Saturday, December 02, 2006

Egoism, Altruism, and Republican Conservative Ideology

I found C. Bradley Thompson’s The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism in The Objective Standard (via ald) an interesting article. Thompson analyzes the two conservative ideologies that control Republican Party thinking: compassionate conservatism and neoconservatism. Thompson finds them in them a betrayal of traditional conservatism principles and values: a belief in the absolute priority of individual rights and capitalism based on rational egoism.

Here is a summary towards the end of the article.

Liberalism invokes the altruism of Marx; conservatism invokes the altruism of Jesus; and both camps are indebted to Rousseau for his emphasis on compassion. With respect to individual rights, there is and can be no fundamental difference between a secular-liberal welfare state and a religious-conservative welfare state. It matters not one whit to me whether my earned wealth is forcibly redistributed by a Hillary Clinton or a George Bush government; either way, my money is seized. The political subjugation of the individual in the name of the morality of sacrifice is the essence of both.

Compassionate conservatism and neoconservatism have not corrupted the GOP as some conservatives have argued; they have simply exploited and brought to the surface principles that have been at the heart of the conservative intellectual movement from the beginning. Consequently, after decades of an impossible struggle in which conservatives fought liberal government programs while accepting and agreeing with liberal altruism, they have finally and officially given up, abandoned their former half-formed principles, and openly embraced the philosophical roots of the Left.

The Bush administration, the Republican Party, and the conservative intelligentsia have now fully and openly embraced liberalism’s two basic principles: altruism and pragmatism. The conservative movement has stepped both its feet into a philosophic sinkhole and is drowning in a miasma of sentimental mush and cynical manipulation. Compassionate conservatism permits Republicans to demonstrate publicly how much they “care” for those in need, while neoconservatism provides them with a philosophy of governance that shows them how to devise (allegedly) more cost-effective welfare programs.

Conservative intellectuals and Republican politicians no longer hold their noses and reluctantly accept the welfare state as an unfortunate political reality, as a “necessary evil” about which they can do little but compromise. No: Today’s conservatives and their compassionate leader, George W. Bush, will go down in history as the first Republicans to openly and explicitly advocate a conservative welfare state as a “positive good.”

As we have seen, the policies of compassionate conservatives and neoconservatives merge to promote a shared common end: the violation of individual rights for the sake of “general welfare” and for the “needs” of the “less fortunate.” Not only have conservatives and Republicans abandoned any semblance of a principled moral opposition to the welfare state, they now fully embrace it morally and politically.

Thus there is no meaningful difference between the Christian sentimentalism of the New Right and the moral relativism of the New Left. They both treat emotions and feelings as their means of knowing what is true and good—and what they “know” to be true and good is that self-sacrifice is moral and self-interest is immoral. Thus there is no meaningful difference between the aims of today’s conservatives and those of today’s liberals. They share the same moral premises and political ends; they differ only marginally in the means they choose to achieve their shared goal: the welfare state.

Is compassionate conservatism and neoconservatism like socialism or liberalism? I suppose you could see it that way if you are on the extreme right.


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