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Conservative Political Commentary

Quote of the Day

Lady Liberty

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Mark of Courage
posted by Bathus

Congratulations to the Iraqi People!

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqis defied violence and calls for a boycott to cast ballots in Iraq's first free election in a half-century Sunday. Insurgents seeking to wreck the vote struck polling stations with a string of suicide bombings and mortar volleys, killing at least 44 people, including nine attackers.

Women in black abayas whispered prayers at the sound of a nearby explosion as they waited to vote at one Baghdad polling station. But the mood for many was upbeat: Civilians and policemen danced with joy at one of the five polling stations where photographers were allowed, and some streets were packed with voters walking shoulder-to-shoulder to vote. The elderly made their way, hobbling on canes or riding wheelchairs; one elderly woman was pushed along on a wooden cart, another man carried a disabled 80-year-old on his back.

"This is democracy," said Karfia Abbasi, holding up a thumb stained with purple ink to prove she had voted.

On this day, there's much we can learn from them.

posted by Bathus | 1/30/2005 01:54:00 PM
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Thursday, January 13, 2005

Resolve? For 59,000,000 Americans, it's nothing more than a rug cleaner.
posted by Tom

My blogmate and the owner of this site, Bathus, has written passionately and eloquently on the subject of American resolve to defeat the insurgents in Iraq and to win the wider war against what has come to be known as Islamofascism. In his most recent essay on the subject, Psychological Warfare, he correctly points to liberal attacks against Donald Rumsfeld's alleged failure to control post-Saddam Iraq, which they couch in pieties about concern for the troops, as part of a grand strategy “to undermine the public will and confidence to pursue the war.” But Bathus is also critical of those conservatives who have jumped on the bash Rumsfeld bandwagon, believing that while theirs is not the conscious attempt to weaken the nation’s resolve it is with liberals, it can result in the same defeatism.

Criticism of Rumsfeld’s direction of the counter-insurgency in Iraq notwithstanding, I question the assumption that there is a "will and confidence to pursue the war” on the part of most Americans to undermine. This multi-front war on terror is being fought by a volunteer military, thus the American “public” is not sharing the burden equally. Americans, liberal and conservative, have so far not displayed a passion for victory so much as a fetish for the number of casualties. And we would be foolish to deny that one political party (take a guess which) is completely controlled by left-wing anti-American socialists totally committed to America’s defeat in the present conflict, has the uncritical support of most mainstream media, and has the undying loyalty of at least 59,000,000 Americans as reflected in the 2004 election tally.

Wanna find out just how many conservatives there are in America? Bring back the draft.

The liberal tendency to narrow the focus of the US war against radical Islam to the conflict in Iraq is understandable. The insurgency there, like all guerilla conflicts holding out the prospect of American defeat, is near and dear to their hearts and offers the most tenuous justification for invoking their Viet Nam fetish. That's the war they gleefully recall America “losing”. Afghanistan, where coalition forces have driven Taliban and al Quaeda refuse into caves and where elections were successfully held last year, doesn’t comport well with the Birkenstock crowd’s need to view all of history through the lens of Viet Nam, their dream war.

Conservatives honestly – and correctly – place the Iraq conflict within the wider context of the war on terror, but in doing so invoke their own Viet Nam fetish when they claim that criticism of strategy and tactics and of leaders both civilian and military should be muted lest the public’s “resolve” to win the war be destroyed as it was during the Viet Nam era. In this regard, conservatives prefer to link the present War with World War II, their own dream war, when almost to a man Americans rallied ‘round the flag, the press, Hollywood and academia were 100% behind the war effort, and the furthest thought from anyone’s mind, even after Pearl Harbor, The Phillipines, Bataan and Corregidor, after Kasserine, Dieppe and the Bulge, was that our country should withdraw from the conflict because the "price was too high."

It’s a well meaning comparison for sure, but in many ways those on the right who invoke the talisman of WWII in the present conflict are “cafeteria” conservatives (my blogmate Bathus excepted). You know, like those cafeteria Catholics who pick and choose what they like about the religion – the pomp and circumstance, particularly when it comes to big weddings and funeral sendoffs, is okay, but they’ll pass on the abortion, birth control, homosexuality and divorce restrictions. A common lament among cafeteria conservatives is the absence of WWII-era patriotic trappings in the present War. Susan Sarandon and the rest of Hollywood in 2005 aren't barnstorming the country and waving the flag like Carole Lombard and her contemporaries in 1942. Just the opposite. The majority of contemporary celebrities go out of their way in personal and television appearances to denigrate the commander in chief and demand his impeachment for waging an "illegal war", while the few who support the president and the war are for all intents and purposes blacklisted in Hollywood. There's no Ernie Pyle among contemporary journalists who wouldn't dream of filing a single battlefield report that didn't include praise for the living combat heroes (more about that shortly). With the possible exception of some Fox News Channel imbeds, again we have the complete opposite situation when it comes to mainstream media coverage of the War. A major network, CBS, under whose egis Edward R. Murrow reported on the courage of the British people as they endured the blitz in 1940 and unabashedly advocated America entering World War II, now peddles forged documents intended to portray a wartime president as a coward and draft dodger in order to sway an election in favor of a candidate committed to ending the conflict. The entire 30 minutes of ABC's Nightline is devoted to listing the names of those killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, but its host, Ted Koppel, can't spare five minutes to praise our forces' military successes in those countries. And the list goes on. The point is that many of the same conservatives who condemn these left-wing media defeatists and go so far as to say they border on the treasonous, who long for that patriotism of a bygone era, stop short of expressing the same longing for the shared sacrifices that also marked that bygone era, the greatest of which was the draft, even though they agree wholeheartedly with the Bush Administration and other conservative Republicans that this is every inch a global war as World War II.

