Rand Paul courts Christian conservatives

Sen. Rand Paul is presenting himself as a “libertarian Republican” rather than a “libertarian,” and is courting evangelicals and other Christian conservatives.  In an apparent effort to position himself as a credible GOP presidential candidate, Paul is backing away from conventional libertarian positions, such as legalizing drugs, and is nuancing his support for gay marriage. (I believe he has always been pro-life.)

I know lots of readers of this blog have long supported the Pauls, both father and son.  Are you bothered by Rand’s attempt to appeal to the GOP establishment?  Or do you support him in trying to make himself electable?  And, for you Christian conservatives leery of libertarianism, do these efforts  make you likely to support him? [Read more...]

Our partnership with the dead, the living, and the unborn

Peter Wehner quotes British journalist Charles Moore, reviewing Jesse Norman’s new biography of the 18th century father of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke:

As his struggles for America, Ireland and Corsica showed, Burke was no automatic defender of existing authority. But what he understood, and expressed with immense rhetorical power, was how human beings stand in relation to one another. Although they are morally autonomous individuals, they do not – cannot – live in isolation. In our language, laws, institutions, religion, and in our families, we are part of a continuum.

Society is ”a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born’’. It is not society that keeps mankind in chains, but the pretence that now is the only time that matters. Almost every piece of rot you hear in politics comes from those who wish to lock man into what WH Auden called ”the prison of his days’’. It is comforting that the Burkean Jesse Norman is in the House of Commons to tell them when they are wrong.

Mr. Wehner adds his reflections:

It strikes me that this ancient insight–of how we do not live in isolation, that we are part of a continuum–has been a bit neglected by American conservatives in recent years. [Read more...]

Lutheran libertarians

I keep running into conservative, confessional Lutherans (including on this blog) who, in their political ideology, are libertarians.  Could somebody explain how that works, in light of the relatively high view of the state and of temporal authority evident in Lutheran theology (e.g., the orders of creation, the estates, the vocation of citizenship, the Table of Duties, Augsburg XVI,  etc.)?  Doesn’t libertarianism require a kind of individualism unknown until the Enlightenment and Romanticism?  Wouldn’t the distaste for earthly government that characterizes libertarians be more characteristic of Karlstadt and the enthusiasts of the Peasants’ Revolt rather than Luther, Gerhardt, and Chemnitz?   Or are Lutheran libertarians different from regular libertarians?  (I’m not criticizing Lutheran libertarians, mind you, just trying to understand them. Please, somebody, explain.)

Is libertarian economics what’s killing the GOP?

Most diagnoses of what ails the Republican party have been focusing on social conservatism, saying that Republicans need to stop opposing gay marriage and abortion if they want to start winning national elections.  But now some are arguing that the Republican commitment to libertarian economic policies–that is, a commitment to an untrammeled free market–that’s really to blame. [Read more...]

The drone filibuster

Attorney General Eric Holder said that drones could be used against American citizens on American soil.  So libertarian Republican Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) staged a 13-hour filibuster–a real one, in which the Senator actually occupies for the floor rather than just threatening to–in protest.  Eventually, Holder said that drones would not be used against unarmed Americans, just terrorists in an emergency.

Some Republicans were annoyed with Paul’s “stunt,” as Sen. John McCain called it, and defend an aggressive use of drones.  Some of them were lunching with President Obama when Paul was filibustering, sparking some observers to see a changing of the Republican guard (to borrow an Iranian phrase), with a new generation of Republicans challenging the traditional GOP practice of giving a blank check to anything military and championing instead civil liberties.

What do you think? [Read more...]

Do conservatives still care about community?

E. J. Dionne is a liberal whose beliefs are somewhat chastened by his Catholicism.  He argues in a recent column that conservatives used to be the champions of “community,” but that today’s conservatism has completely thrown off its own traditions in championing unbridled individualism.

I have long admired the conservative tradition and for years have written about it with great respect. But the new conservatism, for all its claims of representing the values that inspired our founders, breaks with the country’s deepest traditions. The United States rose to power and wealth on the basis of a balance between the public and the private spheres, between government and the marketplace, and between our love of individualism and our quest for community.

Conservatism today places individualism on a pedestal, but it originally arose in revolt against that idea. As the conservative thinker Robert A. Nisbet noted in 1968, conservatism represented a “reaction to the individualistic Enlightenment.” It “stressed the small social groups of society” and regarded such clusters of humanity — not individuals — as society’s “irreducible unit.”

True, conservatives continue to preach the importance of the family as a communal unit. But for Nisbet and many other conservatives of his era, the movement was about something larger. It “insisted upon the primacy of society to the individual — historically, logically and ethically.”

via Conservatives used to care about community. What happened? – The Washington Post.

Dionne goes on to show how conservatives of the past, from Alexander Hamilton through George W. Bush, had some sense of the social good, which he says is lacking among today’s Republican candidates.

First of all, social conservatism is not the same as libertarianism, though both have a home in today’s Republican party, largely because neither are welcome among Democrats.  Dionne’s complaint may be that “conservatives” are conflating those two different ideologies, but so is he.

Second, I would argue that conservatives (including some in the libertarian wing) are still interested in community.  Dionne’s mistake is in conflating community with government.  Classic Burkean conservatism emphasizes the importance of institutions such as the family, the church, local governments, small businesses, and other organizations, all of which help to preserve liberty and strong social values.   Burke championed these mediating institutions over and against the super-strong centralized Napoleonic state, which tends to demand all social authority, to the point of undermining these competitors.

Today’s conservatives see the authoritative state asserting its power over the family (e.g., gay marriage), the church (e.g., mandatory abortion coverage for church organizations), local government (e.g., unfunded mandates), small businesses (e.g., with intrusive regulations) and every other sphere of life.  Conservatives are plenty patriotic when it comes to the nation-state, but they do not want its government to be the sole source and repository of society and culture.  Thus, in opposing growing state power, conservatives (and many libertarians) are championing actual community.


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