After Romney: Republican Soul-Searching

by Andrew Bacevich on November 14, 2012 · 68 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Articles,Culture, High & Low,Politics & Power

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These remarks were delivered before the Notre Dame College Republicans at a panel devoted to discussing the future of the Republican Party. 

As an independent, I am not especially interested in the fortunes of either party.

I am interested in seeing an authentic conservatism have a place in our politics.  Otherwise, liberalism in various guises dominates.   

I don’t view liberalism as inherently evil.  It’s liberals rather than conservatives who have advanced the cause of racial and gender equality – a genuine accomplishment. When it comes to social justice, again, it’s liberals not conservatives who have made a difference. That said, liberalism needs a counterweight.  Its excesses need to be checked.

What passes for conservatism these days in mainstream American politics is not authentic.  When it comes to essentials, it’s not actually all that much different from or better than what passes for liberalism. 

In recent decades, the Republican Party’s version of conservatism has emphasized three major themes: 

First, in the realm of political economy, Republicans favor small government and unbridled capitalism, looking to the market to solve our domestic problems. 

Second, in the realm of foreign policy, Republicans favor big government and unbridled activism, looking to the military to prolong the American Century.

Third, in the realm of culture, Republicans have spoken in defense of so-called traditional values, making much of their putative opposition to abortion and the defense of traditional marriage.   

Republicans have made the first two themes the actual basis for policy.  On the third theme, they have offered little more than symbolism and sanctimonious posturing.  So the real guts of GOP conservatism in recent decades have focused on unleashing the market and the military – less state regulation of the economy, more state resources funneled to the Pentagon.    

I submit that neither of these qualifies as a genuinely conservative position.  To the extent that I have accurately characterized the Romney campaign’s position, I am glad Romney lost.

The essence of conservatism should be to conserve, showing respect for what is good in our inheritance.  I refer both to our human inheritance and our inheritance in the natural world. 

The market does not conserve.  Capitalism is good for one thing:  creating wealth.  As an arena in which the pursuit of profit takes precedence over all other considerations, the market destroys much of what conservatives should value. 

Except when used prudently to defend what is truly dear to us, the military does not conserve.  It consumes and wastes.   

Since the end of the Cold War and especially since 9/11, Republicans and Democrats have collaborated in concealing and ignoring just how much has been wasted through needless and poorly managed wars.  The immediate result has been to victimize the very soldiers whom Americans claim to love and support.

I’m not a politician and have no desire to involve myself in politics in any way.

That said, my own view is that salvation for the Republican party lies in becoming serious about that third theme rather than merely giving it lip service. 

If the Republican Party wishes to represent a conservative perspective, it should advance a serious critique of American culture and then derive authentically conservative economic and foreign policies from that critique.   

What might that mean?  Several things:

First, conservatives should claim the environmental movement as their own.  Preserving the natural world should be a cause that all conservatives embrace with gusto.  And, yes, that includes the issue of climate change. 

Second, conservatives should lead the way in protecting the family from the hostile assault mounted by modernity.  The principal threat to the family is not gay marriage.  The principal threats are illegitimacy, divorce, and absent fathers.  Making matters worse still is a consumer culture that destroys intimate relationships, persuading children that acquiring stuff holds the key to happiness and persuading parents that their job is to give children what the market has persuaded them to want.  

Third, when it comes to economics, conservatives should lead the fight against the grotesque inequality that has become such a hallmark of present-day America. 

Call me old fashioned, but I believe that having a parent at home holds one of the keys to nurturing young children and creating strong families.  That becomes exceedingly difficult in an economy where both parents must work just to make ends meet.   

Flattening the distribution of wealth and ensuring the widest possible the ownership of property can give more parents the choice of raising their own youngsters rather than farming the kids out to care providers.  If you hear hints of the old Catholic notion of distributism there, you are correct.   

Finally, when it comes to foreign and national security policies, conservatives should be in the forefront of those who advocate realism and modesty.  Conservatives should abhor the claims of American dominion that have become such a staple of our politics.  Saving humanity is God’s business, not America’s.   

Sure, we need a strong military.  But its purpose should be to defend the country, not to run the world.  And anytime Washington decides it needs to fight a war, then popular support should going beyond cheering.  That means higher taxes to pay for the war and an army drawn from all parts of American society – to include Domers – to fight it.

I don’t seriously expect the Republican Party to show the least interest in any such ideas.  But that’s because the actually-existing Republican Party is anything but conservative.

Andrew Bacevich is Professor of International Relations and History at Boston University.

{ 66 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Ray Olson November 14, 2012 at 10:48 am

Very fine statement of principles. Mr. Bacevich speaks my mind.

avatar Jordan Smith November 14, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Thank you for this.

avatar Brian November 14, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Regarding the economy, we don’t need a “hint” of distributism. We need the whole thing. Unfortunately, Chesterton & Belloc foresaw a century ago how things would go, with Big Business excesses leading to counterproductive cries for Big Government.

Regarding foreign policy, “realism” is exactly what we don’t need. Non-interventionism, sure. But there’s a far cry from saying “intervention in Libya, Syria, etc. is a bad idea” and saying “whoever is in charge of Libya, Syria, etc., is really no big deal.” Folks behind the Iron Curtain had no doubt where America stood. I don’t see why oppressed folks around the globe today should be given the message we couldn’t care less about them.

avatar Red Phillips November 14, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Mr. Bacevich has much wisdom to offer the Republican Party and modern “conservatism.” That is why it is so sad that he not only twice voted for Obama but that he twice publically announced he was voting for Obama. I’m not being snarky. I’m being serious. This greatly diminishes any potential influence he can ever have on either. If you can’t tolerate Romney or McCain (I couldn’t) then the proper thing to do is cast a protest third party vote. To vote for Obama is simply not justifiable and ruins your credibility as a voice for “authentic” conservatism. “I’m here to speak for authentic conservatism and I voted for Chuck Baldwin” your audience may listen to. “I’m here to speak for authentic conservatism and oh by the way I voted for Obama, twice,” and your audience turns you off.

