Repost-Quotation From Charles Kesler And A Few Thoughts on Conservatism

Quote mentioned by a friend:

“…it is emblematic of liberalism’s intention, articulated in the Progressive era and pursued ever since, to replace constitutional politics with a system of interest group (and racial) competition, of bargaining for government benefits within the administrative or welfare state presided over by activist judges, policy “experts,” and bureaucrats (in collusion with congressional committees).”

Charles Kesler-Buckley Jr., William F. & Charles R. Kesler.  Keeping The Tablets: Modern American Conservative Thought-A Revised Edition of American Conservative Thought in the Twentieth Century. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. Print.

Quite germane, I’d say.

The term ‘activist’ judges has become very loaded these days.  The nomination process has become politicized and nearly toxic, to be sure.

I looked up Kesler’s quote in context and found he defined 3 conservative camps.  Here’s my brief summary, so feel free to add, subtract, or disagree:

1.  Traditionalists–Often coming from literary and historical backgrounds, Kesler’s traditionalist standout is Russell Kirk, and he mentions Robert Nisbet.  Many traditionalists are more likely to be religious, and find greater wisdom in religious doctrine and teaching about how to live and what to do than most anything else.  Some can see an unbroken line back to Aquinas, and they tend to view Enlightenment rationalism with great suspicion.  Kirk and Nisbet adopted Edmund Burke’s defense of the British Constitution against what they saw as the ahistorical universalism of the French Revolution.

Many look around and see cultural decay, decline, and often times a moral corruption in society.

I’d say Ross Douthat, currently at the NY Times, is an example of a practicing Catholic and conservative.  He’s written a book about the decline of institutionalized religion in the public square and the rise of new-age, mega-churches, self-help and “spirituality.” He also is addressing a contemporary audience at the New York Times.

Robert Bork, despite his faults, was railroaded as an ‘activist’ judge and could be defined as a traditionalist.

On this site, see:  The NY Times op-ed writer and a practicing Catholic? William Saletan and Ross Douthat At Slate: ‘Liberalism Is Stuck Halfway Between Heaven And Earth’…Douthat’s The Grand New PartyRoss Douthat At First Principles: ‘The Quest for Community in the Age of Obama: Nisbet’s Prescience’A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

How does Natural Law Philosophy deal with these problems, and those of knowledge?  Yes, Edmund Burke opposed the French revolution Sunday Quotation: Edmund Burke On The French Revolution

2.  Libertarians–On Kesler’s view, libertarians are more comfortable with Enlightenment rationalism than the traditionalists are, but the original sin for libertarians is collectivism.  This collectivism arises from basing the Enlightenment rationalist foundation in virtue.  Marxist, Socialist, and Communist leaders advocated and sometimes succeeded in bloody revolution, and many genuinely believed they were leading humanity to some dialectically “progressive” point in the future, seeing materialist reality for what it was, and acting for the good of all.  They were ‘virtuous’.  Many in these systems believed they knew better than individuals what was best for them, deciding how they should live, and what they should do.  As is common knowledge, this had disastrous results, including food shortages, external aggression, mass murder, forced labor camps, and the systems eventually rotting from the inside out.

For Kesler, libertarians often come from economic and philosophical backgrounds, and he breaks them into two groups.   The first group consists of Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, and Friedrich Hayek.  For them, freedom simply works, scarcity is all around, and you don’t need to deduce your way back to an underlying rights-based moral theory to justify your defense of individual freedom.  Adam Smith’s invisible hand might be a good example.

Kesler’s other group are those who need to deduce the morality of the market from the rights of man.  If the rights of man don’t come from God, is there some sufficiently transcendent source for our knowledge and thus our moral thinking?  Is there a source that would justify giving some people moral legitimacy to rule over others?  Where do man’s rights come from? J.S. Mill’s utilitarianism may not be enough, so, the search continues.  Kesler offers Robert Nozick, Murray Rothbard, and Richard Epstein as examples.

In my experience, personal liberty is primary to libertarians.  Libertarians often draw a ring around the individual, and proceed from there.  How one draws that ring is of some importance.

