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Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2007-08-01 19:07
Subject: [politics] What does it mean to be a conservative? (Special snark-free edition.)
Security: Public
Tags:politics
sheelangig asked recently in comments:

Okay, I've googled around, and read a few things, and now I'd like to know; what ARE conservative principles? This is a genuine question, I presume they must exist, I just cannot extrapolate them from the behaviors I see on the news. I realize I'm biased, so somebody help me out here?


Without snark, here's my understanding of conservative principles, in no particular order of priority.

  • Fiscal responsibility in maintaining responsible budgets and reducing person and business tax burden

  • Smaller government ("That government governs best which governs least.")

  • Privatization of many government functions to allow the efficiency of market forces to manage costs and improve delivery quality

  • Business friendly tax and economic policy with the intention of spurring growth and job development

  • Strong foreign policy relying on a combination of diplomacy and military strength without becoming directly involved in nation building or the internal affairs of others — "muscularism"

  • States' rights taking priority over Federalism

  • Narrow (or strict) adherence to Constitutional principles and the rule of law, specifically including strong support for 2nd Amendment rights

  • Strong law enforcement

  • Ethics in government and private life

  • No "social engineering" of family and personal life through government intervention

  • Individual rights taking priority over government intervention in private life


I've probably left off some important stuff, but that's my broad, net understanding of what it means to be a conservative. Feel free to correct me in comments, from any political angle.

I might turn the snark machine back on tomorrow and point out where I think the contemporary conservative movement has gone badly astray of my understanding of its principles, but that seems sort of like shooting fish in a barrel. Leaving aside specific complaints about the current leadership, I will say that neither the NeoCons nor the Dominionists have done their conservative brethren any favors at all in terms of how they've distorted the Republican Party's words and deeds.
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Patrick Nielsen Hayden
User: pnh
Date: 2007-08-02 02:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm going to send you a press release announcing that I'm an awesome superhero with the power to remit sins and provide free magic unicorns for all. Also, that Jay Lake should give me all his money.

Since obviously it's your practice to uncritically believe everything anyone tells you about themselves!

"[T]he contemporary conservative movement has gone badly astray of my understanding of its principles"? When did American "conservatives" ever practice these "principles" with any consistency? Barry Goldwater (who I once met, and liked) was an enthusiastic practitioner of Big Government Porkapalooza when it came to obtaining Federal support for boondoggle water projects for Arizona. And it's just a wee bit difficult to discern principled support for "individual rights" in all those ever-so-refined defenses of Jim Crow put out by Buckley's crowd throughout the 1950s. Yes, the current crop of so-called "conservatives" are certainly no more "conservative" in the David Hume sense than I'm the Green Hornet. But the idea that there's some earlier era of "principled conservatism" in American political history is a laughable fraud. American "conservatism" has always been about the protection of privilege and money power by whatever means were necessary. Their only abiding "principle" has been "fuck you."

Stop spotting thirty yards to people who want to kill you.
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mojave_wolf
User: mojave_wolf
Date: 2007-08-02 05:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Interesting coincidence; I read this post after just starting John Dean's "Conservatives Without Conscience" (sadly, I've read very little in the actual book; got distracted by footnote 1 and read all the footnotes before returning to the text and have not had a chance to pick it back up).

I think back to reading Hunter S Thompson's description of Nixon-era conservatives and think he would agree with you. This perspective is certainly something I'll keep in mind when reading Dean's take on why conservatives now are much worse than they used to be (not saying that either of you wouldn't think this administration isn't worse than Republicans past, just that some of us easily distracted types sometimes forget Republicans pre-Reagan were rather more problematic than they are these days given credit for).
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User: db_writer
Date: 2007-08-02 17:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Potatoe
Now there's a solid source for judging conservatives; a drug-using failed journalist who blew his own brains out.

Oh yeah, and Howard "Where's my medication!" Dean.

You should really think about who exactly you're aligning yourself with.

db
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Brian Dolton
User: tchernabyelo
Date: 2007-08-02 10:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
But are we discussing "conservative principles" in terms of those who do the voting, or those who receive the votes? Many of my political views would be WAY beyond the pale in the US (I believe in certain aspects of socialism, like national ownership/control of infrastructure), but I am fairly confident that what you've just said about "conservative" governments betraying the principles of their electoral constituency could as easily be said about "liberal" governments - certainly post-war. Basically, there's a limit to how much it really matters who you vote for and what your principles are, because the guys who get to choose from are a pretty limited set of options and are, with very few exceptions, mostly interested in the trappings of power; while much of the real power is so far behind the scenes that you as an individual don't get near touching it (something that's always amused me is that the US, the champion of democracy as a system of government, dismisses the idea of one-person-on-vote democracy in a corporate environment as some kind of heresy - it's one-share-one-vote, and share=money, so we're talking plutocracy/oligarchy instead).

I have no doubt that a great many people who vote repulican hold and are proud to hold the values that Jay lists above. Some, sadly, actually believ that those they voted into power are actually carrying out that agenda. Judging by the popularity index, though, the number who believe that is dwindling significantly.