avatar Red Phillips November 14, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Also, it is true that conservatism, for better or for worse, has embraced free market capitalism. But whatever you may think of this, the Constitution allows very little regulation at the Federal level. So even if you support economic intervention for conservative reasons, you can’t endorse much Federal level intervention if you are also interested in conserving the Constitution.

avatar steve in ohio November 14, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Ditto Red Phillips. I usually agree with Dr. Bacevich, but I don’t understand the vote for Obama. If we disagree with the direction in which our church is going, do we start to serve Satan? (No, I’m not calling Obama Satan.)

avatar Siarlys Jenkins November 14, 2012 at 11:46 pm

I also voted for President Obama, twice, enthusiastically, and I could easily vote for a candidate who ran on the platform outlined here. I generally end up voting for Democrats, because I find significant reasons not to let Republicans win, but the party as a whole is led by spineless cowards, afraid of their own shadows. After eight years in even partial positions of power, they become insufferable. The problem is funding a viable challenge that is, on principle better than what the Democrats offer.

I don’t believe it should be mandatory that mommy stays home with the children and keeps house while daddy goes out and makes money… but it is true that raising children requires a great deal of time, attention, and money. I support the constitutional framework of Roe v. Wade, but the above does not highlight using the police powers of the state to suppress abortion. It highlights creating an economic and cultural context where carrying a pregnancy to term would generally be welcomed.

As for regulation at the federal level, MOST commerce today is interstate and international. Necessarily, that requires and allows (constitutionally) for a much greater level of federal economic regulation. States are too puny and vulnerable to stand up to robber barons and corporations, who demand bribes to bestow the favor of exploiting the labor of a supplicant state. Distributism would be worth trying, and then we might have less activity constitutionally subject to federal regulation. Wickard v. Fillburn would have to be revisited… as it should, without, e.g. destroying the minimum wage laws. Scalpels are needed, not bludgeons.

avatar John Haas November 15, 2012 at 8:04 am

Red Phillips says “That is why it is so sad that he not only twice voted for Obama but that he twice publically announced he was voting for Obama. . . . This greatly diminishes any potential influence he can ever have . . .”

Leaving aside the nettlesome question of whether Obama is, in fact, the more conservative choice this year, I think the purely political facts are exactly otherwise.

Political parties change only when they see that the course they are pursuing is consigning them to irrelevance. It’s important for Republicans to know that there are millions of voters who once supported them who not only will not vote for them, but are open to voting for what they call “the other side,” should it field an acceptable candidate.

From the days when Martin Van Buren banged the Tammany machine together, parties have run on the bottom line principle of absolute loyalty. To the partisan, there is no sin greater than disloyalty. And that’s the only language they understand. Announcing you’re writing in Mickey Mouse or some irrelevant libertarian candidate might amuse or sadden the partisan, but it will not energize them. They know your opposition is lukewarm, and soon enough, you’ll be back.

avatar Belga November 15, 2012 at 11:34 am

One of the better articles about the shortcomings of the GOP, however, I had to get past the first ‘theme’ to continue: “Republicans favor small government and unbridled capitalism, looking to the market to solve our domestic problems”.

The GOP may pontificate about their love of small govt., but in practice, the federal govt. tends to grow under their leadership. The Drug War is an excellent contradiction to the above assertion. Started and advocated by a Republican (Nixon), exacerbated by another (Reagan), and furiously defended by the GOP since it’s inception, it is a paradigm of a big govt. boondoggle. Bush’s creation of the Patriot Act and the DHS are others. Few things say Big Government like the DEA busting down a MS patient’s door so they can take away his relief at gunpoint. Or how about full-body pat-downs of 5-year-old girls to “stop terrorists” at airports. Now that’s Big Govt.

You can’t say you want a smaller govt., have your leaders make it bigger every time they’re at the wheel, and expect to be taken seriously.

You’re getting closer to being honest with yourself about the GOP’s problems. Add this to your list: Republicans politicians like, or act as if they like, big government.

avatar Red Phillips November 15, 2012 at 12:45 pm

So SJ, you’re suggesting that conservatives think like liberals and broadly interpret the interstate commerce clause. But conservatives reject a broad reading of the interstate commerce clause as I’m sure you are aware. What is at issue IS NOT the nature of modern commerce, but the intent of the clause when it was inacted. If you believe it is inadequate then support a Constitutional Amendment to change it.

avatar Red Phillips November 15, 2012 at 12:49 pm

JH, it is absurd to argue that Obama was the more conservative choice. But I didn’t suggest he should have voted for Romney. I suggested he should have voted third party.

avatar Dave November 15, 2012 at 4:09 pm

One of the things I have found attractive about Roman Catholicism is the principal of the organic “development of doctrine.” It seems like a nice third way between liberal “make it up as you go” theology and Evangelical blunt reading of scripture and Biblicism. Given this principal, I’m wondering why, if the development of doctrine holds in theology (God illuminating more and new things over time), a Catholic would insist on strict Constitutionalism. Were the Enlightenment Deists who composed the Constitution divine? Were they not situated in a particular time, place, paradigm, worldview, etc. just like everyone else? I’m not arguing for viewing the Constitution as “living document” in the way that the liberals do. I’m just questioning if strict Constitutionalism is the answer either. It seems more appropriate, in a way, to the “Confessional” Protestant churches.

avatar Rob G November 15, 2012 at 8:54 pm

If abortion really is the killing of babies then the rest of these issues pales in comparison. The GOP, however, has demonstrated its unwillingness to engage this issue on anything other than a superficial, lip-service level. The Dems will never give up their commitment to the so-called sexual revolution (cultural libertinism being one of the chief engines of modern liberalism), and the GOP has been the party of plutocracy since its inception, and will never back away from its correlative commitment to fiscal libertinism. As Tony Esolen (I believe) has said, we’ve got the Party of the Zipper vs. the Party of the Wallet. I do not believe that the GOP can be salvaged, at least by conservatives — there’s too much there that’s anti-conservative. But it has not yet, thankfully, come down on the side of baby-killing and buggery.

avatar Shifty1 November 15, 2012 at 9:04 pm

I’m just curious how you would propose “flattening the distribution of wealth and ensuring th widest possible ownership of property”? If I’m not mistaken, haven’t BOTH of these propositions been tried before? Do not Communism and Socialism both attempt to “flatten the distribution of wealth” by taking from those who are successful at a thing and giving to those who are less successful? From each according to his ability; to each according to his need is, I believe the operative quote. How has that worked out?

