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Howard Doughty

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  1. A Last Stab at Conservatism Before abandoning the discussion of the "true meaning" of conservatism, I'd like to look at Tim Gratz's contention that the values for which American revolutionaries fought were "conservative values" and that it is therefore possible for Edmund Burke (among many others) to claim to be, simultaneously "conservatives" and "revolutionaries." I disagree. I do not think that the American War of Independence was a "revolution" and I do not think it was fought for "conservative values." The leaders of the American cause were plutocrats - either southern plantation (and slave) owners such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson or members of the northern bourgeoisie (John Adams and Alexander Hamilton). The were not systematic proponents of civil liberties nor of democracy as their commitment to slavery and their denian of the vote to propertyless adult males attest. American society was not seriously altered by the so-called revolution; its main pertinent effect was the replacement of a British system of mercantile capitalism with a domestic form of proto-industrial capitalism in the north and free market agricultural capitalism in the south. In short, the American "revolution" was about what Marx and Engels called "that single, unconscionable freedom--Free Trade"! Everything else was hokum. As for conservatism, I think the are three ways in which the terms can be plausibly understood. The first is as a synonym for "reactionary" or "nostalgic" and it applies to people who wish to go back to some prior and preferred set of social arrangements. This accounts for such superficially silly notions as "conservative" communists in Russia who long for the alleged stability of Stalinism. While common enough in ordinary language, I believe this application is fundamentally flawed. The second indicates a commitment to the status quo. Like the first, there is no necessary commitment to any particular "values" other than to the prevailing beliefs and practices extant in any given society. By these lights, conservatives are sceptical of change. So, again, in the late 1980s, it would be possible to call label Russians "conservative" who opposed Gorbachev's "glasnost" and, likewise, Americans in the 1780s who were "loyalists." I believe this application is fundamentally flawed as well. The third associates conservatism with a set of "values" that are indentifiable and consistent. They include the privileging of tradition over innovation, religion over science and technology, social order over individual liberty, "prejudice" (in Burke's sense of the term) over rationalism, cooperation over competition, community harmony over individual rights, state authority over "free enterprise," moral obligation over individual freedom and so on. Those who believe otherwise and are committed to mainly to the second item in each of these polar opposites can be tentatively called liberals. Now, like all ideal types, there are exceptions and contradictions. Ideas change. I would therefore put liberals into two different camps. One can be called "right-wing," 18th century liberalism which, among other things, restricted the benefits of liberty to property and had no interest in equality among citizens but only in freeing up capital. Right-wing liberalism (complicated in the United States by association with religious - largely Protestant - fundamentalism) can conveniently be called "neoliberalism" or in the USA (again because of its association with "family values" and its opposition to biological "evolution") "neoconservatism. Its primary opponent in North America, at least, is "left-wing" liberalism, a 20th century phenomenon, often associated with the social and economic reforms of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, the civil rights movement of the 1960s and certain cultural changes of more recent vintage. On the essentials (individual freedom, the primacy of market economics and the commitment to technological "progress"), there is very little in dispute between - say Bill & Hillary Clinton on the one hand and George H. W. Bush & George W. Bush on the other. The former may be more inclined (at least rhetorically) generous to the poor, less openly aggressive internationally and more likely to talk about equal rights and fairness; however, all of them recoil from such obvious social interventions as universal, publically funded health care at home and anti-imperialism abroad. They may, as it were, attend different churches, but they worship the same god. By saying that the Clintons and the Bushes (and the Democrats and Republicans) are all liberals in no way diminishes the depth of their disagreements nor the passion with which they defend their positions. It merely means that their differences are about shades of political opinion and not about fundamental differences of political philosophy. They are about pragmatics not principles. Perhaps it would help to highlight two of Tim Gratz's statements in order to show what I think is an internal contradiction in his understanding of conservatism. On the one hand, he says that it is a basic tenet of conservatism to be sceptical of human nature and, to some substantial degree, to believe that humanity is basically evil (a position that can be attributed either to a religious notion of "original sin" or a sociobiolgical belief that our species is ruled by a genetic predisposition to aggression, territoriality and violence). One way or another, according to the Book of Genesis or Thomas Hobbes, we are by nature a nasty and brutish bunch. On the other hand, he claims that conservatism is committed to individual liberty and is generally unwilling to yield up personal rights and freedoms to the state. In short, by this account of conservatism, we are immoral thugs and the best society is one that allows us to behave freely in the absence (or minimization) of control by the authorities. Sorry, but this view of conservatism is (in the common use of the term) "schizophrenic"! The matter cannot be had both ways. If we are evil, we need to be controlled; if we are to be allowed freedom, we are not evil. Authentic conservatives are no strong supporters of capitalism and may (as Adam Smith certainly did) give enthusiastic endorsement to public education and the regulation of corporations (which he denounced as perversions of the free market economy!). Authentic conservatives treasure social harmony and set great store by the principle of noblesse oblige. They give short shrift to civil liberties but seek to compensate for this by insisting that wealth and privilege place obligations on the upper orders of society to care for and to share with the deserving poor as a matter of public duty and as a pragmatic defence against agitation and disorder. True enough, Edmund Burke sometimes sounded like a conservative (especially in his book about France) but his instincts were those of a cautious, right-wing liberal. If he contradicted himself, he was not alone, for the great liberal icon Thomas Jefferson not only wrote that "all men are created equal" but also owned slaves (a contradicted nicely finessed by having the US Constitution accept slaves as 60% human - cf., Edward Dumbauld, The Constitution of the United States [Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964], pp. 203-204). Despite such exigencies and contingencies, it should not be impossible to construct an inventory of "values" to distinguish conservatism, liberalism and socialism as a prelude to further refining definitions and taking into account variations on several themes including "reactionary" and "libertarian" ideologies.
