October 12, 2005

Unto the Fourth Generation..

Marc Danziger, the Armed Liberal, who I think highly of, critiques his fellow Dems for always discussing policies, without expressing the principles behind them. He writes:

....Talk first about principles. Create a manifesto. Something vaguely like this:
First and foremost, the American principles of liberty, equality, freedom as have really not been enjoyed as well in any other place or time.

In the context of those principles, and not in lieu of them - there are other principles that defend the weak against the strong, the poor against the rich, the few against the many.
Those principles ought to be foremost. They should be coherent, clear, and compelling. Those are - in my belief - the "liberal manifesto."
Then talk about how they get devolved into policy, and how - in dialog with supporters and opponents, in the messy, chaotic wonderful process that was created for us by our Founders, and which we intend to keep up and hand down to our children, we intend to create policies that meet those principles.

Let the policies emerge. Let leaders emerge who understand the principles, and can guide the creation of understandable, useful, workable policies.....

He's got a good question to chew on, but, as one who thinks often about conservative principles, I don't think his are useful answers. Things like "defend the weak against the strong" are too general to yield any policies. We conservatives think we are defending the few or the weak when we defend, say, the Boy Scouts against the cynical attacks of leftists wishing to destroy traditional values under the cloak of gay rights. Or when we defend gun owners against confiscatory governments hostile to individual strength and confidence.

His principles are too vague, but more importantly, they aren't basic principles. There are other principles underlying them. For instance, "defend the poor against the rich" begs the question of whether Mr Danziger believes that the rich are oppressing the poor? Does he believe that their interests are opposed? Does he believe the rich stole their wealth from the poor? Does he believe that wealth should be "shared?" Does he believe it is less wrong for a poor person to steal from a rich one than vice versa? Would he like the poor to become rich? Does he believe this whole matter is within the purview of government? If so, to what extent?

If your "principle" can be used by either party, then it's not basic, nor useful. We conservatives think we are defending the poor against the rich when we wish to give poor people school choice, to free them from the tyranny of bloated bureaucracies failed schools and corrupt teacher's unions.

I think he needs to dig a bit deeper. And I think the idea that policies should flow from principles, while true, is a bit misleading. Above all, a principle should tell you how to understand what's going on around you. The world has changed drastically since I was young, but my conservative principles are a guide to make sense of of things that might be bewildering. For instance, the Rights of Englishmen are near the roots of my philosophy, and would give me guidance if England sank beneath the sea (which, spiritually, it seems to be doing) and I were exiled to Mars. And, as I've blogged, I think many liberals are flapping about crazily, because they can't handle change, without the compass that principles give you.

Marc says something else that's interesting:

...Personally, I'm interested in some "4th Generation" social policies; ones that veer away from command and control, and from heavy-handed intrusion into people's lives - and still meet the principles I set out; they help the weak, the poor, the few. What would a welfare program run along Special Forces lines look like?....

That's intriguing. So what might such a program look like? The Special Forces push authority down to small units and individuals. They demand initiative and responsibility. They encourage experimentation and rule-breaking.

So who are the individuals here? The Poor! (I guess one could imagine a "4th Generation welfare program" that kept the poor dependent and out-of-the-loop, but that's too crazy for me to get my head around.) We will have to expect them to take a lot of responsibility in achieving the mission. And to do that we have to break their "old army" ways of waiting passively to be told what to do. Perhaps welfare might be for a limited time, so all will know that they will have to soon take care of themselves.

Also, the Special Forces value morale and character and spirit more than big guns. The spiritual condition of our troops will be paramount. Philosophies which consider individuals expendable in the interests of society must be avoided in favor of those that value every person. Wasn't there one that says that men are made in the image of God? Something like that? Sounds good for our purposes.

And what are the small units? First, I'd say, is the family. The cohesion and viability of the family should be of prime importance, and the trends and ideas that tend to break it apart should be resisted to the utmost. The family might be equivalent to the squad, with churches and community groups the equivalent of platoons. We should probably take resources from the big bureaucracies, and give them to the platoons and companies, with a lot of freedom to chose how to best use them....

Well golly gee, whack me with an ugly-stick and call me Newt! Haven't we heard this sort of cackle somewhere before? Marc, you may just be heading off on a path you don't anticipate...

Posted by John Weidner at October 12, 2005 9:39 PM
Weblog by John Weidner