In that it’s out there being discussed, it’s a very heartening read. I meant to get this out a few days ago, but I couldn’t get the time to write this up until now. Skip, thanks for finding and sharing Dr. Rahe’s piece. It reminds me of many things, I’ll touch on just a few.
First my answer to Skip’s last question in his post: there must be, if we’re to survive with liberty. I don’t believe that conservatives and libertarians are that far apart at our core. But I do believe there will always be a constant re-drawing of the line between what is and is not a function of the state when conservatives and libertarians debate. I think that’s good. Our dogma is not settled and probably, hopefully, never will be; that’s what makes us more vibrant than the left. And I think most of the disagreements can be resolved with Federalism. Now, onto a few thoughts.
Though F.A. Hayek is often claimed by the libertarians as one of their own, I believe for the exact reason mentioned in Rahe’s article he belongs in the conservative realm. He did believe in what he called the Extended Order, which, in a nutshell, is the application of Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand to social traditions, mores, and virtues. It is the understanding that pieces of wisdom pass down through history because, by definition, they were beneficial to a society’s success. Society thrived and flourished because of innumerable things learned and inculcated into a society and eventually were done so subconsciously. Things that weren’t beneficial were pruned away and withered. Traditions, behaviors, and virtues evolved and hardened. It is precisely these traditions that enable a long and transcendent view of a society, and why they must be cherished. And resistance must be applied when it is sought to remove, deviate, or pervert them for the immediate illusory gain– which brings us to Burke and Montesquieu, but I digress.
Libertarian Leonard Reed illustrated the Extended Order in a way as it applies to manufacturing or assembly in “I Pencil“, but that same illustration can also apply the construction of currency, language, virtuous behavior, social best practices etc. These things came about not by a single human mind or will, but through an ever evolving maturation over time, dispersed throughout many individuals who were often consciously unaware of one another.
The traditions, institutions, and virtues are in place to serve a purpose in society and if they fail to do so, the sinister state is always willing to step in. If functions cannot be met by non-coercive measures, they’ll be met by coercive measures. It is precisely this reason why the Left tries to deconstruct traditions, religion, family, or any unit that is not subject of or to the state because these things provide the functions that people require. If these were to remain strong, the state cannot insert itself in their place and the Left can’t “immanentize the eschaton” as Eric Voegelin said. However, they can bring about Heaven on Earth if these societal institutions are broken down and replaced by the state. This “Crises of the West”, again a Voegelin phrase, is the successes of such a deconstruction effort in the West and the implantation of the state in this way. And it is what was discussed in Rahe’s piece and Skip’s comment.
The culture matters. It matters in an excruciatingly big way.
I heard, I think it was Brent Bozell, I may be wrong about that, but in a response to a question about what he thinks is the biggest threat to our country the crowd was expecting him to say Obama, but he replied something to the effect of “It’s not Obama. The biggest threat to our country is the people who elected Obama”. He’s right. Obama is just a politician tapping into a pervasive sentimentality as politicians have been doing throughout history. At some visceral level the people we know, talk to, and see everyday believe that the state is there to do things that we cannot or should not possibly do ourselves, although we used to do them ourselves. I joked about this in a blog I posted awhile back when the Fluke distraction spurted onto the scene and how:
Soon, even in our most intimate of moments, we’ll look at each other and say, “What bureaucracy is in charge of this? Wait here, sweetheart, I need to get the Department of Marital Bliss on the line to help me figure out this maneuver.”
And how we changed, so it’s even the government’s responsibility to pay for our peccadillos and that:
“Get the government out of the bedroom” is now replaced with “Get the government out of the bedroom, but before going, leave some cash on the nightstand.”
It was funnier before the election, not so much after. The reality is that it’s this type of self induced dependence that has its grip on too many American minds. And the devil may care attitudes toward sex, drugs, and lawlessness of all kinds is but a symptom of cultural decay and gnosticism. The false belief in a mythical mastermind, an anthropomorphic state, to make the world Heaven absolves the believer of taking any responsibility for his or her happiness and sadness, for his or her successes and failures and simply reduces him or her to a functionary servant of the state. A spiritless organism that serves other spiritless organisms at the direction of the deciding political class. The reduction of the human being down to “the flies of a summer” as Burke said. Dignity drained.
To correct this conservatives need to be everywhere: in the classroom, in the movies, in the music, in the sitcoms etc. We’ve ceded too much cultural territory, and we’re paying the price now. Traditions do matter. Culture does matter. To restate what was mentioned a few paragraphs up, there are undeniable needs and wants that human beings require. If those wants and needs are not met by non-coercive means, they’ll be met by crudely coercive means. If they’re not met by a responsible citizenry, they’ll be met by the discharge of the state at the expense of liberty.