Magnum Opus What Conservatives Think

What Conservatives Think

  1. xxiii The Portable Conservative Reader, Russell Kirk ed. & author of introduction::

“Thus an American political conservative , at least as the term is employed popularly, is a person who believes strongly that the old patterns of American society ought not to be much altered. Typically, such a person holds by the Constitution, maintainling that it should be strictly interpreted; he endeavors to oppose the drift toward political centralization; he dislikes organizations on the grand scale, in government, in business, and industry, in organized labor; he is a defender of private property; he resents the heavy increase of taxation and many of the “transfer payments” of the welfare state; he is unalterably opposed to the Communist ideology and the aspirations of the Soviet Union; he sighs, or perhaps shouts, O tempora O mores! at the decay of private and public morality. ”

The above was presumably written in the very early 80s, long after the Civil Rights Movement’s heyday, and so was presumably written with that in mind. I realize that to some I might seem to be playing a one-note samba, but I am by no means the only person to see race as a crucial element and motivator in the conservative movement and this passage shows delectably how the big C and little c C/conservatives interact. What are those “old patterns”? Might they be segregation of the races? If holding by the Constitution is so important, why not apply it to everybody? Is voting not a primary right in this country? How strict to interpret the Constitution in the light of changing tempora and mores? The drift toward political centralization came, IMHO, because local governments abrogated or nullified those rights. My own ignorance was exposed when I thought MLK was just using big words when he referred to nullification and interposition, only to find out they are technical terms labeling the actions of the slave states aka the White South. If the conservative doesn’t like organizations on the grand scale, why does he vote the way the Koch Brothers want him to? Private property is to be defended until the freeways go through and then they find their way through poor neighborhoods. The heavy taxation has been drastically lowered and the wealthy don’t pay the real taxes they are obligated for but hire lawyers who use the tax code to reduce their liability. Of course, the welfare state is all about transferring the hard earned tax dollars of White Americans to undeserving minorities……… and Jim, if you have never heard anyone say that, open your ears, it is a great big fat point of every Republican candidate. And the decay of public and private morality…….. oh yes, that’s been going on a while, since around 14,000 B.C. in every society in every generation as long as some toothless old man was around to shake his cane at shameless hussies and disrespectful young hooligans. The U.S.S.R.? Reagan betrayed our country by talking to Gorbachev and working out a deal……….. hey, Trump’s going to do that, too.

John Stuart Mill called Conservatives the stupid party b/c they don’t think much about where their ideas come from and are satisfied just to sit and think….. or just sit. “Let me rest: I lie in possession” says Fafnir, the king’s son in Norse mythology. Russell Kirk himself says Conservatives are selfish and self-centered. I must agree with him at least on this point. But he characterizes radicals as envious. Maybe. I don’t know. I’m not a radical despite what the Social Studies Department in my school thought. Here is a devastating quote (if you don’t know who Russell Kirk is you should google him): “Most conservatives [I would spell it with a capital C] hold by their particular social convictions because of early prejudices and experiences; their minds are not susceptible to temperate argument, nor can they express with much lucidity the postulates from which they draw their professed opinions.” That bodes ill for bridging the gap in world views.

Ten principles of Conservatism (conservatives do not have principles, only reactions, as in, “I want my country back.”) as elucidated by Russell Kirk.

The first is a transcendent moral order Conservatives believe runs the world, e.g. Natural Law. This is required for there to be a sense of right and wrong and without that you will have a bad society no matter how many people vote. Along with this moral order goes moral authority. Guess who tells us what natural law tells us and who has the authority to do so….. those already in power. As Fukuyama says, the elites have a knack for turning anything beneficial to them into a universal principle.

Next is the elevation of custom, tradition, convention and continuity to the undergirding of order, justice and freedom, the result of centuries of trial and reflection and sacrifice. This is why the Civil Rights Movement had to be opposed: the Southern Way of Life undergirded the social order.

Third comes those rights which exist because of their antiquity. We stand on the shoulders of giants and so should not tinker. This is why Conservatives are constantly invoking Plato and Aristotle and conservatives Reagan. The individual is foolish but the species wise and we should abide by precedent and precept and even prejudice….  Don’t you just love the aroma of hanging moss and mint julep?


