The Republican Dilemma

Put yourself in the place of a typical Republican politician.  (The situation of a Tory or a Christian Democrat would be similar, I imagine, but America is what I know best.)  As a Republican, you have a reputation as a “conservative”, and many of those who voted for you (or who you hope will vote for you) also describe themselves as “conservatives”.  But, assuming you’re a typical Republican, you have a problem.  First, you don’t really know anything about conservatism.  You’ve never read a word of Hegel or de Maistre.  You’re so ignorant, you don’t even know that conservatism has ever had any intellectually respectable champions.  What you do know about conservatism, a few policy positions having to do with marriage or Church-State law, you don’t believe.  What’s more, you think these positions so wrong as to be indefensible.  Every once in a while, you will say something like “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman” because you know you have to say it to get conservatives to vote for you, but you will never say why it is you think that marriage is a heterosexual institution.  You don’t really believe it, and you can’t imagine what a sensible argument for it would even look like.  Your list of what you imagine to be conservative policy positions also has some right-liberal or libertarian elements, such as that taxes should be lowered.  But you don’t understand right-liberalism any more than you understand conservatism, so when you try to express your “right-wing” economic beliefs, you make absurd or obnoxious statements such as that lowering taxes always raises government revenue, or that poor people need to pay higher taxes so that the rich can pay less.

You are in a dilemma.  You think conservative voters are evil and stupid, but exploiting this evil and stupidity is perhaps your only road to power.  It’s an unsatisfactory position, even to someone with no integrity (and, being a typical Republican politician, you have no integrity).  You yourself buy into the liberal narrative of progress, according to which right-wing forces are always defeated and discredited by the forces of progress.  Being on the side foreordained to lose can’t be a good long-term strategy.  What do you do?

First, you might just say the bare minimum “conservative” statements needed to get elected, and then try to win back posterity’s approval by governing like a moderate Leftist.  This is a popular strategy, and it works.

Still, being on the losing side won’t work eventually.  Sooner or later all those right-wing voters will die and be replaced by their Lefty college-educated children.  We’ve got to reposition now!  Hence the second strategy:  veer the Party hard to the Left.  Many “conservative” intellectuals make their living pushing this (you all know who), and I would be shocked if many Republicans hadn’t thought about it.  It’s a very perilous strategy, though.  You can’t move to the Left of the Democrats:  no one would think you were being honest.  Any big leap to the Left will cost you your conservative voters.  It will buy you nothing with the college educated and young demographics; these will always vote for the Leftmost party.  Even if they end up hating you slightly less (and they won’t), what does that matter if they still vote for your opponent?  Your only hope down this road is to win more “independent” votes.  These are largely people who don’t care about politics.  We flatter them for being “open-minded”, but I expect they’re really just lazy.   Anyone who pays attention has long since formed an opinion on the great two century debate between autonomy and order.  So, to win the votes of the stupid and apathetic, you must try to say as little about politics as possible.  Sell your personality.  Stuff like that.  It’s hard to ideologically realign your party with such a persona,  though.  You tone down the planned shift, eventually settling back into strategy one.

There is another possibility, though.  As long as politics is one-dimensional, with society ever shifting from right to left, you’re sunk.  What if we could introduce a second dimension?  Let’s say that we too believe in freedom, equality, and all that good stuff, but we apply it in a totally different way from the Left.  Here’s an idea:  why don’t we prove our idealism by exporting democracy to the third world?  It’s so stupidly self-destructive, how could anyone doubt that we’re acting in earnest?  Or take any random belief that allows us to dispute the Democrats without having to affirm any nonliberal doctrine.  “Global warming is a fraud!”  Etc.  Hence we see the Republican party routinely veering off on crazy tangents.  The media obliges by identifying each of them with the “far right”.

The fact is that the Republican party has no reason to exist, but people who make their living from it don’t want to face this plainly.  They’re convinced that conservatism has lost the big argument with liberalism.  Why doesn’t the “conservative” party just fold up and go home then?  Why not have a one-party state, if all the ideological issues are settled?  Or maybe make room for the next big debate, say between social democracy and communism?  No, the typical Republican decides that he would rather cook up some reason for his party to go on existing.  He actually agrees with the Democrats, but his job depends on picking a pointless fight with them over something.

14 Responses

  1. Yes, modern Western politics is a thing of quite profound stupidity.

    It doesn’t make sense — doesn’t even try to make sense — and I think in their more honest moments the political class is willing to admit it doesn’t care about such. How did it all come to this?

  2. “Sooner or later all those right-wing voters will die and be replaced by their Lefty college-educated children.”

    That’s why you withdraw from electoral politics and wage a Kulturkampf. Find a way to take control of universities. That’s where Leftist teachers, mass media producers, and journalists are produced.

  3. Good piece.

    Couple of sparked-off thoughts.

    1. When Conservatives are in the position of having to find *arguments* that marriage is between a man and a woman – then it is too late for arguments.

    2. The Republicans have no reason to exist, true; and neither do the Democrats.

    The reason for being of the Left was to abolish poverty (I mean absolute poverty – starving to death poverty) and create meritocratic equality of opportunity (within the constraints of sheer luck and inevitable human corruption). These objectives were attained at least 60 years ago. By 1965 an honest Left should have said ‘job done’ and disbanded.


    3. There is no way out from here using the socio-political methods which got us to this point.

  4. In all mature democracies, there are two main parties or coalitions, led by the friends of corruption and the friends of sedition; those who hope to profit from corruption and abuses and those who hope to profit from the disaffection that corruption and abuses naturally excite. Which is perceived as the party of the “Left” and which the “Right” is a matter of local circumstances.

