25 June 2011
Why I Am Not A Conservative, Conclusion
Hayek's essay of this title was published in the very same year as the Goldwater book I've been examining: 1960. Hayek said that in our day (in this respect, he speaks even more to ours than to his own) "movements that are thought to be progressive advocate further encroachments on individual liberty." A conservative and a real liberal, a defender of individual, may well be thrown together in mutual opposition to those progressive movements which may call themselves liberal.
But Hayek also said that the problem with conservatism is that it offers no alternative. "Let-us-keep- the-good-things-we-have" is not an alternative to change, because the world will necessarily change, and the real struggle has to be over the direction of change. Toward more liberty, or toward less?
Hayek wrote, "the tug of war between conservatives amd progressives can only affect the speed, not the direction, of contemporary developments."
That sentence echoes remarkably Goldwaters sentence, written at roughly the same time, about how the trouble with liberals is that they are in a hurry. That is just what Hayek warned us conservatives would falsely say the trouble with "liberals" -- the folks he called progressives -- is. The real trouble, on the other hand, is that the progressives are pulling us in the wrong direction.
I am reminded of a buddy of mine in college who was arrested for drunk driving. That was the 1970s, and -- so long as no one was hurt -- drunk driving was not yet regarded as the horrendous offense it is nowadays taken to be. It was under the general category stupid-college-kid offense.
Anyway, my buddy was driving along a sidewalk when he was arrested -- which made the breathalyzer test almost entirely unnecessary. The next day, after I bailed him out, he complained to me that among the 6 or 7 charges for which the police officer had written him up, there was "speeding." This was too much. How could he have been speeding when he was driving on a place he shouldn't have been driving on at any rate!
I'm not, BTW, making fun of DWI offenses. I was simply amused by my friend's indignation, and it comes back to me now because Hayek was offering in all seriousness -- and I think rightly -- the same complaint against the Goldwaters of the world. They should not pretend that any part of the offense is speeding. The problem is that progressives have us on a sidewalk!
This problem won't be resolved by complaints that suggest that a slower rate of speed on the sidewalk would be okay.
So: what are we to say about Goldwater's opposition to Brown v. Board? Does it tell us anything beyond that one historic incident? It tells us, I submit, that at a time when the progressive agenda demanded the end to Jim Crow, the conservative attitude reflexively defended Jim Crow. Of course, many people defended Jim Crow out of self-interest. It helped a lot of white people avoid competition in the job market, for example. The privileged generally abstain from challenging the grounds of their privilege. But even those who lived in states without Jim Crow often reflexively defended the system, or opposed its opponents, out of the knee-jerk reflex Hayek understood.
It tells us, also, that when the progressives won that one, when Jim Crow was dead, conservatives in time came along, and posed as the true defenders of equality of opportunity for the Linda Browns of the world-- not because their principles had changed, but because the real objection posed by those principles had been one of velocity, and that is irrelevant given an accomplished fact.
A true liberal -- a believer in liberty, and in such forms of progress as serve liberty, consistent with the preserving of such liberty as has been attained -- would have found the root of the problem in the whole notion of mandatory public education. Naturally, if there are government-run mandatory schools, if taxes are used to pay for them, if people under an arbitrary age are ordered to attend them absent specific state-sponsored exemptions -- then virtually everything that is done in the administration of that system will seem tyrannical to someone. Evolution is taught or it isn't -- coercion either way. The pledge of allegiance is made part of a regular ritual, or it isn't -- coercion either way. The races are separated or they aren't -- coercion either way IF one understands that the system itself is coercive.
The real direction of progress (not of progressivism) would involve getting people to see market alternatives, and understand that the forces of spontaneous order will address all such dilemma to the extent they are allowed to do so.
In some moments Goldwater seems to want to follow that rule. Alas, though, he was all too often a conservative instead.
Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.