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Conservatism Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


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			    Conservatism FAQ
			  July 1, 2009 Version

This FAQ, posted monthly, attempts to deal with questions and
objections regarding conservatism. Additional questions and
comments are welcome. The conservatism discussed is traditionalist
American conservatism; other varieties are touched on in section 6,
and their adherents are urged to draft additional FAQs. For further
discussion and relevant links, see the Traditionalist Conservatism
Page, http://jimkalb.com/node/7.

A current version of this FAQ can be obtained by sending the
message "send usenet/news.answers/conservatism/faq" by email to
mail-server@rtfm.mit.edu. A hypertext version is available at
http://jimkalb.com/node/3.

Questions

1 General principles

   1.1 What is distinctive about conservatism as a political view?

   1.2 Why is tradition a source of greater wisdom?

   1.3 Why isn't it better to reason things out from the beginning?

   1.4 What's the difference between following tradition and
   refusing to think?

   1.5 Why can't tradition be an accumulation of ignorance, error
   and vice as easily as of wisdom?

   1.6 How can anyone know his own tradition is the right one?

   1.7 What about truth?

   1.8 There are conflicting traditions even within a single
   society. Which gets treated as "ours?"

2 Tradition and change

   2.1 Why not just accept change?

   2.2 Isn't conservatism simply another way of saying that people
   who currently have wealth and power should keep it?

   2.3 Wouldn't we still have slavery if conservatives had always
   been running the show?

3 Social and cultural issues

   3.1 What are family values and what is so great about them?

   3.2 Why can't conservatives just accept that people's personal
   values differ?

   3.3 Why are conservatives such theocrats?

   3.4 Why do conservatives always want to force their values on
   everybody else?

   3.5 What role do conservatives think government should play in
   enforcing moral values?

   3.6 Aren't conservatives racist sexist homophobes?

   3.7 What happens to feminists, homosexuals, racial minorities
   and others marginalized in a conservative society?

   3.8 What about freedom?

   3.9 And justice?

4 Economic issues

   4.1 Why do conservatives say they favor virtue and community but
   favor laissez-faire capitalism?

   4.2 Why don't conservatives care about what happens to the poor,
   weak, discouraged, and outcast?

   4.3 Shouldn't the government do something for people for whom
   the usual support networks don't work?

   4.4 What about welfare for the middle classes?

   4.5 If conserving is a good thing, why isn't ecology a
   conservative issue?

5 Conservatism in an age of established liberalism

   5.1 Why do conservatives talk as if the sky is about to fall and
   all good things are in the past?

   5.2 Isn't conservatism essentially nostalgia for a past that
   never was and can't be restored?

   5.3 What's all this stuff about community and tradition when the
   groups that matter these days are based on interests and
   perspectives rather than traditions?

   5.4 Why are most people seriously involved in studying and
   dealing with social issues liberals?

   5.5 How can tradition do anything but endorse the way things
   happen to be?

   5.6 Shouldn't conservatives favor things that are as
   well-established as the welfare state and steady expansion of
   the scope of the civil rights laws?

   5.7 I was raised a liberal. Doesn't that mean that to be
   conservative I should stay true to liberalism?

6 The conservative rainbow

   6.1 How do libertarians differ from conservatives?

   6.2 What are mainstream conservatives?

   6.3 What are neoconservatives?

   6.4 What are paleoconservatives?

   6.5 What are paleolibertarians?

   6.6 What are Frankfurt School Neopaleoconservatives?

   6.7 Where do the pro-life movement and Religious Right fit into
   all this?

   6.8 What are the differences between American conservatism and
   that of other countries?

   6.9 What do all these things called "conservatism" have in
   common?

Answers

1 General Principles

   1.1 What is distinctive about conservatism as a political view?

   Its emphasis on what has been passed down as a source of wisdom
   that goes beyond what can be demonstrated or even explicitly
   stated.

   1.2 Why is tradition a source of greater wisdom?

   It is a network of commonly accepted attitudes, beliefs and
   practices that has grown up through strengthening of things that
   have worked and rejection of things that have led to conflict
   and failure. It therefore comprises a collection of habits that
   have proved useful in a huge variety of practical affairs, and a
   comprehensive and generally coherent point of view that reflects
   very extensive experience and thought. Through it we know subtle
   and fundamental features of the world that would otherwise
   escape us, and our understanding of those things takes on
   concrete and usable form.

   The usual alternative to reliance on tradition is reliance on
   theory. Taking theory literally can be costly because it
   achieves clarity by ignoring things that are difficult to
   articulate. Such things can be important; the reason politics
   and morals are learned mostly by experience and imitation is
   that most of what we need to know about them consists in habits,
   attitudes and implicit presumptions that we couldn't begin to
   put into words. There is no means other than tradition to
   accumulate, conserve and hand on such things.

