Tuesday, October 18, 2005

More on Conservatism

Evolutionblog has been ranting lately about the dearth of conservative academics and the the phoniness of conservatives. Addressing another aspect of conservatism, David Frum discusses lessons for liberals that can be inferred from the success of the conservative movement.

Evolutionblog's conclusion about conservative academics is that "conservatives are far more interested in [striking] a martyr's pose than in making a decent argument for their views." A more plausible explanation than the assumption that conservative academics all possess identical personality flaws is actually fairly straightfoward. One point to keep in mind is that many intellectuals that have been adopted by conservatives as being representative of conservatism don't consider themselves to be conservatives. Another point is that conservatism and the conservative movement, in their modern forms, barely existed roughly 40 years ago. In the '50s and '60s, liberalism was the predominent political ideology, so it's not suprising that many more liberals than conservatives would have been hired since that time to populate academic departments today. The dearth of conservative academics might simply be due to a dearth of conservatives, although from a comparison of today with the 1950s, it might be that there is presently an abundance of conservative academics.

Evolutionblog's second post seems closer to mark. It seems pretty clear to me that the tactic of suicide bombing does involve a motivation of altruism in the non-judgemental, scientific sense. I'm not convinced that this is altruism for the non-combatant/civilian population at large instead of altruism on behalf of a group, but suicide terror attack is quite obviously a propaganda statement in addition to being an attack upon an enemy. For example, is there a more decisive refutation of the American Daschle Doctrine (i.e. if only one person is killed because of the use of force, then that use of force was a failure) than a terror attack in which the whole point is that one person is practically guarenteed to be killed by the use of force?

Kevin Drum's article is another example of that mode of liberal discourse that seems to be saying "Conservatism is evil. Why can't liberals be more like conservatives?" His argument seems to be that conservatism has prospered despite being opposed to majority views of Americans by concentrating on liberal extremists, therefore, liberalism can prosper by focusing on the views of conservative extremists.

As usual, things are not that simple. Modern-day conservatism has not only opposed the extreme Left but has tried to oppose extremists from the Right as well. The National Review is a famous magazine and a cornerstone of conservatism because it defined conservatism in a way that would exclude Randism as well as the "precious bodily fluids" crowd. The conservative/paleo-conservative fracture is another example of a principled conservative movement policing its own ranks. The proposal that liberalism should conduct a purge of its own extremists is one that has been advanced before, and obviously something like this view sank Howard Dean's 2004 Presidential Campaign. But whether liberalism can effectively criticise its own extremists in the future is still an open question given the steadily increasing influence and fund-raising ability of the extreme liberal Left.

The best advice that I've heard for rebuilding the Democratic Party and liberalism has come from Bill Bradley, who argued in the New York Times that the Democratic Party's misfortunes are essentially a management problem. Liberalism needs to focus less on an increasingly calcified propaganda approach to its problems and to focus more on the management process of developing a realistic policy platform.

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