And are we not suffering the unintended outcomes of policies intended to “ensure the widest possible ownership of property” ? Carter created the Community Reinvestment Act to further the aim of widening the ownership of property. Clinton began enforcing the act at the point of the Federal gun. The upshot was that people who hadn’t the economic wherewithal to afford a house, were able to purchase one, with predictable results. So how will once again making it easier for more people to own property somehow NOT result in the same outcome?

Not to mention that the two ideas, redistribution of wealth and “wider ownership of property” are somewhat mutually exclusive. How does one own property, when one’s wealth is being “distributed” to others? What ends up happening, out of neccessity, is that the government, as arbiter of wealth distribution, has to assume the role of property allocater, as well.

Seems to me that neither of these positions are especially conservative.

avatar John Haas November 15, 2012 at 10:56 pm

” . . . it is absurd to argue that Obama was the more conservative choice . . .”

Obama seeks to conserve the alterations we’ve made during the 20th century in government’s role in people’s opportunities and basic well-being, rather than destroy them. Repealing the 20th century isn’t conservative: it’s radical.

Obama’s treatment of BP today was indicative of a pro-local community, anti-predatory-heedless-murderous-multi-national-corporation attitude. From no Republican administration would you have seen anything like that, least of all Romney’s.

Obama’s more cautious approach to foreign intervention contrasts sharply with Romney’s we-must-spend-more-no-matter-what and ensure another American Century, and certainly than Romney’s promises to be the third Bush term in foreign policy. It’s better for the budget and the military. And as problematic as all-drones-all-the-time may be, it’s better, and more conservative, than occupation and nation-building.

avatar IJustWantTruth November 16, 2012 at 11:04 am

Mr. Bacevich,

This is a really well thought out essay and includes many points to which I fully concur. However, I wonder if I can offer a different way to describe how the Republican party could restructure itself to deliver on it’s main goals. To do this, let me sketch how I believe the Democratic party operates.

First, they have an inclusive philosophy that allows the widest possible participation in their party despite particular disagreements. Another way to put this is to say that they simply tell every interest group what they want to hear. A third way to describe this is to simply say they tell the most lies to the most groups of people — tell them whatever is necessary to get them on board with the Democrat party. Accordingly, there is almost no chatter about kicking any particular interest group out of the party on any grounds an instead, everyone is made to believe their interests are best served even if they aren’t. For example, on immigration or gay marriage or ……etc etc…small business, middle class, etc.

The math is very simple in American politics. 1 > 2. One is greater than two. This means the party that splinters less prevails. Examine the impact that the Libertarians had on this election—essentially swinging a win for Obama.

No. The problem with the Republican party isn’t that it needs to identify the proper philosophy to attract a few acceptable new constituents. The problem is that it needs to cease engaging in defining everyone else out of the party every few years. To win, it needs to tell as many or more lies than the Democrats to the widest number of groups. This could preserve the acquisition of its most cherished goals.

That is how politics in the USA works. Hope this helps.

IJWT

avatar Rodger November 16, 2012 at 11:23 am

“I don’t view liberalism as inherently evil.”

And there is where you surrendered before you began. Praising liberals for their advancement of road to hell good intentions like ‘equality’ and ‘social justice’ identifies your postion as a member of the right wing of liberalism, legitimizing and normalizing the eternal Revolution.

avatar Red Phillips November 16, 2012 at 12:30 pm

John Haas, I almost included in my post above a caveat about how the only way you could define Obama as the more conservative candidate was by playing symantic word games, but I didn’t because I hoped FPR commenters were above that. I guess I should have included it.

If by conservative we only mean the rigorous maintenance of the status qou, then I guess Obama might be more conservative than Chuck Baldwin. But of course that is not what I meant as I’m am sure you know, and it is not what almost everyone means when they use the word.

Unfortunately, you are correct that actually following the Constitution and having a government that runs as ours was intended to run is a radical idea these days. This is a fact that authentic conservatives (the people the author is supposedly speaking for) should mourn and want to correct.

In 2008 when Mr. Bacevich was first declaring himself an Obama”con” (an absurd formulation if ever there was one) he had two alternatives that were clearly to the right of McCain and more right on the foreign policy issue, Chuck Baldwin and Bob Barr. If you would like to argue that Obama was more conservative (in the generally accepted sense) than either of those men, then be my guest.

avatar Red Phillips November 16, 2012 at 12:34 pm

And I should learn how to spell semantic.

avatar robert m. peters November 16, 2012 at 6:23 pm

What Obama is a Hobbesian, believing in and using an abstract corporation with a monopoly on coercion, with the ability to define the limits its own power and with a powerful will, in the current situation coming form the vulgar masses manipulated by powerful elites with varying agendas. Marx said that Hobbes is the father of us all. The Hobbesian state serves many ideologies and agendas: Marxism, communism, socialism, national socialism, Capitalism, corporatism, democracy, etc. The last non-Hobbesian President of the United States was Grover Cleveland and he was an anomaly; for the pantheon of Hobbesian Presidents had begun in earnest in Lincoln, over whom a certain film has become the icon for the current set of fawning masses. To vote for Obama over McCain or Obama over Romney is tantamount to voting for Lucifer over Satan, if one may venture a polemic analogy, which is actually not as farfetched as it might appear, since the Hobbesian state might well be the political glove of that ancient foe.

avatar robert m. peters November 16, 2012 at 6:23 pm

I forgot an “is” up there!

avatar T. Chan November 16, 2012 at 8:58 pm

“I’m wondering why, if the development of doctrine holds in theology (God illuminating more and new things over time), a Catholic would insist on strict Constitutionalism. Were the Enlightenment Deists who composed the Constitution divine? Were they not situated in a particular time, place, paradigm, worldview, etc. just like everyone else? I’m not arguing for viewing the Constitution as “living document” in the way that the liberals do. I’m just questioning if strict Constitutionalism is the answer either. It seems more appropriate, in a way, to the “Confessional” Protestant churches.”

