Bruce Bartlett, who is a well known conservative, tried to pitch tolerance to conservatives, and in doing so proved he fails to understand conservatism. I left this comment on his web site:
I want to let it pass, but I simply have to contradict this column of yours, even if I agree with it’s sentiments.
You (and Boaz) are confusing language with content. (This is the same mistake religious fundamentalists and their critics make. It’s an endemic human error.)
Slavery was not the reason for the civil war, the fact that the south paid for the government and could block the north’s initiatives was the reason. Lincoln only changed to ‘slavery’ to get popular support. Slavery is a bad economic model and was in decline, and would continue to decline. Every economist in the world knows this. It’s not about airbrushing slavery. It’s about social status, political power, costs, and ‘the long run’.
Denmark is a small homogenous society that has imported a labor class and has yet to experience the degree of friction that empires face when they merge cultures. Denmark literally pays a third of the poulation to stay home so that they wont disrupt the real people, and so that you can talk to an educated person in train station. They pay their poor and ignorant to go away. Homogenous societies are more generous and egalitarian. They can afford to be because political power is something that they have a grip over. The same is true for small societies. Comparing small communities of protestant nordics to the vast body of the world populace is either disengenuous or simply stupidity. The italians in the south are a corrupt and lazy people. THe north know this. They hate supporting them. The north chinese rule the prosperous Southern Chinese. The south hates this. American conservatives don’t like it for the same reason. And, we aren’t nordics. We’re romans.
Freedom expands elsewhere? You mean capitalism spreads because it is a superior social technology. However, the vast body of the world is in the process both as an intellectual movement, an as a material political force, to totalitarian capitalism. We may live in the illusion that democracy is meaningful, but it’s actually property rights and fiat money that make a nation. Our ability to expand has been under the force of arms. Not under our graces. Democracy if it persists another century, will be an oddity of northern european civilization. And there is no record in history of democracy enduring, and there is no rational reason that it should. It’s a bad system of government for anything other than a city state.
Freedom is maintained by a freedom seeking minority of the population that is willing to use violence to perpetuate those freedoms. That is the source of freedom. It has been the source. It always will be the source. Most people want the fruits of freedom. But freedom has always been and always will be a desire of the creative minority.
You are confusing FREDOM FROM nature, and FREEDOM TO act. I’ve written a longer posting to you about this, because it warrants it. But freedom is a specific term that has to do with human political organization and the use of property (life and property).
The other ‘freedoms’ allude to are ***ANALOGIES*** to freedom. They are forms of security, safety, and reinsurance. They are not freedom. They are the RESULT OF THE PROSPERITY GENERATED BY FREEDOM.
In this comment, and in my posting, I have tried to correct each of your points as erroneous attributions of causality, in an attempt to provide a better understanding of conservative sentiments, and to express those sentiments as a rational economic philosophy.
“Conservatism is an economic strategy for group persistence on a longer time frame by a military class using sentiments that represent material economic costs.”
This is a long article, but it is a topic that requires explaining a number of issues that are poorly understood for historical reasons.
Conservatives need a language to express their complexity. That language is in economics and sociology. The problem for any intellectual is to create a system of thought that can be expressed by people who can only understand those sentiments, people who are more critical of them, and those that an completely articulate them. Conservatives need to understand themselves in something other than metaphorical language in order to compete with short term thinking secular humanists.
And even with well meaning but erroneous conservatives who only serve to make the problem worse with their acquiescense and justification.
Four thousand words is the best I could do.
I want to let it pass, but I simply have to contradict this column of yours. This is a long article, but it is a topic that requires explaining a number of issues that are poorly understood for historical reasons.
While you might attempt to say ‘government has more goods than bads, Conservatives have material objections that, in the end, they feel will result in the elimination of the ability for government to deliver ‘goods’.
1) The accumulation of political power by the state in opposition to the civic republican tradition of denying the state power.
2) Using immigration to disempower the ‘group’ as they perceive it out of political power
3) Giving others extraordinary rights at our expense in violation of the civic republican tradition’s mandate for equality.
4) education biases against us, in violation of the civic republican tradition of meritocratic outcomes. (“Why can jews take over harvard but we have to be restricted by quotas”, for example.)
5) job biases against us
6) abuse and derision by public intellectuals – who have disempowered the churches in favor of the religion of democratic secular humanism and are now mandating their religion as the new social order.
