Commentary Magazine


Topic: Edmund Burke

Burke, Paine, and the Politics of This Era

My Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin is the author of a wonderful new book, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left. It explores the origins of the right-left divide by focusing on Burke and Paine’s dramatically opposing views. 

For example, in his chapter titled “Choice and Obligation,” Levin points out that Burke, unlike Paine, believed a “politics of choice” begins in error. “As Burke sees it, each man is in society not by choice but by birth. And the facts of his birth – the family, the station, and the nation he is born into – exert inescapable demands on him, while also granting him some privileges and protections that the newborn has, of course, done nothing to earn.”

Levin then writes this:

Just as Paine’s understanding of rights and choice sits at the heart of his political thought, so this vision of obligations not chosen but nevertheless binding forms the very core of Edmund Burke’s moral and political philosophy. Almost everything else flows out of it. To understand the human situation this way – as existing in a web of embedded obligations flowing out of our natural and social circumstances and setting the form of our lives and the shape of our society – is implicitly to deny Enlightenment liberalism’s emphasis on choice. But this view of binding obligations also tries to ground a theory of human relations in human life as we find it, rather than in an internally consistent but highly abstract set of ideal principles.

Many of our most important human relationships and circumstances, then, are not a matter of choice. “We have obligations to mankind at large, which are not in consequence of any special voluntary pact,” according to Burke. They are based on prior and even compulsory obligations.

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My Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin is the author of a wonderful new book, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left. It explores the origins of the right-left divide by focusing on Burke and Paine’s dramatically opposing views. 

For example, in his chapter titled “Choice and Obligation,” Levin points out that Burke, unlike Paine, believed a “politics of choice” begins in error. “As Burke sees it, each man is in society not by choice but by birth. And the facts of his birth – the family, the station, and the nation he is born into – exert inescapable demands on him, while also granting him some privileges and protections that the newborn has, of course, done nothing to earn.”

Levin then writes this:

Just as Paine’s understanding of rights and choice sits at the heart of his political thought, so this vision of obligations not chosen but nevertheless binding forms the very core of Edmund Burke’s moral and political philosophy. Almost everything else flows out of it. To understand the human situation this way – as existing in a web of embedded obligations flowing out of our natural and social circumstances and setting the form of our lives and the shape of our society – is implicitly to deny Enlightenment liberalism’s emphasis on choice. But this view of binding obligations also tries to ground a theory of human relations in human life as we find it, rather than in an internally consistent but highly abstract set of ideal principles.

Many of our most important human relationships and circumstances, then, are not a matter of choice. “We have obligations to mankind at large, which are not in consequence of any special voluntary pact,” according to Burke. They are based on prior and even compulsory obligations.

Related to this is the importance of restraint in a free society. “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites,” is how Burke famously put it. Precisely how society ought to balance liberty and restraint is a matter of prudence, not principle. “The calculus of prudence aims not to maximize choice,” according to Levin, “but to meet the true wants of the people, as these emerge from the complex and layered society that Burke describes.”

Which leads to a final point about Burke’s effort to define liberty in a particular way–a liberty that is “not solitary, unconnected, individual, selfish liberty, as if every man was to regulate the whole of his conduct by his own will. The liberty I mean is social freedom. It is that state of things in which liberty is assured by the equality of restraint…. This kind of liberty is indeed but another name for justice; ascertained by wise laws, and secured by well-constructed institutions.” Burke, in reflecting on the French Revolution, described liberty without wisdom and virtue as “the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.” (The French Revolution horrified Burke, of course, while Paine was an enthusiastic supporter of it.)

Burke’s perspective is clearly a challenge to many ways of modern thinking, where virtually any constraint on choice, freedom, and individualism are viewed as oppressive and unjust. Even within conservatism one can tell how far we have drifted away from some of Burke’s most basic attitudes.

Many on the right speak about liberty as an unqualified good, with hardly (if ever) a mention of the dangers of “selfish liberty” and the importance of reciprocal obligations, the role politics plays in reinforcing our common bonds and the role the state plays in reinforcing the common good. There is a fuller and richer conservative tradition, as embodied by Burke, that’s worth reclaiming.  

In this elegantly written and engaging book, Yuval Levin explains why the disagreements between Burke and Paine have helped to define the politics of this era, why “political events are always tied up with political ideas,” and why reflecting on the deep, permanent questions of human life and human society still matters.

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ObamaCare, Religious Liberty, and a Crucial Supreme Court Showdown

The fact that the Supreme Court will hear a religious freedom-based challenge to the ObamaCare contraception mandate is the kind of story that possesses significance likely beyond any volume of coverage it will receive. Indeed, while liberal activists will repeatedly try to cast this in the mold of the fictional “war on women,” their own arguments reveal just how far-reaching a definitive ruling on this would be for American religious and political practice.

Thus it is instructive to listen to how the left frames the debate. To do this, it will be important to look beyond the “corporations aren’t people” argument that the left typically employs when asking the courts to remove First Amendment rights from individuals who coordinate their activities through an organized group. This argument is exceptionally weak; as Ilya Shapiro explained in the wake of the liberal hysterics over Citizens United, no one argues that companies don’t have, say, Fourth Amendment or Fifth Amendment rights.

So the left moves then from explicitly trying to revoke the constitutional rights of those with whom they disagree to the claim of protecting their own rights. This is when the left is at its most revealing, for liberals have a curious definition of rights. Last night, the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney debated birth-control activist Sandra Fluke on MSNBC on the topic. Carney said that if the government wants to claim a compelling interest in the provision of free birth control, they also must argue there was no less intrusive way to provide it. There are obviously less intrusive ways than this ObamaCare contraception mandate.

Fluke responded that one less-intrusive way would be to have the government simply provide birth control directly, but complained that conservatives are cutting back on funding for such public programs. Then, as Ryan Moy pointed out after the broadcast, Fluke said this:

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The fact that the Supreme Court will hear a religious freedom-based challenge to the ObamaCare contraception mandate is the kind of story that possesses significance likely beyond any volume of coverage it will receive. Indeed, while liberal activists will repeatedly try to cast this in the mold of the fictional “war on women,” their own arguments reveal just how far-reaching a definitive ruling on this would be for American religious and political practice.

Thus it is instructive to listen to how the left frames the debate. To do this, it will be important to look beyond the “corporations aren’t people” argument that the left typically employs when asking the courts to remove First Amendment rights from individuals who coordinate their activities through an organized group. This argument is exceptionally weak; as Ilya Shapiro explained in the wake of the liberal hysterics over Citizens United, no one argues that companies don’t have, say, Fourth Amendment or Fifth Amendment rights.

So the left moves then from explicitly trying to revoke the constitutional rights of those with whom they disagree to the claim of protecting their own rights. This is when the left is at its most revealing, for liberals have a curious definition of rights. Last night, the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney debated birth-control activist Sandra Fluke on MSNBC on the topic. Carney said that if the government wants to claim a compelling interest in the provision of free birth control, they also must argue there was no less intrusive way to provide it. There are obviously less intrusive ways than this ObamaCare contraception mandate.

Fluke responded that one less-intrusive way would be to have the government simply provide birth control directly, but complained that conservatives are cutting back on funding for such public programs. Then, as Ryan Moy pointed out after the broadcast, Fluke said this:

So there’s an attack on allowing employers to be required to provide this insurance coverage on insurance that employees pay for, at the same time that there’s an attack on public availability through clinics.

One more time: there’s an attack on allowing employers to be required to provide this insurance. To the left, there is no freedom without government coercion. This is either incoherent or Orwellian, or both. But that’s the argument the left is running with: they want you to be forced to provide the funding for even their most private activities; only then will you be truly free.

But Fluke isn’t the only one making this argument. Mediaite has the video of an MSNBC roundtable on the issue, in which the panelists are panicked at the thought of affording Americans full religious liberty because, essentially, it’s then a slippery slope to protecting all constitutional rights. And then–mayhem, or something:

“This is another reason why we should have moved toward a single payer system of health coverage, because we’re just going to end up with one challenge after another – whether it’s in the courts or outside of the courts – and I just don’t see an end to this,” Herbert submitted.

“We’re already on the slippery slope of corporate personhood,” he continued. “Where does it end?”

“Where does it end” is the attention-getter in that comment, but I think Herbert’s plea for single-payer health insurance is just as telling. Put the government in charge of the country’s health care, Herbert argues, because then it will be much more difficult for Americans to “challenge” the government’s infringement on their freedom. It’s not just legal challenges either. Herbert says those challenges can be brought “in the courts or outside of the courts,” the latter perhaps an allusion to the shady world of participatory democracy.

So this is much more than a fight over birth control, or even health insurance. It’s about two fundamentally different views on American constitutional freedoms. Conservatives want those freedoms to be expansive and protected, as the Founders did. Liberals want those freedoms to be curtailed lest the citizenry get greedy or the democratic process imperil the state’s coercive powers.

The Founders saw religious freedom as elemental to personal liberty in America. But they were not alone in thinking that unimpeded religious worship was a guard against an overly ambitious or arrogant national government. As Michael Burleigh writes about the role of religion in post-French Revolution European politics, with a supporting quote from Edmund Burke:

The political function of religion was not simply to keep the lower orders quiescent, as has been tiresomely argued by generations of Marxists, but also to impress upon those who had power that they were here today and gone tomorrow, and responsible to those below and Him above: ‘All persons possessing any portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed with an idea that they act in trust, and that they are to account for their conduct in that trust to the one great Master, Author, and Founder of society.’