  2. The Morality of Taxation The legitimacy of taxation depends in general on whether citizens are expected to contribute some fair share to the collective burden of civil society. Most people would, I think, agree that taxation in general is legitimate. What separates them are two questions. First, how should the common goods be apportioned (e.g., health care, education and physical infrastructure) and to what degree should taxation contribute to the redistribution of wealth from the wealthy to the poor. Some will say that taxes should be allocated mainly to common needs. The maintainance of the forces of national defence, law and order, the protection of property and the maintainance of roads and sewers are essential to keeping a private, market economy alive. Few gainsay the importance of ensuring "free trade." Others will insist that social justice demands the redistribution of wealth from the affluent to the poor, so that the worst miseries of inequality will not be visited upon the infirm, the desitute, the disadvantaged and the simply inept, incompetent and otherwise dim. The problem, of course, is that all the chatter about equity is beside the point. Tax policies may take a larger proportion of income from the middle and upper-middle classes and simultaneously reduce the burden on the desitutute. In the final outcome, however, the proportion of wealth accruing to the already rich is extraordinarily greated than the proportion going to people who actually work for a living, much less to those who fail to earn even a minimal wage. In the United States - the most egregious instance among the "developed" nations - the Walton family have an accumulated wealth equal to three-quarters of a million times that of the median fortune of the average American family. Meanwhile the average American CEO brings home well over 400 times as much as his [sic] average employee. Meanwhile, pressure is being put on various competitors for funding. Some "liberals," "leftists" and putative "socialists" urge that taxation be used as a means to rob from the rich and give to the poor. Empirical evidence suggests, of course, that in modern capitalist democracies the redistribution of funds has been from the poor to the rich while, at the same time, so-called fiscal conservatives - especially in the USA - have run up both a deficit and an overall debt unheard of in the era of "tax and spend" liberals. From Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, US financial policies have amounted to "borrow from abroad" and "spend lavishly on your friends," while reading vapid moral lessons to the poor and dining out with the rich. Anyone who agrees with me will also agree that all the talk about taxation as a moral question is fundamentally misplaced. Anyone with an accountant's mind (which I cheerfully do not possess) will at least know that no part of the debate about taxation relies on how much or what proportion of money is to be collected. It only matters where and when and how such monies are to be retrieved. Sales taxes are inherently unfair. Income taxes are somewhat fair - but are rarely assessed in an equitable manner. Corporate taxes are a cruel joke. Meanwhile, "taxpayers' money" is bundled out to political friends of existing authorities and global firms bilk the ordinary citizen out of earned income through fraudulent petroleum prices, international munitions trading and all manner of price gouging. For those who cry foul about 40% (or 20% or 60%) income tax, I shed no tears. The people who make up the tax rules are the same ones who benefit from them, and I can assure you that I am not one of them!
