Of all places, Starbucks has a fascinating interview with National Review Online‘s Jonah Goldberg in which he gives a rather succinct and deceptively intelligent description of conservatism:
Youâ€™re an editor at one of the countryâ€™s leading conservative journals. Was your quote intended as a critique of contemporary liberal thinking? Do you think thereâ€™s more original thinking coming from the Right?
Yes. That doesnâ€™t mean there arenâ€™t terrible steak-heads and bores on the Right or that I think there arenâ€™t very innovative minds on the Left. But as a whole, I think liberalism is rusty and atrophied. Liberalism â€“ by which I mean the political Left in America and not â€œreal liberalismâ€ or classical liberalism â€“ has very little to offer. All of its ideas revolve around protecting, extending or tinkering with government programs and entitlements. In a sense what we call liberalism in America is small-c conservative, even reactionary. Itâ€™s based on a knee-jerk desire to defend the status quo. A few years ago Teddy Kennedy took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to denounce government scholarships (a.k.a. â€œvouchersâ€) for poor black kids to go to private school. Why? Because Kennedyâ€™s idea of liberalism is whatever reliable liberal interest groups say it is. Liberalism began as a philosophy of limited government. Now what we call liberalism is instinct for the expansion of government at every turn.
Goldberg’s comment is interesting, because it exposes one of the major flaws in modern political terminology. For the most part, especially now, liberals are conservatives, and conservatives are liberals. If that’s counterintuitive, it’s because we tend to get hung up on the dictionary definitions of the word.
What do liberals/”progressives” (an abuse of the term if ever I’ve heard one) really stand for these days? Goldberg’s example of Kennedy illustrates the point that the “progressive” movement has become reactionary. Don’t touch Social Security. Don’t reform education. Don’t do anything that might limit the power of the government and give individuals more control over their own lives. It’s all couched in the language of helping the poor, etc., but the effects would be far different. The left is currently stuck in a time warp back to the 1930s. In the 21st Century, people are used to being empowered. People are far more used to taking control of their lives than they were 75 years ago because society has changed. The investor class continues to grow with 92 million Americans being invested in the stock market. The class warfare ideologies of the left have less pull than they had previously — it’s hard to argue that we should sock it to Big Business when you’re trying to look out for your 401(k).
The entitlement culture never worked. The New Deal did far less to end the Great Depression than World War II did. LBJ’s “War on Poverty” resulted in a win for the forces of poverty. The decline of social mores in the US brought us AIDS and a massive social underclass which still exists today.
The fundamental recipes for success in life have not changed – hard work, a strong family and community, and personal ethics. It’s not that the left doesn’t believe in those things — they do so fervently. It’s that their preferred mode of achieving those ends just doesn’t work. Government is not compassionate. It can never be. The very concept of equal justice under the law requires a dispassionate state. Government can’t build communities, people must. The best government can do is throw money at a problem, and if that actually worked we’d be living in Utopia by now. To borrow a line from Dinesh D’Souza liberal means can never achieve liberal ends. The welfare state at best would be an economic failure — at worst it would drain the very values that are required to achieve in life, creating a permanent underclass who are subservient to the state. It isn’t a question of who’s more compassionate than who — it’s a question of which means can achieve the desired ends. The means of what passes as modern liberalism just don’t work.