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January 01, 2007

Comments

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "ascendant". Do you mean "in power"?

There is much to be said for a discussion of these attitudes, but I think it only confuses matters to use "liberal" as the term for "more willing to try change" (and for that matter, the dual use of "conservative" is a longstanding source of confusion as well). The older terms "reform" and "reaction" are possibly useful--or for that matter, Whig and Tory. Or how about "traditionalist" (which is neutral on what the tradition is) and "radical"? (Though the latter is imperfect).

Interesting test for US conservatives: would you have been a Loyalist? Any traditionalist would be.

While it's useful to some extent to consider liberal as "pro-change, and ready to try new stuff" and conservative as "prefer to stick with what already is," I'm not sure how much overlap there is between liberal/conservative temperments and liberal/conservative political attitudes.

Reagan, after all, advocated - and got- quite radical changes. But no one would consider him a "liberal," politically speaking.

People who want to change what is, drastically, and without regard for consequences, are considered radical, and radicals come in "liberal" as well as "conservative" flavors.

Liberal is the new conservative.

CaseyL: While it's useful to some extent to consider liberal as "pro-change, and ready to try new stuff" and conservative as "prefer to stick with what already is,"

It's a comforting way for conservatives to think about themselves, but it's not accurate. If it was conservative to prefer to stick with what already exists/you know works (to take two examples):

(1) The UK would never have suddenly changed its drugs policy in the 1960s from the well-proven system of drug addicts getting their drug supply from their GPs (a system that had worked well since WWI) to the system that has proved a hideous failure ever since (addicts are required to buy their drug supply from criminals, while GPS are compelled to offer only mandatory treatment/withdrawal programmes). Conservatives made that radical change.

(2) In the US, conservatives would be fearsome in opposition to anyone trying to get rid of Social Security, a government programme that has proven to work well and that solid projections show will work well for the next fifty years or so.

What conservatives object to is what removes power from the ruling classes. Reagan's and Bush II's radical and destructive changes did not remove power from the ruling classes, therefore they were supported by conservatives.

The 1960s change in the law for drug addicts has been on my mind recently, but the most radical change-everything who-cares-if-it-already-works Prime Minister the UK has had for the past fifty years has been Margaret Thatcher... who was, for all Sebastian's beliefs that she must have been a liberal, very definitely conservative.

In a well functioning system temperamental liberals will dream and move for change while temperamental conservatives will let them do so, but only after making sure that the changes don't kill off other important things or cause more damage than the alleged benefit

You got to be shitting me. "Drowning government in a bathtub" and "radically remaking the Middle East" are temperamentally liberal ideas? Destroying SS? Invading Iraq? Bombing Iran? Bombing Syria? Introducing Intelligent Design into school curricula formerly bereft of such? Second Coming, End Times and Rapture-based politics? The attempt to shift the identity of the US from the secular to the explicitly Judeo-Christian? The Patriot Act? Department of Homeland Security? The attempt to dismantle and demolish long standing international institutions and alliances?

That's "liberal"?

No.

"Conservatism" is characterized by the following:

1. Fetishism of authority and in particular, the military.

2. A xenophobic and invariably jingoistic approach to foreign affairs.

3. Domestically, the need to preserve or heighten the socio-economic status quo, in particular with respect to existing stratifications. "Class warfare" is anathema for precisely this reason.

4. The view that established religious dogma is the sole and only arbiter of morality, insofar (and especially) as points 1,2 and 3 are hereby strengthened.

You will find that these 4 points explain the past 6 years of GWB's administration, and the Reagan administration, much better than nonsense about "temperamental conservatives" who are "resistant to change".

Well, first, let me repost what I had in the wrong thread about this topic, though some have made my point a little more pungently ;^)

-----
I think that one of the problems is the twisting that the terms conservative and liberal have gotten in political discourse. There is nothing about regime change that can be classified as conservative, and one can see that the New Republic crew of liberal hawks hung on to (and continue to, I think) the lifeboat of the invasion because they didn't want to give up their liberal ideals about international intervention. I'd also point out that the 'liberals' I know generally tend to have these offbeat hobbies that are essentially conservative tendencies of trying to preserve things that they think are worth preserving. Ideally, conservatism should be a break slowing things down and asking people to think about what they are going to plunge into. Unfortunately, what it has become is a desire to plunge in first and then tell people that they are coming back to the good old days.
---

Sebastian brings up the notion of temperament, but that just heightens the mismatch. Gingrich and the other contract with America people were never conservative by temperament. Social Security reform would have never taken the form it has had people with conservative temperament been at it's root. Leaving aside the mess in Iraq, Rumsfeld's attempts at transforming the military pre 9-11 were going nowhere because the agenda of those conservatives and actual conservatives were clashing head on.

I also think that the surrounding cultures make a difference, especially when we look one of the underlying points of this debate, which is the wisdom of philanthropy and who does it better. I think a useful litmus test will be to look at Oprah Winfrey's philanthropic efforts to bring people out of poverty here in the US and her efforts in South Africa. If I understand correctly, her efforts here have not been very successful, but today, she has just opened a 40 million dollar girls school in South Africa. It is possible that both will fail, but I think most would agree that the conditions for success in the two places are quite different. If they are different, isn't possible that the definition of a conservative in South Africa would be quite different from one in the US if we were solely going on temperament?

Tangentially related to this is the fight going on at Malcolm Gladwell's blog over Ayer's paper comparing car sales tactics. Steve Sailer from VDARE has popped up and has brought his supporters. I'd be interested in knowing how we can separate out Sailer and others as not being conservative without making the whole construct meaningless. Interestingly, The fight seems to revolve around Judge Posner's review of Blink and trying to fit Posner in this spectrum of temperament is another challenge.

To expand on my first and third points in my previous posting:

With respect to the socio-economic status quo there are 4 possible changes:

1. The rich get richer and the poor get richer
2. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer
3. The rich get poorer and the poor get richer
4. The rich get poorer and the poor get poorer

Both liberals and conservatives regard (4) as an undesirable outcome. The defining difference between self-labelled conservatives and self-labelled liberals is that for liberals, option (2) is undesirable. For conservatives, option (3) is undesirable;
option (2) is just dandy.

For conservatives, it's not as important to promote policies that alleviate poverty, as it is important to ensure that the power and the relative wealth of the ruling elite are maintained. The cardinal sin, more so than murder or theft, is the struggle for equality.

Fetishism of authority.

This is why astronomical increases in CEO pay are richly deserved, but minimal increases in the minimum wage are evil. This is why women didn't deserve to vote. This is why blacks needed to be segregated. This is why presidential pardons are given only to rich, powerful white men, who don't need to get their asses raped in prison like the rest of the unwashed masses. This is why Paris Hilton can blithely walk around in public with throngs of paparazzi filming the cocaine powder all over her nostrils, while SWAT teams conduct lethal armed no-knock raids in search of hash stashes in poor black neighborhoods.

I like the distinction between temperament and political philosophy, and agree strongly that "wait, let's not change stuff unless we're sure it's necessary and even then let's be careful" and "here's an opportunity for probably constructive change, let's take it" run across ideological lines. (There are probably something like 3-5 distinct American political temperaments that occur most often, but these are good for now.)

What I see in a lot of temperamental conservatives now is a desperate attempt to disavow association with Bush & Cheney because of the radicalness of their agenda + its failure, just as the more radically minded conservatives are desperately trying to disavow association with the administration for its insufficient radicalness + its failure. What I'm not seeing is much self-reflection on what a lot of y'all were saying in 2000-2001. I've been reading archives of temperamentally conservative weblogs (including many of the better libertarians), and what I find is a deep, deep desire to believe that Bush and Cheney were and are of your kind.

The people who were correct about what Bush and Cheney would do were almost (though not entirely) all on the left. Molly Ivins had as good a run of predictions as anyone, out in the general print world; among weblog writers, Avedon Carol had as many successes as anyone I can think of. They and their peers share a couple of features: they were careful in documenting the things that these folks had actually done and said before the campaign of 2000 that they'd like to do, and those reporting on these things were all denounced as shrill and apparently dismissed for that reason, their evidence not mattering in the least because of their tone. Even in 2004, long after the radical inclinations of this administration were clear, were saw many defenses that amounted to "well, their heart is in the right place, and besides, seriously considering a Democrat as more desirable would just be too too".

It seems like - at this point at least - liberals are much more likely to say "he's a liberal of a sort I dislike" or "just as he says, he's a centrist rather than a liberal" or something of the sort. There have been times when liberalism has suffered from the plague of belief in the perfection of the creed (or temperament, or other marker). But right now conservatism has it bad. And I'm not sure that just saying "oh, it's temperament" is sufficient to escape a measure of responsibility for what's now being done by people who've been held up for their entire adult careers as leaders of conservatism, now that they've finally reached too far and bungled things.

