Over the last several decades, the party has abandoned political conservatism and embraced its opposite: an agenda of radical, experimental reform.
What drew my attention to Zakaras’s piece is this claim:
As of the 2013 Congress, fortified by libertarian ideological purists, the Republican Party can no longer claim this [conservative] tradition as its own….The dominant faction–among the elites who fund and speak for the party–is now driven by a very different ideology. It believes that the size and scope of government should be vastly reduced, that public services should whenever possible be privatized, and that market principles should be extended into ever more areas of human life–from education to retirement savings to prisons. Whatever the merits of this ideology, it is simply a mistake to call it conservative.
Why, then, should true conservatives remain infatuated with unregulated–or minimally regulated–markets?
I thought about composing a long reply, showing how deeply rooted in conservative principles the right’s embrace of free-market capitalism truly is, but a version of that long reply is forthcoming in a piece in the Nation. So I’ll leave that for another day.
Instead, I’ll simply allow someone I trust we all consider to be a true conservative to speak for the team:
The value of money must be judged, like every thing else, from it’s rate at market. To force that market, or any market, is of all things the most dangerous.
Let Government protect and encourage industry, secure property, repress violence, and discountenance fraud, it is all that they have to do. In other respects, the less they meddle in these affairs the better.
Of all things, an indiscreet tampering with the trade of provisions is the most dangerous.
Laws prescribing, or magistrates exercising, a very stiff, and often inapplicable rule, or a blind and rash discretion, never can provide the just proportions between earning and salary on the one hand, and nutriment on the other: whereas interest, habit, and the tacit convention, that arise from a thousand nameless circumstances, produces a tact that regulates without difficulty, what laws and magistrates cannot regulate at all.
The balance between consumption and production makes price. The market settles, and alone can settle, that price. Market is the meeting and conference of the consumer and producer, when they mutually discover each other’s wants. Nobody, I believe, has observed with any reflection what market is, without being astonished at the truth, the correctness, the celerity, the general equity, with which the balance of wants is settled. They who wish the destruction of that balance, and would fain by arbitrary regulation decree, that defective production should not be compensated by encreased price, directly lay their axe to the root of production itself.
The last three of these statements are from Burke’s Thoughts and Details on Scarcity, which he wrote in response to a scheme adopted by the magistrates of Berkshire in 1795 to supplement the earnings of farm laborers with government payments so that they could earn a living wage. The supplement would depend upon a variety of factors: the price of corn, the size of the laborer’s family, the cost of bread. Readers of Karl Polanyi will recognize this plan as the Speenhamland system.
Berkshire was merely the next county over from where Burke lived, and the plan freaked him out. He saw it, among other things, as a portent of the kind of legitimation crisis twentieth-century conservatives would later espy in the welfare state: Extending its commitments to the poor, the state generated expectations and demands it could never meet. The over-extension of the pre-revolutionary French state, Burke argued, generated similar demands and expectations among the poor; that led, in part, to the French Revolution. Or, as Burke put it in his Letters on a Regicide Peace:
This affected pity only tends to dissatisfy them with their condition, and to teach them to seek resources where no resources are to be found—in something else than their own industry, and frugality, and sobriety.
So why should true conservatives remain infatuated with unregulated—or minimally regulated—markets? Because a great many of them always have been.