   Other considerations also support the wisdom of relying on
   tradition, if not specifically the wisdom of tradition itself.
   For example, tradition typically exists as the common property
   of a community whose members are raised in it. Accordingly, it
   normally unites more than divides, and is far more likely than
   theory to facilitate free and cooperative life in common.

   1.3 Why isn't it better to reason things out from the beginning?

   Our knowledge of things like politics and morality is partial
   and attained slowly and with difficulty. We can't evaluate
   political ideas without accepting far more beliefs, presumptions
   and attitudes than we could possibly judge critically. The
   effects of political proposals are difficult to predict, and as
   the proposals become more ambitious their effects become
   incalculable. Accordingly, the most reasonable approach to
   politics is normally to take the existing system of society as a
   given that can't be changed wholesale and try to ensure that any
   changes cohere with the principles and practices that make the
   existing system work as well as it does.

   1.4 What's the difference between following tradition and
   refusing to think?

   Conservatives do not reject thought but are skeptical of its
   autonomy. They believe that tradition guides and corrects
   thought, and so brings it closer to truth, which has no special
   connection with any private view.

   While truth is not altogether out of reach, our access to it is
   incomplete and often indirect. It can not be reduced wholly to
   our possession, so conservatives are willing to accept it in
   whatever form it is available to us. In particular, they
   recognize the need to rely on the unarticulated truth implicit
   in inherited attitudes and practices. Today this aspect of our
   connection to truth is underestimated, and conservatives hope to
   think better and know more truly by re-emphasizing it.

   1.5 Why can't tradition be an accumulation of ignorance, error
   and vice as easily as of wisdom?

   Since tradition is a human thing it may reflect human vices as
   well as virtues. The same, of course, is true of relying on
   autonomous reason. In this century, anti-traditional theories
   supported by intelligent men for reasons thought noble have
   repeatedly led to the murder of millions of innocents.

   The issue therefore is not whether tradition is perfect but its
   appropriate place in human life. To the extent our most
   consistent aim is toward what is good, and we err more through
   ignorance, oversight and conflicting impulse than through
   coherent and settled evil, tradition will benefit us by linking
   our thoughts and actions to a steady and comprehensive system in
   which they can correct each other. It will secure and refine our
   acquisitions while hampering antisocial impulses. To the extent
   we consistently aim at what is evil, then tradition can not help
   us much, but neither can anything else short of divine
   intervention.

   1.6 There are lots of conflicting traditions. How can anyone
   know his own is the right one?

   Comprehensive certainty is hard to come by. Our own tradition
   (like our own reasoning) might lead us astray where another's
   would not. However, such concerns can not justify rejecting our
   own tradition unless we have a method transcending it for
   determining when that has happened, and in most situations we do
   not. If experience has led us astray it will most likely be
   further experience that sets us right. The same is true of
   tradition, which is social experience.

   Putting issues of truth aside, the various parts of a particular
   tradition are adjusted to each other in a way that makes it
   difficult to abandon one part and substitute something from
   another tradition. A French cook will have trouble if he has to
   rely on Chinese ingredients and utensils. Issues of coherence
   and practicality accordingly make it likely that we will do
   better developing the tradition to which we are accustomed than
   attempting to adopt large parts of a different one.

   1.7 But what about truth?

   Most conservatives are confident comprehensive objective truth
   exists, but not in the form of a set of propositions with a
   single meaning equally demonstrable to all. The world is too big
   for us to grasp as a whole in a clear systematic way. We
   apprehend truth largely through tradition and in a way that
   cannot be fully articulated. Even if some truths can be known
   with certainty through reason or revelation, their social
   acceptance and their interpretation and application depend on
   tradition.

   1.8 There are conflicting traditions even within a single
   society. Which gets treated as "ours?"

   The question is less serious than it appears, since it cannot be
   discussed without assuming a community of discourse and
   therefore an authoritative tradition.

   Any collectivity that deliberates and acts has a tradition--a
   set of commonly-held habits, attitudes, beliefs and memories
   that is reasonably coherent over time--that enables it to do so.
   A society consists of those who at least in general accept the
   authority of a common tradition. "Our" tradition is therefore
   the tradition that guides and motivates the collective action of
   the society to which we belong and give our loyalty, and within
   which the relevant discussion is going forward.

   It is worth noting that no society is perfectly unified; each
   has elites and subordinate societies with their own traditions
   and spheres of action. A society may also harbor resident aliens
   and dissident or criminal groups. Which groups are treated as
   subordinate societies legitimately belonging to the larger one
   and which are treated as resident aliens, criminals or foreign
   oppressors is itself determined by the traditions that define
   the society as a whole and make it what it is.

2 Tradition and Change

   2.1 Society has always changed, for the better in some ways and
   for the worse in others. Tradition itself is an accumulation of
   changes. So why not accept change, especially if everything is
   so complicated and hard to figure out?

   Changes have always involved resistance as well as acceptance.
   Those that have to make their way over opposition will
   presumably be better than those that are accepted without
   serious questioning. Tradition is reliable because it reflects
   the overall weight of experience and reflection. That means that
   traditions that have long endured, and so presumptively reflect
   extended experience, should change only in response to something
   equally weighty.

