May 04, 2009
The big tent
Although, as a libertarian conservative, I have some fairly extreme views on the importance of free speech and minimum government, I extend great tolerance towards people whom I partly disagree with. I doubt that I have ever written anything critical of a fellow conservative or libertarian. Many conservatives, for instance, regard Christianity as central to conservatism and I certainly do not. I nonetheless always write supportively of Christians.
Factionalism is however very common on the Left -- witness the icepick in the head that Trotsky got courtesy of Stalin. Very few of the old Bolsheviks lived for long after the revolution, in fact. And Lenin was just as bad as Stalin. In a 1920 pamphlet you find a contempt for some of his fellow Leftists that is probably greater than anything he ever wrote about the Tsar. It is in describing his fellow revolutionaries (Kautsky and others) that Lenin spoke swingeingly of "the full depth of their stupidity, pedantry, baseness and betrayal of working-class interests".
But Leftism is founded on hate and I think we conservatives should be able to rise above that. And I think we mostly do. The concept of the big tent has long been basic to GOP strategy. I actually think the tent could be broader than it is, even. I myself am certainly outside the tent because I sometimes mention certain psychometric facts about race. Given the Leftist dominance of public discourse, however, I can well understand why I am outside the tent under those circumstances. Conservatives do have to bow down to the Left in many ways if they are to get any hearing at all.
Currying favour with the Left is however in my view contemptible and that seems to me to be the motivation of many RINOs. Though whether Arlen Specter ever had any convictions about anything at all is in my view questionable. I was appalled when GWB endorsed him.
But currying favour with the Left now seems to have seeped into the blogosphere. Charles Johnson of LGF seems to think that he can win favour if he balances his criticisms of Islam with condemnations of other critics of Islam -- such as the heroic Geert Wilders -- as "Fascist". He is particularly critical of the small and desperate band of Europeans who criticize Islam and he regularly quotes unbalanced European Leftist attacks on them. He is really quite pathetic and one conservative of European origin has recently told him that at length.
Being my big-tent self, however, I wonder if CJ's problem may be more benign than at first appears. Maybe he just doesn't understand European conservatism. I barely understand it myself. It is certainly different from conservatism as we know it in the Anglosphere. From what I have seen of the European Right, it is much more in favour of a powerful State, largely Catholic and and more antisemitic. Jacques Chirac was after all a conservative in French terms. What the European Right seems to have in common with Anglo-Saxon conservatism seems mainly to be a high degree of realism, which leads in turn to a rejection of revolutionary change and a respect for private property and what has worked in the past.
And if a failure to comprehend that difference is CJ's problem he is not alone. It confuses other American bloggers too. "Rusty" of The Jawa Report also finds Fascist tendencies in Geert Wilders. Jewish Odysseus however has replied to Rusty and supplied some of the necessary perspective and Rusty has updated his post in what largely amounts to a backdown.
The problem for Americans is that Wilders believes in free speech in general but opposes free speech for Muslims. He rightly says that the Koran is worse than Mein Kampf in what it says and wants it banned. Jewish Odysseus rightly points out however that if you had suffered the immense harm and suffering that Nazism inflicted on Europe (including Germany itself), you would want Nazism banned too -- and it is therefore consistent to want a ban on a present-day ideology that is just as dangerous as Nazism.
And the essence of conservatism is that it is not rigid and doctinaire. It is always ready to make compromises with the realities of its day. In that it differs from libertarianism, which has rules that libertarians believe to be universal and immutable. And I am a conservative rather than a libertarian in this matter even though I am pretty fanatical about free speech. I even believe that a man who shouts "Fire!" in a crowded theatre is to be commended (any libertarian can tell you why). But I nonetheless recognize that all rules have exceptions and it gives me little heartburn (though I disagree with it) that Europeans want to ban all expressions of Nazism and related ideologies. The big problem is getting them to acknowledge that Islam and Nazism are related ideologies.
So I hope that CJ is not just pandering to the Left for the sake of popularity and approval but is in fact genuinely caught in a misunderstanding of European conservatism. Tolerance of difference would become him.
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