Because Christian doctrine may include law but it is not only law – it is first of all God revealing Himself, and because God cannot be comprehended within the limits of human language and reason, there is space for development. This is not true with respect to [human] law, which is not infinite as God as infinite, but indeed a limit set by reason.

avatar robert m. peters November 16, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Mr. Chan,

I am in fundamental agreement with you. John C. Calhoun, arguable the best American political philosopher, stated that Providence creates societies and that men write constitutions. He came to understand that written Constitutions were dangerous because men would come to the false belief that the traditions, customs and habits which made of the “rule of law” in a given society could be reduced to words withing the frame and content of a written constitution. Once a republic, a commonwealth or a social order begins to lose the traditions, customs and habits which guide it toward the common good for that particular order, which is what is meant in the Aristotelian sense by the “rule of law,” then that society, struggling for cohesion, defaults to a faux rule of law as articulated in statutes and the due process associated with them. A simple example will suffice. Throughout my early life, it was the rule of law, i.e. custom and habit, that when a driver of an automobile encountered a funeral procession, he pulled over and allowed it to pass, out of respect. Thank custom and habit is now dead; however, lawmakers have reached for the artificial remedy: a statute which makes it a misdemeanor not to so yield to a funeral procession. Once the statute is necessary, the rule of law is dead.

To be fair, that document which we refer to as the Constitution was viewed my most at its ratification, although cynically so viewed by some, as a compact treaty among sovereigns, i.e. the states, in which thirteen different rules of law, i.e. traditions, customs and habits, thrived, some quite contrary to those of others. The rise of the unitary/Hobbesian state undermined this understanding; and it was swept away in the War of Secession and in the aftermath of that war, the aftermath of that war being that war by another means.

Thus, the Constitution is today merely a facade before which “conservatives” call for “strict construction” and liberals cry for “a living Constitution.” She was never the embodiment of the rule of law, merely the guide post for republics, in which the rule of law might flourish, to get along with one another where they had common interests.

I am not a Roman Catholic or an Orthodox; yet, I will cede that the false belief that Constitutions can embody the full rule of law, conservatively or liberally interpreted, is, in fact, predicated on the prevailing Protestant belief that the fullness of God as revealed in Christ can be embodied in the Bible with God’s being reduced to paragraphs, accompanied by the attempt to “scientifically” reduce God to the “original” meaning of some Greek or Hebrew word. In both cases, the documents are reduced to an idol “worthy” of our worship.

avatar Dave November 17, 2012 at 12:15 am

Mr. (or Dr.?) Peters, I think you have hit the nail on the head:

“I am not a Roman Catholic or an Orthodox; yet, I will cede that the false belief that Constitutions can embody the full rule of law, conservatively or liberally interpreted, is, in fact, predicated on the prevailing Protestant belief that the fullness of God as revealed in Christ can be embodied in the Bible with God’s being reduced to paragraphs, accompanied by the attempt to “scientifically” reduce God to the “original” meaning of some Greek or Hebrew word. In both cases, the documents are reduced to an idol “worthy” of our worship.”

This is largely what I was trying to get at, but far less articulately.

-Dave

avatar John Haas November 17, 2012 at 9:34 am

Mr. Phillips, my point was not to argue that Obama is thoroughly conservative, or that he would satisfy even most conservative’s idea of an ideal candidate–certainly not when taken in isolation.

Rather–at least for those voters who realistically approached the election and said, “OK, either Romney or Obama will be president, no matter what fanciful wishes I may entertain, so which will be better for–or do less harm to–the country?”–Obama was an acceptable candidate–and on conservative grounds.

Or, I should say (in line with my examples above) “was acceptable where it counts”–ie, in those areas where a president has the power to actually affect the shape of the nation (foreign policy most importantly).

As for what counts as “conservative,” the matter is not one of semantics at all: It’s simply a difference of philosophy. A conservatism that learns, corrects, and adapts–cautiously and with respect for the Constitution as well as ultimate sovereign of the Republic (“We the people . . .”) while seeking to actually “conserve” that which is true and good, is not at all, as you rightly point out, a conservatism that satisfies yearnings for stability and fixity and absolutes that are entertained by many in the conservative camp.

It is the difference, we might say, between John Marshall (along with Edmund Burke), on the one hand, and Andrew Jackson, on the other.

avatar Red Phillips November 17, 2012 at 12:32 pm

JH, my original point remains. Bacevich’s vote was not going to change the outcome of the election. So why sacrifice his credibility? By publicly announcing his intention to vote for Obama, he not only hampered his ability to speak to his intended audience, authentic conservatives, but he also endorsed the current duopoly.

avatar John Haas November 17, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Mr. Phillips, your point makes sense insofar as we define “authentic conservatives” as people who would only vote for an irrelevant third-party candidate or for whoever happens to be the the Republican nominee.

My own feeling would be, perhaps we should think about doing some tangible good for the republic where we can–and if “authentic conservatives” are dismayed by that, well, they’re free to hold each others’ hands and console one another with their “authenticity.” It’s not as if they don’t have plenty of experience doing just that.

avatar robert m. peters November 17, 2012 at 4:58 pm

What is “the republic,” and what is the “tangible good” which one could do for that republic, assuming one could identify said republic; for I in vain seek such a republic?

avatar John Haas November 17, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Mr. Peters, “the republic” would be this one, such as it is; and “tangible good” couldn’t really be defined in the abstract. One would need to look at each issue that seemed on the table in any given campaign, do one’s best to figure out which alternative would be better or less harmful (where there are alternatives, that is), which ones one considered most likely to arise, which would be most consequential, and etc.

For example, I’m a foreign policy voter. That’s the thing I consider presidents have the most power over, the most influence upon, and have the likeliest chance of affecting the nation, other nations, individuals, societies, families, and history, for good or for ill. I also consider the issue of war or not to be among the most morally freighted a nation–and therefore–a voter can face.