   In addition, conservatism is less rejection of change as such
   than of intentional change of a peculiarly sweeping sort
   demanded by Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment philosophies
   like liberalism and Marxism. It is recognition that the world is
   not our creation, and there are permanent things we must simply
   accept. For example, the family as an institution has changed
   from time to time in conjunction with other social changes.
   However, the current left/liberal demand that all definite
   institutional structure for the family be abolished as an
   infringement of individual autonomy (typically phrased as a
   demand for the elimination of sex roles and heterosexism and the
   protection of children's rights) is different in kind from
   anything in the past, and conservatives believe it must be
   fought.

   2.2 Isn't conservatism simply another way of saying that people
   who currently have wealth and power should keep it?

   Every political view promotes the particular advantage of some
   people. If political views are to be treated as rationalizations
   of the interests of existing or would-be elites, then that
   treatment should apply equally to conservatism and all other
   views. On the other hand, if arguments that particular political
   views advance the public good are to be taken seriously, then
   the arguments for conservatism should be considered on their
   merits.

   It's worth noting that liberalism istself furthers the interests
   of powerful social classes that support it, and that movements
   aiming at social justice typically become radically elitist
   because the more comprehensive and abstract a political
   principle, the smaller the group that can be relied on to
   understand and apply it correctly.

   2.3 Wouldn't we still have slavery if conservatives had always
   been running the show?

   Experience suggests otherwise. Slavery disappeared in Western
   and Central Europe long ago without need for self-conscious
   attempts at social reconstruction. It lasted much longer in the
   new and less conservative societies Europeans founded in
   America.

   While conservatism as such doesn't guarantee there will be no
   oppression, neither do attempts at autonomous rational thought.
   It has been under radical and not conservative regimes that
   brutal forced labor and other gross forms of oppression have
   made a comeback in recent times. That is no paradox. Radicalism
   is far more compatible than conservatism with tyrannical
   institutions because by emphasizing theory and downplaying
   stable consensus it destroys reciprocity and mutual
   accommodation between rulers and ruled.

   Conservatism arose not from a desire to freeze everything
   exactly as it is, but from recognition of the necessity of
   continuity, the difficulty of forcing society into a
   preconceived pattern, and the importance of things, such as
   mutual personal obligation and standards of right and wrong not
   reducible to power and desire, for which ideologies of the Left
   have trouble finding a place. Those recognitions make
   conservatives more reliable opponents of tyranny than
   progressives.

   Conservatism recognizes that moral habits evolve with experience
   and changing circumstances, and social arrangements that come to
   be too much at odds with the moral feelings of a people change
   or disappear. It's not self-contained; recognition of existing
   practice as a standard does not mean denial that there is any
   other standard. It recognizes that there can be improvements as
   well as corruptions, and that there are rational and
   transcendent standards as well as those that exist as part of
   the institutions of particular peoples.

3 Social and Cultural Issues

   3.1 What are family values and what is so great about them?

   They are habits and attitudes that maintain a society in which
   people's most basic loyalties, and the relationships upon which
   they rely most fundamentally, are relationships to particular
   persons rather than to the state.

   Family values are basic to moral life because it is primarily in
   relationships with particular persons that are taken with the
   utmost seriousness that we find the degree of concrete knowledge
   and mutual responsibility that is necessary for our obligations
   to others to become realities for us. In addition, the knowledge
   and habits necessary for the good life mostly have to do with
   the day-to-day activities of ordinary men. Such things lose
   coherence if everyday personal relations are unstable and
   unreliable, as they will be if law, habits and attitudes do not
   support stable and functional family life.

   Family values are rejected to the extent the necessity of
   practical reliance on particular persons is viewed as something
   oppressive and unequal that the state should remedy.
   Conservatives oppose that rejection. They view tyranny as the
   likely outcome of weakening family values, since reducing
   personal and local responsibilities is likely to make state
   power unbalanced and overly predominant.

   3.2 Why can't conservatives just accept that people's personal
   values differ?

   Liberals, conservatives and others all recognize limits on the
   degree to which differing personal values can be accommodated.
   One reason such limits arise is that personal values can be
   realized only by establishing particular sorts of relations with
   other people, and no society can favor all relationships
   equally. No society, for example, can favor equally a woman who
   primarily wants to have a career and one who primarily wants to
   be a mother and homemaker. If public attitudes presume that it
   is the man who is primarily responsible for family support they
   favor the latter at the expense of the former; if not, they do
   the reverse.

   3.3 Why are conservatives such theocrats?

   They aren't, in any sense that doesn't turn most pre-60s Western
   states into theocracies. "Theocracy" normally means a state (an
   Islamic republic would be an example) in which civil law and
   authorities are formally subject to religious law and
   authorities. There have been very few such states in the West,
   and conservatives aren't interested in breaking new ground on
   the matter. They do tend to recognize that government is based
   in the end on accepted understandings of what man and the world
   are, and that strict secularism, which insists that all social
   and moral order must be based on human desire and choice, lacks
   the resources to sustain free government or even rationality.
   They therefore find it quite in order for government to follow
   accepted religious understandings in appropriate cases.

