One of the mainstays of conservatism is that history has happened and men are flawed. This means that, unlike some destructive varieties of liberalism and progressivism, we cannot believe that people are naturally good and can achieve utopia if we just sweep a few kulaks and wreckers under the rug. It also means that, unlike reactionaries, we cannot believe that there was some time period when institutions and mores were naturally good and we just need to reestablish that time. The reason we are no longer in that time period is because it contained the seeds of its own destruction. And we can’t just wish ourselves back into that time period anyhow, because history has happened, the conditions that made that society possible no longer exist, and we must deal with the contemporary materials that are at hand.
Any middlebrow conservative knows the points I made above already. They are commonplaces. But it is less often understood that conservatism itself must be given a thorough shakedown every few decades. The conservatism of 30 years ago cannot be the conservatism of today. There are no final victories. Thomas Jefferson’s looniest and most despicable Jacobin statement was also paradoxically his most conservative: the tree of liberty must be watered from time to time with the blood of both patriots and tyrants.
Senator Mike Lee has given a speech that is pointing the way. It isn’t soaring rhetoric. It’s only power is truth. It deserves to be widely excerpted and circulated.
This new agenda must recognize that work for able-bodied adults is not a necessary evil, but an essential pathway to personal happiness and prosperity.
And it should also force Republicans and Democrats to acknowledge that there is another marriage debate in this country — one concerning fatherless children, economic inequality, and broken communities — that deserves as much public attention as the other.
Second, we need a new, comprehensive anti-cronyism agenda, to break up the corrupt nexus of big government, big business, and big special interests.
We need a new corporate tax code and regulatory system to eliminate lobbyists’ loopholes and giveaways, level the playing field between businesses, big and small, and foster a dynamic, globally competitive private sector.
We need to end subsidies that unfairly favor some businesses and industries over others. And the Republican party must make a fundamental commitment to end its support for corporate welfare in any form — including for the big banks.
The Left today no longer represents the “little guy,” but the crony clients of the ever-expanding special-interest state. Progressives have become the party of Wall Street, K Street, and Pennsylvania Avenue. We must become the party of Main Street, everywhere.
Today, working families’ take-home pay is flat.
But the staples of middle-class security and opportunity – health care, education, home ownership, work-life balance, and children — are becoming harder to afford all the time.
Progressives say we just need more programs to give working families more government money. But as we have seen once again over the last five years, big government creates opportunity for the middle men at the expense of the middle class.
I take issue with a few of Senator’s Lee’s suggestions. He is right to point out that government has neglected the basic public duty of building and maintaining roads adequate to the growth of the population and the economy. But his solution isn’t equal to the problem. That’s fine–he’s starting a discussion, not announcing a diktat.
America has more problems that government can solve. But just as the spirit and the flesh are intertwined, our moral problems and our political economic problems feed on each other. In the sphere in which life has placed him, Senator Lee is doing the right thing and I’m proud of him. I hope to see more of him and more like him in the future.