Conservative liberalism

Jerry Salyer at Front Porch Republic has written a stunning essay on “conservative liberalism”; that is, people who are conservatives while still embracing the assumptions of liberalism (for example, commercialism, progressivism, radical individualism).  Think of a church that claims conservative theology and values while throwing out all church traditions in an embrace of modern culture that contradicts its ostensible conservatism.  Or a conservative small town that replaces its historic downtown buildings with strip malls, in the name of economic progress.  Or someone who claims to be a conservative but whose decisions are actually shaped by that most liberal of philosophies, namely, pragmatism.

Salyer’s piece defies summary, but here is a tiny sample:

I find it increasingly difficult to sympathize with conservative defenders of liberalism, who praise mass culture yet fret over socialism, who worry about relativism for a living yet dismiss concerns about uglification as reflecting the mere opinions of elitist aesthetes. A conservative liberal is somebody who encourages the prevailing progressive view that the past was benighted and is best forgotten, but then demands respect for the Ten Commandments and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. . . .

And just what is meant by “ordinary folk?” Does it include the large majority who evidently thought Barack Obama would be a swell president?  Does it include those whose children master the remote before learning to speak? Those who treat birth-control pills as if they were M&M’s, stand assembled outside Toys’R’Us like ravenous zombies in the wee hours of Black Friday, and think dolls dressed like cheap hookers make nice Christmas gifts for little girls? (Of course whenever there’s even the faintest threat that “ordinary folk” might recover a sense of who they are and where they come from, sage passengers on the conservative establishment gravy-train are quick to jettison all traces of populism and denounce the latent nativism, protectionism, and isolationism of ignorant small-town rabble.)

via Who Gets To Be The Czar of Human Evolution? | Front Porch Republic.

Can you think of other examples of liberal assumptions that we conservatives often operate under?  I think this is something we are all guilty of some times.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Lou G.

    “Can you think of other examples of liberal assumptions that we conservatives often operate under? ” I’m thinking of dozens, if not a hundred or so.
    But my biggest pet-peeve is worship leaders who play secular music by U2 and Coldplay, because they’re trying to “reach the culture” and look cool.

  • Lou G.

    “Can you think of other examples of liberal assumptions that we conservatives often operate under? ” I’m thinking of dozens, if not a hundred or so.
    But my biggest pet-peeve is worship leaders who play secular music by U2 and Coldplay, because they’re trying to “reach the culture” and look cool.

  • trotk

    A brilliant sentence:
    “Yet again we have the spectacle of the complacent conservative liberal, who perennially rolls his eyes at the “silly” fantasies of an H.G. Wells or a Robert Goddard or a William Gibson, yet finds inconceivable and intolerable a world without luxuries and comforts which were themselves only sci-fi fantasies a generation before.”

    One assumption that continually shocks me is the basic assumption by conservative Christians that material wealth and goods are to be desired and sought, rather than approached cautiously and approached with a view toward stewardship rather than consumption.

    The article posted on this blog in December that lauded the growth in material wealth of the last few hundred years, and credited protestant Christianity as a major reason for the increase, is a great example of this. Why do we still believe that material goods and wealth are desirable? Nothing in the New Testament supports this view. At least, we should be wary of our homes, cars, Ipods, clothes, etc. Perhaps we should even consider giving them to the poor.

  • trotk

    A brilliant sentence:
    “Yet again we have the spectacle of the complacent conservative liberal, who perennially rolls his eyes at the “silly” fantasies of an H.G. Wells or a Robert Goddard or a William Gibson, yet finds inconceivable and intolerable a world without luxuries and comforts which were themselves only sci-fi fantasies a generation before.”

    One assumption that continually shocks me is the basic assumption by conservative Christians that material wealth and goods are to be desired and sought, rather than approached cautiously and approached with a view toward stewardship rather than consumption.

    The article posted on this blog in December that lauded the growth in material wealth of the last few hundred years, and credited protestant Christianity as a major reason for the increase, is a great example of this. Why do we still believe that material goods and wealth are desirable? Nothing in the New Testament supports this view. At least, we should be wary of our homes, cars, Ipods, clothes, etc. Perhaps we should even consider giving them to the poor.

  • http://www.matthewcochran.net/blog Matt Cochran

    Moral neutrality on the part of government is another liberal error that many conservatives embrace (particularly those of a libertarian bent). The flavor is a little bit different in each; while liberals worship diversity and condemn any condemnation of particular lifestyles, conservatives take more of a “leave me alone” approach and usually just settle for “government shouldn’t interfere as long as I’m not hurting anyone.”

    Both of these make the same pretense of government being agnostic about good and evil, but both are incoherent. Liberals think that security from public opinion, peace, and free expression are good things that government needs to protect (which is why they condemn evils that attack those goods). Conservatives, on the other hand, find that liberty and the animating life of freedom are good things that government needs to protect (even if by staying away) and condemn governmental intrusions that harm these goods.

    Neither of these flavors are actually morally neutral, but both of them pretend to be in their rhetoric. It may be good that the government stays out of the way unless I’m hurting someone, but we shouldn’t pretend that a government or its officers can know what “hurting” means without a moral reference.

  • http://www.matthewcochran.net/blog Matt Cochran

    Moral neutrality on the part of government is another liberal error that many conservatives embrace (particularly those of a libertarian bent). The flavor is a little bit different in each; while liberals worship diversity and condemn any condemnation of particular lifestyles, conservatives take more of a “leave me alone” approach and usually just settle for “government shouldn’t interfere as long as I’m not hurting anyone.”

    Both of these make the same pretense of government being agnostic about good and evil, but both are incoherent. Liberals think that security from public opinion, peace, and free expression are good things that government needs to protect (which is why they condemn evils that attack those goods). Conservatives, on the other hand, find that liberty and the animating life of freedom are good things that government needs to protect (even if by staying away) and condemn governmental intrusions that harm these goods.

