The Irony of “Liberal”

In a lecture he gave to the Kansas City Public Library, Kevin Williamson, a writer for National Review magazine, alluded to a stark and pernicious element that underlies modern political rhetoric, emphasizing the importance of “call[ing] politics by its true name” – not only so that we can have sensible public discourse about public policy and its effects, but also so that we can understand the political world in a larger and more fundamental sense. Williamson proceeded to conclude with exasperation: “People who want to return us to 1930s-style central-planning policies that have their origins in the administration of Bismarck are progressives … [people] who, under the guise of civil rights law, would like to tell you from their offices in Washington D.C. how you have to run your bakery in rural Colorado.” As Williamson pointedly intimated, we call these people liberal, perversely enough, and have allowed the development of a blistering irony, wherein our contemporary descriptive rhetoric has become so problematic that it looks to those who wish to invest the federal government with the power to determine wage rates – to those who support the President’s policy of changing immigration law without the consent of Congress – and attributes them the title, “liberal.”

If anything, Williamson seemed to be indicating a particularly discouraging and sobering reality about the current political theater – that people simply no longer know what liberalism is and that they have been goaded by Democrats into thinking that the name is an ideological fashion statement, worn upon one’s proverbial sleeve.

But if any definition of liberalism is to be honored, it is Thomas Jefferson’s, a man who in my mind will always rank as one of the United States’ most thoughtful political thinkers. Jefferson once wrote that “rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others,” classifying a liberal as someone who upholds that and other enlightenment principles which reiterate government as an extension of a body of citizens – a body that is refulgent with the natural rights to which Jefferson, himself, referred in the Declaration. Williamson’s original statements can accordingly be restructured as such: Modern liberals, as represented in the political world by someone like Barack Obama or in the media realm by a journalist like Rachel Maddow, are not liberal – in fact, they do not even resemble true liberalism in any recognizable sense. Instead, modern liberals are among the most illiberal members of the legitimate political world, and our confusion of rhetoric in referring to them with a word related to liberty is a thing to be mourned.

So what do these modern liberals mean when they discuss their supposedly liberal ideas? Do they mean that the proper expression of liberty is one that excludes economic freedom, but simultaneously allows women to sanction a doctor to dismember a fetus without repercussion? Does it mean that the lazy can freely smoke marijuana, as long as the drug is provided equally by a coercive, bureaucratic body that taxes the middle class into extinction? Astonishingly, because modern liberals are merely disguised “illiberals” who despise individual devices and the laissez-faire mindset, the answer seems to be an emphatic “yes.” And thus we get the gross irony of the current political system – that those who are most hostile to its original constitutional and republican bases are the same politicians who have duped us all into calling them “liberal,” as if they had any respect for liberty in the first place.

Such disrespect for the notion of liberty seems to me to find its home on the college campus, where progressivism is so overwhelming that the few conservatives who live there are forced to purge themselves daily by reading National Review and by watching an hour of Fox News after classes. Indeed, there’s a reason that it is rare to encounter conservatives at state schools and elite, private institutions all over the country, and it would be a mistake to chalk it up to the Republicans’ poor social media skills: When a clueless, eighteen-year-old freshman strolls around campus his first year as student-life organizations of all sorts yell at him to support the newest environmental fad, to what extent can you expect him to avoid the actions he needs to undergo in order to be an accepted entity? He will be told over and over again that Republicans are evil, that conservatives hate poor people, and that southerners are politically ignorant – not just by misunderstood students, but also by professors with intellectual chips on their shoulders, who in turn make it difficult for anyone to escape such a predetermined political route in challenging the glib assumptions held by women’s studies majors or abortion fanatics. For those on the left who grace college campuses nationwide, the goal is to ensure the survival of their ridiculous maxim that liberalism has nothing to do with the pursuit of policies that limit the federal government’s scope, but everything to do with pitiful social acceptance and integration. In their arena, “liberal” becomes a social category that aspires to frivolously free thought defined only by an immature hatred of conventional thinking. It is a title that describes teenagers who look back to their parents and think, “I’m going to believe the exact opposite of what you do, simply because you are old, I am young, and I want to be cool.”

