“Conservative” Doesn’t Mean What You Think: A Guest Post By Jack Whelan

By amba | Related entries in Corporate Business, Discuss, Economy, General Politics, History, Ideas

Many of our commenters on this post (at AmbivaBlog) took issue with the spirited defense of New Deal-rooted American social democracy expressed by Jack Whelan at After the Future. In my opinion Jack is hands down one of the best thinkers and writers on the Web; I’m particularly blown away by his “post-secular” take on religious tradition and spirituality. While I don’t agree with every point of his politics, I am grateful to him for making me question what I fear is fast becoming a knee-jerk or herd-instinct libertarianism (is that an oxymoron?!) in much of the blogosphere. I hope you will read, consider, engage, and discuss. ~ amba

Jack Whelan:

Thanks to Amba for inviting me to respond to those of you who take exception to my posts about Normal USA and Whom the Gods would Destroy. The negative reactions come from either misunderstanding my intent or from fundamental disagreements. I’d like to address the latter; I think Amba herself did a pretty good job of trying to address the former. My goal is not to convince anyone I’m right, but only to lay out my case in such a way to promote some serious discussion about bridging a gap between two fundamentally different world views. I challenge you; you challenge me. Deal?

So I think the best way to go about this is to lay out several propositions, any one of which could be developed into a full-length essay. Challenge me on any one of these, because if you disagree with my conclusion, it’s probably because you disagree with one of these propositions. This might help to give the discussion some focus. So here goes:

First. To live in society means to live in a state in which people restrain their liberty for their own and the common good. The best societies are democratic because people get to develop a consensus on the nature and extent of those restraints. To live in “the state of nature� is to live in a state where everyone is technically free until they run into someone who wants to enslave them. Hegel is the guy who worked out the whole master slave dynamic as it operates in pre-social situations. In the state of nature, might makes right. The powerful dominate the weak. In the state of nature, freedom is something only the powerful really possess. The powerful work hard to aggregate power to themselves, and they are free only until they meet someone more powerful who succeeds in dominating them. The New Hampshire license plate slogan, “Live free or die� is rooted in this basic dynamic. The aristocrat of freedom is the one who chooses to die fighting rather than to submit to enslavement to save his skin. The duel is a vestige of it as well. The whole idea of entering into society is to develop more civilized mechanisms for working things out so the powerful don’t go round doing as they please to the not-so-powerful. In its most developed form this alternative is called the rule of law.

Second. No one likes living with constraints, and we all chafe under them. It’s frustrating, and it’s a hassle. People seek wealth and power because the wealthy and the powerful live with fewer constraints. People who have power tend to abuse it. Why? Because they can, and that’s the whole point of getting it, to act with as few constraints as possible. And to be able to act without fear that anyone is going to stop them. One could argue that this desire is fundamentally a form of infantile narcissism, but I’ll leave that alone for now. The only point that needs to be made here is that it exists and it is a cause for all kinds of social pathology. Societies develop laws, mores, and norms which are designed to put constraints on pathological behavior, and the rich and powerful will always use their wealth and power to loosen things up when it comes to the constraints that they have to live with. They have the resources to make it happen if the rest of us let them.

Third. To be a conservative means to conserve. It’s not the same thing as being a man or woman of the right. To be a rightist means to lean toward the authoritarianism in which might makes right, i.e., to lean more toward the end of the social spectrum that is closer to the state of nature in which the exertion of power is the highest value. To be a rightist means, by extension, to celebrate the glories of the military and the control powers of the police which work to do the will of the powerful. To be a conservative, on the other hand, means that you lean toward the rule of law and the preservation of cultural mores and values. I consider myself to be a conservative in the Burkean tradition. Burke in his famous work on the French Revolution decried the Jacobin mentality that led inevitably to the social chaos known as the Terror. The Jacobins’ mistake was the mistake of all social engineers since, that they could systematically dismantle the old system and create from scratch a new one�mostly all that does is create more problems than it solves. I am against Jacobinism in all its forms. I am a subsidiarist, which means that I am against all top downism. I think that initiatives (except in national emergencies) should come from the bottom up, which is the way it should work in a democratic republic. So I would like to dismiss any idea that I am a socialist, if by socialism is meant the top-downism of command economies, Maoist cultural revolutions, legislated moral behavior, or nation building.

Fourth. Classical Liberalism in the economic sphere was an ideology which was developed to liberate a new class of capitalist investors from the constraints of mercantilism, the early modern top/down command economic system. Liberalism became associated with the whole cultural shift from medieval aristocrat-centered feudalism to modern bourgeoisie-centered democratic capitalism. Liberal had a progressive meaning in its early stages because it was about progressing beyond medievalism, and later it was associated with the policies that were about progressing beyond the social brutality of 19th Century unrestrained classical capitalism. Classical liberalism unleashed an unprecedented new social dynamic in the world which Schumpeter later called creative destruction. It created unprecedented wealth, technological innovation–and social dislocation and chaos, especially for those whose lives had been agriculture-centered. There is hardly anyone who will dispute that the transition from a traditional society to a modern capitalist society is brutal. Is there any one who would argue that it has had a tremendously destructive effect on traditional societies and the values that came with them? And is there anyone who will argue that the behavior of the early winners in this transition followed the logic described in item #1 and 2 above? Social Darwinism emerged as the ideology which justified this survival of the fittest mentality which was just the old law of the jungle rule, which is that the powerful dominate the weak. This system reached its high point in the period between 1870 and World War I. This early form of capitalism was pretty much as close to being back in the state of nature as modern societies ever got. Something had to give.