    Neither of these flavors are actually morally neutral, but both of them pretend to be in their rhetoric. It may be good that the government stays out of the way unless I’m hurting someone, but we shouldn’t pretend that a government or its officers can know what “hurting” means without a moral reference.

  • SKPeterson

    trotk @ 2 – A large part of what you describe is the venerated “Protestant work ethic” as it manifested itself in America through the Puritans and heavily influenced by Dutch Reformed Calvinism. A good example of this from a historical perspective is Simon Schama’s The Embarrassment of Riches which describes the evolution of the tension existing between religious conservatism and economic and social affluence that took hold in the Netherlands during the 17th and 18th centuries. Intersestingly, the Puritans decamped to North America in order to leave behind what they felt was the morally debilitating Dutch culture, even though it was religiously amenable in every other respect.

    We also see this play out in our own history in the run up to and aftermath of the Founding. To some extent the Revolution was against Tory social conservatism, although the aims of the nascent, liberalizing U.S. were advocated by Edmund Burke, who is viewed as a conservative. Yet, our Revolution was a liberal revolution, and one of the vibrant strains of modern conservatism is the desire to conserve the merits of that liberal revolution against modern Progressive liberals, who in many ways, called for a more conservative economy and society, and now are “conservatives” in that they seek to conserve the structure of the progressive welfare state.

    What Salyer is wrestling with is the shifting meanings of liberalism and conservatism; they have changed over time and across the space between Europe and the Americas making for some strange bedfellows politically, culturally and socially. A good example is the series of posts and debates here on the Republican Party nominating contest. One takeaway is that the Republican Party is far more diverse than the Democrats (at least in range and depth of thought) running the gamut from an almost libertine libertarianism to social conservatism to establishment moderatism, yet all are considered to be on the Right and conservative.

    Where I think Salyer may err is that he expects political conservatism to be equivalent to social conservatism and to cultural conservatism, without understanding that one may desire to conserve a “classical” liberal political order, while embracing elements of cultural progress. I happen to think that there are extraordinary benefits that have been derived from mass consumerism: indoor plumbing, adequate food supplies in all seasons of the year and with a great variety to boot, for example. I can also be in favor of social conservatism without that desire being in conflict with my desire for preserving a “conservative,” i.e liberal, political structure. I can be a small “s” and small “c” social conservative and not find myself an automatic political supporter of a big “S” and big “C” Social Conservative such as Rick Santorum. I may oppose homosexual marriage and the ordination of homosexuals into the pastorate which would be positions of social and/or cultural conservatism, but I may also oppose the political use of the law to enforce such desires as I believe in the conservative, i.e. limited, use of political power to achieve social or cultural aims.

  • SKPeterson

    trotk @ 2 – A large part of what you describe is the venerated “Protestant work ethic” as it manifested itself in America through the Puritans and heavily influenced by Dutch Reformed Calvinism. A good example of this from a historical perspective is Simon Schama’s The Embarrassment of Riches which describes the evolution of the tension existing between religious conservatism and economic and social affluence that took hold in the Netherlands during the 17th and 18th centuries. Intersestingly, the Puritans decamped to North America in order to leave behind what they felt was the morally debilitating Dutch culture, even though it was religiously amenable in every other respect.

    We also see this play out in our own history in the run up to and aftermath of the Founding. To some extent the Revolution was against Tory social conservatism, although the aims of the nascent, liberalizing U.S. were advocated by Edmund Burke, who is viewed as a conservative. Yet, our Revolution was a liberal revolution, and one of the vibrant strains of modern conservatism is the desire to conserve the merits of that liberal revolution against modern Progressive liberals, who in many ways, called for a more conservative economy and society, and now are “conservatives” in that they seek to conserve the structure of the progressive welfare state.

    What Salyer is wrestling with is the shifting meanings of liberalism and conservatism; they have changed over time and across the space between Europe and the Americas making for some strange bedfellows politically, culturally and socially. A good example is the series of posts and debates here on the Republican Party nominating contest. One takeaway is that the Republican Party is far more diverse than the Democrats (at least in range and depth of thought) running the gamut from an almost libertine libertarianism to social conservatism to establishment moderatism, yet all are considered to be on the Right and conservative.

    Where I think Salyer may err is that he expects political conservatism to be equivalent to social conservatism and to cultural conservatism, without understanding that one may desire to conserve a “classical” liberal political order, while embracing elements of cultural progress. I happen to think that there are extraordinary benefits that have been derived from mass consumerism: indoor plumbing, adequate food supplies in all seasons of the year and with a great variety to boot, for example. I can also be in favor of social conservatism without that desire being in conflict with my desire for preserving a “conservative,” i.e liberal, political structure. I can be a small “s” and small “c” social conservative and not find myself an automatic political supporter of a big “S” and big “C” Social Conservative such as Rick Santorum. I may oppose homosexual marriage and the ordination of homosexuals into the pastorate which would be positions of social and/or cultural conservatism, but I may also oppose the political use of the law to enforce such desires as I believe in the conservative, i.e. limited, use of political power to achieve social or cultural aims.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    You’ve just described ninety percent of the population of Michigan.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    You’ve just described ninety percent of the population of Michigan.

  • Dan Kempin

    Even after reading the article, I’m not really sure I understand his point. He is annoyed by . . . unclear reasoning? Inconsistency between stated belief and practice? Well, me too. (Particulary when I see it in myself.) But still, what’s the point? Perhaps it is that the terms “liberal” and “conservative” are so broad and have become so muddy. I don’t know. His complaint seems rather petulant to me. More of “those guys” who are causing our problems.

  • Dan Kempin

    Even after reading the article, I’m not really sure I understand his point. He is annoyed by . . . unclear reasoning? Inconsistency between stated belief and practice? Well, me too. (Particulary when I see it in myself.) But still, what’s the point? Perhaps it is that the terms “liberal” and “conservative” are so broad and have become so muddy. I don’t know. His complaint seems rather petulant to me. More of “those guys” who are causing our problems.