That statement is the essence of college-aged liberalism – a childish notion of freedom from one’s elders that is inextricably linked to the nectar of invigorating rebellion and the absence of personal responsibility. But more than that, modern liberals have managed to redefine their “ism” as a hallmark of postmodern acceptance within a thoroughly confused, religious world: Under the guise of tolerance, Elizabeth Warren-esque political operators scream about feelings and grievance – playing the victims to everyone else’s blatant ignorance – while all the while they prove themselves to be absolute enemies of diversity of thought, basking in their cocooned, intellectual sphere. Why else would there be such constant opposition to inviting speakers of a conservative bent, even if those speakers have had experiences that warrant relation on a college campus? Why else do they tolerate those angst-filled protestors – garish teenagers who will actually binge-drink themselves into oblivion because they know their parents would disapprove – who dress in all-black like Hamlet as they arrogantly declare, “I have that within which passeth show”? In a profound sense, modern liberals have allowed – indeed, caused – the notion of liberalism to mean not individualism or responsible self-determination, but rather the propensity to replace dignity with incessant complaint and hyper-sensitivity.

In the context of the current political debate, liberals have also been the troglodytes whose sole mission has been the cultivation of government dependence, touted under the misleading pretense of compassion and social justice – whose “well-intentioned” desires have created a sizable class of dependents that look to the government for their every move and that live with the depressing options put before them by obsequious bureaucrats. What a conversation it would be to tell Jefferson and Madison and Adams that liberals are those who stare in the eyes of the American people and make baseless financial promises about the probability of the welfare state’s survival – only to characterize the true champions of liberty as heartless Machiavellians whose understanding of the world is hampered by greed and materialism. The irony is obvious when you consider that the necessities of living a proud life cushioned by liberty are the very principles that are ever eroding in the face of liberal tactics.

Never has this proclivity for government dependence been better illustrated than by the Democrats’ recent advertising of a fictitious Julia – a woman whose entire life is bolstered by government intervention, formed by the manipulative hands of central-planners, and set into motion by expansive social programming. According to the advertisers’ perverse messaging, President Obama acts the role of the proverbial father of every man and child in the United States, waiting with his credit card to proliferate federal manna to a people hungry because his policies have obliterated wealth-creating, free-market incentives. Indeed, the arrogance is overwhelming, and it is a bit difficult to imagine how the beneficiaries of the “liberal” title can honestly continue to refer to themselves as such, especially when their entire motivation is centered on the flippant undermining of the American vision – to have the federal government so involved in the lives of its citizens that it flaunts the services it provides with taxpayer money as if it were some collective messiah here to transform us into heavenly angels. And it wouldn’t bother President Obama one bit to know that the founders would be crying if they could witness this profound transformation: To liberals the likes of him, liberalism means sacrificing individualism for collectivism, placing equality over liberty in the hierarchy of priorities, and using the federal government as an end-all to enforce their frightening conception of utopia.

This is all not to mention the most economically devastating aspect of modern liberals’ redefinition of liberalism: their obsession with centralization and federal standardization, as manifest in such horrors as the EPA and Common Core, its top-down vision of education reminiscent of something the Soviet Union may have attempted. The idea of allowing a federal entity to form a singular model or standard of performance and to force it down the throats of millions of people who live, act, and think differently is the defining aspect of the illiberal mindset – granting misguided bureaucrats the authority to exercise a position that they could not, under any circumstances, fulfill in any laudable sense. But when you have an ideology that cares primarily about control, the importance of implementing diverse standards – indeed, of eliminating fruitless and expansive models of all kinds – is lost to a seething vision of bureaucratic largess. The end result is that federalism morphs from an assurance of freedom to a useless antiquity – one with an outdated spirit of localization that ought to be cast aside in favor of unmitigated federal autonomy.