  3. Two Quick Thoughts on Hegel and Castro I am indeed familiar with dialectics – both in their idealist (Hegelian) and materialist (Marxian) forms. The trouble is that when, I think about the subject, my head hurts. There is no doubt that when two social systems, political institutions, religious doctrines or what not clash, there is a possibility that something more advanced will come from the conflict. Thesis + antithesis = synthesis. I doubt, however, that Marx ever saw things in terms of such neat logical processes. Moreover, I cannot be sure, but I do not think that he ever used the phrase “dialectical materialism” (at least not in polite company). My own impression is that history displays a good deal more messiness that can be accommodated in such a paradigm. History is quirky. It is ambiguous and many of its elements are not deterministically called into being but are best considered contingencies – not mere accidents and certainly not accidental events occurring ex nihilo but unforeseen and unpredictable nonetheless. (My Darwinism owes more to Stephen Jay Gould than to Richard Dawkings). So, while I agree with John Dolva that “dialectics” may be a “useful tool,” I am too much of an “empiricist” to buy into the entire program. (My Marxism – such as it is – owes more to Edward Thompson than to the fast-fading French intelligentsia; my preference is for The Poverty of Theory, not Reading Capital.) There is, by the way, another tool that can help with the “statics” if not the “dynamics” of political concepts such as those being discussed here. It is one of many applications of the semantic differential, developed half a century ago in the work of Charles Osgood (The Measurement of Meaning – University of Illinois, 1957 & Semantic Differential Technique – Aldine Atherton, 1969). But, that’s another story. As for Juan Carlos, I appreciate the frustration that comes from listening to tired clichés and obsolete analyses. Still, I worry that people who are quick to condemn old socialist nostrums are merely trying to rationalize their abandonment of the left. Socialist apostasy is rampant; every generation commits treason anew. The struggle to get beyond the language of left and right is very often the struggle to shake off old friends, jettison old causes and join the people we used to despise – usually in a middle-level advisory position. Fidel Castro is an interesting subject to bring up at this point. I first became seriously aware of the Cuban revolution in 1960 when I watched US television news broadcast images of firing squads and rows of condemned men pitching over into pre-dug graves. That soured me on Castro for quite some time. It was not until the US invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965 that I began to re-think the Castro regime. I have since visited the island (as early as 1973, before it became fashionable) and come to appreciate the degree to which the United States and its policy of economic embargo have contributed to the problems of the Cuban people. I remain unsympathetic to the imprisonment of dissidents by the Castro government, but I also believe that, if the USA had displayed anything like the politics of “engagement” that it now champions with China, no such problem would exist. Unfortunately, despite the high-minded rhetoric of John Kennedy’s “Alliance for Progress,” the history of US policy toward Latin America has been one of almost unbroken endorsement of military dictatorships, domestic terror and torture, almost complete indifference to the well-being of the people and covert or overt hostility to even mildly reformist governments. From the ouster of Juan Bosch, through the overthrow of Salvador Allende, to the support for the death squads in El Salvador and the “Contras” in Nicaragua, and on to the current hostility toward the ostensibly leftist presidents of Venezuela and Brazil, the US – under Democratic and Republican presidents alike – has weakened the possibility of democracy and prosperity throughout the region. None of this is to absolve Castro for his sometimes brutal repression, but it certainly provides a context in which the blame may be more justly apportioned. That said, in answer to the question: Is it “leftish” to fight for Castro or against him, I can only say that it must depend on who is also in the fight. I do not think it is in the interest of the Cuban people to be handed over to the same kind of corporatist clique that (with much help from the military and the MAFIA) ruled Cuba until the revolution. Castro will pass in due course; the real question is: When (if ever) will an enlightened American government realize that its national interests would be best served if progressive government were in place throughout Central and South America – and, by progressive, I do not mean rule by unfettered free marketers and economic neoliberals. Yes, there is repression. Yes, the economy has been devastated. However, the quality of life of the average Cuban cannot be much worse now than under Batista. Great wealth has disappeared, but the mass of the people were even poorer in the past. Now, they have some measure of education and health care. In the future, they could have much, much more. It all depends on whether the represents only evidence of dogmatic and “reactionary” thinking. The USA continues its policy of exclusion for two main reasons. First, although it cannot genuinely fears a “communist” menace to its south, its leaders do fear the political power of the (also aging) anti-Castro Cuban diaspora in its own country. Second, it cannot bring itself to admit that a forty-five-year policy has brought no practical benefits to the United States and given nothing but misery to the Cuban people. President Carter and President Clinton might have done something sensible, but they chose to maintain existing arrangements. Unless President Bush behaves in an even more astonishing manner that did Nixon with respect to China in 1972, nothing good will happen for a few more years. Still, as it is sometimes said: "This, too, shall pass" - though perhaps not dialectically.
  4. Lee Harvey Oswald and His Mother I do not know who killed John F. Kennedy. I expect that I shall go to my grave without having had a satisfactory answer to the question: "Who shot JFK?" I suspect that the answer will never be forthcoming. I happen to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was not the shooter. I also believe that some sort of conspiracy was involved. I do not know who participated in the conspiracy. The list of suspects is endless. Individuals such as Sam Giancana, organizations such as the FBI and the CIA, vaguely defined groups such as anti-Castro expatriate Cubans and, of course, the "military-industrial complex" have all had their share of accusers (and let us not forget Castro himself). When I said I was convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald was innocent because I had a lengthy conversation with his mother and she assured me that "Lee didn't do it," I was attempting to be jocose (apparently my sense of humour does not carry well across the Atlantic). My poorly made point was that the investigation into the murder was so sloppily handled from the outset and that the apparent "cover-up" was so complete that no available evidence is uncontested and an unknown amount of possibly persuasive evidence remains secret or has been destroyed. Given this dismal state of affairs, one theory is as good (or as bad) as another. So ... why not believe his mother? Perhaps the legacy of JFK (love him or loath him) will include, among other things, being the victim of America's first "postmodern assassination."