7) redistributing our wealth, in particular, favoring immigration over retirement schemes. The state undermined another pillar of civilization: the mandate to save rather than consume. By liquidity and taxation we are permanently impoverished in old age. Income taxes should be instead be based upon balance sheet wealth so that men can be independent in retirement.
8 ) asking us to sacrifice our productivity to pay for what we don’t believe in. This is the definition of oppression. Democracy is not a vehicle for justifying oppression. It’s a means of peaceful transfer of power, and a means by which peers can choose among opportunities for mutual benefit. When it becomes a means of oppressing one group for the benefit of another, and in doing so empowering government, then it’s simply oppression and no amount of ‘common good’ changes that oppression.
9) undermining the family structure which is the basis for our entire society. Giving people property rights and access to capital is one thing. But undermining the family, and effectively, enslaving men through divorce and child care law is not equality. It’s oppression, and it has made it too easy to enter a marriage, and too costly to exit it. (and yes I can debate the statistics on this with the best of them.) We reward malcontents at the expense of people who have discipline. THis is offensive to conservatives who only want a level playing field.
10) building a victim society instead of a meritocratic society which is against the principles of the Civic Republican Tradition under which it is assumed that we give authority to the state in exchange for not TAKING that authority ourselves.
And that is what conservatives DO. They give their authority to the state. (Authority is a proxy word for VIOLENCE.) Why? Because conservatives are Pareto’s ‘Residues’ of the military social class – the last remnants of nobility at the top, and of the soldiery and craftsman class at the bottom. THey operate by the concepts of duty, which they see as indirect payment for the social order. They are the remnants of the Civic Republican Tradition. The one cultural advantage of the west is it’s prohibition on corruption, and this class is the originator of that tradition. If all nations are organized by corruption, then the most wealthy are those with the least of it.
The military class is what obtains and maintains trade routes, and what obtains and maintains land, and therefore what obtains and maintains resources . Trade routes and land are the source of prosperity. Not everyone can be switzerland so to speak, and switzerland and singapore are outliers.
Essentially conservatives object to profiteering by government at our expense while demonizing our objection to their abuses. Government is the equivalent of a priestly class that lives under the protection of conservatives and by their effort and labors while deriding them and encouraging the beggars to steal from them.
I can enumerate these causes of government abuse ad-infinitum. Even if most conservatives cannot articulate their positions in the temporal language of secular humanism, I can. Conservatives have not had enough time or worked in sufficient numbers to develop a competing political language to that of the religion of secular humanism. In fact, to some degree, doing so is antithetical to their dictum of “actions not words, since words are deception”. As such they are trapped in historical metaphor at the top, and religious metaphor at the bottom. These metaphors can be restated rationally, even if most conservatives lack the ability to do so.
That doesn’t mean that such a language cannot be developed, despite Mises, Hayek, Popper, Parsons and many others having failed. It just means that as a group that seeks “group-persistence-over-time”, the language that they must employ is necessarily historical and strategic rather than temporal and tactical. Simply because our academic understanding of politics and economics is lagging so far behind our scientific language, and our history, literature, religion and myths are all an impediment to correcting that deficiency.
Our wealth, and the ‘goodness’ of government that you casually attribute to the state, is not from the state, but from the freedoms FROM the state. In contrast to your correlations, I’ll enumerate the causations:
The real sources of American Prosperity?
1) English Common Law, which facilitates individual property rights, which facilitates human calculation of opportunities. Wide spread use of accounting technology that facilitates calculation of opportunities and costs. Wide spread contract dispute resolution. This law was not made. It evolved. The king could not write laws as we mean them, until recently. He had to rely upon common law.
2) The civic republican tradition awakened in germany as a reaction to the search for freedom from the dominance of Mediterranean civilization, it’s culture of corruption, and it’s trade routes. That german awakening was then distributed by way of english naval dominance.
3) The movement of trade to the atlantic so that we could exploit the newly discovered continent, and the increase in wealth given to the northern european naval nations over the more sedentary competing civilizations of the east. And in particular, the militarization of the entire english nation into what we call Merchantilism, or the corporate state. Ths allowed officers to move into business and expand business under state sponshorship. This mobilizes the vast amount of ‘individual computing power’ when combined with sound money and granular property rights.
4) Plentiful money so that we are not constrained by the availability of money. Contrary to most libertarians who want to expropriate money into the capitalist class, the military is what makes trade possible, and money is borrowed from the citizenry – else we have what libertarians desire, privatized wins and socialized losses – expressly against the civic republican tradition, as well as that of all other civilizations. (this is what we have been doing by the way – privatizing wins and socializing losses. Instead, we should bypass the capitalist class the way the swiss have but that’s another topic althogether.)