  • Jon

    I agree with Kempin; this sounds more like an Andy Rooney tirade about “those people who bother me.” But I’m troubled in particular by this line: “Those who treat birth-control pills as if they were M&M’s,…” As opposed to … what? First, no woman treats the pills like candy; second, what about men who demand that women, not them, take responsibility for birth control, and finally, is he advocating against the use of birth control? So be it if he is, but why choose such to level such a cheap shot at women? Oh..that’s right; he’s a “conservative.”

  • Jon

    I agree with Kempin; this sounds more like an Andy Rooney tirade about “those people who bother me.” But I’m troubled in particular by this line: “Those who treat birth-control pills as if they were M&M’s,…” As opposed to … what? First, no woman treats the pills like candy; second, what about men who demand that women, not them, take responsibility for birth control, and finally, is he advocating against the use of birth control? So be it if he is, but why choose such to level such a cheap shot at women? Oh..that’s right; he’s a “conservative.”

  • Steve Billingsley

    Dan Kempin @6
    Yeah, I thought this was pretty much an incoherent rant. He was responding to a post by Joe Carter on First Things that took a shot at Distributism.

    I am not sure what this guy thinks people should do. Are you only conservative if you live like the Amish? So I guess everyone who reads this blog and posts comments is by definition “liberal” because we are utilizing technology (as was, by the way, Jerry Salyer). More than one person I respect has linked to and recommended this essay, so I have no read 4 times and I am still getting what the big deal is.

    I think the terms “conservative” and “liberal” have become way too muddy and ill-defined.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Dan Kempin @6
    Yeah, I thought this was pretty much an incoherent rant. He was responding to a post by Joe Carter on First Things that took a shot at Distributism.

    I am not sure what this guy thinks people should do. Are you only conservative if you live like the Amish? So I guess everyone who reads this blog and posts comments is by definition “liberal” because we are utilizing technology (as was, by the way, Jerry Salyer). More than one person I respect has linked to and recommended this essay, so I have no read 4 times and I am still getting what the big deal is.

    I think the terms “conservative” and “liberal” have become way too muddy and ill-defined.

  • Lou G.

    #2 trotk – Excellent points. I guess I was totally off-track in my reaction to the article, because I honed in on the church aspect instead of the politics and cultural aspects.

  • Lou G.

    #2 trotk – Excellent points. I guess I was totally off-track in my reaction to the article, because I honed in on the church aspect instead of the politics and cultural aspects.

  • trotk

    SK – as always, your summaries are beautiful, and I agree with your analysis of the article and history your bring up.

    My question (or perhaps frustration), though, is with the fact that social conservatives (particularly Christian ones) don’t notice or can’t comprehend the danger in materialism. We want to conserve certain social values, right? But if we look at a particular example, say the family, we ought to recognize that our lust for material progression and goods has been at best questionable (in terms of the health of the family) and at worst devastating.

    I mention Christian social conservatives specifically, because presumably they want to conserve the things of God. But God everywhere in His scripture says to beware money and possessions! Why is it seen as laughable amongst Christian social conservatives to question whether technology or increased material prosperity is good for us? Some evidence for the fact that it is seen as laughable is this blog, where (with the exception of a couple participants) the idea that the growth in material prosperity and technological goods is assumed to be the mark of a healthy nation and culture.

  • trotk

    SK – as always, your summaries are beautiful, and I agree with your analysis of the article and history your bring up.

    My question (or perhaps frustration), though, is with the fact that social conservatives (particularly Christian ones) don’t notice or can’t comprehend the danger in materialism. We want to conserve certain social values, right? But if we look at a particular example, say the family, we ought to recognize that our lust for material progression and goods has been at best questionable (in terms of the health of the family) and at worst devastating.

    I mention Christian social conservatives specifically, because presumably they want to conserve the things of God. But God everywhere in His scripture says to beware money and possessions! Why is it seen as laughable amongst Christian social conservatives to question whether technology or increased material prosperity is good for us? Some evidence for the fact that it is seen as laughable is this blog, where (with the exception of a couple participants) the idea that the growth in material prosperity and technological goods is assumed to be the mark of a healthy nation and culture.

  • Cincinnatus

    Jon@7: Read the news! I’m 99% certain that Salyer is responding to those ideologues who want not only birth control itself (condoms, chemical contraceptives) but also abortifacients like Plan B to be available free of prescription to any girl who wants them–you know, M&Ms on the shelf of the discount store. Forest: you’re missing it for a tree.

    Of course, this could open a discussion of liberal and conservative attitudes toward birth control in general–namely, that there is little or no difference. With the exception of dogmatic Catholics, neither self-described liberals nor self-described conservatives in America see any problem with chemically (or otherwise artificially) manipulating the process of procreation. This may or may not be a problem. It is a topic at least worth of discussion.

    In any case, to the larger question at hand: Patrick Deneen, also a contributor to FPR, has powerfully advanced the thesis in a more theoretically robust way than Salyer (who is only responding to another blog post) that those notions which go by the names “liberal” and “conservative” in the United States really have no meaningful distinctions: both are rooted in a fundamentally liberal, modern conception of the human being and political life.

  • Cincinnatus

    Jon@7: Read the news! I’m 99% certain that Salyer is responding to those ideologues who want not only birth control itself (condoms, chemical contraceptives) but also abortifacients like Plan B to be available free of prescription to any girl who wants them–you know, M&Ms on the shelf of the discount store. Forest: you’re missing it for a tree.

    Of course, this could open a discussion of liberal and conservative attitudes toward birth control in general–namely, that there is little or no difference. With the exception of dogmatic Catholics, neither self-described liberals nor self-described conservatives in America see any problem with chemically (or otherwise artificially) manipulating the process of procreation. This may or may not be a problem. It is a topic at least worth of discussion.