Many of the arguments against it were decidedly conservative in temperament: Does this policy really lead to that desired aim? What about side consequences X, Y and Z? Is this a wise allocation of resources when we could try to deal with important issues A, B, and C with a greater chance of success?

I'm going to have to take issue with those arguments being 'conservative' in temperament. I would instead describe said arguments as common sense.

Every question in Sebastian's afore-quoted list is something that should be asked before ANY major governmental policy initiative, and in fact should be asked by people of themselves in their private lives before they make major changes to them. They aren't 'conservative,' they're PRACTICAL. They help to stop you from fucking up by just acting on whatever might randomly pop into your head that seems like a good idea (which, by the way, if you do on a regular basis you're NOT 'temperamentally liberal', you're just incompetent), and they transcend idealogical lines.

As a self-described liberal (and a long-time lurker, occasional commenter here at ObWi) one of my first concern with liberal policies is getting them to work. I want them checked and double-checked and then triple-checked before implementation, and then checked some more after being implemented. If they're not achieving their aims, I want them scrapped and replaced with something that will. You know why? Because it's wasting time and money that could be directed at things that WILL work (where the definition of 'work' includes 'successful execute my liberal goals'), AND because an incompetently executed liberal policy or program that fails taints the entire enterprise, and (rightly) discredits the people and to a certain extent the idealogy behind it.

This doesn't mean I have a conservative temperament. It just means that on balance, I like things to work, and examining them in great detail and asking pointed, barbed questions about them is a good way to ensure that. Again, to boil it down, not conservative, just common sense.

I agree with Mercutio, minus the naughty word. It seems as if Sebastian is assigning to the conservative temperment a monopoly on common sense, which the historical record doesn't support.

I'll also agree with those who think a change of terms from "liberal" and "conservative" to something else would clarify the discussion.

today's movement conservatives, especially the leadership (*), are 'conservative' only in that they work towards conservative goals; but they do it by radical (or, 'temperamentally liberal') methods.

* i wonder if that's because people who are 'comfortable where they are' don't make for interesting TV, but those advocating radical change (regardless of direction) are fun to watch.

I missed the earlier thread; did anyone quote Ambrose Bierce?

"Conservative (n.): One enamored of existing evils, as opposed to a liberal, who wishes to replace them with others."

A well-crafted post, Sebastian: except that I will have to join with the commentariat here who have pointed out the distinction between "temperments" (in which, imo, your analysis is quite correct), and the actual political/social positions or policies each "wing" occupies or advocates. They don't always correspond. It is easy (too easy, AFAIC) to conflate "liberal" and "conservative" with "Left" and "Right" in discussion of political/social issues- and there is, of course, some overlap in those categories. But it isn't always a good match: it would be nice (and convenient) to imagine that it is: but life, as you point out is messier than that. Especially as it's harder to condense into blogposts!

Is it just me (apologies if it is, and apologies for the perception) that is confounded by the ongoing discussions (and great confusion often exhibited therein) that Americans seem to have about the political concepts of left and right, and liberalism vs conservatism?

I see this a lot on American blogs, and I see relatively well-read people espousing the opinion that fascism is left-wing or that characters like Pierre Proudon or George Orwell are right wing. And I see a disturbing number of opinions along the lines of "well, left and right wing are pretty much meaningless terms these days."

Is it just me? I don't get out much.

It's not just you, d-p-u.

It's not just you. Most Americans have no idea what a constrained political spectrum we have relative to other countries, and even when they're intellectually aware of it, we tend not to feel it as a real phenomenon with all kinds of distorting effects on our discourse. And one of its manifestations is all kinds of weirdness about coopting or banishing interesting ideas due in large part to simple lack of experience with any of them in action.

Jes, Margaret Thatcher... who was, for all Sebastian's beliefs that she must have been a liberal, very definitely conservative.

What would your criteria be for classifying someone as liberal or conservative?

BP, could your 4 points be summarized as either a fear of the "other", perhaps in combination with a fear of chaos? These fears align somewhat with Seb's temperaments but maybe are more to the point.

As a supporting anecdote, I find it interesting that Americans I discuss politics with overseas seem to be significantly more anti-Bush than the Americans who are still at home. It'd be interesting to somehow measure the attitudes of passport holders, who represent a definite minority of the population.

I see relatively well-read people espousing the opinion that fascism is left-wing

American conservatives love to say that, and they'll do some pretty amazing contortions to make it work. they just don't want to be associated with Hitler (or Mussolini), and would love to be able to stick him to The Left.

Google "Hitler Was a Liberal", for tons of amusing articles from some of the best contortionists working today.

I agree with Mercutio, minus the naughty word. It seems as if Sebastian is assigning to the conservative temperment a monopoly on common sense, which the historical record doesn't support.

I agree as well. Conservatives oppose universal health care because they flat-out dislike the idea of government entangling itself in health care (or in anything else, for that matter), not because they want to do a couple more studies or see the assumptions get double-checked and triple-checked.

Of course, conservatives and liberals alike believe on some level that their policy preference will lead to better outcomes; it's not as though conservatives say "universal health care would be good for the country, but too bad, we oppose government involvement on principle." However, in reality, the conclusion is simply faith-based. Few conservatives decided to oppose universal health care after conducting a detailed study of all the available empirical evidence; their instinctive reaction is that government involvement is a bad thing, and then they may go looking for evidence to support that.

SH has a better point on the Iraq war than some realize, though. After all, the reason they're called "neocons" is because they've coopted what traditionally was a foreign policy of liberal internationalism. However, one can go too far down this way of thinking. Most liberals who opposed the war did so not because they had abandoned their traditional liberal concern for human rights; they did so because they felt the humanitarian arguments for invasion were nothing but pretexts offered by conservatives who wanted to seize the moral high ground. Just because you adopt the language of the other side doesn't mean you actually support their goals.

BP, could your 4 points be summarized as either a fear of the "other", perhaps in combination with a fear of chaos? These fears align somewhat with Seb's temperaments but maybe are more to the point.

Conservatism is the modern form of feudalism. A social order must exist in which a small, wealthy elite is in control, and where public resources exist solely to consolidate or expand that control. Thus the serf may be taxed in order to fuel his lord's army, but taxes may not be used to further the common good (healthcare etc).

Fear of the other and fear of chaos are the tools by which control is maintained, but they are universal human emotions, not specific to conservatives. Conservatives are either those who cynically wield these tools, or the serfs who allow themselves to be so manipulated.

Thanks, Sebastian, I was hoping that you would write something.

I don't think you have refuted my basic assertion, that conservatives (which I defined as being people who call themselves conservatives, not just as people who have been consistantly in disagreement with me)have been consistantly wrong on the critical issues that have faced this country (I was thinking exclusively about American politics).

I'm not sure I agree with you on the temperment argument. I don't have time right now to explain why, but I'll try later.

Conservatives oppose universal health care because they flat-out dislike the idea of government entangling itself in health care (or in anything else, for that matter)

when's the last time a conservative reduced government interference in our private lives?

conservatives (on the whole) absolutely adore the government entangling itself in all kinds of things - as long as they get to decide what gets entangled. they only oppose when government is used to do things they don't like.

libertarians distrust government. conservatives distrust liberals.

cw: What would your criteria be for classifying someone as liberal or conservative?

Conservatives are right-wing: liberals are centrist.

Conservatives are right-wing: liberals are centrist.

That's where I seem to be.

And Leftists are Leftists?

I believe I'm a leftist with liberal tendencies.

For conservatives, it's not as important to promote policies that alleviate poverty, as it is important to ensure that the power and the relative wealth of the ruling elite are maintained. The cardinal sin, more so than murder or theft, is the struggle for equality.

Fetishism of authority.

This is why astronomical increases in CEO pay are richly deserved, but minimal increases in the minimum wage are evil. This is why women didn't deserve to vote. This is why blacks needed to be segregated. This is why presidential pardons are given only to rich, powerful white men, who don't need to get their asses raped in prison like the rest of the unwashed masses. This is why Paris Hilton can blithely walk around in public with throngs of paparazzi filming the cocaine powder all over her nostrils, while SWAT teams conduct lethal armed no-knock raids in search of hash stashes in poor black neighborhoods.

Posted by: BP | January 02, 2007 at 04:51 AM

AMEN!!!

The "liberal tendencies" keeps the authoritarian away.

One thing the post and comments are missing is the effect of the Reagan Revolution on modern conservatism. Conservatives used to be all about saving money (eg fiscal conservatives) while evangelicals didn't vote much, nor as a bloc.