Even if we grant that Iraq is not the disaster contemporary liberal mainstream media report it is because they wish it to be, this doesn’t mitigate the fact that our military is stretched thin between the two fronts of Iraq and Afghanistan and is therefore incapable of effectively confronting other serious threats posed by those allied with the Iraqi insurgents. I’m speaking of Iran and Syria, two regimes that have obviously intervened on the side of the terrorists now, but who have in fact been sponsoring and supporting terror against the US and its interests for decades. If this is indeed a global conflict requiring military action in multiple theaters, then commonsense dictates that we need a military of sufficient size to wage it. Today’s volunteer army is simply not large enough to implement the Bush Doctrine, which calls for not only hunting down terrorists, but holding accountable regimes sponsoring them and preemptive strikes against those regimes if necessary. Only the most naïve conservative will deny that Syria and Iran are directly involved in the slaughter of American troops in Iraq and therefore come under the Bush Doctrine. And only the most naïve conservative would deny that the present levels of men (and I do mean men) and materiel in the American military simply cannot confront this alliance effectively, which means that both those regimes are literally getting away with murder once again.

Where does this leave the US? We are once again reduced to asking an impotent UN hijacked by the very enemies dedicated to our destruction to bring “international pressure” to bear on these terrorist nations. A larger United States military would not require the UN’s assistance in begging Syria and Iran to stay out of Iraq (not to mention to beseech Iran to please, please, not develop a nuclear arsenal). It wouldn’t need to turn to the “international community” that with only a few notable exceptions was thrilled with the 9-11 attacks and subsequently refused to support our military response to them.

It’s obvious that we can expand the military needed to face these challenges only through conscription, a fact that itself throws a wrench in the assumption that there’s a national will to win since it’s becoming more and more obvious that recruitment centers around the country are not requesting local assistance in controlling the crowds lining up to enlist. Reinstatement of the draft will probably never happen, but the improbability in no way reflects a lack of necessity, and because the American public will never face this test, it’s difficult if not impossible to measure the will and the resolve conservatives deem so precious and are so hellbent on protecting from dissent. There will always be a doubt in the back of our minds that a majority of Americans may be social conservatives (and even that’s a debatable topic worthy of another post), but their rah-rah, Support the Troops, bumper-sticker boosterism will last only so long as the troops being supported come from other American families.

We just love dead heroes, but for heaven’s sake, don’t honor those who kill the enemy. We might offend "peaceful" Muslims.

Of course, we all remember the outpouring of sympathy from our continental European “allies” after 9/11. What we fail to acknowledge is that all of their affection was so easily offered because we were perceived as the superpower humiliated by the Muslim extremists they really love. They also believed the Bush administration was merely a continuation of Clinton’s when it came to global terror (global meaning every terrorist around the world is out to get us, not that terrorists threaten the globe), and that the second, remarkably successful attack on the World Trade Center would be treated the same as the first, less successful attack, as the proverbial law enforcement issue. Oh, perhaps a few cruise missiles would be lobbed at a few tents in Afghanistan, but the “illegitimate”, “selected not elected” Bush would never mount full-scale military operations in retaliation for 3000 deaths on American soil, especially when one considered that the United States deserved to be attacked as a result of its Middle East policy. Sure, the world was in love with us so long as we were the humiliated giant. As soon as Bush made it known he was not a spineless Clinton (or Jimmy Carter, for that matter), the kind of American President that France, Germany and the rest of the Atlantic Alliance pantywaists have always admired, that he was out for the blood of Muslim terrorists and their state sponsors, well, as our own liberal press announced, he “alienated our allies.”

In the case of our own citizenry, they're quick to whip out the flags to honor our dead, but when it comes to praising those who kill the ones who killed them, that's de classe. There is no national passion for victory. For evidence of this, you need look no further than the 50-state weep fest/group hug that 9/11 has become. Each year (and probably for eternity) the date of the worst attack on America since Pearl Harbor is “commemorated” by a bunch of rejects from a Doctor Phil audience gathering together to cry over a hole in the ground - with the full attention of the media. To those conservatives who like to compare the war on terror with WWII and envision a public “will to win” in danger of being weakened, I ask that they imagine an America in 1941 similar to the national therapist’s couch we lie on post-9/11. Imagine a country of mourners back then seeking not revenge, but closure, wanting to shut down Pearl Harbor and make it a permanent memorial to the dead. Instead of a public outcry for the heads of the bastards responsible, instead of national mobilization to fulfill that end, instead of a commitment to restoring Pearl to its pre-attack efficiency and not only rebuilding the fleet and air forces destroyed there, but expanding them, it wanted only to cry over the victims every year.

Then imagine how long it would have taken the Third Reich and Japan to pretty much sew up their victory.

Our national past-time of honoring the civilian casualities of 9/11 dead has evolved into damn near an obsession with the fallen in Afghanistan and Iraq. We totally ignore those individuals who are killing the enemy out to destroy us. Instead, we're a country of silly yellow ribbons expressing "support" for the troops in the abstract, as if the war against terrorism is the same as the “war” on breast cancer and the “war” on AIDS. We focus only on those who are KIA, crying out for prayers and sympathy (well deserved, of course) for their families, but making no mention of those living soldiers adhering to Patton’s dictum that “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”

Who is the most decorated American soldier to date in the War on Terror? What unit has inflicted the most casualties on the enemy in Iraq or Afghanistan? When was the last televised ceremony on the lawn of the “conservative” Bush Administration’s White House honoring a living soldier or marine who's taken out more than a few of the enemy? This, of course, would be inexcusable. Such a ceremony might offend "peaceful" Muslims here and abroad. Because I have to do a Google search to find out who the living heroes are, I'm convinced there is no American will to win.

Last summer, I attended the second annual Sean Hannity Freedom Concert in New Jersey, co-hosted by that other unabashedly right wing supporter of the War, Oliver North. The first half of the event was devoted to Hannity’s radio show, and a fair portion of that was devoted to honoring those who lost limbs and sustained other injuries in Iraq in 2004. Of course, it's proper to express our gratitude to those who have sacrificed so much for their country, but where is our gratitude for those who are making “the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” Let’s face it, to only celebrate the wounded and the dead is indirectly praising an enemy’s success at inflicting casualities on our troops, just as the annual 9/11 commemoration is as much a celebration of a terrorist victory as it is a memorial to the dead without the counter balancing celebration of life and military success. These gratuitous weep fests, if they continue, will doom us to failure. America since September 11, 2001 is not committed to victory, but to a perpetual crying jag, and our willingness to turn the War into a protracted Oprah segment tells me there is no national desire for victory at risk because Rumsfeld gets blindsided by a planted question about vehicle armor.

59,000,000 Americans voted to end the war. That’s not a number to sneeze at.

This will be quick, because the numbers speak for themselves.

It’s safe to say the Democratic Party is totally and irredeemably controlled by its radical left wing, that the left wing wants the War on Terror (not just in Iraq) to end immediately, and that it would prefer that the war ends in an American defeat a la Viet Nam. After all, nothing short of that will prevent us from ever again using our military against politically incorrect enemies – i.e., non-white, non-Christian, non-European – who seek what the left sees as our well deserved demise. The desire for a relapse to our post-Viet Nam Syndrome is almost palpable among liberal Democrats, and 59,000,000 morons in this country stand right behind them. If there existed a national commitment to victory in this war, the November 2nd election would have found the defeatist Democratic Party with only its cemetery, illegal alien, and felon votes to count. Oh, and of course, 90% of the African-American vote.

Given the number of Americans who voted for failure in November of ’04, criticizing Rumsfeld will no more break America's will to win than criticizing Casey Stengel in 1962 broke the Mets’ will to win. They're all losers to begin with.


Forgive me, Tom, for the presumption of appending my comment directly to your post. I did not wish to push your very fine post down the page by making a new one of my own, but at the same time I felt that your words, which give us all much to think about, needed an immediate response more prominent than one hidden in this blog's comments section, and that, inasmuch as you introduced your post by citing something I'd written, you might not object if I presumed to continue the discussion in this same space.

Tom, much of what you say is exactly right, especially about our nation's too-delicate disinclination to celebrate as heroes those who are exceptionally good at killing our enemies. That our nation seems to prefer to honor passive victims than active victors does not bode well for our long-term survival.

Yet much of what you say, even if true, is perhaps better left unsaid, insofar as it serves more to further dispirit the populace than to rouse it from its complaceny. And if I understand the implications of the baseball metaphor in your last paragraph correctly, those you call "losers" include not only the 59 million "Americans who voted for failure last November," but also the whole of the American people, who are represented in your metaphor by the hapless '62 Mets. (I detect the same, shall we say, defeatism in your logic that it is improbable that we will reinstitute a military draft, but that without the draft we are incapable "of effectively confronting other serious threats posed by those allied with the Iraqi insurgents.")

Tom, you are perhaps half correct when you gently ridicule "the will and the resolve conservatives [myself included] deem so precious and are so hellbent on protecting from dissent." Yes, I have written more than once in this space that the will to win is precious, and we can lose this war only if we lose the will to win it. As to being "hellbent" on protecting that will to win from dissent, if you mean by "dissent," a rational dissent registered with the degree of discretion which indicates the dissenter actually wishes to improve the prospects of victory, then you are wrong not to count me among the dissenters. But if you mean a kind of dissent that aims or serves to inspirit the enemy and dispirit the citizenry, then you are correct to count me among the "hellbent."

At times like these, when our survival is at stake in a fight against enemies who are so vastly our moral inferiors, expressions of self-loathing can become a dangerously irrational and downright immoral self-indulgence serving no useful end. If you honestly believe we lack, and cannot revive, the will to win, then you would do better to save your mental exertions for Koranic studies.

Though I would express myself differently than you do, I do share much of your concern, as should be clear from my earlier post responding to an article by Victor Davis Hanson. Back then, I wrote:
Hanson is accurate when he points to the current of self-loathing among the comfortable Western elite that enervates the West's capacity to respond to the Islamofascist challenge. At its core, our battle with Islamofacism is a battle of the principles of Western liberal democracy against the principles of religious fascism. We have the physical means to win--the technology, the armaments, the manpower. But do we have the will to win? Do we think we deserve to win? The "current of self-loathing" inspires within Western societies doubts about ourselves. As to whether we are more deserving of victory than our enemies, the cultural relativists answer openly, "No, we cannot be better or more deserving than our enemies because no culture can be said to be superior to any other." Then, paradoxically, the relativists go on to proclaim that not only are we no better than the Islamofascists, we are actually worse than them because we are powerful. In the relativists’ cosmos (which is not a "cosmos," but a "chaos" in which nothing can be judged as morally different from anything else), where no one can be judged as better than anyone else, one exception is made in the case of "the powerful," who are always, unquestionably, and oppressively evil. That is the core of their logic: We are powerful; therefore, so we are evil. But at their emotional core is the paradox of a complacent self-loathing.

