Comments: What I Think

"Conservatism is incompatible with democracy, prosperity, and civilization in general. It is a destructive system of inequality and prejudice that is founded on deception and has no place in the modern world."

Okay, but even in right-wing magazines like National Review and First Things, I've read writers who make this point and lament the fact that they can no longer call themselves liberals because the term is no longer understood in the old, 19th century sense. And the above is an old, 19th century, European definition of conservatism. It doesn't map out well to America's current political division of Democrat versus Republican. The entreprenurial spirit celebrated by Adam Smith is clearly part of the liberal tradition, and nowadays it is more associated with the Republican party than the Democratic one. Likewise, it is hard to imagine John Stuart Mill praising many of the hate-speech laws that America passed in the 1990s, laws that were largely promoted by Democratice forces.

I think it's reasonable to say that if we are using old, 19th century definitions of liberalism and conservatism, then both the Democratic and Republican parties have both liberal and non-liberal factions inside them.

Posted by Lawrence Krubner at August 18, 2004 02:58 PM

You know, the little bit I first skimmed of that article made me suspect it was a case of "then" versus "now."

I'd be interested in seeing a definition of what "conservative" means today. (Of course, we'd have to have a separate definition for the neocons.)

Posted by Anne at August 18, 2004 03:44 PM

Just speaking of liberal factions, it seems to be that liberalism, in that old, 19th century sense, splits between the Republicans and the Democrats, with the Republicans having a faction that associates with the entreprenurial spirit of Adam Smith and the Democrats having a faction that associates with the social reformism of Bentham. Smith and Bentham were foundational members of the that old, 19th century liberalism (though they both wrote in the 1700s).

But both Republicans and Democrats, clearly, have non-liberal factions. The Christian fundamentalists who think we should live under biblical law are clearly coming from an older, non-liberal tradition, and militant black nationalists, also, are clearly non-liberal.

Posted by Lawrence Krubner at August 19, 2004 07:09 AM