By bringing out the evangelical vote, and getting them to vote conservative (!!!), Reagan / Gingrich radically changed the Republican party and modern American conservatism. I believe Goldwater said before he died that he no longer recognized the Republican party.

Take a look at what the high-priority items for Republicans have been in recent years:

1. Change Middle East policy from stability-based to liberty-based.

2. Cut taxes without cutting spending.

3. Eliminate Soc.Sec. Enact the Ownership Society. [an oxymoron if there ever was one.]

4. Abolish abortion.

5. Encourage faith-based decision-making across many spheres of government.

6. Run government as a spoils system.

The only common thread thru this is that I can see is that the social conservatives and fiscal conservatives are reinforcing each other's worst impulses.

I really doubt there's anything I, or anyone, could say that would convince lily or BP or Mercutio that conservatives are not minions of the devil.

That said, I think there are distinctions to be made between American conservatism and old-style European conservatism, especially in the area of class consciousness. I also have a couple of thoughts percolating about the concept of property rights in American history and how it relates to conservatism.

Unfortunately, I'm at work right now and don't have the time to develop these thoughts fully. I'll try and comment again later today.

I understand that the editorial staff at The Economist consider themselves liberal Tories.

consider themselves liberal Tories.

hey

italics begone!

I find this post very puzzling. Is there any relationship at all between the 'conservative' (in the sense of tending to avoid change) temperament described, and conservative politics? I can't see any -- I don't mean that as an attack, just that there's no obvious relationship, other than the historical one, between the two senses of the word.

3rdGorchBro: I really doubt there's anything I, or anyone, could say that would convince lily or BP or Mercutio that conservatives are not minions of the devil.

Is there a word for the form of rhetoric used by 3rdGorchBro in the above sentence, in which an ad hom attack is committed by the speaker on themselves, while claiming that it has been committed by their opponent? Pisistratianism?

Boy I sure wish Sebastian would post more often.

I don't think 'liberal' is the right word here, and personally I favor 'progressive' instead. The trajectory of Communism is a good example. None of the name-brand commies were liberal in any reasonable sense of the word (well, maybe Ho in his early days?). And yet they were very progressive. The extreme condition of progressivism is revolution. The extreme condition of conservatism is gridlock. And the "Conservative" movement in this country is openly revolutionary rather than conservative.

True, the 'progress' being demanded is actually more of a regress, but there's nothig new under the sun anyway. The bottom line is that they want revolution. One wing of the movement (the neocons) wants to overturn separation of powers, the other (theocons) wants to overturn separation of church and state. The two wings have cooperated very effectively, and have been funded by financiers to whom they have offered an easing of regulatory burdens.

In any case, describing the political application of power along a single spectrum is always inadequate. Political ideologies occupy a many dimensional phase space. Conservative vs progressive and authoritarian vs libertarian are good enough if you really need to stick to only two dimensions, but only good enough for a quick caricature sketch.

In any case, describing the political application of power along a single spectrum is always inadequate. Political ideologies occupy a many dimensional phase space. Conservative vs progressive and authoritarian vs libertarian are good enough if you really need to stick to only two dimensions, but only good enough for a quick caricature sketch.

Absolutely. Which is why when Jes states that "Conservatives are right-wing: liberals are centrist," it's completely absurd.

Pisistratianism?

Bet you can't say that five times fast, Jes. :P

Very well, I withdraw my accusation of having been accused of being a minion of The Accuser (AKA Satan), or any other malevolent supernatural being.

Still, stuff like For conservatives, it's not as important to promote policies that alleviate poverty, as it is important to ensure that the power and the relative wealth of the ruling elite are maintained. The cardinal sin, more so than murder or theft, is the struggle for equality.

Fetishism of authority.

and Conservatism is the modern form of feudalism. A social order must exist in which a small, wealthy elite is in control, and where public resources exist solely to consolidate or expand that control. Thus the serf may be taxed in order to fuel his lord's army, but taxes may not be used to further the common good (healthcare etc).

Fear of the other and fear of chaos are the tools by which control is maintained, but they are universal human emotions, not specific to conservatives. Conservatives are either those who cynically wield these tools, or the serfs who allow themselves to be so manipulated. aren't exactly conducive to reasoned debate.

I wish I was more eloquent in my responses, maybe I could persuade people by the power of my (digital) golden voice. I am also thinking that I would be much more prepared for this debate if I had already read Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind, which I bought some time ago and still sits in my pile of Books To Be Read. I guess that makes me a poser after all, and not a real conservative.

Or is it poseur? Is that French? As a red-blooded American, I don't think I'm allowed to use French words. If I keep it up, the VRWC will revoke my membership. Or at least force-feed me a bucket of freedom fries.

Absolutely. Which is why when Jes states that "Conservatives are right-wing: liberals are centrist," it's completely absurd.

In what way would conservatives not be right wing?

If childbearing was a collective good (as against individual and familyfulfilment),political egalitarianism and sexual radicalism could be twinned with uallystrong programs of maternal and child welfare. For Kollontai
at the Commissariat for Social Welfare, collectivized living freed women
from the familyto discharge their duties as workers and mothers. Indeed,
she argued, attaching intimate relations, child-raising, and social reproduction
to the nuclear family was historically outmoded: “The family ceases
to be necessary." ...Eley, Forging Democracy, on the feminist program in the very early Soviet Union (20-23) Also abortion, contraceptives, and divorce on demand, and a very aggressive attitude toward Islamic and Orthodox traditions and gender distinctions. Of course, the usual full agenda of egalitarian laws. Lasted until about 1924. The various Social Democratic Parties in Europe, in order to distinguish themselves from the Communists, repudiated most of this program thereby opening the door for sexist attitudes to dominate social welfare programs, and gender distinctions to dominate the discourse for 50 years. I have difficuly caling the German SDP a "conservative" party.

Policies are liberal or conservative relative to other policies. Generally, calling individuals or groups "liberal" or "conservative" is not very useful, except as rhetoric and tribalism. I am not crazy about liberal = change, but not happy with liberal = maximizing individual freedom either.

BP at 11:46 was good, but a little limited and unfair. Feudalism, tribalism, authoritarianism, heirarchical structures are a very powerful force in human socialization. Sadr, Bush, Rahm Emmanuel, the US Military all partake in heirarchies and loyalties and mutual responsibilities. Somebody(s) at DKos decides which diaries are promoted to the front page.

Where thee are families and bosses there is conservatism. I am not sure we can even imagine a society or economy without structure, and structure is not weakened or destroyed without consequences. Capitalism created new structures in search of productivity and efficiency and the market organically and dynamically rewarded the efficient ones. Gates and Buffett do not rule in the way Ramses and Louis XIV did.

"No Idea before its time" I say. When the country wants UHC and Peace, we will have it. When the Capitalist modes of production and the social relations deriving from them reach their maximum degree of efficiency, the structures will disappear. Until then, we are all working for Capitalism, even those trying to destroy it.

Meanwhile let's get rid of the family.

describing the political application of power along a single spectrum is always inadequate. Political ideologies occupy a many dimensional phase space.

I agree, and the number of dimensions is very large, so large that I personally doubt that geometric analogies help us much.

Sebastian defines conservatism and liberalism as matters of temperament and attitude towards change. I think this is OK for conservatism, but not for liberalism which rejects some changes while supporting others. Even for conservatism, it bears almost no relationship to the political views of those we regard as conservatives in the American political arena.

The invasion of Iraq was not conservative. Attempts to make radical changes to Social Security are not conservative. Huge tax cuts are not conservative. Trying to increase the power of religious organizations is not conservative. Dramatic expansion of the power of the Executive is not remotely conservative. At least, none of these things are conservative in the temperamental sense Sebastian describes. They are all changes, radical changes in many cases, sometimes supported by heavily ideological arguments.

Reverting briefly to geometry, the fact is that change can go in many directions, stability is a fixed point. The fact is that those who call themselves conservatives, despite their recently discovered disdain for Bush and his works, supported these policies vigorously. They advocated radical change, just as Bush did.

Similarly, liberals generally opposed these things, and argued in defense of the status quo, or for more gradual change. Of course, there are areas where liberals argue for radical change - health care is the obvious example. But it is plainly not correct to define liberals as pro-change. You have to define the types of changes involved.

So, as Sebastian says, these temperament-based definitions are simply not applicable in today's politics. Hence it is unfair to say that Lily, or anyone else, doesn't understand "what conservatives bring to the mix." What those of us who generally dislike modern American conservatism object to is not calls for caution, but quite the opposite: calls for many types of radical change.

In general, the left-right political axis is used to define an ideology's perspective on one particular thing. As such, it's a useful term to describe that particular aspect of the ideology.

