Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Greatest Hits, Volume One
I'm salvaging files from our ancient desktop computer before putting the old girl out on an ice floe. Among those files are six months of pre-Blogspot posts on this blog. Poking through some of them this morning, I found a piece titled "A Political Education," in which I explained how I became a liberal. Since we're apparently not getting any White House indictments today, I'm going to republish a bit of it to pass the time.

The post (from June 2003) is still relevant, because we're always concerned here with the proper role of government, whether it's in responding to disasters or ensuring physical and/or economic security at home. And I'm a liberal because conservatism is incapable of fulfilling those roles without doing far more harm than good.
I am a New Deal liberal. Classic American New Deal liberalism has a record of actually doing what modern conservatism claims it’s going to do but hasn’t yet--liberalism frees people to do their best by their own lights. I believe that there is a common good, a rising tide that can lift every boat, and that citizens have a shared responsibility to the perpetuation of that common good. From time to time, the health of the common good requires citizens to sacrifice a bit of their own liberty in the name of justice--to make sure that every boat can take advantage of the rising tide. Like many liberals before me, I believe that government is the fairest and most efficient agent we have for ensuring justice. Only government, as the expression of the informed collective will of the people, has the moral authority to do it.

Conservatism would hold the social fabric together by fulfilling every individual’s desires (except for appetites of the flesh, of course, which should be discouraged and where possible, criminalized) and failing that, by moral extortion--the promise that God will get you if you don’t conform. But it can never truthfully claim to lift all boats, and it doesn’t intend to. A conservative society is a zero-sum game. Some go to Heaven and many more to Hell, in both the temporal and the spiritual senses. It stands triumphant now because it appeals to the worst human impulses in an era when people are no longer ashamed of those impulses but celebrate them--everything from selfishness and self-righteousness to xenophobia and racism on up to a foolish desire for simplicity and the dangerous wish for kings. On such a foundation, conservatism can never build anything that will last. In fact, it’s questionable whether anything could be built for the common good on such a foundation. Enclaves, yes--a strong and unified society for all, almost certainly not.
I'd modify the last part a little bit: The one thing conservatism can build on such a foundation is the sort of fear-regulated culture of know-nothing conformity we've lived in for the last four years. It's going to take more than a few indictments to move us beyond it, but we gotta start somewhere.

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