Tribe of Liberty
We like tribalism for the same reason we like to eat fatty foods: We evolved that way.
Homo sapiens didn't survive long on the African savannas as rugged individualists. Alone, they couldn't scare away the scarier animals and, for the most part, they couldn't catch or kill the tastier ones. But in groups, humans rose to the top of the food chain thousands of years ago and have been passing down their tribe-loving genes ever since.
Customs and practices that ensured the survival of the species were worked out through trial and error and passed from one generation to another. Over time, and with many setbacks, the knowledge accumulated until we hit the critical mass required for modernity.
Indeed, the story of modernity is the story of how we moved away from traditional, non-voluntary, forms of tribalism based on familial, ethnic or even nationalistic lines and toward voluntary forms of tribalism.
The American founding was revolutionary in its embrace of the universality of human rights (even as it fell so short of its own ideals with the institution of slavery). Since then, the West has fought several civil wars to break away from various tribal ideologies, including not just monarchism and imperialism but Nazism (racial tribalism), Communism (economic tribalism) and fascism (national tribalism).
In fits and starts, we've moved toward ever greater voluntarism, which is a fancy way of saying we've moved toward greater individual liberty. According to the American creed, no one, and no thing, is the boss of me unless I agree to it. To a certain extent, that's even true -- at least in theory -- about the government, which is a representative institution created solely by and for the people, who are sovereign.
But the instinctive attraction of tribalism endures. The same drives that once pushed tribes to kill the villagers downriver still reside in us. We've just learned to channel and check them better. Bowling leagues, football franchises, high school rivalries, motorcycle clubs, Goth clubs: you name it, these free associations -- what Edmund Burke called "little platoons" -- satisfy our innate desire to belong to "something larger than ourselves," as so many politicians like to say.
Now, in the context of American politics, I would (and often do) argue that the left has grown confused about all this. They've tried to turn government itself into tribal enterprise of some kind. Democratic politicians tell us "government is just the word we use for those things we do together." "We're all in it together!" has become at once a rationalization and battle cry for larger government and higher taxes.
At their recent convention, the Democrats rolled out a video proclaiming that government is "the one thing we all belong to." This, to me, is pernicious nonsense. The government belongs to us, not the other way around.
But that is an argument for another time.
What got me thinking about all of this is the recent effort from various Muslim leaders at the United Nations lecturing us about free expression. Leaders who abuse and torture their own citizens for expressing their ideas or faith seem to think they have standing to lecture us about the limits of freedom.
Well, the tribe of barbarism doesn't get to lecture the tribe of liberty about what freedom means. A few years ago, Dinesh D'Souza wrote a book, "The Enemy at Home," in which he argued that American conservatives and Muslim conservatives should find common cause against liberals and leftists. The book was predictably denounced by liberals, but it was also rejected by conservatives.
Why? One reason, I think, is that whatever our differences with American liberals may be, conservatives understand that our argument with them is still within the family. The fighting is intense, but we're all trying to figure out what it means to live in the country bequeathed to us by the American Revolution and the Enlightenment.
Well, the thugs haranguing us about the proper limits of free expression aren't members of that tribe. They haven't paid the dues.
Because the moral superiority of liberty is irrefutable, totalitarians often feel the need to wrap barbarism in the language of freedom. (For example, North Korea calls itself the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.) Similarly, the Muslim Brotherhood stooge running Egypt doesn't care about free speech or tolerance; he cares about his own theocratic will to power -- and making Americans grovel.
There are more practical reasons not to hold our liberties hostage to the bloodlust of a foreign mob, but underneath them all is the instinctual tribal refusal to let marauders tear down what we've built.
Economic Conservatives and Traditional Conservatives Are – or Should Be – Natural Allies in the Fight against a Bloated Federal Government
Daniel J. Mitchell
It’s not uncommon for there to be debate and discussion about the degree to which libertarians and social conservatives are allies and enemies.