When I see people hunting around for a term or phrase to describe all of an ideology's aspects in one neat package, and criticizing left-right terminology as inadequate to that task, I have to suspect that they don't understand the terminology in the first place.

OT: we're a persecuted minority, Boo Hoo.

When I started this whole discussion I was thinking strictly of American politics of the last hundred twenty years more or less because I thinking onnly of the people who self-identify as conservatives. Also I was thinking in terms of acts, obeservable measurable accomplshments. I didn't want to get innto the whole debate about was Hitler a consrvative, was Stalin a liberal etc. because it's too complicated. People, or at least Americans, tend to want to discuss things linearally: consservatives at one end, liberals at the other. Or people who fear change at one end and people who enjoy change at the other. As the above discussion shows the linnear models don't work. We need a model that has several axises (axi? axes?). Maybe one axis could be about control, the degree to which a person thinks the power of government should be used to enforce conformity. Totalitarianism would be at one end and I'm not sure what to call the other end. . Another axis could be about the degree to which a person thinnks the government should promote the common good.

1. Totalitarian vs libertarian
2. Your're on your own, Jack vs common good

Something like that. I think there mighht also be ann axis about concrete vs abstract values.

3. Tradition vs improvision
If i had a sheet of graph paper maybe I could figure out how to get conservatives and liberals on to this in a way that got around the contradictions posters have pointed out up thread.

Or maybe not.

Anyway I'm surprised at how much Sebastian an I agree. We seem to agree that conservativism isn't so much a philosophy as it is a habit of mind or temperament, that it is a cautious (I said fearful) temperament that rarely produces ideas and crtiques the ideas of others. We agree that ideas need to be critiqued and that someone has to point out when ideas have worn out their welcome or have bad side effects etc.
The problem isn't the critiquing. One problem with conserrvatives is the persistant pattern of obstructing, usually on behalf of vested interests. That can be seen right in the conservative response to global warming and all ideas about how to mitigate it's effects. Fifty years from now noone is going to thank conservatives for delaying and obstructing efforts to face up to the global warming problem.

People, or at least Americans, tend to want to discuss things linearally: consservatives at one end, liberals at the other.

And this is what I was getting at above. Political ideologies are complex things, and dumbing it down to a simple measure of one this is, well, bizarre. It doesn't work that way.

And Conservatism isn't a state of mind, being conservative is. As long as we're discussing the political thing and not the personality quirk, we should actually do that. Conservatism is not the avoidance of change, it is a historical political movement that favors free-market economics or, in some case, corporatism.

Just out of curiosity: how many commenters in this thread have taken a college-level political science or economics course?

This may be apropos: Andrew Sullivan, a right-winger if ever there was one, is declared a "liberal" by RightWingNews because of his recent opposition to the Iraq war.

lily:

I think you'll find there have already been a few attempts at that kind of two (or more) dimensional modelling. The one I was thinking of (which relates mostly to the UK) is behind the quiz here.

I really doubt there's anything I, or anyone, could say that would convince lily or BP or Mercutio that conservatives are not minions of the devil.

Minions of the devil? Far from it. Conservatism is very human. Its adherence to a stratified social order is much, much older than liberalism, after all.

Still, if the shoe fits, wear it.

The worst epithet in the conservative's lexicon is "socialism". Think about it. When a conservative really, really wants to condemn some policy, some idea, he calls it "socialist". That's even worse than "liberal". Socialism is such a nasty swear word even the Democrats are afraid of it.

It doesn't matter that, say, Sweden has had socialized medicine for 50 years and that there is thus little novel or radical about it. It's *socialist*, therefore it's bad. Doesn't matter that, in most Western countries, it's as traditional as it comes. It's socialist.

In the US of A, there is but one thing that is political anathema: any policy that might cause the very richest strata of society even the slightest discomfort. Propose raising taxes on the top income percentile, for instance, and a veritable army of paid think-tank toadies, TV talking heads, and their faithful followers in the blogosphere will emerge from the primordial slime to condemn the country's descent into communism and economic chaos. Propose capping CEO pay, and the same army will inform you that such talented top employees deserve every cent they get, and more.

There is a war on, apparently, in Iraq, which "has to be won", which "cannot be lost", which is a "crucial battle in the war on terror", with a price tag of a half trillion borrowed dollars and counting.

And yet it is a subject of great contention whether the more egregious of Bush's tax cuts may be allowed to expire without renewal. New tax increases are completely off the table. No discussion possible, not by Democrats, not by Republicans.

No pain whatsoever for the ruling elite. That 500 billion will eventually be collected, but not from the ruling elite. Bodies will come home from the coming "surge", but not the sons of the ruling elite. No pain *whatsoever*. Meanwhile the wage slave can go suck on his one dollar minimum
wage increase ("economy-destroying"), or his universal health insurance ("communist claptrap").

And 51% of the population voted - twice - for this.

BP, there is nothing inherent in classical Conservative ideology that especially favors an unmovable privileged ruling class. I think the philosophy has a tendency toward that, in the same way that Marxist-Leninism has a tendency toward totalitarianism, but it's unfair to say that it's part of the ideology.

Now, the Republican Party may be a different matter, but I seem to recall biases toward a privileged overclass under Democratic Party governance as well.

Mind you, to the outside observer, there isn't a great deal of ideological difference between the Democrats and Republicans. And before the flames begin to lick at me for that, I'll need some backup from other foreigners on this.

I've taken college level economics and poli sci. You are right that I misused the term "conservatism".

When this whole discussion started I was thinking about and writing about people who self-identify as members of a historical political movement that favors the free market. I pointed out that so few voters favor this ideology thhat its adherents can't get elected by running on its principles. I wrote that the self-identified conservatives who believed themselves to be part of the historical movement had obstructed a whole list of progressive legslative initiatives and listed examples from over a one hundred year span. Lastly I pointed out that people who called themsleves conservatives frequently supported policies which were not congruent with the principles of the historical movement. My conclusion was that while there mighht be some people who actually believe in conservatism, most self-identified conervatives are just people who base their political ideas on their fearful selfishness, using conservatism as a rationalizaition.
For example, if I was to go around asking Republican members of Congress if thhey were conservatives the vast majority of them would say "yes." They would say this even though thhey voted for all kinds of social spending that is against their free market ownership party principles, The same legislstors would claim to be conservatives even though they rubberstamped Bush's big government initiatives and ran roughshod all over the rule of law annd thhe Constitution. As Bernard pointed out, they are radicals out to make dramatic changes . So are they conservatives, or not? They say they are. They got elected by telling the voters they were. Before the recent election they were praised for their votes on many conservative blogs. They are introduced on TV talkinng heads shows as conservatives. They claim to be actinng as conservatives. If they aren't shouldn't the real conservatives stand up and shout about it? (Silence from the NRO writers who supported the antics of the Republicans in Congress)
So d-p-u is righht that conservatism is a set of ideas, but conservatives, as they exist and act in the real world, aren't necessarily people who give more than lip service to those ideas. They are primarily people who get into politics out of fear and selfinterest, which is why their participation is more frequently obstructionist or reactionary, than helpful.

Mind you, to the outside observer, there isn't a great deal of ideological difference between the Democrats and Republicans.

From an outside standpoint, particularly if one comes from a country with a viable leftist party, the differences certainly wouldn't seem that severe. The Democratic Party at its most radical is a center-left party, notwithstanding the foibles of individual members here and there.

That's what makes it amazing that conservatives unfailingly revile every single Democrat as somewhere to the left of Stalin. It goes to show you how far-right the conservative movement is in this country.

The reason there's a gulf between the Republicans and Democrats at this point in history - one that might not be so obvious to outsiders - is that the Republicans have been largely co-opted by far-right forces. That won't last forever; maybe the day will even come when someone like Lincoln Chafee is welcome as a Republican again.

So d-p-u is righht that conservatism is a set of ideas, but conservatives, as they exist and act in the real world, aren't necessarily people who give more than lip service to those ideas. They are primarily people who get into politics out of fear and selfinterest, which is why their participation is more frequently obstructionist or reactionary, than helpful.

I find that some conservatives in this blog universe of ours understand Conservatism, and have distanced themselves from the Bush government because they understand that they are ideologically separate from it. Others with seemingly less understanding base their politics on allegiances rather than ideology, or define their politics as to what they are not.

But surely the problem then is one of education rather than redefinition?

The reason there's a gulf between the Republicans and Democrats at this point in history - one that might not be so obvious to outsiders - is that the Republicans have been largely co-opted by far-right forces.

I disagree with this. Bush's economic policies are anything but right-wing, and his foreign policies are closer to Trotskyist than anything else.

I'd say that the party has simply been taken over by the inept, and that classical political ideology has been shrugged off in favor of proving that Bush is a better President than his father. The surviving influential members of his administration seem to be sputtering along on fumes.

