Revolutionaries of the Right: The Deep Roots of Conservative Radicalism

Charm QuarkOn Thursday next week, the CUNY Center for the Humanities, The Nation, and the Roosevelt Institute will be hosting a public conversation about The Reactionary Mind, featuring me and Chris Hayes, host of the excellent new program Up With Chris Hayes on MSNBC.  The details are here, but if you’re feeling link-fatigue, it’ll be on Thursday, October 6, at 7 pm, in the Martin Segal Theater of the CUNY Graduate Center (365 5th Avenue, between 34th and 35th).  Make sure to get there early as seating may be limited. And if you do come, please make sure to say hello or, if we haven’t met personally, introduce yourself. And if you can, please share this information widely.

In anticipation of the event and the book’s publication, Mike Konczal asked me to do a guest post for his blog Rortybomb, which Time Magazine calls one of the top 25 financial blogs in the country. Readers of this blog probably know Mike already, since he’s become one of my must-reads for information about the economy and appears frequently in our discussions; as Paul Krugman writes

Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute, whose blog has become essential reading for anyone interested in financial reform…A number of people have asked for my own list of top finance/economics/whatever blogs. …I read Calculated Risk, Econbrowser, Rortybomb…

Mike also gets a ringing endorsement from James Kwak. In addition to being another major writer and commentator on all things financial, James went to the same high school I did. He was in the class behind me, but we worked together on the school newspaper. It’s been nice to run into him again in these parts.

I should add that Mike is also a genuine intellectual, interested, it seems, in virtually everything, with interesting things to say about virtually everything.

Anyway, here’s the blog I posted over at Rortybomb, which was also posted at the Roosevelt Institute’s New Deal 2.0 blog. I’m also posting a slightly longer version of it below.

* * * * *

Long before Ron Suskind tangled with the media and the White House for telling truths or tales about the Obama administration, he was the hero of liberals. For it was Suskind, in the course of exploring the Bush presidency for the New York Times Magazine, who stumbled upon the Rosetta Stone of the contemporary conservative mind.

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

“Reality-based community” soon became one of the most cited quotes of the Bush era—a Google search yields 456,000 results; it even has its own Wikipedia page—an affirmation of everything the left ever thought about the right: that it lives in a fact-free universe, where ideological purity is more important than pragmatic solutions, that it’s revolutionary and radical rather than realistic and moderate, that it’s activist rather than accommodating, that it’s, well,…not…really…conservative.

Conservatives, at least by reputation, are supposed to be calm, reasonable, quiet, averse to the operatic, friendly to the familiar.  They don’t go looking for trouble in far-off lands. They stay home, tending their gardens, patching the roof, taking care of their children. They want to be left alone. They’re not interested in history’s adventure. They want to leave things be, even if things aren’t so great, because they know that trying to change things, particularly through politics, will only make them worse. Insofar as they are concerned with politics, it is, as William F. Buckley once said, the “politics of reality.”

That, at any rate, is how many literate conservatives understand themselves and their tradition. It’s also how many liberals who may have read Edmund Burke in college, or who are perhaps friends with these literate conservatives, understand the conservative tradition.

To wit: this recent column by Paul Krugman.

Modern conservatism is actually a deeply radical movement, one that is hostile to the kind of society we’ve had for the past three generations — that is, a society that, acting through the government, tries to mitigate some of the “common hazards of life” through such programs as Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.

When Krugman talks about “modern conservatism,” he means anything from the last ten years of the GOP to the postwar American conservative movement as a whole. Either way, the notion is that there once was a conservatism that was different, a conservatism that looks something like what I sketched out above.

It’s a pretty common notion: modern conservatism—however it’s defined—is different from the conservatism that came before it. Here’s Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the New York Times Book Review and author of a forthcoming biography of Buckley, in his widely read The Death of Conservatism:

What we call conservatism today would have been incomprehensible to the great originator of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke….Burke’s conservatism was based not a particular set of ideological principles but rather on distrust of all ideologies…

The movement conservatives of our time seem the heirs of the French rather than the American Revolution.

Reaching a little less deeply into the well of history, Sidney Blumenthal wrote at the high tide of the Bush administration.

Bush also claimed to stand in the conservative tradition of Ronald Reagan. Indeed, Reagan sought to overturn longstanding policies of Democratic and Republican presidents alike in his pursuit of a radical and often fanciful conservatism. But when he found himself cornered by realities, Reagan the ideologue gave way to Reagan the old union negotiator prepared for compromise…

Nothing like Bush’s concerted radicalism has ever been seen before in the White House.