Religion was not the “opiate of the people,” intended to keep them in line. It was, rather, to keep the government in line. This was not a revolutionary idea; it predated the American Constitution, certainly. As Francis Fukuyama writes in The Origins of Political Order: “The existence of a separate religious authority accustomed rulers to the idea that they were not the ultimate source of the law. The assertion of Frederic Maitland that no English king ever believed that he was above the law could not be said of any Chinese emperor, who recognized no law other than those he himself made.”

A battle over the constitutional protection of religious liberty is not an abstraction nor, as in cases like the birth-control mandate, a minor social-issue front in the culture war. Such battles go to the heart of how we seek to govern ourselves and how we understand the fundamental documents that serve as the explication of our national political identity. Americans should watch this case closely and take its implications seriously.

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Conservatives and the Excommunication Temptation

Earlier this week I appeared on a panel discussion hosted by the Heritage Foundation on “The Conservative Mind at 60.” During the event I highlighted three themes that appear in Russell Kirk’s A Conservative Mind (published in 1953) and made the case for why those insights are still crucial to the health and wellbeing of modern conservatism.

As for the themes themselves, Dr. Kirk was a great proponent of prudence, so much so that he listed it among his canons of conservative thought. He wrote about the importance of recognizing that “change may not always be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress. Society must alter, for prudent change is the means of social preservation; but a statesman must take Providence into his calculations, and a statesman’s chief virtue, according to Plato and Burke, is prudence.”

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Earlier this week I appeared on a panel discussion hosted by the Heritage Foundation on “The Conservative Mind at 60.” During the event I highlighted three themes that appear in Russell Kirk’s A Conservative Mind (published in 1953) and made the case for why those insights are still crucial to the health and wellbeing of modern conservatism.

As for the themes themselves, Dr. Kirk was a great proponent of prudence, so much so that he listed it among his canons of conservative thought. He wrote about the importance of recognizing that “change may not always be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress. Society must alter, for prudent change is the means of social preservation; but a statesman must take Providence into his calculations, and a statesman’s chief virtue, according to Plato and Burke, is prudence.”

Here is how the aforementioned Edmund Burke put it: “The lines of morality are not like the ideal lines of mathematics. They admit of exceptions, they demand modifications. These exceptions and modifications are not made by the process of logic but by the rules of prudence.”



So prudence – not pugilism, not purity – is the cardinal political virtue. Practical wisdom, practical judgment, the ability to take the appropriate action at a given place and time, was considered by the ancient Greeks, by Christian philosophers, and by statesmen like Burke and Lincoln to be of supreme worth and value.

A second theme that runs throughout The Conservative Mind is the importance of taking into account particular circumstances when applying political principles. Dr. Kirk pointed out that Burke based his every important decision upon a close examination of particulars. Burke detested “metaphysical politicians” and “abstraction” – by which he meant, according to Kirk, “not principle, but rather vainglorious generalization without respect for human frailty and the particular circumstances of an age and nation.” And so, Kirk argued, principles are necessary but they must be applied discreetly and with infinite caution to the workaday world.

This leads to a third set of insights by Kirk, which is that human nature suffers irremediably from certain faults; that to aim for utopia is to end in disaster; that we are not made for perfect things; and that all we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society. In other words, we should not expect perfection in a fallen world – not from us, and not from others.

Which brings me to the here and now. There exists what might be called a conservative temperament. To be sure, such a temperament doesn’t preclude one from engaging in debates, with passion and conviction, to advance what one believes to be right. But what I do think is problematic are those who desire to excommunicate from the ranks those they perceive as apostates.

What do I have in mind? One example is the targeting of Representative Pete Sessions of Texas. As this article makes clear, Sessions, a rock-solid conservative who has a 97 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, is under assault from a super PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund, for being a “Texas RINO” (Republican in Name Only) and a “wishy-washy” Republican who is willing to “destroy our freedoms.” And what is the grave and unforgivable offense committed by Sessions? He opposed the effort by Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and others to shut down the government if the Affordable Care Act isn’t defunded. (As the Wall Street Journal points out in this editorial, this gambit is premised on the belief that “if the House holds ‘firm’ amid a shutdown, then the public will eventually blame Mr. Obama and the Democrats, who will then fold and defund ObamaCare.” Which is about as likely as yours truly becoming the starting center for the Miami Heat next year.)

This excommunication impulse is becoming increasingly dominant within some conservative quarters. The issue is framed as a “litmus test” and conservatives are being told by prominent figures within conservatism that any Republican who votes against the Cruz strategy is not worth voting for ever again.

That position strikes me as injudicious. If a similar litmus test had been applied to Ronald Reagan when he was governor of California, when he signed into law a record tax hike and liberalized California’s abortion law, he would have been deemed insufficiently “pure” and unworthy of support.

Senators Tom Coburn, Jeff Flake, and John Cornyn – as well as scores of their colleagues in Congress – are hardly traitors to conservatism and the cause of self-government. They have not, in the words of a FreedomWorks fundraising e-mail, “betrayed you.” They simply opposed what they considered to be a bad (and fated-to-fail) idea. I believe they were right to do so; others obviously disagree. But the disagreement shouldn’t rise to the political equivalent of a capital offense.  

People should be judged in the totality of their acts. And the effort to portray the Cruz maneuver as a litmus test dividing real conservatives from RINOs is misguided. On some fundamental level it is also, I believe, at odds with conservatism as understood by many of its greatest exponents. It’s time to return prudence to its proper place in the conservative pantheon.

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What Is True Conservatism?

In a recent column, Michael Gerson wrote about modern conservatism’s “two distinct architectural styles.” One approach within conservatism, he said, celebrates those who seek to apply abstract principles in their purest form. The alternative approach is more disposed toward compromise, incremental progress and taking into account shifting circumstances.

What’s worth noting, I think, is that many of those in the first camp consider themselves to be more principled and authentically conservative than those in the second, who are often derided as RINOs and “squishes,” as part of the much-derided “establishment” and who go along to get along. These politicians continually back away from fights like shutting down the federal government, preventing an increase in the debt ceiling, going over the fiscal cliff and filibustering background checks. The failure to engage these battles, and many others, is a sign of infidelity to conservatism.

Now, it’s not as if this critique never applies. There are certainly Republicans who claim to be conservative but don’t have deep convictions, who are in politics not because they care about advancing ideas as much as they care about power and titles. But what is of more interest to me is the divide over what a genuine conservative temperament and cast of mind is. A new book on Edmund Burke, by the British MP Jesse Norman, helps illuminate this matter. Given the contours of the current debate, it’s worth recalling what Burke, whom Norman refers to as “the first conservative,” actually believed.

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In a recent column, Michael Gerson wrote about modern conservatism’s “two distinct architectural styles.” One approach within conservatism, he said, celebrates those who seek to apply abstract principles in their purest form. The alternative approach is more disposed toward compromise, incremental progress and taking into account shifting circumstances.

What’s worth noting, I think, is that many of those in the first camp consider themselves to be more principled and authentically conservative than those in the second, who are often derided as RINOs and “squishes,” as part of the much-derided “establishment” and who go along to get along. These politicians continually back away from fights like shutting down the federal government, preventing an increase in the debt ceiling, going over the fiscal cliff and filibustering background checks. The failure to engage these battles, and many others, is a sign of infidelity to conservatism.

Now, it’s not as if this critique never applies. There are certainly Republicans who claim to be conservative but don’t have deep convictions, who are in politics not because they care about advancing ideas as much as they care about power and titles. But what is of more interest to me is the divide over what a genuine conservative temperament and cast of mind is. A new book on Edmund Burke, by the British MP Jesse Norman, helps illuminate this matter. Given the contours of the current debate, it’s worth recalling what Burke, whom Norman refers to as “the first conservative,” actually believed.

Let’s start with moderation, a word many modern-day conservatives instinctively recoil from but which Burke referred to as “a virtue not only amiable but powerful. It is a disposing, arranging, conciliating, cementing virtue.”

According to Norman, Burke believed the proper attitude of those who aspire to power is “humility, modesty and a sense of public duty.” He was “anti-ideological in spirit,” deeply distrustful of zealotry and believed self-correcting reforms, while certainly necessary, should be limited, discriminating, and proportionate. For Burke, Norman argues, universal principles were never sufficient in themselves to guide practical deliberation. 

“Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect,” according to Burke. “The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.”

“The lines of morality are not like the ideal lines of mathematics,” he wrote elsewhere. “They admit of exceptions, they demand modifications. These exceptions and modifications are not made by the process of logic but by the rules of prudence.”

A Burkean approach would never insist on absolute consistency in conducting human affairs. Politics is about carefully balancing competing principles, ever alert to the dangers posed by unintended consequences. It involves taking into account public sentiments, what Burke called the “temper of the people.” Nor is politics ever as simple as saying we believe in liberty and limited government and therefore the application of those principles is self-evident. Burke’s view, according to Norman, is that “perfection is not given to man, and so politics is an intrinsically messy business… The function of politics, then, is primarily one of reconciliation and enablement.” What deeply concerned Burke were people of “intemperate minds.” What is required of statesmen is wisdom and good judgment, sobriety, foresight and prudence.