Fifth. In the social chaos that followed WWI, two great threats emergedâ€â€?fascism and communism. Social democracies, first in Sweden, then the New Deal in the U.S., then the Popular Front in France and so on were developed as a third way. According to point three above, neither fascism nor communism is conservativeâ€â€?they were both centralized command systems that sought to reengineer their societies. All three were attempts to deal with the failures and chaos created by 19th century laisser faire capitalism. Social democracy, I would argue were relatively speaking, the conservative solution that naturally evolvedâ€â€?in the Burkean sense–in democratic societies in response to the brutality and social chaos created by 19th century classic capitalism. Fascism and Communism were the Jacobin alternatives.

Sixth. Americans are human beings and as such we behave no differently than anyone else. The presumption ought to be that Americans who have enormous wealth and power will behave like everyone else in history who have had it, which is that they will abuse it, and that they will do what they can to get more. If Social Darwinism was their mythos in the 19th Century. Ayn Rand Libertarianism is their mythos in this country at least since 1980. As point #2 states above, no one likes living with constraints, and Libertarianism is the ideology of no governmental constraint. But the problem lies in that taking the no constraint argument to its logical conclusion, you’re back in the state of nature. In the state of nature the strong dominate the weak.

These are some questions I put to you, dear Libertarian Ambivablogistas: Do you or do you not agree that the underlying agenda of the GOP since the Reagan revolution is to return this country back to the pre-New Deal era? If you say no, give me evidence, because the evidence for yes is pretty strong. Second, if we return to the pre-New Deal era�if we privatize everything, deregulate whenever an industry lobby demand it, reduce taxes to starve the beast so it has no muscle, what means will you have to protect you and your family when the world is dominated by corporations who can act without any counterbalance to restrain them? Do you really want to return to 19th century power arrangements? What makes you think we won’t if this reactionary agenda is successful? The problem is not big government, but who controls it. And we ordinary Americans have been pretty much sitting around and just let it be taken from us. And the result is legislation like the Medicaid Prescription bill. It now serves the interests pretty much of the already rich and powerful.

So where does the real threat come from? Every system can be abused, but the question for me is in which system do the abuses have the most potential for harm. In which system are abuses more likely to be redressed? Libertarians are afraid we’re going to become Soviet Russia, when it is far more likely we are moving toward becoming something like oligarchic Mexico or Brazil.

I’m for evolution�that’s what the word progressive means to me. I’m for slow steps forward, keeping what works, improving what doesn’t, but moving forward. The Reagan/Norquist/Libertarian program is based on a devolutionary state-of-nature agenda. It benefits the already rich and powerful and strips away the tools that ordinary people have to protect themselves from the predations of the rich and powerful. What part of this am I not getting right? To me nothing could be more obvious. So if it is I who is befuddled and delusional, make your case. Give me some evidence or a coherent argument. Because I haven’t heard it yet.

            ~ Jack Whelan

Cross-posted at AmbivaBlog and After the Future


This entry was posted on Thursday, June 1st, 2006 and is filed under Corporate Business, Discuss, Economy, General Politics, History, Ideas. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

29 Responses to ““Conservative” Doesn’t Mean What You Think: A Guest Post By Jack Whelan”

  1. Brian in MA Says:

    Your logic is fine in a theoretical sense using the terms as you define them, however, when applied to reality it doesn’t hold muster.

    First is the political semantics game, “progressive” is a word socialists use to convince people they aren’t socialists. “liberal” no longer refers to the Adam Smith type classical liberalism, but refers, again, to socialism. Moreover, for all intents and purposes, there are next to no true conservatives in the Senate, they are what we grassroots conservative republicans call RINO’s (Republicans in Name Only).

    Adjusting for reality, we can see that your position, while well thought out and logical in theory, has no practical way to be implemented unless we kick a large number of people out of office.

    Your paragraph on returning to the pre-New Deal era engages in reaching. It assumes that before the New Deal “the beast was starved” and that whoever we elect would de-regulate every possible industry, when such is not the case. There is a difference between business and government: Business takes your money of your will and the government takes your money of their will. Businesses have to operate at a profit in order to survive, if the government overspends, it can just decide to raise your taxes. Businesses are expected to be accountable and if they are not, people stop purchasing their product. If the government is inept, you can only hope someone will stand up for your rights and beat the jerrymandered incumbent.

    Neither business nor the government should be given too much power, but business at least has a mechanism to deprive it of power, where government does not. Business is started by individuals, maintained by individuals, and its success is predicated on change and adapting to the new environment. Government is started by groups of people and maintained by the Ivory Tower at the top, and has no need to change the status quo unless someone has a catapult that launches rocks high enough to reach that tower.

