Conservatives who have lost the concepts of control, restraint, order

Terry Morris writes:

In a recent entry, “Western civilization brought down by slogans,” you assert that VFR exists, in part, to “lead some conservatives … to ordered freedom, restrained individuality, liberty under law.”

The founding principle of which you speak is self-evident to me, and I wonder why it isn’t to others who call themselves conservatives or Republicans. After all, the term “government” means control, restraint. Hence, self-government, in its primary signification, means nothing more or less than self-CONTROL, self-RESTRAINT.

Yet “conservatives” (with a libertarian bent) somehow miss the primary signification of the term self-government, emphasizing instead what is clearly and naturally a secondary, and even subservient, aspect of the term. Namely self-determination.

But the concept of unrestrained self-determination wars against the idea of civilized society, and one wonders why any thinking conservative would ever entertain thoughts to the contrary.

LA replies:

You’ve answered your own question. No thinking conservative could entertain such a thought. Today’s freedom-worshipping conservatism represents a complete abandonment of thought in favor of slogans—liberal slogans, which the unthinking conservatives are unable to recognize as liberal.

Also, as regards self-government, it’s not so much that today’s conservatives have distorted the idea of self-government, it is that they have completely lost the idea of self-government, as shown by the fact that they never use the term. It’s not part of their mental universe. They believe only in “freedom,” “freedom,” “freedom.” Therefore any element of order or restraint that may be urgently needed in society or self can only be supplied by means of an unprincipled exception.

Terry Morris replies:

OK, but then can today’s conservatism properly be described as conservative? Or do we simply do so as a matter of convenience?

LA replies:

Well, we’re dealing with that problem all the time, aren’t we? We put conservative in scare quotes, or we say “so-called conservatives.”

But the word conservative, notwithstanding how inconsistent and unstable it is in its meaning, is not going away. It is the way people think of themselves and identify themselves. James Kalb, the traditionalist thinker who founded VFR, identifies himself as a conservative. Steve Chapman, a libertarian columnist and editorialist on the Chicago Tribune who calls people racist if they ask his paper to provide physical descriptions of murderers, identifies himself as a conservative. Heather Mac Donald, a virulent atheist who is bent out of shape by any expression of belief in God, who seeks the de-Christianization of America, and who argues, like H.G. Wells, that human society can be organized solely on the basis of scientific reason, identifies herself as a conservative. Condoleezza Rice, who believes that all people desire freedom and excoriates America for not having given women the vote in 1789, identifies herself as a conservative. William Kristol, who smilingly boasts, “I like illegal immigration,” identifies himself as a conservative. David Blankenhorn of the Institute for American Values, who supports homosexual “marriage,” identifies himself as a conservative. David Frum, who exists in some universe of his own, identifies himself as a conservative.

Given the vast intellectual confusion over the meaning of conservatism, all we can do is keep making clear what we mean by the word, and arguing that our meaning is the correct meaning.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 19, 2012 12:34 PM | Send

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