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.
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 Party…Ross 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.
Robert Nozick merged elements of Kant and Locke into a strong, libertarian defense of the individual, and also responded to Rawls distributive justice: A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”…From Slate: ‘The Liberty Scam-Why Even Robert Nozick, The Philosophical Father Of Libertarianism, Gave Up On The Movement He Inspired.’
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 partially 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’