As soon as the afterglow of 9/11 began to fade, Andrew Sullivan also took up this argument in a series of articles and posts that culminated in his 2006 book The Conservative Soul.  Since then, he’s pursued it time and again, pillorying the conservative movement, in all its variations and iterations since the 1980s, for its rejection of Burke’s supple traditionalism, Hayek’s critique of utopianism, and more.

So powerful is this meme of conservatism-betrayed-by-conservatives that the blogger P.M. Carpenter has recently declared a ban on any use of the word in reference to the modern conservative movement. Commenting on Krugman’s column, Carpenter writes:

Why, then, do modern commentators persist in referring to modern conservatism as “conservatism”? While Krugman’s statement is perversely unimpeachable — “modern conservatism is actually a deeply radical movement” — it also contains a colossally unconcealed contradiction, which is way overdue for journalistic retirement.

To posit that “conservatism” is a “deeply radical movement” is to untether oneself from intelligible language and customary comprehension. By definition, conservatism is anything but deeply radical. Indeed, authentic modern conservatism arose from Edmund Burke’s revulsion of the French Revolution’s butchery of political order (such as it was), cultural tradition, social institutions, and human life; that is, modern conservatism arose in reaction to modern radicalism.

So, to Mr. Krugman et al, please cease perpetuating the contradiction. Stop calling conservative pols what they are not: conservative. They are pseudoconservatives, they are reactionaries, they are radicals, and in some instances they are merely lunatics. But they are not conservative.

I wrote The Reactionary Mind for many reasons, but one of them was to show—contra Carpenter, Sullivan, Blumenthal, Tanenhaus, Krugman, and many more—that today’s conservative is in fact conservative. She hasn’t betrayed the traditions of Burke, Disraeli, Hayek, Oakeshott, Buckley, and Reagan: she has fulfilled them.

Because Burke so often figures in these discussions as the touchstone of comparison, I’d like to make a novel suggestion: let’s read him. And not just a few isolated passages in his Reflections on the Revolution in France—the pages everyone who took Intro to Political Theory refers to—but his entire counterrevolutionary oeuvre, particularly his Letters on a Regicide Peace. For Carpenter is right: modern conservatism, which dates to Burke, did arise in reaction to modern radicalism. But what Carpenter doesn’t say, perhaps because he doesn’t know it, is that something funny happened on the way to the counterrevolution.

As early as the Reflections, published in 1790, Burke had voiced concern that the revolutionaries in France had tapped into the deepest currents of modern civilization, putting themselves into the driver’s seat of history, threatening to leave the defenders of the old order behind.

Burke framed the contest between the revolutionaries and the old order as a struggle between “ability”—the village lawyers and urban financiers of the bourgeoisie, who made the revolution in alliance with the mob—and “property,” the aristocrats and their clients. In such a contest, he was fairly certain who would win and why: “As ability is a vigorous and active principle, and as property is sluggish, inert, and timid, it never can be safe from the invasions of ability, unless it be, out of all proportion, predominant in the” state. Without the protection of the feudal state, property would lose.

By the time he began writing his Letters on Regicide Peace, two years before he died in 1797, Burke’s concern about the relative strength of the old order had reached a fever pitch. “In ability, in dexterity, in the distinctness of their views,” he now wrote of the revolutionaries, “the Jacobins are our superiors.”

But where initially he had located the source of the revolutionaries’ superiority in their class position, their material base in finance and commerce, Burke now saw it in their absolute indifference to their material circumstances. The strength of the Jacobins lay in their faith, their willingness to destroy and suffer anything and everything for the sake of their cause. “While you are in vain torturing your invention to assure them of your sincerity and good faith,” Burke wrote to the British officials who wished to negotiate and compromise with the French, “they have left no doubt concerning their good faith, and their sincerity towards those to whom they have they engaged their honour….They have been true and faithful to the engagement which they have made more largely.”

It was Burke’s great fear that the British elite—as well as the other monarchies of old Europe—could not summon similar reserves of ideological resolve. They were too comfortable, too assured of their possessions, too confident of their estate. Where the Jacobins had “conquered the finest parts of Europe” with an “annihilated revenue, with defaced manufactures, with a ruined commerce,” the aristocracies of Europe were drowning in the very properties Burke had once held up as the counter to revolutionary France. They didn’t just possess estates; they were possessed by their estates.