I'm not sure where to classify that on any political axis.

to the outside observer, there isn't a great deal of ideological difference between the Democrats and Republicans. And before the flames begin to lick at me for that, I'll need some backup from other foreigners on this.

Seconded. From the point of view of admittedly left-wing Brit, the US has a moderately right-wing party, an extremely right-wing party, and a totally untranslatable and quite scary party. Oh, and the Greens, but they're pretty much the same everywhere.

That's three main parties. I count only two. What's the other one?

d-p-u: Bush's economic policies are anything but right-wing

Whoa, waitaminnit. Right-wing ≠ Conservative. If favoring capital over labor, making public assets available to private entities (not to mention churches!), and deregulating industry isn't economically right wing then what is? I mean whatsa fella have to do to qualify -- openly call for a hereditary aristocracy? If you're gonna go around calling for a more classical use of "Conservative" I think the least you can do is respect the traditional metrics for "right" and "left."

BP: And 51% of the population voted - twice - for this.

Correction: Bush was only elected once. But people did know what they were voting for by that time.

If you're gonna go around calling for a more classical use of "Conservative" I think the least you can do is respect the traditional metrics for "right" and "left."

May I refer you to the latest US deficit figures? I'd call this government a lootocracy more than anything else.

LJ: There is nothing about regime change that can be classified as conservative...

It obviously depends on what one defines as "conservative" but I'd point out that using historically self-defined conservative groups, that's simply incorrect. Leaving aside the obvious example -- Hitler et al. -- both the American conservatives of the post-WWII era and the British Conservatives of the 18th and 19th centuries were more than happy to commit regime change abroad (the latter most notably in Asia and Africa as part of imperialism). Most forms of conservatism of which I'm aware tend to... well, "a xenophobic and invariably jingoistic approach to foreign affairs" (pace BP) is perhaps a little overstated but yes, it's along the right lines. Nowadays in American politics it gets termed "realism", a more inapt term I can't imagine off-hand, but it's much the same impulse.

A larger point worth mentioning, in re lily's point about linearity (and everyone's point about multiple axes) is that it's not even clear to me that these political temperaments are actually lines at all.* Each "axis" is locally linear to me -- which is to say, given two roughly similar political positions I think I can order them along various dimensions -- but once you get to the extremes the distinctions begin to blur.

For example, to pick a simple single-axis example, Hitler and Stalin are usually held up as the exemplars of the Extreme Right and the Extreme Left, respectively, but their governments and governance were remarkably similar. Some claim that this is because they were both "socialists" which is, well, pretty stupid. A better way to think about this if one wishes to utilize a single axis, though, is that the Left-Right axis isn't actually a straight line at all but is instead a loop, with centrism front and center and Extreme *Blank* (whether Left or Right) bending around to the back, where the extremism itself becomes the characterization instead of the nominal political views.

[For those of you hip to such lingo, true totalitarianism would be the one-point compactification of the political line. Isn't math fun?]

This isn't to say that this model is the right one by any means, just that our quest for comparisons overlooks the fact that local linearity need not betoken global linearity -- and the problem is exacerbated the more dimensions we add, btw -- and that a better approach might be to only make local comparisons, "gluing" them together to make a complicated "political manifold", at least if we actually want to model the full spectrum of such beliefs.

Or maybe that's too much trouble and we should simply confine ourselves to rough centrism and leave the extremes to go hang. YMMV.

* As a side note, this observation came to me when I was about 14 or so, and I was deeply crushed (which is to say, not very much) when my father informed that, amazingly, I was not actually the first person to have thought this up. Nothing new under the sun, etc.

May I refer you to the latest US deficit figures? I'd call this government a lootocracy more than anything else.

The technical term is "kleptocracy" and there are a number of people, most notably IMO Teresa Nielsen-Hayden at Making Light, who've argued convincingly that that's exactly what we've got.

The movement conservatives don't have enough voters that agree with their ideas to win enough elections to matter in our politics so movement conservatives have to appeal outside their philosophy. In order to reeducate the not-real conservatives into being real conservatives they would have to persuade rightwing Christians that it isn't appropriate to use the tools of government to promote their religion annd tthey would have to persuade farmers to stop relying on subsidies and so on. Either that or they have to accept all the not-real conservatives as conservativves which is how the definition got confused in the first place. It's a dilemna.
Besides the movement conservatives aren't much more constructive than the not-real ones.. They are the folks who said that the federal governnment was exceeding its authority passing the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. It was movement conservative arguments that were used to obstruct child labor laws, the Muckraker reforms, women's suffrage, the formation of labor unions ( which were originally opposed as infringements on the property rights of business owners), Social Security, the Clean Air and Water Acts and the Endangered Species Acts. It's the movement conservatives like the NRO crowd who mock global warming annd dismiss all attemptss to deal with it as contrary to their ideology.
Sebastian is quite right that conservatives, however you define them, have contributed to political discourse by challenging liberal ideas. For example, far too many liberals continue to see race relations and poverty issues through thhe conventional wisdoms of the sixties. He is also right that sometimes ideas hang around too long or are over applied or have bad side effects. Sebastian is himself a wonderful example of a foil for ideas. He can really hang in there and keep his end up, even when he is on his own. This site wouldn't be half as interesting without him. I think I perceive in his post a sort of wistful yearning for the days when people could just discuss things and arrive at sensible compromises. I'd like that, too, although I'm not sure those days ever existed.
To be honestt I posted my original question at least partly for the shock value of it, because its a discussion worth havinng. For the last twenty five plus years conservatives (or people caling themselves that) have made a concerted effort to marrginalize and demonize liberals and even made a real effort to get a permanent lock on all branches of thhe governnment inn order to avoid having to do any discussing and compromisinng, so thhey could have things all their own way. That was the Atwater, Rove, Delay plan. (Are they consevatives? They'd say "yes".) So It's worth askinng who these people are and what have they ever accomplished that would indicate that they could govern well.
What the history of the last hundred plus years in America shows is that movement ideas have been rejected over and over in favor of a long series of progressive reforms. The same period of history shows that people calling themselves conservatives have a pattern of appealing to fear and self interest to get elected and, once in power, fail to use it for anny purpose that in hindsite seems worthy.. And sure they critiqued ideas, too.
We have real problems to face. Conservatives don't have much of a rack rrecord when it comes to the solvinng of real problems.

That's three main parties. I count only two. What's the other one?

I was counting the Libertarians, which I assumed was reasonable, but after a little research I realise is probably a mistake.

..yeah, I'll third d-p-u's point. But frankly, the problem with politics in the us is that 'politics' have absolutely no relation to the decisions made. So, the problem with defining the political affiliation and so on are just symptoms. Imo.

I guess it could be related to how very few appear to be able to define their political views - unless it's semantically.

(this isn't a problem only in the US, you know.)

I took freshman poli-sci and Econ 101 but it was thirty years ago and I was stoned.

Poli-sci departments do not get to define conservatism. Neither does Aristotle or Cicero or Burke or DeMaistre or Chambers/Kirk/Buckley/Goldwater. "Conservative" is a self-descriptive and group term that is specifically used to differentiate its users from others, be they Commonists or Republicans. You want to know what a Freemason is:ask a Freemason. "Conservative" is neither meaningless nor science.

An individual does not do politics;politics may be defined as a social activity, requiring a crowd. Bush can call himself conservative all day, if 75 percent of self-described conservatives say he isn't, he isn't. No one can tell Bush he isn't a Republican. I don't think many really would care enough to try. This difference is important.

"...but after a little research I realise is probably a mistake."

Hey they count! I was voting downticket Libertarian while signing CPUSA petitions for a while. There is a weird American logic to that that furriners wouldn't unnerstand. Or maybe it is a Texas thing.

For example, to pick a simple single-axis example, Hitler and Stalin are usually held up as the exemplars of the Extreme Right and the Extreme Left, respectively, but their governments and governance were remarkably similar.

But they were only similar if you look at a single aspect of their governance - the amount of direct control over citizen's lives, and special status of the near-divine leadership. But there's a lot more going on in government than simply that. With the Soviet Union, there was a completely different economy, mass collectivization, and periodic mass purges based on perceived political threats. With Nazi Germany, you still had a market economy, no mass collectivization, institutionalized racism as government policy, etc.

Again, this is the problem with applying simple linear axes to complex ideologies.

Poli-sci departments do not get to define conservatism. Neither does Aristotle or Cicero or Burke or DeMaistre or Chambers/Kirk/Buckley/Goldwater. "Conservative" is a self-descriptive and group term that is specifically used to differentiate its users from others, be they Commonists or Republicans. You want to know what a Freemason is:ask a Freemason. "Conservative" is neither meaningless nor science.

