February 23, 2005


The Philosophy Gap: Another argument between the left and the center? Democrats have to dig deeper than that. (Michael Tomasky, 02.22.05, American Prospect)

We’ve known for a long time about these striations within the conservative movement. But we’ve also observed conservatives’ unanimity at election time, or when a major piece of legislation is up for consideration. We’ve explained this by citing their superior discipline. And it’s true, they are more disciplined. Conservative people by nature are more likely to heed their authority figures than liberal people are.

Relatedly, we’ve also explained it by citing their much stronger focus on getting and holding power. They set most of their differences aside, we argue, in the interest of winning, and when they do have disputes, they deal with them privately. The February 20 New York Times piece by David L. Kirkpatrick, in which he scored the great scoop of getting David Wead to hand him over the Bush tapes, underscored this. Bush’s insistence early in the 2000 campaign that the meeting with the religious right be private and unpublicized reflected his obvious realization that a public meeting could make him beholden to a group that scares a lot of Americans, so he made that group the promises he felt he needed to make behind closed doors. And the group, rather than denouncing him and running to the newspapers, said, “We understand, that’s fine.”

Both explanations are true, and I’ve written about both at different times. But both are about tactics. But what, I’ve been wondering lately, if there’s a deeper answer to the question of greater conservative sense of purpose? What if it’s not just about tactics, but about philosophy?

I’ve long had the sense, and it’s only grown since I’ve moved to Washington, that conservatives talk more about philosophy, while liberals talk more about strategy; also, that liberals generally, and young liberals in particular, are somewhat less conversant in their creed’s history and urtexts than their conservative counterparts are (my excellent young staff excepted, naturally; I’m mostly wondering if young Democratic Hill aides have read, for example, The Vital Center or any John Dewey or Walter Lippmann or any number of things like that).

Mr. Tomasky ignores the obvious point here: conservative texts are still read because, grounded in the profound judeo-Christian comprehension of human nature, they proved prescient and timeless, while the writings of the Left, derived from such nonsense as Materialism, Rationalism, Marxism, Freudianism, Darwinism, atheism, pragmatism, and a whole host of other trendy -isms, are even more embarrassing to read today than they were at the time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 23, 2005 8:48 AM

Writers on the left also have a pechant for trying to make their philosophical arguments both complex and remote at the same time, as if writing something that tortures both the English language and the reader's ability to diagram the logic makes the argument an intellegent one all by itself. Combine that with a 150-year history of jumping onto the next progressive trend without hesitation and then trying to justify it after the fact, and you get a lot of trees around the world that died for nothing that has any lasting influence.

Posted by: John at February 23, 2005 9:53 AM


Fantastic first sentence in your comment. I think I'll quote it on my blog at some point. Do you have a last name so I can correctly identify you as the source?

Posted by: Bret at February 23, 2005 10:46 AM

Bret --

Just credit John Lee if you like.

Posted by: John at February 23, 2005 2:02 PM
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