Though my initial disgruntlement over being characterized as “right-wing” has dissipated, and though I have on several occasions characterized in philosophical terms what the basis for the views here are, which I have labeled “liberalism, classical and pragmatic” this probably does not do it for people. For most, the bottom line is where you are on issues. So perhaps the following will help:
Here are some positions that are ordinarily classified as liberal or progressive that I hold:
1. Marriage equality. It is a requirement of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and will eventually be held to be by the Supreme Court.
2. Choice. The reasoning in Roe v. Wade is compelling, though not as an interpretation of the Constitution. It is a compelling argument for what state statutes on abortion should look like. In general when liberals talk about personal freedom, I’m right there with them.
3. Iraq. We should never have gone.
4. Taxes. They need to be raised by tax reform, especially by elimination of tax credits, in order to reduce deficits, and for the sake of equity.
5. Environmental protection. There should be some.
6. Enemy combatant detainees. Constitutional due process should be respected. Now universal moral standards of humane treatment of prisoners should be respected.
7. Discrimination law. It should exist. Racism is bad. Sexism is bad.
8. Tort reform. I’m against it.
9. Drug decriminalization. I’m for it.
10. Civility. I’m for it.
All of these are the product and expression of liberal values, that is to say, a concern with freedom and equality (except for environmental protection, which I regard as a conservative value, but since no one else will, I place it here for reader convenience). So why oh why am I rather frequently classed as a conservative? I think the following probably captures the principal reasons:
1. Markets. I’m for them. I think that when structured by the right sort of legal regime, they contribute to autonomy, efficiency, transparency and prosperity, and I like those things. So do you, because you don’t like coercion, waste, corruption and poverty, do you?
2. Public spending. I’m against it on the whole, though I accept its necessity/inevitability. Libertarians like Hayek and radicals like Foucault agree that the modern state is a great threat, and that the growth of its power is generally justified by appeals to welfare and security. Accordingly, I resist its growth, and am suspicious of appeals to welfare and security. I also resist it because it must eventually be paid for, and though I accept the notion of collective deliberation and decision-making that is essential to the concept of democracy, and I accept the idea of borrowing against one’s future, I am sensitive enough to the difference between persons to notice that in this case, one is actually borrowing against one’s own and even other people’s children’s future.
3. Religion. I am not unequivocally against it. I judge the tree by the fruits, or more precisely, I do not judge trees, I only judge fruits. Religion is a strange, mysterious phenomenon like poetry, and plays an important role in people’s lives. It is a part of the vast and largely hidden cultural background that shapes our assumptions, experiences and choices. Like the great John Locke I favor religious toleration (and see more things as religions than most), and find what I call Enlightenment Anticlericalism as much an ideology, as dogmatic and potentially as destructive as any other intolerant ideology (as well as having an extravagant notion of the extent to which we can see through, criticize and determine everything as we would like). When I gaze upward, I see nothing, and when I cock my ear, there is only silence. That said, there are many interpretations of silence.
4. The ‘cultural elite.’ It exists (though I think I would call it the ‘cultural middle class with delusions of grandeur’), and yes, it does think it is smarter and better than you, and therefore deserves your support and submission. I have lived too long among academics to have failed to notice that the contempt the common man bristles at is a very real thing, and is in no way adequately compensated for by championing public spending on the common man’s behalf that as often as not, the common man does not want. Especially since it is other people’s money, and the administration of it gives them more niches to occupy and things to do.
5. Constitutional interpretation. Originalism matters, though it is not the only thing that matters (nor does it invariably give you “conservative” results). Judicial restraint is desirable because it is more democratic, except when it isn’t.
6. Guns. I don’t have one, don’t need one, and don’t want one. But there is a moral value to self-defense, and a constitutional right to possess the tools necessary to exercise it. The First Founders wanted a revolutionary people to be armed against exploitation and oppression, and the Second Founders wanted victims of racism armed against their neighbors. I don’t have a problem with that. If you prefer, as I do, to not fight fire with fire, that is your right, but don’t make that choice for others.
I do not call myself a conservative because my commitment to the items on the first list is real, and passionate. But if the items on the second list are conservative, why not just say I’m a moderate? Well… I think that is because I view many of the items on the second list as liberal issues too, insofar as they express a concern with freedom, or else they involve commitment to democracy, to ‘people power.’ Perhaps the only thing on the second list that I see as unabashedly conservative is my lack of passionate hatred for religion. However, I suspect that for others, what pegs me as conservative is my lack of passionate hatred for wealth.
Actually, I have found that I am not invariably mistaken for a conservative anyway. Rather, I am mistaken for whatever you are not. I recall many years ago a conversation with a friend who made an oft-heard remark to the effect that as imperfect as the Democrats are, they are closer to the side of the angels than the Republicans. I turned to him, smiled, and said “so you’d rather be dominated by bureaucrats and tort lawyers than by stockholders and MBAs?” That’s not playful pretend-cynicism; that’s what I really think. Because the twin stars of my politics are a hatred of domination and dishonesty. And that, if nothing else, guarantees that I will be “of no party or clique.”