Back when I was an anarchist, a fellow anarchist complained about all the loons that were identifying themselves as anarchists because it was cool-sounding, yet had no idea what the ideology consisted of.

"The problem," he said, "is that we don't issue party cards."

If any loon can define themselves as a conservative, why would I go to a self-defined conservative to find out what defined a conservative?

I think I'll let poli-sci departments do my defining for me. They're less biased.

If any loon can define themselves as a conservative, why would I go to a self-defined conservative to find out what defined a conservative?

Not to mention how you would know who was the real conservative.

It's like a Star Trek episode...."I'm the real conservative! Can't you see...I have black on the right side of my face and white on the left"

The movement conservatives don't have enough voters that agree with their ideas to win enough elections to matter in our politics so movement conservatives have to appeal outside their philosophy.

Isn't it rather odd that there is something called a "movement" conservative? Doesn't this belie the whole notion of conservatism as a cautious, go-slow, temperament?

d-p-u: May I refer you to the latest US deficit figures? I'd call this government a lootocracy more than anything else.

Heh, point taken. Just wanted to mention that the mechanism by which the looting is taking place is right-wing (concentrating private assets and relaxing regulations), rather than left-wing (nationalizing private assets and tightening regulations).

Anarch: A better way to think about this if one wishes to utilize a single axis, though, is that the Left-Right axis isn't actually a straight line at all but is instead a loop, with centrism front and center and Extreme *Blank* (whether Left or Right) bending around to the back, where the extremism itself becomes the characterization instead of the nominal political views.

Ya, nicely put. Though if you stick to one axis I still think Yin to Yang (centripetal to centrifugal) is best. Things accelerate, collapse, invert; become their opposite until eventually they invert again. Ourobouros. World without end, amen... :D

I do think the multivariate view is useful though. Models don't have to be perfectly accurate to be informative. They just have to be a better approximation than what you've already got.

d-p-u: "The problem," he said, "is that we don't issue party cards."

Uh-oh! Does this mean that my official Anarchist Party membership card is not valid? Rats. And IIRC you're the person who persuaded me to take anarchism seriously! It was somebody around here at any rate.

Anarch: I had a very similar experience in early adolescence, when it occurred to me that the best way to categorize political views was not left/right, but enlarging-liberty/totalitarian. I was very disappointed to learn that I was not the first person to have had this blinding insight.

I agree with everyone about the multidimensionality of politics. Moreover, there are some very American inflections to our political divides that aren't at all logical. The present Right, to my mind, is clearly the inheritor of the strain of American politics that was not just opposed to Communism, but paranoid about it -- the John Birch strain of American conservatism (not using this term in Seb's sense.) This (I think) has something to do with the fact that we, as a nation, face so few credible threats of invasion that we haven't all figured out how to live without absolute security, the way one would have to if one were a citizen of almost any other country on earth. This isn't about anything as coherent as caution v. impetuousness, or left v. right; it's more about paranoia.

Likewise, there's the whole hating The Generic Liberal business. -- I was at UnfoggeDCon on Saturday, and was talking to a conservative blogger (there were several there), and said, apropos of what I can't remember, that it was puzzling to me that some conservative (I can't remember who) who had really seen through Bush and the Congressional Republicans still couldn't seem to bring -- himself? herself? can't recall -- to actually vote for Democrats, even when there was no obvious ideological reason not to. The conservative blogger said: "oh, the old 'I hate Bush and the incalculable damage he has done to this country, but I hate the liberal in my head even more' thing." I think that really exists.

For the rest: as everyone has said, Bush is a radical. But it's not just him: Newt Gingrich was a radical; the whole right wing of the Republican party has been a bunch of radicals since Reagan. Reagan was a radical; he was just a sunny and genial radical. Eisenhower was a conservative in Seb's sense. But the conservative (in Seb's sense) wing of the Republican party has spent the last several decades being beaten up by the conservative (in the usual sense) wing, and has now virtually ceased to exist. (What did Republicans think the point of all those endless protests against realists in foreign policy was? Or against Republicans who weren't on board with the entire evangelical platform? Getting rid of the Republicans who were, in Seb's sense, conservative.)

Then there's the distinction between people who seem really to believe that spin is everything, and members of the reality-based community -- using that phrase in its original sense, the one used by one of Bush's minions in Suskind's article. Why this distinction should ever sort with differences in ideology I don't know, but it is now much more prevalent among Republicans, I think.

I am, in Seb's sense, very conservative, at least about politics. (I move more often, though; I'm not conservative about my own life.) But conservatism is never pure, nor should it be: I wouldn't want caution to be my overriding principle in life, so important that nothing could possibly trump it. I do want to exercise what Mercutio called common sense, and I have a deep, deep loathing for people who are willing to turn other people's lives upside down for the sake of some peculiar notion of how the world should be that they haven't bothered to think through, since they will not be the ones who suffer if they get it wrong. On these grounds I have always really hated those leftists who blithely talk about increasing other people's misery to advance the day when they will see the light and revolt -- I don't hate a lot of people, but I hate them. On exactly the same grounds I opposed not only the war in Iraq, but most of the rest of Bush's agenda.

But favoring some change, when it's well thought through, and when you've seriously considered both the costs of doing nothing and the risks of doing wrong, is a different thing. No one, I assume, would want to be completely conservative -- the sort of person who didn't want to run the risk of getting into a lifeboat on the Titanic, since like all human schemes for improvement it might go wrong, or who declined to rescue people trapped in a mine on the grounds that it's always risky to tamper with the status quo. Likewise, no one would want to be in favor of any and all change, and not just because, since there are infinitely many possible changes, being in favor of all of them would involve some pretty serious self-contradiction.

Cautious me is just fine with the well-tested idea of governments providing health insurance. Nothing utterly novel about that. Cautious me is also in favor of trying to figure out solutions to problems that badly need to be solved -- this is just the side of me that would, in fact, get onto a lifeboat when my ship was going down. And cautious me is baffled by the assumption many conservatives seem to make: that the problems our country faces are not problems that we, as a resourceful and talented people, might solve if we tried hard enough and thought about them seriously, but facts of life that we are just stuck with.

That, I think, is too conservative for me. Except in one crucial sense: that Americans do not, in fact, have a tradition of despairing acquiescence, and so in a different sense this isn't conservative at all.

Just wanted to mention that the mechanism by which the looting is taking place is right-wing (concentrating private assets and relaxing regulations), rather than left-wing (nationalizing private assets and tightening regulations).

Point taken in return.

And IIRC you're the person who persuaded me to take anarchism seriously! It was somebody around here at any rate.

I think there are a number of us ex-bomb-throwers around here.***

*** Any security personnel/bots reading this should be assured that this is a mocking self-reference to the typical western caricature of the Anarchist, which may be traced back to the infamous Chicago Haymarket Riot in 1886.

I suspect the impulse to (re)define "liberalism" and "conservatism" as primarily tempermental traits, rather than as political philosophies, comes from a need for self-described conservatives to disassociate themselves from what Bush and the GOP hath wrought over the last 4 years.

This disassociation would be more convincing if it had come when Bush and the GOP began behaving in what conservatives now want to define as a "liberal" manner - during the run-up to the war in Iraq, say; or when the GOP gave itself over to "values" as defined entirely by the Religious Right; or perhaps when Bush replaced the "Nanny State" conservatives claim to dislike so much with a "Big Brother State." But it didn't.

As much as conservatives might like to redefine liberalism as a tempermental urge to change things for the sake of changing things, in order to disassociate themselves from a rogue regime of their own making, such revisionism flies in the face of 60+ years of American political life. As Lily points out, the great liberal initiatives during that time consistently had to do with change not for its own sake, but to address legal, social, and economic inequities. (And conservatives - that is: self-defined, consistent-with-their-own-philosophy type conservatives - opposed them all.)

If conservatives want to rehabilitate their label, they first have to acknowledge that what was done in their name was something they embraced at the time as conservatism, then think very hard about why that happened, and think even harder about how to not let it happen again.

That's a far different process from redefining as "liberal" what they were happy to call "conservativism" while it, and they, were on top of the political food chain.

"I was at UnfoggeDCon on Saturday"

Gonna have to check...wait a minute not supposed to mention the pictures. Never mind.

"...really hated those leftists who blithely talk about increasing other people's misery to advance the day when they will see the light and revolt -- I don't hate a lot of people, but I hate them."

Maybe I can take comfort in the "blithely" One thing I am not, is blithe.

Bob: the blithe part was key. I profoundly disagree with people who advocate this, blithe or not. But one of the few things that can move me to something like hate is the thoughtless immiseration of other people.

