but that’s what he argues.) J. Holbo sort of blands this out, if I can put it that way, by saying that conservatism on CR’s view “tends toward” a reactionary position, but as I read CR his argument is that most conservatism, both ‘in the world’ and in its high-flown theoretical expressions, just is reactionary. I think that’s one reason the book’s subtitle is “conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin”: puts the theorist and the practitioner into the same box, so to speak.

41

Sebastian H 02.01.16 at 4:44 pm

Ugh. Politics in modern society is about how groups do or do not work together. The ideology of group positioning is secondary. Thats why Trump and Sanders have been popular–they are both signaling that they care about a huge section of the voters who have been ignored for a decade or more. That’s why Trump can be clearly not ideologically conservative but still inspire–he signals solidarity with the working and middle classes. I’m not sure I’m clear on HOW he does so. But it is clear that he does. It is also Clinton’s big problem–she signals fidelity to the bankster class MORE than Trump. She will save Goldman Sachs again, Trump you can’t be as sure.

Ideological coherence isn’t a function of parties. Liberals only look more coherent to you because you are one. Libertarianism is regularly laughed at here, but mention abortion and you’ll hear an endless parade of libertarian arguments. Liberals know about the secondary dangers of outlawing things that people really want to do with their bodies on abortion, yet spent almost a hundred years worldwide trying to stamp out the drug trade. Eugenics fits perfectly in the liberal worldview if you don’t leaven it with a strong dose of the hated libertarian critique. But I’m letting myself get sucked into ideology again

Group signaling is much more important than ideology.

42

Rakesh Bhandari 02.01.16 at 4:46 pm

@40. Digression: I think Kasich will win New Hampshire and eventually the Republican nomination. He’ll choose Rubio as his VP. This may give the Republicans 1. OH and FL in the national election and 2. more of the Latino vote as while Latinos may disagree with Rubio, it will symbolize Latino’s inclusion in the US if a mainstream conservative stand-bearer is Latino. Clinton and O’Malley may well lose. Of course Sanders may yet win the nomination.

43

Rakesh Bhandari 02.01.16 at 4:47 pm

@40 is interesting. But won’t be able to discuss.

44

LFC 02.01.16 at 4:52 pm

@42: agree Kasich prob. worth watching

45

jake the antisoshul soshulist 02.01.16 at 5:13 pm

Conservatism seems incoherent, partially due to compartmentalization of seeming contradictions. From what I see, contemporary US Conservatives appear to be united mostly by a distrust of government. This can range from pure hatred of any government above the local level to disdain for only the Federal Government. A lot of it depends on how much they can influence government. They are united by that and their dislike of “liberalism”, however they define that. I once suggested to a conservative that “liberalism” was anything he did not like. He did concede that I was not completely wrong.

46

MPAVictoria 02.01.16 at 5:41 pm

“Eugenics fits perfectly in the liberal worldview “

Oh does it now?

47

TM 02.01.16 at 5:50 pm

“Liberals … spent almost a hundred years worldwide trying to stamp out the drug trade”
“Eugenics fits perfectly in the liberal worldview”
“I think Kasich will win New Hampshire and eventually the Republican nomination.”
“From what I see, contemporary US Conservatives appear to be united mostly by a distrust of government.”

So many delusions, it almost hurts physically.

48

Cranky Observer 02.01.16 at 5:51 pm

= = = . From what I see, contemporary US Conservatives appear to be united mostly by a distrust of government. = = =

Absolutely. Thus the oft-heard Tea Party exclamation “keep your government hands off my Medicare”, and “I want my Constitution back” coupled with renewed fervor for destroying the Post Office (which is explicitly called out in the Constitution as a Federal government function).

49

geo 02.01.16 at 6:06 pm

Clay Shirky @26: philosophically ungrounded in-group signalling

Is this the same as “tribalism” or “prejudice”?

Sebastian@41: Trump … signals solidarity with the working and middle classes. I’m not sure I’m clear on HOW

Could it be that he articulates their contempt for, and embodies their (fantasied) defiance of, pointy-headed bureaucrats and intellectuals?

50

Sebastian H 02.01.16 at 6:17 pm

MPA and TM illustrate the problem perfectly. They are so tribalist that they can’t even finish a sentence. The quote is “Eugenics fits perfectly in the liberal worldview if you don’t leaven it with a strong dose of the hated libertarian critique.”

We DO leaven liberalism with a strong dose of the hated libertarian critique, so the social planning/we know better than poor people/technocratic side loses out. Just like on abortion.

It isn’t about ideology. You use libertarian ideological arguments all the time. The hate-fest on libertarians is about in-group out-group signalling.

And if you don’t know about the Democrats, all the signatories to the worldwide drug treaties, and the drug war 1900-2000 I really can’t help you.

51

bianca steele 02.01.16 at 6:29 pm

Where are these supposed liberals who equate liberalism with social planning?

52

TM 02.01.16 at 6:37 pm

“You use libertarian ideological arguments all the time”

And I thought liberals are using liberal arguments against illiberalism.

53

jake the antisoshul soshulist 02.01.16 at 7:17 pm

TM do you not think that distrust of the Federal government is a strong link among, libertarians, the religious right, and the corporatists?
What is delusional about that thinking that?

@biance steele #54: those are the straw liberals that exist in conservatives heads.

54

Sebastian H 02.01.16 at 7:21 pm

“And I thought liberals are using liberal arguments against illiberalism.”

“Government off my body” is an ideologically libertarian argument. If you get to call all arguments that you like “liberal” you get whatever results you want. But then “liberal” isn’t a describable ideology, it is a label for “stuff people I like also like”. Which is precisely what I said about tribalism.

My point is not that it is BAD. I prefer liberalism to all sorts of competitors. My point is that ideological coherence isn’t actually something we expect out of our political parties. Conservatism is an affiliation, not an ideology. Liberalism is an affiliation, not an ideology. There are clusters of ideologies that fit more easily with each of the affiliations, but they shouldn’t be mistaken FOR the political affiliations.

Trump and Sanders are appealing to the idea that the middle class has been sidelined in the political debate for at least a couple of decades. That is an affiliation argument. Their idea about what to do for their affiliates is informed by ideology plus polling (or in Trump’s case maybe whatever popped into his head first). But the affiliation appeal is what is driving it. Again I don’t claim to know why Trump appeals to many in the working and middle classes. But he does. And whatever it is, I’m certain it isn’t ideology. What scares me about a Trump/Clinton race is that Clinton hasn’t had a clue about appealing to the middle class ever. She portrays New York bankster kiss-up more than Trump–which is saying something. And yes, that is an affiliation argument, not a policy argument.

55

engels 02.01.16 at 7:28 pm

“Government off my body” is an ideologically libertarian argument.

It’s only distinctively libertarian of you include the rationale that you own your body. Limiting state power is a liberal (in the broadest sense) preoccupation

56

Anderson 02.01.16 at 8:00 pm

Bianca: “Where are these supposed liberals who equate liberalism with social planning?”

I think those making that accusation are working with a definition of “social planning” that’s vague enough to include a graduated income tax and some degree of redistribution, signposts on the road to serfdom.

57

Collin Street 02.01.16 at 8:05 pm

> “Government off my body” is an ideologically libertarian argument.

“People agree with me in part, which means they must agree with me in toto and any substantive disagreement must be a consequence of bad faith or inattention on their part” isn’t really something you can logically respond to, because it clearly isn’t the product of any well-ordered logical thought process. It’s magical thinking, a-rational; presented all in the form of logic, conclusions following evidence, but without the form, with the relation between the two not properly grounded.

And this has nothing to do with the political content of the conclusion.

58

Sebastian H 02.01.16 at 8:09 pm

I certainly don’t think liberals “really” agree with libertarians on everything. Im saying that “hands off my body” is a libertarian argument. It is in fact the classic one. Liberals are allowed to make libertarian arguments.

59

LFC 02.01.16 at 8:25 pm

The OP is written entirely in terms of ‘liberalism’ and ‘conservatism’. This is probably a bad start for goal #2 — grasping ‘real’ politics in this US election cycle — b.c other ‘affiliations’ (to use Sebastian H’s word) than just liberalism and conservatism are involved. There are shades and varieties of the ‘affiliations’ that a simple binary doesn’t capture.

The OP does make some defensible points but none of them seems to lead anywhere. Let’s say we reject the ‘Plotinian’ fallacy (which by implication Holbo suggests CR has strayed into) and the ‘Galtonian’. What we are left with? What we can say about the ‘affiliations’ of liberalism/conservatism and their connections to ‘real’ politics?

It’s not clear we can say much of anything. Any reference to what some theorist says will be rejected as Plotinian and any reference to the views of ‘ordinary’ voters will be rejected as Galtonian. Conclusion: we should shut up and say nothing, at least about the ‘isms’. We could still talk about voters’ attitudes to candidates, specific issues, general level of satisfaction/malaise etc. And this may be more useful, since as I think C. Shirky was pointing out upthread, and Sebastian H is along the same lines, coherent ideological worldviews are prob. not the basis on which most voters vote.

The problem is that if one *is* interested in saying something about liberalism and conservatism, one prob. has to start with definitions, and while many definitions are possible (G. Cohen’s is not like C. Robin’s, for example), any definition in application is going to fall afoul of Holbo’s rule against either Plotinian (distilled from the theorists, top-down) or Galtonian (inferred from surveys or whatever, bottom-up) procedures. So I’m not sure what one is left with, except maybe some — imagining what certain CT commenters might say — dialectical tacking between the two procedures.

(One cd also just pick a classic article — say Huntington on conservatism from almost 60 years ago — and say “ok, this is what conservatism in US politics is” and measure deviations or conformity to it and just leave it at that. Not too helpful, but then the OP isn’t either.)

60

MPAVictoria 02.01.16 at 8:27 pm

“Eugenics fits perfectly in the liberal worldview”
Again I ask does it now? Part of liberalism is treating people not as means but as ends in themselves. How does eugenics fit perfectly with this?

61

TM 02.01.16 at 8:39 pm

53: The problem with your hypothesis is that that same person who you hear trash-talk “the government” or “Washington” is likely to enthusiastically support the policeman who killed the unarmed black guy and to enthusiastically applaud the latest bombing/invasion of a foreign country by the US military. They also probably have no qualms about holding out their hands for federal farm subsidies. And yes, they may hold “keep your government hands off my Medicare” signs, which some interpret as “they are dumb”, but really they do know that Medicare and Social Security and the Post Office – all these things that they are really actually fond of – are organized by the government. What they mean but can’t say quite openly is perfectly obvious: “*Keep that black man in the White House’s hand off my Medicare*”. (*)

The anti-government talk isn’t really meant seriously (and those who do take it seriously, like that Bundy gang, are an unrepresentative, though dangerous fringe). It’s code for “I want government to benefit meee, not those other people”.

(*) Here’s a test: when GWB enacted a Medicare expansion, did you see any “government hands off my Medicare” signs? Did you see any “No to Medicare expansion – keep government small” signs? Nope.

Also, http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/26/potemkin-ideologies/

62

ccc 02.01.16 at 8:55 pm

Sebastian H: can you walk us through your argument from “non-libertarian-leavened liberalism” to eugenics? Go slow and be specific about the steps.

” “Government off my body” is an ideologically libertarian argument”
Not necessarily. The first part of your sentence is a practical policy/regulatory level claim while the latter part of the sentence refers to one theory among the many fundamental moral theories. But other fundamental moral theories can also, from their own non-libertarian theoretical resources, argue for the first practical policy/rule. For example a rawlsian or rule consequentialist argument. A component in such an argument would be that to not have fairly robust limits on invasive actions tends to lead to bad outcomes.

63

Bruce Wilder 02.01.16 at 9:19 pm

Liberals do use libertarian arguments, but not in the same way or with the same intention as reactionary conservatives, who also use libertarian arguments.

Political arguments often have this deceptive quality, that they are deliberately couched in terms that do not accurately express the advocate’s desiderata. “Right-to-work” is a libertarian argument against labor unions, for example. The “rights of the unborn” is an argument against the abortion.

The glib factor in libertarian arguments is often an important source of this deception, and liberals can feel ill-used when reactionary conservatives use libertarian “free market” economic argument to press forward an authoritarian and plutocratic political agenda. (the Chicago Boys in Chile might be an extreme caricature of the pattern)

As far as Sanders v Clinton is concerned, or Trump v Jeb! et alia, the legacy of this kind of political deception weighs against the credibility of the establishment candidates. In ways that people may not be able to articulate, I think many feel that the rhetoric of tribalism is used to imply that the candidate will “fight for you” and identifies with “you”, but it is part of a bait-and-switch. That the policy bait-and-switch is tied to the reciting of tribal shibboleths and the demonization of the other Party’s candidate just further obfuscates all distinctions and genuine differences.

64

Sebastian H 02.01.16 at 9:25 pm

CCC and MPA, you are treating liberalism and conservatism under different standards and not treating the original post seriously. Historically, liberalism and eugenics were fine together until the Nazis gave eugenics a bad name. That is empirical history. I’m not saying it is impossible to define some ideology as excluding eugenics and then label it ‘liberal’. Of course that is possible by the power of academic stipulation. But actually existing stuff often called liberalism was fine with eugenics for much of its history. It is the libertarian critique which is most often used to exclude eugenics and allow abortion in currently liberal ideological statements.

65

Matt 02.01.16 at 9:28 pm

The result of criminalizing abortion or the unauthorized consumption of recreational drugs is epidemiologically worse than not-criminalizing them. If technocrats care about outcomes they’re not going to try to outlaw abortion or continue waging the stupid War on Drugs. And if they don’t care about outcomes I don’t know what merits the label “technocrat” — maybe it’s just another ideological bundle rather than a coherent philosophy?

Running with this idea, maybe what makes for an ideological technocrat is the belief that policy decisions should be dressed up with numbers, and you ignore numbers (or emphasize different numbers) if some numbers imply courses contrary to what the in-group approves of. They don’t like letting the masses decide things. They don’t like politicians who ignore their “expertise.” They’ll uphold the Washington Consensus and continue the drug war, but they’ll also keep abortion legal and contraception readily available. An ideological technocrat is somewhat like a “centrist” Democrat, with the special provision that all his arguments (correct and incorrect alike) will be “data-driven” rather than acknowledged as fundamental contests of values or appealing to mass participatory politics. Do all your thinking with numbers, and your emoting by slight-of-hand substitution of numbers when you start to get uncomfortable. You’re now a technocrat who can sigh condescendingly whenever a different ideological bundle justifies its prejudices without doing it through numbers.

66

engels 02.01.16 at 9:37 pm

‘”Hands off my body” is a libertarian argument. It is in fact the classic one.’

No, this is the classic one:
https://twitter.com/reason/status/694143168049090560

67

Bruce B. 02.01.16 at 10:11 pm

I have this radical idea that learning, thanks to the horrific extreme example seventy years ago, that something is indeed a bad idea and never being comfortable with it again is to the credit of a political community.

