David Brooks (NYT) & Traditional Conservatism: a democratic foundation for civic responsibility

by faithgibson on September 28, 2012

life is best organized asbaby-bird-Next2_blye-robin-egg
a series of daring ventures
from a secure base”

 

My last (also my first!) post proposed and promoted the idea of a non-partisan yet actively participatory democracy based on traditional American values.

While this includes party politics and  election campaigns, this broad form of participatory democracy sees voting as just one of many civic responsibilities. No matter how competent and talented, we can’t expect the new round of elected officials to magically make it all better for all of us, while we all lolly-gag @ the beach or ballgame, read or surf the Net.

My ideas of democracy as an active verb coincides with and builds on the ideas of Eric Liu and Nick Hanaur (authors of True Patriots & Gardens of Democracy). They describes these necessary qualities as a ‘civic religion’ in which individuals, private groups of all kinds and government at all levels are working towards a single goal — a just, fair, and safe civil society.

It is instructive to note that word ‘religion’ comes from  ‘re-ligio’, which means to “tie back together” — connectiveness, inter-dependency, mutual co-operation for the good of all.

From the very founding of our country the principles of American democracy have supported equality of opportunity — opportunities to ‘get ahead’, invent and innovate, to get rich.  The are all characteristics currently embibbed with nearly divine qualities by Conservatives and Republican party.

However, that idea has always been balanced by principles of mutual responsibility — compassion for children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups who, for whatever reason, lack education or are unable to provide the life-sustaining necessities on a temporarily or permanent basis.

Part of our civic responsibility as individuals, organizations and governments at the state, local and national level is to see that minor children, widows, the ill, injured, elderly, the mentally handicapped and the incarcerated are cared for compassionately.

So imagine my delight to read David Brook’s NYT column for September 24th, 2012. His essay ponders the nature, history, rightful place and appropriate balance of traditional conservatism.  What were the traditionally conservative equalities that our Founding Mothers and Fathers transmitted from generation to generation and how can be we both benefit from them in contemporary times, as well as protecting and prosevering them for future generations?

He sees a crucial role and function for traditional conservatives, which he describes as to:

… preserve a society that functioned as a harmonious ecosystem, in which the different layers were nestled upon each other: individual, family, company, neighborhood, religion, city government and national government …

He goes on to quote from child psychologist John Bowlby, who adroitly identifies the Pearl of Great Prices that such a society leads to as:

life is best organized as a series of daring ventures from a secure base”. 

Mr Brooks, as well as a lot of other American, believe this is not being met by the current emphasis by the Conservative Right’s one-size-fits-all economic focus and that is a crucial loss to the wellbeing and stability of our country.

I found Mr. Brooks’ observations to be both thought-provoting and useful.

@@@   ^O^   @@@

Here is a long excerpt of his essay. Use this to access the full article as published in the Times Union, September 24, 2012

Mr. Brooks: When I joined the staff of National Review as a lowly associate in 1984, the magazine, and the conservative movement itself, was an uncomfortable fusion of two different mentalities.

When I joined the staff of National Review as a lowly associate in 1984, the magazine, and the conservative movement itself, was an uncomfortable fusion of two different mentalities.

On the one side, there were the economic conservatives. These were people that anybody following contemporary Republican politics would be familiar with. They spent a lot of time worrying about the way government intrudes upon economic liberty. They upheld freedom as their highest political value. They admired risk-takers. They worried that excessive government would create a sclerotic nation with a dependent populace.

But there was another sort of conservative, who would be less familiar now. This was the traditional conservative, intellectual heir to Edmund BurkeRussell KirkClinton Rossiter and Catholic social teaching.

This sort of conservative didn’t see society as a battleground between government and the private sector. Instead, the traditionalist wanted to preserve a society that functioned as a harmonious ecosystem, in which the different layers were nestled upon each other: individual, family, company, neighborhood, religion, city government and national government.

Because they were conservative, they tended to believe that power should be devolved down to the lower levels of this chain.

They believed that people should lead disciplined, orderly lives, but doubted that individuals have the ability to do this alone, unaided by social custom and by God.

Recently the blogger Rod Dreher linked to Kirk’s essay, “Ten Conservative Principles,” which gives the flavor of this brand of traditional conservatism. This kind of conservative cherishes custom, believing that the individual is foolish but the species is wise. It is usually best to be guided by precedent.

This conservative believes in prudence on the grounds that society is complicated and it’s generally best to reform it steadily but cautiously. Providence moves slowly but the devil hurries.

The two conservative tendencies lived in tension. But together they embodied a truth that was later put into words by the child psychologist John Bowlby, that life is best organized as a series of daring ventures from a secure base.

The economic conservatives were in charge of the daring ventures that produced economic growth. The traditionalists were in charge of establishing the secure base — a society in which families are intact, self-discipline is the rule, children are secure and government provides a subtle hand.

Ronald Reagan embodied both sides of this fusion, and George W. Bush tried to recreate it with his compassionate conservatism.

In the polarized political conflict with liberalism, hostility toward government has become the organizing conservative principle. Economic conservatives have the money and the institutions. They have taken control.

Traditional conservatism has gone into eclipse. These days, speakers at Republican gatherings almost always use the language of market conservatism — getting government off our backs, enhancing economic freedom. Even Mitt Romney, who subscribes to a faith that knows a lot about social capital, relies exclusively on the language of market conservatism.

It’s not so much that today’s Republican politicians reject traditional, one-nation conservatism.

The results have been unfortunate. Since they no longer speak in the language of social order, Republicans have very little to offer the less educated half of this country. Republicans have very little to say to Hispanic voters, who often come from cultures that place high value on communal solidarity.

Republicans repeat formulas — government support equals dependency — that make sense according to free-market ideology, but oversimplify the real world. Republicans like Romney often rely on an economic language that seems corporate and alien to people who do not define themselves in economic terms. No wonder Romney has trouble relating.

Some people blame bad campaign managers for Romney’s underperforming campaign, but the problem is deeper. Conservatism has lost the balance between economic and traditional conservatism. The Republican Party has abandoned half of its intellectual ammunition. It appeals to people as potential business owners, but not as parents, neighbors and citizens.

David Brooks writes for the New York Times.

Read more: http://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/From-the-minds-of-a-conservative-3890783.php#ixzz27mpDbvor

 

Previous post:

Next post: