Friday, December 30, 2005

Synthesizing a Running Debate II: Hart's New Conservative Consensus

So what about a more Libertarian Republican Party? A more libertarian conservatism? In all probability wouldn't be able to put together any kind of sizeable majority, at least not for the foreseeable future. A successful conservatism that was based in the Northeast and Midwest, balanced the budget, shrank the government, protected the environment and beauty, and made its peace with legal abortion?

There's a reason for the GOP's big-government turn in the last decade, and it's not just malice, corruption and incompetence, it's that some kind of a big-government turn is what the American people wanted from the post-Gingrich Right.

Bush defeated Al Gore in 2000 not in spite of, but because of his willingness to promise spending increases, to co-opt Democratic ideas on Health Care and Education, and to invent an effective language of "compassionate conservatism."

Steve at Secure Liberty addresses three of the issues broached by Hart:
He describes the abortion debate as "libertarian" rather than liberal. Libertarian for whom? The unborn child? It certainly is liberating for the mother, but what of the father? Regardless of the body in which the child resides, it is the equal responsibility of the father and mother. He describes the pro-life position as "utopian" and in a political respect, perhaps he's right. But step a few years into the future. Premature babies can survive earlier and earlier. Ultimately the law must at a minimum follow the Roe framework and permit bans on abortion following viability. Viability is a moving target that will ultimately include the entire term, at which point, abortion, as we know it will be banned.

Hart says that the current conservative mind doesn't value beauty. I disagree. What the current conservative mind doesn't value is beauty purchased with public funds. Teddy Roosevelt did a wonderful thing in establishing the National Parks. It was also a fiscally prudent investment in real estate. Hart says that stewardship of the environment belongs to liberals, but is that fair? Does Hart consider that one of the largest supporters of the outdoors and open spaces is the NRA? Do liberals even know that? The conservative mind should seek to balance the nonmonetary goals with monetary goals. When environmental legislation ignores the effect on business, it will never be effective. Most legislation proposed by liberals is of this type. Even my liberal environmental law professor realized that business must be incented and encouraged to use more environmentally friendly approaches and develop environmentally friendly products and processes. Technology, not legislation, has driven most of our environmental improvements in the last 30 years. The goal of legislation needs to be to permit reasonable business activity, and encourage improvements in environmental technology. Liberals are hardly at the forefront there.

Lastly, Hart turns sanctimonious and smug as he insults those from outside of the Blue State centers as lacking in intellectualism and culture. He seems to be considering only certain types of education, intellect and culture, and on that basis he's right. Boston has more classical music performances annually than any city in the world other than Vienna. I bet it doesn't have nearly as many country music performances as Nashville...or even lowly Branson, Missouri. Hart says earlier in his piece, "[m]en do not all desire the same things", and yet he conveniently ignores this in deciding which "culture" he considers valid. Is a fine French restaurant in Manhattan culturally superior to a fantastic BBQ/Ribs restaurant in Georgia? Who says? I guarantee you I'd prefer the latter.

Sigmund, Carl, and Alfred also had a word or two in defense of the South:
Hart goes on to note and concoct an anti intellectual mindset in the south and is supported by (with appropriate, but barely restrained) liberals and pseudo-intellectuals.

With all due respect to Professor Hart, Dartmouth English department guru, his thesis is no watershed in understanding the American political landscape. His ideas are no more than a lightweight effort. While those ideas may appeal to college sophomores (on the east coast), they are essentially without merit.

A look at the the New York Times Bestseller list, for example, reveal that only one of the authors on that list grew up in proximity to a large east coast center. Only one.

In fact, if you were to look at the artists, writers and actors in New York- or any other large city- it is clear that a disproportionate of them come from outside the area. A classic example of that is the author, Kate, of Small Dead Animals. We have noted that truth here, in our review, The Art of the Blog:
While we tend to think of urban areas as the origins of the arts, a fair argument can be made that the notion is illusory. In point of fact, great art and artists for the most part, have their roots in rural areas. In other words, it is the views and perspectives from those outside major coastal urban areas that seem to have a profound impact on our collective psyche. It is true that the arts proliferate in those urban areas, but as we said, many of the most influential artists were born or grew up in rural or decidedly 'second class' urban areas, a long way from the bright lights of the great white way.
It is quite understandable that artists from around the country would gravitate to larger cities- that is after all, where the finest arts schools are to be found. That in turn, is a function of population and centers of immigration, and not a matter of geography.