Now, where are all the conservative and libertarian opponents of all the matters of human choice, like toxic waste dumping, that measurably impose harsher developmental burdens, juvenile and adult ill health, and early death? This is all eugenic filtering via what’s tolerated as acceptable imposable externalities.

“Hands off my body” becomes distinctively libertarian only when it gets the additional clause, “…but your body is up for grabs, as long as you can’t buy me off in the currency of my choice.”

68

John Holbo 02.01.16 at 10:15 pm

“But to defend your claim, you would have to overcome at least these two hurdles: define the philosophy “conservatism”, and show that “conservatives” (*) actually subscribe to it.”

Not exactly, since there’s no reason to assume that there’s just one (as you yourself point out.) Also, not ‘define’, since I’m not going to fall for that trap. Plenty of stuff that can’t be defined is real. So we get to this: to defend his claim, Holbo needs to be able to characterize one or more conservatisms, and make plausible that significant numbers of self-identified conservatives exhibit these at least semi-philosophical clusters of ideas/attitudes. I think that can be done.

Start with Corey Robin’s book, if you need a starting point. Some readers hated it because he doesn’t give you the usual seminar room thing. The thing he says is the philosophical core is too much a mixed bag of metaphysical pathos and defense of privilege, which isn’t supposed to be the official conservative story. But it fits with where people’s heads are actually at. And it isn’t just the same thing as the Republican Party. So I’ll flip the script on you, TM. You prove Robin is nonsense, start to finish. (My thesis isn’t that Robin is right. But your criticism implies Robin is nonsense, which I don’t think he is. So maybe start there.)

“fall afoul of Holbo’s rule against either Plotinian (distilled from the theorists, top-down) or Galtonian (inferred from surveys or whatever, bottom-up) procedures. So I’m not sure what one is left with, except maybe some — imagining what certain CT commenters might say — dialectical tacking between the two procedures.”

My whimsy probably did the post a disservice at that point. I don’t want to rule either out. Saying the straight move from A to B is a fallacy doesn’t mean there’s no way to fill in the distance between A and B more considerately, and non-fallaciously.

69

John Holbo 02.01.16 at 10:20 pm

“But it fits with where people’s heads are actually at. And it isn’t just the same thing as the Republican Party.”

Just to be clear: I’m just saying that ideas are not the same thing as institutional structures. The Republican Party is an institution, not a philosophy.

70

Scott P. 02.01.16 at 11:33 pm

“The result of criminalizing abortion or the unauthorized consumption of recreational drugs is epidemiologically worse than not-criminalizing them. “

China’s experience with opium would seem to be a pretty strong counter-example.

71

novakant 02.01.16 at 11:51 pm

Sebastian H musings aren’t very enlightening, the reason being that the statism vs libertarianism axis he relies on is not clearly defined within the current, rather peculiar, US context and takes on a completely different shape in various other countries around the world and throughout history.

To me being left wing means not killing (lots of brown) people, being critical of power and authority and trying not to be a (selfish) dick. How that squares with the statism / libertarianism axis depends on all sorts of factors, but that doesn’t make my belief system – which is slightly more complex than the above sentence might indicate – incoherent.

72

jake the antisoshul soshulist 02.01.16 at 11:53 pm

It is clearly true that most conservstives like government that does what they want. But, rhetorically they blame most problems on government. Or, at least, on “liberalism” in government. Which is pretty much defined as whatever they don’t like.
Or Cleek’s Law, conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want, updated daily.

73

PatrickinIowa 02.02.16 at 12:16 am

““Government off my body” is an ideologically libertarian argument.”

Which is why a significant number of movement libertarians (including Ron Paul) support forbidding abortion for all persons at all times at the state level, while arguing that the Federal Government should stay out of it.

If you think of Rand Paul as a libertarian, he wants the Federal Government in it to the tune of declaring that “life begins at conception,” which, of course, would ban abortion altogether, nationally.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? If you look at what the adherents of a political tendency actually do, it very much departs from the Platonic ideal of that tendency.

74

Cranky Observer 02.02.16 at 12:38 am

BTW, color me confused: last week it was current-day (post 2000) [US] progressives who were supposedly responsible for the historic [US] Progressive movement (1890-1920) and its alleged support of eugenics; this week it is currently day (post-Woodstock) [US] liberals who are responsible for the Liberal era of the 19th century and… the Liberals’ alleged support of eugenics?? Can we make up our mind about which subgroup of the not-hard-Radical-Right is responsible for eugenics (a morally repulsive theory which most living liberals/progressives have either not heard about or forgotten from 11th grade history)? It can’t be all of them.

Less snarkily, the attempt/requirement to link post-1970 US liberals (and particularly those who still refer to themselves as liberals in the Limbaugh/Rove era) to historic Liberal philosophies/movements/eras is not particularly meaningful IMHO. Which I think is approximately where JH started.

75

Ogden Wernstrom 02.02.16 at 12:46 am

Privatize Eugenics!

76

The Temporary Name 02.02.16 at 1:11 am

Gary Johnson was the last Libertarian Party candidate, and he could certainly have been worse. Pro-choice even.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Johnson

77

The Temporary Name 02.02.16 at 1:18 am

Lots of gold at the Libertarian Party’s candidate homepages:

https://www.lp.org/candidates/presidential-candidates-2016/

78

Sebastian H 02.02.16 at 1:30 am

“I have this radical idea that learning, thanks to the horrific extreme example seventy years ago, that something is indeed a bad idea and never being comfortable with it again is to the credit of a political community. “

Absolutely. But this post is about ideological consistency in parties. You can label everything you like as ‘liberal’ and everything you don’t like as ‘apostate’ or ‘satanic’ or whatever you want. That isn’t ideology identification thought. That is choosing your in group and sticking with it.

My point is that the project Holbo is attempting is mostly fruitless, not because conservatives are particularly prone to being ideologically flexible, but because ideology doesn’t map well onto power politics as practiced by Democrats or Republicans.

On some level that good. Ideology could almost be defined as “ideas taken too far”. Libertarians aren’t wrong that government capture exists, or bad side effects of policies exist, they are just wrong that such factual underpinnings mean that you should drown government in a bathtub.

79

Sebastian H 02.02.16 at 1:31 am

“Less snarkily, the attempt/requirement to link post-1970 US liberals (and particularly those who still refer to themselves as liberals in the Limbaugh/Rove era) to historic Liberal philosophies/movements/eras is not particularly meaningful IMHO. Which I think is approximately where JH started.”

Yes.

Definitely.

But the same is true of conservatives.

80

Clay Shirky 02.02.16 at 2:15 am

@Geo #49: Tribalism is closer than prejudice, because there are lots (and lots and lots) of ways to signal that you are part of a tribe, without prejudice being at the center of it.

Think of Vonnegut’s granfalloons, groups that would create a sense of solidarity while being assigned at random — sort of a cross between being a Hoosier and being a Sagittarius.

So when I wear my Music|Band t-shirt, my fellow kids who also like Music|Band will see me as one of their own, and know that they can speak to me in our own special argot, without there being anyone we are particularly excluding (mostly because no one wants into our club.)

Politics is a particular form of tribalism, and it matters a lot what sort of tribes the system produces. Because the U.S. system has two political tribes that are far more powerful than any others, the system is practically designed to produce philosophical incoherence.

It’s striking that in this thread, people really really want to discuss conservativism, even though the original question was about politics, and the U.S. political system does not have a Conservative party. We have a Republican Party, many of whose adherents do not in fact believe in tenets conservatives take to be quite sacred.

And the best place to see this gap between philosophy and party play out is in National Review, who has been able to maintain a lorgnette-lowering level of shock that some Republicans are behaving as if they have forgotten their sacred commitment to principled, small-government conservativism, with the clear indication that people who merely register and vote as a Republican are the anchor babies of the movement. It’s the political version of “Fog in Channel; All of Europe cut off.”

81

bianca steele 02.02.16 at 3:26 am

I think those making that accusation are working with a definition of “social planning” that’s vague enough to include a graduated income tax and some degree of redistribution, signposts on the road to serfdom.

I think some of those making that accusation think it’s “social planning” when it’s suggested that strawberry might be sold in stores alongside chocolate and vanilla. But that doesn’t make what you say wrong.

82

js. 02.02.16 at 3:30 am

LFC @44: Surely @42 is a joke?

@RB — are you really serious? Maybe it’s a little bit unfair of me to say this as the IA results roll in, but in what possible world does Kasich win the nomination? Also, this bit of yours made me laugh out loud:

America has under-exploited the cultural capital of Hooters and Hard Rock Cafe. No more with Trump.

Making me think you weren’t being terribly serious about any of this (for good reason).

83

Rakesh Bhandari 02.02.16 at 3:46 am

“in what possible world does Kasich win the nomination?” Read Plotinus

84

js. 02.02.16 at 3:47 am

Clay Shirky:

What they ‘believe’ is that their group should be in charge, which is why they change sides

Is this supposed to hold true only for conservatives/conservatism or also for liberals/liberalism? Genuine question, this—and not coming from someone who’s a conservative.

In general, I think it’s interesting that the discussion has focused almost entirely on conservatism, even though JH’s post is equally about conservatism and liberalism. (I did the same thing above of course, but not because I think liberalism is in better shape re (1) and (2), but because I think it—i.e. post-war American liberalism—is even more at sea re (1).)

85

js. 02.02.16 at 3:52 am

I think it—i.e. post-war American liberalism—is even more at sea re (1)

Well, at least assuming you don’t take the hard core seminar room line that liberalism sub (1) = Rawls. Which one could do, but it wouldn’t be very convincing.

86

LFC 02.02.16 at 4:03 am

@js.
Surely @42 is a joke?

Well, I didn’t take it that way. Kasich as the nominee is not impossible by any means. Way too early to say so. Cruz has won IA (I see from the headlines), but so did Santorum and Huckabee. Doesn’t nec. mean that much. I understand why US presidential election campaigns are long, btw, but I have less and less tolerance for their length and all the associated horserace stuff and hoopla. The media get obsessed with trivia etc and the congressional and other downballot races get slighted.

87

LFC 02.02.16 at 4:15 am

Anecdote of no earthshaking import re postwar American liberalism: I happened to read recently that during the 1956 campaign a reporter asked both Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson whether they would use force (i.e. National Guard or army) to enforce school desegregation. Both said they couldn’t see any circumstances under which they would do that (then Eisenhower did in ’57 at Little Rock but not b/c he was a fan of school desegregation).

Anyway, I was a bit surprised that “no” was Stevenson’s answer. I grew up surrounded by partisan Democrats and always thought of Stevenson, w/o knowing all that much about him, as the man who should have been President. I suppose I shd at least read something about him one of these days, maybe.

88

js. 02.02.16 at 4:21 am

I have less and less tolerance for their length and all the associated horserace stuff and hoopla. The media get obsessed with trivia etc and the congressional and other downballot races get slighted.

I agree entirely. But given that that is how they’re run now, I would—if I were a betting man—bet my bank balance that Kasich will not be the nominee. I just don’t see how and where he gets the votes or the money.

89

Glen Tomkins 02.02.16 at 6:16 am

Forget Plotinus and go back to Plato.

Take the downslide in the later books of The Republic, the descent from the best state down to democracy. Conservatives at any given time yearn for the old order that is dying, while liberals are in favor of the new order. Things are jumbled now because we’ve hit bottom in democracy, the sump of history. People go every which way in a democracy, turning from one idea of order to another with dizzying speed. Of course it will all end in tyranny.

90

Clay Shirky 02.02.16 at 6:28 am

@js #84, it’s supposed to hold true for politics, without much regard to philosophy. (Indeed, that’s my meta-coment on JH’s original post; I get off the ‘but what are the philosophical commitments of the average voter?’ bus before it even leaves the depot.)

You can see this politics > philosophy dealie with procedural wrangling. The party in power understands that filibusters are an anti-democratic abomination, because they prevent the orderly progress of governance, while executive adjustments to the regulatory state are a necessary bit of grease in the wheels of technocracy.

The party out of power is also capable of understanding the difference between violations of democratic principle and vital constitutional accommodations, but assigns those labels in the opposite way the party in power does.

“A hah!”, you think to yourself. “When those Repulicrats thrown the Democans out, their ferocious arguments for limiting executive power will carry the day, and the President will voluntarily renounce such shady dealings! And the Democans, reduced to minority status, will forgo the filibuster, because it taints every issue it touches!”

What happens next will shock you.

91

TM 02.02.16 at 8:21 am

68. “Holbo needs to be able to characterize one or more conservatisms, and make plausible that significant numbers of self-identified conservatives exhibit these at least semi-philosophical clusters of ideas/attitudes. I think that can be done.”

I won’t go into nit-picking (How many are “significant numbers”? What does it take to “characterize one or more conervatisms”? What does “make plausible” really mean? What is a “semi-philosophical idea”?) Just show us how you do all these things, then we can talk.

92

TM 02.02.16 at 9:39 am

72: Conservatives don’t like liberals in government and liberals don’t like conservatives in government. How banal is this. There is no evidence that conservatives question government authority in principle, to the contrary, they are more likely to support coercive government action. Btw, Americans are to my knowledge the only people who unironically celebrate their (current and former) presidents at a special holiday. Is that how Americans express their “distrust of government”? To the rest of the world, this just appears weird. Visit the Carnival – which ends next Tuesday – if you want to see how for example Germans “celebrate” their politicians.

93

TM 02.02.16 at 9:44 am

Re Sebastian H. One very popular conservative talking point is that abortion and eugenics are somehow related. Margaret Sanger after all was claimed to have been a big supporter of eugenics, which supposedly proves that reproductive rights are bad.

Discuss.

94

kidneystones 02.02.16 at 9:47 am

Here’s an example of the purest form of modern American conservatism made manifest (that’s right from Cruz himself). It’s an illustrative example not just of the bold-face lies conservatives tell each other and themselves, but also of the appalling state of modern establishment journalism. From Time: http://time.com/4203730/ben-carson-ted-cruz-caucus-dirty-tricks/ “Carson’s team claimed that Ted Cruz’s campaign deliberately sent emails to supporters to spread false rumors at caucus sites that Carson had dropped out, so his supporters would caucus for other candidates…Jason Osborne, Carson’s deputy senior strategist, read aloud another missive… “The guy speaking for Ted Cruz right before the vote, he was supposed to be done, he announced that there was a story on CNN that Ben Carson was taking a break after Iowa, and then stated, ‘So you might want to rethink wasting your vote on him.’” Cruz’s team flatly denies the allegations. “That’s absurd,” spokesperson Catherine Frazier said.”

The piece contains not a single link, not that there aren’t plenty about. For example, here’s the Twitter feed of Steve King, Iowa congressman, and a key figure in team Cruz https://twitter.com/SteveKingIA?ref_src=twsrc^tfw “Carson looks like he is out. Iowans need to know before they vote. Most will go to Cruz, I hope.”

