Saturday, October 25, 2008

Why Neoconservatism Will Never Overcome Liberalism

Finally, someone else understands what is wrong with neoconservatism and why it cannot effectively challenge liberalism. Over at "What's Wrong With the World" Zippy Catholic makes the argument that the reason conservatives have been beaten so soundly by liberals is that (neo)conservatives actually are merely right-wing liberals.

He quotes Michael Bauman as saying:

"[The political Left] own[s] the schools and colleges; they own the Senate, the House, and soon the White House and Courts; they own entertainment; they own the news media; they own the laboratories; they own everything -- even lots of the churches. They ran the board on us, and it's not an accident."

He agrees with Bauman and asks why it is that conservatives are losing the culture wars so spectacularly. He writes:

"'Conservatism' is in our time not conservatism but right-liberalism: political liberalism with a few 'conservative' unprincipled exceptions. The exceptions are unprincipled in the sense that they are not founded in our liberalism, and we for the most part don't recognize their incompatibility with our own liberalism. For a while that meant that 'conservatism' was classical liberalism; now it means, for the most part, culturally 'big tent' neoconservatism. In general it means 'whatever liberalism was about 30 or 50 years ago'."

Conservatism in the US, the UK and Canada is not grounded in a single, coherent worldview. It is a mixture of three principle elements (my analysis): (1) libertarians (who are extreme liberals like Ron Paul), (2) American Imperialists (the neo-con hawks like Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Bolton etc.) and the (3) neoconservatives or social conservatives (Weigel, Novak, Dobson, Colson etc.) The basic worldviews of these three groups are not compatible with one another and none of them represent the conservative Augustinianism of Roman Catholic social doctrine. This is just a tactical alliance based on a common set of specific positions, (which explains why the social conservatives are often accused of being naive and of being used by group 2 - an accusation which is superficially plausible but untrue).

Zippy Catholic goes on to say:

". . . the hard Left has a whole core worldview which anchors it and which it will not give up for anything. The Right has nothing of the kind: the political Right is basically a classical liberalism/neoconservatism which is nominally against abortion and a few other enumerated issues."

I agree. We will never get the entire conservative coalition to agree on basic worldview issues, which are really a matter of religious faith at bottom, so what to do? I think the important thing is for Christians who are conservatives to get clear on what our basic political philosophy is and how it is rooted in our worldview. Since the politically involved conservative Christians consist mainly of two groups: conservative Catholics and Evangelical Protestants, the need of the hour is for both groups to learn Catholic social doctrine. Catholics don't know it well enough and Evangelicals are simply unaware of it. But only with this kind of basic philosophy will we be able to stand firm and make progress.

Some might despair over the fact that this approach does not even envision bringing the whole conservative movement under one coherent philosohpy. But we should remember that the same is true on the other side. The Democratic Party, which is currently so successful, is also a coalition of various groups and the hard-core, secular Left is not by itself able to gain a democratic majority. So it has to form tactical alliances with, for example, liberal Catholics, who are regarded by the real Left as "useful idiots" for voting getting purposes.

The difference between overturning Roe or not, getting a human life ammendment or not, protecting marriage or not, preventing cloning or not, stopping euthanasia or not, etc. is going to come down to which side has the most dedicated, knowledgeable and committed core. Conservative, Augustinian Christians can be that core for conservatism and this is the way we can be salt and light in a dark world. But we have to know what we are about and we have to overcome the sin of despair.

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