So, I face it, and I try to vote in favor of some tangible goods, insofar as I can descry them–or at least, against the greater evil. For me, that means, the less bluster, the less unnecessary intervention, the more multilateralism, and so forth, the better. These I consider to be conservative values.

avatar robert m. peters November 17, 2012 at 7:48 pm

Mr. Haas,

While I cannot agree that “this one” is a “republic,” I can agree with this part of your statement:

“One would need to look at each issue that seemed on the table in any given campaign, do one’s best to figure out which alternative would be better or less harmful (where there are alternatives, that is), which ones one considered most likely to arise, which would be most consequential, and etc.”

I am unsure that “voting” in the context of modern America is an effective way for a conservative to check liberalism; however, as drowning men, I suppose the vote as it exists in modern American life is the only straw at which we can grasp; holding our breath until the empire collapses will indeed be difficult.

avatar T. Chan November 17, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Dave: I agree with Mr. Peters that a code of human law that goes beyond certain basic precepts will require an interpretive apparatus (supplying definitions, explanations of the intent of the legislator, and the like) which is to be found in a tradition accompanying the law. It’s less “development of dogma” and more a question of how law is to be interpeted: sola scriptura vs. some other hermeneutic. Laws can be modified or repealed or replaced, but that is not what we usually understand by development. Though development may apply to the formulation of new laws that build upon old laws – an elaboration of rights and responsibilities, for example. But I would deny that “development” can be read into an existing law, which has a meaning specified by the legislator.

avatar robert m. peters November 17, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Mr. Chan,

Your words:

“But I would deny that “development” can be read into an existing law, which has a meaning specified by the legislator.”

I agree.

avatar John Haas November 17, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Mr. Peters, we still got representation. You want something more?

avatar Jack November 18, 2012 at 10:46 am

There are so many of us thirsty for a real and viable conservative alternative to the liberals. This article articulates the kind of ideology many of us (independents) would find attractive. I really believe that if this message could be matched with the right charismatic candidate and delivered honestly without obfuscation, back-peddling, and cynicism, it could win big. Instead the GOP is giving us unprincipled, hypocritical, ignorant, and often hateful mush delivered by profoundly cynical jerks who are objectively stupid and self-serving. I will never ever vote for that way…no matter how much they threaten to lower my taxes!

avatar robert m. peters November 18, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Mr. Haas,

Give or take twenty or so million, there are now about 310 million people who call themselves Americans. With a House of Representatives of 435 that works out to about 710,000 per “representative,” who is usually beholden to either the Democratic or Republican faction and to the elites who are the Marionettenmeister. If that is “representative” government, then I suppose that we have “representation.” I would also note that a republic is much more than merely having, even in the best sense of the term “representative government,” representative government.

avatar John Haas November 18, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Mr. Peters, should we double the number of representatives to 870, and get us down to 1 per 355,000? What number would suffice? I suspect that if it were 1 per 2, the elites would still have the preponderance of power, as long as the congressperson saw to a redistricting in their favor. There’s no salvation in numbers.

avatar robert m. peters November 18, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Actually, Mr. Haas, Aristotle said that to have a republic, regardless of its polity or constitution, one needed the following: republican-minded citizens, with citizens not including all free men, all persons, aliens or slaves; the rule of law which was not statutory law with the modern notion of “due process” but which was that law, i.e. constitution written on the hearts of the citizens, which was the gestalt of the traditions, customs and habits associated with a given commonwealth and which defined and led to the common good; and finally a demographic and territorial economy of scale such that a given people on a given territory could share common traditions, customs and habits and live them out.

The consolidated and centralized Hobbesian state or empire which is today known as the United States can never be a republic not in any since of the word. It was never a republic; it was, until 1860, a union of constitutionally federated republics with the republican tradition in its classical sense carried on by the states. Those who drafted the Constitution thought that a representative should stand for about 30,000 people and no more. Some held to 50,000. If we used their standard today; we’d have an unwieldy Congress of about 7,000 to 9,000 members.

Men of the 18th century, most of them at least, understood this classical view of a republic. John Randolph held that Virginia was already too large to be a republic; that among other reasons was why he and other Virginians were willing to give up the Northwest Territory and allow Kentucky to secede from Virginia. Jefferson saw even the rump of Virginia as too large and advocated breaking it into ward republics. Jefferson also, using the classical model, foresaw at least five confederations of republics emerging on the territories of what is now the United States.

I therefore respectfully suggest that we drop the pretense of living in a “republic” and acknowledge that we live in a post-republican, centralized Hobbesian state in which representative government is simply meaningless. That is the reality from which we as conservatives should begin our discussion and not with the abstractions of that which does not exist: no republic or republics and no constitutional government.

avatar John Haas November 18, 2012 at 6:38 pm

I’ll be glad to admit we do not live in Aristotle’s dream republic. No more.

avatar robert m. peters November 18, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Mr. Haas,

Aristotle’s understanding of a republic was a synthesis of the constitutions,written and unwritten, which he had studied. It was not that farfetched from the realities which it reflected.

It is true that most republics which approach the ideal of his synthesis are, measured against the eons of time, short lived, although some last, undergoing changes but retaining their essence, much longer than others. The various American republics, beginning already in the colonial period, lasted about one hundred years until 1860, although the republican flame had all but died in several before that time.

At the present time, nothing resembling a republic, idealized or otherwise, exists on the territory of that entity called the United States; and representation, although existing in name, is not a reality. The Constitution is a dead letter, albeit a zombie raised to a goddess for some. With those realizations, I am willing to begin talking “conservative.”

avatar Chris Travers November 18, 2012 at 7:42 pm

One of the big problems with the Republican defence of traditional marriage is that it is striking for what it is not: defence of a traditional family. You’d almost think that Republicans forget that marriage incorporates a family household in both social and legal terms, or that children are not just another consumer choice.

I have argued many times and places that the Republican argument against same-sex marriage is problematic because there is no effort to rebuild the traditional families. The abstinence-only sex ed programs are products of one branch of the Republican party, when if you think about it, sexual morality is quintessentially the domain of the family to pass on to their children.

