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Folly and Presumption

The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted to no council and senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.

From Adam Smith’s An inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, published first in the momentous year of 1776.

HKO Comment:

We think we need unique and new solutions to what we perceive to be a unique and new set of problems, but our problems are not new. They are in fact classical throughout  our history. The solutions and outcomes are also not new, though still painful.  We suffer for our lack of a sense of history.

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Progressivism has Nothing to Do with Progess

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton reacts to recognizing someone in the crowd during a campaign stop in Concord, New Hampshire

From The Washington Times, Language Labels and Laws, by Richard Rahn

The “progressive” Hillary Clinton wants more government regulation, spending, and taxation, while the “progressive” Bill Clinton told us two decades ago that the “era of big government is over” — and did, in fact, preside over a relatively smaller government in his second term. The progressive politicians say they want government actively involved in creating new jobs — primarily through more government spending. Yet, at the same time, they push for much higher minimum wages that kill job opportunities for the least skilled (which only those in complete denial of reality refuse to admit). The progressives tell us they want to break up the big banks. Yet, because the costs of all of the new financial regulations, which are often the brain children of the progressives, fall much harder on small banks than the big banks, the number of banks in the United States has fallen by 30 percent in the last 15 years. Labels such as liberal, progressive and conservative tell us little about which laws a politician is actually going to promote. Most people to some extent have both some libertarian and some statist views, e.g., students who are in favor of drug legalization but want “free stuff” from government to be paid for by others. Note how many Iowa farmers are in favor of smaller government and free markets, but push for ethanol subsidies.

HKO

Political semantics are important. FDR changed the term progressive to liberal and in the course completely changed the meaning.  After Liberal became politically toxic candidate wanted to switch it back.  Progressivism in practice is simply a highly regulated state that has viewed the constitution as an impediment to  state power, presumably to improve society as they see fit, as opposed to the effort to restrain the power of the state in the pursuit of individual liberty and natural rights.

It is very telling that neither Debbie Wasserman Schultz or Hillary could distinguish between a socialist and a progressive.  It is largely a question of mere degrees.

In fact, given the 100 year history of progressivism in America one could make the case that Hillary’s position is the conservative case which we need to progress from.

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A State Worshipping Culture

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from Mark Perry’s Carpe Diem, this quote from Ayn Rand:

Throughout the history of Europe, the values and ideas of its people never changed on one basic point: Europe is a state-worshiping culture. It has always worshipped the power of the state, whether it is in the form of absolute monarchs, or later, of collectivists. European societies have never understood the importance of the individual and individual rights. Individualism is an American concept. Obviously, some people in Europe understand it, but they are the exceptions. Because European culture is so steeped in the altruistic idea that man must exist for others, the greatest distinction the European can dream of is to serve, or be rewarded by, the state. The state is regarded as an almost supernatural being and the individual citizen as just a serf.

In America, it is exactly the opposite. America is the first country in history that was deliberately and consciously founded on a certain philosophy. It is a philosophy, rooted in Aristotelianism, which respects the individual and holds that society should be based on individual rights. This principle was formulated for the first time in the United States by the Founding Fathers. It is so great an achievement that centuries from now, men should kneel when they think of what their forefathers created in this country.

HKO

while leftists in this country wish to emulate modern European socialism, they wish to forget that we are very different from Europe in our core philosophy, for better (much ) and occasionally for worse.

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No Room for Dissent in Paradise

blue sky

From The Sultan Knish, The Traditionalist Rebel

Leftist movements begin with rebellion and end with conformity. No Utopian movement can tolerate rebels for long because there is no room for dissent in paradise. An ideal society, the goal of leftist political movements, not only has no room for war, racism, greed and all the other evils the conformist paradises of the left hope to eliminate, it also has no room for disagreement.

The perfect society and its perfect ideology are also the perfect tyranny. Against this Utopian collectivism, which promises paradise and delivers a prison, is the traditionalist rebel who finds virtue in the acknowledgement of human flaws rather than in the unthinking pursuit of an unchanging perfection.

The traditionalist rebel is not seeking perfection, but humanity. He is a skeptical idealist who is interested in character rather than movements. He is above all else an individualist with an instinctive distrust of any movement that requires him to abandon his rights for the greater good.

HKO

It is hard to select excerpts fro this excellent post because every line is so worthy. Read the entire article.

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Pragmatic Failure

jonahgoldberg

When We Say ‘Conservative,’ We Mean . . . by Jonah Goldberg at National Review

I think this is because conservatism isn’t a single thing. Indeed, as I have argued before, I think it’s a contradictory thing, a bundle of principles married to a prudential and humble appreciation of the complexity of life and the sanctity of successful human institutions.

This reminds me of one of my all-time favorite meditations on conservatism from my friend Yuval Levin:

To my mind, conservatism is gratitude. Conservatives tend to begin from gratitude for what is good and what works in our society and then strive to build on it, while liberals tend to begin from outrage at what is bad and broken and seek to uproot it.

Gratitude captures so much of what conservatism is about because it highlights the philosophical difference between (American) conservatism and its foes on the left (and some of its friends among the libertarian camp). The yardstick against which human progress is measured shouldn’t be the sentiments and yearnings that define some unattainable utopian future, but the knowable and real facts of our common past.

So-called liberals love to talk about how much they just want to do “what works,” but it’s amazing how often “what works” doesn’t. Even more remarkable is how the mantra of “what works” is almost always a license to empower the “sophisters, calculators, and economists who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs.”

In contrast, the conservative belief in “what works” is grounded in reality, not hope.