Yet the deeper paradox is that Hanson himself, and those who think as he does, are now part of the paradox in that they, too, participate in Western self-loathing. When, for example, Hanson writes that the West long-ignored the terrorist threat so that "we could go from Dallas to Extreme Makeover and Madonna to Britney without too much distraction or inconvenience," the loathing that he expresses for Western moral laxity differs little from that expressed by a bin Laden. Indeed, moral laxity is somehow the cause of self-loathing among those on both the right and the left. The shapers of opinion on the left embrace the contemporary moral laxity, which allows them openly and freely to pursue and enjoy the personal and financial fruits of debauchery while ridiculing their critics as "judgmental moralistic bigots." Yet at some deep level they feel ashamed of themselves and this shame manifests itself in self-loathing. Those on the left, lacking steadfastness of moral principles of their own, find something attractive in the steadfastness of the moral clarity the Islamofascists claim for themselves. Thus, twenty-five years ago the political and intellectual leaders of the Western left made their pilgrimages to Paris to sit cross-legged at the feet of Ayatollah Khomeni. In domestic economic matters, this phenomenon of leftist self-loathing has long been correctly identified as "limousine liberalism." They sense that, morally speaking, we are all going to hell in handcarts. But the ride is too pleasant to resist, so they assuage their guilt by fretting over whether the upholstery of some handcarts is too plush compared to some others.

On the right, the self-loathing is perhaps not so personally self-directed, but aims more at the whole of Western culture, as when a Victor Davis Hanson complains about what the "postmodern West" has become. Hanson ostensibly targets his critique only at "the comfortable Western elite," but when he uses bin Laden's voice to mock the "channel surfers who eat, screw, and talk too much amid worthless gadgetry," we know it is really Hanson himself talking about the lot of us. When we conservatives in the West ridicule the flacid Europeans, we are somehow ridiculing ourselves because we are children of the same father. Yet such criticism of the West's moral decline feeds the enervating doubts no less than the leftist's self-loathing, and perhaps more so because the criticism is all too valid. Hanson’s criticism, true enough as to the West’s present condition, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of the West’s future prospects. It seems that Hanson-like railing cannot succeed and, therefore, seems only to contribute to the West’s internal doubts and divisions.

And there's the dilemma: To sustain ourselves for what will be a very long fight against the Islamofascists, we in the West must first reform ourselves morally, but it seems that the precondition of that reform is a Hanson-like self-criticism which only increases our self-loathing and undermines our will to maintain the struggle.

What is the way out of the dilemma of the post-modern paradox? I do not know. I do know that for a few brief moments after 9/11, the more immediate concern for survival made most of us, even many of those on the left, give up the indulgence of self-loathing. That makes me fear that the threat to survival would have to be much worse--much more obviously, intensely, and prolongedly worse--before we could summon and sustain the will necessary to overcome our enemies. But, as Hanson points out, our enemies are too clever to make us to live with the sense that our culture is being pushed to the brink of extinction; theirs is a strategy of "threaten, hit, pause, wait; threaten, hit, pause, wait." When they hit us hard, we all want to fight back at first, but then we settle into our old habits. Then they hit us again. At the end of each cycle, we find ourselves moved closer to the abyss, we become more confused and disgusted with ourselves, and the abyss becomes alluring.

What's needed now is a Reagan-like figure to save us from the abyss of self-negation, someone who can lead us toward what we can become without making us feel quite so dispirited about what we are.

posted by Tom | 1/13/2005 08:33:00 AM
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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Hands Off My Toothbrush!
posted by Bathus

Two days before Christmas, I received the following email from a young scholar seeking wisdom:
Hi. My name is L__ B____ and I am a student of philosophy at the University of Colorado and for one of my many essays due next term, I have chosen to write about the two dominating political spectrums in America: conservative and liberal. The purpose of my essay is to write which one I think is best for America, and why, and to convince my professor into believing it as well. But I have one problem; I don't know what the conservatives and liberals believe, and I need more than a dictionary definition to write the entirety of my essay. So what I'm asking of you is if you could kindly describe in detail what you believe to be the conservative ways and beliefs, and what is your opinion of both Bush and Kerry. I would also be very much obliged if you could tell me whether you think the majority of conservatives are republican or democratic. Okay, so maybe I have been living in a nutshell, but I just wish to be more politically literate, and I just figured that this would be an effective way.

Many thanks and a Happy Holidays,

L__ B____
My first reaction was mild indignation. How could any halfway serious philosophy student be so ignorant of politics?!?! Dear child, how insultingly presumptuous of you to think I, or anyone else, would be so easily fooled into supplying text to fill your pathetic little essay. Read Plato, read Locke, read Hume, read Burke, read Tocqueville, read Mill, read Marx! Get off the damn internet and read something!

But with a moment's reflection on the state of our educational system, I surmised it's not L__ B____'s fault that, apparently without acquiring the slightest familiarity with either the thought of the great political philosophers of the western tradition or the dogmas of their contemporary intellectual progeny, she has nonetheless applied and been admitted to a philosophy program at a major state university. When a child discovers that she has until now lived as a hardwood embryo, one must try to do some justice to the modesty with which she acknowledges her ignorance, to her apparently sincere wish to emerge from her "nutshell" and to become "more politically literate."