To condense, the irony of “liberal” is that the politicos who operate under the title’s contemporary classification manage to profoundly violate everything that classical liberalism signifies in the context of government: Modern liberalism is not a well-wrought philosophy, but rather a label that is paraded in academic circles among students who have nothing better to do than study every conceivable manifestation of grievance in the known world. Ultimately, the process of studying politics teaches that, in the context of the progressive left, liberalism means nothing – it is a clever front which used to mean something to real thinkers and sincere citizens, but that has now been corrupted by big-government sycophants like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid whose addiction to government is downright dangerous.

I would simply ask that the individuals who continue to cause this evolution admit that which is demonstrably true – that they are progressives of a most illiberal and pandering sort.


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Ferguson, Gardner, and the Convenient Narrative

When thinking about the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Gardner, there is a particularly important statistic to remember in the face of Al Sharpton and his exercise of theatrics, traipsing around the hotbeds of civil conflict like some rebellious figurehead: Something like ninety-three percent of the black murders that occur in the United States are perpetrated by black offenders, as found in a 2010 Bureau of Justice Statistics Report – not by white police officers or Hispanic vigilantes or the racially ambiguous face of “The Man,” but by criminals who, it would seem, are flustered with motivation entirely independent of race. And even for the other seven percent, I have yet to read a convincing, evidenced case that rampant racism plays a significant role in their occurrence. No matter, though – to the astute media analysts whose hysteric reactions to both of these situations has resembled a pitiful display of deceptive bias and frivolous conclusion-making, such a harrowing statistic matters little. Why? Because, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t contribute to the narrative that it is their pitiful job to create – a false narrative which makes it seem as if the United States is still suffering from entrenched institutional racism, despite all the evidence that shows otherwise.

The uncomfortable reality is that the death of Eric Gardner and what it tells us about the relationships between communities and their police officers is not one that can simply be conflated with what happened in Ferguson. Indeed, it does not stand to reason that if one was motivated by a white officer’s deep-seated, racial hatred, the other must have been, too – you might as well claim that because some people voted for President Obama as a direct result of his skin color, everybody must have, which itself is an entirely imperfect metaphor due to the fact that neither Michael Brown’s nor Eric Gardner’s death came about as a result of being black (don’t take my word for it, look at the evidence and at specific comments that have been made by Gardner’s family). As such, it is absolutely necessary that we treat these two terrible events in turn – looking at them from an objective point of view so as to avoid the incoherent and false ranting that has unfortunately characterized the contributions of many.

With regard to Gardner, we have specific video evidence which shows his albeit large frame surrounded by several police officers who are attempting to arrest him for the sale of “loose” cigarettes – single cigarettes instead of packs, the sale of which is illegal in Staten Island. In the process, Gardner visibly resists officers’ subdual of him, and as a result, he is placed in a choke-hold, the strength and longevity of which eventually cause his death. So, the question remains: Was the police officer’s use of force excessive considering Gardner’s offense and the number of officers there to ensure each other’s safety? Or was it completely within his right to do so, even though Gardner was unarmed and surrounded by able-bodied, police backup?

You can probably guess at my opinion from my framing of the questions – that I think the officer’s use of force was not only excessive, but also worthy of a manslaughter conviction, in the least. After all, the video clearly illustrates the officers’ legitimate control of the situation: they had Gardner surrounded, they were armed and he wasn’t, and there was the notable absence of any significant threat to innocent bystanders. The idea that an officer should be able to use such lethal force in such a situation is, I think, borderline abominable – not to mention that Gardner’s crime was so benign that there is a legitimate concern as to whether or not he should have been approached in the first place. The point is that there is a reasonable case that the grand jury’s interpretation of the events that transpired – and luckily, we have them on video – is somewhat spurious in its willingness to give the officers the benefit of the doubt. The evidence is quite clear, and we don’t have to rely on ambiguous and suspect eyewitness reports from people who are self-contradictory and unsure. With that being said, there is still no reason to believe that race fueled the officer’s apparent aggressiveness – it’s a distinct possibility, of course, but a positive claim about such a charged event that carries with it damaging implications is, accordingly, in need of positive, definitive evidence. Here, there doesn’t seem to be any – only the affective narrative of respected men like President Obama, who is actually sufficiently daft to suggest that Gardner’s death illustrates the persistence of racial animus and the necessity of more and more meaningless dialogue.