Just amusing myself:

____ scolds self-described liberals for saying in a poll last year that their top foreign policy concerns were "withdrawing troops from Iraq, stopping the spread of AIDS, and working more closely with our allies."

"The objectives favored by liberals have merit. But they hardly constitute a coherent national security policy," Mr. _____ declares. Alluding to the Vietnam War, he says, "It's useful to remind ourselves, then, that Osama bin Laden is not Ho Chi Minh, and that the threats facing the United States are real, multiple, and potentially devastating."

From here via American Footprints; note the source.

I looked at the UK test and found (amusingly) that socially 89.0% of the Brits are significantly to my right, but economically 67.9% are significantly to my left (27.5% have views about the same). Since socially includes being more of an internationalist I'm not suprised at that outcome, other than that it is comparable with my political position in the Netherlands.

We had several "votingguides" you could do, to see which party agreed most with your viewpoints. I always end up with the same one, so I do them just for fun. But one of them had a two-axis graph with the relative positions of the (11) main Dutch parties. One axis was left/right, the other was progressive/conservative.

Our most conservative party is not particulary left/right and is premium choice in our bible belt. Very fundamentalistic reformed christians - they actually strive for theocracy.

Our biggest rightwing party (VVD) are what we call liberals and are nicely right in the middle of conservative and progressive. They would be quite leftwing here of course; a few years ago the majority of VVD voters polled in favour of an increase in taxes to improve our socialized healthcare and this year they actually run on free kiddy care for every working person. Left and right can only be defined in very small frames; in one culture, one region even, and a specific time period.

I had economics at college level, but sci-poli only in highschool. Once I understood that in the USSR our rightwingers would be called left (yes Anarch, we discussed the circel theory too :) ), I realized you can never really compare political groups with labels like that. In the UK test being an internationalist made me leftwing, but in the Netherlands our socialist party (leaving the communist party to follow a more Maoïstic path) is pretty isolationistic - and one of the biggest winners in our elections last November. I *do* appreciate our multi party system more and more, there are many leftwing *and* rightwing groups that I'd rather not support and now I can avoid them - or the politicians that represent them. Religious people could vote for the reformed fundamentalists, the rightwing christians (who actually also have muslim politicians) or the lefwing christians.

It is my impression that in the US you have to register before you can vote, and that you have to register *with* a political indication (though Independant is an option). Is that true? Because I think that might make people more inclined to feel that they belong to that party/group, with all the "us vs them" feelings that go with being in a group.

i'd just like to give props to lily for a series of spot-on posts. well done.

hilzoy: On these grounds I have always really hated those leftists who blithely talk about increasing other people's misery to advance the day when they will see the light and revolt

do such people really exist ? i can't say i've ever met one, or seen one on the .net .

cleek: do such people really exist ? i can't say i've ever met one, or seen one on the .net .

I've met a dozen, though all of them were very young and I have hopes they've learned better since. (They were engaged in disrupting a lesbian and gay rights conference in London that I attended in 1987, and when I asked one of them why they were doing this, she told me it was because if conditions were improved for the working classes that would mean putting off the day of the workers revolution. None of them were older than 21, at a guess.)

I'd say that the party has simply been taken over by the inept, and that classical political ideology has been shrugged off in favor of proving that Bush is a better President than his father. The surviving influential members of his administration seem to be sputtering along on fumes. I'm not sure where to classify that on any political axis.

Well we've noticed that lib-con axis is not alone enough so we've added to a authoritarian/libertarian axis. Perhaps we need to add a third axis - dumbass/competent. Lord knows it would, in most rational countries, go without saying - but then if the last decade has taught us nothing else it is that the American polity is not always competent

Where on planet earth did this scheme come from? Let's get back to "basics."

A "liberal" is one who is fundamentally skeptical of others' powers over him, and thus has principles to prevent him/her from being terrorized by some hegemon of the day.

A "conservative" is a moralist concerned with human evil, who uses Tradition, History, and Institutions to contain it.

The U.S. was the first pluralistic liberal democracy ever created, established by free-thinking Enlightenment Liberals of the era. And collectivists, conservatives, communitarians, progressives, and all the rest have done their damnedest to keep liberal principles contained, or fitted through some Kantian sieve that still won't allow them to egalitarianize everything.

It is possible to be both a conservative and a liberal, but it is always a bit tenuous. I think Andrew Sullivan has done better than most, but the conflict is, and will always be, whose "morality" shall society impose? The liberal response (J. S. Mill) was the "harm principle." If someone is harmed, then liberals and conservatives can agree to do something about it, and that alone is the moral basic for our justice.

Liberals stop there, but most conservatives want a "moral society" because they are convinced they cannot be moral themselves unless someone forces all society to be equally moral (by whatever standard is in fashion as the time; the Bible seems a popular moral fashion in 2000s).

Neoconservatives, theoconservatives, progressives, collectivists, Fabians, communists, and communitarians are all variants of conservatism. In their view, society trumps the individual -- according to the degree of "conservative."

Liberals acknowledge that all individuals exist as social animals, but that society should be structured ("social contract") so that the individual is free to pursue whatever interests him/her without harming others.

Herein ends the lesson.

do such people really exist ?

You can see a trace of that attitude when people suggest that it would have been better if the Republicans stay in power so they would really own the Iraq mess, or thinking back to the Nader voters. Admittedly, it is not as pure as hilzoy describes it, but the impulse is the same. It seems to be based on the idea that the masses are really really dumb and can only change their mind after the differences have been "heightened".

I think (and I'm sure the thought is not original with me) that America and Americans have always had an underlying notion 'progress', which is a non-conservative notion. Thus, for a conservative ascendency to occur, it was necessary to plug into that notion of progress, which is non conservative. I think the way that it was done was by hearkening back to an idealized past, which is obtained only by glossing over the problems that were there. Thus, we think of Reagan as the conservative rather than the radical because he was always selling an idealized version of the past.

I once met someone who took the view I described about South Africans (under apartheid): best not to help them in any way, lest it in some way strengthen the regime. It's not common, though as lj says there are strains of it here and there, but I think it exists.

If conservatives want to rehabilitate their label, they first have to acknowledge that what was done in their name was something they embraced at the time as conservatism, then think very hard about why that happened, and think even harder about how to not let it happen again.

Exactly.

These incredible hypocrites, who spent six years proclaiming that Bush could do no wrong, need to take themselves off somewhere, and reflect more than a bit on their own responsibility for this catastrophic Presidency.

I think Sebastian's characterization of the liberal vs. conservative temperament is right on, however like many upthread I think it has little to do with the political categories of liberal vs conservative. Case in point: by Sebastian's metrics, I'm extremely conservative temperamentally, but I'm decidedly liberal in terms of US politics.

One very important point of division between American conservatives and liberals that no-one (I think) has commented on yet is the primacy of private property. Not personal privacy, but private *property*, specifically.

Both sides agree to the principle of private property, however for American conservatives it is now, and consistently has been, a value of far greater priority than it has been for American liberals.

Liberals tend to think of government interference with private property, whether in the form of taxes, zoning laws, business regulations, etc., as a nuisance at worst. For conservatives, the freedom of private property from any form of attachment or interference is seen as being essential to human liberty.

It's a very profound difference, and expresses itself in a lot of ways. I think it's one of a very small handful of really essential differences. IMO it's closer to the heart of the matter than the issue of temperament.

Thanks -

I have to disagree with Sebastian on this one. Most people are temperamentally conservative. In fact, psychologists have a name for this: "Status quo bias" ("Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes ..." by Gilovitch and Belsky). This has nothing to do with politics.

I have read that in any place where politics involves most of the population, there are two parties. One represents the aristocrats and the other represents the mob: conservatives and liberals. From this we can trace everything else. Conservatives defend the status quo. They are inclined to be authoratarian and fond of hierarchies. They want government control of their businesses to be minimal. Liberals tend to want to redistribute wealth to their own constituents. This results in minimum wage laws, socialized medicine, eminent domain, etc.

The conservative urge to privatize social security might sound radical to you, but it is right in line with the traditional conservative political agenda.

"I have to disagree with Sebastian on this one. Most people are temperamentally conservative. In fact, psychologists have a name for this: "Status quo bias" ("Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes ..." by Gilovitch and Belsky). This has nothing to do with politics."

People are temperamentally conservative with their own money. A look at how they spend money if not tightly budgeted in the workplace for example suggests that many more of them are much freer when they perceive the money to be someone else's. Since much of modern discussion sets up situations where the government appears to be spending other people's money, this has everything to do with politics.

"Conservatives defend the status quo. They are inclined to be authoratarian and fond of hierarchies."

If this is intended to be in contrast with liberals, I couldn't disagree more. If it is a general comment about people, I agree.