    In any case, to the larger question at hand: Patrick Deneen, also a contributor to FPR, has powerfully advanced the thesis in a more theoretically robust way than Salyer (who is only responding to another blog post) that those notions which go by the names “liberal” and “conservative” in the United States really have no meaningful distinctions: both are rooted in a fundamentally liberal, modern conception of the human being and political life.

  • Tom Hering

    trotk @ 10, on the other hand:

    “The LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends, and the LORD increased all that Job had twofold.”

    “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity …”
    :-D

  • Tom Hering

    trotk @ 10, on the other hand:

    “The LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends, and the LORD increased all that Job had twofold.”

    “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity …”
    :-D

  • Steve Billingsley
  • Steve Billingsley
  • Cincinnatus

    Steve@13: I intermittently follow Joe Carter’s work, and usually find (found?) it insightful, even if I didn’t necessarily agree. But on this question of distributism, particularly as it pertains to his interaction with Front Porch Republic, he’s been remarkably petulant, immature, uncharitable, and ultimately doltish. It looks like a vindictive teenager is writing his editorials on this subject.

    I would address his actual substantive comments, but they’re just too…annoying and screechy.

  • Cincinnatus

    Steve@13: I intermittently follow Joe Carter’s work, and usually find (found?) it insightful, even if I didn’t necessarily agree. But on this question of distributism, particularly as it pertains to his interaction with Front Porch Republic, he’s been remarkably petulant, immature, uncharitable, and ultimately doltish. It looks like a vindictive teenager is writing his editorials on this subject.

    I would address his actual substantive comments, but they’re just too…annoying and screechy.

  • Jon

    Cincinnatus @11.
    You may well be right; perhaps I misread the intent of “treat.” While I also agree that ‘manipulating the process of procreation’ would be worth discussing, don’t you think it should be had in the context of whether the State should ban the practice? I lean against the use of birth control, but I also object strenously to criminalizing it. I’m concerned now that the Republicans, under Santorum, want to outlaw it.

  • Jon

    Cincinnatus @11.
    You may well be right; perhaps I misread the intent of “treat.” While I also agree that ‘manipulating the process of procreation’ would be worth discussing, don’t you think it should be had in the context of whether the State should ban the practice? I lean against the use of birth control, but I also object strenously to criminalizing it. I’m concerned now that the Republicans, under Santorum, want to outlaw it.

  • trotk

    Tom, on the other hand …

    a rich man built many barns
    another refused to give his wealth away
    the love of money is a root of evil
    give us our daily bread

    and so on.

    Perhaps one of the best thoughts in the Bible referring to what our attitude towards money should be is Proverbs 30:8-9.

  • trotk

    Tom, on the other hand …

    a rich man built many barns
    another refused to give his wealth away
    the love of money is a root of evil
    give us our daily bread

    and so on.

    Perhaps one of the best thoughts in the Bible referring to what our attitude towards money should be is Proverbs 30:8-9.

  • Steve Billingsley

    I agree that Carter gets a bit (how shall we say this), too “wound up” sometimes. I think it is the Marine in him coming out, he seems to relish argumentation. His original post poking fun at Distributism was rather weak tea, at least in my opinion. And no, I am not a Distributist although I find much of their basic criticism of the nexus between Big Business and Big Government to be compelling. But I find the response from Salyer equally as weak. It just seems to be a rant to me with no real point other than people are inconsistent and many “conservatives” swallow “liberal” assumptions. Well, duh – people are inconsistent, you just now noticing that? My only real response is the Front Porch Republic folks (I read some of their stuff and I think a lot of it is pretty good as well) are guilty of much of the same inconsistencies (and Carter points a couple of them out in his response – which as is often the case with him – unnecessarily snarky and confrontational). I just think all of this is a tempest in a teapot.

  • Steve Billingsley

    I agree that Carter gets a bit (how shall we say this), too “wound up” sometimes. I think it is the Marine in him coming out, he seems to relish argumentation. His original post poking fun at Distributism was rather weak tea, at least in my opinion. And no, I am not a Distributist although I find much of their basic criticism of the nexus between Big Business and Big Government to be compelling. But I find the response from Salyer equally as weak. It just seems to be a rant to me with no real point other than people are inconsistent and many “conservatives” swallow “liberal” assumptions. Well, duh – people are inconsistent, you just now noticing that? My only real response is the Front Porch Republic folks (I read some of their stuff and I think a lot of it is pretty good as well) are guilty of much of the same inconsistencies (and Carter points a couple of them out in his response – which as is often the case with him – unnecessarily snarky and confrontational). I just think all of this is a tempest in a teapot.

  • Tom Hering

    trotk @ 16, I think what we can conclude from all these verses is that it depends on the individual. Simplicity is best for some, while prosperity is best for others, while something in between is best for everyone else. God’s purposes are fulfilled in each case.

  • Tom Hering

    trotk @ 16, I think what we can conclude from all these verses is that it depends on the individual. Simplicity is best for some, while prosperity is best for others, while something in between is best for everyone else. God’s purposes are fulfilled in each case.

  • trotk

    No, Tom, I think we should conclude that we shouldn’t seek material prosperity, and if God gives it, we better be ready to steward it rightly, which usually means giving it away.

  • trotk

    No, Tom, I think we should conclude that we shouldn’t seek material prosperity, and if God gives it, we better be ready to steward it rightly, which usually means giving it away.

  • Steve Billingsley

    One other thought regarding inconsistencies and conservatives and liberal assumptions. In general it just seems much easier to diagnose problems with someone else’s philosophies/viewpoints than it is to put something forward oneself. I mentioned that I find some of Distributism attractive, but it seems to lose steam to me when ideas are put forth as to its practical implementation. But isn’t that the issue with all political/economic philosophies? Don’t they all look good on the drawing board? Isn’t it much more difficult to actually implement them in the world of messy reality? I guess at the end of the day that is why I am always more suspicious of the “pure” libertarian or conservative or progressive or whatever. I just think that reality is harder to deal with than the purist or true believer is willing to concede. We always just end up having to muddle through the best we can with God’s grace and help.