The real questions that need to be addressed by Professor Hart are as follows:

  • If the population centers of the northeast/west coast are the centers of intellectualism and the arts, why are so many from outside the area so successful?
  • Along those same lines, why aren't there more 'home grown' success stories?
  • Why are the education levels in these centers and bastions of the arts, so poor?
  • Why do so many business leaders and government leaders hail from small towns?
  • Why are do many Nobel Prize winners come from decidedly non 'center of the universe' towns and cities?

There are a thousand and one similar questions- a lifetime of research for a cultural anthropologist.

Residents of the 'center of the universe' cities do not patronize their arts institutions. There would be no Broadway, or even Off Broadway, if the tourists couldn't make their way into town. The lights on the Great White Way would be turned off if Aunt Mary from Omaha couldn't make her way to see Bob from Sioux Falls sing his heart out at the Wintergarden. The same holds true for the museums, tough admittedly, in the NYC mating ritual, a pre coital ritual museum tour is mandatory. That said, with each dollar rise in the 'suggested donation', the number of local visitors declines.

What passes for high art in 'centers of the universe' do not necessarily pass muster elsewhere. At some point, the authors of the Vagina Monologues, as someone noted, will not share a bookshelf with Shakespeare, Miller or Dr Seuss.

That hallowed NYT Bestseller list wouldn't be worth a damn if people outside the 'centers of the universe' didn't purchase and read those millions and millions volumes. Actual NYC book sales aren't all that impressive.

In the end, it seems as if the red states contribute mightily to the blue states artistic and intellectual pursuits. Certainly, red staters are appreciative for the bagel shops that blue staters brought to the south and elsewhere.
Professor Bainbridge disputes Hart's political construct of the United States and highlights one aspect of the push/pull within the contemporary American conservative movement:
Two parts jumped out at me as being worthy of discussion or, perhaps more precisely, highlighting. First, the role of the nation:

Soft utopianism speaks of the "nation-state" as if it were a passing nuisance. But the Conservative Mind knows that there must be much that is valid in the idea of the nation, because nations are rooted in history. Arising out of tribes, ancient cosmological empires, theocracies, city-states, imperial systems and feudal organization, we now have the nation. Imperfect as the nation may be, it alone--as far as we know--can protect many of the basic elements of civilized existence.

What Hart doesn't discuss here is the possibility that the United States is not a nation-state but rather a state-nation. Albert Wesibord writes:

What is a "nation," as we ought properly to use the term? Historically, a "nation" (a term derived from the Latin nascere, to be born) is developed from the "tribe," an enlarged "clan," which is, in turn, an enlarged "family" or "kindred." The "nation" has a base of common ancestry and blood relationship without which there could be no family, no kindred, no clan, and thus tribe. Various tribes of common origin may bind themselves into a brotherhood of "phratry" but when this occurs no "nation" has as yet developed, only the basis for one. ... At what point then did the United States become a "nation"? In our opinion never, for this process was blocked by slavery of the Africans and by an overwhelming non-English immigration from Europe.

Or, as Wikipedia puts it:

The term "state-nation" is sometimes used, for nations where the common identity derives from shared citizenship of a state. It implies that the state was formed first, and that the sense of national identity developed later, or in parallel.

Hence, Everett Ladd argues that "America is an idea -- a set of beliefs about people and their relationships and the kind of society which holds the best hope of satisfying the needs each of us brings as an individual."

This is a distinct challenge for American conservatism, especially the Anglophile strain represented by Russell Kirk, which looks back to English Tories like Edmund Burke for historical precedent and guidance. American conservatism thus finds itself torn between the polar extremes of nativists desperate to preserve a purported Anglo-American culture and open borders business types who seem to care nothing for cultural traditions (think National Review versus WSJ editorial board). One hopes for a middle ground, in which American remains open to anyone who embraces the "American idea," regardless of race or creed, while also striving to ensure assimilation to that idea.

That's it for today. Perhaps at some future point I'll combine these three posts (and any further ones) into a comprehensive narrative and make it available for perusal somewhere. . . .

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