Telescopic Politics: A Call for Idealism, Part 2
In an earlier post, I discussed the need for a concept of idealism in modern politics. Without idealism, we are left simply fixing problems as they come, and do not have a central, guiding principle for action. Another important point is that it is best to not mistake means for ends, which is altogether too common today. Not that our choice of means is not significant, but the requirement for correct avenues of action pales in comparison with the need for a particular, well-defined end goal. Though the means may well be appealing, perhaps near sacred at first blush, the end which is going to be achieved should be our first priority. Just because we desire a road to travel because it is straight and well-paved, the wise would suggest that we should always check our map to see if it leads off a cliff.
This has important ramifications for the modern political landscape, at least on the right side of the aisle. Currently, there is a great rift among conservatives over what their label means exactly. Some, like George Bush and Mitt Romney would say that conservatism is about using newly developed progressive instruments of governance for traditional objectives. Thus the Bush administration started faith-based initiatives that were government funded. Yet this idea conflicts with the long standing conservative principle of fiscal responsibility, particularly when combined with rather hawkish military spending with no major conflicts on the horizon.
Others would argue that conservatism isn’t the right word, that terms such as “classical liberal” or “libertarian” serve better. Familiar figures of this persuasion are Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, and the Koch brothers. They want a government that denies itself the power to operate in the economy and also in the social sphere. Their minimalist approach to government leaves us with a chief social authority that enforces contracts and little else. While these views may have some merit, this position also signifies a break with traditional conservatism, in that the social sphere is to be off limits for government. The libertarian ideal is maximized individual liberty with as little interference as possible.
Also, the religious right still holds some sway, though perhaps their influence is dying slowly. David Barton, of Wallbuilders fame, is the most notable member of the movement in its modern iteration, though others exist. Those who count themselves as evangelical Christian and Republican with a capital “R” hold a certain value set not as the result of any particular political philosophy, but for reasons they find stemming from the Bible. They desire a Christian America, supposedly a return to the way the country once was, despite very few of the Founding Fathers leading exemplary lives of faith. Their ideal is, essentially, Heaven on Earth.
The main problem with the modern sects of conservative politics in America is that there is a general lack of a value hierarchy. Neoconservatives want the government doing “good things”, libertarians want the government to be doing as little as possible, and the religious right wants government to be asking what Jesus would do. None of these options correctly understand that good political philosophy is able to do two things (among others): First, differentiate between means and ends. Second, establish the correct end.
Neoconservatives fail to promote the correct end of government because they have no idea what the correct purpose of government is. Thus the means of the administrative state have become their end. This state of affairs obviously leads to a backwards sort of outlook, with no particular sense of direction. They establish no overarching ideal for government and fail to include a standard that defines what is wrong and what is right.
Libertarians, in a fashion similar to neoconservatives, mis-interpret a means as their end. Their ideal is individual freedom. However, there is no particular aim they seek to achieve with individual freedom, they just want people to be free. The more radical among them doubt the purpose of government existing at all, because it naturally impinges on individual freedom. Individual freedom is a wonderful tool to promote the free market and advance society in general. But it is, at the end of the day, a tool. Where are we supposed to end up with individual freedom? There is no answer.
The religious right at least has its pants on as far as political philosophy goes, fulfilling the first accomplishment listed above. Yet it soon goes horrifically wrong. The members of the religious right attempt to re-write history in order to demonstrate that America was once a “Christian nation” and that the Constitution is somehow reflective of the Bible. This idea is imaginative considering the overall religious convictions of the Founders. The notion of a “Christian nation” is then exploited to back up governmental regulation of drugs and abortions. In general, the religious right do not rely on any notion of natural law, only scripture applied to government. They fail to choose the correct end to governance.
The right is in extreme disarray when it comes to a good political philosophy. Ideals, and especially the correct ones, are vital when governing. Most conservatives have no specific goal they are trying to achieve. The one section that does simply fails to recognize how government is supposed to function and what its foundation is supposed to be. In order for conservatives to successfully face the rising tide of socialism and progressivism, they must get their act together. They must establish the correct end of government, find the right ideal, and pursue it passionately. Otherwise, the movement will fail.