Thursday, February 5, 2009

Liberalism Discredited

It has become a trope, or "meme," that the dismal ending of the failed Bush presidency marks the demise of modern conservatism overall. Liberalism is revived and regnant, ready to lead where conservatism failed.

This "meme" should be nipped in the bud: conservatism was never tried. A version of liberalism was implemented, particularly a toxic combination of Wilsonian visions of remaking the world combined with a particular brand of laissez-faire economics that gave particular favor to Bigness. BOTH of these pursuits, perfectly combined during the Presidency of George W. Bush, but present in various iterations throughout the years of Republican rule, are purely distilled varieties of liberalism.

We called it "conservative" because it wasn't the more potent version of Statism. However, all the same, it relied upon basic liberal assumptions of self-interest, privatism, large and centralized government and growth economics that place a stress upon large scale, mobility, debt, and consumption.

Conservatism's name is now tarnished, perhaps as completely as liberalism's was in the years following Carter. Ironically, liberalism eventually adopted a more accurate name - "progressivism" - as a strategic response to the negative connotations of the word "liberal" (almost impossible, for a time, to say without a sneer).

So, I ask - is it time to retire for a time the label "conservative," good and true as it is? What could take its place - indeed, what might be just as accurate as its counterpart, "progressivism"? Are there any native labels that might be revived, or new ones that could have resonance? While Shakespeare could ask, "what's in a name," we know that in politics much lies in successful naming. Just ask the "Anti-federalists."

Christian Democrats? Conservative Christian Anarchists (Henry Adams's choice)? Communitarians? Populists? Democratic-Republicans (Jefferson's party)? Suggestions?

Or, should those who rightly consider themselves conservators of traditions that eschew many of the deepest presuppositions of liberalism - particularly various religious adherents - attempt to reclaim the label? In which case, what, exactly, are they conserving, if all the dominant varieties of American political expression are essentially versions of liberalism? It's a puzzler, that's for certain.

17 comments:

Oz Ozzie said...

how about "regressivism"?

Travis said...

Traditionalists?

massminuteman said...

"Victims of Modernity"?

Mitchell said...

Humanism? (rightly understood)

Albert said...

How about "Localists."

Anonymous said...

Paleo-Reactionaries.

Patrick Deneen said...

These are good - and I like "traditionalism," though it begs the question of what traditions, comparable to the question begging about what is being "conserved" in conservatism.

Would that we could resort to the great Canadian appelation, "Red Tory...."

Then there's Bill Kaufmann's "Front Porch Anarchists" or "Reactionary Radicals..."

All possibilities... but I/we still haven't found, what I'm/we're looking for....

Empedocles said...

How about "de-centralists"?

Russell Arben Fox said...

Would that we could resort to the great Canadian appelation, "Red Tory...."

Why can't we? Why let our nation's foolishly obsessive (and, arguably, incorrectly interpreted) Lockeanism stand in our way? (More here and here.)

Anonymous said...

People's Party

Fisher Ames said...

Being a conservative, I reject the Jacobin impulse of "abandoning" a label because it is temporarily "tainted" in the public eye. Conservatives have called themselves that at least since the 19th Century, and I see no reason for them to break that tradition now.

Cheers,
F. Ames

halifax said...

I prefer 'Old Whig', but it's probably not relevant for some of the things that you want to convey. What it conveys to me is an Anglophile traditionalist intent on preserving concrete liberties (i.e. of association and of conscience come to mind) , while resisting the concentration of power in either the central government or in any other institution (i.e. large corporations).

Empedocles said...

I say we go with "Communitarians." Communitarianism has a respectable philosophical tradition and is likely to attract those on the left interested in localization and sustainability.

Casey Khan said...

How about Tory Anarchist (this is the name of Daniel McCarthy's blog)?

I was also thinking of some sort of variation of "ultramontane liberal." I was thinking of renaming my own little blog-journal such, from AnarchoCatholic. Kind of a reconciliation between Lord Acton's thinking and the Syllabus of Errors/Vatican I. I'm open for a term to replace liberal = classical liberal.

nathancontramundi said...

I know that you write of deserting "conservative" — and liberalism, and thus "liberalism", is discredited —, but I rather like "liberal conservative", as Röpke employs it.

Larison's "Jefferson Jacobites" appeals to me; we certainly can look to some aspects of Jefferson's thought for aspiration (specifically, his agrarian, anti-centralizing tendencies), and the very conservative nature of "Jacobite" helps to negate the less appealing aspects of Jeffersonian thought.

Old Right Communitarian is how I presently list my political views on the nigh-ubiquitous Facebook; it permits me to highlight my aversion to progressivism and imperialism whilst rejecting the individualistic-impulses of some of the Old Rightists, without antiquating myself too much by referring specifically to the (Southern) Agrarians.

Neo-Distributist

Burkean Chesterbellocian

Mark said...

I'm glad someone else is finally saying this. Why don't we revive the Federalist Party?

Eric Earnhardt said...

I like Democratic Republicans. It refers back to Jeffersonian thought without being relegated to him alone. It is also sufficiently robust, encompassing "alternative" ideas of democracy and republicanism in a way that many dissatisfied moderates may find appealing (in the spirit of populist appeal). In addition, there is the off-chance that people may actually start looking at history, if only to see from whence the name arose.