I have argued before that time and effort opposing same-sex marriage is wasted. It makes no sense to promote procedurally easy no-fault divorce (particularly true in the South), independent retirement, and abstinence-only sex ed and at the same time oppose same-sex marriage. It would be better to work instead to reconnect the family with childrearing, and empower the married household to do this. If we could move to a more organic, human-scale existence, then the issue of same-sex marriage would be transformed beyond recognition anyway. But holding the line where it is strikes me as picking the single least-defensible place in the landscape to make a last stand.

Democrats want the government to be an effective social governance machine. Republicans want it to be an effective machine at making statements about morality. Maybe the problem with these positions is that they depend on a mechanized view of government. Maybe instead of a mechanized system we need to think more in terms of an ecosystem.

avatar robert m. peters November 18, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Mr. Travers,

The only realistic reason to lose one’s virginity is to consummate a marriage which functions as the womb of the womb in which children can be conceived, nourished, born, and reared to civilized creatures. A marriage is the melding of two families aspiring through that union to carry on blood, wealth, such as it may be, and traditions. What the state or political parties which are parasites on the parasite of the state might have to do with marriage is precisely nothing. Neither marriage nor children are a consumer choice, as you have pertaining to the latter well said.

avatar Chris Travers November 19, 2012 at 12:26 am

Robert:

I don’t think it is always a good idea to presume that all cultures should be the same on something as culturally defined as reproductive customs and how marriage and sex interrelate. Historically many cultures expected the first pregnancy to begin as a part of the betrothal, and in other cultures marriage isn’t really complete until a child is born. This is before getting into customs we in our culture might be significantly more hostile towards. If you want to read a book that includes a significant amount of space to customs of sex, marriage, reproduction, and social construction of paternity, see Arnold van Gennep’s classic anthropological survey, “The Rites of Passage.”

I also don’t object to schools giving out information on contraception. I think that the choice of when to have children belongs in the family and that contraception enables this. I think however, that the problem is the extent to which sex ed becomes a platform for teaching sexual morality. I think that sex ed should be taught from the perspective of “we don’t teach sexual morality here. That’s your parents’ jobs. However at some point, you are all likely to want to get married and have a family so we will discuss this in that context only.” That’s acceptable to me. Any attempts to address premarital sex in any way by the schools though weakens the family.

Once the school system is in the business of teaching kids to be moral, then this key duty of the parents is transferred to the state, and the schools become the main engines of acculturation rather than the family household. This assault is a bipartisan pass-time, whether it is trying to push abstinence-only sex ed or anti-homophobia programs. This weakens the family in terms of childrearing and thus it weakens marriage in the Aristotelian sense.

So what I am saying is we should focus on giving parents more responsibility and more power over cultural matters and thus strengthen our families. If we strengthen families, and focus on a more natural system of support (which I believe we will have to do anyway as the age of cheap energy continues to draw to a close), a lot of these issues will change significantly..

avatar Ray Olson November 19, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Excellent discussion. I stand by my first posting and am unwilling to abandon it because Mr. Bacevich, according to Mr. Phillips, “not only twice voted for Obama but . . . twice publically announced he was voting for Obama.” But I haven’t been able to verify that Mr. Bacevich voted and announced as Mr. Phillips says he did. I won’t pretend to be a good researcher, so I ask for sources to satisfy my curiosity.

Mr. Haas–It isn’t easy to exchange ideas with Mr. Peters, is it? When I did recently, I was rightly chastened and, although I did not tell Mr. Peters, was grateful to him for it. He knows of what he speaks, and if one is honest, one cannot dispute him. Moreover, he is perfectly willing–nay, determined–to have ultimate truth drive anything less than ultimate truth from the field, and practicality, if not prudence, be damned.

avatar robert m. peters November 19, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Mr. Travers,

Thank you for your more nuanced and pointed rendering of my remarks; yet, at the end of the day, somewhere between betrothal and giving birth, the loss of virginity in what already is or will become at birth marriage is a given if marriage is the engendering of a family which springs from the fruit of the womb, and historically in the West, in Christendom, the consummation of a marriage has been its fine point.

I will not contest your finer points on “sex education.” I will, however, say that I was never given formal sex education in the classroom and came quite naturally to understand what it was all about. In my forty-four years of teaching from Kindergarten to the university level, I have yet to encounter a pupil or student at or beyond puberty who did not know what sex was and how one did it. Now, I have met plenty who had no moral compass, who had no social skills or who demonstrated the nascent beginnings of some mental pathology. Obviously, the moral lessons associated with sex must come from the family or from the Church. Whether a “secular” school can support such moral lessons is another matter. Now, we boys got once a year beginning in the 9th grade a fine lesson, heart to heart, and unsubtly blunt from a detective of the sheriff’s department forcible rape and statutory rape. He outlined very graphically what that was and the appendages and orifices involved and what the law would do to us and what fathers could get away with doing to us where we to engage in such. (The fatherless reality which pervades the anti-culture in which we are embedded and which is embedded in us aids and abets the ever growing instability of the family.) He had such a powerful presence that his shadow was seemingly on every date. If that was “sex education,” it was very effective, at least for my generation.

Your words:

“So what I am saying is we should focus on giving parents more responsibility and more power over cultural matters and thus strengthen our families.”

What you are saying, with which I agree, is that the subsidiarity of the created order, subsidiarity being a fundamental principle of the Trinity and a fundamental principle of the created order, has been usurped by the state. Legitimate power, the only legitimate power, that that power which serves as the means to execute one’s responsibility, one’s duty or one’s obligations. When we allow the state to usurp the responsibility of the family, of the Church, of commonwealths or of republics, then the state commits an unholy act against the created order. Who is the “we” who should focus on giving parents more responsibility and power? Who now has the responsibility and the power which as things have been created belong to parents in the first place, and how did the “we” come to get responsibility and power not belonging to them? How can I give that which does not belong to me? A thief may return that which he has stolen; but he can never morally give that which he has stolen.

avatar robert m. peters November 19, 2012 at 10:47 pm

Mr. Olsen,

What little I know is that I am quite ignorant; and the knowledge of that yawning ignorance I have learned as a milk puppy trying to run the white stag with great hounds such as Tom Fleming, Clyde Wilson and Don Livingston. Even with my milk teeth, I try to bite like they do! Quite often one of them, irritated at my yapping, takes me by the nap of the neck and flings me over the log or bites me on the ear and tells me to chase a prey of my size, like a cottontail.

avatar T. Chan November 20, 2012 at 1:50 am
avatar lhf November 20, 2012 at 7:23 am

Future Republican candidates must face the fact that we can’t solve our economic problems without solving our social problems. Take the decline of marriage: nearly or actually half of all births in the US now are out of wedlock. Often there are multiple births by multiple fathers.