At no time has the wealth and power of Great Britain been so considerable as it is at this very perilous moment.  We have a vast interest to preserve, and we possess great means of preserving it.  But it is to be remembered that the artificer may be incumbered by his tools, and that resources may be among impediments.

They who are in possession of all they wish are languid and improvident.

In the ordinary course of human affairs, any check to population among men in ease and opulence, is less to be apprehended from what they may suffer, than from what they enjoy.  Peace is more likely to be injurious to them in that respect than war.

Because the British elite possessed so much, and were so assured of their possessions, they approached the Revolution with a prudential logic rather than a daring zeal. They were careful and calculating, cautious and prudent. They were, in short, Burkeans. Condemning Pitt and his allies, Burke wrote:

They spoke neither to the understanding nor to the heart. Cold as ice themselves, they never could kindle in our breasts a spark of that zeal, which is necessary to a conflict with an adverse zeal; much less were they made to infuse into our minds that stubborn persevering spirit, which alone is capable of bearing up against those vicissitudes of fortune which will probably occur, and those burdens which must be inevitably borne in a long war.

These “creatures of the desk” and “creatures of favour,” Burke complained, charged with defending the old orders of Europe, “had no relish for the principles of the manifestoes.”  They lacked the “generous wildness of Quixotism.”

The other negative consequence of an inheritance that’s assured, wrote Burke, was that its possessor—whether a country with an ancient constitution or an individual with a familial estate—quickly became encumbered by the weight of history and tradition. This is a seldom noted theme in Burke, for it runs counter to our stereotype of him as the tribune of long-standing wisdom and embedded prudence. But there is a deep and untapped vein in Burke’s writings of worry about, even hostility toward, individuals and institutions that are awash in history.

“Our most salutary and most beautiful institutions yield nothing but dust and smut,” Burke declared at the outset of his Regicide Peace.  The laws of the state, ancient and “full of reason, and of equity and justice,” were a “dead letter,” producing “no more than stubble.” Their very ancientness, he concluded, made them weak.

Our Constitution has more impediments, than helps. Its excellencies, when they come to be put to this sort of proof, may be found among its defects.

Nothing looks more awful and imposing than an ancient fortification. Its lofty embattled walls, its bold, projecting, rounded towers that pierce the sky, strike the imagination and promise inexpugnable strength. But they are the very things that make its weakness. You may as well think of opposing one of those old fortresses to the mass of artillery brought by a French irruption into the field, as to think of resisting by your old laws and your old forms the new destruction which the crops of Jacobin engineers today prepare for all such forms and all such laws.

It wasn’t just the laws and constitution that were suffering from age; individuals too steeped in their history, Burke warned, would be blind to the very newness of the threats they faced.  Prudence, in other words, the proverbial wisdom of the past made present, was not a way forward but a liability of the first order.

There was no more emblematic figure in this regard than Louis XVI, the hapless monarch who lost his head, in both senses of the word. He was by no means incompetent or malicious. He was well tutored and lettered, particularly in history. And that in the end was the problem.  “Louis the XVIth. was a diligent reader of history. But the very lamp of prudence blinded him.”

Against so powerful a force as the Jacobins, and the revolutionary order they were inaugurating throughout Europe, prudence, half-measures, compromise, and moderation—all the meats and treats of the Burkean high table—would have to be pushed aside in favor of a more bloody repast.  In a series of rhetorically escalating epigrams, Burke called his conservative brethren to the most radical arms.

 Acquiescence will not do; there must be zeal.

 To destroy that enemy, by some means or other, the force opposed to it should be made to bear some analogy and resemblance to the force and spirit which that system exerts.

The madness of the wise…is better than the sobriety of fools.

Every little measure is a great errour.

These were not just rhetorical tropes; they were programmatic injunctions to the leadership of the old order, who Burke hoped would wage a counterrevolution of continental proportions against the Jacobinism plaguing Europe. (This is another great misunderstanding among the defenders of Burke: they see him as the man of the “little platoon,” of the local and the national as against the international. Not so. In face of the “general evil” that was Jacobinism, Burke wanted everyone to think of himself as a citizen of Europe.  England should realize that international affairs were domestic affairs and vice versa: “Nothing in human affairs was foreign to her.” ““No citizen of Europe could be altogether an exile in any part of it.” Against those who wanted to take care of their little plots on their beloved island, Burke enjoined a great leap forward and across the English Channel.)