And somewhere at the core of my indignation, mild though it was, was the thought that, notwithstanding my conviction that David Brooks is not one, perhaps I myself am not exactly sure what a "conservative" is.

How impolite are the youngsters these days to ask questions their elders cannot smoothly answer!

The truth is, the best questions are usually the most naive. So I thank you, L__ B____, for honoring me with your very good question. I will take a stab at it, not by trying to define what a conservative is (you warned me not to do that), but by mumbling around the question in my usual long-winded way. Sorry, L__ B____, what follows is a disordered ramble, but there's no graceful way, and no other honest way, to approach a question like yours. And though I am sure you would never try to pass off my words as your own, and would hardly be pleased with your grade if you did, yet one of your classmates might not be so honest. So rest assured there's nothing here that will fit neatly into a college essay. Instead, I have tried with my rough and ready tools to scarify around the surface of your shell-prison whence, with a little moisture and warmth, might be germinated a seedling of thought that could grow to be hardy and strong in its own way.

Judging from my own conversations with others who don't object to having one or the other of those terms, conservative or liberal, applied to themselves (and let us here happily ignore the "moderates," because any mush-brain who would claim that title deserves no further attention until the week before a national election), it certainly seems that in our times the labels are, in the vast majority of cases, little more than handy shorthand to group together persons who, without regard to any unifying "political philosophy" and perhaps more as a result of fortuitous circumstances (e.g., family tradition, social circle, economic status, youthful indoctrination, ethnic solidarity) happen to have settled upon similar positions on a majority of the issues that, for the moment, constitute the sacred litany of contemporary political life: abortion, gun control, the death penalty, the welfare state, federalism, property rights, church and state, civil rights. (Less easy to fit into the litany are fundamental questions of privacy, free speech, and foreign policy, as to which it seems that consistency truly is the hobgoblin of little minds--either that, or on such issues perhaps what really matters is whose oxen is being gored.)

L__ B____, if you stop reading now, you might be able to crib a sentence or two from the lines above to use in your paper, but your prof will know it was plagiarized because no undergraduate has the patience to compose sentences as circuitous as the ones you've just read. But if you do read on, there's a chance you'll never finish your paper at all. So maybe you'd better stop reading now.

If you ask either liberals or conservatives what is the single unifying political principle to which they can trace their positions on all of these aforementioned issues, few if any could answer very well. Most would quickly become tangled in what appear to be serious contradictions. (Conservatives--or for that matter, liberals-- whose political views are derived from religious beliefs might be an exception, in that they might well be able to point to the Divine Word as the unifying principle. But what we are seeking here is a unifying political principle, not a unifying religious principle.)

Yet it should be no shocking discovery that few, if any, either liberals or conservatives (including myself!) can give a safisfactory rational account of a fundamental political principle, or at least a set of related and non-contradictory fundamental principles, from which they consistently derive their positions on all the various issues of the day. It is a rare thing that any human being can give an honestly rational account of any of the choices he makes in life, from the most trivial to the most momentous. We humans are much better at rationalizations that justify our desires than we are at being rational.

But fortunately for us, fortunately for us conservatives at least, in admitting this failing of human rationality perhaps we have stumbled upon an idea, which--if not exactly a full-blown political principle--supplies the place of one until the happy day when we acquire true wisdom: Human beings are fallible creatures, capable of reason, but driven about mercilessly by their passions. Every decent political system, though aiming always to improve the virtues of its citizens, will take into account the reality of the non-rational, and even the irrational, aspect of human nature. No decent political system will presume to oppose fundamental human nature. No decent political system will presume to transform human beings into angels or gods. By the same token, no decent political system will presume that humans are devils who must be always controlled soley by threat and force.

You already know, and I hope you never forget, that love--both the erotic and the filial--is at the center of our humanity. Anger is also human. And, yes, dear liberals, hatred is also human, as is acquisitiveness. How shall we formulate a political system to deal with these things at the center of our humanity--love, anger, hate? Not by trying to eradicate them, but with political principles that account for the reality of human passions, by encouraging their best and most civilized expression and by discouraging their most bestial expression--orienting ourselves in that task with a view to what is reasonably possible for humans, not by what we would expect of angels nor by what we would fear from devils. Angels may walk among us in human form, and humans can sink to level of demons, but governments cannot be made for them. The one does not need it; the other is not amenable to it.

Love is no evil, but universal love for all is within the capacity of only the diety. Neither is human anger evil. Justified righteous anger is a truly noble thing, rousing us to stand our ground in the face of otherwise horrifying evil, rousing the strong to defend the weak when there is no profit to be gained by the battle. And (this is where a liberal mind will be shocked), just as love is not evil, and anger is not evil, neither is hatred evil--so long as you hate what deserves to be hated. I hate injustice. I hate those who knowingly, selfishly, perpetrate injustice. I want them punished. I'm a hater. All good conservatives know how to hate well. (Liberals are afraid to hate, and they all say they despise it, but that does not seem to prevent them from being quite good at it themselves, not if there's a "smirking chimp" from Texas in the White House.)

Yet I am also a lover. All good conservatives are lovers. They love their own wives more than they love their neighbor's wife. They love their own children more than they love their neighbor's children. Yes, dear liberals, that means you will have to make a very good case for why you should deprive my neighbor of the right, duty, and honor of demonstrating his love for his children by requiring me to bestow the fruits of my labor upon his children rather than upon my own.

