Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Dawn of the Pseudo-Conservatives, Part 4

I'm reading an interesting anthology called "Conservatism in America Since 1930: A Reader" edited by Gregory L. Schneider (2003). I'm particularly interested in that period just after World War II when modern American "conservatism" became a self-conscious force with William F. Buckley and his collaborators at the National Review at its helm. Or as George H. Nash is quoted as saying (Schneider, p. 1): "In 1945 no articulate, coordinated, self-consciously conservative intellectual force existed in the United States."

A number of writers (e.g., Michael Lind, Up from Conservatism, pp. 53-4) have suggested that one of the major political successes of this new right-wing movement was its "fusion" of previously more separate strands on the right. Lind wrote: "The ingredients that were allegedly 'fused' were laissez faire capitalism and High Church Burkean moral traditionalism...." Thus, Part V of Schneider's anthology is devoted to "Fusion". However, my reading of the contributions on fusion finds them pretty unconvincing. The short selection from Frank Meyer, an ex-communist and later Buckley collaborator, who is often credited with successfully advocating "fusion" is quite windy, verbose and unclear. Perhaps the strongest selection from this section argues against such fusion: Friedrich Hayek's "Why I Am Not a Conservative." To appreciate the significance of this one must realize that Hayek was one of the patron saints of pseudo-conservatives, revered as were few others. But much like his classical liberal colleague Milton Friedman, Hayek had a tendency to intellectual consistency which made it impossible for him to swallow the witch's brew of "fusionist" pseudo-conservatism.

Hayek tried to advocate an intellectually consistent classical liberalism or, what is often called libertarianism in the U.S. today. Thus, much of what he said would have been anathema to the pseudo-conservative of today. For example, Hayek wrote that "to the liberal neither moral nor religious ideals are proper objects of coercion.... I sometimes feel that the most conspicuous attribute of liberalism that distinguishes it as much from conservatism as from socialism is the view that moral beliefs concerning matters of conduct which do not directly interfere with the protected sphere of other persons do not justify coercion." Hmmmm. Not much High Church Burkean moral traditionalism here as far as I can see. Prohibition, or the state coercing individuals not to drink alcoholic beverages would have been out. State prohibition of pornography would have been at lest problematic. State prohibition of the use of drugs would have been problematic. Certainly declaring America a "Christian nation" in any way that tilted toward an established religion would be anathema. State control of abortion would likely have given Hayek some difficulty because it pits the freedom of the pregnant female against the potential freedom of the unborn fetus. Only if one is willing to count the unborn fetus as having absolutely equal status with an individual who is at least 12 years old would Hayek be able to justify state controls on abortion. (I googled "milton friedman abortion" but could not find what Friedman's position on abortion is.)

Hayek was against protectionism as inadmissable state intervention in the market. He was very much for the free exchange of ideas and open scientific debate. He wrote: "I can have little patience with those who oppose... the theory of evolution or what are called 'mechanistic' explanations of the phenomena of life simply because of certain moral consequences which at first seem to follow from these theories, and still less with those who regard it as irreverent or impious to ask certain questions at all." Hayek, as a believer in free markets, supported an internationalist position against narrow nationalism: "Connected with the conservative distrust of the new and the strange is its hostility to internationalism and its proneness to a strident nationalism.... The growth of ideas in an international process, and only those who fully take part in the discussion will be able to exercise a significant influence.... Only at first does it seem paradoxical that the anti-internationalism of the conservative is so frequently associated with imperialism. But the more a person dislikes the strange and thinks his own ways superior, the more he tends to regard it as his mission to 'civilize' others...."

There are many times that one must admire the intellectual consistency of a Hayek or a Milton Friedman; an intellectual consistency that certainly does not extend to pseudo-conservatives like William F. Buckley, who were so ambitious to found a successful political movement that they sacrificed principle to "fuse" the witch's brew of contradictions that characterizes the American pseudo-conservative of today.

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