  • Steve Billingsley

    One other thought regarding inconsistencies and conservatives and liberal assumptions. In general it just seems much easier to diagnose problems with someone else’s philosophies/viewpoints than it is to put something forward oneself. I mentioned that I find some of Distributism attractive, but it seems to lose steam to me when ideas are put forth as to its practical implementation. But isn’t that the issue with all political/economic philosophies? Don’t they all look good on the drawing board? Isn’t it much more difficult to actually implement them in the world of messy reality? I guess at the end of the day that is why I am always more suspicious of the “pure” libertarian or conservative or progressive or whatever. I just think that reality is harder to deal with than the purist or true believer is willing to concede. We always just end up having to muddle through the best we can with God’s grace and help.

  • Tom Hering

    trotk @ 19, how much do you have, compared with the poorest people in the world? Aren’t you quite prosperous? Have you given most of it away to the poorest people in the world?

    (I agree God prospers an individual so the command to love one’s neighbor can be obeyed in generous ways.)

  • Tom Hering

    trotk @ 19, how much do you have, compared with the poorest people in the world? Aren’t you quite prosperous? Have you given most of it away to the poorest people in the world?

    (I agree God prospers an individual so the command to love one’s neighbor can be obeyed in generous ways.)

  • Cincinnatus

    Re. distributism:

    I am convinced that a substantial measure of the distributist agenda could be almost automatically achieved were big government’s marriage to big business annulled. I know this is much easier said than done.

    But if governments stopped incorporating limited liability corporations, ceased subsidizing interstate highways and other forms of hyper-mobility, ended “corporate welfare” as it’s called, dismantled the regulatory regimes that, in large part, foreclose family-farming and local economies as viable propositions (cf. Joel Salatin’s angry but wonderful books on this subject), etc., distributism would essentially be what remains: distributed power, an abundance of small landholders, locally sufficient (mostly) economies, etc.

  • Cincinnatus

    Re. distributism:

    I am convinced that a substantial measure of the distributist agenda could be almost automatically achieved were big government’s marriage to big business annulled. I know this is much easier said than done.

    But if governments stopped incorporating limited liability corporations, ceased subsidizing interstate highways and other forms of hyper-mobility, ended “corporate welfare” as it’s called, dismantled the regulatory regimes that, in large part, foreclose family-farming and local economies as viable propositions (cf. Joel Salatin’s angry but wonderful books on this subject), etc., distributism would essentially be what remains: distributed power, an abundance of small landholders, locally sufficient (mostly) economies, etc.

  • Cincinnatus

    In other words, the coercion debate seems to be a bit of a red herring, and it’s rather unfortunate that Salyer foregrounded that term.

    I understand his point–the “free” market is replete with its own insidious forms of coercion, and no serious conservative worth his salt would categorically critique coercion as such–but this notion or implication that distributism involves coercive redistribution is missing the point and is, in fact, false, for its necessitates the sort of big government that precludes authentic distributism in the first place.

  • Cincinnatus

    In other words, the coercion debate seems to be a bit of a red herring, and it’s rather unfortunate that Salyer foregrounded that term.

    I understand his point–the “free” market is replete with its own insidious forms of coercion, and no serious conservative worth his salt would categorically critique coercion as such–but this notion or implication that distributism involves coercive redistribution is missing the point and is, in fact, false, for its necessitates the sort of big government that precludes authentic distributism in the first place.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Cincinnatus @22
    I pretty much agree with most of what you say here. It is much easier said than done. And there is the rub. It is hard because it depends upon flawed people to do it. You can vote all of the scoundrels out who helped build and profit from the current arrangement and put new people in who talk the right kind of talk. But what guarantee do you have that “regulatory capture” in all its manifestations doesn’t just happen again? Little piggies who chase away the farmer have this annoying tendency to put on the farmer’s clothes, raise up on their hind legs and make some animals more equal than others.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Cincinnatus @22
    I pretty much agree with most of what you say here. It is much easier said than done. And there is the rub. It is hard because it depends upon flawed people to do it. You can vote all of the scoundrels out who helped build and profit from the current arrangement and put new people in who talk the right kind of talk. But what guarantee do you have that “regulatory capture” in all its manifestations doesn’t just happen again? Little piggies who chase away the farmer have this annoying tendency to put on the farmer’s clothes, raise up on their hind legs and make some animals more equal than others.

  • DonS

    It’s too early to read such a dense and obtuse piece as Mr. Salyer has published with any real comprehension of his point. He’s unhappy with Carter’s criticism of distributism, but then claims he’s not defending the concept because he knows next to nothing about it. So, why is he so jacked up? The goals of distributism are worthy ones — distributing the means of production and centers of economic power among the population, rather than concentrating them in the hands of governments or a few large corporations or oligarchies. But, if those goals are effected through a regulatory scheme, such as extraordinary antitrust measures which require government plutocrats to review and approve every business transaction — that is not conservative, productive, or conducive to individual liberty. The better way to naturally ensure distributism is to ensure that barriers to entry into a particular market remain very low so that new competitors can arise to challenge existing market players in markets with too few competitors. That means reducing government regulation, which favors large businesses who can afford to comply, and dismantling the cozy relationships between large corporations and big government which currently exists. The result — conservatism AND greater distributism.