Love of one's own--one's own children, one's own family, one's own country--is a great unifying and motivating force in human life. Love of one's own is a great and irrational political reality, binding together families, communities, nations, and peoples. It is also one of the things that makes us conservatives go to work every day and work hard for our own children. But if the fruits of my labor will just be taken away and given to my neighbor's children, then I might as well work less and spend the extra time with my kids. For this, the liberals call me "selfish." They say I'm selfish because I can't subscribe to a watered-down pseudo-cosmopolitan sort of love, which demands that I care about a child a half a world away. I'm sorry. I'm not selfish. I'm human. Or maybe it's the same thing. What kind of society would have parents who don't care more for their own children than they do for anybody else's? That would be a society in which nobody really cared for children at all. And I fear that's the direction we're headed. Where everybody claims to love everybody, but everybody sits around waiting for the government to take care of their own children. The liberals say, "It takes a village." That is all well and good, but before you can have a village, you have to have a family. What it really takes is a parent, better yet, two parents (one male, one female, the way nature intended it). For us frail humans, love becomes too diffuse, weak, and thin if we expect that all must love all. No political system can be built upon the idea that all must love all, and all must take care of all. But the idea that a husband loves his wife and a parent loves his child must be accounted for and encouraged somehow in every decent political system. And building up from those natural attachments of nature that we feel for our kith and kin, an attachment to one's own community, and one's own country can be nurtured. But when the bonds of family are weakened too much, the bonds of the larger society cannot remain established. This fact of human nature has something to do with why conservatives talk so much about "family values." What I know is, for me my kid comes first. And I hope your kids, when you have them, come first for you, because if you don't take care of them, I guess I will try to pitch in to help them out, but over my dead body are some lazy no-good man's kids going to get from me as good as I give to my own kid. Yeah, I know it's not their fault. But it's not my fault either. It's human nature. Good luck trying to change that!

One point I am stumbling towards with that last paragraph is that fair and just societies cannot be built upon the dubious principle that everybody has to be equal to everybody else, so that you think you are justified taking property away from me so you can make somebody else's kid equal in material goods to mine. Justice is not the same thing as material equality. Yes, a certain level a material equality is good and necessary, especially in democratic societies like ours, and extreme inequality would as a practical matter absolutely foreclose the possibility of democracy. Yet Tocqueville (one of those "dead white guys" the liberals will probably try to teach you to hate--but he was French, so maybe the liberals will forgive you for reading him) understood that the love of equality, which is almost second nature to all citizens of democracies, is a terribly dangerous passion. The blind love of equality is hardly better than the passion of a mob that seeks to level everything. And indeed, if everybody were truly equal, that would be the definition of a mob--leaderless and ungovernable. Social order requires reasonably accurate distinctions between things and people. Distinctions necessarily imply inequality. Democratic societies (small d) have trouble living with distinctions. So there is an inevitable tension arising from love of equality in democratic societies. We want to think that everybody is just as good as everybody else. In a democracy, it's considered impolite to suggest that someone is "better than" someone else. (That's one reason why your profs hand out so many cheap A grades. They just don't feel good about the idea that a few people could be "better than" everybody else.) So in democracies, we want to think that nobody's opinion is better than anybody else's. Of course that's just not true, otherwise you'd save money by taking your plumber's advice on open heart surgery.

Equality before the law is one thing. Conservatives must insist upon that. But that doesn't mean everybody is innocent. Some people are guilty. And they deserve to be punished. Some people are better than other people, too, and they deserve to be rewarded. The good thing about our political system is that, up to now at least, it has done a remarkably good job of leaving people free to pursue by their own lights the kind of material rewards that are important to them, and in the process that system has generated an historically unparalleled level of material comfort for practically everyone, not to mention social freedom, which by the way ain't cheap. It's hard to find anyone who is really poor in America. (Can you call a person poor if he has a cell phone?) Our system ain't perfect, but I know of no better.

Yet in a democratic society like ours, the blind love of equality can overturn even our other great political love, which is the love of freedom. Given the choice between freedom and equality, our instinct as citizens of democracy inclines us to choose equality. Whether we are conservative or liberal, we are all (small d) democrats these days, which means that-- whether or not we admit it to ourselves--we all get just a little irked when we see somebody who has more nice stuff than we do. (This is an example of unjustified righteous anger.) When we see somebody with more stuff than we have, we all tend to say to ourselves, "Well he doesn't deserve it because his daddy was rich," or "he just got lucky," or "he got his money in a not-so-nice way." That's because superior wealth offends our love equality, and it's good to have these rationalizations handy when we want to take other people's property away from them because we think they are too rich. But rather than satisfying the love of equality in this way, wouldn't it be better for everybody if we'd all just put more effort into striving to get the particular stuff we want for ourselves and leave other people's property alone? You might think it is trivial, but isn't there something intrinsically enobling when a person can say to himself, "These things I own--this house, this car, even this cell phone--modest they are, but these were got by my own labor!" Don't you yourself feel better about the things you earn through your own effort than about the things that are just handed to you?