  5. Locke, Louis Hartz and the Centrality of Property Although in more than one way I agree with the statement that the American Revolution was fought for conservative ideals, I think that the very desire to parse of the "ideals" may be one of the underlying problems leading to confusion as to what does or does not count as the stuff and substance of any particular ideology. I suggest a materialist alternative. One way to cut through the confusion about who is or is not a conservative, liberal or socialist (or anarchist or fascist, etc.) is to re-focus on the term that provides the umbrella under which this discussion is taking place. The term is “ideology” and one of its seminal meanings is “false consciousness.” I suggest that the falsity of any particular political consciousness is not a simple matter of empirical truth, normative probity or logical consistency. Rather, it is a matter of the fact that the principal function of ideologies is to provide rhetorical justification for certain power arrangements. Thus, conservative ideas are useful to support the claims of landed and inherited wealth – or commercial and industrial wealth if it is composed of sufficiently “old money”; likewise, liberal ideas are supportive of innovative entrepreneurs and unabashed fortune hunters who rely on their wits and (occasionally) their hard work to succeed in market economies; and, likewise also, theories of socialism are constructed to provide a rationale for distributing worldly goods more equally and (socialists would insist) more equitably. Each ideology, of course, is bound to have certain inconsistencies and unusual components that vary according to matters of time and space. We cannot expect conservatism, for example, to mean precisely the same thing in antebellum American states, the outback of Australia, Scotland in 1745 or Québec today, yet in some sense it may be possible to say that "conservatism" existed or exists in all four domains. The difficulty is to decide upon the common and essential elements of conservatism, and to determine which are contingent. Some correspondents complain that this there is no platonic archetype, no matter how complex and variabled, that would stand a “litmus test” for any of the ideologies here named. That is as may be; however, since we use these terms both in ordinary and in professional educational discourse, it is required of us to contemplate their meaning. We may not come to any uncontested conclusions, but we can probably do a good deal better than to shrug off the question as unanswerable in the same way that philosophers such as T. D. Weldon dismissed “the vocabulary of politics” as meaningless back in the early 1950s. The project I have in mind, by the way, is not “merely semantics”; it is SEMANTICS! I take this rather seriously because I believe that, if we are not clear about the meaning of our words, we will literally not know what we are talking about. The alternative to what may seem a tedious and potentially futile exercise in lexicography is verbal chaos, a heap of babbling in which the Humpty Dumpty theory of philology is supreme and the prospects for decent discussion (much less what Jurgen Habermas has famously called the "ideal speech situation" – a practical standard derived from his "universal pragmatics" and as close to a useful measure of democracy as I have encountered) are dim. An interesting starting point is the United States of America. Today, although public opinion polls suggest that individual Americans favour such “liberal” measures as publicly financed health care, increased environmental regulations and gun control, the term “liberal” has become a term of opprobrium and even of abuse. George W. Bush and his followers utter the word with contempt and even “leftish” members of the Democratic party do all they can to dissociate themselves from the concept. The peculiar nature of American political language is all the more curious in light of the belief that the American Revolution was fought for principles of Lockean liberalism. The US Declaration of Independence is commonly held up as an iconic liberal manifesto and few would gainsay the liberalism inherent in the US “Bill of Rights” — the first ten amendments to the Constitution. In a classic (forty-year-old) analysis of American democracy, The Founding of New Societies, Louis Hartz declared that settler communities such as Australia, Canada, South Africa and the USA have been populated by immigrants who brought with them much ideological baggage from their homelands. Since the United States was mainly colonized by people of British (mainly English) origin and — more important — since the dominant institutions of such settler societies tend to be fashioned within a specific cultural context, those dominant institutions reflect the ideas that were in the minds of the “founders” of the new societies. In the case of the United States, that meant 18th century, Lockean liberalism. At the time of the American Revolution and the constitutional documents it produced some years later, liberalism was primarily