Fourth in line is prudence, care in making changes too fast, but at least desirable, well considered change is recognized as necessary. With all deliberate speed is a kind of synonym that turned into an antonym.

Fifth, Conservatives love variety, by which Kirk means ….. well, I can only quote for you to get a whiff of this: “They feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems. For the preservation of a healthy diversity in any civilization,, there must survive orders and classes, differences in material condition, and many sorts of inequality.” I will desist, for the stench of magnolia blossoms gags me – although Kirk was from Michigan. I just want to know who will volunteer to be in the “interesting” part of society. So much more in five.

Sixth: Humans are imperfect. “All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk. By proper attention to prudent reform….” Then why did Conservatives oppose civil rights for Blacks? Were not Blacks justified in taking up arms since what they suffered was far more than the founding fathers suffered under the king? Evils weren’t lurking; people mailed postcards of lynched Blacks to their friends and relatives. The British never did that to us. “Lurk” reminds me of Reagan’s “a trace of bigotry”. “The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the 20th century world into a terrestrial hell.” But Conservatives also oppose agrarian reform, universal education and health care, equal rights for women, protection of children, all in the name of preserving the natural order. How is that any better than the excesses of Leftist? Oh, it is that Conservatives don’t suffer any losses if everything remains the same.

The seventh principle links property rights to freedom. I am not prepared to argue against that. I support the free enterprise system as long as the enterprises pay taxes to support the community/government that supports them.

Eighth is voluntary community. I think this is code for freedom of association, i.e that it is OK to pass ordinances prohibiting Blacks from using public bathrooms because Whites do not want to associate with them, even when the bathrooms are installed using taxes Blacks pay, too. What C/conservatives NEVER understand is that if they had simply given Blacks the same rights as Whites, the federal government would never have gotten involved. But the ONLY way to break the stranglehold of segregation was to use federal dollars and federal laws and thus was built up this jury-rigged system that C/conservatives hate so. Had they not been so hide-bound in keeping Blacks suppressed, we would not have to talk about states’ rights as code for keeping the Blacks in their place. Trent Lott would not have lost his leadership position for saying we should have supported Strom Thurmond for president; the country’s sensibilities have turned against racism even as its effects yet remain.

In Nine, Kirk writes: “A just government maintains a healthy tension between the claims of authority and the claims of liberty.” Here I will inject another new idea for me: liberty and freedom. Liberty is conferred, freedom is inherent.

And ten calls for a balance between permanence and change. Isn’t that what is so difficult in all this?

“Tiny changes in a complex system may lead to highly unpredictable consequences. Researchers in disciplines from weather modeling to theoretical physics to population biology have turned from the regular orderly behavior of classical science to irregular, disorderly, unpredictable, erratic behavior….. Chaos seems more human.” (The Development of Language, David Lightfoot p. 254)

10 principles:

What liberals think – weaknesses

I will use upper and lower case to distinguish the classic Liberal positions going back to 19th c. England from the liberal positions characteristic of people who take on the label “liberal”, in the same way I distinguish Conservatives from conservatives

liberals are not free of bias toward conservatives (most seem to respect Conservative thought, at least for its intellect), e.g. Katy Tur on MSNBC referred to the “gutteral” cheers at a Trump rally. Not nice.

liberals rely on government and ignore to a large extent the underlying social order

liberals think above the level of the basic human nature, believing intellect overcomes it whereas Conservatives at least claim to respect that nature even as they craft laws, ordinances, and other means and support customs that curb that nature.

liberals believe in the power of the word, that talking about things solves problems. Talking works to process what needs to be done via communication but then something needs to be done

liberals like to set up figures, ideologically pure figures as emblems of a cause. Thus they find themselves speaking approvingly of some rotten characters who may nevertheless have suffered an injustice. Michael Brown was not an innocent young teenager, he was a jerk, but we don’t kill people for being jerks in this country. Trayvon Martin, OTOH, seemed like an average kid. One super Liberal professor I knew never met a Black person who wasn’t “brilliant” or an African who wasn’t noble or a piece of folkloric art that wasn’t exquisite and so forth, all just to jab into The Man’s eye his opinion that the petty prejudices of the average White American were just that, petty.

liberals don’t help themselves when they lump people together, as if all Hispanics were the same – I recall an episode of one of those very well done cop shows where the detective of Columbian origin is being feted and the dinner serves tacos. He explodes, lecturing his slack-jawed colleagues on the difference between Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Columbians, and so forth. Even lumping all poor people together as if they would all get along, having their poverty in common is not a good idea..