As a person of faith, nothing gives me quite the same joy as watching poser hypocrites lie their f#cking faces while praising God. I’m sure everyone is totally shocked. A sampling of pro-Cruz commenters suggest that many believe that Ted’s close contact with G-O-D render him incapable of uttering a falsehood. The sole consolation is that he’s bedecking himself in mud so quickly that he’s unlikely to make it deep into the race. Rubio, on the other hand, looks to be the new favorite to displace Trump. How the ego reacts to rejection is anyone’s guess. I don’t believe, btw, that the votes stolen from Carson by Cruz tipped the scales enough to change the result – it’s just nice to see the scummy side of Ted so clearly displayed. Christian lawyer/politician screwing Christian doctor/politician and lying about it. Conservatism in a nutshell.

95

ccc 02.02.16 at 10:27 am

Sebastian H @64
“you are treating liberalism and conservatism under different standards and not treating the original post seriously” … “It is the libertarian critique which is most often used to exclude eugenics”

You are the one jumping between different standards now. If you want to focus on on the ground movement sentiments and policies then what is this “libertarian critique” you are talking about? Where are the large, popular anti-eugenic libertarian movements in 1890? 1910? 1930? Looks like nowhere. It looks instead like a lot popular political movements in many countries in the late 1800s and early 1900s had views on eugenics that ranged from murky to toxic. We may talk about a historical phase prone to eugenistic thinking, in politics as well as inside the academy.

When right wing libertarianism/propertarianism becomes a thing much later on the eugenics thinking phase was largely over. Furthermore policy level anti-eugenics sentiment is much too fuzzy to be pinned as “libertarian”. To repeat that kind of policy expression can stem from a lot of different views or be an expression of a moral intuition that is compatible with a lot of different moral views. Rawlsian, Christian, Kantian, various forms of consequentialism and so on.

Or are you saying that if someone in 1930 without any theoretical backstory simply says “this eugenics stuff feels bad and wrong” then that person must be labelled a libertarian?

96

TM 02.02.16 at 10:48 am

The other day, Cowen explained that progressives need more liberalism to inoculate them from the temptation of eugenics. Now SH explains that liberals need libertarianism or they will jump on the eugenics bandwagon. Religious conservatives claim that only by opposing abortion can the spectre of eugenics be exorcised. All the while, the one and only prominent contemporary figure on record supporting eugenics is Charles Murray.

Discuss.

97

John Holbo 02.02.16 at 11:10 am

“Just show us how you do all these things, then we can talk.”

TM doubts the sort of thing I propose is possible. Let me venture a metaphysical proof that may suit his (perhaps excessively Plotinian) taste in political philosophy.

My proposal is to conjoin discussion of type-1 accounts with discussion of type-2 accounts, per the post. This is the possibility TM doubts.

How can we know that type-1 and type-2 accounts are, individually, possible? (Hence their conjunction.) Regarding conservatism, say.

Well, what ARE they? Per the post, an example of a type-1 account would be G.A. Cohen’s defense of conservatism; per comments, what I have in mind for type-2 are Corey Robin-style accounts, broadly. Something like his book.

So my argument hinges on: actual implies possible. The type of thing I want is actual. Thus, the type of thing I want is possible.

That’s it.

98

TM 02.02.16 at 11:14 am

97: This is a parody, right?

99

TM 02.02.16 at 11:21 am

Shoter JH: “There exist books about conservatism, therefore self-identified conservatives are committed to conservative political philosophy”. Hilarious.

100

TM 02.02.16 at 11:21 am

(Regret the typo)

101

John Holbo 02.02.16 at 11:38 am

“There exist books about conservatism, therefore self-identified conservatives are committed to conservative political philosophy.”

Explain how you got this from what I said, TM.

102

John Holbo 02.02.16 at 11:38 am

“(Regret the typo)”

This is a parody, right?

103

kidneystones 02.02.16 at 12:22 pm

Hi John, the notion that conservatism doesn’t exist in practice and in philosophy is belied by the fact that there are literally thousands of years of texts that are explicitly conservative and practices to go with them – this literature is most prevalent in Asian languages, of course. The ‘respect for rites and traditions and the ways of the elders’ is embodied in a great many Asian cultures up to the present. It would be extremely difficult to convince anyone to behave identify as ‘conservative’ were there not a plethora of texts and real life examples to emulate. There’s certainly plenty of room to examine, debate, and ridicule how these forms are articulated and practiced, but it seems much, much sillier to suggest conservatives don’t exist at all. Labeling has its own problems when describing individuals, less so when we’re describing practices, as in: many Democrats/liberals behave conservatively when considering the risks of supporting a candidate other than Clinton, for example. There’s no question that a great many ‘conservative’ voters who just rolled the dice on Cruz are taking a gamble. Some know this, others don’t. When we’re talking nations the problems multiply. Very large parts of the population of Revolutionary France were ardently conservative. One of the more interesting subsets of revolutionaries in practice, of course, were the slaves rebelling in Saint-Domingue, who described themselves, in some cases, as enemies of the new republic and loyal to the king.

104

John Holbo 02.02.16 at 12:42 pm

“Hi John, the notion that conservatism doesn’t exist in practice and in philosophy is belied by the fact that there are literally thousands of years of texts that are explicitly conservative and practices to go with them”

I’m not sure whether you intend this as a criticism, kidneystones. My favored approach is intended to provide the means to acknowledge the varieties of conservatism, in (ideal) theory and (real) practice, by not insisting that the two are approximately one.

105

Ronan(rf) 02.02.16 at 1:20 pm

This is becoming a little bizarre. Of course there are ‘clusters of beliefs’ or ideas or instincts or values that make up something that could, for the purposes of analysis, be called a conservative philosophy. You dont like the word ‘philosophy’? Fine, then substitute value system, moral code. Whatever.
‘All politics is tribal signalling’ is probably true at a trivial level, but it tells us nothing. The vast majority, for example, of anti racism rhetoric and activism seems to rarely rise above the level of in group signalling, but that doesnt mean the underlying value system isnt meaningfully, philosophically, anti racist. People might not have coherent understandings of the the philosophy of equality, or racial science, or what have you, but there’s is still a philosophy, resulting from instincts, in-group dynamics, upbringing, and layman intellectualising.
If you compare conservativism across countries and contexts, you find some similarities. If you look at it in specific contexts, you find some distinctive attributes. You dont just see incoherence and randomness. No need to pathologise your enemies, or imagine the plebs have no capacity to develop systems and models for understanding the world. This stuff is up there with “there are as many Islam’s as there are individual minds” or its all dominance, tribalism and prejudice. Perhaps in the church of Georgetown cocktail parties and the sacred texts of vox ‘splainers such notions have traction. But as a description of what drives the human spirit ? Good God.

106

bianca steele 02.02.16 at 1:26 pm

I’m not sure whether TM is writing parody when he says that conservatism in most places is supportive of the government, therefore conservatism in the U.S. is supportive of the government.

107

bianca steele 02.02.16 at 1:34 pm

I kind of assumed John H. was writing parody when he suggested there was a Platonic Form of such historically contingent mirages as political systems, and that Real Philosophy (TM) even concerned itself with such things.

108

TM 02.02.16 at 1:38 pm

bs: When did I say that?

Ronan: “Of course there are ‘clusters of beliefs’ or ideas or instincts or values that make up something that could, for the purposes of analysis, be called a conservative philosophy” Maybe that is true but then why is nobody (looking especially at JH) willing to describe those “clusters of beliefs” and provide empirical evidence that these are in fact what self-described conservatives are committed to? Sloppy thinking posing as political analysis is cheap.

109

TM 02.02.16 at 1:44 pm

Again Ronan, what I have been saying, if you had padi attention at all you’d know that, is: I want a better argument than unsubstantiated claims. I don’t know whether the claims as such are wrong but I sure know that neither JH nor you have done anything to provide a coherent argument for these claims. “Of course there exists X” is not an argument for the existence of X. Sorry but I’m not a philosopher, I am a Mathematician (which really isn’t that hard to see).

110

bianca steele 02.02.16 at 1:48 pm

TM: I understood you to be saying this in @98, since you were comparing the U.S. to the world in other ways, but maybe you were not. You don’t have to look far to find major conservative publications wondering whether the U.S. is illegitimate because it committed treason to the English Crown and/or “European culture,” by which is meant the church. That’s what Eliot was all about: proper conservatism for him meant rejecting his background and upbringing and turning to Europe. To say there’s no evidence of conservatives being anti-government is just wrong. Conservatives may often be authoritarian but they don’t always feel compelled to accept actual authorities as the morally proper ones.

111

John Holbo 02.02.16 at 2:05 pm

“Maybe that is true but then why is nobody (looking especially at JH) willing to describe those “clusters of beliefs””

What makes you think I’m unwilling to describe them?

I’ve said that I’m broadly in agreement with Corey Robin’s approach, in conjunction with a more ‘ideal’ approach. That’s a perfect substantive and clear, albeit partial intellectual downpayment on my part. I have told you the kind of approach I favor. (I hope you don’t expect me to write a whole book in a comment box. It’s not the place for it.) Now it’s your turn to say something non-empty. You have declared that it isn’t even possible to do this sort of thing. That’s a very strong claim. But why should we buy it? If you are right then it follows, among other things, that Corey Robin’s book is absolute total nonsense, from start to finish. The kind of intellectual project he is interested in is intellectually misbegotten, in principle, because the subject matter itself necessarily fails to exist Well, maybe. But I haven’t heard a hint of an argument. Or any hint of where I might go look to find one.

So I’m calling your bluff, TM. You are acting like you’ve got some strong hand. But (what with you looking especially at me!) I’ve seen the look in your eye and I say you’ve got junk. But maybe I’m wrong! But we won’t know until you show ’em. So lay ’em out. (Or fold. You could fold and then we’ll never know whether you actually had something, but just didn’t want to share it.)

112

kidneystones 02.02.16 at 2:15 pm

Hi John, not a bit. I find your stuff very solid, but a bit dry and academic for my taste – which your free to take as a double compliment. My own sense is that conservative texts and practices are far more pervasive than liberal varieties for a large number of often predictable sociological, psychological, and economic factors. Large numbers of self-described liberals are among the most closed-minded people I know. Self-described conservatives, especially those of faith, seem willing to gamble wildly on almost no evidence. I’m most familiar with French conservative theorists such as de Bonald. In 1801, very few people were willing to use his “On Divorce” as a map for social order. Yet, by 1815-16 de Bonald was one of the most influential men in France, if not Europe. Conservative thought mapped quite well onto social practices. Divorce was abolished. More than that, a great many French men, in particular, seemed very willing in 1816 to entertain de Bonald’s argument that all the evils that befell France up to the point originated in national rejection of the ‘rites and traditions of the Catholic Church’. As @110 points, out Eliot’s politics were anything but liberal. His art, however, was a long way from conservative. Dali is another example.

Your own arguments seem very reasonable and consistently well-grounded.

113

TM 02.02.16 at 2:31 pm

bs 110: I never mentioned the English Crown. No idea what you are reading into my comment at 98.

JH 111: “What makes you think I’m unwilling to describe them?”
I asked you to provide a description and you refused. See 28 and your responses.

114

bianca steele 02.02.16 at 2:36 pm

TM: I didn’t say you did. I did quote from your comment directly–it’s the “no evidence” bit if you haven’t had your coffee yet. I’ll wait for you to re-read and figure out what words my comment actually contained. Otherwise, I’ll conclude you’ve decided to be a schmuck, for reasons I can only speculate about.

115

TM 02.02.16 at 3:14 pm

bs, you imputed to me the claim: “conservatism in most places is supportive of the government, therefore conservatism in the U.S. is supportive of the government.” That has no resemblance to what I have said. Won’t say more.

116

John Holbo 02.02.16 at 3:20 pm

“See 28 and your responses.”

You’ll have to do much better than that, TM. I refused, very reasonably, to offer a definition. And I told you where to go to find a description that I would be happy to sign onto, to give you an idea of the kind of thing I agree with and the kind of style of intellectual treatment I have in mind. You can read Corey Robin. (I’m sorry that it’s book length, but these things are complicated. That’s how life is sometimes.) You are very sure all this is nonsense, and you have a right to your strong opinion, but you haven’t breathed a word of ‘why’ to back up your strong opinions. So I call bullshit. You’ve got nothing.

117

bianca steele 02.02.16 at 3:22 pm

TM: and in @102, I walked that back. Not sure how you could have missed it. It was the very first sentence.

But no, you’re going on about how I introduced an example you hadn’t thought of first, which must have meant I was claiming you were thinking of that example, which is so untrue and such a horrible accusation that you must claim my comment was so incomprehensible it was practically ungrammatical (which you are sure doesn’t actually reflect on your reading ability).

118

TM 02.02.16 at 3:22 pm

And no bs, you are not quoting me directly. This is a direct quote: “There is no evidence that conservatives question government authority *in principle*, to the contrary, they are more likely to support coercive government action.” (TM, 92).

This is what you wrote: “To say there’s no evidence of conservatives being anti-government is just wrong. Conservatives may often be authoritarian but they don’t always feel compelled to accept actual authorities as the morally proper ones.” (BS, 110) You are not even contradicting me.

119

TM 02.02.16 at 3:25 pm

JH 116: This is getting old. “an idea of *the kind of thing* I agree with” is not what I’m asking. It’s just sloppy thinking posing for political/philosophical analysis.

120

bianca steele 02.02.16 at 3:30 pm

TM, yesterday you were complaining that people in the U.S. who call themselves conservatives are not really conservatives. It seems like you’re switching between different definitions of “conservative” as it suits you. Way to disprove the OP! I’m now convinced . . . that it’s barely worth reading your comments on this topic, let alone answering them.

121

Sebastian H 02.02.16 at 4:51 pm

It is deeply weird being involved in an argument where people are trying to defend Corey’s approach on conservatives AND complain about the eugenics/progressive links.

Corey’s approach IS the approach of the eugenics/progressive links. It is the same argument as the “some of the early leaders of the pro-life movement were pro-segregated-schooling so the pro-life movement isn’t REALLLLYYY about abortion, it is about school segregation”.

Ummm, no it isn’t and you can all see how ridiculous the approach is in the eugenics/progressive links, but suddenly celebrate the technique when Corey does it with conservatism.

You know what thinking a technique is horrible when applied to you but peachy when applied to political opponents is? Tribalism. You’re illustrating exactly why looking for deep ideology as the moving factor is a futile project.

“You are the one jumping between different standards now. If you want to focus on on the ground movement sentiments and policies then what is this “libertarian critique” you are talking about? Where are the large, popular anti-eugenic libertarian movements in 1890?”

Jesus. You are totally ok with applying inapposite positive labels to past political movements that you agree with, but not ones you disagree with. Again you are being analytically tribal.

IF (and I say IF, which is a statement of the conditional) the analytic framework is ok for conservatives, THEN it is also ok for liberals.

I just want you to choose one analytic framework for looking at politics–not two analytic frameworks, one for your friends and one for your opponents.

IF you think the eugenics/progressive thing is unfair THEN don’t apply that technique to conservatives.