an ideology associated with private property ownership. It was revolutionary enough in its time, for it embodied the ambitions and “values” of a new, urban bourgeoisie in Britain. So, Americans spoke confidently of a divinely endowed “equality” (meaning equality of economic opportunity and not of condition) and a few “inalienable” rights including “the pursuit of happiness” (which was code for property, even though the revolutionaries only meant to guarantee the freedom of capital and not to ensure material equality or state-sponsored “entitlements” among citizens). Conspicuously absent from the American Constitution was any sort of freedom for women (even in the late 20th century, the Equal Rights Amendment failed), the working class (universal male suffrage was not achieved until the presidency of Andrew Jackson, half a century after the signing of the Declaration of Independence) and, of course, slaves (who were constitutionally defined as 60% human and their progeny who did not win the right to vote until 1965, a century after the end of the Civil War that purportedly freed the Afro-American population. (American Indians, whose "property" was stolen to permit colonization in the first place merited no mention.) What is plain about the US Constitution (at least from Hartz’s viewpoint) is that the United States was founded and pretty much remains an 18th century liberal nation in the sense that its “core values” are those of an emerging bourgeoisie on the cusp of the industrial revolution. For many gains in a “left-liberal” social agenda (“welfare” payments to the poor), there have been reversals (Clinton’s “workfare” and successful efforts to reduce the welfare roles not by reducing poverty but by canceling people’s eligibility) and atavisms (the current popularity of the religious right and its increasingly strident and distressingly successful campaign to combat the teaching of evolution in the classroom or the president’s justification of his most recent nominee for the Supreme Court on the principal ground that she is a reliable evangelical Christian). The popularity of the words “liberal” and “conservative” will wax and wane.” (in the 1960s, liberalism was popular and conservatism was disdained.) The specific issues — both domestic and foreign — that catch the attention of the politically aware will come and go. The fundamental American mono-ideology — whether it is styled liberal or conservative — is apt to remain the same or to evolve tortuously slowly. In the case of the United States, the hegemonic ideology amounts to the primary freedom of capital to dominate not only the economy (narrowly defined), but also to a host of related social issues as propagated by a mass print and broadcast media complex that is owned and operated by massive corporate conglomerates. These global firms have the advantage of sustenance by an ideology that was formulated by Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson and others to help a market economy of small proprietors and artisans to escape control by courtiers, a landed gentry or mercantile colonial domination. By skillfully appropriating the rights of independent producers and applying them to large corporations (now treated as individual citizens under the law), the liberalism of early capitalism has matured as a species of "corporatism" and has produced in the transition enormous confusion about the meaning of terms. The confusion has grown to the point where political commentators and popular pundits freely suggest that the words "conservative" and "liberal" are obsolete, that contemporary politics has transcended even concepts of "left" and "right" and that the utility of seeking categorical distinctions among political ideas no longer has value. This embrace of terminal ambiguity is, I believe, monstrous. In any case, it has been suggested that we add “reactionary” to the inventory of ideologies under scrutiny. At the risk of complicating matters further, I suggest that we also add “corporatism,” a word apparently coined in about 1890 and much appreciated by Benito Mussolini. Near the end of his life, Il Duce expressed regret that he had named his movement, his party and his government “fascist”. Since it uniquely combined the political authority of the state with the economic power of private companies, he opined that he might better have used the term “corporatism.” Though the pattern seems to be in the process of being globalized, his dreams may be being first and most fully realized in the United States, where liberals are decreasingly “liberal” and conservatives have little in the way of traditions to “conserve.” PS As for George W. Bush's "statism" and his singular plunge into national debt, it should be remembered that Ronald Reagan tripled the US debt and Bill Clinton at least brought down the deficit. So it is that "fiscally conservative" Republican presidents run up bills that would embarrass sailors (drunken or otherwise) while "tax-and-spend" Democrats put their finances in order. Plainly, there is confusion about other terms and ideas as well.