I think they’re mostly allies, in part because there is wide and deep agreement on the principle of individual responsibility. They may focus on different ill effects, but both camps understand that big government is a threat to a virtuous and productive citizenry.
That being said, I also realize that a libertarian who thinks drug legalization is the most important issue in the world is probably not going to feel much kinship with a social conservative who focuses on spiritual treatment of drug addiction (even though I would argue they should share policy views).
I’m contemplating this topic because of a recent New York Times column by David Brooks. He is concerned that traditional conservatives (which I think would overlap with, but not be identical to, social conservatives) have lost influence in the conservative movement and Republican Party. Let’s start with this excerpt.
…the conservative movement…was a fusion of two different mentalities. On the one side, there were the economic conservatives. …there was another sort of conservative, who would be less familiar now. This was the traditional conservative, intellectual heir to Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Clinton Rossiter and Catholic social teaching. This sort of conservative didn’t see society as a battleground between government and the private sector. Instead, the traditionalist wanted to preserve a society that functioned as a harmonious ecosystem, in which the different layers were nestled upon each other: individual, family, company, neighborhood, religion, city government and national government. …they were intensely interested in creating the sort of social, economic and political order that would encourage people to work hard, finish school and postpone childbearing until marriage.
So far, so good. As a self-described libertarian, I like these concepts. Indeed, I support liberty in part because I think it will both enable and encourage people to experience good lives in the kind of ecosystem David describes.
But then he has a sentence that rubs me the wrong way.
Ronald Reagan embodied both sides of this fusion, and George W. Bush tried to recreate it with his compassionate conservatism.
Let me first stipulate that it’s unfair to equate “compassionate conservatism” with “big government conservatism.” That may have been the end result, but the goal – as was explained to me on several occasions – was to reform the way government did things, not to make it bigger.
But even if we accept that goal, I think Reagan and Bush represented different strains of conservatism. Reagan wanted to shrink the federal government because he viewed Washington as a threat to David’s “harmonious ecosystem.” In other words, Reagan-style conservatism is (was?) based on the notion that Washington could only make things worse, not better.
The Bush people, by contrast, had a more optimistic view of the federal government’s capabilities.
Indeed, Brooks is explicitly willing to make government bigger in hopes of achieving certain goals.
There are few people on the conservative side who’d be willing to raise taxes on the affluent to fund mobility programs for the working class. There are very few willing to use government to actively intervene in chaotic neighborhoods, even when 40 percent of American kids are born out of wedlock. There are very few Republicans who protest against a House Republican budget proposal that cuts domestic discretionary spending to absurdly low levels. The results have been unfortunate. Since they no longer speak in the language of social order, Republicans have very little to offer the less educated half of this country. …The Republican Party has abandoned half of its intellectual ammunition. It appeals to people as potential business owners, but not as parents, neighbors and citizens.
Here’s where I think he lets hope triumph over experience. What makes him think that the federal government is capable of successfully creating and operating “mobility programs”? It’s been operating dozens of such programs and they’ve all failed.
Or why does he think the federal government can reduce out-of-wedlock births when the evidence suggests that the welfare state has played a non-trivial role in enabling such misguided behavior?
Brooks also makes a ridiculous claim about what’s happened to domestic discretionary outlays. Here’s the data, adjusted for inflation, from the Historical Tables of the Budget.
Granted, David is talking about the plans in the Republican budget, not what’s actually happened. But the most the GOP wants to achieve is to put domestic discretionary spending back at 2008 levels. That’s not exactly an “absurdly low level,” particularly compared to existing post-stimulus outlays.
The more relevant question is why he thinks federal spending is associated with good results. There’s certainly no positive evidence from Obama’s stimulus. We also know the War on Poverty backfired. And entitlements are a ticking time bomb in the absence of reform.
By the way, this doesn’t negate what Brooks says about the GOP’s inability to articulate a message that resonates with (as he calls them) the “less educated half of this country.”
All I’m arguing is that results should matter. If we care about making life better for these people and we want the “harmonious ecosystem” David mentions, then we should be making government smaller rather than larger.