IF you think Corey’s associative linking of largely dead movements and application of greatly changed labels is a great technique THEN don’t whine about the progressive/eugenics thing because that link is much tighter than about 80% of the examples he relies on (it was high profile, publicly embraced and well documented in multiple sources, while his examples rarely have 2 out of those three).

122

LFC 02.02.16 at 7:19 pm

@Sebastian H
The question of continuity is tricky.

One can argue plausibly that there is a link between, for example, Burke’s fascination with “dangers” (“The great virtues turn principally on dangers, punishments, and troubles” — quoted in Reactionary Mind, p.232) and the contemporary neocons’ constant perception of ‘threats’ to ‘natl security’ everywhere and the need to confront them. Corey R. makes this kind of argument, among others.

It’s harder — though not, I might be willing to concede, *completely impossible* — to argue for a link between eugenics and contemporary ‘progressives’ since there are no contemporary progressives who accept the specific assumptions or aims of eugenics. The best you could do is try to construct some general link based on an alleged preference for ‘social engineering’.

I do think, however, you are probably right that where one starts from influences one’s willingness to see connections or not: liberals/’progressives’ are more prone to see continuity in conservatism, while conservatives are more prone to see continuity in liberalism (or at least continuity with unsavory aspects of the past). In general we’re dealing here with the sort of evidence that’s inherently somewhat loose and open to interpretation. (Also, as MPAVict. has pointed out, eugenics was supported by more than one part of the political spectrum.)

123

Rakesh Bhandari 02.02.16 at 8:11 pm

LFC,
Did you see the link I provided on the Mill/Irish famine thread to a piece by Diane Paul on JS Mill’s strong commitments to the regulation of reproductive behavior? I am hoping Tyler Cowen will post something to set the record straight.

124

LFC 02.02.16 at 8:56 pm

Did you see the link I provided on the Mill/Irish famine thread to a piece by Diane Paul on JS Mill’s strong commitments to the regulation of reproductive behavior?

No, missed it — will take a look.

125

Ecrasez l'Infame 02.02.16 at 10:24 pm

Also, as MPAVict. has pointed out, eugenics was supported by more than one part of the political spectrum.

But it was originally progressive. It originated among progressives as a straightforward consequence of progressive ideology – i.e. the desire to apply science, in this case the new science of heredity, to improve society – see Galton, Webb, Wells, etc. There was of course a much earlier strain of racial thinking, among everyone, but particularly the right. Gobineau’s master race theory and those of the segregationists in the US all pre-date eugenics, which was soon adopted and blended with that – often very weird – racial theory and put to work. But eugenics simply wasn’t invented by hardcore racial theorists, the impetus was initially among progressive social reformers.

It’s harder — though not, I might be willing to concede, *completely impossible* — to argue for a link between eugenics and contemporary ‘progressives’ since there are no contemporary progressives who accept the specific assumptions or aims of eugenics.

I think Quiggin was right that early-C20 and early-C21 progressives are very different beasts. I’m not sure contemporary progressives are that committed to scientific progress. Parts of so many of the movements they draw on – racial justice, feminism, environmentalism – are often very sceptical about scientific knowledge and more concerned with other objectives (like social liberation and justice). They’re both left ideologies, but I think other than the name there’s not much that links them. There’s was a clean break when the new left came along.

126

John Holbo 02.02.16 at 10:39 pm

TM: “an idea of *the kind of thing* I agree with” is not what I’m asking. It’s just sloppy thinking posing for political/philosophical analysis.”

Saying ‘this is the kind of thing I agree with’ is not sloppy thinking posing as political analysis. It’s saying what you agree with. Which is fine. Unless you know better.

That is, unless – unless! – the thing I am saying I agree with is, itself, inherently sloppy thinking posing as political analysis. And this you keep implying. But, for reasons best known to yourself (but I feel I am coming to know them better) you refuse to say why. Thus we revolve back to the suspicion that you’ve got nuthin. But you could still show us your cards. (I don’t want to be unfair to you, TM.)

Your objection cannot be that I declined to write a book in a blog comment. That’s silly. Your objection cannot be that I have only provided a schematic indication of what I want. Providing a schematic indication of X is, literally, the whole point of indicating X, schematically.

You can’t be saying that no one should ever sketch a plan, or find an idea plausible.

Yet you are very insistent that this thing I schematically indicated as plausible is, necessarily, nonsense. I think it is very reasonable for me to ask: why are you so sure? What makes you sure?

Are you quite sure you haven’t mistaken wish-fulfillment fantasy (you have a very strong DESIRE to be able to say ‘this is nonsense!’ and have it be true) for argument?

Bemusedly yours,

John Holbo

Now, let me chat with Sebastian at least briefly.

Sebastian, I take it you have a problem with Robin’s approach that some of his progressive critics had as well. I’m thinking of Sheri Berman’s review.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/books/review/the-reactionary-mind-by-corey-robin-book-review.html?_r=0

“The twin goals of this collection of previously published essays are to provide a coherent definition of conservatism and reveal the ideology’s flaws through detailed analysis of various conservative thinkers and arguments. The book’s problems lie not in concept, but in execution. Driven to distraction by anger at his subject, Robin ends up reproducing many of the pathologies he is trying to criticize. The result is a diatribe that preaches to the converted rather than offering much to general readers sincerely trying to under­stand the right’s role in contemporary American political dysfunction.”

I think this sort of critique mistakes the level of approach Robin makes in his book. He is doing a kind of non-ideal ideal political philosophy, without making that clear what that is, or why it is interesting. He is trying to provide 2, in the sense of my post, and he is being faulted for failing to provide 1. And I think he is, to a slight degree, inviting this by not distinguishing 1 and 2. Anyway he could be clearer. Hence my desire to conjoin 1 & 2.

But let me get to your point. You are basically saying: if bad ad hominem is ok, then everyone gets to play the game. Fair is fair. But Robin isn’t trying to write bad ad hominem. He’s trying to write good ad hominem. That is, he is trying to get at the human life of political philosophy. Find order at that level which is invisible at the other level. There is a danger in his approach: namely, it’s hard to tell good ad hominem from bad ad hominem. But that’s not to say: you therefore must fail. Robin is able to find coherence. Why should all these very different conservatisms all be considered ‘conservatism’? He has a plausible story to tell. So I say.

Now you might respond: yeah, partisans always have a coherent story. They just lump the Other into a big ball of awful.

Yes, but just because it can go wrong, doesn’t mean it must – or did. Let’s take your case:

“Corey’s approach IS the approach of the eugenics/progressive links.”

That is, Corey Robin is basically the Jonah Goldberg of the left. I don’t buy this. Goldberg is a hack and Robin is intellectually more careful (although not perfect, I’m sure.) I agree that they are doing the same kind of thing, in a certain sense. They are trying to connect very abstract philosophies with real politics. But that doesn’t mean that one of them isn’t doing it well, the other badly. I believe that Robin is doing it right, Goldberg is doing it wrong. And the way to bring that out is in the details (necessarily.) And of course my partisanship may be biasing me. But still, I have to try to think this stuff through. I can’t just say: I can’t judge between two attempts to make the same sort of approach, one leftish, one rightish, because my left bias will ruin my judgment.

Here is Kevin Drum on Jonah’s latest (I haven’t followed the eugenics stuff here at CT, actually, but I noticed this.)

http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2016/01/enough-eugenics-already

“Early 20th century progressives supported eugenics out of a belief that it would improve society. Contemporary liberals support abortion rights and right-to-die laws out of a belief in individual rights that flowered in the 60s.”

That sounds about right to me. It’s telling that Goldberg never even considers it. (But we can argue about it.) Now, can you go through Robin’s book and do the same? Is his book as easily deconstructible as “Liberal Fascism”? I maintain that it is not, and I think his responses to Berman were generally adequate. (Although I would prefer an initial frame that might have saved him some of that misunderstanding, on her part.)

Basically, the proof is in the pudding. Does Robin say a lot of silly stuff, like Goldberg, or does he instead say plausible things?

Which gets me back to TM. He is sure nothing like Robin’s approach can be right, since the subject matter itself is non-existent. I very much doubt that, at the abstract level, you can prove such a thing. You have to go down into the details.

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ccc 02.02.16 at 11:19 pm

Sebastian H @121:

“It is deeply weird being involved in an argument where people are trying to defend Corey’s approach on conservatives AND …”

What is even weirder is that I have not said a word about Corey’s approach here. Yet you now ascribe a bunch of views about it to me. How about you instead engage with what I did write?

You did claim that an anti-eugenic policy position is “libertarian” in some sense.

I have pointed out
1 that policy level anti-eugenics sentiment is much too fuzzy to be pinned as “libertarian”. That kind of policy expression can stem from a lot of different views or be an expression of a moral intuition that is compatible with a lot of different moral views. Rawlsian, Christian, Kantian, various forms of consequentialism and so on.
2 that a lot of popular political movements in many countries in the late 1800s and early 1900s had views on eugenics that ranged from murky to toxic – there was a historical phase of eugenistic thinking, in politics as well as inside the academy. That impacted on political movements on the whole left/right spectrum.
3 that you have not shown any large, popular anti-eugenic libertarian movements in the 1890s, 1910s or 1930s and so on. But then given that omission and given 1 above you have no evidence for thinking that a movement of right wing propertarians/libertarians (if it had existed back then) would not have subscribed to eugenic thinking to the same or even larger degree as other movements did. (Keep in mind here that much more recent movement libertarians have not been immune to homophobia and racism, so why think libertarian eugenics impossible?)

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LFC 02.02.16 at 11:33 pm

Ecrasez:
I think Quiggin was right that early-C20 and early-C21 progressives are very different beasts.

They are different (for one thing, they are addressing somewhat though not altogether different problems), but given the internally diverse character of the movements I think one could probably find some points of connection. Moreover, the early 20th-cent US progressives, at any rate, are about more than “the desire to apply science…to improve society,” and I think the same could be said of whoever one sees as their British analogues (fwiw, I’m not sure I’d consider the Fabians as precisely comparable, but I don’t know enough about the details).

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LFC 02.02.16 at 11:42 pm

P.s. There are no doubt some transatlantic connections here — for example the young Walter Lippmann had a sort of mentor/mentee relationship with Graham Wallas — but Lippmann’s views changed as he got older. He was a Progressive as a young man but never a radical or revolutionary (unlike for example his exact contemporary John Reed).

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mdc 02.03.16 at 12:05 am

Can you think of a particular issue (for a given historical context), such that if someone said, “‘I’m against x”, you’d feel safe saying, “well, then you’re not a liberal”? (I’m still trying to push my litmus test idea.) It should also work the other way: “I’m all for x” entails not being a conservative.

Neither eugenics nor abortion rights qualify, I don’t think.

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The Temporary Name 02.03.16 at 12:07 am

Alberta had the Sexual Sterilization Act, which lasted almost 45 years through a variety of governments.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_Sterilization_Act_of_Alberta

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Sebastian H 02.03.16 at 12:55 am

“That is, Corey Robin is basically the Jonah Goldberg of the left. I don’t buy this. Goldberg is a hack and Robin is intellectually more careful (although not perfect, I’m sure.)”

Ugh. You’re taking the most simplistic version of the eugenics/progressive discussion possible, interpret it at highly detailed levels, and trying to compare it to an allegedly nuanced attack on conservatives which must be interpreted only on non-detailed levels. Use the same level of abstraction for both discussions.

Corey’s arguments have lots of underpant’s gnome characteristics–
1) 200 year old conservatives say bad things;
2) Current conservatives say things that if taken up five levels of abstraction could be in the same domain as those bad things taken up seven levels of abstraction.
3) ???
4) Modern conservatives are evil.

Applied to progressives and eugenics:

100 year old progressives said bad things re eugenics. If you take that up a bunch of levels of abstraction, they liked eugenics because they believed that scientific/technocratic social planning was a great idea. Historically progressives were eager to underplay their a) lack of true understanding of the underlying issues, b) their lack of understanding of the side effects of their plans, and c) their own privilege which blinded them to various needs and wants of non-progressives. Progressives still fail to admit their lack of true understanding, their failures to bother with the side effects of their plans, and their class based privilege which causes them to discount the needs of the existing middle class. [see some medium bad thing like the fact that progressives haven’t bothered to get rid of ethanol subsidies] Therefore (logic inferred only by whatever legitimacy you give Corey’s argument) the sins of past progressives still reflect on modern progressives, EVEN IF THEY SPECIFICALLY SAY THEY DON’T HOLD THE UNDERLYING POSITIONS, because they show a recurring character flaw and therefore (same caveat applies as to the previous therefore) we don’t need to bother listening to them or trying to understand their objections.

That’s the charitable version, because in posts like this one on evangelicals and Roe v. Wade he goes further and calls such associations “the real origin of X” as if I were to argue that eugenics was the “real origin” of progressivism. (Spoiler alert, the actual reason why the evangelical political movement took up Roe v. Wade instead of segregation was because they couldn’t form a movement around evangelical support of segregation because most of the evangelicals didn’t support segregation).

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Sebastian H 02.03.16 at 1:10 am

Btw trying to talk about the “real origin” of the evangelical movement without even mentioning Billy Graham is like—-it is actually hard to come up with a good analogy. Trying to talk about the “true history” of the civil rights movement and never mentioning Martin Luther King Jr.? Talking about the civil war without mentioning Abraham Lincoln? Talking about the change in the South African regime and pointedly not ever mentioning Mandela? It really is breathtaking.

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Sebastian H 02.03.16 at 1:20 am

Ugh I’m posting three times in a row. I’m sorry for that.

The Billy Graham thing really irritates me. He was MUCH more influential in the success of the evangelical movement than the men that Corey cites (Falwell being the most prominent) so omitting him is cherry picking the ugly side of an argument even though the good side of the argument won and then pretending that there wasn’t an argument at all and representing the losing side as if it was the only evangelical movement opinion. Now if THAT kind of argument is good, the eugenics/progressive argument is great.

In reality progressive ideology isn’t ‘about’ eugenics. Yes eugenics polluted it in the beginning, but what won out was the importance of workers. Similarly desegregation was around polluting the evangelical movement, but abortion is what won out as the unifying measure. But Corey only sees those kinds of evolutions in his friends, in his opponents the positive gets written out of existence and the negative lingers forever.

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LFC 02.03.16 at 1:43 am

in posts like this one on evangelicals and Roe v. Wade he goes further and calls such associations “the real origin of X”

If one goes back to the post quickly, as I said, one sees that “the real origin” is not CR, but Randall Ballmer whom CR is quoting.

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LFC 02.03.16 at 1:44 am

oops. should be “as I did” not “as I said”

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John Holbo 02.03.16 at 1:57 am

“Corey’s arguments have lots of underpant’s gnome characteristics–
1) 200 year old conservatives say bad things;
2) Current conservatives say things that if taken up five levels of abstraction could be in the same domain as those bad things taken up seven levels of abstraction.
3) ???
4) Modern conservatives are evil.”