Yes, we conservatives know this about all citizens of established democracies, that our love of equality is a powerful second nature to us because we are products of a democratic society. The love of equality is in everybody's blood. So we conservatives try to be on guard against giving in to our irrational love of equality, whereas liberals seem to surrender to their love of equality at the drop of a hat. And to justify their utter hatred of inequality, the liberals have created a sacred mythology of victimology, according to which we are all of us oppressed by some malignant evil "power" like the vague "powers" that Al Gore tried to warn us about back in 2000. (This is the point at which I might ordinarily launch into a diatribe on pernicious "relativism," which feeds the envy of inequality like gas on a fire, but that digression would expire your patience.) Unlike liberals, we conservatives are extremely skeptical when somebody tries to play on our love of equality, a passion which is hardly distinguishable from that ugly vice that used to be called "envy." When some politician starts telling us about how the government needs to take more from the rich, we are pretty sure he's trying jerk us around by our passions. We are also pretty sure that he's going to take a good chunk of our money along with whatever he can squeeze out of the "rich." And when he starts pandering to us about how the "middle class" is so put upon by the rich, it helps to remember all those children of supposedly overburdened middle-class families, like me and soon you, too, who receive college degrees at richly-subsidized state public universities. (Thanks to public university systems, any kid, like you are now or like I was thirty years ago, with half a brain and a good work ethic has a damn fair shot at grabbing whatever brass ring strikes his fancy, if he's willing to work for it.) Or think about grandpa whose hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cancer treatment was all paid for by Medicare. True conservatives know the middle class has got it good as gold in this country--because the middle-class has got the most votes.

Freedom and equality. It's a balancing act. Ours is an acquisitive and materialistic society. Please resist the knee-jerk reaction that "materialism" is a bad thing. If you think a materialistic society is a bad thing, then right now you need to shut off your computer, unplug it, and throw it out the window because, with its plastic and metal and all its other "materials," it is one of the great modern fruits of materialism. Toss your cell phone out after it! No, materialism--the pursuit of property--is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, compared to the alternatives toward which a society might be directed, such as the glories of military victory or the nirvana of Islamist martyrdom, materialism is a great thing. It's one of the finest pillars of our society, which I am unashamed to assert is easily among the best ever on earth, and the best of the largest that has ever been seen on this earth. Okay, a rich man might have a hard time getting into heaven (camel through the eye of a needle, so they say), but wealth never prevented anyone from doing good work here on earth, and actually makes it possible to do good on a grand scale. I hope you are very rich some day so you can do great good works! So right now you might wonder why am I talking about property in a paragraph that began with the words "freedom and equality"? I'm talking about property because your property is your freedom! Print that out and tape it above your monitor: Your property is your freedom!

Let me illustrate my point with a silly example: In the morning, you want to brush your teeth. You are free to brush your teeth, right? But only if you have a toothbrush. Without a toothbrush, your freedom to brush your teeth is worthless. Yes, strange as it sounds, your freedom to brush your teeth depends upon your ownership of that little piece of property, your toothbrush. Well, you might say, I don't have to actually own as private property the toothbrush that I use to brush my teeth. True enough, we could live in a society in which nobody actually owned his own toothbrush, where the toothbrushes were owned by everybody together as "communal property." ("Communal property" is really an oxymoron.) That sounds kind of gross, everybody sharing toothbrushes, but maybe we could get around the yucky aspects of communal ownership of toothbrushes by setting up a system where, even though nobody owned his own toothbrush, a specific toothbrush would be "assigned" to each of us to use. But the problem remains, it's still not your toothbrush. Even if you had a toothbrush assigned to you, your freedom to brush your teeth would then depend the good will of whoever has the power to hand out toothbrush assignments. The point here is, practically every act you do of any consequence (aside from thinking and perhaps having private conversations) depends upon your having access to the various pieces of property needed to perform that act. (Your freedom to surf the internet requires the computer you are looking at right now. Thank your dad for buying it for you. But if he gave it to you, it's fully your property now, free and in clear conscience, because he had the freedom to dispose of his property by giving it to you.) Now some free-spirited hippie straight from the sixties might tell you that I've got it backwards, that property inhibits your freedom. But he's probably whacked out on his pot, which he was not willing to share with me or you. (Bogart!) The right to acquire private property to use (within reasonable limits) as you wish, is the way you give meaning to your own political freedom.

If you read a little John Locke (Second Treatise, Chapter 5), he would explain--much better than I ever could--the vital principle that "property" is simply the another word for "the fruits of your labor." You create your property by your labor. And the right to control and dispose of the fruits of your own labor is THE essence of freedom. Think about freedom by thinking about its opposite, slavery. The definition of slavery is not that someone is forced to do work that he would not otherwise choose to do. If that were the real definition of slavery, then we almost all of us would be virtual slaves because few of us would do the work we do if we had a real choice not to. No, the true definition of a slave is a person who is not allowed to receive, keep and control the fruit of his labor. (Print that out, too!) The fruit of your labor is your property. To the extent you are deprived of the right to receive, keep, and control (i.e., spend!) the fruit of your own labor as you wish, to that same extent you are a slave. If the government takes half your income, you are half slave. Now I'm not so extreme as to say that there are not public necessities for which the government must tax the citizenry. We must allow a little bit of slavery in the form of taxation, and we are compensated (supposedly) by the power to vote on the way it will be spent. But the principle still stands that there is a point at which you slide into slavery as the government takes away an increasing portion of the fruit of your labor. So long as we keep that in mind, we can debate what percentage of taxation seems reasonable and necessary. (To be on the safe side, I much prefer a lower percentage.)

