Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Stop Expecting Conservatives to Give Up Their Identities

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

Originally published at Every Joe

As a libertarian-conservative, I generally agree with the assertion put forth by my fellow ideological travelers that the left takes identity politics to an absurd extreme. Too many liberals expect fealty to an ideology of ever-expanding government as an expression of loyalty to one’s race, gender, or class. I’ve penned many a diatribe rejecting this premise, noting that it’s not only possible, but sensible to identify fully with one’s community or background while repudiating the idea that the hiring of yet another government bureaucrat is a solution to the social ill du jour. Most conservatives and libertarians, when the argument is presented in that way, will nod their heads in agreement. But when you drill down into specifics, too many appear to conflate any acknowledgment of cultural or social identity outside of their own mainstream with the left’s more extreme form of actual identity politics.

Over the last several years, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to friends made through my work in politics who come from groups that the left categorizes as marginalized. As a result, I’ve gained a great deal of valuable perspective through both these conversations themselves and observation of how these individuals are treated in the broader conservative movement. What a lot of people on the right either don’t want to see (or are blinded to due to the circumstances of their own lives) is that the left, despite their tiresome policing of language and endless desire to grow government, has a point: It is harder, on balance, for women and people of color to get ahead. It’s also true that mainstream society and politics have been, historically speaking, dominated by white men. Naturally, culture has in turn followed the same trajectory. Despite obvious social progress and inclusion of others in relatively recent history, changes in this arena never happen overnight.

To be abundantly clear, I’m not suggesting that every white man “has it easy” or that their perspectives are less valuable than anyone else’s. I’m not a fan of the left’s attempt to silence debate by saying that only certain people are allowed to hold opinions on various topics, and I’ve always been a strong advocate of honoring the hard work every person engages in, regardless of their background. But what appears to escape far too many conservatives and libertarians, is that it’s difficult for individuals from the aforementioned groups to feel welcome in a movement where too many people tell us daily that our experiences and perspectives are invalid because they stray from a mainstream that is by default, and through no individual fault of any one person, white-male centric.

When you tell a conservative woman who is inspired by Carly Fiorina’s empowering vision of what feminism ought to stand for that she’s engaging in identity politics, you’re making her feel as if she’s wrong for embracing a fundamental part of herself. When you tell a young libertarian who praises the first woman of color to win an Emmy that she must be a liberal for identifying with someone of the same background explaining how she fought against the odds to be where she is, you’re denying her the very essence of her being. When you tell a black Republican to stop talking about the violence, unrest, and police brutality he sees on the streets everyday, you’re denigrating the people and places he loves; expecting him to abandon his culture and community.

By engaging in these behaviors you are also, consciously or not, pushing people who share your overall perspective on policy away from your political movement. You’re denying those who agree with the premise that government ought to be limited, the basic dignity of a perspective that is, and should be, different from your own. What you’re ultimately doing is driving people who ought to be your allies into the arms of an abusive political relationship with the left; because at least there – authoritarian policies that damage the very people they love be damned – they aren’t constantly berated for refusing to give up who they are. And remember, most people will choose culture and community over complicated policy that almost nobody has the time to wrap their heads around. Keep that in mind the next time you look around the room at a center-right political meeting and wonder where the minorities are.

The fact is, you never hear charges of “identity politics” automatically levied at white men who happen to support or admire other white men. And to be clear, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with looking up to people who share your experiences or background; I’m acknowledging the fact that it’s natural. As people, we draw inspiration from those we identify with and strive to emulate. That’s the premise of role models. And while I agree with the quintessentially libertarian point that the smallest minority is the individual, it doesn’t mean I reject the fact that we as units make up different, diverse communities, often based on fundamental and shared characteristics.

What many on the right would do well to understand is that there’s nothing wrong with allowing people’s diverse backgrounds to shape their viewpoints and perspectives. These don’t need to be cast aside to embrace conservatism or libertarianism. Instead of rejecting anything outside of your frame of reference as “identity politics,” take a moment to listen to people who are fundamentally different from you. Perhaps you’ll learn that you too engage in your own form of “identity politics” on a daily basis – it’s just that no one notices because in doing so, you’re simply going with the mainstream flow.

And by all means, as you genuinely listen to others, particularly your fellow conservatives, continue to mock the left for its absurdities. Liberals deserve every moment of ridicule they get for their hapless policies that encourage dependency rather than progress – just as they’ve earned criticism for using the realities of what marginalized groups face as means to shut down debate and avoid political accountability. Remember though, that the left wants nothing more than for conservatives to deal with their behavior by being reactionary to the point of alienating everyone who isn’t, as they like to say, “old, rich, white, and male.” Don’t let liberals’ abuse of identity politics allow you as a conservative to fulfill their prophecy and drive those of us who don’t fit that bill out of the movement. Because the reality is, we often feel unwanted. Help to change that by opening your mind, listening to others, and creating a welcoming space for people who, in many ways are fundamentally unlike you. Absent those prerequisites, the left will win.

The Lost Ethic of Social Conservatism

Friday, May 20th, 2011

(Published at The Daily Caller, but edited heavily. This is the original.)

I’m an advocate of separating church and state, not because I necessarily worry the latter might suppress the former – but to protect the integrity of the church and related institutions in the face of federal encroachment. Unfortunately however, the buzz phrase “separation of church and state” has degenerated into a leftist talking point. This is in large part thanks to groups like the ACLU, and various SCOTUS decisions – especially Everson v. Board of Education, which mandated a ‘wall of separation’ between all church and government relations (despite prior, state level involvement), policed by the federal government.