    Your last paragraph however, completely misses the mark. How, exactly, if limiting government entitlement programs somehow benefitting the rich and powerful? You almost make it sound as if the rich and powerful got their wealth and power through subversive means instead of earning it through hard work and smart decisions. There is nothing inherently evil with being rich and powerful and nothing inherently virtuous about being poverty-stricken and powerless. there will ALWAYS be a poor, you can ALWAYS find a Bottom 20 percent because it is impossible to remove a percentage figure regarless of high the real income figures rise.

    You mention the “tools that ordinary people have to protect themselves” and yet you will never have any Reaganite trying to interpret nonsensical rights from the Constitution such as abortion, a practice where the strong kill the weak at their whim and then claim moral superiotity by proclaiming they support choice, for just one example. One should be wary of when man exploits man, but should be more wary when government exploits man, or does nothing to stop man from being exploited by the government status quo.

  2. Tim Says:

    I see the mechanism to deprive government of its power far more clearly than I do of the mechanism to deprive business of its power. When I go to the ballot box, my single vote counts just as much as the welfare mother’s vote and just as little as the oil baron’s vote.

    However, if I’m living in a small town in the Great Plains, I have no means whatsoever to deprive Wal-Mart of its power. I have to buy food and they’re the ones that have it. If a privately-run power plant is creating large amounts of pollution, what can I do? Even if there were some kind of perfect world in which I could switch power plants (which would require a socialized power grid as the cost to privately hook up every home would be prohibitive), that polluting power plant is still going to be in my city and my minute amount of energy consumption isn’t going to affect the balance.

    Basically, given the choice between an overreaching government and an overreaching business, I’ll take the government. I have real power to affect what happens there. My purchasing power and my stock portfolio are just too small for me to affect change in the business domain. It’s impossible for me to gain a seat on a board of directors, but city council is not outside my reach.

  3. Callimachus Says:

    That’s a good, lucid quick walk through a complex topic. My hat’s off to you for the quality of ther writing of it.

    There are some problems with this, more in what’s left out than what’s said.

    Societies develop laws, mores, and norms which are designed to put constraints on pathological behavior, and the rich and powerful will always use their wealth and power to loosen things up when it comes to the constraints that they have to live with. They have the resources to make it happen if the rest of us let them.

    Which is one half of the thing. It overlooks that the poor and mean also have the same tendency. Perhaps a greater tendency, having more to covet to begin with. And, when acting in sufficient numbers, they have powers capable of accomplishing it. And in an unmixed democracy, such as ours, those powers potentially are allied to the state’s powers and authorities.

    It’s been the great fear of conservatives since Hamilton and John Adams, and it ought to be factored in to the argument if you really want to engage conservatism in an American historical sense.

    And in fact it seems to me it was fear of just this, along with strikes and direct government action, which helped to mitigate the harshness of 19th century capitalism. Industrialization is brutal, but there are thinking minds at work behind it, which was the mistake Marx and Lenin made in trusting solely in the blind mindless engine of “history” to overthrow capitalism.

    The capitalists were supposed to dig their own graves and spin their own nooses, but they were smarter than that and changed. The period you cite of 1870-1914, so far from being a brutish tumble back to the Stone Age, was the original Progressive Era. My impression is the standard of living and overall working conditions, bad as they were, were better than in the 30 years before 1860. Credit to the progressives, but the capitalists also got a good scare thrown into them, and they reacted to it and began to realize they could keep much of their profits if they shared enough of the rest to make the majority of their fellow citizens feel a stake in the game.

    There’s an essential place where you’re misreading the Reagan Republicans. And I’ll add that I’m not one of them, though I do sometimes agree with them.

    In the social chaos that followed WWI, two great threats emerged�fascism and communism. Social democracies, first in Sweden, then the New Deal in the U.S., then the Popular Front in France and so on were developed as a third way.

    Since the thrust of your argument is not about any of these things per se, but about the post-1980 Republican attitude toward them, you should know that the picture you paint is not necessarily the one your subjects paint.

    To them, the New Deal was not a third way between “nature red in tooth and claw” capitalism and totalitarian statism. It was a compromise liberal democracy made with the authoritarians.

    When Roosevelt came to power, it seemed there was no contest left. Capitalism lay in ruins, and liberal democracy languished. The dynamic nations of the globe — Italy, Russia, and soon Germany — had gone down the different path. And the New Dealers took note and incorporated some of that into their program, as the Reaganites see it.

    Hence their antipathy to the New Deal as a whole. It was a tainted appeasement of socialism. It was the domestic front of the Cold War. Whether it really was is irrelevant; we’re talking about what they felt.

    Do you or do you not agree that the underlying agenda of the GOP since the Reagan revolution is to return this country back to the pre-New Deal era?

    I think that’s absurd. To want to alter the mechanisms of the New Deal, or even to loosen some of it, is far from saying they (we) want to return to 1932.