5) the importation of vast numbers of people as we sold off this newly discovered continent while giving them political power before they were self sufficient. This is the real reason why the property qualification was valuable. It prevented the importation of people who could empower the political class and allow it to extort money from producers.
6) the concentration of capital made possible by selling off the continent. This has been the greatest land grab in history.
7) the funding of a military bought cheaply and at a discount after the world wars, by the profits earned by selling off a continent.
8) the use of that military network to take over and expand trade routes, banking and the ‘international financial system’ that made american ‘currency’ a necessary commodity for world trade.
9) This export of ‘money’ has been our fee for creating and exploiting that world trade system. it is the source of all our wealth since the great depression. THe imbalance of power has led to an imbalance of wealth that has been in our favor.
THAT IS THE SOURCE OF OUR GOOD LIFE. PERIOD.
The ENTIRE world knows this. They understand the myth of american exceptionalism even if we don’t. “The west dominates the world because it westerners are simply better at war, not because they are more virtuous.” You can find this statement or an equivalent in the literature of every civilization. In particular, in the literature, worldwide, for the past decade, has been coalescing an argument against western democracy as something peculiarly western. They do not take it to the full conclusion. THat we have a democracy because we are wealthy enough to have one, but that is a temporary phenomenon.
We americans are wealthy because in the act of discovering a continent the wealth generated and the freedom of individuals to act, outpaced the ability for the european governments to appropriate that wealth. This led to local concentration of wealth in the hands of local ‘business people’ who then took political power and profited from westward expansion. THe increase in productivity by the late 1800’s along with the after effects of napoleon’s chaos collapsed the european economy in the first great depression and led to the franco-prussian problem, and eventually to the first world war. The further concentration of capital allowed the US to capture english trade routes and military bases and buy that empire’s trade routes at a discount. England has been a client state ever since. And the dollar the world currency instead of the pound.
We are in our position of wealth not out of national character, or our system of government, or any myth of american exceptionalism, but out of english heritage and the act of selling off a continent.
Conservatives, who are historical and traditional by nature, and whom have a long view of time, will take pride in any civilization wherein their status as the progenitors, and maintainers of that society are acknowledged. Conservatives seek to maintain group persistence by maintaining group advantage. This is a masculine strategy as old as mankind. LIberals seek to distribute resources for current good, rather than capitalize resources for future stress. This is a feminine strategy as old as mankind. Together they generally balance one another whether in tribal cave, clannish village, or chieftain state.
The problem becomes epistemological when we get to empires. We have trouble ‘knowing’ if we’re storing or distributing enough. WE haven’t had the political technology to solve that problem yet. The first time mankind had this problem we developed writing, numbers and counting systems. The second time we developed Accounting, contracts, interest and banking. Now we need to understand that our political system has to catch up with technology.
We have an antiquated political system in this country for the size of empire that we have and it is this antiquity, this antiquarianism, this reliance upon metaphysical biases and residues that is preventing us from solving the problem of reinventing government.
Socialism is not reinvention, it’s re-establishment of tribalism. Democracy is not advancement, it’s a temporary tool for increasing the scope of participants in problems solving. We are beyond the ability for politicians to comprehend our problems and provide solutions.
Conservatives know this. They just don’t know how to change it. (I do.) But if history is true to form, the invested interests in government, and the money in the political chain, (just as conservatives warn) is such that these innovations will take a century to implement if even possible, unless there is a catastrophic failure of our ability to maintain trade routes and the global monetary system.
Government broke the boundary of moral hazard when it created fixed benefit programs and sought full employment rather than variable benefit programs and productivity increases, and in doing so converted the society from saving so that the old could profit from lending to the young to the young supporting the old, when it had taken thousands of years of human history to adopt the established technology of saving and interest. This is was social hubris on a massive scale. Furthermore the government simply SPENT all that accumulated wealth in savings, as redistribution and social and infrastructure programs over a period of eighty years. The conservatives tried to counter it but could not, and now demographically have lost the opportunity. They have been out immigrated and out bred.
Americans need to stop congratulating themselves on their perceived wisdom and the virtue of their religion of democratic secular humanism. That’s all nonsense. We are prosperous because we control resources, and levy a worldwide tax for our policing of the international system. While at the same time we undermine that system’s ability to function by undermining the political power of the people who made that system possible: the military class.