Now Burke’s interpretation of conservatism was not written on stone tablets delivered on Mt. Sinai–and even if it were, merely to invoke Burke does not mean one is properly applying his insights to the here and now. But it does strike me that as this debate intensifies, and as various people lay claim to being the True Conservatives, it’s worth reminding ourselves what the greatest exponent of conservatism actually believed.

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Politics, Perceptions, and Optical Illusions

One of the things that has long intrigued me is how people of different political and ideological attitudes can look at the same set of facts and interpret them in entirely different ways.

For example, it’s no secret to readers of this site that I’m a conservative who views a whole range of issues–the size and reach of government, taxes, entitlement programs, education, immigration, health care, abortion, America’s role in world affairs, and so forth–in a particular way. One of my long-time friends, a man who has played a significant role in my Christian faith, is a liberal who disagrees with me on virtually everything having to do with politics. He’s smart, informed, and has integrity. We’ve had good, rich conversations over the years. Yet there’s very little common political ground we share.

We simply look at the same issues, the same events, in a fundamentally different way.

I thought about my friend while reading Jesse Norman’s outstanding biography Edmund Burke: The First Conservative. In the second half of the book, devoted to Burke’s political philosophy, Norman invokes the Muller-Lyer illusion, a benchmark of human visual perception in which two lines of the same length appear to be of different lengths, based on whether the fins of an arrow are facing inward or outward.

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One of the things that has long intrigued me is how people of different political and ideological attitudes can look at the same set of facts and interpret them in entirely different ways.

For example, it’s no secret to readers of this site that I’m a conservative who views a whole range of issues–the size and reach of government, taxes, entitlement programs, education, immigration, health care, abortion, America’s role in world affairs, and so forth–in a particular way. One of my long-time friends, a man who has played a significant role in my Christian faith, is a liberal who disagrees with me on virtually everything having to do with politics. He’s smart, informed, and has integrity. We’ve had good, rich conversations over the years. Yet there’s very little common political ground we share.

We simply look at the same issues, the same events, in a fundamentally different way.

I thought about my friend while reading Jesse Norman’s outstanding biography Edmund Burke: The First Conservative. In the second half of the book, devoted to Burke’s political philosophy, Norman invokes the Muller-Lyer illusion, a benchmark of human visual perception in which two lines of the same length appear to be of different lengths, based on whether the fins of an arrow are facing inward or outward.

Now there are different theories as to what explains variations in perception, but what we do know is that different cultures perceive the illustrations in substantially different ways. For example, as Norman explains, Europeans and Americans are much more likely to believe the shaft of one arrow is longer (by as much as 20 percent) than the shaft of another. The San foragers of the Kalahari desert, on the other hand, aren’t susceptible to the illusion; for them, the lines (correctly) look the same length. One possible explanation for this is that the more one lives in a “carpentered world,” one with straight lines, right angles, and square corners, the more likely one is to be fooled.

Jesse Norman writes, “Even humans’ visual perceptions appear to be partly culturally determined. People from other cultures literally see things differently.” Norman goes on to write something Burke understood as well as anyone ever has: “culture matters.”

Now, this doesn’t mean that culture is all that matters. Or that all perceptions are equally valid or equally right. Or that there is no objective truth. Or that there’s not a basic core to human nature or common attitudes that are shared across nearly all cultures.

But there is a useful analogy that can be drawn from this optical illusion for our understanding of political debates. American liberals and conservatives live in the same country, but they often perceive things in fundamentally different ways. We mistakenly believe that those we disagree with politically have the same interpretive lens we do. We see something happening and consider it unfair or unjust. And because we assume others see the same thing we do, we’re agitated, even angered, because they draw different conclusions from ours. That is to say, we assume others see the same injustice we do and therefore ought to react the same way we do. If not, the explanation must be indifference, or worse. To embrace a different view than ours is therefore not just an analytical mistake; it’s a moral failure. Which explains why political debates so often degenerate into ad hominem attacks.

What often happens, in fact, is that we view the same event from alternate angles. The light refracts differently for those on the left, in the middle, and on the right. One person sees the issue of gay marriage as a matter of equality and human dignity; another person sees it as a matter of teleology, the complementarity of the sexes, and the welfare of a vital institution. A person on the right might have viewed Bill Clinton’s actions in the aftermath of his affair with Monica Lewinsky as a crime that deserved impeachment and conviction; a person on the left might have believed it was an example of a right-wing conspiracy run amok which resulted in prosecutorial overreach.

Another concrete example is welfare reform in the mid-1990s. Conservatives favored it because they believed it would help end a pernicious culture of dependency; liberals opposed it because they thought it would do terrible harm to poor children. If as a liberal you assumed conservatives perceived things as you do–if you assumed they knew, deep in their hearts, that millions of children would join the ranks of the homeless if welfare reform were passed into law but still didn’t care–it would be easy to think conservatives were cruel. Easy and unfair. This kind of thing happens on both sides.

Which brings me back to my friend. I’m convinced he’s wrong and that I have the better arguments. But I have no doubt that he’s a person who cares about justice and the good of society. Yet for a host of complicated reasons, we simply view the (political) world in vastly different ways. We’ve had some intense disagreements over the years, but our friendship has never frayed. Why? Because we both accept that we’re seeing the same set of facts but almost instantaneously we begin to interpret them in very different ways. Which leads me to a couple of conclusions.

The first is that I’d be wise to more often–not always, but more often–give the benefit of the doubt to others as I do to my friend. The second is that some of our most important political work is cultural in nature, by which I mean shaping our deepest perceptions and worldviews. Different moral and philosophical presuppositions lead to very different views on public policy matters. We tend to have intense debates about the latter without properly taking into account the former. We might want to try it the other way around, if only to clarify our differences and upgrade our public debates. But of course all of this needs to be done in a responsible way, with a touch of grace and propriety. Otherwise we could all end up sounding like this.

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Conservatism and the Limitations of Self-Reliance

In the Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore has written a review of Jesse Norman’s new biography on the man Norman refers to as “the first conservative,” Edmund Burke (h/t Peggy Noonan).

Mr. Moore’s review includes this elegant conclusion:

As his struggles for America, Ireland and Corsica showed, Burke was no automatic defender of existing authority. But what he understood, and expressed with immense rhetorical power, was how human beings stand in relation to one another. Although they are morally autonomous individuals, they do not – cannot – live in isolation. In our language, laws, institutions, religion, and in our families, we are part of a continuum.

Society is ”a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born’’. It is not society that keeps mankind in chains, but the pretence that now is the only time that matters. Almost every piece of rot you hear in politics comes from those who wish to lock man into what WH Auden called ”the prison of his days’’. It is comforting that the Burkean Jesse Norman is in the House of Commons to tell them when they are wrong.

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In the Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore has written a review of Jesse Norman’s new biography on the man Norman refers to as “the first conservative,” Edmund Burke (h/t Peggy Noonan).

Mr. Moore’s review includes this elegant conclusion:

As his struggles for America, Ireland and Corsica showed, Burke was no automatic defender of existing authority. But what he understood, and expressed with immense rhetorical power, was how human beings stand in relation to one another. Although they are morally autonomous individuals, they do not – cannot – live in isolation. In our language, laws, institutions, religion, and in our families, we are part of a continuum.

Society is ”a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born’’. It is not society that keeps mankind in chains, but the pretence that now is the only time that matters. Almost every piece of rot you hear in politics comes from those who wish to lock man into what WH Auden called ”the prison of his days’’. It is comforting that the Burkean Jesse Norman is in the House of Commons to tell them when they are wrong.

It strikes me that this ancient insight–of how we do not live in isolation, that we are part of a continuum–has been a bit neglected by American conservatives in recent years. The emphasis one hears these days has to do almost solely with liberty, which of course is vital. But there is also the trap of hyper-individualism. What’s missing, I think, is an appropriate appreciation–or at least a public appreciation–for community, social solidarity, and the common good; for the obligations and attachments we have to each other and the role institutions play in forming those attachments.

It’s not exactly clear to me why conservatives have neglected these matters. It may be the result of a counter-reaction to President Obama’s expansion of the size, scope, and reach of the federal government, combined with a growing libertarian impulse within conservatism. Whatever the explanation, conservatives are making an error–a political error, a philosophical error, a human error–in ignoring (at least in our public language) this understanding of the richness and fullness of life.

Conservatism has never been simply about being left alone. It is not exclusively about self-reliance, individual drive and “rugged individualism,” as important as these things are. We need to be careful about portraying life in a constricted way, since our characters and personalities and sensibilities are shaped by so many other factors and forces and people all along the way.

Self-reliance surely has a place in our lives. But we also rely on families and friends–and for many of us, on a community of fellow believers–to help us walk through periods of doubt and hardship and failure, as well as to share in our joys and achievements and milestones. We are a part of the main. And I imagine most of us are far more dependent than we ever fully admit on the grace and generosity, the sacrifice and love of others.