On the other hand, the situation that has unfolded in Ferguson is entirely dependent upon ridiculous and flippant interpretations of evidence – evidence that overwhelmingly points to Officer Darren Wilson’s innocence, but that is ignored at the pernicious discretion of Sharpton and his cronies. The suggestion of the evidence is simple enough: After having violently robbed a convenience store and been determined dangerous and on the run by police, Michael Brown was confronted by Wilson, who eventually was forced to use his gun in a deadly yet self-protective manner. The narrative furthered by protestors regarding Brown’s hands-up stance is not only irresponsible and facile because of the unreliable nature of the suggesting witness’ testimony, but also stunningly ignorant because of the forensic analysis which was conducted for the grand jury. As unfortunate as it is, we have no video available to show us directly the on-goings that led to Brown’s shooting, but we do, indeed, have witness reports, forensic evidence, ballistics, and a legal system that refuses to function on emotion – all of which suggest that the decision to not indict Wilson was the correct one.

It seems appropriate, then, to ask the protestors – who once more claim that Wilson was both unjustified in his use of force and brutally racist in his motivation for doing so – whether or not they would prefer a justice system that reviews evidence, but brews decisions within a cesspool of uninformed public opinion, emotive accusation, and egregious, witch-trial trickery. I, for one, am horrified by the willingness of many to crucify evidence in favor of the construction of a patently false, politically expedient narrative – to ignore that which is demonstrably true and instead air on the side of that which they wish to be true, for purposes of outrage.

You see, the difference between the typical conservative and the typical liberal response to these situations is that the Democrats see black deaths within a torrent of political opportunism, which, if they fail to use, will force them to focus on issues that will actually help the black community. No matter the extent to which the country continues to evolve on race – no matter the extent to which its citizens attempt to share constructive dialogue – Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson will always be there to trump up the situation to serve their diabolic purposes. After all, upon what else do their careers thrive? Haven’t you heard in the news that Sharpton has some serious tax debt to pay? As long as that remains the case, the dialogue that credible members of both sides of the aisle try to proffer will proceed in absolute phoniness and insincerity – based upon the idea that our country is a bad place for black people, who must always look over their shoulders should a draconian, white cop begin to follow.

The bottom line is that it is patently irresponsible for the media to act like virtual merchants charged with bandying about the issue of race as if it were a currency. But that’s just the thing: for many liberals, race is a political currency which distracts from a variety of issues of significantly increased purport. Democrats hear Republicans all the time talk about things such as single-motherhood, the breakup of the black family, the nature of the welfare state and government dependence, the state of the economy in minority communities, the educational system, and gang culture; but all they seem to do in the meantime is think to themselves, “How boring! Those issues can’t headline campaign commercials …”

And then they spill out into the streets to protest.

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Carolina Review Podcast Episode Four: What the Ferguson Protesters Have Gotten Wrong Thus Far

Episode Four: What the Ferguson Protesters Have Gotten Wrong Thus Far by Carolina Review on Mixcloud

On this week’s episode of the Carolina Review Podcast, Alex Thomas points out the problems with the UNC fanbase (0:43), plus the gang dives straight into the controversy that surrounds the death of Michael Brown and the town of Ferguson, Missouri (7:29).

Music used:

“Dirt Rhodes”, “Early Riser”
Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

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Crossroads at the Information Superhighway

While some corporations may be ruining the Internet, trusting the FCC is a riskier move

Photo courtesy of Dell Inc.

It would be difficult to say that the Internet has not had a significant impact on mankind. Consider the fact that it has allowed us to instantly connect with people from across the globe, learn of Earth-shattering events in a split second and has put an array of resources at our fingertips, and you could consider it the most powerful tool ever created in human history, at least so far.

