Political Sides and Dispositions

We’ve had a couple posts about this in the last few days. There are a couple things that I think are worth pointing out. One of them is that there is a distinction between policies and dispositions. Trying to come up with a coherent list of policies that are always liberal or always conservative is tricky. Example: is smaller government is always a conservative stance? Not if Bush is a conservative and not unless you consider anarcho-syndicalists conservative. Is pacifism liberal? Not if you look at LBJ’s massive expansion of the Vietnam war nor if you consider Patrick Buchanan’s opposition to the current Iraq adventure. One of the founders of modern British conservatism, William Pitt the younger was an inveterate tax raiser (moreover, he tried to make his taxation forms progressive by taxing luxury goods more than staples).

So what are we left with? Well, Matthew had this salient observation:

“[Conservatives] also seemed aware that attempts to build utopia on earth always lead to evil.”

This is an interesting observation. Since the time of Reagan and Thatcher though, I think this has been inverted in the English-speaking world. Starting in the early 1980s conservatives (as problematic as I think the term is, that’s how they style themselves, so let’s roll with it) have been the ones launching utopian schemes. The Iraq War is probably the greatest of this – let’s smash a nation state and hope that, contrary to nearly every example in history, it will emerge as sort of utopia. The tool of utopia used by the conservatives of the last quarter-Century has been the market. Where religion, rationalism, and central planning have failed, the free market will somehow succeed.

Having grown up in this environment I feel that my tilting to the left is somehow paradoxically a result of a sort of latent classical conservative disposition that makes me suspicious of these kinds of ventures.