Less often than I should, when recalling the most important and supportive people in my life–the ones who have left an imprint on me that will never fade and blessed me in ways I can never fully repay–I have thought back to the words of St. Paul, in his letter to the saints at Philippi: “I thank my God upon my every remembrance of you.”

The human loves, C.S. Lewis said, can be glorious images of Divine love. We depend on both, and we should probably say so more often than we do.

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There’s More to the “Flip-Flopper” Label

In March 2010, Jim Geraghty published what was, to that point, “The Complete List of Obama Statement Expiration Dates.” It listed about 25 or so promises the president broke in his first year in office, plus an addendum of about 20 promises that “expired” during the campaign. In the two years since, there have been more, which Geraghty has documented as well. And the most recent of these has also become the most famous: President Obama’s self-proclaimed “evolution” on the issue of gay marriage.

Unlike his opponent, however, the media has resolutely refused to trifle the president with the appropriate label: the president is quite clearly a “flip-flopper.” Why the double standard? There is more to it than the obvious media bias.

As the Washington Post notes in an interesting article on the subject (please ignore the Post’s unforgivable headline), since John Kerry and, to a lesser extent, Al Gore, were cast as craven opportunists, it is not enough that Romney is a Republican and Obama a Democrat. But those party tags do actually factor into it, the article finds, though not simply because of the visible press bias. The article describes a new study based on an experiment testing voters’ reactions to flip-floppery, in which they are asked to react to one political type who promises to change his positions as the people do, and the other who promises to stay true to his principles:

These candidates represent a classic argument in political philosophy between the view of John Stuart Mill, the British philosopher who said that democratically elected officials should reflect constituents’ views, and that of Edmund Burke, the Irish-born political thinker who argued that we elect representatives with strong values so they will follow their principles.

Voters who preferred Candidate B — Burke’s view — responded much more negatively to candidates who changed their minds on issues, said Barker, director-designate of the Institute for Social Research at California State University at Sacramento. Those voters generally prefer conservative Republicans and are more likely to rely on religious faith to guide their political choices.

Voters who preferred Candidate A — Mill’s view — were much more accepting of candidates who flipped on issues. These voters, mostly drawn to more liberal, Democratic candidates, tend to be more secular and believe that as the people’s views shift, so should their leaders’.

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In March 2010, Jim Geraghty published what was, to that point, “The Complete List of Obama Statement Expiration Dates.” It listed about 25 or so promises the president broke in his first year in office, plus an addendum of about 20 promises that “expired” during the campaign. In the two years since, there have been more, which Geraghty has documented as well. And the most recent of these has also become the most famous: President Obama’s self-proclaimed “evolution” on the issue of gay marriage.

Unlike his opponent, however, the media has resolutely refused to trifle the president with the appropriate label: the president is quite clearly a “flip-flopper.” Why the double standard? There is more to it than the obvious media bias.

As the Washington Post notes in an interesting article on the subject (please ignore the Post’s unforgivable headline), since John Kerry and, to a lesser extent, Al Gore, were cast as craven opportunists, it is not enough that Romney is a Republican and Obama a Democrat. But those party tags do actually factor into it, the article finds, though not simply because of the visible press bias. The article describes a new study based on an experiment testing voters’ reactions to flip-floppery, in which they are asked to react to one political type who promises to change his positions as the people do, and the other who promises to stay true to his principles:

These candidates represent a classic argument in political philosophy between the view of John Stuart Mill, the British philosopher who said that democratically elected officials should reflect constituents’ views, and that of Edmund Burke, the Irish-born political thinker who argued that we elect representatives with strong values so they will follow their principles.

Voters who preferred Candidate B — Burke’s view — responded much more negatively to candidates who changed their minds on issues, said Barker, director-designate of the Institute for Social Research at California State University at Sacramento. Those voters generally prefer conservative Republicans and are more likely to rely on religious faith to guide their political choices.

Voters who preferred Candidate A — Mill’s view — were much more accepting of candidates who flipped on issues. These voters, mostly drawn to more liberal, Democratic candidates, tend to be more secular and believe that as the people’s views shift, so should their leaders’.

That conservatives were more drawn to a Burkean philosophy on governing isn’t too surprising. Far more interesting is the finding that liberals are much less likely to object to flip-flopping in the first place.

This helps explain why someone like John Kerry–a starkly unlikable figure for whom the label “flip-flopper” seemed particularly apt–could win the Democratic nomination despite all the obvious red flags of his candidacy. It also helps explain why Mitt Romney had such difficulty winning the Republican nomination even though he had a four-year head start and aside from Rick Perry, who possessed a strong record but who stumbled badly in the debates, the path seemed clear for Romney. He struggled not against other strong candidacies but the popular composite candidate known as Not Romney.

It is conservatives, therefore, who branded Romney a flip-flopper long before he had the chance to face John Kerry’s fate of being so labeled during the general election. The right, not nearly so tolerant of unprincipled politicians as the left, immediately flagged what seemed like Romney’s politics of convenience.

The other key takeaway from this is that it surely depends on which issues a candidate flip-flops. The Post article, to emphasize this, begins with Abraham Lincoln’s flip-flop on federal intervention to free slaves. But here is how the Post frames the other element in choosing the “right” issue on which to evolve:

In the end, voters are especially willing to accept a shift in politicians’ positions “if it’s an issue where the public has evolved in its own thinking,” Garin said.

With this in mind, it’s useful to look at two of the candidates’ more controversial changes. Obama’s switch on gay marriage, polls indicate, show him to be swimming with the tide. The public on the whole may not be overwhelmingly in favor of gay marriage, but the trend is toward wider acceptance. It is logical to expect those who have undergone similar “evolutions” on the policy to give the president the benefit of the doubt here.

Romney’s more controversial change, however, is on abortion. It’s true that he has embraced the pro-life position, but voters–especially those on the right–remain skeptical. As such, he may be swimming with the tide–self-identified pro-life voters are increasing, while pro-choice voters are decreasing–but conservative doubt prevents him from fully capitalizing on the switch.

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Read the Great Thinkers You Quote Before You Quote Them

In his column, E.J. Dionne Jr. cites the founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, in order to criticize Republicans. Unfortunately for Dionne, there are some Burke scholars out there who are actually familiar with Burke’s words and the context in which they were spoken. They don’t rely on Bartlett’s when they invoke Burke. And in this instance, Burke was making quite a different argument than Dionne portrays.

Dionne also writes this:

Alas for all of us and for American conservatism in particular, the new Republican majority that took control of the House on Wednesday is embarked on an experiment in government by abstractions. Many in its ranks pride themselves on being practical business people, but they behave as professors in thrall to a few thrilling ideas.

Here Dionne is reverting to what is, for him, a polemical reflex: citing conservatives in the past to berate conservatives of the present, usually for not being “true” conservatives. I recall in the 1990s discussing welfare reform with E.J., who was a passionate critics of it. In making his argument against welfare reform, Dionne invoked … Edmund Burke. I didn’t find that argument persuasive then, and it’s even less persuasive now. Welfare reform turns out to have been one of the great social policy successes of the last half-century. That’s worth bearing in mind when, down the road, Dionne once again casts himself in the role of the arbiter of true conservatism.

In his column, E.J. Dionne Jr. cites the founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, in order to criticize Republicans. Unfortunately for Dionne, there are some Burke scholars out there who are actually familiar with Burke’s words and the context in which they were spoken. They don’t rely on Bartlett’s when they invoke Burke. And in this instance, Burke was making quite a different argument than Dionne portrays.

Dionne also writes this:

Alas for all of us and for American conservatism in particular, the new Republican majority that took control of the House on Wednesday is embarked on an experiment in government by abstractions. Many in its ranks pride themselves on being practical business people, but they behave as professors in thrall to a few thrilling ideas.

Here Dionne is reverting to what is, for him, a polemical reflex: citing conservatives in the past to berate conservatives of the present, usually for not being “true” conservatives. I recall in the 1990s discussing welfare reform with E.J., who was a passionate critics of it. In making his argument against welfare reform, Dionne invoked … Edmund Burke. I didn’t find that argument persuasive then, and it’s even less persuasive now. Welfare reform turns out to have been one of the great social policy successes of the last half-century. That’s worth bearing in mind when, down the road, Dionne once again casts himself in the role of the arbiter of true conservatism.

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Thinking Deeply About Government’s Purpose, Not Just Its Size

My Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin, who is also editor of National Affairs, was interviewed by ConservativeHome’s Ryan Streeter. Yuval’s insights are typically wise and learned. I was particularly interested in his response to the question “If you could wave a wand and change one thing about the GOP, what would it be?” According to Yuval:

I would make it so that every time we are tempted to talk about the size of government we talk also (and more so) about the purpose of government. This would make us more focused on policy particulars than on vague abstractions, better able to offer an alternative to the left’s agenda rather than just slowing the pace of its implementation, and better able to speak to the aspirations of the larger public.

The out-of-control size and cost of government today are symptoms of the fact that we have lost sight of the question of what government is for. The answer to that question is not “nothing,” after all. But it is also not “everything.” A basic answer to that question, rather, is laid out pretty well in Article I, section 8 of the United States Constitution. Maybe modern life has piled some complexities and difficulties on us that require some additions to the list presented there, and of course the Constitution contains a mechanism for making such additions. But as long as we are obsessed with how much it all costs we are not able to focus on the more important question of how to make government more effective and energetic in those areas where we want it to act, and how to keep it from acting in those areas where we don’t (and where we therefore think that families, communities, and other mediating institutions should act instead).