OTOH, liberals battle against trickledown economics, a perfect example of Fukuyama’s dictum that the elites cloth their own interests in the dress of universal verity, as wages, pensions, health care, unions, education, science, money regulation, IOW, every policy that has made the Middle Class in this country prosperous is attacked. The conservatives would do well to watch their back.

Jim has often remarked that he just does not hear Libertarians and other say things like poor people don’t work hard, etc. Yet here is a Rand Paul quote:

Rand Paul: Income Inequality Comes From ‘Some People Working Harder’ Than Others”We all end up working for people who are more successful than us,” the presidential hopeful said.” Is this a misquote, a misinterpretation? The harder you work the more you make? That the principal I worked for was more successful than me? I am not asking you to say whether or not you agree with Paul but just to admit people DO say these things.

Here’s the point: there comes a time where you can no longer talk about different perspectives, disparate goals, fundamentally different world views, and just get down to simple morality. Hatred of the poor, indifference to other people’s children, contempt for non-White, non-Christian people, suspicion of immigrants, all characterize persons who are deficient in personal morality and, sadly, these attitudes characterize the contemporary Republican Party. My question is, do these attitudes characterize conservative thought generally?

The world view of conservatives and specifically Republicans is this: the U.S.A. is the land of opportunity; all you have to do is work hard. Any contrary pov contradicts the America as exceptional trope and is prima facie evidence of unamericanism. Since everyone has equal opportunity, a given, then anyone who is not independent and self-sufficient is deficient in some way, usually morally, in the form of laziness, dependency, criminality, or cognitive impairment. Therefore, no one need do anything to help these people unless you belong to some bleeding-heart organization that wants to hand out sandwiches to homeless people, aka bums. Our history – as taught to us by old Westerns – backs up this narrative of grit and determination bringing rewards


Lopez introduces the concept of “common sense racism”, by which he means the way people look at conditions certain groups find themselves in and say: “That’s just the way they are.” That almost fits my strict definition of racism but it is not the view Jim espouses. It is, however, the view of people who see the disproportionate number of Blacks in the penal system and decide, “That’s just the way they are.” No interest in investigating, in getting to know people in that situation, nothing like what Chua and Rubenfeld go into in establishing the markers for minorities who have achieved financial and structural success in the society and those who haven’t. If you wonder about this phenomenon, that book, The Triple Package, is excellent. And here I will respond to some points Jim makes He says:

” The book Pat suggested:

“Amy Chua (Tiger Mom) and Jed Rubenfeld have a book I read recently titled The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America”

confirms my conviction that the traits successful people exhibit need to be encouraged in the black subculture. I don’t agree completely with the way the terms and concepts are delineated in this book, but it is largely correct. More directly it is the specific attitudes embodied under the general concepts that are definitive. I see these as:


  • sense of initiative, personal responsibility and self sufficiency vs. sense of being victimized by others
  • authoritative full family structure driving the need to succeed in school and a strong impulse control to keep clean of drugs and avoid having children before marriage.
  • the conviction that you must succeed regardless and not be satisfied with less.
  • willingness to be frugal and practice self-sacrifice as necessary to achieve your goals.

My response to this: this constant refrain of Jim’s that Blacks see themselves as victims comes straight out of the conservative war on Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders who quite rightly focus on the disadvantages conferred on Blacks by the wider society. But that does not mean Black people go around feeling like victims; in fact, the Black people Jim has spoken with indicate exactly that. The personal responsibility theme on the Right is meant to imply that people who suffer disadvantages are milking the system and looking for sympathy. It is invidious. It implies equally that those who do not identify as minority are personally responsible and do not ask for consideration or help.