But what if the access to this information was under threat? What if Internet companies started slowing content from being accessed due to what some could rightfully call greed? This is a fear many Americans have with regards to the Internet’s future, and these fears are not too farfetched.

Level 3, a communications service company that works with Internet service providers (ISPs,) accused five American providers and one European provider of purposely degrading the quality of their Internet services in an attempt to get Level 3 to pay fees to help with additional traffic. This degradation had caused services like Netflix to slow down.

“They are deliberately harming the service they deliver to their paying customers,” Level 3’s Head of Connectivity, Security & Performance Solutions Mark Taylor wrote in a post on the Level 3 blog. “They are not allowing us to fulfill the requests their customers make for content.”

It gets even worse. Comcast, the United States’ largest cable and Internet provider, was caught slowing down Netflix’s streaming capabilities. This is despite the fact Netflix had purchased access to all available routes from Comcast in order to provide their video streaming services to customers. As video quality fell to below DVD levels, Netflix had no choice but to pay Comcast for better connections, which almost immediately resulted in an improvement in the quality of Netflix’s video streams.

As these claims became more known by the public, it was no surprise that calls for action begin to emerge. This action is called net neutrality, and it aims to assure content on the Internet is accessed easily without fear of having content slowed down. How? Through regulation and oversight from Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The plan, which has gained support from not only websites like Reddit but also President Barack Obama, would have the FCC set up new guidelines for ISPs, including regulations that would require companies to wire every house with Internet access similar to how telephone companies are required to set up homes for telephone service. The FCC would also have the power to set price levels, and would mandate that all content gets treated the same regardless of the source.

President Barack Obama in a November 10 video address on net neutrality. Photo courtesy of the White House.

It’s easy to see why this idea is popular. Many people are frustrated with current providers in their area and feel that if something is not done, the future of the Internet may be threatened. Matthew Inman, creator of The Oatmeal webcomic, argued that net neutrality would help keep the Internet free and fair for everybody.

“The Internet,” Inman said in a November 10 comic, “that throbbing, fractious hydra of whirring, blinking hard drives which serves as the collective sum of all human thought…was founded on one principle: all information must be treated equally.”

While Inman’s beliefs about the Internet are insightful, seeing as they come from someone who provides continuous (and humorous) online content, there are large doubts that the FCC could effectively and properly regulate the Internet.

The Internet has largely been unregulated since its creation, and while there has been a few issues, regulation in the form of net neutrality could harm ISPs as well as this technology’s rate of progress.

The first issue with net neutrality starts with the act that would be used by the FCC. In addressing slower access in certain parts of the country, such as rural areas, the FCC will use powers bestowed in the Communications Act of 1934. More specifically, Title II of the Act, which focuses on common carriers. Under the current proposal of net neutrality, ISPs would be subjected to universal service requirements, similar to how telephone companies are required to wire telephone lines to every house regardless of cost to the company. This makes no economic sense, as it is costing companies to do a task that may or may not be needed in the future.

Consider how many people today still have home phone lines, and you can easily see why. It doesn’t help ISPs prepare for the future. It is a waste of financial resources that could instead be used by corporations to increase Internet access and improve speed.

The second issue lies with the FCC itself. While their early role was to help license radio and television stations to protect the airwaves from being overcrowded with too many stations, the FCC’s power has grown a tiny bit slower than the rate of technological process. Each time something new has been introduced, the FCC has followed it with scores of regulations which has limited certain technologies from growing.

An example of this can be found with cable television. In his May 18 piece for, Brent Skorup detailed how the FCC’s almost killed the cable industry in the 1960s in the name of protecting traditional broadcast stations.

“Since Congress hadn’t given the FCC express authority to regulate cable, the agency argued that many broadcasters would disappear if it didn’t and the FCC would have little left to regulate,” Skorup said. “The technologies change, but the agency overreach continues.”