    The essential philosophical underpinning of the New Deal was the notion that the executive has a responsibility for the national economy. That seems to me to be very much part of the Reagan philosophy, too.

    Other than that, it was a time of broad experimentation, aimed at specific problems. Much of it disappeared after a few years, some of it has stuck. It wasn’t built to last 1,000 year without alteration.

    I don’t recall Reagan trying to smash such New Deal cornerstones as federal assistance to first-time home-buyers, or the FDIC, or drug regulation, or unemployment insurance. To call the Medicaid Prescription bill a return to the 19th century is nonsense. Pray, what sort of prescription plan did Tiny Tim have?

    America’s economic might was built on equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. That has been the lesson that economic conservatives, including the best of the Reaganites, kept close to their hearts. The government has a role to play, as referee and protector, but not as redistributor.

  4. Brian in MA Says:

    Unfortunetely Tim, the government can only get its power checked at a bare minimum of every 2 years, and unless they (the corrupt politician) make a collosal screw-up, 1 vote has very good symbolic power but little actual power unless you can convince another 50% of the relevant voting population to agree with your assessment. Much like your individual financial prowess won’t do much against business, your 1 vote won’t do much unless you can convince a large number of people to agree with your assessment.

    Per Wal-Mart issues, I suppose the argument could be made that places that have a monopoly are nearly unstoppable (simply by the nature of a monopolistic market), but otherwise you could choose other shops to give your business to. Prices, unlike government, are fairly transparent. If you feel a company’s price and power are too high, it is not as difficult to convince other consumers as such. Trying to route corruption when the person you are trying to remove has all the advantages of public funds and ad campaigns is more difficult.

    Either way, I think we can both agree business and government shouldn’t be too powerful and should serve as a check on one another.

  5. amba Says:

    Splendid!

  6. Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Says:

    “The problem is not big government, but who controls it.” — This is totally false. The “powerful” will always control gov’t, and most will BE rich, or be wanting to BECOME rich.
    If somebody “not powerful” begins controlling gov’t … he becomes powerful by that control! And, we all being human, all too often uses gov’t to help himself and his families to become rich.

    Look at Rerum Novarum of 115 years ago.

    Also, “groups” don’t make decisions, individuals do. Usually they decide to give some other, more powerful individual, the power to make decisions for themselves (authority), in order to avoid paying for mistakes (responsibilities). Then we get the all too human game: get more authority but avoid responsibility.

    Voters play that game, too. Unsustainable social security is an example — most recipients since it was started have gotten MORE out from the system than they put in. As boomers retire and (with much less smoking cancer) live longer, while there are fewer workers putting in, the system is going to negative. My last SS statement estimates 11 years.

    FDR would have done everybody a big favor if he had started a forced savings plan, with extra contributions to the really poor from the general fund, so that middle class folk would own their own retirement, but also get no more, nor any less, than they put in.

    The “power to the people” voters, just like rich and powerful thru history, want MORE back than they put in.

    The real tension is how much indivualism vs. group/ social identity — and how much force is allowed to ENFORCE group “values” that may be disagreeable to the particular individual. This will always be a tension.

  7. Joshua Says:

    I’ve been a semi-regular reader of AtF (semi-regular only because Jack doesn’t publish quite as frequently as most of the other blogs I read) for some time now. I’m with amba: I’ve disagreed with Jack quite a bit, but I’m still a fan.

    My take on all this is something I touched on in a comment to a recent AtF thread. I find political power, as exercised by government, to be analogous to power in Newtonian physics; i.e. kinetic energy applied over time. But kinetic energy isn’t the only type of energy in Newtonian physics. There’s also potential energy. Wealth represents potential energy. So do demographics favorable to one’s interests (e.g. a large segment of the population with a vested interest in either changing or maintaining the status quo, as the case may be). So do strongly appealing belief systems, be they full-fledged religions or merely quasi-religious ideologies like socialism. So do widely held, visceral sentiments like righteous indignation toward any manner of evildoers – a source of potential energy off of which, until recently, President Bush has managed to thrive in spite of his many shortcomings (terrorists, of course, being the evildoers in this case).

    Surely there are other sources of political potential energy that I’ve overlooked. The point is that, given the right motivation, those who control that potential energy have the ability to convert it into the kinetic energy of real political power at any time, and not necessarily to the benefit of all. Indeed, the results can often be devastating, to say nothing of the unintended consequences.

    The political process by which this kinetic energy is released is governed by the Constitution. The trouble is that the Constitution offers next to no guidance on how to handle the potential energy constantly building up in American society, let alone in the vast quantities and wildly unequal concentrations we have today. It also is yet unknown how much more of this potential energy the system can safely store before something buckles.

  8. Paul Brinkley Says:

    I’m going to approach this from the futurist angle…

    By my reckoning, if you really believe in evolution, then you know that it doesn’t matter whether you believe in it or not. It governs the universe despite disbelief. Anyone who attempts to turn the tide of evolution by building a system that holds things steady has effectively just tried to make a statement that this system will prove fit, and hence it will survive. If it succeeds, it doesn’t refute evolution; rather, it, like any other system or even an absence of any system thereof, upholds it all the more.

