Has Gary Becker Ever Met a Conservative? It Does Not Seem Likely

Gary Becker plays intellectual Calvinball with his definitions of both modern American and classical “conservatives.” Edmund Burke would weep. Joseph de Maistre would weep. William F. Buckley would weep.It is, I suppose, something to see:>The Serious Conflict in the Modern Conservative Movement: The roots of conservatism go back to philosophers of the 17 and 18th centuries, such as John Locke, David Hume, and Adam Smith…. They claimed further that making decisions for oneself and suffering the consequences were usually good for people, even when these decisions led to bad outcomes, because learning from one’s own mistakes helps improve future choices.>Modern conservatism[‘]… support of competition and private markets, and hostility to sizable regulations, is a direct descendant of the classical liberal views…. Classical conservatism would recognize that the intervention of the Fed and Treasury in the finance sector may be necessary, given the crisis in that sector, but classical conservatives would look for this involvement to end as soon as possible.>The other pillars of modern conservatism are aggressive foreign policy to promote democracy in other countries, and government actions to further various social goals, such as fewer abortions or outlawing gay “marriage”. These views fit less comfortably in the conservative tradition…. Classical conservatives would argue that governments are no more effective at interventions internationally or on social issues than they are on economic matters. So governments should usually not get involved….>[F]or parties to compete at the national level, or in other large political arenas, they have to put together coalitions of groups with different interests…. The Democratic Party is now fairly well united in the belief that governments frequently do better than private decision makers in both the economic and social spheres…. [T]he Republican Party under the leadership of Eisenhower and Reagan had a more consistent classical conservative philosophy of supporting private markets in the economy, little military involvement in other countries, and even little interference in social arrangements…. The shift in the attitudes of the Republican Party toward more interventionist views on social issues, and to some extent also on military involvement… has created this crisis in conservatism. Better stated, it has created this crisis in the conservatism of the Republican Party.>I believe that the best way to restore the consistency and attractiveness of the conservative movement is for modern conservatism to return to its roots of skepticism toward governmental actions….>Such a shift in attitudes would require more flexible approaches toward hot button issues like gays in the military, gay marriage, abortions, cell stem research, and toward many other issues of this type. It will not be easy for the Republican Party to emerge from the doldrums if it cannot embrace such a consistently skeptical view of government.

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