Ultimately; yes, conservatives may be worse (=less principled) than they used to be (though sometimes we do tend to look at history through rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia), but it can cogently be argued that so are liberals, and that it is, indeed, the entire machinery of power and ogvernment that is corrupt, and that nobody who ISN'T self-interested can ever make any kind of dent on the vast political machinery/landscape.

The same is true for many other countries (significant corruption in many European democracies; others where it is impossible to choose between "right" and "left" in any meaningful way), but perhaps to a lesser extent, simply because America is so powerful. For a look at what "democracy" can do, unchecked by state control, I hand you the former Soviet republics - Russia, for example, now has THE greatest gulf between rich and poor, because "democratisation" has been allowed to run riot in a cesspool of corruption, while others (Belarus, for example) have so pervertde "democracy" that they are as much or more a one-party dictatorship than they ever were under the yoke of state communism.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
User: db_writer
Date: 2007-08-02 18:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Quaror
"American "conservatism" has always been about the protection of privilege and money power by whatever means were necessary."

Then why is it all the money is in the Liberal's hands? The Unions, George Soros, the Hollywood Elite, Bill Gates, etc. Seems like their the ones protecting "privilege and money power" to me.

"Their only abiding "principle" has been "fuck you." - Yes, this is why so many middle-class people call themselves Republicans, so they can say "fuck you" to the rich liberal elites running the Democrat party. er, um, wait a minute...
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sheelangig: sheila
User: sheelangig
Date: 2007-08-02 05:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:sheila

I feel so *special*.

Some of those stated principles sound a lot like some of my libertarian friends. The small l libertarians, not the Capital L Libertarians. There does appear to be a difference, even if sometimes it only presents as a willingness in the small l libertarians, to eventually, shut up after a while and talk about something else.

I dated a guy once who claimed to be a Libertarian, it took me a long time (I'm dumb in some ways, specially in regards to men...) to realize he was essentially an, "I've got mine, you can't have it, and, oh, incidentally, fuck off and die" sort. I decided he wasn't a libertarian. I also wondered about his essential humanity, but that is how I feel about most conservatives I encounter. Even the conservatives who are appear to be TRULY interested in things like my immortal soul and want me to go to heaven and not hell. I'm related to some of those. I wish they cared as much for my happiness in This Life as they do the unproven Next One. Sigh. I better not get started on religion, this is a political discussion.

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User: db_writer
Date: 2007-08-02 17:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Potatoe
"I also wondered about his essential humanity, but that is how I feel about most conservatives I encounter."

Sure, yes. Conservatives are not human. Sounds like what the Nazi's said about the Jews.

It might interest you to know that most of those soul-savers probably give at least 10% of their income to charity. No one is guaranteed happiness in "This Life" and if someone sold you on that philosophy then you were lied to, and that's who you should be pissed at.

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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
Brennan M. O'Keefe
User: harmfulguy
Date: 2007-08-02 06:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm going to link to an old essay from an LJ-friend: For Liberals from an Ex-Conservative: The First Principle of Conservativism

How many people have ever really lived by that principle is open for question.
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Patrick Nielsen Hayden
User: pnh
Date: 2007-08-02 11:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That essay is so good in general terms that I hate to point out that he's misplaced the English Civil War by about thirty years, which makes his narrative of how it relates to the Plymouth Rock Pilgrims a bit nonsensical.

He's dead right about a whole bunch of stuff, though.
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User: dirkcjelli
Date: 2007-08-02 15:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Neoconservatives, of course, are different.

They're fascists.
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User: db_writer
Date: 2007-08-02 18:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:db south park
Essentially, yes, Jay has it right. I would also include the principle of protecting our national sovreignty over the rights or influences of other nations.

Or more succinctly put, "The right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

db
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Matthew S. Rotundo: Radioactive
User: matthewsrotundo
Date: 2007-08-03 02:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Radioactive
I must take issue with a couple of the items you list as "conservative principles." I don't think conservatives have any special claim on fiscal responsibility, national defense, ethics, or individual rights.

This strikes me as a bullshit trap laid by the Republican Party (notice I do not say conservatives here), parroted so often that it's become rote. It perpetuates the stereotype of liberals as financially clueless, weak, and unprincipled.

I know this isn't what you intended, Jay. No worries. I'm just trying to set the record straight. Some of the items in that list are not conservative principles. Neither are they liberal. They are owned by just about anyone with an IQ above room temperature. Conservatives who tout their dedication to personal ethics are demonstrating not superior moral fiber, just a firm grasp of the obvious. As such, they get no special credit from me.
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Patrick Nielsen Hayden
User: pnh
Date: 2007-08-03 13:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The reason I so frequently bat Jay with the nerf cluestick over these issues is that Jay appears to have a severe case of the delusion that if he's just reasonable enough to conservatives, and spots them enough points, they'll be reasonable back.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2007-08-03 22:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
FYI-- for those who are interested, a fellow at Daily Kos is posting what appears to be a rather meaty essay (in sections) on conservative principles.

Here's the first one.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/8/3/171945/3908
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-08-04 14:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thank you...
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