This counsel is extremely wise. It is not as if the size of government is irrelevant; far from it. There are important fiscal and moral ramifications created by a “nanny state.” But to focus solely on the size of government rather than on its core purposes is a mistake, both philosophically and politically. God willed the state, as Edmund Burke put it; but what does He want the state to achieve? This is hardly a new question, but it is one that every serious student of politics needs to engage.

As a practical matter, take the issue of order. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention,” John Jay wrote in Federalist Paper No. 3, “that of providing for their safety seems to be the first.” The “tranquility of order” (the phrase comes from Augustine) is the first responsibility of government; without it, we can hardly expect things like justice, prosperity, or virtue to flourish. Order, in turn, cannot be achieved without government — and among the threats to domestic order, crime surely ranks high. Read More

My Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin, who is also editor of National Affairs, was interviewed by ConservativeHome’s Ryan Streeter. Yuval’s insights are typically wise and learned. I was particularly interested in his response to the question “If you could wave a wand and change one thing about the GOP, what would it be?” According to Yuval:

I would make it so that every time we are tempted to talk about the size of government we talk also (and more so) about the purpose of government. This would make us more focused on policy particulars than on vague abstractions, better able to offer an alternative to the left’s agenda rather than just slowing the pace of its implementation, and better able to speak to the aspirations of the larger public.

The out-of-control size and cost of government today are symptoms of the fact that we have lost sight of the question of what government is for. The answer to that question is not “nothing,” after all. But it is also not “everything.” A basic answer to that question, rather, is laid out pretty well in Article I, section 8 of the United States Constitution. Maybe modern life has piled some complexities and difficulties on us that require some additions to the list presented there, and of course the Constitution contains a mechanism for making such additions. But as long as we are obsessed with how much it all costs we are not able to focus on the more important question of how to make government more effective and energetic in those areas where we want it to act, and how to keep it from acting in those areas where we don’t (and where we therefore think that families, communities, and other mediating institutions should act instead).

This counsel is extremely wise. It is not as if the size of government is irrelevant; far from it. There are important fiscal and moral ramifications created by a “nanny state.” But to focus solely on the size of government rather than on its core purposes is a mistake, both philosophically and politically. God willed the state, as Edmund Burke put it; but what does He want the state to achieve? This is hardly a new question, but it is one that every serious student of politics needs to engage.

As a practical matter, take the issue of order. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention,” John Jay wrote in Federalist Paper No. 3, “that of providing for their safety seems to be the first.” The “tranquility of order” (the phrase comes from Augustine) is the first responsibility of government; without it, we can hardly expect things like justice, prosperity, or virtue to flourish. Order, in turn, cannot be achieved without government — and among the threats to domestic order, crime surely ranks high.

This line of reasoning inevitably leads us to law-enforcement policies ranging from incarceration to policing strategies to the “broken windows” theory. (In the 1980s, Professors James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling argued that public disorder — as evidenced by unrepaired broken windows — is evidence of a permissive moral environment, a signal that no one cares, and therefore acts as a magnet to criminals.) And in looking at some of the great success stories in lowering crime, such as New York City in the 1990s, one finds that the key to success wasn’t the size or cost of government, but its efficacy. The question Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his police chief, William Bratton, asked wasn’t “How big should the police department be?” but rather “What should the police department be doing?”

The answer to that question led to a policy revolution in law enforcement.

The point is that fundamental questions about the role and purpose of the state aren’t academic ones; a public philosophy needs to be at the center of our debates about public policy, and we need public figures who themselves are able to think clearly and deeply about these matters.

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Taking Responsibility for Inherited Problems, and Other GOP Dilemmas

According to Senator Jim DeMint, even if a balanced-budget amendment were attached to a vote to raise the debt limit, he’d vote against it — and he encourages freshmen Republicans not to vote for raising the debt limit either. His argument is that since he/they didn’t create the debt problem to begin with, they shouldn’t be the people who vote to raise the ceiling. DeMint goes on to say that it’s important for the GOP to show its “strong commitment to cut spending and debt.”

I think it makes great sense to use the vote on the debt ceiling to try to extract some substantial cuts in federal spending. But what Senator DeMint is arguing for is something else. He believes that Republicans should oppose raising the debt limit regardless of the concessions they might win.

It is quite extraordinary, really. Senator DeMint is essentially urging Republicans to cast a vote that would lead to a federal default. This would have catastrophic economic consequences, since the United States depends on other nations buying our debt. Now, I understand that if you’re in the minority party in Congress, you can vote against raising the debt ceiling, as that vote won’t influence the eventually outcome. But Republicans now control one branch of Congress by a wide margin, so GOP votes are necessary to raise the debt ceiling. Symbolic votes are not an option. What Senator DeMint is counseling, then, is terribly unwise. And if the GOP were to be perceived as causing a default by the federal government, it would be extremely politically injurious.

In terms of DeMint’s argument that since he and incoming Republicans aren’t responsible for our fiscal problem they have no obligation to increase the debt-ceiling limit, it’s worth pointing out that all incoming lawmakers inherit problems not of their own making. Freshmen Members of Congress aren’t responsible for the entitlement crisis or the war in Afghanistan; Governor Chris Christie is not responsible for the pension agreements and unfunded liabilities that have created a financial nightmare in his state. No matter; they still have the duty to deal with these problems in a responsible way. Read More

According to Senator Jim DeMint, even if a balanced-budget amendment were attached to a vote to raise the debt limit, he’d vote against it — and he encourages freshmen Republicans not to vote for raising the debt limit either. His argument is that since he/they didn’t create the debt problem to begin with, they shouldn’t be the people who vote to raise the ceiling. DeMint goes on to say that it’s important for the GOP to show its “strong commitment to cut spending and debt.”

I think it makes great sense to use the vote on the debt ceiling to try to extract some substantial cuts in federal spending. But what Senator DeMint is arguing for is something else. He believes that Republicans should oppose raising the debt limit regardless of the concessions they might win.

It is quite extraordinary, really. Senator DeMint is essentially urging Republicans to cast a vote that would lead to a federal default. This would have catastrophic economic consequences, since the United States depends on other nations buying our debt. Now, I understand that if you’re in the minority party in Congress, you can vote against raising the debt ceiling, as that vote won’t influence the eventually outcome. But Republicans now control one branch of Congress by a wide margin, so GOP votes are necessary to raise the debt ceiling. Symbolic votes are not an option. What Senator DeMint is counseling, then, is terribly unwise. And if the GOP were to be perceived as causing a default by the federal government, it would be extremely politically injurious.

In terms of DeMint’s argument that since he and incoming Republicans aren’t responsible for our fiscal problem they have no obligation to increase the debt-ceiling limit, it’s worth pointing out that all incoming lawmakers inherit problems not of their own making. Freshmen Members of Congress aren’t responsible for the entitlement crisis or the war in Afghanistan; Governor Chris Christie is not responsible for the pension agreements and unfunded liabilities that have created a financial nightmare in his state. No matter; they still have the duty to deal with these problems in a responsible way.

As for Senator DeMint wanting to show that Republicans have a “strong commitment to cut spending and debt”: as I pointed out several months ago, it was DeMint who went on NBC’s Meet the Press to declare, “Well, no, we’re not talking about cuts in Social Security. If we can just cut the administrative waste, we can cut hundreds of billions of dollars a year at the federal level. So before we start cutting — I mean, we need to keep our promises to seniors, David, and cutting benefits to seniors is not on the table. We don’t have to cut benefits for seniors, and we don’t need to cut Medicare like, like the Democrats did in this big ObamaCare bill. We can restore sanity in Washington without cutting any benefits to seniors.”

The junior senator from South Carolina has things exactly backward. He wants Republicans to oppose raising the debt ceiling even though that doesn’t involve new spending (it needs to be raised simply to meet our existing obligations). But when it comes to entitlement programs, which is the locus of our fiscal crisis, he is assuring the public that no cuts in benefits are necessary.

It’s not clear to me why Senator DeMint (and Representative Michelle Bachman) is setting up his party up for a fight it cannot possibly win. (The debt ceiling will be raised.) More broadly, the key to success for the GOP (and conservatism) is for it to be seen as principled, reasonable, and prudent. Republicans need to be perceived as people of conviction and competence, not as revolutionaries (see Edmund Burke for more). What Senator DeMint is counseling is exactly the kind of thing that will discredit the GOP and conservatism in a hurry.

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Reviewing Our First Principles

David Brooks has an excellent column on my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin’s dissertation, “The Great Law of Change: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Meaning of the Past in a Democratic Age.”

Yuval traces the pedigree of our political ideas to Burke and Paine and examines their differences about the nature of man and society, the character of our social relations, the capacity of human reason, and the proper uses of political power. It is an important reminder that so many of the contemporary issues we face in politics turn decisively on our presuppositions, on our operating assumptions and prejudices, and, in Levin’s words, “upon our view of our own place in the great human story — past, present, and future.”