   3.4 Why do conservatives always want to force their values on
   everybody else?

   Conservatives aren't different from other people in that regard.
   Anyone with a notion of how society should work will believe
   that other people should follow the program he favors. For
   example, if Liberal Jack thinks the government should be
   responsible for the well-being of children and wants to support
   the arrangement through a system of supervision, record-keeping
   and taxation that sends people to jail who don't comply, and
   Conservative Jill thinks there should be family responsibility
   supported by a system of sex roles enforced by informal social
   sanctions, each will want what the public schools teach to be
   consistent with his program.

   Both will object to a school textbook entitled "Heather Has Two
   Mommies Who Get Away with Paying No Taxes Because They Accept
   Payment Only in Cash." Liberal Jack will object to the book
   "Heather's Mommy Stays Home and Her Daddy Goes to the Office,"
   while Conservative Jill will object to other well-known texts.
   Even Libertarian Jerry might have some problems with "Heather
   and Her Whole Family Organize to Fight for Daycare and against
   Welfare Reductions." There is no obvious reason to consider any
   of the three more tolerant than the others.

   At present, the issue of social tolerance comes up most often in
   connection with sexual morality. For a discussion from a
   conservative perspective, see the Sexual Morality FAQ,
   http://jimkalb.com/node/6.

   3.5 What role do conservatives think government should play in
   enforcing moral values?

   Since conservatives believe moral values should be determined
   more by the traditions and feelings of the people and by
   informal traditional authorities than by theory and formal
   decisions of an administrative elite, they typically prefer to
   rely on informal social sanctions rather than enforcement by
   government. Nonetheless, they believe that government should
   recognize the moral institutions on which society relies and
   should be run on the assumption that they are good things that
   should not be undercut. Thus, conservatives oppose public school
   curricula that depict traditional moral values as optional and
   programs that fund their rejection, for example by subsidizing
   unwed parents or artists who intend their works to outrage
   accepted morality. They believe the state should support
   fundamental moral institutions like the family, and oppose
   legislation that forbids discrimination on moral grounds. How
   much more the government can or should do to promote morality is
   a matter of experience and circumstance. In this connection, as
   in others, conservatives typically do not have very high
   expectations for what government can achieve although they do
   view government as important.

   3.6 Aren't conservatives racist sexist homophobes?

   That depends on what those words mean. They are often used very
   broadly.

   "Racist"--Conservatives consider community loyalty important.
   The communities people grow up in generally have some connection
   to ethnicity. That's no accident, because ethnicity is what
   develops when people live together with a common way of life for
   a long time. Accordingly, conservatives think some degree of
   ethnic loyalty and separateness is OK. Ethnicity is not the same
   thing as "race" as a biological category; on the other hand, the
   two are difficult to disentangle because both arise out of
   shared history and common descent.

   "Sexist"--All known societies have engaged in sex-role
   stereotyping, with men undertaking more responsibility for
   public affairs and women for home, family, and childcare. There
   are obvious benefits to such stereotypes, since they make it far
   more likely that individual men and women will complement each
   other and form stable and functional unions for the rearing of
   children. Also, some degree of differentiation seems to fit the
   presocial tendencies of men and women better than unisex would.
   Conservatives see no reason to give up those benefits,
   especially in view of the evident bad consequences of the
   weakening of stereotypical obligations between the sexes in
   recent decades.

   "Homophobes"--Finally, sex-role stereotyping implies a tendency
   to reject patterns of impulse, attitude and conduct that don't
   fit the stereotypes, such as homosexuality.

   For extended discussion from a conservative perspective of
   issues relating to the liberal demand for "inclusiveness", see
   the Anti-Inclusiveness FAQ, http://jimkalb.com/node/5, and the
   Anti-Feminist Page, http://jimkalb.com/node/2.

   3.7 What happens to feminists, homosexuals, racial minorities
   and others marginalized in a conservative society?

   The same as happens in a society based on the liberal conception
   of inclusiveness to religious and social conservatives and to
   ethnics who consider their ethnicity important. They find
   themselves in a social order they may not like dominated by
   people who may look down on them in which it is made difficult
   to live as they prefer.

   In both kinds of society, people on the outs may be able to
   persuade others to their way of thinking, practice the way of
   life they prefer among themselves, or break off from the larger
   society and establish their own communities. Such possibilities
   are in general more realistic in a conservative society that
   emphasizes local control, federalism, and minimal bureaucracy
   than in a society that demands egalitarian social justice and
   therefore tries to establish a universal homogeneous social
   order. For example, ethnic minorities in a conservative society
   may be able to thrive through some combination of adaptation and
   niche-finding, while in an "inclusive" society they will find
   themselves on the receiving end of policies designed to
   eliminate the public importance of their (and every other)
   ethnic culture.

