Friday, February 15, 2008

What is a Conservative Anyway?

I’m wondering if I need to come up with a new name for my political philosophy. Being a “Conservative” is amorphous. Paleoconservative is problematic too.

According to the ultimate authority on everything, Wikipedia, paleocons supposedly believe in classical Federalism. What is classical federalism? In the true sense of the word, it would describe what I believe in: power should be held at the lowest level, but in the U.S. “fdederalism usually means “strong central government.” I favor Reagan’s “New Federalism” which gives more power to the states. Is this “classical federalism”? As the ultimate authority goes on to say, even if you specific “paleo”, “Paleoconservativism is not expressed as an ideology and its adherents do not necessarily subscribe to any one party line.”

Here’s what I believe in (or what’s been in my mind lately):

People need to be involved in government if self-government is going to work. “There is no political solution to our trouble evolution”: Good men make a bad system work; opportunists, if not stopped by the citizens, will make a good system fail. That being said….

The rule of law. (I would specify that I believe strongly in the Bill of Rights, but “your rights end where my nose begins.” Thus the state needs to be kept under in its place, but “rights” are not moral absolutes).

Small Government: I have no problem with the government doing things that it can do best (which is a small list of things), but the government should not do things that, states, cities, neighborhoods, families or individuals can do for themselves.

Speak and walk softly but carry a big stick: If our interests are really at issue and we have to use force, use force quickly and decisively. Be willing to facilitate peace, but otherwise, stay out of other people’s business. War is morally, politically and economically hazardous and should be a last recourse.

What am I?

25 comments:

Rodak said...

Civis--
The problem with "Classical Federalism" is that strict adherence to a States' Rights doctrine will give you things like Jim Crow laws. If the feds had not stepped in, the deep south would probably still be a bastion of institutionalized racism.

As for Reagan, the Iran-Contra affair shows just how deep his "New Federalism" really went. As soon as congress crossed him by cutting off funding for the support of the nun-murdering fascists Reagan wanted to support in Central America, he subverted the will of the people--as expressed by their elected representatives--and pulled off an illegal "guns for hostages" scheme involving arch-enemy of America, Iran. What label do you paste on that?
I think that anybody who wanted to strictly define "conservative" or any other such label, and then live by that definition, would be unable to work within the political system as it actually exists and functions.

Civis said...

Alright Rodak, you trying to argue while I'm trying to gaze at mynavel!

RE Jim Crow laws: I disagree. The civil Rights Movement was making great progress before the Feds stepped in. The Feds have done as much to create racial problems as they have to solve them. Plus methinks you support a strong central government because you like some of what it does/tries to do/you hope it will do. If the Feds were run by people like Judge Roy Moore, I think you would feel differenly.

RE Iran Contra: Your anecdote is flawed: 1) This is not really a "New Federalism" issue. I don't think anybody is suggesting that the power to deal with foreign governments be at the state level. 2) I believe you are referring to a FEDERAL congress 3) This is an argumetum ad hominem.

Can you explain: "I think that anybody who wanted to strictly define "conservative" or any other such label, and then live by that definition, would be unable to work within the political system as it actually exists and functions."?

Going back to #3 under Iran Contra, a few months ago you asked me to do a post on your "manifold errors" in a prvious discussion. That will be my next post.

Alex said...

Be like me (libertarian) and you won't have to worry about what a conservative is!

Civis said...

What's a Libertarian?

Jared said...

When did Alex become a "libertarian"? Perhaps we do need a definition from Alex just so that we're on the same page. I never thought I'd hear that from Alex.

Oh, by the way, to please Civis, I declare that some statement in this blog is some sort of straw man. :)

Civis said...

Huh?

Jared said...

Just being silly in response to your latest article on logic fallacies.

Civis said...

Gotcha

Rodak said...

I don't think anybody is suggesting that the power to deal with foreign governments be at the state level.
Eisenhower had to call out the troops to get little kids into the schools that the law entitled them to attend. If you call that "the civil right movement making great progress, then your idea of progress is different from mine.

Congress, which has the power of the purse, and the members of which represent their states, had cut off funding for the Contras. The executive branch usurped the will of congress and thus the people, which is not how the federal system is meant to work (obviously).

Nobody can function in politics as an ideological purist because politics is inevitably the art of the deal and the art of the compromise. A purist has no leverage to do either.