The left began attacking the only biologically sound marriage arrangement decades ago by redefining a “family” as basically any group of people that chooses to live together. This has been a disaster. Even the New York Times acknowledged in an article this year that as much as 40% of poverty in the US is due to single parenthood – that means largely women as heads of households.

The Democrats provide incentives for this through direct financial support that enables groups of related women to live together without working. Indirect support is provided by their allies in the media who invent “alternative lifestyles” and push their acceptance. Conservatives are exercised by the advance of genderless marriage, but it is only an additional nail in the coffin.

A family headed by a mother and a father is the acknowledged best environment for raising children. Within such a family children learn trust, how to relate to others, and to accept limits. Fathers are particularly important in the process to both boys and girls. I would like to see Republicans ( or anyone – I’m not a party person) point out that undermining the nuclear family (for lack of a better word) is bad social policy and has consequences that will iterate through generations. It is not necessary to use the language of religion to make this case. In fact, it is detrimental.

I was encouraged by a recent Forbes magazine survey in which 84% of women said they would prefer to stay home and raise their own children. For this to happen they must marry. We need to restore the notion that it is shameful to bring a child into the world without a father. And while I’m at it, it is shameful to exploit poor women in India as surrogates to create children for those who cannot naturally procreate. Yes – you can buy a “surrogate package” in India through various websites and they are “LGBT friendly!”

Culture matters.

avatar Jim Burnham November 20, 2012 at 11:11 am

A platform that I could embrace…..maybe – great general themes but of course the devils in the details. Just what exactly is meant by embracing environmental conservatism, protecting snails and smelts and destroying economies for whole states? What is economic equality exactly and how is it achieved, progressive taxation and union cronyism isn’t a solution what is? I believe that the conservative views on both of these issues have been misrepresented as extreme, how do you propose rational approaches in either of these areas that aren’t going to suffer the same fate? As for the social issues? Good luck on that one. I can hear the feminists now. That said it is no more a challenge then what we face now, lets put more meat on the bones of this outline and prepare for battle, but be aware our progressive friends will not suddenly wave the white flag.

avatar Ray Olson November 20, 2012 at 11:19 am

Mr. Chan–Thank you. I had to laugh at myself, for I had read the piece in TAC to which you directed my attention. Obviously, I had forgotten it, and none of the permutations of Bacevich, 2012 elections, and Obama that I tried discovered it!

avatar Tim Wacker November 20, 2012 at 1:06 pm

From a person reluctantly wearing the label of Liberal because the concept of conservatism these days make me want to vomit: Ditto Mr. Bacevich, Ditto.

avatar EchoHotel November 20, 2012 at 3:49 pm

What a breath of fresh air! Thank you Professor, for this wonderful, timely thoughtful piece! May I add that in accepting climate change, and by extension, the value of conservation, that Republicans should end the science-denying rampant in the party today.

avatar tdh November 20, 2012 at 5:51 pm

If either party followed these principals, this “independent” would become an instant supporter

avatar B. Bearup November 20, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Tim Wacker November 20, 2012 at 1:06 pm:

“From a person reluctantly wearing the label of Liberal because the concept of conservatism these days make me want to vomit: Ditto Mr. Bacevich, Ditto.”

Add me to the list.

avatar robert m. peters November 21, 2012 at 12:16 am

Dr. Bacevich,

Your words:

“It’s liberals rather than conservatives who have advanced the cause of racial and gender equality – a genuine accomplishment. When it comes to social justice, again, it’s liberals not conservatives who have made a difference. That said, liberalism needs a counterweight.”

To praise equality and social justice as “genuine accomplishments” is hardly a conservative position. It is the heart of the Jacobin left, not even classical liberalism.

If conservatism is a mere counterweight to the fundamental means of Jacobin revolution, the conservatism has no future; it will become, it has already become, merely liberalism lite, defending the previous liberal victory, for example, – social security – from an emerging liberal victory – Obamacare.

As to the GOP, it has never been and can never be a conservative party. It is the party which by war brought us the Hobbesian state, a abstract corporation with a monopoly on coercion, with the ability to define the limits of its own power and driven by a powerful will. All we have today are two factions, Democrats and Republicans, in a polemic squabble over which groups to mobilize to their banner so that one or the other or the elites behind them can control the military, police and bureaucratic apparatus of the Hobbesian state. Before anything remotely resembling a flourishing of the conservative mind and ensuing conservative polity can emerge, the Hobbesian state, on which the two parties are parasites, must go. That is quite unlikely and, were it to occur, would be vary painful in numerous ways.

avatar John Haas November 21, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Mr. Olsen says, “It isn’t easy to exchange ideas with Mr. Peters, is it? . . . He knows of what he speaks, and if one is honest, one cannot dispute him.”

He’s adamant about his definitions, I’ll give him that.

avatar Fern Baptista November 21, 2012 at 4:27 pm

So, in other words..Conservatives should be Liberals.
…Because all the improvements to the Republican party stance are what the Liberals already believe.

avatar Chris Travers November 22, 2012 at 12:06 am

Ihf;

I don’t think attacks on the family are solely from the Left. The War on Drugs is one of the most anti-family policies in existence right now, as is the rise of prison industries which thrive on it.