   One important question is whether alienation from the social
   order will be more common in a conservative or a liberal
   society. It seems that it will be more common in a social order
   based on universal implementation of a bureaucracy's conception
   of social justice than in one that accepts the moral feelings
   and loyalties that arise over time within particular
   communities. So it seems likely that a liberal society will have
   more citizens than a conservative society who feel that their
   deepest values and loyalties are at odds with the values of the
   institutions that dominate their lives, and so feel
   marginalized.

   3.8 What about freedom?

   Conservatives are strong supporters of social institutions that
   realize and protect freedom, but recognize that such
   institutions attain their full value as part of a larger whole.
   Freedom is fully realized only when we are held responsible for
   the choices we make, and it is most valuable in a setting in
   which things can readily be chosen that add up to a good life.
   Accordingly, conservatives reject perspectives that view freedom
   as an absolute, and recognize that the institutions through
   which freedom is realized must include principles of
   responsibility and must respect other goods without which
   freedom would not be worth having.

   In addition, conservatives believe there is a close connection
   between freedom and participation in public affairs. Since how
   we live affects others, freedom includes taking part in making
   society what it is. Accordingly, the conservative principles of
   federalism, local rule, and private property help realize
   freedom by devolving power into many hands and making widespread
   participation in running society a reality. Respect for
   tradition, the "democracy of the dead," has the same effect.

   3.9 And justice?

   Justice between man and man is respect for concrete obligations
   and individual responsibility. Conservatives take both very
   seriously.

   Social justice involves the ordering of social life toward the
   good for man. Social injustice involves systematic destruction
   of the conditions for that good. Because the good for man cannot
   be fully known, because it includes respect for each of us as a
   moral agent, and because human affairs are infinitely complex,
   social justice can never be fully achieved, nor achieved at all
   through imposition of a preconceived overall design on society.
   Attempts to do the latter have led to degradation of social and
   moral order and, in several modern instances, horrendous crimes
   such as the murder of millions of innocents. Social justice must
   therefore evolve rather than be constructed, and its furtherance
   therefore requires acceptance of the authority of tradition. The
   two cannot be separated.

   Social justice is sometimes thought to mean promotion of
   equality through comprehensive government action. That view
   cannot be correct since men differ and what is just for them
   must also differ. In addition, the goods which that view is
   concerned to divide equally--wealth, power and the like--are not
   the ultimate human goods and therefore can not be considered the
   ultimate concerns of justice. Finally, a system guided by such a
   conception must defeat its own purpose because it puts enormous
   and uncontrollable power in the hands of those who control the
   government. Possession of such power, of course, makes them
   radically unequal to those they rule.

4 Economic Issues

   4.1 Why do conservatives say they favor virtue and community but
   in fact favor laissez-faire capitalism? Doesn't laissez- faire
   capitalism promote the opposite?

   Conservatives typically are not fans of pure laissez-faire,
   although they view economic liberty as one of the traditional
   liberties of the American people that has served that people
   well. Many are skeptical of free trade and most favor restraints
   on immigration for the sake of permitting the existence and
   development of a reasonably coherent national community. Nor do
   they oppose in principle the regulation or suppression of
   businesses that affect the moral order of society, such as
   prostitution, pornography, and the sale of certain drugs.

   Conservatives do favor free markets when the alternative is to
   expand bureaucracy to implement liberal goals, a process that
   clearly has the effect of damaging virtue and community. Also,
   they tend to prefer self-organization to central control because
   they believe that overall administration of social life is
   impossible. They recognize that like tradition the market
   reflects men's infinitely various and often unconscious and
   inarticulate goals and perceptions far better than any
   bureaucratic process could.

   In any event, it's not clear that laissez-faire capitalism need
   undermine moral community. "Laissez-faire capitalism" has to do
   with limitations on what the government does and only indirectly
   with the nature of society as a whole. While social statistics
   are a crude measure of the state of community and morality, it
   is noteworthy that in England crime and illegitimacy rates fell
   by about half from the middle to the end of the 19th century,
   the heyday of untrammelled capitalism, and that the rejection of
   laissez-faire has in fact been accompanied by increasing social
   atomization.

   4.2 Why don't conservatives care about what happens to the poor,
   weak, discouraged, and outcast?

   Conservatives do care about what happens to such people. That's
   why they oppose government programs that multiply the poor,
   weak, discouraged, and outcast by undermining and disrupting the
   network of habits and social relations that enable people to
   carry on their lives without depending on government
   bureaucracy.

   Moral community declines when people rely on government to solve
   their problems rather than on themselves and those to whom they
   have some particular connection. It is the weak who suffer most
   from the resulting moral chaos. Those who think that
   interventionist liberalism means that the weak face fewer
   problems should consider the effects on women, children, and
   blacks of trends of the past 40 years. That period has featured
   large increases in social welfare expenditures, as well as
   increased crime, reduced educational achievement, family
   instability, and slower progress reducing poverty.

