Tuesday, February 27, 2007

All Liberals Now

[posted by Callimachus]

Dennis Sanders wonders why there is no collective statement from the principled right comparable to what certain leading liberal humanitarians have attempted on the left.

I've been wondering why there is no Euston Manifesto for the Right and Center Right. The Manifesto is signed by left-liberals who believe in defending democratic values and human rights. They were concerned in seeing so much of the Left that seemed more interested in Anti-Americanism and excusing terrorism, than they are in supporting democracy.

He asks, "why haven't conservatives come up with something like this"?

Well, you'd have to find a conservative, first. Are there really any left? The mis-called "social conservatives" are often reactionaries, but they can as easily flip into aggressive activism for social transformation. Neither position is essentially conservative.

Philosophical conservatives remain in certain universities (damned few of them, though) and on the mastheads of certain magazines. Their numbers are so small, it's not a question of writing them a manifesto. A group e-mail probably would suffice.

The neo-cons, or whatever you want to call people like me, don't generally qualify as conservatives, either, though we have some affinity and affection for them. We're descendants of the John F. Kennedy kind of Cold Warrior -- visionary, believing in the power of America as a force of good in the world (and, in practical terms, being not very effective). Reagan was of that class -- challenging the Soviet Union to an economic death race hardly was a "conservative" position.

That is the face of old-school romantic liberalism in the modern world, if anything is. The Euston Manifesto is persuasive because it attempts to pull sensible people on the left back to their philosophical roots, with reference to modern issues, even at the cost of agreement with their political foes of the moment -- who are, after all, often purist apostates from leftist churches, e.g. Hitchens.

What would a conservative manifesto call people back to? Standing astride the path of history and shouting "stop!" appeals to everyone on one issue or another. But very few want to take it as an overarching philosophy of politics or life.

The problem, as I see it, is that, whatever labels we choose to use for ourselves and one another, we're all liberals now, in one or another of the the philosophical senses of liberalism -- and we all believe in changing the world for the better -- as we define "better."

Which would explain the nastiness of contemporary politics: When one half of the dichotomy collapses, the game turns from grass court tennis lobs to rule-less mud wrestling. The vicious 1820s -- the mis-called "Era of Good Feeling" -- happened for the same reason. If you live in one of those local municipalities where the voters of one party outnumber the voters of the other by about 3 to 1, you know what I mean.

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