Lucky for us, the FCC was forced through legal battles to scale down their regulation efforts, which allowed cable television to grow and provide more services than ever before. Again, growth occurred due to decreases in regulation and oversight, not because of an increase. Why should we give the FCC oversight over arguably the most powerful resource in modern society and risk its future advancement? If we did, there would be the threat of too much regulation, which could limit services and hinder future technological advancements.

The third issue lies with the fact that regulating ISPs does not make much business sense, especially with growing competition from wireless companies. As entrepreneur and owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks Mark Cuban explained to Business Insider’s Steve Kovach, wireless 4G LTE networks from companies like Verizon Wireless are able function at equal or faster rates than broadband services sent directly to your home, and should be considered a threat to the prominent ISP connection.

“How will Title II deal with that?” Cuban said. “Will Title II sunset in five or seven or 10 years, or will we find the future of broadband cut off at the knees because Title II of 2015 didn’t anticipate broadband of 2022?”

Three days before talking with Kovach, Cuban told deputy editor for Business Insider Jay Yarow that he was not concerned about people getting pushed around by ISPs, but rather about if “the government will f— [the Internet] up.”

Entrepreneur and owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks Mark Cuban, seen here in 2008. Photo courtesy of Brian Solls.


With these concerns, it’s obvious that net neutrality is not the best solution for protecting the Internet. But does that mean Americans just have to accept getting pushed around by bullies like Comcast in the name of progress and human advancement? Absolutely not.

Instead, the solution to our problems comes from the free market. One of the reasons some ISPs are able to mistreat their customers is because they hold monopolies in many parts of the nation. This is primarily due to local governments imposing barriers to entry in order to protect access to publicly owned “rights of ways,” which allow ISPs to place their wires above and below public and private property. ISPs have to also agree to contracts with public utilities to use utility poles or underground ducts.

The problem with this protection lies in the fact that it can cost tremendous amounts of money to construct networks due to local fees, limiting the amount of competition the local economy has to offer. This is not because “rights of way” are necessarily expensive, but rather because local governments and public utilities charge ISPs far more than what they need to be charged. One example pointed out in a July 16 Wired column states that “rights of way” and pole attachment fees can double the cost of network construction.

As a result of these high costs, many ISPs do not feel encouraged enough to enter a new market, limiting this small area to only a few providers. Yet when local governments reduce these costs and fees, it allows more competition and gives consumers real options for Internet service as well as keep incumbent companies on their toes when it comes to prices and service.

In nearby Raleigh, for example, Google is considering introducing its Fiber Internet service to serve as an alternative to the all but omnipresent Internet from Time Warner Cable. Google is already making some big claims to get consumers on their side, promising connections “up to 100 times faster than today’s average broadband speeds,” though it comes at a higher price of $70 a month.

Google Fiber network box. Photo courtesy of Paul Sableman.

Sure enough, Time Warner Cable, feeling Google’s pressure, announced it was offering upgrades and speed increases to its broadband services. The first cities to be upgraded include Austin, Texas, where Fiber is already being laid out thanks to local government assistance. TWC also added that other cities would be offered services soon, including Kansas City, Mo. (a city which, like Austin, helped Fiber by lowering the costs of “rights of way”) and, surprisingly enough, Raleigh. Solely the fear of competition made TWC change its services. Imagine what real competition would do.

While the current state of the Internet is not acceptable, handing over control to bureaucrats at the FCC makes no sense whatsoever. With that control could come unnecessary regulation that would force companies to spend funds on meeting certain standards instead of researching new and better technologies.

Like cable, it would be best if the Internet was untouched, allowing it to prosper and be more serviceable to the consumer. Yet if we want real change to occur, we must pressure local governments to lower fees of “right of way” to allow more competition.

It’s easy to understand where content makers like Matthew Inman are coming from. They want to make sure their product is protected from abusive ISPs. But putting your trust behind independent bureaucrats seems unreasonable, as allowing any branch of the government to regulate the most powerful source of information in the modern world could result in preventing further growth and development.

Yes, not having net neutrality means evils like Comcast will continue to exist, but if we apply pressure to local governments to lower costs and fees, competition will come, and with it better providers and services, allowing Comcast to face the brute force of what its competition can offer.