We disagree about whether Corey Robin’s arguments have underpants gnome characteristics. I’m not saying that sometimes underpants gnome arguments are good arguments. I am saying: sometimes arguments that have an ad hominem character, which you might suspect extends right down the the underpants, as it were, are perfectly good: shrewd, well-reasoned, well-supported. Among these I would place: Robin’s arguments, by and large.

Since the devils are in the dirty drawers, allegedly, let’s get down to details. I just reread Corey’s post that you linked. He is discussing the work of some historians who dug through some archives. Now, obviously, I can’t vouch for the quality of their archival survey work. I doubt Robin can either, personally. Maybe they are tendentious hacks who cherry-picked all that and published fraudulent stuff on that basis. But, if that were the case, the thing to do would be to point that out. Go in and find all that stuff they claim is non-existent, or show the stuff they claim is representative was rare. I take it you are not claiming to have done that. So you are objecting, somehow, to the conceptual frame. ‘Given this data, we should infer …’ Specifically, you are objecting to Corey’s frame. It looks fine to me. “Much of the energy behind the Christian Right came not from its opposition to abortion or school prayer but its defense of segregation.” If the history is sound, isn’t it evidence for this historical proposition? If not, why not? I’m not seeing the gnome. In the post Robin doesn’t say much at all. (That’s ok. Just a post.) He is mostly just quoting from this other thing. So I hit the ball back to you, Sebastian. What’s wrong with this post that you say so tellingly exemplifies what’s wrong with Robin’s stuff generally?

Let me address as well your other argument. 100 years ago progressives fell into the eugenics trap due to (I would agree with you) 1) excessive scientism plus 2) racism plus 3) classism plus 4) a failure to be sensitive to unintended consequences of 5) overreaching government social engineering efforts go wrong and backfire. Now if I thought that today’s progressives were indeed distinctively guilty of 1-5, then it would be perfectly fair to say: you are doing all the things that led to that awful thing, eugenics, so it is fair to lay that at your door as a symbol of the badness that is likely to result from you continuing to think and act and feel in this characteristic way.

The hitch is: I just don’t think today’s progressives are especially guilty of 1-5. They are, in my view, guilty of 3. But conservatives are more guilty of 3. Both progressives and conservatives are intermittently guilty of 1, but I don’t think an excess of scientism plagues the world today. Conservatives are more guilty, relatively, of 4 and 5. (Conservatives think they have a philosophy which insulates them from the law of unintended consequences – namely, conservatism. Conservatives are supposed to be slow-but-steady, etc. But, in practice, conservatives aren’t that, yet they tend to think unintended consequences are something that happens to other people; namely, leftists. So they don’t worry about how conservative policies backfire. By contrast, liberals and progressives fret a lot about how leftist policies backfire. The 20th century was a school of hard knocks for both left and right in that regard. But the left has learned some lessons whereas the right largely hasn’t, I think.) Now you may wildly disagree with all this. But the point is: I think recurring character flaw arguments, if valid, can be reasonable. Although of course one wants to be careful. (I don’t think conservatives can disagree with this because conservatism, at its core, is kind of a recurring character flaw argument. It says certain temperaments are healthy and others are unhealthy. Burke et. al.)

Gotta go teach. Back later.

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Sebastian H 02.03.16 at 2:20 am

“Maybe they are tendentious hacks who cherry-picked all that and published fraudulent stuff on that basis. “

The evangelical political right movement is a subset of the evangelical movement. The rise of the evangelical movement is inextricably tied to Billy Graham and the Billy Graham crusades. You can’t write intelligently about the evangelical movement without understanding Billy Graham’s influence on it. Billy Graham is rather inconvenient for the thesis that the evangelical movement was motivated by segregationism because Billy Graham was a supporter of Martin Luther King Jr. and repeatedly preached against the evils of racism at the Billy Graham crusades which formed the heart of the movement. So a valid historical thesis might go something like: Falwell wanted to tap into the evangelical movement on a bigger level (and for all I know there are Falwell papers which suggest that). Graham fought him on the racial issue, and Falwell couldn’t tap into Graham’s followers without abandoning segregation as an issue. They found common ground on abortion, so Falwell abandoned segregation as an issue and seeing the success other people had with the abortion issue adopted it himself to gain more power.

Anyone who knows anything about the evangelical movement would recognize the story in general even if not particularly on the segregation issue. To completely erase Graham from the story is indeed hackish. Using that omission to assert that the real origin was segregation is bullshit. If you get count everything that less powerful leaders tried and then failed to use to get people from more influential leaders as evidence and then erase which side won, you get eugenics/progressives. The only reason it looks so silly to you is *you KNOW that the non-eugenicsts won because you identify with the progressive movement and know how it played out*. But Graham is the one who won on the racial issue, not Falwell. You didn’t know that (if you even had any idea that Graham was at least 5-10x more important than Falwell) so what seems to me as obviously hackish as the eugenics/progressives thing strikes you as “hmmmmm probably true”.

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Bruce Wilder 02.03.16 at 2:26 am

My grandmother habitually called Graham, Billy Sunday (the name of Graham’s predecessor in the national revival circuit)

The insistence that early 20th century Progressives were definitionally leftists is ahistorical reconstruction. Figures like Theodore Roosevelt, Charles Evans Hughes, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, George W Perkins, Nelson Aldrich and many others were in many respects political conservatives. They certainly weren’t socialists. Many conservatives were enamoured of modernizing reform aimed at increasing efficiency, a spirit central to Progressive movements.

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js. 02.03.16 at 2:43 am

Clay Shirky @90:

I am with you in wanting to emphasize Holbo’s (2) at the expense of his (1). Beyond that, I am quite (as in, entirely) opposed to the line you’re pushing. So, a few, possibly not very coherent thoughts:

JH’s post was about liberals vs. conservatives. You seem to want to reduce this to an opposition between Democrats and Republicans, and then to focus on purely political actors. This seems mistaken to me to me on several grounds. Most generally, I think it’s perfectly sensible, and even useful, to talk about conservatism e.g.*, across states and times (tho obviously you wouldn’t want to stretch it too much). As I’ve already mentioned, I really like Corey Robin’s take on conservatism; the kind of line you’re pushing seems to me to foreclose the very possibility of making sense of that kind of account, let alone disagreeing with it. If I’m misunderstanding you, please let me know.

Or take (postwar American) liberalism. I want to be able to talk about liberalism in a way where someone like Trilling is at least as important (if not more) as FDR or LBJ. Because while I myself am uncomfortable with “philosophy” in this context, it’s extraordinarily far from obvious to me that ideology is irrelevant. (JH himself suggested substituting “ideology” for “philosophy”. I am a fan of the suggestion.) I mean, sure, people actively engaged in political power plays care a lot about political power plays. There’s no gainsaying that. But the idea that there’s nothing to what we call “liberalism” or “conservatism” beyond that seems to me frankly bizarre.

Also, partly to reiterate, this:

I get off the ‘but what are the philosophical commitments of the average voter?’ bus before it even leaves the depot.

In a sense this is true—obviously true, even. But if you think the implication is that it’s simply about party power, it’s equally obviously false. Here’s a simple question: Suppose Cruz becomes president and shortly afterwards, passes a bill legalizing all undocumented immigrants currently resident in the US. How many voters who voted for him in 2016 do you think would vote for him ion 2020? If it’s simply about party power, why should it matter at all?

My point is: ideology matters. It matters for voters insofar as it connects with with their material and social reality, not qua philosophy, yes. But it still does matter for voters. And if there are strains of ideology that survive beyond particular party denominations, like e.g. liberalism and conservatism, then it’s entirely worthwhile thinking about their conceptual/ideological/philosophical core beyond whichever party embodies them in a particular time or place.

*Focusing on this for now because “liberal” means such different things in different parts of the Anglosphere.

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bianca steele 02.03.16 at 2:46 am

The big Progressive programs I remember from my distant memory of high school include: the civil service and the destruction of the existing urban political machines, Prohibition, the income tax, settlement houses. Jane Addams and her settlement workers can fairly be called elitist in their approach, and so can the treatment of the cities generally, but this is not obviously a collection of programs that can easily be used to smear the present-day center-left. None of these programs are considered liberal in the U.S. sense except the income tax, which is not considered liberal in the UK/European sense (relevant to the other thread), and none of them is remembered fondly by the present-day left but not the right (except the income tax).

Corey Robin and others have been pointing out other distinctively Progressive policies that are less well known and more unsavory. Few (except Goldberg) have seen fit to both fasten on eugenics and also use it as a stick to beat today’s Democrats.

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Bruce Wilder 02.03.16 at 3:20 am

The Federal Reserve, direct election of Senators, state and national parks and forest conservation, antitrust, pure food and drug regulation, . . .

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John Holbo 02.03.16 at 3:20 am

“if you even had any idea that Graham was at least 5-10x more important than Falwell”

I am happy to defer to your greater knowledge of the history of the evangelical movement, Sebastian. I would have said that Graham was pre-Falwell (vaguely) but if you asked me who was bigger, I would have drawn a blank. Shows what I know about this large and important subject (I’m not being sarcastic! It is large and important, I’m sure.) Maybe Robin is the same. If so, and if these historians were making this howler of a mistake, then that’s a mistake. And, likely as not, the mistake is running on tracks of motivated reasoning. People know what they want to believe and often find a way to do so. But if you think that Robin’s writings on conservatism are, in general, a series of laughable ahistorical howlers, I beg to differ. I think he’s quite wrong about Nietzsche, for example. But I understand why he sees Nietzsche that way. It’s a rather understandable, hence pardonable mistake. (But one wants to correct it, all the same.)

This issue of making mistakes seems to me separate from the general issue of whether there is some toxic, underpants gnome template at work here.

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js. 02.03.16 at 3:32 am

I must say: I have been reading (2) in the OP in a somewhat more high-minded way than what’s actually there. I suppose that’s where my predilections lie, somewhere midway between (1) and (2).

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John Holbo 02.03.16 at 3:34 am

“I must say: I have been reading (2) in the OP in a somewhat more high-minded way than what’s actually there. I suppose that’s where my predilections lie, somewhere midway between (1) and (2).”

I think there are pretty high-minded versions of 2. That’s why, in comments, I emphasized the Robin connection, rather than returning to the New York Magazine link.

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kidneystones 02.03.16 at 3:34 am

Moral purity is at least as important to the left as it is the right, perhaps more so. Few would argue, I hope, that Steve Jobs awoke every morning wondering how to be a ‘better’ person each day. Capitalists are not much concerned with morality. The origins of evil and how to be rid of if occupied a great many thinkers and scientists throughout the 18th and 19th century. Does ‘good’ exist? How can we make both the society and the individual better is/was of primary concern to Robespierre, most Marxists, many philosophers and social scientists, and most people of faith.

Those who subscribe to the notion of original sin are, I suggest, much less prepared to subscribe to the notion that tinkering with evolution is likely to produce a better form of human for reasons that are so obvious (I hope) as to require no elaboration. Materialists, on the other hand, generally dispense with any notion of ‘dualism’ the existence of a soul, or even a ‘self.’ This piece in the Guardian offers a brief survey of eugenics advocates who also happened to possess totemic status on the left: such as Keynes and Marie Stopes. This article Christianity and Eugenics http://shm.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2014/04/08/shm.hku008 seems quite good, on first reading. (sorry, if it’s already linked)

I agree very much with the position of Sebastian H. both in the need for context and his implied suggestion that we learn less about this issue if our analysis is colored by the need to prove the case, again, that conservatives are good and liberals are evil, or the opposite, a tendency that does so little to help win the sympathies of the neutral and unconverted.

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bianca steele 02.03.16 at 3:36 am

me @ 141

In fact, neocon Gertrude Himmelfarb LOVES LOVES LOVES those settlement women and the entire Progressive patronizing attitude toward civic-minded, fully non-sectarian, but absolutely government-free help for the poor,

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js. 02.03.16 at 4:22 am

JH @145: Yes, I think we are in agreement there. On the other hand, while I certainly wouldn’t go the full Clay Shirky, I’m still hesitant about (1) as an independent project. Because I think in a lot of cases, there ain’t no ideal normative content there, so to speak, and ideal theory should be reserved for cases where ideal normative content actually exists. (We’ve had this disagreement before, as I recall, and you said something that I genuinely could not get my mind around—it might been about the normative content in a theorizing of slavery, or some such.)

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Z 02.03.16 at 7:14 am

I am grateful for Bruce Wilder @139. From this side of the Atlantic, the association of eugenics with progressives looks weird: our progressives (in the 1870-1940 period, to speak broadly) tended to be socialists of some sort; our defenders of eugenics centrists of some sort, not unlike the names mentioned by Bruce.

About the original question of the OP, I realized that my fundamental divergence is right at the onset: I do not want my answer of the question “what is -ism?” to do 1) and 2), because I believe the answer to 2) is along the lines of the introduction of Weber’s Economy and society: political dispositions are one of the modes of expression of the internalization by individuals of the minutiae of everyday life, of their sense of social position and likely social trajectory and of the social structures and historical forces that impact them and to which they react. As such, they are amenable to statistical regularities but probably largely unintelligible in terms of philosophical ideas.

1) may be interesting, but just in some sort of abstract and in the end probably quite trivial way (for an illustration, the good folks of Powerline have very recently celebrated the answer of Ben Sass to the question “What is conservatism?”; the answer he gave would not be inappropriate to the question “What is Chomsky’s political philosophy?”).

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LFC 02.03.16 at 9:19 am

BW @139
The insistence that early 20th century Progressives were definitionally leftists is ahistorical reconstruction.

No one has been insisting on this, really; it’s just that the issue has arisen in the context of an effort to tie contemporary liberals (in the US sense) or left-liberals to the early C20 Progressives.

Figures like Theodore Roosevelt, Charles Evans Hughes, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, George W Perkins, Nelson Aldrich and many others were in many respects political conservatives. They certainly weren’t socialists. Many conservatives were enamoured of modernizing reform aimed at increasing efficiency, a spirit central to Progressive movements.

The liberal-conservative dichotomy fits oddly in some respects onto early C20 Progressivism. There is no doubt disagreement on these matters in the historiography of the period, most of which I don’t know. TR was of course an unabashed imperialist. C. Lasch argued, contrary to some of the school textbks, that his actions as President “favored corporate interests.”[*] TR also ran slightly to Wilson’s ‘left’ on certain domestic issues in 1912, I’m reminded by a piece of old historiography. Wilson as Pres. established Fed Reserve System and Fed Trade Commission, but then proceeded to staff them w business types. Etc.

[*] Lasch, “The Moral and Intellectual Rehabilitation of the Ruling Class,” in The World of Nations (Vintage pb, 1974)

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LFC 02.03.16 at 9:26 am

bianca steele @141
None of these programs are considered liberal in the U.S. sense except the income tax, which is not considered liberal in the UK/European sense (relevant to the other thread), and none of them is remembered fondly by the present-day left but not the right (except the income tax).

Well, the “destruction of urban political machines” (your phrase) and associated reforms (e.g., city manager forms of government, referendum etc) are not things that the present-day left, istm, would have a big problem with. Urban political machines no doubt provided social services to the poor but at the cost of corruption, something the present-day left is not a fan of.

