Sunday, May 02, 2010


I started reading Andrew Sullivan's "The Conservative Soul - How we lost it, how to get it back". Even got through several chapters. Then I realize that I don't understand what he's saying.

Now, if the "we" referred to the Republican Party, so that an alternate title could be - "The Conservative Soul - How the GOP lost it, how the GOP can get it back", that would make perfect sense. This is not what the book is about. Andrew Sullivan describes two sets of people, with diametrically opposed ideologies, as conservatives! The only common feature of these two sets of people is that they both are skeptical of government. Well, a progressive advocating that the government must take up a certain task is not less skeptical of government, only more skeptical of the other mechanisms like the "free market" to accomplish that task.

For example, historically, the "free market" did very little to undo segregation in the South. Ultimately it took federal government power (superseding the state governments). The Leftist or whatever you want to term the people who fought segregation was using the government as the last resort, not as the instrument of choice. But you cannot in good conscience let a few more generations rot away while the southern segregationists take their sweet time to change their minds. The southern racists could have simply dropped their fight supporting segregation and no federal government involvement would have been there. Affirmative action came out of a people's unwillingness to give up their unreason, and not because some progressives were in favor of bigger government. {The same is true of the Civil War.}

The point is that skepticism of government is not a defining characteristic of a philosophy. It no more defines two different ideologies to be conservative than it distinguishes between conservative and progressive.

An alternative meaning that one can apply to the title is that the biggest, loudest, meanest faction that declares itself to be conservative owns the title, and Andrew Sullivan wants instead some other faction to take over. But the book then becomes something, that in extreme would be, for instance, "Progressives should take over the conservative movement", or "Muslims should run the Vatican".

Either being conservative is a property of a soul, and Andrew Sullivan is saying that we don't have any such souls any more (else, where have they gone?) or else conservative is a label attached to a specific set of people, and they have swung between one ideology to another, in which case, being firmly attached to their souls, they couldn't have lost the conservative soul.

The Republican Party is fundamentally incoherent, and Andrew Sullivan merely reflects the confusion. The only reason to be interested in the Republican Party and its broken thinkers is out of concern for democracy, which cannot long last with only one working party.