A fascinating article in Foreign Policy lays out how Ronald Reagan was actually far less of a war-lover or battle-hawk than any of the modern crazies who deify him, screaming his name to justify extreme nonsense. In fact, both Bushes - father and son - were among the most war-eager presidents in US history, if you add up the number of times they leaped to hurl American troops in harm’s way, sometimes concocting reasons out of thin air. By comparison, Reagan frequently expressed a deep reluctance to “start counting bodies.”
In the past I have praised John Mauldin as a conservative who “gets” the core fact that markets, enterprise and capitalism were among the top victims of the mad neocon era. Indeed, these bulwarks of the American cornucopia are not the cause of our problems; they have been betrayed and crippled by the same enemies that spoiled markets and freedom in 95% of human societies, across 4,000 years of recorded history.
Now I want to offer you some words from another true-blooded capitalist who sees this basic truth. In his April 2008 essay, Michael Lewitt began with a quote from Adam Smith that should be etched into the brains of every Wall Street CEO and included in the oath of office of every new member of Congress. Moreover, they should propell every liberal to go out, read Adam Smith, and embrace him as one of their own.
Lewitt quotes Smith, who is best known as the author of The Wealth of Nations, but who wrote an equally important book two decades earlier entitled The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith wrote the following:
"This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect, persons of poor and mean condition, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments."
In Lewitt’s words: What Adam Smith pointed out more than two hundred years ago is equally true today – our society, fed by the media, worships wealth at the expense of other values that are far more important to a cohesive and healthy society. The entire mission of The Wealth of Nations was to try to recognize man for what he is – a social animal who is reliant on the good opinions of his neighbors – and to develop the optimal economic system to harness that human essence for the good of all mankind. Smith believed that system was a free market, and history has by and large proven him correct. But th e United States has strayed from a free market model to a system that privatizes gains and socializes losses.
Later in his recent posting (which alas is from a newsletter I cannot share in whole), Lewitt goes on: Much of the crisis could have been avoided had policymakers and investors operated under r ealistic assumptions about how markets and economies work. Several years ago, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan described the failure of interest rates to react in the manner he expected as a "conundrum." We now know that Mr. Greenspan was operating under a false set of assumptions about human nature, as well as a misguided understanding about how market participants behave. As noted in my book, had Mr. Greenspan been an acolyte of Hyman Minsky instead of Ayn Rand, he would have been less susceptible to such a fatal conceit. But beyond that, the real conundrum in modern markets is the continued reliance of investors and policymakers on two false mantras. The first is that markets are efficient; and the second is that investors are rational.
I would put it another way. The libertarian wing of conservatism ought to be the portion that non-leftist liberals and pragmatic moderates could negotiate-with. All three groups appear to be motivated by a shared set of general goals. A dream of maximized individual opportunity and freedom. An aversion to bossy accumulations of undue power. A belief that unleashed human creativity can solve a vast array of problems and that tomorrow could be better, as a result. These commonalities ought to make for lively, good-natured debate over the details, e.g. whether to use the state or laissez-faire or a tuned-markets to solve this or that problem.
Why then, are most libertarians instead the most intransigent and obnoxious of fuming dogmatists, contemptuous of practicality or compromise, endlessly reciting nonsensical pseudo-religious catechisms from a dunce-prophetess and railing at the stupidity of their fellow citizens for having committed the unforgivable original sin known as Franklin Delano Roosevelt?
Cajoled by paid shills from the Cato, Heritage and American Enterprise “institutes,” most libertarians and libertarian minded conservatives have been duped into calling government an inherently satanic foe of Manichean dimensions. Indeed, they see civil servants as the only force out there that’s inimical to liberty, something that Adam Smith (mindful of 4,000 years of history) would have found laughable. While worshipping at an altar of private property (coaxed coincidentally by propaganda paid for by billionaires), libertarians thus turn their gaze away from the two desiderata that ought to be the movement’s core focus.
Freedom and fair competition.
These are basic underpinnings of true markets, democracy, science and justice -- and history shows that government can foster them as readily as hinder them. Just as private wealth can undermine them, and has done so, in nearly all human societies. Only through dynamic confrontation can the private and public realms prevent each others’ worst excesses. But that fact is too complex ever to be admitted by purists.
Freedom and fair competition. If these twin pillars again became the main goals of the brighter-right, there would be a shift of tectonic proportions. Libertarians and libertarian-minded conservatives would sever all links to both populist know-nothings and plutocrats. They would rescue what remains worth-saving, from their hijacked and shattered movement, and thereupon rejoin us at the negotiating table, helping a coalition of civilizaed adults in search of new, agile and creative ways to save civilization.
--------- addendum ------
Anyone care to study this book and report back to us? Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea, by Bradley Thompson, (from the Amazon review) explicates the deepest philosophic principles of neoconservatism, traces the intellectual relationship between the political philosopher Leo Strauss and contemporary neoconservative political actors, and provides a trenchant critique of neoconservatism from the perspective of America's founding principles... Thompson actually lived for many years in the Straussian/neoconservative intellectual world. Neoconservatism therefore fits into the "breaking ranks" tradition of scholarly criticism.
I am told the book is an analysis and critique of neoconservatism from a limited-government perspective.
-------- and a poetical interlude ------
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
- William Butler Yeats
I promise to be cheerier next time.
------- PS ---------
I go into much more details about libertarianism, its assumptions and the mistakes that have veered a promising movement off-track. (Note, the Libertarian Party once invited me as a main speaker at one of its conventions. I think the fellows who invited me were fired! Alas, so much for open thought.)
See "looking past political totems" and... "maps of tomorrow"... and...the text of that infamous speech I gave, after which half the audience gave a standing ovation, while defending me as the other half attempted a lynching!