   4.3 What about people for whom the usual support networks don't
   work? Shouldn't the government do something for them?

   The fundamental question is whether government should have
   ultimate responsibility for individual material well-being.
   Conservatives believe that it should not; giving it that
   responsibility means despotism, since material well-being is a
   result of a complex of things that in the end extends to the
   whole of life, and responsibility for each individual case
   requires detailed control of the whole complex.

   Government responsibility for specific cases also means that
   what happens to people, and therefore what they do, is the
   business of no one in particular. If there's a serious problem,
   the government will take care of it. Such an outlook destroys
   social ties and promotes antisocial behavior. If an
   understanding of the role of government weakens self-reliance
   and the moral bonds that give rise to community, and cannot be
   made to work without an elaborate system of compulsion, in the
   long run it will increase suffering and degradation and so is
   the wrong understanding.

   Conservatives are therefore suspicious of social welfare
   programs, and especially demands that the government make sure
   there's an answer for every case. Suspicion has rational limits.
   Some government social welfare measures (free clinics for
   mothers and children or local systems of support for deserving
   people) may well increase social welfare even in the long term.
   However, because of the obscurity of the issue, the difficulty
   in a mass democracy of limiting the expansion of government
   benefit programs, and the value of widespread participation in
   public life, the best resolution is likely to be keeping central
   government involvement strictly limited, and letting
   individuals, associations and localities support voluntarily the
   institutions and programs they think socially beneficial.

   4.4 What about welfare for the middle classes, like social
   security, medicare, the home mortgage interest deduction, and so
   on?

   The most consistent conservatives want to get rid of them.
   Social security and medicare, they say, are financially unsound,
   and are socially harmful because they lead people capable of
   saving for their own retirement and supporting their own parents
   to rely on the government instead. They could better be replaced
   by private savings, prefunded medical insurance, greater
   emphasis on intergenerational obligations within families, and
   other arrangements that would evolve if the government presence
   were reduced or eliminated.

   Other conservatives distinguish these middle-class benefits from
   welfare by the element of reciprocity. People get social
   security and medicare only if they have already given a great
   deal to society, and the mortgage interest deduction encourages
   people to become homeowners, and so aquire a definite concrete
   stake in the local society, and in any event the benefit
   consists only in the right to keep more of one's earnings. Still
   others try to split the difference somehow. As a practical
   matter, the reluctance of many conservatives to disturb these
   arrangements is likely motivated in part by the electoral power
   of their supporters.

   4.5 If conserving is a good thing, why isn't ecology a
   conservative cause?

   Conservatism is concerned more with relations among men than
   those between man and nature, so ecology is not one of its
   defining issues. There is, however, nothing in conservatism
   intrinsically at odds with ecological concerns. Some
   conservatives and conservative schools of thought take such
   issues very seriously; others less so. There are, of course,
   conservative grounds for criticizing or rejecting particular
   aspects of the existing environmental movement, such as
   overemphasis on central controls.

5 Conservatism in an Age of Established Liberalism

   5.1 Why do conservatives talk as if the sky is about to fall and
   all good things are in the past? People have been bemoaning the
   present for a long time but things don't seem so bad today.

   Conservatives don't predict more disasters than liberals, just
   different disasters. Like other people they see both hopeful and
   hazardous trends in the current situation. Post-communist
   societies display the disastrous social consequences of
   energetic attempts to implement post-Enlightenment radicalism.
   Less energetic attempts, such as modern American liberalism, do
   not lead to similar effects as quickly. Nonetheless, social
   trends toward breakdown of affiliations among individuals,
   centralization of political power in irresponsible elites,
   irreconcilable social conflicts, and increasing stupidity,
   brutality and triviality in daily life suggest that those
   consequences are coming just the same. Liberalism seems to make
   up in thoroughness what it lacks in brutality. Why not worry
   about it?

   5.2 Isn't conservatism essentially nostalgia for a past that
   never was and can't be restored?

   In substance, the objection is that the goals of conservatism
   are neither serious nor achievable. That objection fails if in
   the end conservatives are likely to get what they want.

   Conservatism involves recognition that moral community is
   required for the coherence of individual and social life, and
   that a reasonably coherent way of life is a practical necessity.
   Current trends toward radical individualism, egalitarianism and
   hedonism destroy the possibility of moral community.
   Conservatives are therefore confident that in some fashion
   existing trends will be reversed and in important respects the
   moral and social future will resemble the past more than the
   present. In particular, the future will see less emphasis on
   individual autonomy and more on moral tradition and essentialist
   ties.

