Partisan

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.”

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8 comments on “Partisan

  1. David Buchner says:

    No comments, huh?

    Well I ain’t gonna be the first.

  2. Iain Thomson says:

    Good. A philosopher should never be predictable, since that’s a clear sign they aren’t thinking. That means eschewing all the trendy programs and ideologies and figuring out for ourselves where we stand.

    So, we will consider sparing your life when the revolution comes.

  3. Richard says:

    I think it is a telling sign of the political/cultural environment you inhabit, that you list your “liberal” tendencies with little or no explanation, but write paragraphs explaining your “conservative” tendencies.

    FWIW, I agree with your interpretation of where environmental protection should be placed, even though you didn’t place it there.

    • poseidonian says:

      It’s not a function of the environment. It’s that it really is the case that the unifying thread is liberalism. As an experiment, I tried to imagine rewriting the thing as a mirror-image, explaining how I’m fundamentally conservative, and then explaining how my views on marriage equality, reproductive rights, discrimination law, etc. were subtle expressions of my conservatism. Epic fail.You can make a conservative argument for same-sex marriage, but it strikes me as a bit hollow. Really the only things on the “liberal” list that strike me as arguably conservative are: environmental protection (an aristocratic cause); opposition to impetuous idealistic war-making like that committed by Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson; and, no brainer this one, civility. Anyway, how can I be a conservative if I read Rousseau and thrill to public upheaval dans le mode française?

      • Richard says:

        Perhaps I’ve misread. I did not (initially) see the lists as explaining how your “conservative” values are really liberal values, but more as “here are my stereotypical liberal values (which I can rattle off with no justification)” and “here are my stereotypical conservative values (for which I must provide some defense)”. But re-reading after your last comment, I believe I see the point more clearly.

        That being the case, one of the more sociologically interesting placements is putting religious tolerance in the “conservative” category.

        Another interesting placement is civility, which is arguably a conservative value, especially if it is interpreted as requiring a respectful treatment of those in power. Perhaps more likely to be spun as a “liberal” value in times when “conservatism” is populist and the elites are more “liberal”. Of course that is just one coloring of a somewhat vague term.

      • poseidonian says:

        Well, I was being a tad ironic in saying that civility is a conservative value, though I do think it is in a sense, not because it entails defers to a person or institution, but because it involves deference to customs. (I believe we share a common exposure to Southern mores which may shed some light here). The religious tolerance thing however, is interestingly complicated. Jonathan Israel says that during the Age of Enlightenment there were really two different Enlightenments, the moderate (represented by Locke) and the radical (represented by Spinoza). Radical Enlighteners tend to be opposed to religion as such, true conservatives tend to support the state church, and moderate Enlightenment people tend to support both the state church and religious toleration. On that trichotomy, it is an Enlightenment position, though radical Enlighteners tend to characterize moderate Enlighteners as conservatives in disguise. I would be happy to characterize it that way myself. I think I was lumping all the religion issues together as conservative in part because my primary thought was that I’m not a radical Enlightener when it comes to religion, and the characterization of the role religion plays, how it works, is pretty much a conservative one. Moderates tend to think religion can be made reasonable, but I doubt that myself. So: conservative conception of religion, moderate preference for toleration, and radical beliefs of my own.

  4. skholiast says:

    “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.”

    The recent ancestors of various progressive stances were vocally religious (e.g. King, Dorothy Day, the Berrigans, and many, many others); today there may be stirrings of this, but the noise is elsewhere. What does this mean about the mutations of the sociopolitical spectrum? Or about the media’s attentions?

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