    I may disagree with Whelan’s characterization of what he calls the Libertarian program, but even if I did agree, I would contend that if it succeeds to any degree, it is because it is deemed fit to survive, to that degree. Furthermore, I would contend that its chance of success as a social structure depends greatly upon its palatability to societies, which depends in turn greatly upon its implementation. If people live under it and find themselves feeling fulfilled and productive, it will spread. If they feel stressed and overcome, it will decline. In either case, what one calls “progressivism” is an alternate societal form, fighting to see which is fittest.

    My profound and unassailable powers of prediction foresee that it would likely succeed in some places, and fail in others. Many of the failures would be arguably attributable to what can cause failure in any societal system: the lack of perfect information. If we had perfect information, I suspect either capitalism or communism would work swimmingly in ways intended by their most ardent promoters.

    To me, a successful societal system is that which holds stable given the lack of perfect information inherent given the technology of that time. When most people are illiterate and information is copyable only via painstaking manual labor, then a feudal society exhibiting a caste of laborers, landowners, and clerics, plus a sprinkling of artisans, proves very durable. When information is copyable at the speed of electricity (roughly speaking), and greatly outpaces the speed at which the brain can incorporate it and feed back, then a representative or parliamentarian democracy such as that of many Western nations persists quite well.

    In the future, one might envision technology that augments the brain’s ability to respond to information, either by cybernetically augmenting its capacity to incorporate and consider input, or by replicating its “will” in some external electronic device. As that technology spreads, one would expect the fittest society system to morph from a parliamentarian democracy to perhaps a flatter democratic system.

  9. reader_iam Says:

    Excellent posts and comments.

    I think it would take a whole series of posts to respond to this one–as evidenced by the thoroughness of the responses here!

    I want to digress briefly and then thrown out two points. Digression: While I don’t wish to defend monopolies and I’m not a Wal-Mart “booster,” nor am I unaware of the array of issues, what often gets ignored in the equation is that Wal-Mart is also a a great leveler of access. I have a great number of relatives who lives in very small towns in VERY rural areas. You can say all you like about the locally owned grocery or 5&10, but in many cases, they too functioned as the monopoly, in that they were the only game in town. Local consumers were just as much captive audiences, so to speak: they had to take what was offered and at whatever price the owners set–which means the selection was often limited and price not competitive. People don’t like this reality, but it IS a reality. (Small business people can be–note I said CAN be–just as ruthless and just as anti-competitive in their own spheres as as their larger cousins. If you don’t believe that, you surely haven’t spent much time in small-town America.) With all of Wal-Mart’s downsides, my cousins X, Y & Z, etc, and their families, now have much more access to a full range of products and at a lower price–which is important, since it’s not as if they’re rolling in it.

    It’s real easy to whack the Wal-Marts and extoll the Virtue Of Local Business when you live in areas where there are many choices among the latter. (For the record, my husband and I personally DO shop as “local” as possible, as a matter of philosophy. But then, we sacrifice little to nothing by doing that, because of where we live and because we are middle-class. So big deal.)

    My point is that there are a number of sides to this one, though you rarely hear a couple of them.

    Basically, given the choice between an overreaching government and an overreaching business, I’ll take the government.

    With all due respect, this is one of the scariest things I’ve read in a long, long time. Just for starters, here are only a few powers that government has that business doesn’t:

    *The ability to arrest and incarcerate
    *The ability to deport
    *The ability to–if such a law were passed–impose the draft, force military service and incarcerate for refusal
    *The ability to tax whenever and however
    *The ability to control schools
    *The ability to assert eminent domain and seize property
    *The ability to control living patterns and behavior via zoning laws, building codes, etc. etc. etc.
    *The ability to establish curfews
    *The ability to award or deny business licenses, professional licenses, etc. etc.

    I could go on and on and on and on. Couldn’t all of you?? I’m not saying that these things are inherently bad, but they represent TREMENDOUS power, and can just as surely be abused as they can be forces for good.

    Prefer government overreach? I jolly well don’t think so.

    Finally–and this may fall into the category of broken record, to some commenters–I’m curious if Jack has read Thomas Sowell’s “A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles.” (For some reason, I can’t get a link to “take” in this comment, but the book’s easily googled.)

    I don’t agree with it in all particulars, but it is very well done, and based on what’s written here, I’m thinking that Jack, and others, might find it provocative and useful.

  10. amba Says:

    That’s pretty devastating.

  11. Michael Hampton Says:

    Most of the power a corporation has derives from its special relationship to government and its ability to leverage government to its benefit and to the detriment of its competitors who have less ability to leverage government.

    Removing government from the picture disempowers corporations — if they exist at all — and makes a much more level playing field. Under this system, a corporation has to answer to its customers, no matter what.

    This is what REALLY happened to Standard Oil’s “monopoly” for instance — they got greedy and jacked up their prices, so their customers went elsewhere. Without government to help them, their presumed monopoly quickly crumbled.