Such things are always important, but it strikes me that they are triply important today, since the debates we are currently engaged in are about political first principles. It’s vital that from time to time we step back from the fray and examine, and reexamine, our political philosophy and most cherished beliefs in light of present circumstances.

Oh, and Brooks’s column is a reminder of something else as well: Yuval Levin — who edits the indispensible National Affairs magazine — is one of the brightest stars in the conservative constellation.

David Brooks has an excellent column on my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin’s dissertation, “The Great Law of Change: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Meaning of the Past in a Democratic Age.”

Yuval traces the pedigree of our political ideas to Burke and Paine and examines their differences about the nature of man and society, the character of our social relations, the capacity of human reason, and the proper uses of political power. It is an important reminder that so many of the contemporary issues we face in politics turn decisively on our presuppositions, on our operating assumptions and prejudices, and, in Levin’s words, “upon our view of our own place in the great human story — past, present, and future.”

Such things are always important, but it strikes me that they are triply important today, since the debates we are currently engaged in are about political first principles. It’s vital that from time to time we step back from the fray and examine, and reexamine, our political philosophy and most cherished beliefs in light of present circumstances.

Oh, and Brooks’s column is a reminder of something else as well: Yuval Levin — who edits the indispensible National Affairs magazine — is one of the brightest stars in the conservative constellation.

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Answering William Galston

Unlike a number of the bloggers at the New Republic, William Galston is a serious, mature, and insightful writer and thinker. He is an accomplished academic who was also a high-ranking figure in the Clinton White House. I worked with him on some projects in the 1990s, which only increased my admiration for him. So his recent blog post caught my attention.

“With the passage of time,” former Bush administration official Pete Wehner writes today, “President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy, including sending 30,000 additional troops to Iraq when most Americans were bone-weary of the war, will be seen as one of the most impressive and important acts of political courage in our lifetime.” Wehner may turn out to be right. And his argument has broader implications that deserve our attention.

Wehner tacitly defines political courage as the willingness to go against public opinion in pursuit of what a leader believes to be the public interest. Fair enough. And unless one believes—against all evidence—that democracies can do without courage, so defined, it follows that there’s nothing necessarily undemocratic about defying public opinion when the stakes are high. After all, the people will soon have the opportunity to pass judgment on the leader’s decision. And they will be able to judge that decision, not by the claims of its supporters or detractors, but by its results.

Galston goes on to write this:

Note that to accept this argument, as I do, is to deny that President Obama and the Democrats are acting high-handedly—let alone anti-democratically—in moving forward with comprehensive health insurance reform. They genuinely believe that the public interest demands it­—and that the people themselves will eventually agree. And they know that the people will have the last word.

This approach has the firmest possible roots in our constitutional traditions. The Framers deliberately established a republican form of government that is representative rather than plebiscitary. And Alexander Hamilton explained why in Federalist #71: “[T]he people commonly intend the PUBLIC GOOD. … But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it.” In a republic, the people are always the ultimate source of legitimacy. They are not always the proximate source of wisdom.

Many conservatives don’t seem to understand this distinction…. So today’s conservatives have a choice: They can contest health reform and the rest of the Democratic agenda on its merits, or they can go down the populist road that Sarah Palin and her followers represent. But let’s call that populism by its rightful name—namely, shameless flattery of the people and the manipulation of public fears and prejudices for short-term political advantage. Honorable conservatives such as Wehner know better. We’re about to find out how many of them there are.

As it happens, two days before the piece that Galston cites appeared, I wrote a post for CONTENTIONS in which I said this:

The Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] touched on one of the important debates in American political history, which is what the role of legislators is. Is it to reflect the views of their constituents, rather like a seismograph? Or, as Edmund Burke put it when speaking about constituents, “Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention.” But in the end, a legislator owes them something more: his “judgment.” He should not be guided by merely “local purposes” or “local prejudices.” Parliament, Burke insisted, was a “deliberative assembly.”…

I place myself in the latter camp, more now than ever — in part based on my own experience in the White House, when President Bush was advocating a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that was unpopular with the political class, with Congress, and with the American public. He proceeded anyway; and the results were stunningly successful. If the surge had failed — if Bush had pulled back, or listened to key Republicans, or decided that his job was to mirror public sentiment — America would have been dealt a terrible geopolitical and moral defeat. What George W. Bush did was right — and it was also politically courageous.

I went on to add this:

The acid test on these matters is always the wisdom of the act itself. Insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a legislative monstrosity would be unwise, whereas insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a piece of legislation that advances the common good would be commendable. Since I consider ObamaCare to fit in the former category, I naturally believe what Nancy Pelosi is asking her caucus to do is politically insane. Why issue political death warrants to your allies in behalf of a terrible idea? But her broader point, which is that self-perpetuation in Congress should not be the lawmaker’s primary concern, strikes me as quite right — and since she believes that nationalization of health care is in the public interest, her argument is understandable.

I don’t believe, and have never believed, vox populi, vox Dei.

As for Sarah Palin: I’ve made my concerns about her — and people like Glenn Beck and Tom Tancredo — known in several different forums. And while I wouldn’t go as far as Galston in my criticism of populism, I have expressed concerns about the dangers of it, as well as about what I consider to be reckless attacks on government. For example, I recently wrote this:

And [the GOP] can be responsible by taking the public’s scorn for government and channeling it in a constructive manner, in a way that translates into an actual governing and reform agenda. It is not enough to simply pour kerosene onto the bonfire. Republicans need public figures (like Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Rep. Paul Ryan) who can articulate an alternative view of government in a way that isn’t simplistic, that isn’t angry, or that doesn’t appeal (as I worry Sarah Palin sometimes does) to cultural resentments.

So I believe Professor Galston and I are making somewhat similar points. Which is reassuring to me, given my regard for him.

Unlike a number of the bloggers at the New Republic, William Galston is a serious, mature, and insightful writer and thinker. He is an accomplished academic who was also a high-ranking figure in the Clinton White House. I worked with him on some projects in the 1990s, which only increased my admiration for him. So his recent blog post caught my attention.

“With the passage of time,” former Bush administration official Pete Wehner writes today, “President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy, including sending 30,000 additional troops to Iraq when most Americans were bone-weary of the war, will be seen as one of the most impressive and important acts of political courage in our lifetime.” Wehner may turn out to be right. And his argument has broader implications that deserve our attention.

Wehner tacitly defines political courage as the willingness to go against public opinion in pursuit of what a leader believes to be the public interest. Fair enough. And unless one believes—against all evidence—that democracies can do without courage, so defined, it follows that there’s nothing necessarily undemocratic about defying public opinion when the stakes are high. After all, the people will soon have the opportunity to pass judgment on the leader’s decision. And they will be able to judge that decision, not by the claims of its supporters or detractors, but by its results.

Galston goes on to write this:

Note that to accept this argument, as I do, is to deny that President Obama and the Democrats are acting high-handedly—let alone anti-democratically—in moving forward with comprehensive health insurance reform. They genuinely believe that the public interest demands it­—and that the people themselves will eventually agree. And they know that the people will have the last word.

This approach has the firmest possible roots in our constitutional traditions. The Framers deliberately established a republican form of government that is representative rather than plebiscitary. And Alexander Hamilton explained why in Federalist #71: “[T]he people commonly intend the PUBLIC GOOD. … But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it.” In a republic, the people are always the ultimate source of legitimacy. They are not always the proximate source of wisdom.

Many conservatives don’t seem to understand this distinction…. So today’s conservatives have a choice: They can contest health reform and the rest of the Democratic agenda on its merits, or they can go down the populist road that Sarah Palin and her followers represent. But let’s call that populism by its rightful name—namely, shameless flattery of the people and the manipulation of public fears and prejudices for short-term political advantage. Honorable conservatives such as Wehner know better. We’re about to find out how many of them there are.

As it happens, two days before the piece that Galston cites appeared, I wrote a post for CONTENTIONS in which I said this:

The Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] touched on one of the important debates in American political history, which is what the role of legislators is. Is it to reflect the views of their constituents, rather like a seismograph? Or, as Edmund Burke put it when speaking about constituents, “Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention.” But in the end, a legislator owes them something more: his “judgment.” He should not be guided by merely “local purposes” or “local prejudices.” Parliament, Burke insisted, was a “deliberative assembly.”…

I place myself in the latter camp, more now than ever — in part based on my own experience in the White House, when President Bush was advocating a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that was unpopular with the political class, with Congress, and with the American public. He proceeded anyway; and the results were stunningly successful. If the surge had failed — if Bush had pulled back, or listened to key Republicans, or decided that his job was to mirror public sentiment — America would have been dealt a terrible geopolitical and moral defeat. What George W. Bush did was right — and it was also politically courageous.

I went on to add this:

The acid test on these matters is always the wisdom of the act itself. Insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a legislative monstrosity would be unwise, whereas insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a piece of legislation that advances the common good would be commendable. Since I consider ObamaCare to fit in the former category, I naturally believe what Nancy Pelosi is asking her caucus to do is politically insane. Why issue political death warrants to your allies in behalf of a terrible idea? But her broader point, which is that self-perpetuation in Congress should not be the lawmaker’s primary concern, strikes me as quite right — and since she believes that nationalization of health care is in the public interest, her argument is understandable.