  6. Taxonomic Laxities and The Ambiguities of Edmund Burke Tim Gratz writes: I consider myself a "traditionalist conservative" and goes on to identify his position as one derived ultimately from the late 18th century. He says that "the 'father' of traditional conservatism is the famous English statesman Edmund Burke." Apart from the fact that some would consider Edmund Burke to be Irish (the importance of the electors of Bristol notwithstanding) and not much of a statesman, Mr. Gratz's comments serve a good purpose by underscoring the difficulties associated with applying general labels to different sorts of political thought, especially when such labels are intended to interpret the ideas of previous centuries in terms that are understandable today. Mr. Burke's ownership of the title, "father of traditional conservatism," can be justified in part by a consideration of his 1757 philosophical inquiry into the Sublime and the Beautiful. Ostensibly a study in aesthetics, it certainly establishes many of the elements of a political theory of traditionalism. Over thirty years later, Burke's ruminations on the excesses of the French Revolution add somewhat to this point of view. Outstanding is the following passage: But now all is to be changed. All the pleasing illusions that made power gentle, and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life … are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the super-added ideas, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of our weak and shivering nature, and to raise it to a dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd and antiquated fashion. Between his youthful excursion into the philosophy of art and his reflections on the politics of France near the end of the century, however, Burke is remarkably inconsistent. His sympathy for the American Revolution is only one instance in which his attitudes might be considered distinctly "liberal" (his opposition to the imperialist exploitation of India is another). Indeed, he frequently expressed support of "bourgeois" values, the nascent capitalist economy and other matters that do not fit easily with "traditional conservatism." There are some who regard his politics as hopelessly incoherent and possibly merely opportunistic. If nothing else, it is plain that his 1770 pamphlet attacking attempts to increase monarchical powers of King George III led to efforts (ca. 1780) to purge royal influence from parliamentary government - not a stance particularly associated with traditional conservatis. Burke was, moreover, an enthusiastic economic reformer in the bourgeois fashion. After all, by party affiliation - insofar as the term "party" applies - he was a Rockingham Whig! Accordingly, though "traditional conservatives" claim him as their father, a case can be made that his alleged conservatism was apparent only prior to his entry into political life and after his career as a politician was effectively ended. His dyspeptic remarks about the French Revolution certainly do not go well with his speeches and letters on American affairs. Were that not enough, I have found few paragraphs more eerily similar in their concerns than Burke's thoughts on abrupt social change (cited above) and the following comments written half a century later: Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social relations, everlasting uncertainty and agitation, distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier times. All fixed, fast-frozen relationships, with their train of venerable ideas and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become obsolete before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and men at last are forced to face with sober senses, the real conditions of their lives and their relations with their fellow men. … The author of the previous paragraph was, of course, Karl Marx.
  7. I suppose that depends on what kind of socialist. Ultimately, of course, the emancipation of the individual is the aim of socialism as well as liberalism. In the interim, however, social programs such as the compulsory public education, the National Health (medicare in Canada), the enablement of trade unionism separate mildly socialist measures in Britain and Canada from the robust selfishness of American liberalism in the form of school vouchers, private health insurance and "right to work" laws. One thing that may have shaped my view on the matter is not so much Marx (where socialism is at one with class analysis making the collective interest of the proletariat dominate the private interest of any particular worker) but Christianity. In Canada, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (precursor to the NDP - our "social democratic" representation in the 4th International) was formed and remains influenced by the promoters of "the Social Gospel" - a largely agrarian and somewhat evalgelical form of Christianity which put great stock in the community and the brotherhood of all souls. The first elected socialist leader in North America as T. C. "Tommy" Douglas - Premier of Saskatchewan from 1944 to 1961 and first leader of the federal NDP - was a Baptist preacher. Perhaps the NDP's most enduring presence in the House of Commons was Stanley Knowles, also a Protestant ("low church") minister. The point may be that socialists are more at home with "civil liberties" (e.g., opposition to censorship) than conservatives, but they are not keen on competitive individualism or what C. B. Macpherson famously called "possessive individualism" in terms of privileging material acquisitiveness on the part of individuals and favour sharing the wealth and promoting common goods (e.g., public broadcasting).