I think the first step is to recognize that this is not a partisan problem but a very deep cultural one.

avatar robert m. peters November 22, 2012 at 12:20 am

Those who would use the power of the Hobbesian state to attempt to “solve” problems, real or imagined, are not conservatives. They may be left or they may be right but they are not conservatives. Any conservative who thinks to win victory by using “the one ring which binds them all” betrays himself and that which we consider conservative.

avatar Chris Travers November 22, 2012 at 12:22 am

Mr Peters;

Regarding the subsidiarity of the social order, there are a few things that have occurred to me over the years. The first is that the reach of government in a place like the US is really quite astounding. I am living in Indonesia at the moment and it is quite interesting to see a different approach here.

My oldest son is nearly 9 and he is studying traditional Balinese society in social studies. The book they have explains things badly (so much so that I only understood it by virtue of the fact that I read a lot on anthropology), but it gave me a real opportunity to introduce him to the ideas of Aristotle regarding the family and the polis. There is a lot that is fascinating there but the thing I want to mention is the way in which their cities are organized.

Balinese society traditionally very much is a union of married households almost in the exact terms that Aristotle mentioned it. Men, when they get married, are required to join the “Banjar” which is essentially a neighborhood association, which does things like get togethers, helping eachother out, etc. There are also farming associations which are orthogonal to this called a subak, which manage water, etc. (Subak is also the name for the system of irrigation too.) While the membership in the banjar has to do with where you live, the membership in the subak has to do with where you farm your rice.

Several subak and several banjar come together to make a town, called a desa adat, at the center of which is a temple to Vishnu (the temple is called a pura desa). So here you can see married households joining together to form a warp and weft of village life, which are woven together to create the town. Physical space is ordered according to religious principles (with Mount Agung effectively being the center of the world), but the key thing here is one can really see how deeply woven even a small town is of smaller entities, until one reaches the family, which is the fundamental social unit.

This sort of thing shows how far we have come from a social subsidiarity that can support a traditional lifestyle.

avatar robert m. peters November 22, 2012 at 1:56 am

Mr. Travers,

Thank you for sharing the experiences of your family among the Balinese. It is good to see that there are yet places where subsidiarity thrives and hold the social order together locally and regionally.

avatar JonF November 22, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Shifty1,

The CRA had zilch to do with the mortgage bubble and bust. I speak as one who had a front row seat for watching it reach its peak and then collapse, employed at a noted Wall Street firm in the unit responsible for mortgage purchase, sale and securitization. We did not care beans about the CRA, nor did the originators, most of whom (and notably the most reckless) were not banks and were not governed by the CRA. The mortgagers who behaved recklessly during the bubble were not, mostly, low income people: they were solid middle class people and by and large fell into two (slightly overlapping) categories: the house flippers who thought they had found a certified get-rich-quick scheme, and the house-as-ATM folks who via HELOCs and cash-out refis ran up vast debts to fuel consumption.
Blaming the CRA is a piece of mendacious rightwing (I do not say conservative) propaganda put about by market idolators who cannot fathom how the sacred market could lay such an egg, and seek instead to blame their usual scapegoats. Such behavior is neither intelligent nor ethical.

avatar JonF November 22, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Re: John C. Calhoun, arguable the best American political philosopher

Mr Peters,
Praising John C Calhoun puts you well outside the circle of gentlemen whose opinions I am capable of treating with respect. Calhoun was an apologist for racism, slavery, and oligarchy, and a fanner of the flames of sectionalism which a generation after his death became a raging holocaust that consumed half a million lives an wrought ruin upon half the nation. Praising the man is akin to praising Danton and Marat as political sages: thank you, but no– a thousand times no. I leave Mr Calhoun to whatever hell blood-stained ideologues preaching wickedness are consigned by a just God.
Your view of the Constitution was never general. It was always the idiosyncratic view of a small clique of power-and-wealth-hungry men– most at first in South Carolina, but thence it spread like a slow plague to much of the rest of the South until it bore its foul fruit in 1861-65. “By their fruits you shall now them”. The fruits were ghastly, and let that failed ideology be forever anathema.

And as one last note, if the Right has come to a place where even justice is regarded as suspect then I fervently hope the Right will go the way of the Fifth Monarchy Men- a curious historical footnote to our age and nothing more.
Justice is a virtue, and never an optional one.

avatar robert m. peters November 22, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Jon F,

Quite obviously, our spiritual, intellectual and political positions, given your understanding of them, are utterly incommensurable; and there is nothing more that I can write and likely nothing more that either of us should write in comment to one another.

I do, however, appreciate your candor. It is always good to know one’s spiritual, intellectual and political enemies. As a Christian, one is then compelled by our Lord to love them. That is hard, hard indeed.

avatar DevinTexas November 30, 2012 at 7:51 am

Are there much souls to search from the R-Souls left in the Republican Party? (R= Republican)!

avatar Poncho Guthrie May 18, 2013 at 2:47 pm

There are only a few points of distinction I would like to make:

1) Gay marriage isn’t just “not a threat,” but rather a boon, to the family. More families, legally married and raising kids, will help promote stable, steady communities.
2) I would also submit that gender binary in the home is not necessary. Creating an economy of wide-spread distribution (or, more to my taste, social ownership) of the means of production can leave us with stay-at-home dads.
3) While I agree that we cannot save the world through armed forces, as citizens and free people, we should speak up and stand up for freedom movements around the world. While sanctions and drone-bombings may not be the path, opposing Iran’s thuggish government or the North Korean empire is a positive.

avatar Port Char September 8, 2013 at 7:02 pm

Today ( 8 sept 2013 ) was my first introduction to Col/Professor Bacevich , he was promoting his new book ” Breach of Trust ” on Phil Donahue . He stated that he vote for Obama but now he’s not so pleased with Obama. He also made it clear that he’s a devote practicing Roman Catholic . Funny isn’t it that a man would vote for a regime that’s imposed the HHS mandate on the very Catholic Church he’s so allegedly devote too and Catholic institutions that pay his salary . So as I read on this site, this Col/Professor couldn’t bring himself to vote Romney and now he’s ready to bail on Obama. The Roman Catholics have a lot of problems with ” Breach of Trust”. The Col. should be standing with his church by not supporting candidate’s that oppose church teachings in the first place.

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