This was not to be an old-fashioned war of rules and constraints. Burke called for total war, of Sein oder Nichtstein, against not a country or a people but “an armed doctrine.” That doctrine had to be exterminated, for “if it can at all exist, it must finally prevail.” Against even its most infinitesimal expression, no quarter could be given: “It must be destroyed or it will destroy all of Europe.”

I have dwelled so long on Burke in part because of the stature he holds, on the right and the left, as the founder of conservatism—and as the measure against which all contemporary conservatisms are deemed insufficiently conservative. But it’s not just Burke who makes these sorts of arguments in favor of ideological zeal and against prudential restraints. Nor is it in the face of an arguably lethal threat like Jacobinism that conservatives make them.

In the twentieth century, one finds a similar move in Friedrich Hayek, arguing against not the totalitarianism of Stalin but the democratic socialism of Britain and France and the liberal welfare state of the New Deal. Again, this is not a widely noted theme in discussions of Hayek, but if you want a full-throated defense of ideology and utopianism against the prudential improvisations of the proverbial conservative, you could do worse than to start with Volume 1 of his Law, Legislation, and Liberty. There, Hayek says, among other things, that the “successful defense of freedom must therefore be dogmatic and make no concession to expediency” and that

Utopia, like ideology, is a bad word today…But an ideal picture of a society which may not be wholly achievable, or a guiding conception of the overall order to be aimed at, is nevertheless not only the indispensable precondition of any rational policy, but also the chief contribution that science can make to the solution of the problems of practical policy.

The other reason I have dwelled so long on Burke is that though he’s often held up as the source of conservatism, I get the feeling he’s not often read.  Likewise, Hayek and the rest of the conservative canon.  Sure, someone will quote a passage here or a phrase there, but the quotations inevitably have a whiff of cliché about them—little platoons and so on—emitting that stale blast of familiarity you sense when you listen to someone go on about a text he may or may not have read during one week in college.  That, it seems to me, applies no less to the right than it does to the left. Everyone thinks they know Burke or Oakeshott or Hayek, but have they read them? In the last decade?

If nothing else, I hope my book spurs readers to go back to these texts. Not just because they’re great, which they are. But also because we’re having a conversation about modern conservatism in the dark, based on a misapprehension of the what the enterprise is and is not about. If we can get clear on these ancient texts, maybe we can get a little clearer on the contemporary practice.

So here’s my final suggestion for Andrew Sullivan, Sam Tanenhaus, and anyone else who likes to invoke Burke or Hayek or [fill in the blank] against today’s GOP: Read ‘em. Then let’s talk.


  1. Stephen Zielinski September 27, 2011 at 4:03 pm | #

    If the essential feature of a conservative politics is the willingness to conserve the old order against the work of those willing and able to alter and even undermine that order, then the actual conservatives of the last 35 years in America were those individuals and movements and organizations that wanted to preserve the New Deal Order. This irony reveals the conundrum American conservatives always face: America sprung from a revolution; it has always been modern; the impetus to development and expansion arise from its DNA. The American conservative always wants to affirm or restore a product that carries with it this revolutionary origin.

    Thus an American can always invoke the Revolution against the Constitution or any present political condition. Is this not what the Tea Party tries to do? Is this radicalism not Burkean when it seeks to restore an imagined and desirable old American Order?

  2. Taryn Hart September 27, 2011 at 5:48 pm | #

    What a fascinating thesis – I ordered your book immediately!

    I myself have taken the Burke-was-conservative-modern-conservatives-are-radical position (mainly because a Naomi Klein article regarding Iraq sounded a lot to me like Burke in Reflections):

    I had a couple of thoughts regarding your essay (that are probably explained by your book, but I thought I’d throw them out for purposes of discussion).

    First, to me, the heart of Burke’s conservatism wasn’t a lack of passion or an even-handedness, but: 1) a suspicion against historically detached, a priori theorizing; and 2) a resistance to leveling tendencies (and I always understand this is terms of epistemological humility – societies and human beings are too complex for anyone to successful predict what the results of such Utopian engineering will be). To me, Burke’s conservatism had a lot in common with Popper’s critique of historicism (which was a critique of Utopianism).

    And that’s the second thought I had regarding your essay. You discuss Utopianism getting a bad rap and defend it on the grounds that an ideal picture of society is a precondition to any rational policy. However, I think there’s a distinction to be made between a priori, leveling Utopianism and normative political theory. The former is historically detached, is prone to end-justifies-the-means rationalization and lacks epistemological humility. Not necessarily true of normative political theory. So Rawls, for instance, is definitely normative, but I wouldn’t say he’s Utopian. Similarly for teleolgical political theory – the telos is, by definition, an ideal, but it’s not necessarily Utopian.