  12. Lewis Says:

    I read this thing a couple of times trying to figure out, OK, what’s your point. Generally I find when someone tries to sum up a few hundred years of human history in a couple of paragraphs and reaches firm conclusions about how most everybody felt and acted, then I reach for the nose plugs.

    So I read the two linked essays and comments and then at least I found something that gave me a clue to what church Mr. Whelan preaches at. Needless to say, I perceived a slant that was quite frankly disappointing and certainly not “progressive” as I define it.

    From those essays and comments, I read things like people who voted for Bush are morons stupid enough to be conned by GOP propaganda, and they enabled politics that are so destructive, and that zombie traditionalism is the mode of the cultural right, and also that republicans realize how stupid and gullible the American way of thinking is and thus republicans have disdain for normal Americans and the democratic process. The one thing he did say that I totally agree with is that most normal people need to feel a sense of order and comfort. So what’s wrong with that? I find order and comfort highly desirable although not terribly exciting.

    It seems to me that many people who think only one political party has all the correct answers have spent too much time up in the ozone. I believe a truly “progressive” mind is diligently seeking the best ideas wherever they can find them. And they instinctively know that the best ideas don’t all reside in a single political party or political ideology.

    Anyway, even though Reagan drove me crazy back then, in retrospect, I think he was trying to bring some of the better ideals of America past to a modern world rather than take the modern world back to the past. No hard evidence but maybe this will pass for a coherent argument.

  13. Lewis Says:

    Michael Hampton,

    I have worked in several large corporations and from my experience, what makes a corporation powerful is that they know how to fill the needs of their customers. And they are staffed with intelligent, hard working and innovative people. Mostly, government is just a pain in the arse. Corporations would most certainly survive quite well and probably get much more powerful and ruthless if the government was removed from the picture.

  14. wj Says:

    rj, one other point that routinely gets ignored when discussing WalMart. But where were their employees getting health care before they went to work for WalMart? Answer: probably the same place that they got it afterwards. Certainly they are unlikely to have gone to work at WalMart _because_ it didn’t provide health care. And yet, whenever WalMart opens, they have long lines of people applying to work there.

    What that means is that the whole issue of WalMart leaving others (which could be a spouse’s health care, even though state provision is always what’s talked about) is a straw man. All walMart does is provide income for its workers; their health care is unaffected. Maybe the critics think it OUGHT to provide health care by reason of being an employer. But that’s not the same as saying that it causes increased burdens elsewhere. Merely that it didn’t remove a burden from elsewhere.

  15. Lewis Says:

    I do believe that government has an important regulatory role to prevent the excesses of unfettered capitalism. Our government has forced many positive changes in business. I guess that’s why many (branded as liberals) want to see more and more government involvement while others (branded as conservatives) desire less and less. The debate centers around where the balance point exists.

    It’s my opinion that business (the big bad corporation) receives little credit for their contribution while the government receives more than they should. A case in point is “outsourcing”, which has given some an opportunity to condemn business as immoral so they can demand more government regulations on business to prevent this new “outrage”.

    I got my eyes opened when I helped to set up a factory in India in the nineties. New government regulations (elimination of export duties – thank you Bill Clinton) made it possible. India is desperately poor so I felt real good about bringing these people good paying jobs. And they appreciated it and worked very hard to do their level best. I taught them how to be successful in the global market. You don’t deserve your job nor does your company deserve to be in business. Quite simply you earn that right every single day.

    So when I went back to the US factory, I kept getting asked by the workers there if their factory was going to be closed down and moved overseas. My only comment was that if want to keep it here, then you just have to fight for it, not by going on strike, but by earning the right to keep it. You just have to be the best. And you have to do it while handicapped by high wages, health care and government regulations. It is not a level playing field and never will be so get over it.

    Don’t get me wrong, I saw things in India that made me very, very glad that we have governmental regulations such as environmental and safety. India is terribly polluted and getting worse. There are almost no safety regulations. In a steel foundry I visited all the workers were wearing flip-flops while pouring molten metal. In a small plating shop there were young children in bare feet dipping parts in harsh chemicals.

    As horrible as this sounds to us modern Americans, I think it resembles our country a long time ago. It took a while until things got more civilized here. It will in India also. But over there, working in those conditions is far better than the alternative, which is to go without food or shelter. So I try not to judge or condemn.

    I think I’m rambling on, but my point is that business does so much to help lift people out of poverty and modernize a society. It’s a more permanent solution than a government handout. People do have a real chance to keep improving, but it must be earned by continuing to create real value.

    A good example of why government handouts can’t do this as effectively as business is Palestine. Look at what’s happening now that the free money train has dried out. Those people never learned how to create value. They just kept taking the free money because it’s so much easier than working for it. Now they’re screwed because they were not encouraged to become self sufficient as a requirement for receiving government money.

    So never give a fish, but rather teach how to fish. Government gives, business teaches.

  16. DosPeros Says:

    I think your conception that large corporations are consistently and uniformily seeking deregulation is somewhat misplaced. Large corporations like regulations because regulations tend be barriers to market entry and thus tend toward monopolization and rent-seeking. The GOP is pro-business, not pro-market in my opinion and those are two very different things.