Americans need to have an honest conversation about the source of their prosperity so that they can have an honest political debate. without that debate we cannot have a democracy or a republic because all else is superstition, religion, absurd metaphysics and outright fraud supported by outright violence.
And that’s the danger. At some point, that military class and it’s newest iteration as the small business owner, has been so willfully undermined by the priestly class’s new iteration of public intellectuals and the new religion of secular humanism, will choose to return to it’s basic principles as a military class. Conservatives may be conservative but they are only non-violent by restraint, not by choice. (Aside from the jewish contingent in the libertarian movement that failed to learn the one lesson of the hebrew bible, and it’s story of the rise and fall of Israel – that jewish doctrine is not sufficiently self sacrificing to hold land, and therefore hold a state.)
The conservative dislike of Clinton was almost entirely because of his failure to understand the importance of the military culture to conservatives. When he undermined that culture, he effectively stole the inheritance of the conservatives. That we only had a few incidents of domestic violence was surprising. If he had not done that one thing, he could have emerged as a great president. The trick in this country is to be both militaristic and socially tolerant, and fiscally responsible. But our leaders lie about the source of american prosperity. It is this primary lie that causes american political friction.
The West’s success versus all other civilizations, despite it’s marginalism and distance from the beginnings of the centers of civilization, has been that the military class adopted individual tactics in battle. THis led to enfranchisement. Enfranchisement led to debate. DEbate led to reason and logic. Logic to science and technology. Science and technology to
And our civilization’s locus changes, from athens, to rome, to florence and Venice, to Paris, to Holland to london to new york to washington, and now to the different cities that are capitals of ‘nine nations of north america’ that make up the Washington Empire.
People do not possess the necessary information to make rational decisions about political and social ends. They rely on myths. (THe alternative would be to say “I simply don’t know” which is a sin in the religion of secular humanism. There are a few people who are aging now who are wise enough to say that but the religion is so pervasive that it’s become rare to hear someone say “I don’t knw enough about such things.”) People instead rely on metaphysical presumptions and biases instead of rational information. Because of the complexity in predicting the future during periods of dynamic change (as another generation of our economists are discovering yet again), makes prediction nearly impossible due to such extraordinary complexity, people in all social classes rely on their biases and assumptions.
As such, metaphysical biases and therefore, all human decision making, are made according to class judgements – ‘residues and derivations’. And for complex reasons due to pedagogical content in our families, child rearing, language, and literature, THIS CANNOT CHANGE. Class memes are relatively permanent. Most voting patterns are not due to political changes in opinion but to redistricting and immigration and breeding rates. Even for neutral policies that do not affect them, people do not change their long term biases except to generally become more conservative as they age. This is why conservatives are annoyed. THey see their sacrifices in the name of group persistence used by the government to immigrate and empower the state, and they feel angry at the theft of their sacrifices.
As such, conservatives and liberals simply hold class residues that together form a division of labor, with short term altruistic goods on the left, and long term group persistence on the right. The question is not whether one or the other is right, but whether each group’s preferences are fulfilled well enough and with sufficient compromise, that neither revolts. (even if revolting is ‘leaving the economy’)
The problem in the USA is that the south has recovered from it’s slumber, and the rust belt and west coasts have immigrated vast populations. Second, that the industrial heartland is NOT on a coast, and faces the same problem as does germany – it must produce exceptional products in order to create an export economy that compensates for it’s geographic disadvantage, yet the ‘residues’ in that part of teh country do not promote german or japanese quality, because the rust belt/great lakes culture was developed for westward expansion and developed a culture of cheap simple goods, not for an export economy. This can only be fixed over a generation of policy, and a political ability to articulate that policy. Democracy is notoriously bad at accomplishing these kinds of change. And socialist totalitarianism is the opposite direction. it seeks to distribute normative gains not to increase production.
Macchiavelli, Weber, Pareto, Michels, Hayek, Mises and Popper all understood these things to some degree. (I think rothbard distracted the libertarian movement despite his many insights he prescribed anarchism as a means of controlling the state, rather than developing tools by which we could maintain the system of social insurance created by fiat money and the state-bank, making the government insurer or last resort.) Yet these men were unable to develop a prescription for government that solved the problem faster than the state could appropriate power under the myths of socialism and secular humanism. That is because the problem of distributed government in the civic republican tradition is much more complicated than under the simplistic tribal metaphor of centralized states.