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ccc 02.03.16 at 9:35 am

Sebastian H: I see you’ve now squeezed out posts 132, 133, 134 and 138. How about attending to your backlog? See post 95 re your made up accusations and your evasion from claims you’ve made.

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John Holbo 02.03.16 at 11:31 am

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kidneystones 02.03.16 at 12:06 pm

It’s wonderful to see Brooks claim the guy he and every other doofus in Brooks Brothers suit picked to fail first is ‘now a loser’ for coming second in race that attracted the largest number of participants in a Republican primary ever. Brooks’ theory fails the falsification test built into his claim – if Trump doesn’t exist, why the record turn-out? Trump opted out of the debate, and viewing numbers collapsed. For somebody who doesn’t exist he manages to exercise an enormous influence over a large number of people, including Brooks.

155

TM 02.03.16 at 12:09 pm

JH: “Saying ‘this is the kind of thing I agree with’ is not sloppy thinking posing as political analysis. It’s saying what you agree with.”

What has the English language ever done to you that you treat her so cruelly?

“The kind of thing that I agree with”, what is that even supposed to mean? You Holbo have not said anything of substance in this thread and you have completely failed to answer criticisms – not just mine but also for example LFC 30 or Clay 32. All you have been able to do is impute strawman claims on others. I am outraged, outraged at being accused of Plotiniansm (97)! I demand satisfaction for this insult! Well really, I am just bemused. Do you realize that you have used the word “nonsense” seven times on this thread, each time in order to impute to me a position that I have never taken?

“You prove Robin is nonsense, start to finish.” (68)
“If you are right then it follows, among other things, that Corey Robin’s book is absolute total nonsense, from start to finish.” (111) Nothing of the sort follows from my questioning your confused claims.
“you have a very strong DESIRE to be able to say ‘this is nonsense!’” (126)
Except that I never said “this is nonsense” nor anything similar, you are the only one who did that.

You Holbo are afraid that considering your critics’ arguments and responding to them like a philosopher rather than dismissing them like a bully would make you look weak. Guess what, we got it anyway. You are making a fool of yourself.

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John Holbo 02.03.16 at 12:48 pm

“You Holbo are afraid that considering your critics’ arguments and responding to them like a philosopher rather than dismissing them like a bully would make you look weak.”

TM, I shall be delighted to consider your arguments. You will provide them and I will consider them at the earliest convenient time.

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John Holbo 02.03.16 at 12:50 pm

But please, state them as clearly as you can.

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bianca steele 02.03.16 at 1:01 pm

LFC: The words “but not the right” are actually doing some work in that sentence.

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Lee A. Arnold 02.03.16 at 1:21 pm

I think it’s easy. The Rightward tendency is to believe in individual “luck” and “fortune”. The Leftward tendency is to feel that individual “bad luck” or “misfortune” ought to be socially ameliorated. All else springs from this.

It plays out in different ways in the politics of each country, and depending on the time and the season, like the zombies.

Thus the Right often values things as they are (or as it imagines that they were, in a past Golden Age) — often as one of their keys to psychological and emotional stability, health.

And thus the Left often tries to correct the social arrangements — because often, it isn’t luck, it’s the social arrangements. (And perhaps only often, but increasingly so.)

Thereby are paved the roads to good intentions, as originating from both sides.

But there is often a declension due to time and season: Example 1. “Environmental preservation” should be conservative, but the Right came to value market development more, and so environmentalism was strongly Leftwing for decades, and it mostly it still is. Example 2. Scientific “improvements” were often seen as progressive, even some horrible ones, while the Right was against them, unless “tested” (using the word loosely) through market acceptance (i.e. mass approval). Example 3. The Right is against big government, unless it facilitates anyone’s success in the marketplace (and apparently, however few people it facilitates!). And so on.

So, what are “fate” and “luck”, and how did the Right come to insist that they are to be facilitated and ameliorated by personal effort in the marketplace?

Current intellectuals have the wrong idea about “luck”, I think. “Luck” is now explained as an early word for “probability”. But it appears (to me) that it is a holdover from within the concept of Providence, which was a dominant concept in the theological millennia which preceded the modern secular period.

Providence rewarded your proper discharge of your born position in the world: to be the best peasant or king you could be. Your reward for your good will in this scheme was God’s Providence.

How you actually fared, was your “luck”, or your “fortune” (a word used particularly when tied to monetary fortune). This happened, somewhat alongside Providence, by “accident” (originally meaning a secondary characteristic that attached to individuals). And it all comes within God’s judgement (and rather fuzzily too, but hey — that’s also “statistics”, for you).

The epochal transition from the theological millennia to the modern period, as it came to be formulated in the popular mind in around the 18th Century, reassigned the concept of “fortune” to commercial success. (And also a century later, to “evolutionary fitness” in “social Darwinism,” a thankfully brief progressive intellectual disaster, now disappeared except as unspoken premise in some market libertarians.)

“Providence” isn’t used very much any more, though it clearly remains as the Right’s silent psychology, and is perhaps a big reason for its religiosity: Not only to fight personal despair, but to socially self-justify. (And thus, to the Right, the Left is “arrogant”.)

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bianca steele 02.03.16 at 1:35 pm

I really thought the OP was just about the philosophical incompatibility (or is it?) between empiricism and some more linguistic approach to concepts. Maybe some commenter with an interest in how intelligent laypeople misread philosophy will come along.

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Lee A. Arnold 02.03.16 at 1:36 pm

John Holbo #153: “David Brooks, Plotinian”

Do not “diss” Plotinus! Here I draw the line! Really David Brooks cannot be a Plotinian, because Brooks hasn’t experienced the highest state of consciousness.

The Enneads are one big psycho-philosophical description of that life-changing event, with some intermittent passages that are clearly derived from Plotinus’ personal experience. — And which will be of some scientific use as a psycho-historical document in the future, after brain scientists wake up. — The closest rhetorical comparison is from Sankara (who wrote a small number of very short works, never compiled into one collection as Porphyry did). The main difference is that Sankara formulates a different metaphysics to describe and explain the same psychological event, i.e. not the Platonic emanation-downward (which Plotinus more-or-less codified for the West), but instead the explanation that the fallen self (i.e, you, before spiritual enlightenment) is an imperfect reflection of Atman: this is more than a whiff of “through a glass darkly”, but instead within the metaphysics that you and God are the same thing (both are “the Self”) only you don’t know it, way down here in the dirty. Thus more-or-less codifying advaita Vedantism. (It ought to be pointed out that self-identification with God is still verboten to Christians, who reserve that status for Jesus, and indeed, it was a common way to get yourself burned at the stake, back in the day, and remains a source of consternation to priests and ministers fielding questions in confirmation-class.

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John Holbo 02.03.16 at 2:14 pm

“David Brooks cannot be a Plotinian, because Brooks hasn’t experienced the highest state of consciousness.”

Man, it’s getting hard to be a decent fella, what with all this PC. I can’t call Brooks a Plotinian ’cause Enneads is too good for a bobo in paradise. And I can’t call TM a Plotinian ’cause then I’m a bully. What’s a simple lover of the truth to do (with open heart and open eyes)?

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Lee A. Arnold 02.03.16 at 2:22 pm

@ John: Let me ask you about your original post, instead:

I think that my formulation: {individual fortune in the market vs. social amelioration of misfortune} + their circumstantial declensions, serves to explain current US politics just fine.

(For an election, just add herd instinct, or group identification, or team spirit. Because there is a scheduled, digital decision to be made: a win/loss moment. So each side finally goes with whomever they’ve got remaining.)

To make that interior decision to get it together,both parties must overcome the usual split, because not living up to the ideals etc. But much worse in the Rightward one, so opportunists have been able to insert themselves, to the alarm of the Establishment.

Thus, job done! in meeting John Holbo’s standards #1 and #2.

You say that this is theoretically impossible, so guess I don’t understand your premise?

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LFC 02.03.16 at 2:51 pm

@bianca s.
LFC: The words “but not the right” are actually doing some work in that sentence.

Ok, I take your point here.

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Lee A. Arnold 02.03.16 at 3:46 pm

John HOlbo #162: “…what with all this PC. I can’t call Brooks a Plotinian…”

I dint mean to get all PC on ya. I try to avoid that like the plague! I just think that we need a better word. Using “Plotinian” as a proper-name synechdoche for “Great Chain of Being” (hierarchic emanation downward from the Absolute) may make people form a dismissive, incomplete view of Plotinus.

“David Brooks, Platonist” doesn’t cut it, for the same reason.

I just don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about Plotinus! The Enneads are pre-scientific, but we don’t have many extensive, deep intellectual attempts to describe real, total transcendent experience — even new ones now, from our current psychedelic period. You can count the intellectually coherent writings on both hands.

The Great Chain of Being extended much further, culturally. Lovejoy showed that it was (is) a concept so enormous that people thought the most mundane thoughts entirely inside the framework.

And Lovejoy documented its 18th-century transmutation into the worldly commercial hierarchy, through which you may now ASCEND, by your own personal merit — thus, no longer requiring you to maintain your born place in the scheme of things, and allowing a certain form of pride (suddenly, pride was no longer so big a sin!) in striving upwards beyond one’s station in life.

We have to get across the idea that it has mutated, yet is pervasive, and indeed defines the Right.

“David Brooks, Lovejoy-Ignorantist”?

“David Brooks, Enchained Absolutist”?

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phenomenal cat 02.03.16 at 5:30 pm

“What’s a simple lover of the truth to do (with open heart and open eyes)?” –Holbo@162

It is a treacherous and dark path to follow John. This world and its denizens do not look kindly upon such souls.

Anyhoo, there’s always the potential for a communally administered dose of hemlock to look forward to.

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Ze K 02.03.16 at 6:57 pm

To me, the problem with the US politics is the fact that the US is a huge place, half of a continent with over 300 million people in it. People with radically different backgrounds living under radically different conditions, all of them pretty tightly controlled by the central government in Washington. If you disagree with the latter, then please explain why there’s so much noise about and so much money is spent on the national politics. We could probably talk about the politics of Iowa (3 million people), or, better yet, politics of some community in Iowa. That could be a meaningful and interesting conversation.

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John Holbo 02.03.16 at 10:48 pm

“Using “Plotinian” as a proper-name synechdoche for “Great Chain of Being” (hierarchic emanation downward from the Absolute) may make people form a dismissive, incomplete view of Plotinus.”

Fair enough!

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John Holbo 02.03.16 at 10:56 pm

Hi Lee, re 163. First, there’s a big difference between something being theoretically impossible and not being theoretically guaranteed. My point was that the conjunction of 1 & 2 was not conceptually guaranteed, not that it was necessarily impossible. Not that you can’t get something that is either 1 or 2 and also, approximately, the other. The clearest proof is: construct an ideal liberalism, conservatism. Now imagine that the actual parties are very close. In this world, you can have 1 & 2 together. So obviously it’s not impossible. (Very abstract way to think about it. I apologize. But I don’t want to look like I’m offering some impossibility argument. I’m not.)

Second, re: your proposal. I don’t really understand. It’s too compressed for me to be sure what you are getting it, but it looks like you are trying to come up with something like this: given that we have two very non-ideal things (liberalism and conservatism, rolling around in an election cycle) what’s the best we could hope for? That’s an interesting question, but strictly distinct from mine.

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John Holbo 02.04.16 at 12:40 am

Looking back over the thread, it occurs to me that some of the criticisms – Clay’s, maybe – is due to a misunderstanding of 2. I wrote:

“What constructions of liberalism/conservatism, as philosophies, give me the best handle on what’s going on in the US election cycle, say?”

This statement is ambiguous between a crazy reading and a sensible one. The crazy one didn’t cross my mind, so I didn’t think to guard against it. But here it is:

Obviously the best way to get a handle on practical politics is to treat it as a pure battle of philosophies. So which philosophies is it a battle between? Answer that and you have solved the riddle of real politics.

That’s obviously nuts. The sane reading goes like this:

Political philosophy plays some role in real politics. Ideas matter. But, realistically, abstract seminar room style political philosophy doesn’t play much of a role in politics. So the question is: how do we best discuss conservatism/liberalism such that we are getting at the thing that really plays a role? Now obviously there’s going to be no simple answer. The question is kind of loose. But I think it’s important, because political philosophers (and pundits!) have a tendency to skate over it, unhelpfully. A good way to start might be this: who does a good job of this? Which books on conservatism, say, have done a good job of bringing out the life of the mind as she is lived, in politics?

In short, the confusion concerning my post may concern necessary and sufficient conditions. I was saying: it’s necessary to consider things in this way. Readers were taking that as: it is sufficient to consider things in this way. I was patching a hole. It looked like I thought I was crafting a magic bullet one-shot theory of everything.

Perhaps that helps.

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Bruce Wilder 02.04.16 at 2:18 am

Andrew Sabl’s Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the “History of England”, together with Hume’s classic text of course, might be a useful tool for contemplation on this mystery.

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John Holbo 02.04.16 at 2:41 am

Weird coincidence, Bruce, I was just thinking of reading more about Hume’s politics, because he has some funny things to say about partisanship. (He doesn’t like it!) But I didn’t know where to start. Except with Hume himself. Perhaps I shall take you up on your literary offer.

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TM 02.04.16 at 8:04 am

170: Clay can speak for himself but to characterize his comments as informed by “a crazy reading” of your piece is just like the old Holbo.

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John Holbo 02.04.16 at 9:45 am

TM: “… is just like the old Holbo.”

Way back at 119 you objected vehemently to my use of the locution ‘same kind of thing’. How is ‘just like the old Holbo’ any better (in your book)? You are, in effect, saying the new me is the ‘same kind of thing’ as the old me, are you not? And that was the verboten relation (or so I gathered.) Ah, well. Mysteries. (For my part, and for the record: I would not regard the discovery that new Holbo is similar to old Holbo as a fatal objection to either Holbo. Although I expect that as the years stretch on, the day will come when ‘just like the old Holbo’ takes on a fondly nostalgic quality.)

“as informed by “a crazy reading” of your piece”

I didn’t mean to say it was a crazy reading. I meant to say it was a reading of it as crazy. That’s not the same thing. For the record, I do not believe Clay is crazy, but I think he may have read me as saying something crazy, which I didn’t mean. In which case he was mistaken.

And, indeed, Clay can speak for himself. And he has, and I hope he shall again in future. In the meantime: TM, can you speak for yourself? You keep saying you have an objection. So are we going to get to hear it or not? You make indignant noises about my lack of response, but I insist on observing the niceties: first, tell me what it is.

You object that you have said it already. You may be right! Even so, I choose not to play Where’s Waldo with your superior wisdom, up and down the lengthening thread. Just restate whatever smart thing you think you have said – yes, even though you feel you have said it already. For obviously I missed it. All I saw were lapses of common sense and logic, apparently due to excess of irritability. My suggestion would be to employ the following template, broadly:

State 1) what thing I said that is objectionable to you; 2) articulate the degree and character of your disagreement; 3) give the grounds for your disagreement.