    I enjoyed your post.

  17. JollyRoger Says:

    I’m not sure we even are looking at a return to a pre-New Deal structure in this country.

    We have not really done a “starve the beast” in regards to Government, because the interest on the national debt will soon enough crowd out even those things that are considered essentials of any Government, like defense. This is more a “default the beast,” and a Buenos Aires situation may develop. Or, quite frankly, a Soviet one. I personally believe a Soviet end is the one we can look forward to seeing, given other conditions existent at the moment.

    The other anomaly is that while there is definitely a corporatist bent to the present gang in control, there is also a morality that more resembles Stalinist philosophy than anyone else’s. Kind of the worst combination of Fascism and what is commonly known as Communism.

  18. forestwalker Says:

    reader_iam:
    “With all due respect, this is one of the scariest things I’ve read in a long, long time. Just for starters, here are only a few powers that government has that business doesn’t:

    *The ability to arrest and incarcerate…deport…impose the draft, force military service and incarcerate for refusal…tax whenever and however…control schools…assert eminent domain and seize property…control living patterns and behavior via zoning laws, building codes, etc…establish curfews…award or deny business licenses, professional licenses, etc. etc.

    I could go on and on and on and on. Couldn’t all of you?? I’m not saying that these things are inherently bad, but they represent TREMENDOUS power, and can just as surely be abused as they can be forces for good.”

    Devastating Amba? Did we read the same Whelan essay? :)

    The point you made over at Callimachus’ blog in response to the post above is correct, I think, but it’s essentially the same point I read Jack making in his essay:

    amba:
    “reader — I think there was just no further argument to make after you got through. It was kinda the last word on the subject — unanswerable!

    “And you’ve made me think — really, the most dangerous power big business has through its wealth is . . . its power to buy government! (Buy the right to be allowed to become ever more powerful by evading the responsibilities, like taxes, imposed on everyone else. Buy the right to profit from and irreparably damage the commons.)”

    The thing is, they can buy not only these things but also the scarier list that reader presents.

    Who is more dangerous? is simply a bad question. The question should be is concentrated power dangerous?

    So in reference to this conversation overall:

    What’s up with the false dichotomies? Why can’t a person both oppose unrestrained Capitalism and not be a Socialist? Or think that the New Deal was, overall, a good thing and yet also believe that entrepreneurship is also a good?

    And why the reduction to individualistic moralism: Why is the most oft-repeated critique “but the rich (or Bush) are not evil”? Well, duh. Is that what Jack really said? If someone’s response to a discussion of the environment was, “but SUV drivers are not evil” or to a discussion of sexual ethics, “but sexual libertines are not evil” wouldn’t you suppose that they were not grasping the macro-level issues of the discussion?

  19. reader_iam Says:

    I hope it’s clear that my comment was not intended as a rebuttal of Jack’s post (in fact, I think I noted that that was outside the scope of a single post), nor was that its purpose. It mostly was a reaction to a piece of a comment that someone else wrote in response to Jack’s post, and, as such, my comment had a narrow focus.

  20. forestwalker Says:

    “I hope it’s clear that my comment was not intended as a rebuttal of Jack’s post”

    I didn’t initially take it as such but comments at Callimachus’ blog made me think that you and others thought it was.

    “It mostly was a reaction to a piece of a comment that someone else wrote in response to Jack’s post, and, as such, my comment had a narrow focus.”

    I recognize that. I’m responding to the general tone of the thread and, specifically, to the assumption in your argument (and that of the poster you were responding to) that we must choose between the lesser of two evils: big government or big business. That’s a false choice. They’re intrinsically interconnected, and all the moreso when the power balance between them is out-of-whack.

  21. reader_iam Says:

    Oh, no, no, no, no, no. I don’t think we have to choose: I think there’s plenty of potential and actual problems of both to go around. I’d be happy to address both; well, more specifically each. But if we have to choose, which was the “given” that I perceived in the piece of the comment on which I, in turn, commented, I would choose the government for the reasons stated. By that I stand, and for reasons, as you noted, I started to address.

    I’m not clear about which comment on Cal’s blog made you think that I thought what I wrote here it was a rebuttal; in fact, I think I was quite clear that that surprised me and bothered me. This is precisely because, from my point of view, the comment here was intended more narrowly. Of course, we then continued to discuss over there, but, at least from perspective, I was trying to address a particular piece or pieces of the puzzle.

    You know, I’m really not trying to (in fact, I’m trying not to) imply that I’m seeing, much less hugging, much less arguing, the “elephant” here (as in the old story about different people touching different parts of the pachyderm and from that experience proclaiming truth). My intent–though it’s clear to me now that it was poorly executed, I guess not just here, but elsewhere–was to address a particular piece brought up in this thread, and, once that was brought up elsewhere, to try to wrestle with issues that stood out to me there.

    And I think–no, know–that I quite explicitly stated there, more than once, that I was struggling with a variety of ideas, that I was thinking aloud, and that I acknowledged the incoherence of the process. Go back and read again if you don’t see that as true.