    As for the side issue of inconsistency — which Salyer elevates under the pretense of responding to Joe Carter’s attack on distributism — duh. We’re all inconsistent — on both sides of the political and religious spectrum — we’re human and we were born into a society with built-in biases one way or the other. Take, for example, British “conservatives”, who are far to the left of American conservatives because they reside in a society far to the left of ours. That being said, I do strive to be consistent in my conservative principles, which, at heart, means tolerating and supporting the rights of others with whom I disagree to have their liberty to live in accordance with their principles. The dividing line between us, and the point at which regulation should attach, is where the actions of one of us impact the liberties of the other. At bottom, this philosophy means, for example, tolerating your neighbor painting his house bright pink if he/she wants to, and not running to City Hall complaining that we need a “color palette” regulation, with approved colors according to our tastes. Yes, accepting what you regard as “uglification”, with certain rare exceptions for truly historic structures, is a conservative value, in the name of liberty.

    The worst recent example of conservatives being liberals here in California occurred last year during a huge political battle over the future of redevelopment agencies. These agencies are creatures of local government, dating to the ’70′s, which are empowered to condemn large swaths of so-called “blighted areas”, re-zone them to a “better and higher use”, and then skim off the property tax increment owing to their newly increased value because of re-zoning, giving that increment to subsidize developers who promise to build new RDA-approved projects on those sites. These RDA’s are corrupt political animals of the worst sort, taking tax money from general government purposes to line developers’ pockets, build monuments to themselves, and whack the affected property owners with streamlined condemnation proceedings. Yet many Republican legislators fought the efforts to eliminate or limit these RDA’s because they had come out of local Republican governments that also used them, and were tied into protecting them as a result. Sickening.

  • DonS

    It’s too early to read such a dense and obtuse piece as Mr. Salyer has published with any real comprehension of his point. He’s unhappy with Carter’s criticism of distributism, but then claims he’s not defending the concept because he knows next to nothing about it. So, why is he so jacked up? The goals of distributism are worthy ones — distributing the means of production and centers of economic power among the population, rather than concentrating them in the hands of governments or a few large corporations or oligarchies. But, if those goals are effected through a regulatory scheme, such as extraordinary antitrust measures which require government plutocrats to review and approve every business transaction — that is not conservative, productive, or conducive to individual liberty. The better way to naturally ensure distributism is to ensure that barriers to entry into a particular market remain very low so that new competitors can arise to challenge existing market players in markets with too few competitors. That means reducing government regulation, which favors large businesses who can afford to comply, and dismantling the cozy relationships between large corporations and big government which currently exists. The result — conservatism AND greater distributism.

    As for the side issue of inconsistency — which Salyer elevates under the pretense of responding to Joe Carter’s attack on distributism — duh. We’re all inconsistent — on both sides of the political and religious spectrum — we’re human and we were born into a society with built-in biases one way or the other. Take, for example, British “conservatives”, who are far to the left of American conservatives because they reside in a society far to the left of ours. That being said, I do strive to be consistent in my conservative principles, which, at heart, means tolerating and supporting the rights of others with whom I disagree to have their liberty to live in accordance with their principles. The dividing line between us, and the point at which regulation should attach, is where the actions of one of us impact the liberties of the other. At bottom, this philosophy means, for example, tolerating your neighbor painting his house bright pink if he/she wants to, and not running to City Hall complaining that we need a “color palette” regulation, with approved colors according to our tastes. Yes, accepting what you regard as “uglification”, with certain rare exceptions for truly historic structures, is a conservative value, in the name of liberty.

    The worst recent example of conservatives being liberals here in California occurred last year during a huge political battle over the future of redevelopment agencies. These agencies are creatures of local government, dating to the ’70′s, which are empowered to condemn large swaths of so-called “blighted areas”, re-zone them to a “better and higher use”, and then skim off the property tax increment owing to their newly increased value because of re-zoning, giving that increment to subsidize developers who promise to build new RDA-approved projects on those sites. These RDA’s are corrupt political animals of the worst sort, taking tax money from general government purposes to line developers’ pockets, build monuments to themselves, and whack the affected property owners with streamlined condemnation proceedings. Yet many Republican legislators fought the efforts to eliminate or limit these RDA’s because they had come out of local Republican governments that also used them, and were tied into protecting them as a result. Sickening.

  • trotk

    Tom, my hypocrisy doesn’t change what we ought to desire or prize or pursue.

  • trotk

    Tom, my hypocrisy doesn’t change what we ought to desire or prize or pursue.

  • George

    I disapprove of this, because “Conservative liberalism” is the term used to describe certain key philosophers of the Conservative tradition, namely Alexis de Tocqueville and Lord Acton.

    If his argument, though, is that modern American “conservatives” are weak in their ideology and hypocritical in their practice, then yes… he is right… I approve.

  • George

    I disapprove of this, because “Conservative liberalism” is the term used to describe certain key philosophers of the Conservative tradition, namely Alexis de Tocqueville and Lord Acton.

    If his argument, though, is that modern American “conservatives” are weak in their ideology and hypocritical in their practice, then yes… he is right… I approve.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “I think we should conclude that we shouldn’t seek material prosperity, and if God gives it, we better be ready to steward it rightly, which usually means giving it away.”

    Call me a pragmatist, but I don’t think that works.

    When I seek material prosperity, I go out and work to provide someone else’s needs and in exchange, they pay me for it. I then take that payment and pay someone for the services I want.

    If I didn’t seek material prosperity, I would sit on my butt and take charity neither helping my employer/client to meet his needs by providing him the benefits of my labor, nor paying those who would provide services for me. In short, I would be a derelict.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “I think we should conclude that we shouldn’t seek material prosperity, and if God gives it, we better be ready to steward it rightly, which usually means giving it away.”

    Call me a pragmatist, but I don’t think that works.

    When I seek material prosperity, I go out and work to provide someone else’s needs and in exchange, they pay me for it. I then take that payment and pay someone for the services I want.