I don’t believe, and have never believed, vox populi, vox Dei.

As for Sarah Palin: I’ve made my concerns about her — and people like Glenn Beck and Tom Tancredo — known in several different forums. And while I wouldn’t go as far as Galston in my criticism of populism, I have expressed concerns about the dangers of it, as well as about what I consider to be reckless attacks on government. For example, I recently wrote this:

And [the GOP] can be responsible by taking the public’s scorn for government and channeling it in a constructive manner, in a way that translates into an actual governing and reform agenda. It is not enough to simply pour kerosene onto the bonfire. Republicans need public figures (like Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Rep. Paul Ryan) who can articulate an alternative view of government in a way that isn’t simplistic, that isn’t angry, or that doesn’t appeal (as I worry Sarah Palin sometimes does) to cultural resentments.

So I believe Professor Galston and I are making somewhat similar points. Which is reassuring to me, given my regard for him.

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Nancy Pelosi Has a Point — Kind Of

Over the weekend, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was asked, “What do you say to your members, when it does come to the House to vote on this, who are in real fear of losing their seats in November if they support you now?” Her response was:

Well first of all our members — every one of them — wants health care. I think everybody wants affordable health care for all Americans. They know that this will take courage. It took courage to pass Social Security. It took courage to pass Medicare. And many of the same forces that were at work decades ago are at work again against this bill. But the American people need it, why are we here? We’re not here just to self perpetuate our service in Congress. We’re here to do the job for the American people.

In this one instance, Ms. Pelosi has a point. Kind of.

The Speaker touched on one of the important debates in American political history, which is what the role of legislators is. Is it to reflect the views of their constituents, rather like a seismograph? Or, as Edmund Burke put it when speaking about constituents, “Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention.” But in the end, a legislator owes them something more: his “judgment.” He should not be guided by merely “local purposes” or “local prejudices.” Parliament, Burke insisted, was a “deliberative assembly.” (For an excellent discussion of this matter, see George Will’s book Restoration, and especially the chapter “From Bristol to Cobb County.”)

I place myself in the latter camp, more now than ever — in part based on my own experience in the White House, when President Bush was advocating a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that was unpopular with the political class, with Congress, and with the American public. He proceeded anyway; and the results were stunningly successful. If the surge had failed — if Bush had pulled back, or listened to key Republicans, or decided that his job was to mirror public sentiment — America would have been dealt a terrible geopolitical and moral defeat. What George W. Bush did was right – and it was also politically courageous.

The acid test on these matters is always the wisdom of the act itself. Insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a legislative monstrosity would be unwise, whereas insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a piece of legislation that advances the common good would be commendable. Since I consider ObamaCare to fit in the former category, I naturally believe what Nancy Pelosi is asking her caucus to do is politically insane. Why issue political death warrants to your allies in behalf of a terrible idea? But her broader point, which is that self-perpetuation in Congress is should not be the lawmaker’s primary concern, strikes me as quite right — and since she believes that nationalization of health care is in the public interest, her argument is understandable. I don’t for a minute, though, pretend that what she is asking of others (and not of herself) is easy. As John F. Kennedy (or perhaps Theodore Sorensen) wrote in Profiles in Courage,

Where else, in a non-totalitarian country, but in the political profession is the individual expected to sacrifice all — including his own career — for the national good? In private life, as in industry, we expect the individual to advance his own enlightened self-interest — within the limitations of the law — in order to achieve over-all progress. But in public life we expect individuals to sacrifice their private interests to permit the national good to progress.

In no other occupation but politics is it expected that a man will sacrifice honors, prestige, and his chosen career on a single issue.

Nancy Pelosi is asking many House Democrats to sacrifice honors, prestige, and their chosen career in behalf of a single issue: ObamaCare. I don’t think they will do it; and in fact they would be very wise to turn down her invitation. To go down in flames for a plan that is both noxious and unpopular is not the political epitaph most lawmakers want. But if Ms. Pelosi has her way, it’s an epitaph more than a few Democrats will end up with.

Over the weekend, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was asked, “What do you say to your members, when it does come to the House to vote on this, who are in real fear of losing their seats in November if they support you now?” Her response was:

Well first of all our members — every one of them — wants health care. I think everybody wants affordable health care for all Americans. They know that this will take courage. It took courage to pass Social Security. It took courage to pass Medicare. And many of the same forces that were at work decades ago are at work again against this bill. But the American people need it, why are we here? We’re not here just to self perpetuate our service in Congress. We’re here to do the job for the American people.

In this one instance, Ms. Pelosi has a point. Kind of.

The Speaker touched on one of the important debates in American political history, which is what the role of legislators is. Is it to reflect the views of their constituents, rather like a seismograph? Or, as Edmund Burke put it when speaking about constituents, “Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention.” But in the end, a legislator owes them something more: his “judgment.” He should not be guided by merely “local purposes” or “local prejudices.” Parliament, Burke insisted, was a “deliberative assembly.” (For an excellent discussion of this matter, see George Will’s book Restoration, and especially the chapter “From Bristol to Cobb County.”)

I place myself in the latter camp, more now than ever — in part based on my own experience in the White House, when President Bush was advocating a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that was unpopular with the political class, with Congress, and with the American public. He proceeded anyway; and the results were stunningly successful. If the surge had failed — if Bush had pulled back, or listened to key Republicans, or decided that his job was to mirror public sentiment — America would have been dealt a terrible geopolitical and moral defeat. What George W. Bush did was right – and it was also politically courageous.

The acid test on these matters is always the wisdom of the act itself. Insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a legislative monstrosity would be unwise, whereas insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a piece of legislation that advances the common good would be commendable. Since I consider ObamaCare to fit in the former category, I naturally believe what Nancy Pelosi is asking her caucus to do is politically insane. Why issue political death warrants to your allies in behalf of a terrible idea? But her broader point, which is that self-perpetuation in Congress is should not be the lawmaker’s primary concern, strikes me as quite right — and since she believes that nationalization of health care is in the public interest, her argument is understandable. I don’t for a minute, though, pretend that what she is asking of others (and not of herself) is easy. As John F. Kennedy (or perhaps Theodore Sorensen) wrote in Profiles in Courage,

Where else, in a non-totalitarian country, but in the political profession is the individual expected to sacrifice all — including his own career — for the national good? In private life, as in industry, we expect the individual to advance his own enlightened self-interest — within the limitations of the law — in order to achieve over-all progress. But in public life we expect individuals to sacrifice their private interests to permit the national good to progress.

In no other occupation but politics is it expected that a man will sacrifice honors, prestige, and his chosen career on a single issue.

Nancy Pelosi is asking many House Democrats to sacrifice honors, prestige, and their chosen career in behalf of a single issue: ObamaCare. I don’t think they will do it; and in fact they would be very wise to turn down her invitation. To go down in flames for a plan that is both noxious and unpopular is not the political epitaph most lawmakers want. But if Ms. Pelosi has her way, it’s an epitaph more than a few Democrats will end up with.

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Burke vs. Beck

Glenn Beck is at it again. This time he’s making the claim that America’s two political parties are essentially indistinguishable from one another, that they want to do the same things and head in the same direction. The only difference, he insists, is the rate of the journey. He then suggests, without quite saying so, that it’s time to end the two-party system in America. And for effect, Beck had his staff build two coffins, representing both the Democratic and the Republican parties. (In the world according to Beck, America is about to step into the coffin, thanks to the failures of both parties.)

Beck’s argument strikes me as superficial; the differences between the two parties on issues — including health care, tort reform, taxes, the culture of life, America’s role in the world, and so much else – are obvious and don’t need to be elaborated on. For Beck to put forth the argument he does, in the manner he does, is evidence, I think, of a kind of animus toward political parties (Beck would probably insist that he is not against parties per se but simply against the choices before him now).

Contrast Beck’s attitude toward political parties with those of a founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke. In his outstanding biography on Burke, Carl B. Cone writes:

No man of his generation understood better than Burke how natural and how necessary it was for men of similar opinions to work together to give effect to their beliefs. …

Burke therefore lived at a time when a man who possessed a genius for expressing his ideas and who firmly believed in the rightness and necessity of parties might promote their growth. This Burke did not only by his writings but by his activities in and out of parliament as a party man. As a practical politician even more than as the political philosopher, Burke helped devise political practices and conventions without which the modern British constitution could not have come into existence. Burke was an architect of the constitution because he was a party politician. …

As he told the House of Commons on February 15, 1781, “Government is the exercise of all the great qualities of the human mind.” Oliver Goldsmith in 1774 spoke for all who knew Burke when he described him as devoting his best talents to the cause of party. But Burke disavowed Goldsmith’s assertion that he gave up to party what was meant for mankind. In Burke’s mind there was no contradiction. He did not forsake mankind in identifying himself with a particular political party. Given the nature of man and of politics, he had placed himself in a situation the better to serve mankind.

Burke understood that parties were not always right. And I happen to approach these matters as someone who considers himself to be a philosophical conservative before he is a Republican. Yet genuine conservatives understand the important role parties play in organizing people of similar beliefs to do the practical, and often the slow and imperfect, work of advancing an agenda that can eventually be translated into governing. We cannot expect perfection or utopia; what we can hope for is to make progress, a step (and sometimes two) at a time. It’s also worth pointing out that many of our greatest figures in American political history were men who proudly associated themselves with political parties — and the greatest figure in American political history, Abraham Lincoln, helped found one (the Republican party).