    And I sort of wish those still reading this thread would do the same. Because I’m not quite clear how “my tone” could be characterized in the way that I’m thinking it’s being interpreted and presented here. You would do me a service in pointing out–there–where that happened based on what .

    One thing I have learned here: I need to work on my skills at following cross-blog/cross-thread discussions. Because something really, really got lost in the translation here, by my lights, and I’m not clear why. That’s a problem, at least for me.

  22. Connor Vlakancic Says:

    • My name is Connor Vlakancic •
    I am the Independent (Decline-to-State) candidate for U.S. Senator from California. My name was not included on the Primary Ballot of June 6th as that was only for candidates who are registered in a political party. California’s November General Election Ballot has never included an Independent candidate as only gathering the required registered voter signatures will earn this acclaim!
    I am now gathering voter signatures to be the very first Independent (Decline-to-State) candidate for U.S. Senator, on the coming November General Election ballot, to “retireâ€Â? Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Of course, to “retireâ€Â? Ms. Feinstein is my campaign strategy appropriate for the political climate of California. While some in our Golden State could regard her as indispensable, many more Californian’s are keen to accelerate our new found courage and determination for Independence from entrenched Politics-as-Usual.
    Furthermore, who is to say, in her heart of hearts, that she does not evoke, within political machinery imposed silence, a quiet prayer to be relieved of her indentured servitude? Golden years yet remaining to enjoy family and participate in benevolent activities, free from addictive, politically induced adrenaline highs and withering lows!
    My 2006 election campaign dramatically reflects 12 years of my passion to break thru the logjam of entrenched politics-as-usual as I daily continue to personally experience ALL voter’s desire to reform political malfeasance.
    I was the very first Reform Party candidate in history in California’s 15th Congressional District, special election, of November 1995 to replace Rep. Norm Mineta who had just resigned from office. I have also, over the subsequent 12 years, been several times a candidate for U.S. Representative, in both major political parties, working to identify the path and means, to lead Californian’s to true pragmatic political reform. I have attended multiple training programs in California and Washington, DC, actually studying the curriculum of Congressional service to be qualified to perform.
    My Silicon Valley career in international communications technology has taught me that all barriers to progress can be circumvented when people fully commit themselves to understand the merits in opposing viewpoints. As a process, communications will never eliminate divergent viewpoints, but the practical solutions to partition, mediate and/or marginalize conflict itself will be fostered to spring forth, until new thinking and evolved viewpoints emerge. This is at the heart of my personal philosophy and will initiate pragmatic open minded, out-of-the-box political solutions.
    My signature gathering campaign has started with a direct mail distribution effort to my fellow graduates of the Leadership Institute in Arlington, VA, California’s many 2nd Amendment support organization members and the dramatic numbers of registered Independent voters (nearly 20%) in California. The required quantity of signatures is only 1% of the total registered voters during the November 2005 election (about 150,000 signatures).
    This election campaign is both a goal as well as a mind altering event. Like the first time a runner accomplished the four minute mile, it was soon followed by additional runners who realized that the impossible could be won. Come November’s General Election, to win outright, or to even push Ms. Feinstein well below 50% of the total, coming in a close second but ahead of the Republican candidate (a previous California Senator, retired for many years) would set an incredible prescient for the 2008 election year. If I do not actually achieve election, such close results would dramatically heighten the potential electability of a groundswell of California Independent candidates in 2008 to the infinite consternation of incumbent politics-as-usual.
    However, practically speaking in the context of reality politics, I need your personal help to accomplish this goal of gathering the voter signatures to earn a position on November’s General Election ballot. I fervently request your personal interest to visit http://www.RETIREfeinstein.com to download my double-sided Signatures-in-Lieu nomination form to print/copy and gather registered voter signatures to send to my Campbell, CA address. Including a campaign contribution of but $1.00 per signature will emblazon the most remarkable example of grassroots politics ever seen.
    And if you are of a mind to further “Sink the Battleship”, change your voter registration to Decline-to-State!
    This will be a serious “foot in the doorâ€Â? in California politics given that this accomplishment has never been attained in the history of California. This future is literally at your doorstep, a true landmark in America’s political landscape.
    If you desire to contact me directly, my mobile is 831-295-7827, or email me at: … or visit: …
    [email protected] and http://www.RETIREfeinstein.com

  23. Mike H. Says:

    Other then having the Goverment supporting strong unions and some trade protections, There should be a wall of separation between Goverment & Business.

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  28. C.J. Says:

    Sounds to me like some real Class-A, top-grade whining. Very well written, thoughfully composed drivel. In the meantime, the rest of us are working, some of us in professions dedicated to the service of others. Words like “honor,” “integrity” and “duty” are just words to you, but are a way of life to others. Indeed, some of the rich and powerful you so distrust and despise do more for the common good of mankind than your useless intellectual masturbation ever will. To some of us “freedom” and “liberty” aren’t just words on license plates; they are the life-blood of our patriotism, and motivate us to commit our lives to the service of a nation that, to this day, is still our species’ greatest hope for peace and justice. Please, don’t let me interrup – resume whining!

  29. bill nighy christmas Says:

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