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Posts Tagged ‘Newt Gingrich’

2011 in Review

In America, Arts & Letters, Communication, Conservatism, Economics, Essays, History, Humanities, Justice, Law, Libertarianism, News and Current Events, News Release, Philosophy, Politics, Rhetoric, Television, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy on January 1, 2012 at 9:54 am
By Slade Mendenhall and Brian Underwood
 
 
Slade Mendenhall is a founding editor of themendenhall.com. He is a student at the University of Georgia majoring in Economics and Mass Communications. His writing interests include screenwriting, fiction and essays on the subjects of philosophy, capitalism, political thought, and aesthetics. His New Years resolution is to progress in the completion of an as-yet-untitled novel (his second).
 
Brian Underwood is a second-year student at the University of Georgia where he studies history and political science as majors and philosophy as a minor. Originally a strong supporter of the Republican Party, Brian moved away from allying himself with the Republicans in politics towards a more “policy over party” position following the 2008 election. As a result, he became an avid reader of historical, philosophical, and other academic works. Moving ever further towards the “libertarian” end of the Nolan Chart, he eventually joined the Objectivist Club and the Young Americans for Liberty after arriving at UGA. Now, he simply defines himself as a “Capitalist.” His main writing interests include philosophy, politics, history, and economics.
 
The following post originally appeared over at themendenhall.
 
An endeavor to measure the shifts and turns of a nation’s ideology can only be compared to an attempt at sensing the turning of the Earth beneath one’s feet. It is at once ubiquitous and elusive, all-encompassing and indistinguishable. Yet, there are, on occasion, times at which one is struck by sudden jolts of rapid motion and change so disruptive that it forbids all attempts at understanding what course or direction it is taking. Swept up, we must at once answer the questions of where we are, to where we are going, and how we are to get there. We must either repair our faulted ideologies or face the consequences of our own contradictions. It may well be that 2011 is to be remembered as such a year. True, it lacked the singular purposefulness of 2010’s drive to repudiate the health care legislation, rid Congress of its unrestrained desire for ever greater government controls, and nullify the Obama administration’s oppressive regulatory policies wherever possible. Different times, however, call for different spirits. 2011 was the time for the promises of the 2010 congressional elections to be put into act, the time to put that ideology to work. The result was often well-intended but imperfect, hindered by the lingering Democratic control of the Senate and complicated by a perpetual series of compromises that left no one satisfied and sent congressional approval ratings to all-time lows of 12.7% at year’s end. As the unemployment rate stagnated, Americans were given a grim look into the engine room of partisan politics where principle is so often held subordinate to considerations of loyalty and appearance.Though it has yet to reflect in our economic condition, things are, politically, better than they were twelve months ago. For the first time in generations, there is a growing sector of average Americans who believe, both practically and ethically, in the merits of political and economic freedom. The challenge now will be carrying the enthusiasm they have cultivated since 2010 forward, through the brutish struggles in Washington’s backrooms and the uncertainty of Iowa’s ballot boxes, toward the elections of 2012 and, with hope, an era of ever-greater victories for the principles upon which our nation was founded. As always, winning our future means understanding our past. It is with that consideration that we look back on the events of the last year as we say goodbye to 2011.
 
A year of trouble and turmoil, 2011 has been as much affected by conflicts abroad as it has by the struggle between the changing tides of American ideologies and the onerous traditions of politics past. Scarcely had the year begun when it was upended by a sudden explosion of conflicts in the Middle East, beginning with the public suicide of a young man in protest of the Tunisian government which transpired to an international wave of political uprisings now known as the Arab Spring. That movement would incite conflicts in nations from North Africa to Syria and bring about the fall of such corrupt dictators as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Muammar Ghaddafi. Though the movement wages on in the bloodied streets of Syria, where rebels come to blows daily with a brutal and oppressive regime, its ultimate results and effects on American interests are as yet undecided. Much will depend on the current and future political struggles within those now shaken nations, and history could as easily come to see these events as a vacuum from which emerged a newly energized and vindicated rise of Islamic Totalitarianism as it could the pure and heroic struggle for freedom that the Western media so actively portrayed it to be.
 