    So, I’m sure the book goes into a lot more detail on these points, but those were my initial questions. I can’t wait to read your book – it’s a very interesting thesis given that the notion that modern conservatives are radicals has really come to be conventional wisdom.

  3. Brahmsky September 27, 2011 at 6:03 pm | #

    Mazel tov. Looks spectacular/totally fascinating and infuriating! Wish I could attend. Will pass it on though, and hope to hear reports. But what I don’t get, is what do Delta Burke and Salma Hayek have to do with anything?

  4. Shane Taylor September 27, 2011 at 9:11 pm | #

    A clarifying incitement! And given the shortage of deeply-informed criticisms of Hayek, I want (yes, again) to bring in a valuable exception. Hayek described one book on his work as “The first survey of my work which not only fully understands but is able to carry on my ideas beyond the point at which I left off.” That was Hayek on Liberty by John Gray. In the late 1990s, Gray became disillusioned. Gray makes no apologies for his anti-communism (or even for being an Thatcherite…). Since his piece “Hayek and the dissolution of classical liberalism,” Gray has attacked Hayek for utopianism. (He drew upon both Joseph Schumpeter’s pessimism and Karl Polanyi’s rebuke.) In fact, he criticized Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine for not fully appreciating Hayek’s utopianism. For Gray, a utopian idea can be either revolutionary or gradually reformist–that’s not what is essential. To him, a utopian idea is an impossible one, the pursuit of which decimates any social order, whose fragility we tend to underestimate.

  5. SqueakyRat October 1, 2011 at 12:06 am | #

    Interesting post. But it might be argued that Burke’s call for “zeal” is for what he saw as a tactical necessity in the struggle against radicalism, rather than a characterization of the conservativism he was defending. You can think you need to go to war without recommending war as a way of life.

  6. seth edenbaum October 1, 2011 at 1:23 pm | #

    The danger of revolution is that the moral logic -the sensibility- becomes self-sustaining through performative reinforcement. The dangers of reaction are the same. Ideology is armor, and you can think through ideology about as well as you can move around in a tin suit. Israel was founded by the victims of a crime but the former victims cannot fully conceive of themselves as victimizers. Zionism is illiberal by definition but “liberal Zionists” will brook no argument.

    It would be helpful if educated liberals who are so fond of their capacity for reason would understand that the notion of the rule of law originates in a conservative fear of reason unmoored. It would also help if liberal academics (with the exception of law professors) understood how closely their claims for their own arguments track the those of legal conservatives regarding the Constitution. “My words will mean what I say they mean not what others interpret them as meaning. My writing will be interpreted as ‘dead’ ” to use Scalia’s terminology: outside of history, or historical change.

    The rule of philosophers and technocrats is not democracy. It would help also if both modern liberals and conservatives understood that conservatism under the old regime was in origin, aristocratic, anti-materialist, anti-bourgeois, and anti-capitalist. Burkeanism and market liberalism are opposed. Bourgeois liberals and bourgeois conservatives both ignore the fact that they’re bourgeois. Conservatives aren’t directly responsible for gentrification, which is best defined as the move of “adventurous” middle class liberals into working class neighborhoods, displacing members of the working class irrespective of politics.

    Duncan Black (Atrios) specifically mocked the small town mythology of working class urban neighborhoods, and denies any responsibility for the transition of what was once a majority black neighborhood into a middle class majority white one. I suppose he reasons that words speak louder than actions, if they’re his. Brad DeLong argues that the urban non-rich should make do with tasteless cardboard tomatoes, (would he say the same about mediocre schools?) and at least one or two of the authors at Crooked Timber think governments should be allowed limits on freedom of speech. Are these arguments liberal? Were they liberal 30 years ago? Mike Konczal’s about page has him as “a former ‘financial engineer'” (or it did until recently). Marx would have fun with the title alone. But now he links to David Graeber.

    Graeber’s focus is on the process of decision-making more than the result; on form not “content”. The rule of law is the rule of “due process”. Compared to the liberal focus on enlightened reason, Graeber’s arguments are conservative.

  7. John Emerson October 1, 2011 at 8:04 pm | #

    I have never understood the liberal contempt expressed for what the guy said to Susskind. Conservatives of that type are activist, transformational, and reactionary more than conservative. They’re also willing to make high-stakes gambles.

    That is Ariel Sharon’s approach: facts on the ground. If your adversary’s position is arguably more viable than yours in a given situation, do what you can to change the situation in order to make his position moot.