  8. The Trouble with Conservatism Concern about not having a conservative voice is well founded. That is partly because the term conservative is so badly used, especially by those for whom it is a self-descriptor. Before stating what I think conservatism is (or should be), I think it is important to say what it is not. One available definition is that conservatism is that political ideology that strives to defend the status quo, that it is the tendency to believe in and to act in support of those who are recognized as having political authority, the social influence and the economic power to dominate a polity. So, those who seek to maintain the elite or the establishment (whatever it may be) are, by these lights, conservatives. Such a definition will not do, for it admits of "conservative" communists trying to maintain the regime in China, conservative Palestinians and conservative Israelis trying to keep their respective "hard-liners" in charge, conservative Americans running to the aid of corporate giants and fundamentalist Christians and conservative Roman Catholics aspiring to retain articles of faith from previous centuries. All are called "conservative" but, apart from clinging to power, they have little in common philosophically. To complicate matters, conservatives are commonly associated with the "right-wing" but, I wonder, what can it mean to be "right-wing" when the term is easily applied to US Republicans, Russian (ex-)communists, Muslim Jihadists and Jewish "settlers"? A frank dissociation of conservatism from a "value-free" analysis of power is in order. Having said that, we do not do advance the definition of "conservative" much when we examine the "philosophical content" of the ideology as expressed by most of its familiar exponents. In the recent past, the Anglo-American democracies have had leaders who have called themselves conservatives. In the UK, Margaret Thatcher is iconic and, in the US, Ronald Reagan fits the description. Both have been followed by Prime Ministers and Presidents who have expounded the same principles as their more successful predecessors, but whose performance in office has been less impressive. In Canada, Brian Mulroney came as close to the Thatcher-Reagan model, but it in the Canadian provinces (Alberta under Ralph Klein and Ontario under Mike Harris) that leaders cast more fully on the Reagan-Thatcher mold could be found. The problem is that these individuals do not represent much that can traditionally called conservatism either. For the most part, their version of conservatism is applied to support for global capitalism including vertically integrated corporate control of large sectors of domestic and international economies. Hilariously, these people speak approvingly of free markets, when they actually favour concentrated corporate control. It is hard to imagine what these people want to "conserve" for it is certainly not the natural environment, organic communities or cultural traditions of a sort that would slow down economic growth. They are the people that Marx anticipated when he spoke of the "constant revolutionizing of production" and the death of cultural continuity: "all that is solid melts into air; all that is holy is profaned." If they are any at all other than social Darwinian capitalist opportunists, I suppose they could be called "neoliberals" - but even that is an insult to Adam Smith who, after all, was a professor not of economics but of moral philosophy and who believed in massive public spending on education and in the idea that corporations were antithetical to free market economics. Smith, after all, wrote at a time before the industrial revolution and in praise of small farmers, artisans and shop keepers; to invoke his name in defence of contemporary weapons, automobile and electronics manufacturers is a cruel hoax. Another set of ideas associated with conservatism in the UK, the US and Canada concerns individualism. When George W. Bush pronounces that the "terrorists" are motivated by hatred for America's freedoms, he may even be sincere. What matters, however, that the unfettered celebration of liberty has very little to do with conservatism. Apart from the fact that such putative conservatives speak at great length about individual freedom and personal responsibility while simultaneously seeking to put ever greater power in the hands of the state, to restrict, if not abolish, civil liberties at home and to ignore violations of elementary human rights abroad is not mere hypocrisy (though it is certainly that), the fact is that the emphasis upon personal freedom is a profoundly Lockean theme, and is an element of core liberal beliefs, not conservative ones. Conservative ideology differs from the liberal and neoliberal ideology in that it is oriented toward the conservation of the past rather than innovation in the present and transformation in the future. When Ronald Reagan was a television personality in the employ of General Electric (in the mid-1950s), I vividly recall his oft-repeated mantra: "At General Electric, progress is our most important product." This is the antithesis of conservatism; it is a central commitment of so-called conservatives today. So, I put it to you that most people who call themselves conservatives are not; they are most likely culturally obtuse neoliberal. I also put it to you that, when journalists writing about politics label someone a conservative, they are probably in error. I finally advance the notion that the attentive public, when reading or discussing political affairs, use the term conservative to identify a person, a party or a set of principles, they are also most likely mistaken. So, what is a conservative? I suggest that there are three distinguishable ideologies that can be detected in the UK and Canada (though not in the US) and that have (or have had) some legitimate standing in those societies. They are conservatism, liberalism and socialism. I shall set out some simple propositions and state how each ideology responds to them. Human beings can rely on reason to solve problems: Liberals and Socialists agree; conservatives no not. Technology holds the key to a desirable future: Liberals and Socialists agree; conservatives no not. Progress is assured through conscious human will: Liberals and Socialists agree; conservatives no not. Individual liberty is the highest human value: Liberals agree; Socialists and conservatives do not; Competition, not state control, begets prosperity: Liberals agree; Socialists and conservatives do not; The good of the community, not individual is paramount: Liberals agree; Socialists and conservatives do not; Human beings are essentially unequal: Conservatives agree; Liberals and Socialists do not; Equality of opportunity is a prime social good: Liberals agree and Socialists; conservatives do not; Equality of condition is a desirable social goal: Socialists agree; Liberals and conservatives do not. You see the pattern. Liberals share many of the values of the "Enlightenment" with Socialists, while conservatives remain sceptical about reason, science and progress. Socialists, however, share communitarian values with conservatives. Conservatism has almost abandoned its commitment to traditional hierarchy. It has become "progressive" to a degree, but it is not about to embrace liberalism's commitment to competition at an individual or a collective level. Conservatism does not necessarily support capitalism, and it certainly does not agree that "possessive individualism" is a worthy goal. Wealth, when accrued, is at least as much a matter of social responsibility