Seb: curiously, as I said, I'm cautious about politics, but not about my own life, in which I'm liable to go tearing off and do all sorts of nutty things. Same with money: I'm much, much more careful with other people's money than with my own. I mean: my money is mine, and if I'm stupid about it, then the only one who suffers is me, which is as it should be. Other people's money is another story entirely.

Me too hilzoy, I had a loan with a co-signer and back in my less responsible days it was the only thing I paid on time every month. But the experience of companies and governments everywhere doesn't support that as a general rule.

Who ever said you were normal anyway? ;)

Dutchmarbel:

It is my impression that in the US you have to register before you can vote, and that you have to register *with* a political indication (though Independant is an option). Is that true?

Only partially correct. You must register to vote before you vote (in all states, I believe) although some allow for same day registration. Party affiliation requirements vary from state to state. In my state you must declare a party on a primary ballot and can only vote for those party members on that ballot if you are voting for positions differentiated by party, but you can vote for judges or initiatives or referendums without declaring a party. No party affiliation is required in a general election. A primary determines which member of a party will stand in the general election and may have non-partisan offices and issues as well. I believe there are requirements in other states for party declaration at registration, but it isn't a universal requirement in the US.

Hilzoy:

Then there's the distinction between people who seem really to believe that spin is everything, and members of the reality-based community -- using that phrase in its original sense, the one used by one of Bush's minions in Suskind's article.

I believe this is either a misreading of Suskind or a misinterpretation on his part. I took the source as declaring that events they created would overtake the experts perception of reality, and they would continue to alter events and change reality before the experts caught up to what was happening. There was incredible hubris in this view, in the assumption that they would be able to create events that favored their world view, and that the experts wouldn't be perceptive enough to grasp what was happening until it was already in the past. But I don't think they were talking about spin. They may have been expressing a belief in something akin to affirmations though.

From the Suskind article.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

This isn't about spin versus reality, it's faith based action versus factual analysis of reality. There is some truth in the fact that analysis will lag behind the facts on the ground. They have faith that their actions will obtain positive results, at least eventually. They reject analysis of current reality as having predictive use.

The allusion to affirmations came from here. Totally unrelated, perhaps, but analogous faith based reasoning.

I have read that in any place where politics involves most of the population, there are two parties. One represents the aristocrats and the other represents the mob: conservatives and liberals.

Most European countries have multi-party systems and a higher percentage of voters than the US.

@Jay S: thanks for the explanation. It's very different from how it works here, but it is sometimes also hard to remember how different these things can be between states.

But they were only similar if you look at a single aspect of their governance - the amount of direct control over citizen's lives, and special status of the near-divine leadership.

Which is, frankly, a whole lot more than "a single aspect" in my book.

But there's a lot more going on in government than simply that.

Absolutely.

With the Soviet Union, there was a completely different economy, mass collectivization, and periodic mass purges based on perceived political threats. With Nazi Germany, you still had a market economy, no mass collectivization, institutionalized racism as government policy, etc.

It's true that the two weren't the same by any stretch, but the differences aren't as great as I think you're making them out to be. Nazi Germany also had periodic purges of perceived political threats -- the aftermath of the Reichstag fire, for instance, or post-Nuremberg elimination of the Mischlinge from public office (and subsequently from life itself) -- and variant forms of, if not actual collectivization, then nationally-distributed would-be-autarkic agricultural units. [See, e.g., Hitler's insistence on breaking down intra-Germanic divisions by homesteading Hitlerjugend and the LOGM girls in different states.] I completely agree that they're not all that similar to Stalin's kolkhoz but that's largely because Hitler's obsession was with a particular "racial archetype" of the "Strong Individual Family" and not the "Collective Family" of Stalin -- all quotes definitely intended to be scary. Additionally, the Nazi market economy wasn't, IIRC, that much of a market economy in certain industries; Hitler didn't nationalize as much as, say, Mussolini did with the syndicates but he came pretty close in, IIRC (again), the heavy industries relating to armaments (steel, coal and the like).

[I was actually intending to do research on totalizing ideologies and totalitarian governments aeons ago, but that fell by the wayside so I can but give you the gist. Oh, the halcyon days of relative youth.]

This isn't to say that I think Hitler was a liberal, nor Stalin a conservative, or anything of the sort; just because two ideologies are comparable in the limit doesn't mean that any particular instantiations will be identical. But, as I said above, if you're going to map the political spectrum on a single axis I think it's better to do it that way and acknowledge the warped similarities than it is to simply pretend that there are two dissimilar opposing poles. Obviously more axes would be better -- a point we've both made -- but there again it's useful to remember that local linearity doesn't translate to global linearity in either math or politics. Although now the Geometrization Conjecture is supposedly proven, at least we know (up to homeomorphism) all the possible shapes the Political Manifold could be!

I agree with Ken and Russell about early influences on American thought that led to the emergence of distinct liberal and conservative strains. In addition to the differing weights each side put on the sanctity of property, I'd add differing visions of the ideal mix of accumulated influence.

The artisan legacy American colonists brought over from Britain's independent craftsmen inclued an emphasis on "competency" as a goal. A competent master craftsman was out of debt, supporting his family and apprentices, and had enough of a cushion that he could take part in public affairs in an era when many government positions were unsalaried. He could contribute to public and private ventures like libraries, road and canal building, and so on. But he wouldn't be many times wealthier than his rivals and neighbors, because being that distanced from them was (the artisans thought) risky to a sense of community. They feared extremes of wealth and poverty - where Britain had elites worth thousands of times what others might own, the American elites were more usually worth mere dozens of times their rivals, and even that struck a lot of artisans as an unhealthy spread.

The alternative vision, while agreeing that things had gotten badly out of whack with Britain's aristocracy, looked to the emergence of a natural aristocracy in the environment of liberty. The idea was that some people actually were fitted by nature to manage vast accumulations of wealth and power, and that a healthy, democratic, free society would allow those few to stand forth and collect their due. The only harm that could come of this is if those not actually fitted to handle it responsibly got too much by undesirable means.

The artisan and aristocratic views don't tidily match up with liberal and conservative parties in all cases. As P.J. O'Rourke put it back when he was still funny, too many liberals seem to believe that the entertainment industry is a buch of cottage enterprises, and there is a distinct conservative strain of thought that's very much in favor of yeomanry and artisans. But on the whole, modern American liberalism has been in favor of strengthening the middle tiers at the expense of both extremes, while in modern conservatism, the freedom for those who can to get as much as they can is paramount.

One difference between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia that I recently learned about: tourism. Might be an interesting data point for you, Anarch.

Bruce, I'm wondering about your thoughts on the difference between artist and artisan. I'm thinking specifically of the story of Beethoven and Goethe.

This link is a bit different than the anecdote I know, where Goethe asks Beethoven how he could do that, and Beethoven replies there are countless nobles, but only two of them.

Very interesting and stuff I hadn't seen before. Ta.

They feared extremes of wealth and poverty - where Britain had elites worth thousands of times what others might own, the American elites were more usually worth mere dozens of times their rivals, and even that struck a lot of artisans as an unhealthy spread.

This ethic persevered into my lifetime.

When I was a kid, it was simply bad form for people who had a lot of money to deliberately flaunt it through conspicuous consumption. It was, basically, considered to be the behavior of a jerk and a show-off.

This is an admittedly anecdotal data point, and may say more about the social milieu I grew up in than anything else, but nevertheless I think it is one that is telling.

As an aside, I find it disturbing how many things I say lately begin with the phrase, "When I was a kid...". Geezerhood is upon me. Yikes.

Thanks -

Both sides agree to the principle of private property, however for American conservatives it is now, and consistently has been, a value of far greater priority than it has been for American liberals.

I think that this is a good point. A conservative viewpoint is that private property rights are the basis for freedom, whereas liberals tend to favor collectivist solutions. That is not to say that liberals nowadays would prefer that everybody live in government housing, but there was a time that they did. Conservatives favor private business solutions to social needs. When a private business fails to meet a need, then another business is there to compete. But if government is in charge and is the only player, when the government fails, there is nothing else to turn to. The split between liberal and conservative attitudes about pharmaceutical companies is the best example of this philosophical difference.

Other differences are quite confusing. Liberals may be against genetically modified food (produced by private industry) because it is "unnatural", but for government funding of cloning embryonic stem cells because this is touted as a panacea. Conservatives tend to be against government supported embryonic cloning because a large part of their constituency has moral and ethical doubts about cloning "human beings".

...and speaking of cloning and such, I was wondering if anyone else had read Next. Yes, it's a novel, and not a treatise on the scientific ethics, but interesting anyhoo.

Also wondering if Crichton had his facts on straight. Really, people have patented genes? Maybe I should apply for a patent on DHMO.

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