  5. I’m going to offer a weak defense of the poor schlub you describe. What this politician lacks is an ideology and an agenda. When he takes himself off to Washington, D.C. or the state capital, his head is filled with little plans: he’s going to get more subsidies for soybean farmers, or hobble the teacher’s union, or eat a lot of good lunches on someone else’s dime. If you ask him what the US will look like in a hundred years, he’ll be bored, not excited. He’s not on a Long March. What he’s doing is, rather, more like pottering round the garden putting little things right.

    Almost all of this is admirable from what we might call the abstract conservative perspective (pardon the oxymoron). But it’s also why “conservatives,” befuddled or not, get eaten alive by the Left. It is their very nature to have no Big Plan. And the situation gets worse as time goes by, since the pottering conservative is actually working to maintain a garden laid out after the Big Plan of the Left.

    So, he really is on the Long March; he just hasn’t a clue where it’s going. He’s like the camp cook, not the man on horseback at the head of the column.

  6. As usual, JMsmith gets it right. There is no conservatism. There is the incredibly monolithic, disciplined, and ideological left and there is whatever random coalition happens to be having its ox gored right now by the left. This coalition gets arbitrarily named the right.

    One thing this means, though, is that the right can be co-opted by a small, disciplined, entryist cabal—a cabal to provide the “principles” for the Party of Principle (TM). No ideology means no ideological defenses. It’s sad that the cabal that won is the Trotskyites, but it need not always be this way. It would be nice if we had some guys to build up our own entryist cabal. People like the Jesuits. Except, you know, Catholic.

    The schlub does not need a defense. Nor does he need a criticism. Rather, he needs us to be whispering in his ear instead of Satan’s minions. Assuming democracy persists, of course.

  7. But, as you know from my Thought Prison book, I do not believe that the Right will get anywhere at all by intellectual means – for example, the philosophical political doctrines that the Right puts before the electorate are irrelevant.

    There are numerous interlinked factors preventing any effect from this strategy.

    I have several times experienced the nature of modern PC discourse unleashed on me, and I can tell you that having *all* the facts on your side and *all* good arguments makes no difference whatsoever – because PC-Leftist discourse (and its bureaucracies) simply ignores such matters as facts and reason – and I mean *completely* ignores facts and reason – such matters simply do not feature.

    The Left *will* collapse, and the PC elite *will* be replaced (I don’t know when, the process could begin today, or maybe in a decade or two?) – but they will be replaced by (what strike intellectuals as) very crude and simple ideas argued by tough common sense people – either ‘populist’ (like fascism) or by a religious regime.

  8. You’re probably right that we won’t convince too many people by pure argument. On the other hand, I think it’s important for our own sakes that we have a clear understanding of our own position. If we don’t, we’ll end up drifting toward the Left, or at least conceding foundational issues and pointlessly taking a stand on secondary ones. For example: the “tea party” resurgence of the Republican Party, where the strategy is to surrender on heterosexual marriage and fetal rights while regarding low taxes for rich people as the issue on which no compromise is possible.

  9. On reflection – another way of framing this is that the Right is spontaneous, natural, unreflective politics – and that the application of intellect, analysis, and abstraction has some kind of *intrinsic* tendency toward Leftism.

    (The Eastern Orthodox regard the Great Schism in broadly this fashion – that Scholasticism led the West in a direction which could be regarded as a kind of Leftism – or more accurately ended-up in Leftism, perhaps almost-inevitably – as I have argued.)

  10. Hi Bruce,

    Some Orthodox apologists may say this, but they’re wrong. The Left doesn’t overvalue reason; it undervalues it in favor of the will (“choice!”). I agree with Proph that the problem with the Left isn’t that they think abstractly, but that their abstract thoughts are incorrect. That the intellect precedes the will (we must apprehend the good before we choose it) is not just a psychological truth; it reflects the relation between the transcendental properties of being, as understood by the Latin Church. Truth logically precedes goodness in the order of being, as logos precedes spirit–the former participating in the procession of the latter–in the Godhead. In the social order, the Church (worship of God with the intellect) is superior to the State (worship of God by the will). The Western Church should defend these insights against the Left and (if they insist on pushing the issue and won’t settle for an alliance with us) against the Orthodox.

    Besides, I don’t see how denigrating the intellect puts the Eastern Orthodox in a better position to resist Leftism. What other weapon is there? One can’t appeal to the intuition of their mystics, because these are necessarily private and incommunicable. One can’t appeal to a faith understood as metaphor, because metaphors can’t prove that Leftism is literally false. One can’t appeal to tradition alone, because the Fathers and medievals didn’t face a Leftist onslaught. If one extracts from the tradition general principles to fight Leftism with, one has given in to abstract thought. The only other thing one can do is sit back and wait for Leftism to self-implode, and I’ve lost hope of that happening in the forseeable future.

  11. @Bonald

    I see a distinction between ‘denigrating’ the intellect and regarding it as having a very limited role in Christianity – think of that great intellectual Pascal, and his revelation of the nature of Christianity as *not* the God of the philosophers.

    And this is not about ‘resisting’ Leftism – but about discerning and adhering to the Good amongst a mass of pervasive and persuasive evil.

  12. @Bonald – and of course Aquinas’s post-revelation valuation of his own work as ‘straw’ – clearly the intellect is not *necesssary* to Christian life – it may be helpful, and it may hinder.

  13. […] war are advised to reconsider my argument for why you shouldn’t vote.  Even more relevant, here’s an old post of mine on why the Republican Party is always going off on crazy […]

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