The provision of 1-3 together will best facilitate a reasonable response on my part.

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Clay Shirky 02.04.16 at 10:44 am

And here’s me, speaking for myself. (Also, as always, geo and J.W. Mason endorse 100% of my comments…)

Throat-clearingly, I do not take a crazy reading of JH’s ‘crazy reading’ comment. I didn’t read that as ‘JH thinks Clay is crazy’ nor that “JH thinks Clay thinks JH is crazy’, but rather ‘Between a patch and a magic bullet, reading the OP as a magic bullet is the crazier of the two readings.” So, all about the text and not about judgements about people. (Take that, Stanley Fish!)

A-a-a-a-nyway, John, when you gloss your condition #2 as:

“Political philosophy plays some role in real politics. Ideas matter. But, realistically, abstract seminar room style political philosophy doesn’t play much of a role in politics. So the question is: how do we best discuss conservatism/liberalism such that we are getting at the thing that really plays a role?”

This clearer (and somewhat less dramatic) reading of #2 is more in line with the proposed patch, but still leaves me cocking an eyebrow. As Rorty was fond of saying, you can’t get language (by which he usually meant philosophical propositions) in one hand and real life in the other and make sure they line up.

Let me make an analogy — if I see you carrying a gallon of water from the well to your house in a leaky bucket, my willinginess to estimate how much water makes it to the house is going to depend on how leaky the bucket is, and how far your house is from the well.

The well is the seminar room. The house is an actual American election. And the distance between the too is (does some calculating)…far. Yeah, let’s go with far.

So: I view the words ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ to exhibit Wittgenstein’s ‘family resemblance’ characteristic — there is no single issue or litmus test that will hold true across partisan variability, regional tastes, and time, so while we can often tell liberal from convervative views in narrow cases, when we start looking at, say, Nixon’s proposed policy’s vs. W’s on income support, or Clinton’s vs. Roosevelt’s on welfare, that clarity fades.

Add to that that — as I noted upthread — we do not have liberal and conservative parties in this country. We have Democrats and Republicans, whose commitment to party over ideology is so strong that their adherents famously and consistently report different commitments to proposed policy outcomes depending on whether they are told that they are evaluating an uncontroversial proposal, a proposal supported only by their team, or only by the other team.

Then there is the design of the U.S. system, whose mix of geographic and party norms mean that politicians can often take different views on e.g. Federal research funds depending on whether they are going to represented or unrepresented zip codes..

And all of this is before you get to the voters, because my god, the voters. Not only do many voters not have a political philosophy, they barely have commitments of the sort that the good folk of CT would recognize as political. (The Hayes’ piece is really eye-opening in this regard.)

There are lots of additional leaks you could identify in your bucket o’ philosophy — party platforms vs. actually existing bills, executive adjustment of legislative intent, lobbying and fundraising as strong non-ideological commitments — but all of this is to say that I am not accusing you of trying to jailbreak Plato’s cave. I’m just observing that you are trying to get a gallon of water up a very big hill, in a very leaky bucket.

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TM 02.04.16 at 11:56 am

JH: “Way back at 119 you objected vehemently you objected vehemently to my use of the locution ‘same kind of thing’”

The locution was “an idea of *the kind of thing* I agree with”, and my objection is that it is too vague, too unspecific to be a meaningful answer to my challenge in 28. (If I didn’t know that you are trolling, I would have to question your reading ability).

Nothing you have said in this thread rises above the level of trivial banality. “Political philosophy plays some role in real politics. Ideas matter.” “Some role” can mean anything. In terms of Clay’s analogy, the bucket might be almost full, half full, or there may be just a tiny drop left. In each case, there is “some” water in the bucket. Nothing of this is capable of meaningful empirical testing.

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TM 02.04.16 at 11:58 am

(Regret the duplicate.)

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Z 02.04.16 at 12:20 pm

The clearest proof is: construct an ideal liberalism, conservatism. Now imagine that the actual parties are very close. In this world, you can have 1 & 2 together.

I guess one man’s modus ponens… for this would be exactly my argument for the impossibility of conjoining 1) and 2) in this world. Actual liberal or conservative parties over the world and over different times differ widely. Hence, no abstract philosophical construction can inform us about them very far beyond trivialities (in this day and age; I accept that it might not have been so two or three centuries ago). And even if it did happen (though it doesn’t, because what Clay Shirky describes for the US is of course general) that some country had an especially close identification between ideal constructs and actual politics, then that would still be not good enough, for the seminar room arguments would have to explain what is so special about that particular case, and that seems an impossible task in philosophical terms.

So I don’t need to read David Brooks or Rush Limbaugh to know that they don’t commit the fallacy: at most, they pretend to in order to disguise (thinly) their attempts at influencing the actual political game. Rawls is a scholar, so maybe he does actually fall for it, though he should know better (personally, I don’t see how any scholar could fall for it after knowing about any of the critical thinkers of the last 2 centuries, starting with Hegel).

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bob mcmanus 02.04.16 at 12:51 pm

Signifiers show us significators significating, and nothing else. But there is a politeness a civility a sociality an ethics that compels or allows us to pretend the bullshit has content and to keep interaction at the level of renga poetry or philosophy or dozens. “Reification” is itself inescapably a reification.

What do we talk about when we talk about love or politics? Making love, doing politics.

180

mdc 02.04.16 at 1:07 pm

“there is no single issue or litmus test that will hold true across partisan variability, regional tastes, and time”

Hard to prove a negative. If there were, would that make a difference?

181

Clay Shirky 02.04.16 at 2:18 pm

@mdc #180, I think it would, for Holbo’s goal. If there was, then a discussion of the overlap between John’s 1 and 2 could begin “There exists at least one commitment whose embrace binds all members of party X together, and has always done, in opposition to party Y, who rejects that commitment.”

Corey Robin has made the case that conservativism is a commitment to counterrevolutionary protection of hierarchical power, and that this is true, if not always and everywhere, then in most times and most places. Even if we accept this, though, there is still a long walk from there to the behavior of actually existing voters for a.e. candidates running within a.e. parties.

Sometimes the Democrats have exhibited this commitment, as under W.J.Clinton’s gifts to the financial industry. Sometimes the Republicans haven’t, as, most famously, with the upending of slavery. Sometimes the commitments themselves change. Policies that favored Amazon or Google in the 1990s were commitments to insurgents over incumbents. In 2016, they are the incumbents, so while any supportive policies may not have changed, their place in Robin’s story has.

So my contention is not that there is no difference between liberal and conservative thought, but that if you try to line up the issues with the philosophies with the parties with the candidates with their campaign promises with their proposed bills with their voting records, and then you try to line all that up with voter rationales and actions, the resulting overlaps will not give you much in the way of consistency or coherence of the sort that would count as philosophy.

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bob mcmanus 02.04.16 at 2:36 pm

Corey Robin has made the case that conservativism is a commitment to counterrevolutionary protection of hierarchical power

Being a revolutionary communist, I don’t exactly see this as unique to Republicans or Tories, and therefore find Robin unreadable.

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John Holbo 02.04.16 at 2:44 pm

It’s late. Quick, incomplete response. Clay makes the correct point that partisanship is everything. (To a first approximation.) But I think that that does not mean the party is everything, in the institutional (Reince Preibus) sense. I think my #2 benefits greatly from this distinction.

TM seems determined to stand and die on the hill he excavated way back at #28. The best I can say is: let the record show that I did not trick or troll TM, in any way, into this singular act. I did not play ‘please don’t throw me into the briar patch of #28’ games, to beguile him.

After Western Civilization collapses, rises again, future cyber-graduate students (their minds uploaded into the singularity) studying our era may debate which of the arguments implicit in #28 was the weakest, the most inherently hopeless; which tragedy this ‘sit down, man, you’re a bloody tragedy’ situation most humanely evokes. I would not presume to gainsay the result of that learned debate. That would be hubris.

More tomorrow. Time and inspiration permitting.

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bianca steele 02.04.16 at 2:46 pm

John:

Are you committed, for purposes of understanding the OP, to the Platonic view that political philosophy echoes the morality of the individual who holds it? If not, I’m going to have to read it again.

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Lee A. Arnold 02.04.16 at 3:55 pm

John #169: “your proposal…too compressed…My point was that the conjunction of 1 & 2 was not conceptually guaranteed, not that it was necessarily impossible.”

Okay now I see what you are saying. In which case I disagree, because I imagine that the conjunction of 1 & 2 is necessarily impossible. (Which is why I think that describing tendencies is the best we can hope for.)

I would attempt to construct a theoretical guarantee of this, by arguing that individual rhetoric must be different from group rhetoric. That’s a long argument. At the risk of further Proposal-Compression: When a group of individuals gets together to act, the members necessarily find ways to abbreviate their similarities and to avoid their internal differences. Abbreviation and avoidance saves them time and energy, to expend on the group effort instead. (That is, a political party is a typical “institution”; as such, engaged in internal cost-reduction.) Therefore, when we compare the philosophy at the individual level and at the group level, we observe that the philosophy has some different characteristics. At the group level, parts are omitted which have been subsumed by the group purpose. Items are abbreviated, conditional, implied, silent, lost, etc. A theoretical guarantee that nescience will set in. This happens before we get to the historical contingencies.

But even though an exact intellectual expression will never do it, I think that most people sense longterm emotional, epistemological tendencies underlying each side, e.g. rightward accent on individual luck & fortune vs. leftward social amelioration.

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Rakesh Bhandari 02.04.16 at 3:59 pm

With his investment theory of politics Thomas Ferguson attempted to explain the differences between the Republican and Democratic Parties in terms of the respective coalition of mostly business investors that backed each. The theory was presented in a book with Joel Rogers and then in a single-authored work. But I have not revisited these books in more than a decade. I think he has investment backers mostly investing in Democrats with the labor-intensive, protectionist businesses lining up behind the Republicans. I am pretty sure that a Sidney Verba would dismiss such a theory as empirically risible. The Democrats seem to have lost investment banking, for example.

Nonetheless, Fergsuon argues that major investors have the ability to use their power to block crucial policies. On one level, the party in power is structurally constrained to pursue pro-business policies; otherwise investment will fall of as well as employment and tax revenue. But the other hand, there are competing interests among major investors and parties are made by the dividing up of major investors into fairly durable, competing blocs. Major realignments are only periodic, and Ferguson offers a major revision of VO Key’s theory of realignment.

In this theory the Democrats cannot be separated from the Republicans in terms of differences in political philosophy. The theory implies also that parties do not form their platforms in response to the exogenous preferences of voters.

Don’t know if critical discussion of this theory would advance the discussion here, but thought I would mention it.

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geo 02.04.16 at 5:16 pm

Rakesh @186: Ferguson and Rogers’ Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems is the best piece of political science I know of. (Please, no snickers about setting the bar absurdly low.) The essential idea is that, to the extent that there are competing interests among the business class, and that those interests may be helped or hindered by state policy, each business faction will invest in politics (NB – including political ideologies) to secure the policies which will advance its interests. F & R frame their discussion in terms of capital-intensive/internationalist business vs. labor-intensive/domestic business, but obviously the character of the factional conflict may change or temporarily subside, and particular parties or politicians may disappear or change sides. (So much for Sidney Verba.) The golden rule is that who pays the piper calls the tune, or as Marx put it: “In every society, the ideas of the rulers are the ruling ideas.” It’s Historical Materialism 101, really, but that’s as far as American political science has gotten. (Except for our Henry, and a few other mavericks.)

Clay @181: if you try to line up the issues with the philosophies with the parties with the candidates with their campaign promises with their proposed bills with their voting records, and then you try to line all that up with voter rationales and actions, the resulting overlaps will not give you much in the way of consistency or coherence of the sort that would count as philosophy

I guess one question is, how much is not much? And another question might be, what counts as a philosophy? I guess the only consistency I’m looking for is unswerving dedication to the achievement of participatory democratic socialism (which may or may not differ in a few particulars from McManus’s “revolutionary communism”) by the 25th century, at the latest.

Be assured, however, that any comment which approvingly (or at least not disapprovingly) cites Rorty and Fish has earned 100% endorsement from me.

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Rakesh Bhandari 02.04.16 at 5:21 pm

typo, sorry…
I think he [Ferguson] has investment BANKERS mostly investing in Democrats with the labor-intensive, protectionist businesses lining up behind the Republicans. I am pretty sure that a Sidney Verba would dismiss such a theory as empirically risible.
_________

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Rakesh Bhandari 02.04.16 at 5:25 pm

It seems that domestic oil and gas industry is the leading investor in the bloc behind the Republicans; this is of course what Ted Cruz represents. Silicon Valley had been mostly investors in the Democrats, but Larry Ellison has made a big contribution to Rubio due (I think) to his support of Airbnb and Uber. I think Silicon Valley as other globally oriented businesses have believed that they are safer with the Democrats who are ok with immigration in the name of multiculturalism and who have repaired relations with other countries. Investment bankers have shifted to the Republicans, it seems. Hollywood stays with the Democrats. Of course if a Democratic victory seems inevitable, then Wall Street would try to ensure Clinton’s victory and buy her out with promises of funds that would guarantee her victory. Krugman insists that she’s as tough on Wall Street as Sanders; Clinton did say that she would not target Wall Street at expense of other vested interests. This may be relieving to Wall Street, but I also think she is right about that.

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LFC 02.04.16 at 5:28 pm

Rakesh B.
The Democrats seem to have lost investment banking, for example.

My impression is that investment bankers give money to both parties. There is a front-page WaPo story today about contributions through Dec. of last year to HRC’s campaign from banks etc. The amt is substantial, on order of 20 million. Not sure how it compares to what Wall St gives Repubs, but I wd imagine Jeb Bush has gotten more than HRC.
[n.b. Unlike some here, this fact alone (of the contributions) does not persuade me HRC is nec. Evil capital E exclamation mark. But she is definitely closer to Wall St than her main opponent for the Dem nomination.]

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The Temporary Name 02.04.16 at 5:50 pm

Evidence that HRC is evil is that she’s running for president. QED. Take note, Sanders!

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LFC 02.04.16 at 5:51 pm

RB:
I am pretty sure that a Sidney Verba would dismiss such a theory as empirically risible.

since Verba is, afaik, still alive, you cd write him an email and ask directly ;)

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LFC 02.04.16 at 5:53 pm

Evidence that HRC is evil is that she’s running for president

Hmm. I’ll have to think about that one.

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Ze K 02.04.16 at 6:15 pm

I don’t think anyone cares about “immigration in the name of multiculturalism” and “repaired relations with other countries”, whatever that means. Especially since it’s really the domestic industries that need immigrant labor, not Silicon Valley. It may be that the multinationals want a strong dollar (as engineered by Robert Rubin in the 90s), while the domestic industries want the opposite.

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Shylock Homeslice 02.04.16 at 7:00 pm

“Signifiers show us significators significating, and nothing else.”

Yo mamma look like somebody beat her with a ugly stick.