The word “authoritative” is very telling here in connection with family structure, suggesting a patriarchal or matriarchal structure . Impulse control as decisive in the use of drugs and the partaking of premarital sex is very much misplaced; young people in poverty do not engage in the abuse of sex and drugs on a whim or impulse. Young woman get pregnant because that is what young women do. It is true that young men in Europe in the recent past did not marry until late so they could support a family but they frequented brothels; I don’t think conservative America wants to license brothels. Young women are ready to procreate and that is an instinct, not something we overcome through true grit. This is another of those gross simplifications so typical of the Right when faced with complex issues. While many poor families did see school as the path to success, education was not the usual path, even for people who were not poor; getting a job was and I have not read where Jim addresses the high unemployment rate among Blacks and the employment discrimination reported on over and over – but that is denied by the Right so I guess it is off the table. For instance, when I sent the url to the program on Diane Rehm on transportation, Jim wanted to know if they addressed teen pregnancy, etc; well, by isolating the inner-city from jobs, the destruction of the “Negro family” was pretty well assured, but I do not see anyone taking responsibility – excuse me: personal responsibility – for that.

Lots of people succeed regardless: regardless of family, of country, of religion doctrine, of common decency, even of the law. They exploit undocumented workers, women, the environment…….. nothing stands in their way to success. Personally, I do not admire them.

Frugality is not what most Americans’ credit card debt displays ,but lots of them succeed. They don’t live in underserved areas, send their kids to falling-down schools, or deal with rampant crime. If you read The Triple Passage carefully, you will see that Chua and Rubenfeld explicate the intricacies of what happens to Hispanics, Blacks, and Native Americans very well. I heard many years ago that four White ethnic groups were compared: Irish, Swedes, Italians and one other. Two groups let their girls go out to work in other people’s homes so the boys could afford college and the other two kept the girls at home. A couple of generations later, the groups who sent their girls out were higher on the economic scale than their stay-at-home comparisons but had a much higher divorce rate. So which advances society: financial success or intact families? The better off families sacrificed their girls.



Quickly to my TV watching for this Magnum Opus:

My assignment was to watch Fox News. I watched in November and found Brett Baer unexceptional as I did Roshini Rajapaksa and Shepherd Smith, and I thought Red Eye was balanced. Both VanSusteren and Kelly Smith called the BLM protest rallies anti-cop, an outright distortion (and again, Jim, if you dispute that, I suggest you think really hard about your relationship to power and authority – calling out bad behavior on the part of a few police officers, asking why they are not prosecuted, why their fellow officers protect them, and where the training is in dealing with people who are not Norwegians and the mentally handicapped – when I complain about the officer who said he like hostage negotiators because they give him time to get a bead on the suspect, how does that make me anti-cop?). Gretchen Carlson talked about protecting big government and how the IRS did not permit the Tea Party exemptions based on key words in the applications. All that is fine, except the anti-cop lies, it’s just that they have the same bias as MSNBC – watch the faces Rachel makes and the smirk on Chris Matthew’s face and the condescending chuckle from Chris Hayes – and it is just that I think the things Hayes is chuckling about – the silliness of worrying about child molesters going tinkle next to your little girl – are utterly stupid. The things Fox chuckles about – big government, the IRS, the postal service – are funny to them because they and/or their audience do not understand what government does nor how it does it.

On John Stossels’ take on reforming education I will defer to a blog entry I will post when I find my notes.

I watched Star Parker, author of Blind Conceit. I will also post my notes on her as a separate blog entry.

And the “dream” you found funny, Jim, is based on the usual conservative nonsense about how government operates It is the same dream held by millions who believe illegal aliens are flooding the country (3%), that one third of GNP goes to foreign aid, that Blacks get money from the government just for being Black (you asked about my marrying into a Black family – I did it so I could get my Negro check – OK, my only attempt at sarcasm). And so on. Every Liberal is a secret Communist, Obama is from Kenya – and let’s face it, that is the WHOLE problem with the Right in this country – they hate that a Black guy got into the White House. The hate crimes that were put in quotes? Those actually occur but well-off people protected behind their mantle of Whiteness are never exposed to them and so can pretend they never occur. That is the C/conservatives’ and Libertarians’ best defense: pretend.


I never said this was going to be pretty.



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