   The timing and form of the necessary reversal is of course
   uncertain. It plainly can't be achieved through administrative
   techniques, the method most readily accepted as serious and
   realistic today, so conservatives' main political proposal is
   that aspects of the modern state that oppose the reversal be
   trimmed or abandoned. Those who consider modern trends
   beneficial and irreversible therefore accuse conservatives of
   simple obstructionism. In contrast, those who see that current
   trends lead to catastrophe and that a reversal must take place
   expect that if conservatives aren't successful now their goals
   will be achieved eventually, but very likely with more conflict
   and destruction along the way and quite possibly with a less
   satisfactory end result.

   5.3 What's all this stuff about community and tradition? The
   groups that matter these days are groups like yuppies, gays, and
   senior citizens that people join as individuals based on
   interests and perspectives rather than tradition.

   Can this be true in the long run? When times are good people
   imagine that they can define themselves as they choose, but a
   society will not long exist if the only thing its members have
   in common is a commitment to self-definition. The necessity for
   something beyond that becomes clearest when the times require
   sacrifice. Membership in a group with an identity developed and
   inculcated through tradition becomes far more relevant then than
   career path, life-style option, or stage of life. One of Bill
   Clinton's problems as president was that people saw him as a
   yuppie who wouldn't die for anything; at some point that kind of
   problem becomes decisive.

   5.4 If conservatism is so great, why are most people seriously
   involved in studying and dealing with social issues liberals?

   Conservatives believe it is impossible to define and control the
   considerations relevant to social life accurately enough to make
   a technological approach to society possible. They reject
   efforts to divide human affairs into compartments to be dealt
   with by experts as part of a comprehensive plan for promoting
   goals like equality and prosperity. Academic and other policy
   experts are defined as such by their participation in such
   efforts. It would be surprising if they did not prefer
   perspectives that give those efforts free rein, such as
   welfare-state liberalism, over perspectives that are suspicious
   of them.

   5.5 How can tradition do anything but endorse the way things
   happen to be--which at present means established liberalism?

   If traditionalism were a formal rule to be applied literally it
   could tell us nothing: the current state of a tradition is
   simply the current practices, attitudes, beliefs and so on of
   the community whose tradition it is. The point of tradition,
   however, is that formal rules are inadequate. Tradition is not
   self-contained, and not all parts of it are equally
   authoritative. It is a way of grasping things that are neither
   merely traditional nor knowable apart from tradition. One who
   accepts a religious tradition, for example, owes his ultimate
   allegiance not to the tradition but to God, who is known through
   the tradition. It is that allegiance to something that exceeds
   and motivates the tradition that makes it possible to
   distinguish what is authentic and living in the tradition from
   nonessentials and corruptions.

   5.6 Shouldn't modern conservatives at least favor things that
   are as well-established as the welfare state and steady
   expansion of the scope of the civil rights laws?

   Yes, to the extent they are consistent with the older and more
   fundamental parts of our social arrangements, such as family,
   community, and traditional moral standards, and contribute to
   the over-all functioning of the whole. Unfortunately, the things
   mentioned fail on both counts. Existing welfare and civil rights
   measures make sense only as part of a comprehensive centrally
   managed system that is adverse to the connections that make
   community possible, and is designed perpetually to reorder
   society as a whole through bureaucratic decree. It is impossible
   for conservatives to accept anything like such a system.

   5.7 I was raised a liberal. Doesn't that mean that to be
   conservative I should stay true to liberalism?

   How can you be bound to a viewpoint that does not value loyalty
   and can therefore survive only if it is not accepted by most
   people? For someone raised a liberal, the conservative approach
   would be to look for guidance to the things on which the people
   with whom he grew up actually relied for coherence and
   stability, including the traditions of the larger community upon
   which their way of life depended. Those things will always
   include illiberal elements that enabled the community to
   function as such.

6 The Conservative Rainbow

   6.1 How do libertarians differ from conservatives?

   In general, libertarians emphasize limited government more than
   conservatives and believe the sole legitimate purpose of
   government is the protection of property rights against force
   and fraud. Thus, they usually consider legal restrictions on
   such things as immigration, drug use, and prostitution to be
   illegitimate violations of personal liberty. Many but not all
   libertarians hold a position that might be described as
   economically Right (anti-socialist) and culturally Left (opposed
   to what are called cultural repressiveness, racism, sexism,
   homophobia, and so on), and tend to attribute to state
   intervention the survival of things the cultural Left dislikes.

   Speaking more abstractly, the libertarian perspective assigns to
   the market the position conservatives assign to tradition as the
   great accumulator and integrator of the implicit knowledge of
   society. Some writers, such as F.A. Hayek, attempt to bridge the
   two perspectives on that issue. In addition, libertarians tend
   to believe in strict methodological individualism and absolute
   and universally valid human rights, while conservatives are less
   likely to have the former commitment and tend to understand
   rights by reference to the forms they take in particular
   societies.

   6.2 What are mainstream conservatives?

   People who mix the traditionalist conservatism outlined in this
   FAQ with varying proportions of libertarianism and liberalism.
   Any conservative who gets elected or otherwise hits the mass
   market (e.g., Rush Limbaugh) is likely to be a mainstream
   conservative.