    “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” This is a lesson that liberals and Democrats seem impervious to. I think that equilibrium-oriented social science, combined with a managerial-technocratic attitude, combined with kneejerk opposition to populism and radicalism, have produced a political elite incapable of political action.

    I’m not sure what to think about Obama himself, but a lot of the defenders of Obama (and even some of his relatively more technocratic-administrative wonk opponents) seem to have committed themselves to world views that make political action impossible

  8. John Emerson October 1, 2011 at 8:11 pm | #

    “The actual conservatives of the last 35 years in America were those individuals and movements and organizations that wanted to preserve the New Deal Order.”

    According to Hofstadter, Stevenson said as much during one or both of his Presidential campaigns. That approach didn’t work for him, but Hofstadter adored Stevenson anyway.

    • Stephen Zielinski October 1, 2011 at 9:50 pm | #

      Yesterday’s successful radical reform or its successful revolutionary rupture provides, among other things, the basis for a future conservative project.

      So, it was possible to criticize the New Deal from the left while also seeking to surpass its irrational limits and unfair institutions. This political project would not have been a conservative or reactionary politics. The Great Society was a modest attempt to rectify some of the new Deal’s shortcomings. Although the New Deal and the Great Society were socially inadequate, their spirit and practice would be a welcome sight today. Unfortunately, the reactionaries now dominate American politics.

  9. seth edenbaum October 2, 2011 at 11:29 am | #

    “The actual conservatives of the last 35 years in America were those individuals and movements and organizations that wanted to preserve the New Deal Order.”

    Hofstadter is the precursor to DeLong as public intellectual: mid-century efficiency expert and neatnik as philosopher.

    And again, as to the New Deal, both modern liberals and conservatives ignore that the biggest result was the economic unification of the country. Most modern conservatives are in favor of US economic dominance, and without Wickard v. Filburn and other decisions the US would not have become what it is. Similarly the civil rights cases had as much to do with economic efficiency, and liberal self-love, as concern. Read Derrick Bell’s dissent in What Brown v. Board of Education Should Have Said. Capitalism requires the collapse of public and private; private life has shrunk and continues to.

    A mature politics deals in the conflict between desire and convention, freedom and responsibility. Law is convention, reason is colored always by desire. The civil rights movement was made up of socially conservative lower middle class african americans lead by their priests, not liberal or revolutionary upper middle class whites and their college professors.

  10. Pete Speer December 12, 2011 at 7:19 pm | #

    It is necessary, I believe, to look at America as a New World from the days of Burke to today. It confounds definition in the traditional sense as conservative, liberal, radical or what have you. Starting with its origins and the definition of the country after the adoption of a Constitution written mostly by members of the landed gentry, one must take into account the huge open spaces and the tidal waves of immigrants rolling over and across the land, taking hold and moving on with visceral force from the geographic and class constrained countries of Europe. Coming here by the shipload in family units or carrying the hopes of those from whom they had been separated, they indentured themselves to pay for passage and moved on.

    Immigration policy has not always been ‘fair and balanced.’ It favored entry to peoples from certain areas of the world. In general, it was successful in attracting people not only ‘yearning to be free’ but also those who wanted the opportunity for interclass mobility and who had the gumption to accept failure in order to create a stepping stone for future success, not only for themselves but also for their children.

    Geographic mobility and the differential opportunity in the several states and territories — each with different laws and different resources was an important part of this country. People moved to find opportunity.

    The example of the intelligent and motivated immigrants stimulated the native born. Expanding, the country provided new sources for wealth. The economic pie grew faster than the population

    Unique in its organization under the Constitution, the original thirteen states now grown to fifty retained much legal authority and responsibility while remaining (after 1865) firmly in the Union. Many of the States are larger than most countries of the world. The differentiation maximized opportunity, confounded economic and political philosophers.

    Burke’s propertied gentry were for protecting their status quo. The Jacobin immigrants slid past them, drew many along with them as they moved west. Some gentrified themselves; new immigrants swept by them. Many drowned in the wave, but a nation was being built through constant movement and change.

    Unfortunately, as in any Republic in the history of the world, the government is going through the process of centralization. Weak politicians in the state capitols give up their authority, shirk their responsibility and come to the central government for handouts. As the individual states are turned into weak provinces a “statist” government arises

    The status quo, the property position, now belongs to the Democrat party and their plantation masters in the big cities. The Republicans are the party seeking change.

Leave a Reply