Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Oct/10

19

The Skeptical Conservatives

skeptconCONSVLTVS of RESPVBLICA has created a nifty little badge for “Skeptical Conservatives”. The aim is to indicate a very small affinity group, bloggers and thinkers who are not religious, conservative, and, not necessarily libertarian in their presuppositions. The intersection of these traits is quite small indeed. At least in public. For myself it is rather obvious that direct electoral politics is not an animating passion of my life (you can see the more central passion on display at Discover Blogs). But by disposition and outlook I have a preference for what can loosely be termed the bourgeois world which arose in the West in the wake of the Enlightenment, and would prefer to conserve it, and at most evolve it from within. I have come to reject excessive axiomatic constructs in political theory and politics, and also believe from an empirical evolutionary perspective that the methodological individualism at the heart of modern liberalism may at root be a quirk of the preferences of the intellectual classes in general.

In any case, we are few. But we exist. And I like to think that what sometimes matters is not the most, but the best. Because of our peculiarities skeptical conservatives in some ways are the heretics of our age, and we take a little bit of pleasure in our role as the smasher of idols.

20 comments

  • panglos · October 19, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    I reiterate my position that a proper world view would be conservative ,somewhat libertarian, and absent any religion in the public sector.

    However privately, one should be secure in the right to ponder any sort of incorporeal existence.

  • kurt9 · October 20, 2010 at 3:26 am

    The basic tenet of conservatism is that large scale institutions have value. Since all large scale institutions are bureaucratic in nature, the conservative world-view, much like the liberal-left, requires a belief in the efficacy of bureaucracy. Since bureaucracy is inherently dysfunctional (this is an element of human nature), any world-view based on this belief is also non-functional.

  • Author comment by David Hume · October 20, 2010 at 4:29 am

    i bow before your syllogism kurt! 🙂

  • Clay Sills · October 20, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    As Jonah Goldberg (peace be upon him) points out in his brilliant analysis of Animal House being an awesome conservative movie (see “The Bluto-Burke Connection — Revealed!”,) conservatives value institutions to the extent that they give things that exist the benefit of the doubt. That’s certainly the extent to which I value them. Luckily, they tend to dispel doubt quickly. Viva the Skeptical Conservatives… All ten of us!

  • kurt9 · October 20, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    Conservatism is usually a discussion on the nature of community. When I think of community, I think of a group of competent, intelligent people who share a common objective and are willing to work together to accomplish that objective. This is the only concept of community that is meaningful to me. To force the competent into association with the less competent only creates a loathing hostility on the part of the former for the latter, and for the “community” at large. This, of course, make community in any meaningful sense impossible.

  • kurt9 · October 20, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    I believe that true community can only arise among individuals who have respect and admiration for each other. This can only occur among individuals of competence and efficacy and who believe in such. Cultures based on the worship of mediocrity and ineptitude create only a loathing hostility on the part of the more competent members. This, of course, make true community impossible.

    I think that Robert Heinlein understood FAR BETTER what constitutes effective communities than all of the conservative philosophers put together.

  • panglos · October 20, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    “The basic tenet of conservatism is that large scale institutions have value”

    I am not sure that is one of the most common themes.
    Conservatives do beleive in social conventions and institutions as a necessary element of society. We need them for common defense, roads, laws, courts, utilities and an esprit de corp. These institutions protect us from an otherwise life that is short and brutish.

    Beyond these necessities, I would imagine that most conservatives would like to limit the size of institutions by use of decetralized govt and free markets to control the economy.

  • Randall Parker · October 21, 2010 at 4:20 am

    Kurt says,

    When I think of community, I think of a group of competent, intelligent people who share a common objective and are willing to work together to accomplish that objective.

    So then you ignore other types of community and redefine it to refer only to the types of communities you like. Okay, but you creating your own vocabulary which just makes it harder to be understood by others.

    This is the only concept of community that is meaningful to me.

    Meaningful or attractive?

    To force the competent into association with the less competent only creates a loathing hostility on the part of the former for the latter, and for the “community” at large.

    Not always. Some people have been so brainwashed by PC thinking that they don’t feel they have a right to loath or feel hostile toward what’s imposed on them.

    As for large scale institutions: They might not work well. But they work better than anarchy. Your beliefs about a better society might enable you to feel morally superior to others. But that does not necessarily mean your preferences represent a practical alternative to the status quo.

  • kurt9 · October 21, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    Randall,

    I use the words “meaningful” and “attractive” interchangeably. For me, they are synonyms.

    The concept of community that I described previously is one that fits my needs and desires. Certainly there are other forms of community. People are free to form whatever communities that fit their needs and desires. I see no reason to personally identify with any other concept of community other than the one I defined previously.