Rodak said...

Oops. Got my comments out of order. But you'll figure it out...

Civis said...

"Eisenhower had to call out the troops..."

Your point that the Feds stepped in prior to the 1960's is well taken, however, I think you get my point.

"Congress, which has the power of the purse.."

Aren't you still off point, and isn't this still a fallacy (see my latest post)?

"Nobody can function in politics as an ideological ..."

What does this have to do with defining conservatism?

Rodak said...

"Congress, which has the power of the purse.."

Aren't you still off point, and isn't this still a fallacy (see my latest post)?


I don't think so. It was a violation of the system of checks and balances upon which the federal system is constructed. Please explain your reasoning.

Rodak said...

What does this have to do with defining conservatism?

I'm sure that there are already umpteen definitions of conservatism available to choose from. What you really want to do (I think) is construct a definition of conservatism that will allow you to do as you please under that rubric. This is pretty much what everybody else does. Therefore, what's the point of formulating definitions? People play it by ear as issues come up.
You've probably seen all the success this society has had trying to define "torture" for instance...

Cerebella said...

Civis,

Your post about informal fallicies seems to have been stimulated at this particular point in time by the argumenta between you and Rodak in the comments on "What is a Conservative Anyway"?. No logic chopper I - have studied just enough of it to be dangerous. But I think the fallacies you have listed are "informal" fallacies whereas the problem I see in your exchange with Rodak is the formal fallacy of equivocation. You're talking about defining political philosophy from a theoretical stance where he is talking about political practice.

Granted, we need the theory but he does have a point in that when it comes to action, we have to apply faculties of judgement and prudence. Rodak is uncomfortable with the idea of a theoretical framework restricting freedom of action ad hoc. It's wise to be uncomfortable with that for a theoretical framework can become an ideology. I kind of think this is what happened to the Pharisee party, which party simply couldn't tolerate Our Lord's acts of charity when they ran amok of "the rules."

On the other hand, without a theoretical framework, we wake up in a brand new world every morning and "anything goes" - to hell with rule by law - enter any number of tyrannies.

It ain't easy being human.

Civis said...

Rodak:

"I don't think so. It was a violation of the system of checks and balances upon which the federal system is constructed. Please explain your reasoning."

Unless I am misunderstanding, you are using an example of the failure of the "federal system" as an argument in favor of federalism.

Second, this line of thinking of yours goes back to your comment, "As for Reagan, the Iran-Contra affair shows just how deep his "New Federalism" really went." which is argumentum ad hominem.

"I'm sure that there are already umpteen definitions of conservatism available to choose from. What you really want to do (I think) is construct a definition of conservatism that will allow you to do as you please under that rubric. This is pretty much what everybody else does. Therefore, what's the point of formulating definitions? People play it by ear as issues come up.
You've probably seen all the success this society has had trying to define "torture" for instance..."

I think that defining my political beliefs is important for communication. If I have a conversation with someone at a party, rather than giving a dissertation on my political beliefs, if I can say, "I'm an X", the conversation moves much faster. That's all I'm up to.

As for what you say about compromise, etc. I'm all for that. I'm in the choir you are preaching to. You would agree however that there are moral limits to compromise?

Cerebella,

I should clarify that my latest post is aimed at bloggers in general, not Rodak in particular. The post stems from many discussion with several different people, not so much this particular thread.

You can have two fallacies at once. Still, equivocation is a fallacy based on language: using a single term in more than one sense in a single argument. This would not be equivocation, because we are both using the term in the same sense. This would be "avoiding the issue" since the issue is what is the definition of a convervative, not whether conservatives are hypocrites and not whether an ideolog can function in the current political system. He may very well "have A point", but this is "beside THE point" of the question posed here.

Cerebella said...

Civis,
"You can have two fallacies at once."

Of course.

"Still, equivocation is a fallacy based on language: using a single term in more than one sense in a single argument."

Yes, and that results in four terms in a formal syllogism, which makes the argument formally invalid.

"This would not be equivocation, because we are both using the term in the same sense."

I disagree; you're using "political" in a theoretical sense and he in the practical sense. Quid dixi super.

Civis said...

I could be wrong, but me thinks that Rodak is thinking of "conservative" as a label for a political philosphy of sorts, which is the same as I am thinking. I guess Rodak can speak for himself on that issue.