and stewardship as it is a matter of private enjoyment. Greed is not good. Conservatives are not especially optimistic about "human nature." They favour enduring social order, deference to authority, reverence for tradition. Habit trumps innovation, unless innovation is demonstrably necessary and then it must be modest. Liberty is a privilege and not a right. Equality is an impossibility. The good society (and conservatives attach great importance to the "good society") is moral more than material and depends upon harmony and cooperation not a Hobbesian "state of nature" no matter how modified and well regulated through government by consent. Justice, of course, is required and must be applied equally to all in the name of the common weal. The Rule of Law, as Marxian historian Edward Thompson declared, is an unqualified human good. The protection and sustenance of the weak is also a necessary social obligation, not only because it is practical - extreme misery might make the plebs restless - but also because it is the right thing to do. If only through progressive income tax, noblesse oblige remains crucial to genuine conservatism. This is not George W. Bush's fatuous sloganeering in the form of "compassionate conservatism" but an acceptance of the organicity of the conservative view of community. There are few real conservatives alive today, and fewer who wish to become embroiled in the pointlessness of enacting conservative ideals in an increasingly liberal society. Just as Tony Blair has redefined socialism as, perhaps, capitalism with a human face, so conservatives have allowed themselves to be transformed into capitalists with eccentric antiquarian interests. Every generation commits treason anew, but this time treason has brought ideological diversity down, leaving little but amusing variations on a dominantly liberal theme. Still, a few examples of what Canadians call "Red Tories" - people who move easily between the Canadian Conservative and the Canadian New Democratic parties and remind some of us of the likes of British figures from Cobbett to Disraeli - are or at least have recently been in evidence. One of them, George Grant (1918-1988) concluded a chapter in one of his books by saying that although it was preposterous to try to build a conservative society next to the ultimate dynamo of technological civilization, it was a noble gesture and needed to be defended - recalling Richard Hooker - so that posterity may know we did not, loosely through silence, let things slip away as in a dream.
  9. WHICH MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX? All that I can say with confidence is that Lee Harvey Oswald was not the shooter. I have this on good authority. In 1966, I had the opportunity to speak at length with his mother and she assured me that "Lee did not do it." I saw then and I see now no reason to doubt her. This, however, does not help much in deciding who was truly responsible. The "military-industrial complex" is, I fear, too unwieldy a term. Its composition is too diverse and its organization too loose to sustain a successful conspiracy. Instead it is necessary to focus on specific elements of the beast. Several component parts are realistic possibilities: US Steel (which suffered price controls), military suppliers (who feared nuclear arms agreements or a relaxation of Cold War tensions), the oil industry. or some combination thereof. Even here, however, I would suspect that only a few firms (and only a few individuals within them) were involved. As for the FBI and the CIA, I have no trouble imagining that J. Edgar Hoover and others of the same sort would be involved; but, again, I have to belief that the participants in the murder were a small number of institutions and not an organization. Of course, there are other candidates. Various figures in organized crime (which had ambiguous relations with the Kennedys and who arguably supplied Jack Ruby as the instrument to remove Oswald before he could talk) come prominently to mind. As well, anti-Castro zealots in the Cuban diaspora are not above suspicion. That some people were involved in a conspiracy is plain. What remains obscure and, I suspect, always will is the precise character and principals in the conspiracy. Of course, at some future date when some evidence not yet destroyed is made public - perhaps in another fifty years - it may be possible to "bring closure" to the event. Alas, I do not expect to be alive to say: "Aha! So, it was those guys!" What is worse, "those guys" will have long since passed away (if they haven't already). Though I would enjoy seeing the case solved, however, I no longer worry much about it. The "military-industrial complex" has - individually or collectively - been up to very little good in the 42 years since John Kennedy's execution. Therefore, while I would be thrilled to see the ghost of Mr. Hoover or some business executives, military personnel, spies (domestic or international) or Chicago-based gangsters proven guilty, the pertinent effects would be few. In the meantime, I doubt that any intrepid investigator has much to worry about. Instead, attention should be focused on the current bevy of beasties who run US government, commerce and manufacturing, resource exploitation and information distribution (in short, the domestic and global political economy). It may be time to take Stalin's insight to heart: "The death of one man is a tragedy; the deaths of a million are a statistic" and turn it around - leaving JFK to his fate and worrying instead about an entire world. If, however, the death of the man that Canadian conservative philosopher George Grant called "a charming American imperialist" continues to hold us in thrall, I suggest that attention be paid to the cinema - not to Oliver Stone's labourious epic "JFK" but to a much less commercially successful film that starred Burt Lancaster and, in his final role, Robert Ryan. It was called "Executive Action" and tells the truth so ridiculously well that I have little doubt that it was effectively suppressed by ... who else? ... perhaps the "military-industrial complex."
  10. Occupation: teacher of philosophy, politics ("Professor") Institution: Seneca College - Toronto, Ontario, Canada for the past 36 years and more - also taught at University of Hawaii (Honolulu) and York University (Toronto). Author of about 300 books, articles, reviews, newspaper bits, scholarly papers and the like. Why join? Persistent interest in making the world better, explaining to people what's the matter with it, learning from people how I might help
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