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Carolina Review Podcast Episode Three: Herman Cain Encourages Young People to be Politically Active

Episode Three: Herman Cain Encourages Young People to be Politically Active by Carolina Review on Mixcloud

In this week’s episode of the Carolina Review Podcast, Timothy Bame talks about high school dress codes (0:43), and we are joined by a very special guest: former Presidential candidate Herman Cain (6:51).

Music used:

“Dirt Rhodes”, “Early Riser”
Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

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Carolina Review Podcast Episode Two: Thom Tillis, Racism at UNC and the Future of the GOP

Episode Two: Thom Tillis, Racism at UNC and the Future of the GOP by Carolina Review on Mixcloud

On this week’s episode of the Carolina Review Podcast, Timothy Bame analyzes why Thom Tillis beat Kay Hagan (0:37) , Alex Montgomery talks about alleged racism at UNC (7:29) and Alex Thomas gives the Republican Party some helpful advice (13:31).

Music used:

“Dirt Rhodes”, “Early Riser”, “Slow Burn”
Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

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“Wise” Conservatism

Upon first hearing about my interest in politics, a middle-aged gentleman I used to work with once summarized brilliantly the age-based, ideological divide, asking pointedly, “You’re a liberal, right?” Though surprised at so immediate an assumption, I quickly assured him that nothing of the sort was true – that hell would drop a hundred degrees before I’d accept the efficacy of big-government policies or liberals’ flippant postmodernism. To which his response was refreshingly honest, if a bit shortsighted: “Aren’t all young people liberal? You’re supposed to be liberal when you’re young. It’s only when you get old like me that you realize you don’t want any of that [government programming] crap.” I explained that there are plenty of young, conservative activists I know who are equally resistant to such “crap,” and proceeded to share with him some rather fruitful discourse about political ideology and the future of the Republican party.

But no matter his bluntness, my co-worker vocalized a viewpoint that is quite popular in conservative circles, particularly in those dominated by Republican traditions that don’t always stick in millennials’ minds. As the assumption goes, it is pointless to try to reform youthful psyches that are built by political progressivism; just let them fester for a while, and eventually, once they start a family or a business, they’ll turn to the light. According to this thinking, there is something about conservatism that makes it vastly more appealing as time passes – as life, with all its frustrations and decisions and successes, progresses to some point of relative stability. And, indeed, the date reflect it, revealing a rather pronounced correlation between the acceptance of conservative ideas and the ages of those who do so (within the proverbially ignorant electorate, not necessarily in Washington, D.C., or amongst those who study politics).

But the correlation is simply that – a numerical, statistical relationship which fails to provide a qualitative explanation, leaving many to make assumptions that are, I would argue, rather spurious. For example, some might assert that the reason one’s mind tends toward limited government and laissez-faire capitalism through the years has not to do with the tenets of the ideology, but rather with begrudging acceptance and the willingness to settle: As time goes by, conservative veterans say, the propensity to be idealistic – or to prefer nuanced political strategies over those that are more traditional in nature – suffers at the hands of cold, cruel reality. While the rebelliousness of liberalism is suited only for young people and one-time activists wishing to relive the magic, conservatism is different, according to the Party leaders of the world. It is most acceptable to those of experience, who have drawn within themselves and their families, and have forgotten any sorts of philosophical obligations they have to society.

Under such a mindset, conservatives are primarily driven by that which works – by an inexorable focus on expediency over such abstract notions as rightness, fairness, or justice. Onerous regulation, for example, is not problematic because it represents an aggressive, extractive government, but simply because it hampers investment and business activity. And who are young people to say that it doesn’t? They have never started companies or withdrawn mortgages or seen their paychecks dismantled by taxation, so what exactly do they know and how are they able to contribute to the political theater?