    If I didn’t seek material prosperity, I would sit on my butt and take charity neither helping my employer/client to meet his needs by providing him the benefits of my labor, nor paying those who would provide services for me. In short, I would be a derelict.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    DonS @ 25

    A local RDA here bought an apartment complex and demolished it. The poor kids that had been living there moved away. The local public school’s performance shot up from 68% passing the Texas state exam to about 93% passing. Private school enrollments went down as the parents felt more comfortable sending their kids to the public school.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    DonS @ 25

    A local RDA here bought an apartment complex and demolished it. The poor kids that had been living there moved away. The local public school’s performance shot up from 68% passing the Texas state exam to about 93% passing. Private school enrollments went down as the parents felt more comfortable sending their kids to the public school.

  • fws

    trotke @ 19 and 29

    Hey I am with Tom on this one. I am here in Brasil and I have decided to make as much money as I possibly can. But I won’t change my lifestyle much. Not everyone can make money like I can,. And not many know that the purpose of making lots of money is to turn and help those in need.

    Here is a sermon that I think is right on the money.

    http://luke1242.com/usury/?page_id=7

  • fws

    trotke @ 19 and 29

    Hey I am with Tom on this one. I am here in Brasil and I have decided to make as much money as I possibly can. But I won’t change my lifestyle much. Not everyone can make money like I can,. And not many know that the purpose of making lots of money is to turn and help those in need.

    Here is a sermon that I think is right on the money.

    http://luke1242.com/usury/?page_id=7

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “And not many know that the purpose of making lots of money is to turn and help those in need.”

    And how do we help those in need?

    Most of us do it by employing them, as in buying the goods and services they produce.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “And not many know that the purpose of making lots of money is to turn and help those in need.”

    And how do we help those in need?

    Most of us do it by employing them, as in buying the goods and services they produce.

  • Booklover

    I don’t know that materialism can be blamed on “liberals” or “conservatives.” Those two terms have changed so much over the years that it is hard to pin them down.

    But the materialism in our society is rampant. Any time a society places material goods above humanity, in whatever form, it spells trouble for that society.

    There was a time when children were looked upon as a gift from God, and marriage was expected to be followed by that gift of children. Yet young moms pop birth control pills or implant their IUD’s so that they can afford their second new truck payment, or new house payment, or yearly trip. Children are looked upon as just another expense. This sounds judgmental and sorry for that, but the examples are countless.

  • Booklover

    I don’t know that materialism can be blamed on “liberals” or “conservatives.” Those two terms have changed so much over the years that it is hard to pin them down.

    But the materialism in our society is rampant. Any time a society places material goods above humanity, in whatever form, it spells trouble for that society.

    There was a time when children were looked upon as a gift from God, and marriage was expected to be followed by that gift of children. Yet young moms pop birth control pills or implant their IUD’s so that they can afford their second new truck payment, or new house payment, or yearly trip. Children are looked upon as just another expense. This sounds judgmental and sorry for that, but the examples are countless.

  • fws

    sg @31

    There is a biblical problem with what you suggest SG and it is this?

    The bible describes the Love that we are commanded to do for our neighbor as being to do acts of mercy. Mercy, by any definition is undeserved.

    It is something that is the opposite of justice.

    Justice is what we deserve for our labors and works. You are describing justice rather than mercy SG.

    Justice is the la-in-action. Justice is what the Law DOES. It always accuses, it always kills us.

    At the end it breaks down our since of entitlement to “our” stuff, because the more the Law teaches us what real justice looks like, the more we confess as we do every sunday: “I deserve NOTHING but temporal and eternal punishment”.And that is precisely what the Law of God, written in the Reason of all men, even those without bibles, does. It produces contrition. Contrition is latinate for grinding down. The Law grinds down our notion that we deserve what we have because we have worked for it!

    And only then can we do, not just christians, but also pagans, what God intends to be the FRUIT of the Law. That fruit is to do mercy. It is to give people the opposite of justice.

    Does it not move you SG when you know you deserve to be punished because what you have done against someone, and rather than give you justice, they forgive you” They give you the opposite of what you deserve!

    And why do they do that?

    It is because the Law did its work of destroying in that person their sense of entitlement to getting their justice out of punishing you. Why? They realize they deserve that same kind of harsh justice.

  • fws

    sg @31

    There is a biblical problem with what you suggest SG and it is this?

    The bible describes the Love that we are commanded to do for our neighbor as being to do acts of mercy. Mercy, by any definition is undeserved.

    It is something that is the opposite of justice.

    Justice is what we deserve for our labors and works. You are describing justice rather than mercy SG.

    Justice is the la-in-action. Justice is what the Law DOES. It always accuses, it always kills us.

    At the end it breaks down our since of entitlement to “our” stuff, because the more the Law teaches us what real justice looks like, the more we confess as we do every sunday: “I deserve NOTHING but temporal and eternal punishment”.And that is precisely what the Law of God, written in the Reason of all men, even those without bibles, does. It produces contrition. Contrition is latinate for grinding down. The Law grinds down our notion that we deserve what we have because we have worked for it!

    And only then can we do, not just christians, but also pagans, what God intends to be the FRUIT of the Law. That fruit is to do mercy. It is to give people the opposite of justice.

    Does it not move you SG when you know you deserve to be punished because what you have done against someone, and rather than give you justice, they forgive you” They give you the opposite of what you deserve!

    And why do they do that?

    It is because the Law did its work of destroying in that person their sense of entitlement to getting their justice out of punishing you. Why? They realize they deserve that same kind of harsh justice.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Yeah, but I get what I deserve, too, like traffic tickets. And really that is a good thing, because laws help us live better with one another. They provide order, as does employment. While most of us like to get a raise and a bonus, just getting our agreed upon wages/payment is in itself good. Generally, I would say employment is preferable to charity whenever possible, but it’s true that it isn’t always possible.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Yeah, but I get what I deserve, too, like traffic tickets. And really that is a good thing, because laws help us live better with one another. They provide order, as does employment. While most of us like to get a raise and a bonus, just getting our agreed upon wages/payment is in itself good. Generally, I would say employment is preferable to charity whenever possible, but it’s true that it isn’t always possible.