   Mainstream conservatives often speak the language of liberalism,
   especially classical liberalism. Their appeal is nonetheless
   conservative, at least in the sense that they reject more highly
   developed forms of liberalism in favor of earlier forms that
   retain more traces of non-liberal traditions.

   6.3 What are neoconservatives?

   A group of intellectual conservatives most of whom were liberals
   until left-wing radicalism went mass-market in the sixties, and
   whose main concern on the whole is to preserve and extend what
   they see as the accomplishments of older forms of liberalism.
   Their positions continue to evolve; some still have positions
   consistent with New Deal liberalism, others treat an idealized
   "America" as a sort of world-wide evangelistic cause, and still
   others have moved on to a more complex and principled
   conservatism. Many of them have been associated with the
   magazines "Commentary" and "The Public Interest," and a
   neopapalist contingent (now at odds with many other
   neoconservatives over the relation between religion and
   politics) is associated with the magazine "First Things." Their
   influence has been out of proportion to their numbers, in part
   because they include a number of well-known Northeastern and
   West Coast journalists and academics and in part because having
   once been liberals or leftists they still can speak the language
   and retain a certain credibility in Establishment circles.

   6.4 What are paleoconservatives?

   Another group of conservatives most of whom were never liberals
   and live someplace other than the Northeastern megalopolis or
   California. The most prominent paleo publications are
   "Chronicles" and "Modern Age." They first arose as a
   self-conscious group in opposition to neoconservatives after the
   success of the neos in establishing themselves within the Reagan
   administration, and especially after the neos helped defeat the
   nomination of paleo Mel Bradford as head of the National
   Endowment for the Humanities in favor of one of their own, Bill
   Bennett. The views set forth in this FAQ are broadly consistent
   with those of most paleoconservatives.

   6.5 What are paleolibertarians?

   A group of libertarians, notably Llewellyn Rockwell and the late
   Murray Rothbard, who reject mainstream libertarianism as
   culturally libertine and often squishy-soft on big government,
   and on most issues share common ground with paleoconservatives.
   Their center on the web is Mises.org, and a sampling of their
   views expressed in popular form can be found at LewRockwell.com

   6.6 What are Frankfurt School Neopaleoconservatives?

   A group (so named for the first time in this FAQ) that has come
   by way of Frankfurt School cultural criticism to a position
   reminiscent of paleoconservatism emphasizing federalism,
   rejection of the therapeutic managerial state, and (most
   recently) liturgy. Their publication is "Telos," which now
   includes paleocon Paul Gottfried on its editorial board and
   publishes Chronicles editor Thomas Fleming as well as writers
   such as Alain de Benoist associated with the European New Right
   (and for that matter the author of this FAQ.)

   6.7 Where do the pro-life movement and religious right fit into
   all this?

   Like conservatism, both movements reject hedonism and radical
   individual autonomy and emphasize the authority of
   traditionally-based institutions like the family and religion in
   opposition to that of the modern managerial state. Their general
   goals can usually be supported on conservative principles, but
   they tend to base their claims on principles of natural law or
   revelation that are sometimes handled in an antitraditional way.
   As popular movements in an antitraditional public order they
   often adopt non-conservative styles of reasoning and rhetoric.
   Thus, these movements have strong conservative elements but are
   not purely conservative. It should be noted, however, that pure
   conservatism is rare or nonexistent and may not even be
   coherent; the point of conservatism is always some good other
   than maintenance of tradition as such.

   6.8 What are the differences between American conservatism and
   that of other countries?

   They correspond to the differences in political tradition. In
   general, conservatism in America has a much stronger
   capitalist/libertarian and populist streak than in other
   countries. European conservatism once emphasized support for
   throne, altar and sword as hierarchical bearers of authoritative
   traditions. When those things collapsed European conservatism
   mostly disappeared, while in America those hierarchies never
   existed so their collapse had less effect. The national
   differences seem to be declining as other countries become more
   like America and many American conservatives become more
   alienated from their country's actual way of life and system of
   government. Especially in recent years conservatism on both
   sides of the Atlantic has emphasized opposition to new
   antitraditional hierarchies of formal expertise and bureaucratic
   position. However, American conservatism continues to have a
   stronger religious streak than present-day European conservatism
   and also has much broader and deeper support.

   6.9 What do all these things called "conservatism" have in
   common?

   Each rejects, through an appeal to something traditionally
   valued, the liberal tendency to treat individual impulse and
   desire as the final authorities. Differences in the preferred
   point of reference give rise to different forms of conservatism.
   Those who appeal to the independent and responsible individual
   become libertarian conservatives, while those who appeal to a
   traditional culture or to God become traditionalist or religious
   conservatives. Depending on circumstances, the alliance among
   different forms of conservatism may be closer or more tenuous.
   In America today libertarian, traditionalist and religious
   conservatives find common ground in favoring federalism and
   constitutional limited government and opposing the managerial
   welfare state.

-- 
Jim Kalb
http://jimkalb.com

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