Political thinking and the reality of politics

I find it enlightening to read about important political thinkers of the nineteenth century; even those intellectuals who have brought much misery to the world, such as Karl Marx. His orthodoxy limited man to an economic pawn on the chess board of life, denying complexity of the individual person and also his free will. Many of these intellectuals defined the individual in a limited dimension. For example, as a biological being by Darwin; merely psychological by Freud; and materially willful by Nietzsche.

In a recent article by Bradley J. Birzer in The Imaginative Conservative (link below) Prof. Birzer notes that these “progressives…ultimately eroded the traditions of Natural Law, natural rights, the rule of law, and almost every real support of the best and humane ideals of western civilization.” They spawned American progressivism during the 1880s and 1890s. Classical liberals, libertarians and conservatives, writes Birzer, were “quite ill-prepared for the intellectual and political onslaught.”

This discussion is largely academic. I find the disturbing consequences of political responses that came out of statist ideologies most intriguing. Here in 1960s America we were forever split ideologically, expanding and intensifying the geographic cultural separation of the 1860s.

Many of our so-called “conservative” political class have disappointed expectations to stand strong against the statist “onslaught.”  A friend of mine often uses the aphorism: “Better well-done than well-said,” that describes so many politicians who talk about “reform” but fecklessly back away or actually support statist plans and programs. I listen to learn what principles support our politicians. But mostly schemes to distribute income, panders to the wants of factions and advancing the cause of Big Government resound.

While I search in vain for conservative “leaders” who stand on principle, others seek answers to related questions. In October 2011 Patrick J. Buchanan wrote at cnsnews.com under the title question: “What Do Conservatives Wish to Conserve?”

Buchanan, as a young Columbia-trained journalist in the 1960s, faithfully followed and supported the presidential campaign of Sen. Barry Goldwater savaged by the liberal press with lies and distortions. Buchanan wrote two introductions to Goldwater’s book, Conscience of a Conservative. Goldwater described it as “a rallying cry of the right against three decades of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the liberal agenda.”

Buchanan summarizes the revolutionary fires that engulfed us and turned our “country upside down and from which there is no going home again.” He described four of these periods.

Civil rights violence was the first revolution during the long, hot summer days of the ‘60s that began with a march on Washington in 1963—soon after, it was marked by urban riots: Harlem (1964); Watts (1965); Detroit and Newark (1967), and “a hundred other cities and Washington, D. C., in 1968 that tore the nation apart.”

The initial demands to end segregation and for “equality of opportunity” were supported by most of us. But, as Buchanan reminds us, in the next revolution, this gave way to “demands for equality of condition and equality of results through affirmative action, race-based preferences in hiring and admissions, and a progressive income tax;  in addition reparations for slavery was “on the table.” Obviously, the injustice of these laws and demands further alienated a large segment of our society.

After “the rout of Barry Goldwater,” President Lyndon B. Johnson responded to the race revolution, using a Democrat-dominated Congress, to burden us with “a vast array of social programs that now threaten to bankrupt the republic.” Culturally destructive, this legislation also created a large new class of “permanent federal dependents.”

The next revolution, promoted at American universities, was “teach-ins” to protest the Vietnam War. Protesters carried Viet Cong flags around the White House chanting for the communist Ho Chi Minh to win. After the war ended, “many in the antiwar movement had become anti-American,” wrote Buchanan.  America was ideologically charged with “an endless catalogue of crimes” (eventually, crimes against the environment were added).

The last revolution described by Buchanan is social: “a rejection by millions of young of the moral code by which their parents sought to live.” Liberals produced demands for “legalized drugs, condoms for school kids, a right to terminate pregnancies with subsidized abortions and the right of homosexuals to marry.” But liberal politics don’t always prevail.

Buchanan notes that the “conservative triumph of the half-century was surely the election of Ronald Reagan.” Yet, despite Reagan’s unprecedented accomplishments, he “failed to curtail an ever-expanding federal government”—as has no other Republican president.  So, Buchanan asks, did conservatives fail?  Not necessarily because they didn’t try.

Political ideology cannot prevent “revolutionary changes in how people think and believe about God and man, right and wrong, good and evil,” writes Pat Buchanan.

As I see it, Americans are now forever separated and conflicted by income class, race, gender and myriad other superficial distinctions. But the most important dissociation we face comes from political thinking and actions based on cultural beliefs.



About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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