When is a first strike not a first strike?
When it's Anticipatory Retaliation.

October 17, 2004

Chemotherapy In American Politics

Bravo Romeo Delta

My co-blogger, Charlie Victor Echo recently wrote a post about the Cancer in American Politics, in which a lot of solid points are made.

Having had some time to think about it, I would like to offer my thoughts on the matters suggested in his post.

First off, there is a cancer, so to speak. Much of the American intellectual tradition traces a line down from the liberalism and secular humanism which was a direct result of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Much of what he speaks of is the reactionary response to that world view. And as he implicitly points out, the cancer is not an explicitly partisan one. For it found a home in the Democratic Party for years, before finding a new home in the extreme Republican Party. And on this note, I commend my counterpart for his steadfast desire to excise this tumor from the body politic.

That being said, if one looks at the historical record cited in that post, one will note that it's an unmitigated march of progress. In each and every one of the examples cited, a malignant status quo was replaced in a process of healthful change. Thus, I would suggest that we are moving forward, regardless of whose been in office - the only thing that changes is the pace of change itself. And given the design of the Constitution, I would tend to generally agree that slow steady progress is preferable to more rapid, and perhaps less well-thought out change. But, essentially, in no case has any significant roll-back occurred or been sustained for any length of time. In this respect, we have been treating this cancer with a long term program of chemotherapy, and the tumors are shrinking. We have the upper hand in the fight, regardless of the party in which the cancer resides, or the man in office. So I see the efforts of those determined to return to an earlier era of social values to be roughly as useful as those who would seek to forestall the march of years.

CVE also makes this compelling point in his post:

[The reactionaries] seek to enforce morality....their morality.

They habitually proclaim their values and declare that it is not enough that they themselves practice them, but that everyone should practice those values.

This is, on it's face, a valid concern. The thing that did strike me, however, is that the progressives, secular humanists, and classical liberals also seek to do that very same thing. Consider, for instance, that business some months ago about having a sculpture of the Ten Commandments. Relatively benign in my book, but one would have a hard time arguing that forcing the removal of that statuary is in some way not imposing one's own moral values on someone else.

I don't point this out in an effort to suggest that the sentiments are hypocritical, for on a fundamental level they aren't. Rather, it is intended to suggest a philosophical pitfall that we must learn to negotiate. The moral relativism espoused by some members of the left would tend to suggest that there is now way to determine which set of moral values should be enforced. Taking that a step further (and this is where it gets interesting) is that the War on Terror is being fought for exactly the same reasons that my counterpart makes his argument. For it is the Islamic Fascists who seek to impose their worldview on us all. This has resulted in a bit of cognitive dissonance that I think has fueled the partisanship in this election - the left, who fights against the imposition of moral values, is taking a pass on fighting against the imposition of radical Islam. While their right-wing counterparts are adamant about preventing the imposition of Islamic rule, but seem to seek an exception here at home. I don't have the answer to this, but it is an interesting point of departure.

As much of the cancer of which my colleague speaks represents the counter-enlightenment, there is another strain of the counter-enlightenment which bothers me. It's the one that is still found in the far left. That's the counter-enlightenment of totalitarianism of Marx and his ilk. Some of you will laugh at this notion, and accuse me of seeing commie bogeymen around every corner. But I look to the interplay of classical liberalism and the role of the state. I do not advocate the government getting involved in my moral life any more than my material life. In fact, it's quite easy for me to keep my own morals intact, because it is extraordinarily difficult to compel me to change what I think or how I feel. On the other hand, I am much more vulnerable in a material sense, and if you don't believe that, I am sure the IRS would be more than happy to explain penalties for tax evasion.

But getting back to the point at hand, the left is still a refuge for statists, those who would seek a government plan for healthcare, a government agency for this, a government commission for that, and a government department for the other. It's a reflexive worldview that, while not directly counter-enlightenment and anti-liberal, shares far too many of the same views and too much of the cultural heritage with those who do. In particular (as pointed out in the link about counter-enlightenment above) there is a ideological linkage between those we fight in the War on Terror, and the leftist elements of the counter-enlightenment. I fear that in focusing on the rightist counter-enlightenment folks, we often lose sight of the anti-liberal elements of the left. Again, I don't suggest that there's an easy answer to this, but rather that it is something to be studied.

Finally, I made mention of a few technical points in a response to the post, which do bear some restatement. In every election I can possibly remember, the specter of packing the Supreme Court has been raised as some sort of bogeyman to scare people into voting one way or the other. The only thing I have consistently noticed in practice is that the process of getting Congressional approval for a judge makes packing the court a much more difficult thing that it has been in years past. Secondly, one will also note that we don't changes justices with any great frequency. In fact, the argument that we would see three new Supreme Court justices in this upcoming term was one that I heard verbatim during the last election. And, as the astute observer will note, not a single judge has been replaced. On this point I do have a suggestion - limiting the power of the Courts to, in effect, create laws, and leave it in the province of open debate among directly elected representatives.

So, in all, it seems that my co-blogger and I, like many in American politics, advocate classical liberalism, to some extent or another, but are confounded by the fact that both parties house vocal and vibrant counter-enlightenment elements. As my co-blogger noted, he shares many views with Moderate Republicans. I would take that step further, and state, that at least philosophically, we are both moderates, trying to do our best, from our sides of the aisle, to keep the weels on this contraption we call our nation.

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at October 17, 2004 07:24 PM
Centerfield Retaliates with: Cancer Treatment

Retaliatiory Launches

Well said!

Posted by: Genuine at October 17, 2004 10:21 PM

I just came to this site from Centerfield and I am impressed with the quality of the posts. With respect to the above, I agree that the Supreme Court bogeyman is somewhat overblown because it's unlikely today that a true extremist can be confirmed. But it's on the margins and in the interstices of law where the differences come and can be quite significant. I don't think that likely Bush judges would roll back established civil rights, but I am concerned about their ability to move the margins to the right.

Second, I agree with your evaluation of the far left. I viscerally dislike the far left. But I am somewhat baffled as to to two things; first,why you and other conservatives seem so obsessed with the actions of a relatively small and inconsequential group of people. Last I heard, all three brances of government were controlled by Republicans. I don't see the likes of Michael Moore or Noam Chomsky, et. al having any significant influence at all. Second, I am baffled as to why you seem unable to differentiate between the mainstream Democrats and the far left (which hates mainstream Democrats).

Third, as a corollary to this, I must disagree with your implication that any state intervention in the economy must inevitably be anti-liberal. I know very few, if any, mainstream Democrats that reject the market and call for a vast expansion of government. However, in a complex society, I believe it is unrealistic to leave everything solely to the market. This assumes that the market will always function perfectly without supervision or that it will always work to the benefit of society. I don't think it is true and it does not seem unreasonable, or anti-liberal, to recognize that government exists to counterbalance (not to replace) the market and to represent the interests of citizens in ways that the market does not do. If I understand you to mean that Kerry's health care plan, for example, is a statist mechanism I must disagree--there is obviously some state involvement, but hardly enough for me to brand it a statist solution. I guess where we disagree is that I believe that it is possible to strike an appropriate balance between the market and the public interest that preserves the basic tenets of classical liberalism without ignoring the realities of society.

Posted by: MWS at October 19, 2004 07:10 PM

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