    For what its worth, I am a law-abiding citizen. I pay my taxes and am generally a good neighbor (I keep my yard and house clean and I do not play loud music). On a personal level, I am what you would call a reasonable person of good character. Other than this, I don’t feel that I owe any special debt or obligation to those who do not share my dreams or worldview. This is the right of free association, of which I am even more defensive of than even of economic liberty. My impression of conservatism is that it seeks to screw around with my right of free association, and I find it deeply offensive.

    Panglos and Randall,

    Reasonable libertarians also believe in some of the institutions that you mention. Hayak talks about this in “The Road to Serfdom”. He talked about the need for purely public goods (i.e. roads, courts, defense, etc.) as well as a minimal social safety net.

    Perhaps you guys can tell me what institutions conservatism believes are necessary that are different than those described by Hayak in “The Road to Serfdom”. In other words, how does conservatism different from a moderate libertarian like Hayak?

  • kurt9 · October 21, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    Randall,

    I have read your blogs over the years. Given your stance on immigration, incompatibility of different cultures, and the emphasis on human capital, I would think that you would very strongly identify with the Heinleinesque concept of society comprised of competent effective individuals that I described in my earlier posting. Your response seem out of character for you.

  • martin · October 22, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    I remember somewhere in the old Iron Curtain there was a “Party For Radical Reform-But Strictly Within the Limits of the Law.”

  • John Turner · October 23, 2010 at 2:05 am

    “Viva the Skeptical Conservatives… All ten of us!”

    That should be, “all eleven of us.” I’ve just never commented here before 🙂

  • kurt9 · October 23, 2010 at 3:27 am

    Quite the contrary. People into socio-biology and HBD issues qualify as non-religious conservatives. Call them Darwinian conservatives. By this definition, I think the number of non-religious would be quite substantial.

  • John Turner · October 23, 2010 at 4:59 am

    Kurt:

    Perhaps you guys can tell me what institutions conservatism believes are necessary that are different than those described by Hayak in “The Road to Serfdom”. In other words, how does conservatism different from a moderate libertarian like Hayak?

    I can’t find the specific examples you mention of Hayak endorsing purely public goods in The Road to Serfdom, but he does state that monopolies may be necessary in some cases (whether public or private).

    For instance, he states that “there is serious reason for doubt whether even in those cases where monopoly is inevitable the best way of controlling it is to put it in the hands of the state.”

    But as to your point about the difference between moderate libs and conservatives regarding public goods: It’s an issue of degree, with a bit of overlap. Even moderate libertarians will tend to believe in the existence of fewer purely public goods than conservatives.

  • kurt9 · October 23, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Give me an example of a purely public good that conservatives are in favor of that moderate libertarians are not. Also, I would like an example of where a monopoly is beneficial in any area outside of a purely public good (courts, national defense, airline safety).

    I intensely despise monopolies and only concede their need in areas of purely public goods. Competition is better because it drives innovation which ultimately reduces cost and improves the benefit for everyone.

  • kurt9 · October 23, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    Some conservatives favor a draft, for social engineering purposes rather than for purely national defense purposes. This suggests to me that some variants of conservativism (certainly this is not true for all conservatives) are social engineering, making them essentially the same as the liberal-left.

  • panglos · October 24, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    “Perhaps you guys can tell me what institutions conservatism believes are necessary that are different than those described by Hayak…”

    Discussions here are hampered by terminology – Contintental conservative vs US conservatives vs neo vs paleo, etc.

    I adhere to “classical conservative”, a term that was in vogue in the 70’s and was little differentiated from the current “libertarian”. Milton Friedman was a classical conservative though this term barely googles now.

  • Susan · October 25, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    “Not religious, conservative, and not necessarily libertarian”…yeah, c’est moi.

    I think there may be a few more of us than Razib suggests. Of course I have no statistics to back up this belief. Just observation.

  • kurt9 · October 25, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    I think that political labels such as liberal, conservative, atheist, royalist, etc. are artificial labels that are not fundamental in nature. Strip away the labels and people fall into two distinct categories. The first believes that people must be controlled. The second has no such desire.

  • Matt Wallace · October 27, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    Interesting intersection. I’ve migrated from being a pure conservative to a libertarian as I lost my religion, and then to a “liberal” because I didn’t feel anyone politically was pursuing fiscal conservatism, and I desire the personal liberty of social liberalism. I’ll put this on my reading list for a while, at least.

    I am definitely interested in resolving the issues inherent to social liberalism and fiscal conservatism, juxtaposed with the need or lack thereof of social frameworks for order.

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