Thursday, 28 September 2006

Conservatism: A new obituary

The Objective Standard: 'The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism:
In 1994, American voters elected Republican majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate for the first time in forty years. This ascent to power gave Newt Gingrich and his colleagues the opportunity to launch their “Republican Revolution” with its signature “Contract with America” platform. The election was said to mark the end of an era—the era of big government liberalism that had dominated American political life since the New Deal. After struggling for almost half a century to gain political power, the conservative movement finally seemed to have reached the political promised land.
What has been the result of that "Republican Revolution," that historic "victory of the right"?

What did the conservative movement's ascent to the commanding heights of government deliver? Well, as I mentioned here briefly on Tuesday, it certainly hasn't been limited government. Andrew Sullivan observed in Time Magazine two years ago that the result has been more accurately characterised as "Big Government liberalism with religious-right moralism. It's the nanny state with more cash. Your cash, that is. And their morals."

Professor Brad Thompson's masterful analysis of the decline and fall of American conservatism, -- to which I linked the other day and from which I intend to begin posting excerpts -- is in many ways an update of Ayn Rand's 1960 speech 'Conservatism: An Obituary' (published in her book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal).

Looking at what Rand had to say about the conservative movement in 1960, it quickly becomes apparent that not much has really changed in nearly half-a-century. In that speech Rand pointed out that "the meaning of the "liberals" program is pretty clear by now. But what are the "conservatives"? What is it that they are seeking to "conserve"?"

That's the crucial question, isn't it, and as the long day of Labour rule looks to be waning in New Zealand and the pendulum swinging slowly to the right, it's just as crucial to answer that question here. Here's part of Rand's answer back in 1960:
It is generally understood that those who support the "conservatives," expect them to uphold the system which has been camouflaged by the loose term of "the American way of life." ["Mainstream New Zealanders" anyone?] The moral treason of the "conservative" leaders lies in the fact that they are hiding behind that camouflage: they do not have the courage to admit that the American way of life was capitalism, that that was the politico-economic system born and established in the United States, the system which, in one brief century, achieved a level of freedom, of progress, of prosperity, of human happiness, unmatched in all the other systems and centuries combined--and that that is the system which they are now allowing to perish by silent default.

If the "conservatives" do not stand for capitalism, they stand for and are nothing; they have no goal, no direction, no political principles, no social ideals, no intellectual values, no leadership to offer anyone.
What do New Zealand's conservatives stand for? Is it enough to say you stand for "the issues that matter to mainstream New Zealanders"? What goals, what direction, what political principles or social ideals do those "issues" encompass? What solutions and what intellectual values do they represent? What might we expect such leadership to deliver?

Analysing the electoral victory of American conservatism ten years on offers some idea of what conservatism might deliver here. From tomorrow I'll begin posting excerpts from Brad Thompson's analysis of what that victory delivered in America. Stand by from tomorrow, and in the meantime (if you haven't already) do feel free to jump ahead.

LINKS: The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism - Brad Thompson, The Objective Standard
The Nanny in chief - Andrew Sullivan, Time magazine
Our first ten tasks - Don Brash
Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal - Ayn Rand, summary at the Objectivism Reference Center

RELATED: Politics-US, Politics-NZ, Politics, Objectivism, History-Modern, History-Twentieth Century

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