The answer, I think, is simple, and should be obvious to conservatives who try to eliminate idealism amongst their ranks. While it is important to focus on workable strategies, there are a myriad of issues with the perspective described above – with treating conservatism as the mere manifestation of practical thinking. In the main, it is poor form to be shortsighted in dismissing youthful voices whose innovations may improve the conservative platform, not to mention allowing the portrayal of conservatives as selfish, un-philosophical rubes to persist. This, of course, is not to say that when lawmakers consider the tax code, they shouldn’t ponder its expediency in attracting investment and contributing to economic growth; but it is to say that conservatism, itself, is an ideology that extends beyond such musings: After all, Jefferson wasn’t much interested in writing about macroeconomic logic in the Declaration. He was too busy defending his and his fellow revolutionaries’ views on natural rights and the proper scope of government to cover such practicalities – ultimately passing by the phrase, “that excessive tariffs ruefully eliminate the incentives necessary for growth,” in favor of “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and “that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.”

You see, more than anything else, conservatism is a radical and assertive claim on the proper philosophy of government, arguing fundamentally that the state’s inevitable intrusion upon its citizens’ lives must be tempered. Before we claim that overregulation and excessive taxation fail economically – which, by most accounts, is true – we must first establish what government should do within the staunchly philosophical framework we’ve foisted upon it. To invoke yet another founding document, the Bill of Rights, one would be hard-pressed to find in Madison’s original words a desire to ignore idealism or political philosophy: Each of the amendments is, in its own right, poignant, staunch, and resistant to the whims of practicality that hundreds of congresses will experience in the years to come. In certain situations, you may regret that freedom of speech exists in totality – can’t we just put duct tape over the mouths of members of Westboro Baptist Church? – but the first amendment is oblivious to such outcries, its principle unalterable. These are the sorts of fundamental, philosophical provisions that establish a firm foundation for conservatism; to truly accept them takes an idealistic mind, not one that is solely bent on expediency.

In essence, conservatives, by their own admission, cannot simply be wise curmudgeons who know the way the world works or who have resisted the abstract, ambitious claims of youngsters. They must be idealists, too – enamored with limited government as a principle, refulgent with personal freedom and responsibility. If the conservative movement loses its brightness and youthful energy, it will soon sputter, unable to keep up with its liberal counterparts. To put it simply, the best way to avoid such an outcome is to ensure that conservatives maintain their focus on the types of radical claims that once engaged young, American intellectuals in the 18th century: Envision those daft activists on college campuses and abroad not as wistful, abstract thinkers who could never understand conservative practice, but as misguided Jeffersons who need a lesson in political philosophy.

And what of the connection between old age and conservatism, the definite correlation which has led to shared, ideological tension amongst established Republican figures and new, conservative faces? It seems to me that the best explanation lies not in what conservatives and liberals actually hold to be true, but rather in the normal, social associations that are attributed to each. While liberalism is fueled by spirited rebelliousness – against convention, not government – conservatism, by definition, describes the views of those in society who wish to remain close to traditional notions and manners of action. These terms, of course, are relative, dependent on the overall nature of the culture from which they emerge; and conservatives are only called so because the United States has traditionally upheld classically-liberal policies, policies that were, themselves, once deemed rebellious against monarchical traditions. It is my guess that this is one of many non-ideological reasons that young people who go through phases of insurrection as part of their development prefer liberal dogma.

The difference between conservatives and liberals, then, is not based on ideology versus expediency or youth versus wisdom. It is, rather, a basic, philosophical difference: Their state is oblivious to the liberties of its people, including their individual and economic expressions; our state is inherently limited in what it can do, allowing citizens to declare, worship, create, and live in whichever non-violent way they so choose. No matter how hard you try, you can’t back that up with empty assertions solely about what works – if he adheres to constitutional values and classical liberalism, but you’re a statist who happens to be twenty-two years wiser, he’s probably right and you’re likely wrong, no offense intended. Do you remember how old Thomas Jefferson was when he penned the Declaration at John Adams’ request in 1776? Thirty-three, and not a minute too young. James Madison was twenty-five. General William Howe, a major commander of British forces, was forty-seven.

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