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John Holbo 02.05.16 at 1:50 am

“Are you committed, for purposes of understanding the OP, to the Platonic view that political philosophy echoes the morality of the individual who holds it?”

You mean: am I making that old macrocosm/microcosm the polis-mirrors-the-soul argument? I hope not, as I regard that as not plausible. I don’t think I implied that.

To develop my ideas a bit beyond the admittedly highly schematic outline above, Clay summarizes Robin: “Corey Robin has made the case that conservativism is a commitment to counterrevolutionary protection of hierarchical power, and that this is true, if not always and everywhere, then in most times and most places.”

That’s about right, as a gloss on Robin. Clay thinks this doesn’t get you very far. Your leaky bucket leaks out before you get far. Let me spin it more positively. One of the main virtues of Robin’s account is, simply, that it explains why all the things we call ‘conservative’ in politics are called that. For example, why are libertarians and traditionalists both ‘conservative’? Libertarianism, in a seminar room sense, and traditionalism, in a seminar room sense – imagining them both as the best normative views they could, respectively be – are miles apart. But, of course, they are coalition partners. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, ergo we get ‘fusionism’ as a philosophy, melding libertarianism and traditionalism.

Clay takes considerations like this as an invitation to conclude: so we don’t really have philosophy here at all. We have partisanship, tribalism, transactions, trimming, interest group politics, etc. None of which is philosophy. I am being generous in my lineup of usual suspects, to allow for whatever non-philosophical force or factor you prefer to emphasize. Maybe you think it is money, maybe tribalism, maybe party structure, or some cocktail of the three, or some fourth thing. The point is: none of these are proper tools for making a philosophy. (No one says: in order to make a philosophy you need money, to buy the premises.) For philosophy you need truth, coherence, reasonableness, arguments, ideas. Instead, in practice, we are in an electoral scrum of all that other stuff.

I don’t deny this. But I still see it a bit differently. Take ‘fusionism’. It is a philosophy of electoral convenience, yes. An alliance pretending to be a conclusion. But that does not mean it isn’t a philosophy, after all. To study political philosophies, like liberalism and conservatism, as they live at this level, is to study what happens to ideas and arguments and so forth when they are buffeted and bartered, transacted and translated, for effect. It isn’t very logical, no. But it has a sociologic and psychologic. (Sociologically, fusionism is alliance-building; psychologically, it’s a defense mechanism in various ways. It’s a recipe for not thinking about inconvenient racial problems, for example. American politics is always in the market for those.)

As Veblen says, you can’t make a man believe something if his salary depends on not believing it. And the converse is true: you can make him think just about anything makes sense if his salary depends on believing it. (Or if the integrity of his tribe/coalition depends on it.)

Fusionism isn’t just a treaty signed between two groups, agreeing to make mutual political war on a third. It’s a thing people really believe. Motivated reasoning produces beliefs that then are truly believed. Most US conservatives are, sincerely, fusionists. They don’t just say they are. That’s important. (I don’t want to be so simple about it, ultimately – US conservative = fusionism. But this is just a blog comment. Take it as such.)

Getting back to 1 & 2 and Corey Robin and his critics. Berman, in her negative review, accuses him of demonizing conservatives – of making out their ideas to be base and dumb, incoherent and self-delusive and all that. So he’s strawmanning them because, of course, in a seminar sense, you can do better for conservatism than that. I don’t think Robin does as good a job of anticipating and rebutting this predictable criticism as he should have. He tries to say that he is being respectful of conservatives – that he is taking them seriously. And he is. But he is also making them sound very, very bad. The way to address that is like this: of course all political thinking is, in practice, a mish-mash of motivated reasoning and other intellectually disreputable factors. So when political actors philosophize, they partake of all that. Compared to ideal philosophy, actual philosophical thinking is horrible. But it’s interesting, because we are interested in what’s actual, not just what is ideal.

In sum, we want to study ideal philosophy because we want to know what we should think, ideally. We want to think through our values and ideas, and consider whether maybe other ones might not be better.

We also want to study the effects of money and tribalism on politics, because we don’t want to be total idiots about what really goes on.

But in between ideal philosophy and all the money and tribalism is a third realm, which isn’t just a simple function of either. Political philosophy, in real politics. It’s not good philosophy, but if it weren’t for bad philosophy most people wouldn’t have any philosophy at all. And most people have a political philosophy of sorts. I’m not saying realizing this is the key that unlocks everything. Just that it’s interesting and by no means inconsequential.

TM may say that we can recognize this bare thought as trivially true: most people have confused ideas about politics, amounting to something like a probably pretty bad philosophy. I sincerely hope it is trivially true, because then I can conjoin that to the further consideration that most people – most political philosophers – ignore this, thereby missing out on the possibility of studying interesting features of this trivially obviously existent phenomenon.

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John Holbo 02.05.16 at 1:51 am

Something weird is happening with the comment numbers, at least for me. There are supposed to be almost 200. And, on the main page, that number shows. But all but the last 46 are not showing when you click on comments. I can only see the most recent comments, that is. Are other people seeing this?

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JanieM 02.05.16 at 1:57 am

Are other people seeing this?

Yes, and on two browsers with very different settings.

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John Holbo 02.05.16 at 2:00 am

Weird. I can still see all 200 comments in the dashboard. Are other threads affected?

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John Holbo 02.05.16 at 2:03 am

Yes, Quiggin’s Group Selection thread is exhibiting a similar problem. Hmmmm. Something’s wrong.

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John Holbo 02.05.16 at 2:49 am

Kieran says he fixed it. Some upgrade thing. Seems fixed. Thanks, Kieran!

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LFC 02.05.16 at 3:21 am

Re the technical thing: I seem to be seeing all the comments right now. Maybe the problem’s been fixed. OTOH I’ve had a certain amt of wine, so who knows.

On the substance of latest Holbo remarks: I’m not sure JH should take The Reactionary Mind (TRM) as the exemplar of his discussion of “bad political philosophy” #2 thing. Because even a cursory glance at TRM shows that it’s based mostly on ‘elite’ writings and statements, giving ‘elite’ a fairly broad definition: e.g., Burke, Maistre, Buckley, Goldwater, Palin, Robert Kaplan, William Kristol, David Brooks, Ayn Rand, etc. Yes it’s a mix of politicians and theorists and journalists, but CR did not go out and interview ordinary people; he read stuff.

More to JH’s #2 purpose, istm, would be studies by pol scientists e.g. interviewing and getting quotes from ‘ordinary’ voters in particular parts (say, rural parts) of X state about their attitudes toward govt, general ‘philosophies’, etc. There was an article along these lines in APSR a year or two ago, but I can’t find the cite right now. Anyway there is a substantial number of such studies, I’m reasonably sure.

Holbo writes: “But in between ideal philosophy and all the money and tribalism is a third realm, which isn’t just a simple function of either. Political philosophy, in real politics.” But this assumes there are clear lines betw “ideal philosophy” and “political philosophy in real politics,” and there are often aren’t, particularly before the C20 and the rise of analytic philosophy and its spillover into political philosophy. Is Burke’s ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France’ or his essay on the sublime “ideal philosophy” or “philosophy in real politics”? I suspect the answer is both, and for Holbo’s purposes “both” is not the answer he needs.

Tl/dr: If Holbo is really interested in this ‘third realm’ as he claims, he has to read empirical social-science studies quoting and analyzing the political ‘philosophies’ of ‘ordinary’ people. It won’t do to sit in the armchair and just read various takes on elite versions of conservatism and liberalism. Of course since Holbo is a philosopher, this is an uncomfortable assignment for him since it involves grappling directly w empirical work, something that many, though not all, philosophers seem reluctant to do.

Holbo’s response might be that actual expressions of ordinary people’s attitudes and ‘philosophies’ is too ‘Galtonian’. Answer: not really, not if you approach it carefully. JH himself basically said in an earlier comment that w appropriate caution one can move from ‘ordinary’ attitudes to ‘philosophy in real politics’. But first one has to look at the empirical evidentiary base — what do ordinary people actually say about X, Y and Z — and JH hasn’t, from what I can tell, done that.

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John Holbo 02.05.16 at 3:57 am

“Because even a cursory glance at TRM shows that it’s based mostly on ‘elite’ writings and statements, giving ‘elite’ a fairly broad definition: e.g., Burke, Maistre, Buckley, Goldwater, Palin, Robert Kaplan, William Kristol, David Brooks, Ayn Rand, etc. Yes it’s a mix of politicians and theorists and journalists, but CR did not go out and interview ordinary people; he read stuff.”

Yes, this is quite right and I should have explained my thinking about it better. In the post I contrasted ‘ideal’ philosophy vs. real politics. That doesn’t map onto the ‘elite’ vs. popular or everyman axis. (Although I muddied that up a bit with my New York Magazine link. Let me get back to that in just a minute.)

Take Burke, just for example. He’s the sort of figure you might read in a political philosophy seminar, but – honestly – he really isn’t doing philosophy in at all the same register as someone like G.A. Cohen, who really is trying to be much more conceptually careful and abstract. Burke’s book on the French Revolution is actually way more like hot-take journalism, frankly. It’s current events. It’s not careful normative theory.

So when you read Burke, should you try to turn him into Cohen, abstracting away and taking conceptual care on his behalf. Writing the best possible Burke, in the possible world in which he was a normative theorist, rather than a current events polemicist? Or should you turn him into even more of a politician or partisan political journalist than he was? What is the ‘best’ Burke can be? It depends what kind of thing you think he is.

There isn’t an easy answer to this question, but it’s important to ask and a lot of times the answer is just presupposed. Not that that means it’s the wrong answer. But it would be good to be more considerate about why we might reconstruct Burke one way, rather than the other. For what purposes? To increase our understanding of what?

Now back to the point that I muddied things a bit. Here is a simple thought. Cohen is to Burke as Burke is to those confused Iowans being profiled in New York Magazine.

We have a kind of Great Chain of Being: rigorous academic philosophy down to somewhat sloppier or more polemical but highly thoughtful writings down to whatever semi-random stuff emits from the voter when you poke it with a stick, asking why it’s voting for Trump or Cruz or Rubio. There’s ‘conservative philosophy’ at all three levels. But they aren’t all approximately the same. If you are higher up, looking down, one tends to be horrified and wish the thing down there not to be real. Watching National Review writers – or Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin – deplore the philosophical indiscipline of the Trumpkins is very amusing for someone who reads a lot of academic political philosophy. ‘Now you know how we feel, reading you!’ The truth is that all of these levels have their inherent interest. And writings on the subject should be less quick to try to condense them: say they are all approximately the same.

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LFC 02.05.16 at 4:31 am

So when you read Burke, should you try to turn him into Cohen, abstracting away and taking conceptual care on his behalf. Writing the best possible Burke, in the possible world in which he was a normative theorist, rather than a current events polemicist? Or should you turn him into even more of a politician or partisan political journalist than he was? What is the ‘best’ Burke can be? It depends what kind of thing you think he is. There isn’t an easy answer to this question, but it’s important to ask and a lot of times the answer is just presupposed.

Point taken.

We have a kind of Great Chain of Being: rigorous academic philosophy down to somewhat sloppier or more polemical but highly thoughtful writings down to whatever semi-random stuff emits from the voter when you poke it with a stick, asking why it’s voting for Trump or Cruz or Rubio. There’s ‘conservative philosophy’ at all three levels. But they aren’t all approximately the same.

Fair enough. And one point I was trying to make @202 is that there are systematic, empirical studies of “the semi-random stuff that emits from the voter” and sometimes that “stuff,” on closer examination, turns out I think to be a *bit* more coherent in some ways than one might have thought. Though still distinct from the other categories.

So here’s the ‘syllabus’ or typology in “descending” order:
1) “rigorous,” “conceptually careful,” “abstract” philosophy: e.g. Plato (?), Aristotle (?), Hobbes (?), Mill, then skip to all the C20th ‘analytical’ or quasi-analytical stuff: Rawls, Nozick, Williams, Cohen, etc etc. etc.

2) “more polemical but highly thoughtful writings”: e.g., Gentillet vs. Machiavelli on [whatever], Burke vs. Paine on [whatever], the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Merleau-Ponty vs. Sartre on [whatever], Camus vs. Sartre on Algeria and [whatever], etc. etc. I’m sorry for the [whatevers] but it’s late.

3) “whatever semi-random stuff emits from the voter when you poke it with a stick” as attempted to be systematized and/or analyzed and/or collated in various studies.

Your assignment, shd you accept it (apologies to ‘Mission Impossible’), is to read more in category #3. (As a credentialed, tenured philosopher, you are presumably already quite conversant w/ categories 1 and 2.) Then take two aspirin and call me in the morning. ;)

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geo 02.05.16 at 4:38 am

LFC @202: If Holbo is really interested in this ‘third realm’ as he claims, he has to read empirical social-science studies quoting and analyzing the political ‘philosophies’ of ‘ordinary’ people. It won’t do to sit in the armchair and just read various takes on elite versions of conservatism and liberalism.

You can perfectly well read empirical social-science studies while sitting in an armchair, you know.

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LFC 02.05.16 at 4:40 am

p.s. I wasn’t restricting categories #1, 2, and 3 to conservatism, which wd have been more on point, I guess. (But, as I already mentioned, it’s late, at least on eastern standard time.)

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LFC 02.05.16 at 4:42 am

You can perfectly well read empirical social-science studies while sitting in an armchair, you know.

Ha ha, geo. Touché. I was attempting a metaphor that didn’t quite work.

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Ze K 02.05.16 at 8:13 am

@196 “Fusionism isn’t just a treaty signed between two groups, agreeing to make mutual political war on a third. It’s a thing people really believe. Motivated reasoning produces beliefs that then are truly believed. Most US conservatives are, sincerely, fusionists. ” …etc.

Isn’t it also possible that in reality there are two parties representing business interests and nothing else. And then there’s also a side-show where they’re spewing some completely irrelevant and meaningless rhetorical bullshit, to get the required number of votes.

You (and others) like to collect this bullshit, and categorize it, and analyze it, which is fine, a hobby like any other hobby, like collecting butterflies, for example, but the idea that this bullshit will help you understand something outside and beyond the pile of bullshit is, perhaps, a pure fantasy…

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John Holbo 02.06.16 at 5:27 am

“but the idea that this bullshit will help you understand something outside and beyond the pile of bullshit is”

Well, I wasn’t going to try to use it to predict the weather or bake a cake, if that’s what you mean.

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Ze K 02.06.16 at 9:53 am

Oh, good! And I must admit I am sometimes curious of how they manage to make this Kulturkampf consistently produce, decade after decade, a ~55% turnout with roughly a 50/50 split. Somehow it feels artificial.

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John Holbo 02.06.16 at 10:56 am

“how they manage to make this Kulturkampf consistently produce, decade after decade, a ~55% turnout with roughly a 50/50 split. Somehow it feels artificial.”

Yes, that’s a good point. This is at least as artificial as the way Kant always makes his critiques involve a twelve-fold table. It feels rigged.

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