  One consideration in particular must be made in regard to that circumstance, however: the nature of those revolutions, the violence in Egypt against Coptic Christians, the presence of Al Qaeda factions among the ranks of Libyan rebels, and the recent political victories of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt portend a dark future for those nations. If popular revolutions can be divided among those most akin to the American Revolution and the French Revolution, that which has transpired in the Middle East this year is definitively the latter. They are not movements based primarily on principles of individual rights. Were they, groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood would have been ousted along with Mubarak. Instead, they are less a push for freedom than they are a push against an oppressor, complicated by the fact that this is a part of the world which has never been exposed to true political freedom or come to accept the philosophical principles which are prerequisite to its realization. Tragically, the American media proved in its coverage of these events its dire inability to make that distinction.
 
In this publication’s view, the Leftist elements of the media were motivated by a desire to vindicate their long-expressed views on America’s Middle East policy since the beginning of the Iraq war. Doubtless, there are a myriad of arguments against our having gone to war in Iraq — most reputably that which states that Iraq was not the greatest or most immediate threat to American security, that the very costly armed welfare mission into which that conflict devolved was in no way carried out in the best interests of American soldiers or citizens, that our efforts would have been better served elsewhere. However, this is not the logic or sentiment which is most fervently held by these advocates. Since the beginning of that war, there has been a considerable segment of the Left which has argued against it on the grounds that the principle of self-determination grants nations the right to practice any form of oppression and denial of individual rights they please, so long as they hold majority support; that political freedom is a Western product that we happen to have chosen, but that any other nation’s choice of tyranny is equally valid because they chose it. Fast-forwarding to this year’s Arab Spring, these same advocates are some of the movement’s most ardent supporters, on the grounds that it shows that, left to their own devices, the peoples of such nations will eventually throw off their own shackles and choose freedom without Western support or guidance. Were this the case, the nations of the Middle East which have undergone revolutions this year deserve our commendations. However, we remain dubious that this is the case. Those who believe that freedom and prosperity are the predestined results of these revolutions will, we fear, be demonstrably proven wrong by whatever variant of oppressive control emerges in these very fragile regions in the coming years. What future instability or, worse, stability under dangerous conditions will mean for America’s interests in the region remain to be seen, but it is a problem that should be carefully observed to maintain our security and best interests.Ironically, in their advocacy of these revolutions, the Left has inherited a trademark intellectual error from the Bush administration: the belief that popular elections and a system of democracy are the source and cause of freedom. This is a grievous inversion that leads man to the conclusion that institutions and their organization can effectively supplant the role of ideas in the guidance of his actions. Though popular elections are an integral part of a free political system, they are its product, not its cause. Only a rational political philosophy of individual rights can ever be the cause of true and lasting freedom. Returning to our previous comparison, in the case of America, its revolutionaries had inherited roughly a century of Enlightenment thought in which they were well-versed and whose principles they explicitly understood. That knowledge of the Enlightenment values of reason and individualism led those men to the design of a government meant to acknowledge and secure them. France’s exposure to Enlightenment thought was quite equal to England’s, but its revolution was driven less by intellectuals and more by a mob, inspired less by a circumspect outlook upon what could be than by the violent, angry rejection of what was. In short: less talk of ideas, more guillotines. To which do the current uprisings in the Middle East better compare and what does that suggest about the political future to be expected there? It is significant that those here in America, the nation of the Enlightenment, are today so unaware of the role of philosophy in its beginnings… and its future.Despite the rather grim prospects of revolutionaries in the Middle East to establish any long-term system of freedom and prosperity, the ideological struggles waged in America this year have proven that its intellectual foundations are alive and well here in the States. What’s more, there are signs that they could be experiencing a popular– and lasting– resurgence. The Tea Party candidates around the country were inaugurated to their congressional seats in January after having run their campaigns on the principles of a free market, fiscal responsibility, and constitutionally limited government. Joining them were welcomed conservative state officials throughout the nation in such volumes as had not been seen since before the Great Depression.  Their rallying cry: to oppose the unyielding growth of government and its power over the lives of private citizens. Their victories were numerous and significant (if as much for what they prevented as what they created), though it seemed, at times, that every victory had its casualties and every two steps forward saw one step back. Democratic power in the Senate made for unproductive compromises and grand-scale debates that evinced more in theatrics than tangible results.This was never more clearly displayed than in the summer debt and budgetary crises, with the tantalizing threat of government shut-down looming over our heads. Americans bore witness to the paltry efforts of Congressto wean itself from excessive outlays, where merely promising to increase spending at a decreasing rate was portrayed as “budget cuts” and an unwillingness to abolish or defund a single government bureaucracy left the fundamental problems of America’s  leviathan state firmly intact. Unsurprisingly, though shut-downs were averted and compromises reached, the political instability over so crucial an issue led to the first downgrade of America’s debt to below AAA. In ensuing months, as compensation, we were offered  another grand spectacle in the form of a “Super-Committee” convened to tackle the problem of America’s mounting foreign debt. Tragically, it was stacked with the most diametrically opposite representatives from Left and Right and, predictably, politics yet again trumped the interests of American citizens’ well-being. Read the rest of this entry »
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A Few More Words on Patrick Allitt’s The Conservatives