But someone might say, so what if the government takes almost all or even all of the fruits of our labor, but doles out to us everything we need, supplies us all with a nice clean, fresh sonicare toothbrush every day so that we can brush our teeth real good, and gives us everything else our little hearts could desire? Would that really be so bad? (It would sure seem take a lot of the worry out of life. Hell, I might just decide to stop wage-working altogether, and instead pursue my lifelong dream to be an NBA star. Never mind that I'm 5'6'' and fat as the door!) Well, in that case, we would still be slaves to that government--well-kept slaves of a beneficent slave-master, but slaves nonetheless. And since the slave-master is the one supplying you with the toothbrush, he figures he should be able to insist that you use it the right way. If you use it the wrong way, you might wear it out too quickly, or you might not do a good job of brushing, which means the government would have the added expense of having to fix your rotten teeth. So, in his beneficence and to save money for the greater good of society, your slave-master starts telling you that you must brush your teeth just this certain way, this many times a day, using just this brand of toothpaste, which has been certified as superior by a government commission on oral dentrifices. If you don't adhere to the government rules of toothbrushing, there'll have to be some unpleasant consequences for you to get you back in line! But it's all for your own good, because this slave-master government is a kindly master. Then one day you'll get a new slave-master, and he might not be so nice. He might decide to give toothbrushes only to those he considers to be especially deserving. He might decide that it's better for society as a whole if incorrigible people like yourself have your teeth rot out of your head and you starve to death. No toothbrush for you, you rabblerouser!

Okay, so maybe that's a silly exaggeration. But the point is on the mark: whatever you get from the government always comes with strings attached. It's not really yours to decide about. The government can dictate who gets its goodies, and what the recipient has to do in return to keep getting those goodies. If the government gives you "free" healthcare, it's certianly reasonable for the government to dictate behavior that affects your health. I'm not just talking about making everybody quit smoking and stop eating icecream. If you want government healthcare to fix your leg when you break it on the slopes, then the government is entitled to dictate just what kind of ski slope you are going to be allowed to ski down, or whether you'll be allowed to ski at all. Sorry, you have to stick to the beginner trails! In exchange for any goodies you get from the government, you have to surrender to the government a little piece of your freedom. Or maybe a big piece.

People talk about a "right to healthcare," but your real rights, your fundamental political rights established in the Constitution, are not rights to receive things from government, but your rights not to be dictated to by the government. Read the Constitution and tell me where you see a right to free healthcare. The reason it's not in there is because our wise founders wanted to preserve your rights, not to barter them away. You might think that if the government pays your medical bills that you are getting a "right to healthcare," but what you are getting is a material good, over which you have no genuine property right, in exchange for which you will be required to give up some of your real rights, which are your rights not to be dictated to by the government.

So maybe that's one difference between contemporary conservatives and contemporary liberals. Conservatives would prefer to own their own toothbrushes, even if they themselves can't afford the fancy sonicare brand, because they just don't trust government over the long haul, especially since they suspect that government is comprised of people no less selfish than themselves. They know that when government controls the fruits of people's labor, eventually it uses that power to reward those who go along with what the government wants and to punish those who disagree. Conservatives know that the right to private property is the solid ground of their freedom. They want to have the right to own their own toothbrush because they don't want the government to have control over when, where, and how they brush their teeth. They think it would be best if everybody else bought their own toothbrushes, too. They are not willing to risk their freedom for the sake of equality, especially when that sacrifice leaves it up to the government to decide who gets what.

Liberals feel genuinely disheartened that some poor kid somewhere is brushing with an old wooden toothbrush while some rich guy is using a fancy high-tech gadget. The inequality sticks in their craw. They insist the kid is a victim. They want everybody to have the same kind of toothbrush. So they are going to tax the heck out of sonicare toothbrushes and take that money and use it to create a "program" to provide a new and better plastic toothbrush to every kid like the one who was stuck using the wooden one. (They don't seem to notice that the kid who used to own his own wooden toothbrush now "owns" no toothbrush!) Liberals crave equality so much that to get rid of inequality they are willing to trust the government to decide who should be "assigned" which particular property. They think the government will use this power over the fruits of your labor only against people who are "rich" and "powerful" and for the benefit of the downtrodden. (Well, according to my reading of history, that would be a first.) They are not worried about what the government will do if it gets this power because they think that, in a society that adopts their principles, they themselves will naturally be the ones running the government. That's fine with them because although they believe power corrupts, they believe power only corrupts other people, that power does not corrupt good liberals. In other words, they yearn for a day when they and their kind will be your very beneficent slave-masters.

Sorry, L__ B____, that rambling will not serve you well at all for the paper you are trying to write. Really, the best thing I have told you was that any sound set of political principles will take into account the unalterable facts of human nature and will make human nature, both the passionate and the rational aspects of human nature, the first object of attention. So if you want to understand anything worth knowing about either politics or philosophy, you must become a student of human nature because politics and philosophy is all about human nature, its glories and its limits. So read some Plato and maybe some John Locke for starters. And read some good literature, too. (Jane Austen never fails.) But I honestly can't say for sure whether Plato or Locke or Austen would be considered liberal or a conservative nowadays. I do know they're worth reading far more than anything you'll get from me or anyone else you happen to run across on the internet.

At this point, you don't know enough and can't learn enough about these things before your paper is due, to take a firm stand about whether it's better to be a liberal or a conservative. But please don't take the easy way out by trying to claim it's better to be a moderate. I'm all for moderation--it's almost my favorite virtue--yet I promise you, you'd better be nothing, neither liberal or conservative, than be a moderate. Does that make sense? Oh, well, you're young and you've got time to figure out a lot of things if you are willing to start getting serious about it.

posted by Bathus | 1/04/2005 01:36:00 AM
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