Obama and the Power of Propaganda
Those who study propaganda know that propagandists cannot dictate what we think, but they can strongly influence what we think about.
In other words, propagandists can get you to think about baseball or golf rather than about health care or the economy, but they cannot really alter your views about baseball, golf, health care or the economy.
When President Obama fails in his predictions and forecasts on the economy or on foreign affairs, good propagandists can get us to focus instead on Obama’s picks for the NCAA basketball tournament or his appearance on a late-night comedy show.
Obama’s health care plan looks like it will cost much more than expected and may drive many doctors to quit practice. So, let us change focus from the hard numbers into a debate about Republicans stealing the birth control methods used by women.
From Sixth Avenue to Hollywood, and from Wolf Blitzer to Jay Leno, our TV hosts parrot the Obama party line about “the war on women.”
We have a similarly skewed view on the “war on terror:” Obama says there is no terror and no war, while the media assure us Obama won the war. Both are wrong. There were more actual and abortive terror attacks in the U.S. in the last three years than in the previous eight.
There were 30 assaults or plots on army bases, transportation hubs, and synagogues: from Little Rock to Seattle, from Riverdale to a New York air base, from Fort Hood Texas (the massacre and a later copy-cat plot), to New York’s subways, from a plane over Detroit to a Times Square car bomb.
Most plots are not on the scale of 9-11, but there is a pattern of growing danger, not a diminishing threat. Most media prefer to show Obama as the sheriff who got Bin-Laden and ended the threat. They do not want to examine how the terror threat has grown with new generations of Islamic terrorists who were born here or converted here
Team Obama prefers to make or encourage “documentary” films using sensitive information. This makes Obama look good, but it makes all of us a little less safe.
President Barack Obama is an able and attractive politician commanding government and Democratic Party public relations machines. He enjoys a pliant press steering focus away from the bad economy to the personal portfolio of Mitt Romney.
Obama’s foreign record is as bad as his economic one. He bet he would find common ground with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, selling out U.S. friends in Georgia, Ukraine, Poland and the Czech Republic. We lost those bets, but the media pretend that Romney “really blew it” with a remark about the Olympics inLondon.
Obama and Joe Biden made Israel their personal punching bag from 2009-2011. They forced an Israeli building freeze inJerusalemand theWest Bankthat led to a freeze in Arab-Israeli talks for the first time in 20 years.
President Obama undermined Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, a strong U.S. friend, while boosting the Muslim Brotherhood—a group that spawned Al-Qaeda. Our media did not really examine how much the U.S. lost on those bets or Obama’s support of Bashar Assad in Syria, sending an ambassador there against the express wishes of Congress.
Obama and Hillary Clinton ignored Iranian dissidents’ pleas for help during Iran’s rigged 2009 elections. They delayed dealing withIran’s atom bomb plans. That is a quite a resume for the people who promised hope and change at home and abroad.
Have the media probed the gap between Obama promises and his results—from Cairo to Istanbul, from Libya to Syria? They report how Romney criticizes Arab culture, for being anti-peace and tribal—all of which is absolutely correct.
Our media scoff at Romney for being “clumsy.” That angle suits the propaganda line that Obama-Biden-Clinton are deep thinkers and doers on foreign policy. Better to have us consider Romney’s tone than to examine Obama’s foreign policy record.
The media agenda is to lacerate Romney rather than doing real journalism: checking how Obama-Clinton were criminally negligent to leave U.S. diplomats unguarded on the anniversary of 9-11.
Have we noticed how the sophisticated terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya disappeared from the front page of The New York Times, and have we noticed how the Associated Press gave us a half-cocked “timeline” to show Romney was hasty?
Maybe the propaganda will distract us long enough for Obama to get re-elected, but then again, maybe not. Perhaps Abraham Lincoln will be proved right again when he said: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.
For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, GUN WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, EYE ON BRITAIN and Paralipomena
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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)