Glenn Beck is at it again. This time he’s making the claim that America’s two political parties are essentially indistinguishable from one another, that they want to do the same things and head in the same direction. The only difference, he insists, is the rate of the journey. He then suggests, without quite saying so, that it’s time to end the two-party system in America. And for effect, Beck had his staff build two coffins, representing both the Democratic and the Republican parties. (In the world according to Beck, America is about to step into the coffin, thanks to the failures of both parties.)

Beck’s argument strikes me as superficial; the differences between the two parties on issues — including health care, tort reform, taxes, the culture of life, America’s role in the world, and so much else – are obvious and don’t need to be elaborated on. For Beck to put forth the argument he does, in the manner he does, is evidence, I think, of a kind of animus toward political parties (Beck would probably insist that he is not against parties per se but simply against the choices before him now).

Contrast Beck’s attitude toward political parties with those of a founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke. In his outstanding biography on Burke, Carl B. Cone writes:

No man of his generation understood better than Burke how natural and how necessary it was for men of similar opinions to work together to give effect to their beliefs. …

Burke therefore lived at a time when a man who possessed a genius for expressing his ideas and who firmly believed in the rightness and necessity of parties might promote their growth. This Burke did not only by his writings but by his activities in and out of parliament as a party man. As a practical politician even more than as the political philosopher, Burke helped devise political practices and conventions without which the modern British constitution could not have come into existence. Burke was an architect of the constitution because he was a party politician. …

As he told the House of Commons on February 15, 1781, “Government is the exercise of all the great qualities of the human mind.” Oliver Goldsmith in 1774 spoke for all who knew Burke when he described him as devoting his best talents to the cause of party. But Burke disavowed Goldsmith’s assertion that he gave up to party what was meant for mankind. In Burke’s mind there was no contradiction. He did not forsake mankind in identifying himself with a particular political party. Given the nature of man and of politics, he had placed himself in a situation the better to serve mankind.

Burke understood that parties were not always right. And I happen to approach these matters as someone who considers himself to be a philosophical conservative before he is a Republican. Yet genuine conservatives understand the important role parties play in organizing people of similar beliefs to do the practical, and often the slow and imperfect, work of advancing an agenda that can eventually be translated into governing. We cannot expect perfection or utopia; what we can hope for is to make progress, a step (and sometimes two) at a time. It’s also worth pointing out that many of our greatest figures in American political history were men who proudly associated themselves with political parties — and the greatest figure in American political history, Abraham Lincoln, helped found one (the Republican party).

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The British Pat Buchanan

The battle has been joined for the soul of the British Conservative party in, of all places, that leading organ of the Left, the Guardian.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, author of The Strange Death of Tory England, a polemic against Thatcherism, and Yo, Blair!, a diatribe against Tony Blair’s alliance with George W. Bush, has published an article in that paper taking the British Conservative party to task. According to Wheatcroft, “the Tories have been infiltrated by Anglo-neoconservatives, a species easily defined. Several of the younger MP’s are fanatical adherents of the creed with its three prongs: ardent support for the Iraq war, for the U.S., and for Israel.”

Wheatcroft wheels out the old anti-Semitic canard of “dual loyalty” by suggesting that only in Britain “is there a Conservative party, and Tory press, largely in the hands of people whose basic commitment is to the national interest of another country, or countries.” He quotes one such member of Parliament, Douglas Carswell, who insists that “it is in our national interest to support Israel . . . because I believe they are a front-line ally in a war against people who wish to destroy our democratic way of life.” Wheatcroft then twists his words to ask if the Tory leader, David Cameron, shares “Carswell’s belief that the British army in Basra and Helmand is fighting on behalf of Israel.”

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The battle has been joined for the soul of the British Conservative party in, of all places, that leading organ of the Left, the Guardian.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, author of The Strange Death of Tory England, a polemic against Thatcherism, and Yo, Blair!, a diatribe against Tony Blair’s alliance with George W. Bush, has published an article in that paper taking the British Conservative party to task. According to Wheatcroft, “the Tories have been infiltrated by Anglo-neoconservatives, a species easily defined. Several of the younger MP’s are fanatical adherents of the creed with its three prongs: ardent support for the Iraq war, for the U.S., and for Israel.”

Wheatcroft wheels out the old anti-Semitic canard of “dual loyalty” by suggesting that only in Britain “is there a Conservative party, and Tory press, largely in the hands of people whose basic commitment is to the national interest of another country, or countries.” He quotes one such member of Parliament, Douglas Carswell, who insists that “it is in our national interest to support Israel . . . because I believe they are a front-line ally in a war against people who wish to destroy our democratic way of life.” Wheatcroft then twists his words to ask if the Tory leader, David Cameron, shares “Carswell’s belief that the British army in Basra and Helmand is fighting on behalf of Israel.”

Wheatcroft is equally hostile to the United States: “There was once a vigorous high Tory tradition of independence from—if not hostility to—America. It was found in the Morning Post before the war, and it continued down to Enoch Powell and Alan Clark.”

As it happens, I met both these colorful figures, who served in various Tory administrations, though never at the highest level. Powell is best remembered for his “Rivers of Blood” speech of 1968, in which he denounced mass immigration from the Commonwealth and warned of civil war. This speech was widely interpreted as racist; it permanently marginalized Powell in mainstream politics. A few years later he left the Tory party. Some people now see him as a prophet who foresaw the difficulty of integrating a large Muslim minority, but his concerns were about race rather than religion.

Powell was once asked whether he was anti-American. He replied: “Most people are. The only change is that it has become a term of abuse.” In answer to the question why, he said: “Well, I just don’t like America, or Americans. It’s like saying you like sugar in your tea. De gustibus non est disputandum.”

At least Enoch Powell was not an anti-Semite. Alan Clark, however, was not only anti-American, but an enthusiastic and unashamed admirer of Hitler, whose portrait he kept on his wall. Clark’s pro-Nazi views permeate Barbarossa, his well-known history of the German invasion of Russia, but they also shine through at several points in The Tories: Conservatives and the Nation State, 1922-1997. He hints that German-Jewish refugees hindered Anglo-German efforts to preserve peace. Of Chamberlain’s belated decision to declare war on Germany in 1939, he writes: “Not since the Angevin kings had responded to mystic revelations from the Divinity instructing them to call a crusade to arms can any group of national leaders have taken so momentous a decision on such tenuous assumptions.”

But it is when Clark comes to Rudolf Hess’s flight to Scotland that his agenda is clearly revealed. Not only is he convinced (against all the evidence) that Hess brought a genuine peace offer from Hitler, that Churchill turned down this “wasted opportunity” to save the British Empire, and that the entire British establishment then engaged in a conspiracy to cover it up right down to 1987, when Hess was “strangled in his cell.” Clark also believes that a fall in Wall Street stocks on the news of Hess’s flight holds the key: peace, he claims, would have hit profits, which were far more important to Americans (many of them Jewish) than “the certain fate of human beings.”

As for more recent episodes: Clark depicts the Falklands war as a behind-the-scenes struggle between the Reagan administration, determined to frustrate the British attempt to regain the islands, and a stubborn Mrs. Thatcher—which is more or less the opposite of the version she herself recalls. Clark gained notoriety by publishing his sensational diaries, but they merely reinforce the impression of a clever but twisted mind, a crashing snob and conspiracy theorist, who fantasized about his boss, Mrs. Thatcher, as a kind of female Hitler, describing the thrill he got from her proximity as “Führer-Kontakt”.

So much for Alan Clark and Enoch Powell as keepers of the Tory flame. But Wheatcroft also admires the Arabist tradition exemplified by the vehemently anti-Zionist Ian (now Lord) Gilmour. Then he goes further back, rejecting Charles Moore’s claim that Conservatives have usually supported Israel in the past: “That highest of high Tories, Lord Curzon, deplored the Balfour declaration. . . . In his day Curzon might have seemed the truer Tory than Balfour, and it’s only recently that his spirit has been stifled in his old party.”

So, in Wheatcroft’s mind, true Tories reject the existence of Israel. He ignores such Conservative heroes as Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, who staunchly supported both America and Israel, or in the more remote past Edmund Burke and Benjamin Disraeli. Instead, he postulates “infiltration” of the party by “zealous Anglo-neocons” who have “encircled” the Tory leader. He does not want David Cameron to become “the Hugo Chavez of Notting Hill,” he says, but to “forge a foreign policy that, unlike Blair’s, is based on the national interest of this country and not another.”

Geoffrey Wheatcroft emerges here as a British equivalent of Pat Buchanan. It is not often that such venomous resentment of the United States and Israel from the Right is brought out into the open in Britain—and no accident that it is the Guardian that offers these views a platform. To judge from the readers’ comments on the Guardian website, he has brought quite a few extreme anti-Semites out of the woodwork, too. But the tenor of Wheatcroft’s article is not untypical of the circles in which many senior Tories move. It is not only in America that paleoconservatives exist. Britain evidently has its very own Anglo-paleocons.

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