Friday, September 8, 2023

Have You Read This Book? (You Need To)

The in-fighting on the American political right continues with each passing day. 

Why, though, do these factions (the NatCon populists and the FreedomCon libertarians) have such disdain for one another? Sure, trade policy has become increasingly thorny, and don't even get me started on foreign affairs...But the squabbling runs deeper than these differences in policy prescription. It is almost as though there is a colliding of worldviews here. 

Yoram Hazony, in his all-important and surprisingly palatable work, Conservatism: A Rediscovery, explains the reasoning for the internecine skirmishing on the right. 

Ultimately, Hazony explains, these fissures aren't new. In 18th century America, these same ideological cleavages existed. The Hamiltonians were nationalists who believed in tradition and, what Hazony calls, "historical empiricism" (the idea that our future ought to be guided by the trials and tribulations of our ancestors, as opposed to pure reason alone), while the Jeffersonians were enlightenment-rationalists that believed in the primacy of reason and the individual, with little deference paid to our ancestor's lived experiences. While these differences may seem rather abstract, or even overly philosophical, the feuding between these factions was very real. The Hamiltonians thought that the Jeffersonians were dogmatic in their allegiance to pure, unadulterated notions of liberty and indifference toward religion, while the Jeffersonians saw the Hamiltonians as monarchical anti-liberals who worshiped the nation to an egregious degree. Do these differences sound familiar?

It is, in fact, true that history repeats itself. The populist-libertarian divide that we see today isn't all that different from what occurred in 18th century America. 

Let's dive a little deeper...

Hazony, who is pretty unabashed in his preference for the Hamiltonian and Burkean worldviews, makes things crystal clear. Today's populist-conservatives give primacy to the nation over the individual. This is, in effect, a repudiation of liberalism (enlightenment liberalism, I mean). The populists are, for the most part, Communitarian, in that they believe that the family, church, and nation are far more important than the lone individual. Libertarian-oriented rightists (Hazony would just call them liberals, and rightly so), are "blind to the nation". They see any degree of state involvement or impingement on civil liberties as an afront to the American experiment. 

In his words:

A dogmatic belief in the individual's freedom has moved liberals to destigmatize - and, eventually, to actively legitimize - sexual license, narcotics, and pornography, as well as abortion, easy divorce, and out-of-marriage births, until finally the family has been broken and fertility ruined in nearly every Western country.

These are strong words, but there may be something to them... Liberalism, in its advocacy for unlimited choice, has placed individual desire well above the "common good". 

To be clear, though, Hazony at no point says that freedom of the individual is unimportant. Rather, he posits that today's libertarian-types have over-emphasized it in a way that is detrimental to our societal fabric. I am mostly sympathetic to this view...

Hazony's views on the family are particularly interesting:

In a conservative society, one is not relieved of the responsibility to honor one's parents at the age of eighteen or twenty. On the contrary, this obligation remains throughout life, and it only grows more difficult as one's father and mother become infirm with age.  

Hazony is describing the East-Asian idea of filial piety, something that has been largely forgotten in our modern age. Hazony, though, takes this point further than most, even in the conservative ecosphere. To Hazony, the concept of the nuclear family is insufficient. The nuclear family consists of a mother, father, and a few children. To Hazony, this is small potatoes. Rather, he advocates for the "traditional family". This includes the extended tribe: grandma, grandpa, aunts and uncles... A crucial difference! The traditional family also implies obligations. It is your duty to stick around to take care of your folks when they are old and ill. Moving out and leaving them in the dust is out of the question! In fact, you may even have grandma and grandpa living with you! 

Anyway, there's a lot I can say about this book. All (or mostly all) positive. Whether or not you agree with Hazony's particular brand of conservatism, his description of the contemporary climate on the right is flawless. A must read!



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