On this site, see: Repost-’Milton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’..From Fora Via YouTube: ‘Thomas Sowell and a Conflict of Visions’

Charles Murray is trying to get virtue back with the social sciences: Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People

3. Neoconservatives–Often coming from backgrounds of academic social science, chased away from the New Left and ‘mugged by reality’, Kesler’s neoconservatives would include Norman Podhoretz, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, and James Q. Wilson.  On Kesler’s view, they come to distrust ideology, rationalist political theory and have been persuaded by the fact/value distinction. Doubts are bred from within the social sciences and political sciences about how one can be sure of what one knows, especially when that knowledge becomes a source for public policy and a way for a few people to run the lives of many others.

From The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington….is neoconservative foreign policy defunct…sleeping…how does a neoconservatism more comfortable with liberalism here at home translate into foreign policy?: Wilfred McClay At First Things: ‘The Enduring Irving Kristol’

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’…Thursday Quotation: Jeane Kirkpatrick – J.S. Mill…Francis Fukuyama At The Amer

Two Middle-East Links-Why, It’s Like A Mirage Sometimes

Via The American Interest ‘As Iran Deadline Slips, Keep An Eye On The Holidays:’

‘The slippage of the June 30 deadline is not entirely unexpected, nor really all that consequential. But coming up shortly is a deadline of real consequence: July 9. If the Administration does not submit an agreement to Congress by then, the review period under Corker-Menendez extends from 30 to 60 days. During that time, the Administration cannot by law lift sanctions, while Congress reviews and possibly votes on the deal.’


Via The Hoover Institution: ‘Islam Through The Looking Glass

‘This foreign policy mistake of assuming other peoples think and believe as we do has been continually made by the West for decades.’

And it continually will! The ideas, however, which many people think and believe at a given point are always in flux. You can’t step in the same river twice.

Just watch how politicians pander to voters and some reasonably smart twenty year-old is leaning back in a chair right now, thinking he/she knows it all.

And many in the Muslim world have no idea how many of us think and believe.  Most of us have never met and never will. It’s like a Hall of Mirrors!

‘Most important is the restatement of the radical difference between Islamic states and Western ones, “the awesome gulf that lies between the Muslim order, where the law is the grim law of punishment and vengeance, and the rational and liberal traditions of the West.” The failed attempts to bridge this gulf by simply importing Western notions of human rights and political freedom confirm this point. Such projects also reflect an ignorance of the incompatibility of the tribal mentality with the canons of liberal democracy. Despite the support of the Europeans after World War I in creating nations with constitutional governments, the Arabs “have resorted more and more to their basic social and religious institutions, the tribe and Islam, to provide the structure of government. Any progress towards political maturity has been stultified by their inability to comprehend any loyalty other than that to family, tribe or religious sect’

A good amount of this strikes me as true, and it hasn’t stopped the last two Presidents from assuming that inside every Iraqi was a yearning for democratic institutional/constitutional representation, and/or that every Egyptian was bending on the arc of history towards liberation theology/activist justice.

We still have security, business, diplomatic, colonial, financial, educational and various other interests through the Muslim world.  The radical Islamists still want the infidel out of the Arabian peninsula.

Here we are!

Via The Federalist: Ilya Shapiro Echoes Reasonable Thoughts

What will be the next cause that drives major change in American life, allowing many to join in solidarity with some truth about freedom they find larger than themselves, yearning to enshrine it in law?

What kind of consequences will it have, and what kind of laws will it make?

Ilya Shapiro at the Federalist:

‘But where do we go from here? What about people who disagree, in good faith, with no ill intent towards gay people? Will ministers, to the extent they play a dual role in ratifying marriage licenses, have to officiate big gay weddings? Will bakers and photographers have to work them? What about employment-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation—most states lack them, but are they now required? And what about tax-exempt status for religious schools, the issue that came up during oral argument?’

That’s about as involved as I’m willing to get.

Saturday Quotations: Bertrand Russell and Niccolo Machiavelli

Government can easily exist without laws, but law cannot exist without government.”

Bertrand Russell

“It is necessary for him who lays out a state and arranges laws for it to presuppose that all men are evil and that they are always going to act according to the wickedness of their spirits whenever they have free scope.”

Niccolo Machiavelli

“We hold these truths to be self-evident:

 That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

From the Declaration Of Independence.


Maybe Machiavelli was just really an artist and writer working well within the bounds of traditional moral thinking (Catholic and Aristotelian through the church), but just wanted an audience? to be little shocking?

