Thursday, September 8, 2011

Moderately opposed to moderation

At Right Turn Jennifer Rubin calls for a more rhetorically moderate conservatism.  I’m generally in agreement, finding a great deal of political speech cringe worthy, but Rubin’s essay leaves a lot out.

First, she makes an apples to oranges comparison between how Reagan governed (willing to make compromises) and the current crop of Republican presidential candidates.  But running isn’t governing.  Rubin wants the candidates to speak as if they are addressing a college seminar on political philosophy when they are desperately trying to stand out in a crowded field to a committed base.  The one thing politicians know how to do is get elected.  The candidate who wins the Republican nomination, like all nominees before him will tack to the center and tone it down a bit.  Surely Rubin knows this.

Second, immoderate rhetoric may not fit the conservative profile but it hasn’t been totally absent either.  National Review was founded with the motto “standing athwart history yelling stop!”  Not slow down, not move a little more to the right, but stop.  And this was in the fifties!    New Hampshire has “live free or die” which doesn’t sound very moderate to me. 

Third, she brings in Burke to make the case for prudential rather than dogmatic conservatism.  Again, this is fine so far as it goes but it begs the question of what are the circumstances.  Politics in Burke’s time was aristocratic with far less reach than the government of today.  At the same time that Burke was writing, the Americans were breaking free from his government.  And if you read Carl Becker’s study of The Declaration of Independence you will note that Becker doesn’t find it moderate at all.  Indeed, you can sort of picture him smiling as he details how over the top it is in laying out the crimes the King.

Most of me would like, along with Jennifer Rubin, more reasoned political speech, but not all of me.  When you’ve reached the point where your government is telling you what kind of light bulb you can buy, you sort of hope people will stand up and shout “that they’re mad as hell, and aren’t going to take it anymore.”

An aside: why turn to Burke (18th century) when Oakeshott’s On Being Conservatism  (1956) elegantly makes the same point(s) with the distinct advantage of being more or less contemporary

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