Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Conservatives as Reactionaries

Liberals just can't get enough of the idea that conservatives are reactionaries, trying to turn the clock back.

So you would expect that the Wall Street Journal's tame liberal, Thomas Frank, would be eager to take a whack at the subject whenever he gets a convenient hook.

Mostly though he is outraged that Glenn Beck hates college professor President Woodrow Wilson. OK, so Wilson vetoed prohibition; Beck had that wrong. But he did push the Fed, the income tax, and of course nasty attacks on potential subversives during World War I.

Note to Frank: Beck hates Wilson probably because he has read Jonah Goldberg's bestselling Liberal Fascism. Jonah does a dandy job of explaining why Wilson is the author of all our troubles, and the First Fascist.

But are conservatives really reactionaries? Hardly. Modern conservatives don't want to turn the clock back to the middle ages. That's what liberals want to do, with their hierarchical neo-feudal welfare state. Modern conservatives echo the philosophy of Edmund Burke. We want slow, sensible reform that is sensible of the responsibility the current generation has to honor the ancestors and think of the generations yet unborn.

To suggest, as Frank does, that conservatives are the "emotional descendants of the squalid royalists who reconquered Europe after the French Revolution was extinguished" is bunk. Conservatives don't oppose the French Revolution because we believe in the divine right of kings. We oppose it because all such revolutionary spasms end in the guillotine, with ordinary people getting totally screwed by monsters like Robespierre, Lenin, and Mao.

On the other hand, we conservatives do worry that liberals are developing a curious case of the divine right of liberals to rule in defiance of public opinion.

We conservatives look forward with hope, to a land of limited government, of voluntary exchange, of thriving moral communities, and generous provision for the poor. Our dream is that this can all be done without liberals like Thomas Frank bossing us around with trillion dollar government programs.

Now maybe that vision is utterly romantic and pie in the sky. But it is not backward looking.

1 comment:

  1. The co-opting of the word "liberal" by the statists was a stroke of genius.