  • fws

    sg:

    yes. the law is good. Why? you would be a waste of humanity if your old adam did not have the law literally extorting goodness and mercy out of you. Goodness and mercy simply would NOT happen in your old adam if you did not have the law killing you and grinding you down.

    and please note that this is carrot and stick. carrot: get up and go to work so you can buy that think you want to have. But even with carrot there is an implied threat isnt there? There is NO mercy here. there is only justice. what you deserve.

    but when you really know what you deserve, which is to be punished now and in eternity, what does that motivate you to do for others? now that you have received so much mercy? that you dont deserve…. and that you know that ALL you deserve is to be punished here on earth for failing to do the mercy God demands you to do (cf the story of the good samaritan to see how this looks…)

  • fws

    sg:

    yes. the law is good. Why? you would be a waste of humanity if your old adam did not have the law literally extorting goodness and mercy out of you. Goodness and mercy simply would NOT happen in your old adam if you did not have the law killing you and grinding you down.

    and please note that this is carrot and stick. carrot: get up and go to work so you can buy that think you want to have. But even with carrot there is an implied threat isnt there? There is NO mercy here. there is only justice. what you deserve.

    but when you really know what you deserve, which is to be punished now and in eternity, what does that motivate you to do for others? now that you have received so much mercy? that you dont deserve…. and that you know that ALL you deserve is to be punished here on earth for failing to do the mercy God demands you to do (cf the story of the good samaritan to see how this looks…)

  • Gary

    From the quote in the original post: “the past was benighted”.

    Pretty much that nails it. However dark or murky the present is or the future portends, my assessment is the values of the past worth preserving (not as many as conservatives suppose, by the way) are clearly encrusted in untold layers of benighted opinion and myth. I guess from here on out I’ll just wear the progressive label.

  • Gary

    From the quote in the original post: “the past was benighted”.

    Pretty much that nails it. However dark or murky the present is or the future portends, my assessment is the values of the past worth preserving (not as many as conservatives suppose, by the way) are clearly encrusted in untold layers of benighted opinion and myth. I guess from here on out I’ll just wear the progressive label.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    fws,

    It seems that you are arguing from the point of view of the giver and his motivation for giving charity and/or employment. That is fine, but it is also worth considering how what is given affects the recipient. Who cares how pure your motives are in being charitable etc, when what the guy really needs is a job not a handout. If it is better for him to work, then my focusing on how I understand my role, blah, blah, blah doesn’t do him much good. The fact is sometimes what a kid really needs is punishment for his own good. I would feel better just talking to him and being “merciful” but he would not learn from that and he would be harmed in fact. The actual impact on the needy does matter, too.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    fws,

    It seems that you are arguing from the point of view of the giver and his motivation for giving charity and/or employment. That is fine, but it is also worth considering how what is given affects the recipient. Who cares how pure your motives are in being charitable etc, when what the guy really needs is a job not a handout. If it is better for him to work, then my focusing on how I understand my role, blah, blah, blah doesn’t do him much good. The fact is sometimes what a kid really needs is punishment for his own good. I would feel better just talking to him and being “merciful” but he would not learn from that and he would be harmed in fact. The actual impact on the needy does matter, too.

  • fws

    might I suggest that what Luther says in preparation for confession of sins is appropriate here.

    we are to consider our vocations in light of the 10 commandments.It is God who places you in your vocations. what are those? are you a father mother son employer employee or ….

    it would be wrong for you to assume the authority God has not given you which is that of a parent, to those for whom you are not a parent.

    further, what was the vocational relationship of the good samaritan to the stranger on the road? so what was his duty.

    I would encourage you to place yourself in the position of the attorney asking the question of Jesus and then understand that the story of the Good Samaritan, who left his credit card at the hotel and said ” charge it up as you need to to care for this total stranger!”

    And I would suggest that we are to read ourselves into this story as the young attorney asking the question. He was seeking to justify himself we are told. we are not to justify ourselves. we are to feel accused by the Law of God SG.

    I feel accused. You should feel that too.

  • fws

    might I suggest that what Luther says in preparation for confession of sins is appropriate here.

    we are to consider our vocations in light of the 10 commandments.It is God who places you in your vocations. what are those? are you a father mother son employer employee or ….

    it would be wrong for you to assume the authority God has not given you which is that of a parent, to those for whom you are not a parent.

    further, what was the vocational relationship of the good samaritan to the stranger on the road? so what was his duty.

    I would encourage you to place yourself in the position of the attorney asking the question of Jesus and then understand that the story of the Good Samaritan, who left his credit card at the hotel and said ” charge it up as you need to to care for this total stranger!”

    And I would suggest that we are to read ourselves into this story as the young attorney asking the question. He was seeking to justify himself we are told. we are not to justify ourselves. we are to feel accused by the Law of God SG.

    I feel accused. You should feel that too.

  • fws

    sg you are not to focus on what you feel or think. you are to DO mercy for others. remember that mercy is the opposite of what people deserve. Justice is what we all deserve. and justice demands our death. nothing less.

  • fws

    sg you are not to focus on what you feel or think. you are to DO mercy for others. remember that mercy is the opposite of what people deserve. Justice is what we all deserve. and justice demands our death. nothing less.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “further, what was the vocational relationship of the good samaritan to the stranger on the road? so what was his duty.”

    But what about folks who aren’t incapacitated like the stranger on the road? Healthy able folks themselves have obligations to meet. Hey maybe the most merciful thing to do in those cases is to help them work not seek charity.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “further, what was the vocational relationship of the good samaritan to the stranger on the road? so what was his duty.”

    But what about folks who aren’t incapacitated like the stranger on the road? Healthy able folks themselves have obligations to meet. Hey maybe the most merciful thing to do in those cases is to help them work not seek charity.


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