Monday, January 08, 2007

Moral vs. Practical

Jeff Jacoby's piece about the different ways liberals and conservatives argue is interesting and makes some good observations.

…as a broad rule, intentions are the currency of the left, while results matter most to the right. That is why Bill Clinton could feel our pain, while Ronald Reagan insisted that facts were stubborn things.

Conservatives might draw the conclusion from Jacoby’s article that their arguments are superior because the right is more in touch with reality, whereas the liberals have only wishful thinking. The conservatives would be wrong. The liberal argument wins because the liberals have morality on their side. The conservatives try to argue practicality separate from morality.

It is better to be befuddled, inaccurate, impractical and moral than it is to be precise, accurate, practical and immoral. Even conservatives sense this and they are disarmed whenever liberals get away from numbers and facts to ethics – as liberals have learned to do as fast as possible.

As the expansion of the welfare state over the last century shows, in the long run the liberals win. They have utterly dominated. It was common for conservatives during the Cold War to think they were on the losing side. In the battle of the west vs. communism, they were wrong -- communism had no future -- but in the battle of freedom vs. the welfare state, they were right. The state would continue to grow throughout the 20th century despite the right's feeble attempts to restrain it.

There have been momentary setbacks of liberalism, such as the Reagan Presidency. The Republican rise to Congressional power in 1994 forced Bill Clinton to call the era of big government over. But government continued to get bigger, despite anything Clinton said. Today the Republicans have given up the fight and have joined the liberals in supporting the welfare state and big government. Some of the writers at the Weekly Standard support "big government conservatism."

Big government conservatives are favorably disposed toward what neoconservative Irving Kristol has called a "conservative welfare state." (Neocons tend to be big government conservatives.)
The conservatives are in a confused, transitory phase; with the advent of "compassionate conservatism" and the growth of the religious right, they seem to be changing into a party of religious welfare statism. The secular, free market faction, at least among prominent politicians, is shrinking. This too shows how morality determines a movement's direction in the long run.

If the welfare state is to be rolled back in the 21st century, we must demonstrate its immorality. This means arguing that rational selfishness is moral, and that altruism, the morality of sacrifice, is not.

UPDATE: Slight revision.

No comments: