Friday, October 09, 2009

The Flaw in Reaganism

As usual, a very solid think-piece from Deneen.

Writing on the occasion of Ronald Reagan's death, the NY Times columnist David Brooks articulated the roots of Reagan's success in as accurate and succinct a way as I've seen. Reagan "revolutionized" American conservatism insofar as he transformed it from what had been a disposition to defend tradition and custom - and thus one with an orientation toward the past - to a movement motivated by a deeply optimistic belief in progress - and thus, marked by an upbeat view about the future and America's providential role in advancing progress.

Well, yes, I saw that "progress" and was motivated to read the rest of the do recall, of course, that in early-1900's Wisconsin, the "Progressives" were largely Republicans. They liked the idea of eliminating such bothers as 'the feeble-minded.' There were a few Democrats--Ely of UW-Madison, who later spent lots of his Baptist-preacher oratory skills demanding that dissenting from Wilsonianism should merit jail. (!!)

Anyhoo, quoting Brooks' essay in the NYT:

Reagan agreed with these old conservatives about communism and other things. But he transformed their movement from a past- and loss-oriented movement to a future- and possibility-oriented one, based on a certain idea about America. As early as 1952 during a commencement address at William Woods College in Missouri, Reagan argued, ''I, in my own mind, have always thought of America as a place in the divine scheme of things that was set aside as a promised land.''

That's the "exceptionalism" of Limbaugh (and others.) Deneen drives that home:

The first line on Reagan's California grave reads "I know in my heart that man is good." A conception of human sin, fallenness, and the propensity for evil - what historically might be considered to be a defining feature of a conservative disposition is wholly absent in these few words meant to sum up Reagan's life and legacy. Such a form of "conservatism" bears little fundamental difference to the transformational optimism that has always marked Progressivism - the belief in the Gnostic possibility of human perfectibility ranging from such thinkers as Condorcet to Comte, Mill to Dewey, Emerson to Rorty.

Deneen finds himself in accord with Hayward:

Hayward concludes his reflection on the current lamentable intellectual state of conservatism thusly: "The single largest defect of modern conservatism, in my mind, is its insufficient ability to challenge liberalism at the intellectual level, in particular over the meaning and nature of progress. In response to the left's belief in political solutions for everything, the right must do better than merely invoking 'markets' and 'liberty.'"

Indeed. But that might involve theology--which is a silver crucifix for Libertarians who arrogate to themselves the term "conservative"--and might also require the Dispensationalists to shut up for a minute about Israel.


Indeed, the list of errors of GWBush and his merry band of (R) Congresscritters is lengthy.

...Where is the harrowing self-examination in conservatism's complicity in what can only be regarded as the massive defeat of most recognizable core beliefs and commitments of a conservative disposition over the past thirty years, often of Republican party ascendancy? Have we strengthened our communities? Have localities gained more opportunity and capacity for self-rule, with power devolving from the center to the peripheries? Have we enacted robust forms of subsidiarity? Are families at the heart of our personal and national commitments? Have ideals of morality and virtuous character been maintained, much less been strengthened? Have religious commitments deepened, and in particular, provided strong resources against a dominant culture of hedonism and materialism? Have our schools and universities aided in supporting these and similar commitments?

Some can argue that "small-Government conservatives" have attempted to brake the Statism utilized by GWBush (and his father, not to mention LBJ, Clinton, and Nixon) before it reached the critical mass now being utilized by Obama. But those 'small Gumminters' have been largely scorned and marginalized.

It's the disease caught on entry to Congress, or the Presidency.

There's plenty more in Deneen's essay. Read it.


Neo-Con Tastic said...

Did Reagan win a Nobel Peace Prize?

Dad29 said...


TR, Carter,yes. NOT FDR, NOT Bush 1, not Ike, not JFK, not LBJ, not Nixon, not Bush 2.

John Lofton, Recovering Republican said...

Forget, please, "conservatism." It has been, operationally, de facto, Godless and therefore irrelevant. Secular conservatism will not defeat secular liberalism because to God both are two atheistic peas-in-a-pod and thus predestined to failure. As Stonewall Jackson's Chief of Staff R.L. Dabney said of such a humanistic belief more than 100 years ago:

"[Secular conservatism] is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today .one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution; to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt bath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted? Its impotency is not hard, indeed, to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It intends to risk nothing serious for the sake of the truth."

Our country is collapsing because we have turned our back on God (Psalm 9:17) and refused to kiss His Son (Psalm 2).

John Lofton, Editor,
Recovering Republican

PS – And “Mr. Worldly Wiseman” Rush Limbaugh never made a bigger ass of himself than at CPAC where he told that blasphemous “joke” about himself and God.

Dad29 said...

I'm honored to have John Lofton stop by!

Jeremy R. Shown said...

I went and read the whole thing. Excellent.

Are there any political candidates that exhibit this type of serious thinking?

Perhaps more importantly, is there any way to spread this message more widely among the politically minded?