See AlsoGarrett Mattingly On Machiavelli-The Prince: Political Science Or Political Satire?

How do you fit religion into your thinking about government?: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder

Some Obamacare Links After The SCOTUS King V. Burwell Ruling

Megan McArdle at Bloomberg: ‘Subsidies And All, Obamacare Stays

Comments are worth a read.

Richard Epstein’s podcast here.

Jack Balkin at his blog:

‘In King v. Burwell, the Court sent a signal to the political branches: Don’t try to uproot the ACA through technical legal arguments designed to throw sand in its gears. Don’t try to blow it up through clever lawyering. If you want to change health care policy, do it through standard political reforms. Do it through democratic politics. If you can’t manage to do that, then you had better get used to the idea of universal health care in the United States.’


William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection’s take:

‘The issue was whether only state-established exchanges could issue tax credits, or whether the federal exchanges could also. Challengers to IRS regulations pointed to the words “established by the State” in the legislation as clear and unambiguous that subsidies were limited to state exchanges.

The Court rejected this assertion:

These provisions suggest that the Act may not always use the phrase “established by the State” in its  most natural sense. Thus, the meaning of that phrase may not be as clear as it appears when read out of context. [at 11.]’


Randy Barnett at SCOTUSblog:

‘Having refrained from opining about the merits of the case before today, I am not going to start now. I find the opinion by the Chief Justice to be reasonable-sounding — just as I found those of Abbe and Nick. But I find Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion ultimately to be more compelling — just as I found the arguments of Jonathan Adler and Michael Cannon, the legal architects of this challenge -‘

Edward Feser In The Claremont Review: ‘Looking For Meaning in All The Wrong Places’

Feser’s post here (ahem…check the comments…ahem)

Claremont link here.

‘It is only in light of this background that we can evaluate books like Scruton’s The Soul of the World and Wilson’s The Meaning of Human Existence. Both books are haunted by the fact that modern science seems to have stripped the natural order of any meaning or purpose and relocated it all within the narrow compass of the human mind. Both, accordingly, tend to treat religion, morality, art, and literature alike as if they were all merely artifacts of the mind, expressions of the way human consciousness interprets the world but not of the way the world really is in itself (though Scruton is a little more ambiguous where religion is concerned).’

Related On This Site: Repost-Adam Kirsch At The New Republic: ‘Art Over Biology’…From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’From The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy: Charles Sanders Peirce

Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism Reviews E.O. Wilson’s ‘The Social Conquest Of Earth’Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…A Debate: Would We Better Off Without Religion?…Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Repost-From Foreign Policy: ‘My Pen Pal, The Jihadist’

Full post here (behind a paywall)

Our author writes about his email correspondence with the American who threatened the creators of South Park for (potentially) depicting Mohammed:

‘Zachary Adam Chesser, better known by his Internet sobriquet of “Abu Talhah al-Amrikee,” is the 20-year-old Virginia man who was indicted this month for supporting a Somalia-based al Qaeda affiliate, al-Shabab. Most Americans learned of him in April 2010, when Chesser’s media stunt wishing death upon the creators of the South Park cartoon thrust him into the national spotlight.’

And as for more homegrown terrorism?:

‘Under the banner of his “Abu Talhah al-Amrikee” brand, Chesser wanted to fundamentally transform English-language jihadist online activism.’

It’s interesting that in his desperation to join a righteous cause, he might have forgotten that how to interpret Islam itself is also worth thinking about, despite the injustice and legitimate grievances there are in the Muslim world (as well as the failures of Muslim societies to provide educational and economic opportunities…and representative rule as there is plenty of injustice coming from Muslim governments upon their own citizens).

Also On This Site:  Ebrahim Moosa At Bloggingheads Discusses Islamic Reform

From Reason: ‘Mohammad Cartoonist Lars Vilks Headbutted During Lecture’

Many libertarians stand firm on freedom of speech:  Repost-A Canadian Libertarian Making Noise: Ezra LevantFrom Volokh: ‘”South Park” Creators Warned (Threatened) Over Mohammed’Christopher Hitchens At Slate: Yale SurrendersYale concluded that the risk of violence and the potential consequences that stemmed from their decision to publish a scholarly work about the Mohammed cartoons (reprinting those cartoons) was not worth the risk.  Hitchens is not a fan of religion.