As a result of this shift in perception toward centralization, in a self-defeating manner, contemporary social conservatives have responded by playing the opposite game. If the left is for fully separating church and state in a top down sense, then we must be for entirely conflating the two in that regard! For example, the Bush campaign’s “compassionate conservatism” that advocated policy initiatives in support of traditional families drew voters in 2000. This centralized method of dealing with social issues was apparently acceptable, no matter how much it sabotaged the ultimate goal and bastardized conservative philosophy.

Conservatives always lose when we allow the left to define the parameters of political discourse; yet we consistently permit this; often in lieu of crafting our own narratives. This has been an ongoing theme for some time, and has led to the fact that compromise always means finding a way to let the left make government a little bigger, because, well, at least it will be a bit smaller that way than if they got all of what they wanted! Alas, the left gets there incrementally as the right tacitly endorses the same methods that drive us toward inevitable implosion.

Post-Reagan, the right seems to have forgotten that constitutionally inspired small government and social conservatism are not only perfectly compatible, but naturally aligned in a philosophical sense. At its core, social conservatism values the self-determination of families; of churches; of communities. Government didn’t create those entities; why would it be fit to preserve them? History demonstrates that centralization always destroys society’s natural institutions. Authoritarianism is not, nor ever will be conservative in any intellectually honest sense.

The reason that growing up, despite having conservative instincts, I identified as a social liberal, was because I came of age in an era where social conservatism and utilizing government force to push morality were conflated. Only very recently, after studying in detail how neoconservatism redefined right-wing foreign policy, did I begin to understand how the fruits of the same philosophy impacted social conservatism by tying it to federal interventionism as well.

Noting all of this, I’ve started to depart from libertarianism in favor of traditional conservatism, because from a moral standpoint, I identify more with the latter philosophy. I’m only a libertarian insofar as I err on the side of being wary of government power and accepting of the fact that centralized force will not change other’s beliefs. Morally, I’m not liberal, or even libertarian. Perhaps in some ways, I’m more ‘tolerant’ than your run-of-the-mill social conservative; but I certainly believe in a number of absolute moral truths, in turn rejecting libertine and nihilistic viewpoints that are commonly found in libertarian circles.

Beginning to accept and understand that true conservatism is in reality, incompatible with centralized, state approved force, I’m comfortable noting where I am in fact a social conservative; despite misuse of the term that has been pervasive during the admittedly short 24 years I’ve been on this earth.

After all, what has government ever done to create, or even encourage an environment of social morality? I’d contend very little in a positive sense. The only thing government has done to social conservatism is tie it to state power in such a way as to remove the inherently grassroots and localized nature of social morality from its political philosophy. Any thoughtful and reflective social conservative who was charmed by the rhetorical promises made by Republicans in the past two decades should be capable of recognizing that at this point.

A true conservative; one who is both fiscally and socially so – or, even one who identifies only as the latter, would benefit from understanding that government can neither preserve nor push morality – it can only centralize the concept; in turn, taking away from the organic establishments that create the traditions worth conserving in the first place.

(more…)

Can Partisan Reflexes Lead to Philosophical Transformations?

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Originally posted at YALiberty.org

Congressman Justin Amash, who I’ve been praising a lot lately, has been doing a fantastic job on his Facebook page of educating people not only about the unconstitutionality of the President authorizing military strikes without congressional approval, but also regarding specific policies being pursued by the Obama administration, and the actual opinions and ties (hint: al-Qaeda) of Libyan rebel leaders. Amash has done a commendable job standing up as an indispensable voice of conservative opposition to the poorly thought out intervention in Libya – and has been influential in the face of both liberal and neoconservative praise of the operation.

Now of course, when it comes to Libya, my tried and true neoconservative friends wholeheartedly support this intervention as much as they did the policies of Bush, Bolton, Rumsfeld, etc; and honestly, I applaud them for their philosophical consistency. Their reaction, wrong as I think it may be, transcends partisanship and derives from strong convictions. Admittedly, I appreciate the intellectual honesty of it.

But, what both, somewhat confusingly, manages to frustrate and encourage me simultaneously is the seemingly partisan reaction to Obama’s Libya policy that’s currently permeating political discourse. While I was reviewing the great information Amash has posted on the matter, I came across a contributor to the conversation who applauded the Congressman for his work on the issue.However, what I found strange yet compelling was that this person went into a diatribe about how what Obama is doing in Libya can be described as nothing short of complete madness; that he’s ruining the country; that no one should have ever voted for such an imbecile; that people were warned about his incompetence during the campaign, etc. That’s all well and good – but it reeks of reactionary partisanship. Let us refresh our memories for a moment. Who was fervently calling for a “No Fly Zone” over Libya weeks before the President took a position on the matter? A certain Senator McCain.

(more…)

“There Is Danger From All Men”

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

I just rediscovered an incredible John Adams quote that I absolutely love.

Ambition is one of the more ungovernable passions of the human heart. The love of power is insatiable and uncontrollable. There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty

What a gem, huh?

The interesting thing about many of our Founders (Adams especially) was the disconnect often present between their philosophy and actions when in positions of power. Personally, I don’t think that speaks to a weakness in their character, but more so an understanding of their own lot in life; imperfect humans.

Progressive historians, like Philip Davidson and John C. Miller, who want excuses to demonize a philosophy that is antithetical to the pursuit of their agenda, often attack the individuals espousing thoughts they disagree with. I think that’s an intellectually weak and juvenile way of trying to further one’s own ideas. Sadly, it’s also something you see from today’s militantly ideological wings of both the right and the left, and it adds nothing to the political discourse.

(more…)