Socialism succeeds because of SENTIMENTS not because of reason. Government empowerment succeeds because of incrementalism, and a failure of conservatives to articulate a sufficiently explanatory alternative.
From my position, in hindsight, it turns out that some people in the thirties, during our second great depression stumbled across it. But that in that period of duress, the state sought the short term goal of FULL EMPLOYMENT instead of the long term goal of PRODUCTIVITY, and thus Keynesianism supported socialism, and we developed the welfare state, just as did the egyptians, Romans, the Mayans and just about everyone else who ever had to run an empire.
We can have our cake and eat it too. We can do it without using politics as a tool of calculation. That’s what we do now. We calculate the future of our society using democracy’s political ‘wins and losses’. By trial and error. But we don’t have to race to the bottom like all other democracies in history. We can have our cake and eat it too.
We just have to understand that our system of government is from an era of shipping and trading agrarian goods, and that laws are a remnant of slave society, and that the use of politics and government is of necessity an imprecise, and fraud-producing enterprise. As has been said, “We have simply swapped a culture of violence for a culture of fraud.” Conservatives by their nature, understand this. THey see government as fraud. And for reasons that are explained in the myth of the rational voter, it is only by fraud and later justification of failure, that politicians are empowered, and only those that seek power, who seek political office. When the entire western tribal tradition has been to ensure that no man obtains sufficient power to dominate others.
Now, the underlying and unstated problem here is that conservatives, as the remnants of the military class are by definition, militant. They are not a rabble. They do not like rabblery. And they will shortly, if they have not already, choose to CEASE refraining from their use of VIOLENCE.
I have stated this repeatedly : “men are not equally endowed with either violence or courage. Some are capable of interpersonal violence, some of rabblery and protest, adn some of revolution and civil war.” If I forgo my opportunity for violence, I pay a cost in doing so. If I forgo by opportunity for fraud, i pay a cost in doing so. If I work hard then I pay a cost for doing so. If I am self supporting then I pay a cost for doing so. This is how our civilization is paid for – not by money, but by forgone opportunity. This is the currency of human action that pays for a non-corrupt society, and for the institution of property. That’s how property is PAID for. Not by government, but by many, many millions of forgone opportunities every day. It is THIS that funds the development of the STATE, not the state that creates property. “We have laws because we have property, we do not have property because we have laws”. THe differences in cultural definitions of property have to do entirely with the degree of familial independence needed to keep a farm or craft a good. It is not that one civilization is more charitable than another. It’s that more advanced civilizations are more productive and as such require greater divisions of labor, and as such more granular definitions of property.
You didn’t think property rights were FREE did you? Or granted by the government did you? Governments simply publicize property rights – when they interfere with them they disrupt the society. Property is a very complicated technology that must evolve along with the division of labor. It is very little different from the technology of numbers or language and is just as important as science. And it is paid for by forgone opportunity.
So conservatives feel that sacrifice by sacrifice they pay into the ‘virtual wishing well’ that creates society. They do this, each of them, with a thousand micro-payments a day. Then, along comes the state and wants them to pay the RESULTS of those sacrifices to the state for reasons of mutual investment. Then the state shows up and wants them to pay the results of those sacrifices for charity. Then the state shows up and wants them to pay the results of those sacrifices to empower the government, and the government says it’s not a donation, but a duty, and then the conservative looks up and says, “hmmm….. I do all these things, and make these sacrifices so that others may jeer at me and ridicule me. ”
Soldiers are the source of every civilization because they are the source of it’s ethic, it’s resources and it’s trade routes. Different civilizations’ social systems are largely a reflection of their ancient battle tactics. The west is unique because it adopted the wheel, horse, bronze and coordinated tactics, which required individual initiative, and that the warrior supplied his own instruments of war. That is the difference between western, byzantine, middle-eastern, and asian cultures.
It is how you use them as a civilization that affects all other classes that come after it. Furthermore any civilization that loses it’s soldier class, and in particular their motivation to act as soldiers despite the sacrifice of doing so, rapidly becomes the victim of someone else’s soldiers.
Conservatives are your soldiers. They carry the meme of heroic sacrifice.
The question is, how do you want to use your soldiers?
This is the core of conservatism. “Group Persistence and heroic sacrifice to maintain that persistence, and the individualism needed to maintain that ethic.”
And as such it is not a silly believe or an absurd metaphysics or a religion. It is a strategy for maintaining land and trade routes. And as such, is the source of not only western but american prosperity.
And none other.
Everyone else is just along for the ride and complaining about the scenery.