In American History, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Conservatism, History, Humanities, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Politics on October 9, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Allen Mendenhall

Many American politicians call themselves “conservative” despite never having read Paul Elmer More, Irving Babbitt, Robert Taft, Donald Davidson, Frank Meyer, Richard Weaver, James Burnham, or Russell Kirk.  Television pundits recycle the term “neoconservative” without even a passing reference to Leo Strauss, Irving Kristol, or Norman Podhoretz.  A welcome respite from the ignorance of the talking heads, Patrick Allitt’s The Conservatives (Yale University Press, 2009) is an engaging and informative book, even if it is more of an introduction to American conservatism than a critical study.  I recently reviewed the book here at the journal 49th Parallel, but I have more to say about it.

American conservatism is rich and complex but too often simplified or ignored by academics who think they know what conservatism means.  I applaud Allitt for taking conservatism seriously and for marshaling a wealth of evidence to support his thesis.  Those who cannot identify what generally distinguishes a paleoconservative from a neoconservative, or who’re confused by the apparent hypocrisy of conservatives who call for big-government spending on military and surveillance while griping about big-government, need to read this book.  Allitt provides clarity and direction for the uninitiated.  He deserves not just our attention, but our admiration.

Allitt attends to several figures in this book, including John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, William Cobbett, John Marshall, John Randolph of Roanoke, George Fitzhugh, Rufus Choate, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, George Ticknor, Abraham Lincoln, Orestes Brownson, William Graham Sumner, Andrew Carnegie, Theodore Roosevelt, John Crow Ransom, Andrew Lytle, H. L. Mencken, Herbert Hoover, William Howard Taft, Albert Jay Nock, Ralph Adams Cram, George Santayana, Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig Von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand, Whittaker Chambers, William F. Buckley, Milton Friedman, Barry Goldwater, George Will, Ronald Reagan, Michael Novak, Robert Bork, Allan Bloom, M. E. Bradford, Thomas Fleming, Clyde Wilson, Francis Fukuyama, Samuel Huntington, Patrick Buchanan, Jerry Falwell, Roger Kimball, Thomas Sowell, Charles Murray, Dinesh D’Souza, and others.  One book cannot address every major figure that influenced American conservatism, and Allit’s failure to mention some names (Strom Thurmond, Gerald Ford, Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Donald Rumsfeld, Wendell Berry, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, or any of the Bob Joneses) is understandable.  Paul Gottfried appears just once in the book, and passingly.  But a case could be made that Gottfried’s paleoconservatism is more European in origin and thus worthy of analysis.  And surely Eric Voegelin warrants more than a casual reference in a single paragraph.

For some, Allitt’s most objectionable suggestion will be that the Civil War was a conflict of two conservatisms: Calhoun’s versus Webster’s.  This interpretation illuminates and simultaneously complicates such recent debates as the one held between Thomas DiLorenzo and Harry V. Jaffa over the issue of Abraham Lincoln’s legacy.

Allitt also suggests that the Federalists represent an early manifestation of conservatism.  This classification would mean that Jefferson and his ilk were not conservatives, which would in turn imply that current Jeffersonians are not in keeping with a purely conservative tradition.  Allitt offers this helpful and accurate note about Jefferson: “He might not have been the Jacobin his Federalist foes alleged, but neither can he easily be thought of as a conservative.”  Many scholars and enthusiasts consider Jefferson to be a “classical liberal,” but the signification of that word relative to “libertarian” or “conservative” merely confounds definitional precision:  All three words have been used interchangeably and negligently in recent decades.  It may not matter if Jefferson is called “conservative” or “liberal,” especially if those terms cause people to short-circuit reflection or affix a contemporary label to a complicated man living in a complex, radically different era.

Allitt’s book is a fine contribution to and about conservative letters.  I recommend it to anyone who thinks he can explain conservatism.

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