This thread is a case in point of how messy blogging can be. A question was posed regarding how to define a term or whether a different term would be better and has turned into a discussion of American History and then a discussion of logic without anyone addressing the question posed.

Rodak said...

Civis--
What I am saying is that two people can both call themselves "conservative" and mean quite different things. And then, when they act, they do quite different things. You dream of calling yourself "conservative" at a dinner party and not needing to explain what you mean by that, is, indeed, just a dream.
Reagan called himself a "New Federalist." What did that mean? Iran-Contra was a violation of our federal system. Was a "New Federalist" one who favored a dictatorial Executive? I doubt it. But, so far as Iran-Contra was concerned, that is how it was. Likewise, "Conservative" and "Liberal" are labels constructed of fungible generalities, or variations on a theme, if you prefer. 'Twas ever thus.

Civis said...

Civis Dreams of standing near the bar at a dinner party, Martini and cigarette in one hand with the other free for elegant gesturing as the words roll of his lips: "I'm a conservative." Then beatiful women with low cut blouses come up and fawn over me. Ha ha.

Well, what you said is pretty close to what I have been thinking RE the way political labels are used today. Many labels are useless or at least commonly misused. "Conservative" is at the top of the list, since a) in America it has always been a fairly amporphous concept and b) People, like our current president, use or are given the label inappropriately.

It seems to me that it would be a good thing to have some shorter way of expressing our basic political philosophy than having to go issue by issue. Is this impossible to do? Maybe difficult, but I think it is possible.

I understand your point about how people do not always act according to the way they self-identify. If my friend is Jewish, but he eats pork should he refrain from calling himself a Jew? My concern is with communication. Maybe he needs to say "I'm Jewish, but I eat pork", i.e. use the term with a caveat, and that's fine.

A second reason for better definitions of political labels has to do with the thing that appears to frustrate you. If a politician claims a certain label and the label has a definition, it is easier to call him on the carpet and/or cry fowl. It makes it easier for the fourth branch of government to say, "Mr. X, I thought you said you were a Y. You were elected as a Y by people with Y ideas and now you are acting like a Z."

Rodak said...

Is this impossible to do?

I dunno. Do you think you can do it?

You would pick Jewishness as your example. What is a Jew? may be as hard to define as what is a conservative. Is it a race? A religion? An ethnic groups? Several ethnic groups?

Civis said...

What are you saving up to be, a deconstructionist? ;) Ha.

RE your first question, I don't think I can do it personally.

Anyway, to a certain extent the political labels have some meaning already (case in point, when I say the words conservative, liberal, libertarian etc, certain things come to mind), they just need to be brought into focus and possibly we need to add to our vocabulary and/or everyone's vocabulary.

If you don't think this is futile, I would like to discuss how we might go about doing this.

Alex said...

Civis and I did a test online...maybe he can post the link. I was labeled a libertarian.

I stole this from Wikipedia: "Libertarianism (also called libertarian individualism[1]) is a collection of political philosophies possessing the common themes of individual liberty. Libertarianism's ideals, although often varied in detail, typically center on policies in favor of extensive personal liberties, rejecting socialism and communism in favor of individual ownership and control, emphasizing equality before the law rather than equality of outcome, promoting personal responsibility and private charity and opposing welfare statism, and advocating either limiting or entirely eliminating the power and scope of the state in order to maximize individual liberty."

I think this pretty much describes me. I think what separates me from a true conservative is individual liberties when it comes to true fairness. I also think that it is the only way to win the battle.

Jared said...

Perhaps I need to read none other than Wikipedia, but how is Alex's definition of libertarian different from "conservative"?

Civis said...

Alex,

I'm not sure if I understand what you mean here:

"I think what separates me from a true conservative is individual liberties when it comes to true fairness. I also think that it is the only way to win the battle."

RE the difference between Libertarian and Conservative. I'm no expert here which is why I wanted to discuss the topic. Nevertheless, the difference as I see it--certainly the difference on the test Alex referred to--is that while both conservatives and liberals are typically in favor of limited government, Libertarians are more hard core for individuality and economic liberty.

The test BTW is at (sorry I don't know how to put a link in here):
http://www.theadvocates.org/quiz.html

In full disclosure, I once pegged out as a conservative, but have slipped one notch toward libertarian--not sure why.

Civis said...

I just figured out why I slipped a notch...topic of my next post.