I’ve often argued that the basic distinction between liberalism and conservatism has to do with interpretation of laws, the view of the role of government, both based upon differing views of human nature. Conservatives are pessimists. We tend to believe that people, left to themselves, will do evil. Whether our view is that of Thrasymachus, Calvin Hobbes, or Aristotle and Aquinas, conservatism can be summed up in the famous words of Lord Acton: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and more importantly in the warning of Socrates that representative democracy can only work by conscription, since anyone willing to run for office is at least guilty of arrogance. We want government that is small and limited because too much power in the hands of too few individuals leads to abuse, corruption and tyranny.
Meanwhile, liberals have an optimistic view of human nature. They believe that people are basically good, but get corrupted by society (though where the corruption in society comes *from* they won’t say). They think that, as long as you elect “good people” to government, government can be used to promote good. Theirs is the view of human nature that runs from Plato through to Rousseau and Locke in Western thought.
This distinction is summed up best in two of my favorite politicians: Pat Buchanan and Bob Casey, Sr. Both Catholics, both strongly pro-life, the differences between Buchanan’s political philosophy and Casey’s can be summed up in that each develops a consistently Catholic political theory derived from a differing premise of human nature. Casey fully admitted that he thought people were basically good, and government was a good thing as long as it had good people in it, whereas Buchanan’s philosophy derives from the presumption of original sin.
Today, that distinction is blurred by two problems. In the 200 years since the French Revolution, the Left has tried to justify its position that people are fundamentally good by identifying the source of “evil”. Was it monarchism? The Church? Land owners? Property Owners? Bankers? Schools? The Left has tried “reforming” institution after institution for 200 years of modernism, and none of them has proved to be the serpent in their garden of Eden.
Since the 1960s, the Left has resorted to something different. To justify their belief that people are fundamentally good, they’ve decided to alter it to a belief that people’s *intentions* are fundamentally good, and that they’d do “better” if it weren’t for institutions, and the main reason why people are “bad” is not that they are but because institutions *say* they are.
In other words, yesterday’s liberal said, “Let’s prevent abortion by helping women in need.” Great. Today’s liberal says, “Abortion isn’t really bad. We need to get rid of the Church that says it is.”
So while some “old school liberals” try to cling on the Democratic Party, others said, “Wait! I don’t agree with this!” They may believe people are fundamentally good and well-intentioned, but they do believe evil is a real thing and needs to be stopped, not just ignored.
Starting with people like Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Novak and Ronald Reagan, and moving through to Zell Miller and Ron Silver in the 2000s, these people defected from the Democrats to the Republicans, and garnered the name “Neoconservatives” or “neocons.” While the term has come to be considered pejorative, it was, like many such political terms, originally a specific concept for a specific group of intellectuals. The basic definition of a “neoconservative” is ” a liberal who has been mugged”.
By contrast, those who believe what conservatives actually believe have been labeled “paleoconservatives” or “paleocons.” Our belief in the basic corruption of human nature, and our mistrust of government, has been relegated to the sidelines as the paleocons have taken over the GOP.
The GOP is the “Party of Reagan,” even tough Reagan legalized abortion in California, and nominated such luminaries as Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy to the Supreme Court.
Reagan came to office promising to eliminate Carter’s newly created Department of Education, but changed his tune. Indeed, Reagan’s views on the Department of Education sum up neoconservatism. Like liberals, the neocons want to use the federal government to “do good”; they just want to use it to do what they consider good, versus the liberals.
So, in education, we have three factions: a) those of us who oppose federal involvement in education altogether; b) those who want to use the federal government to enforce “accountability” and “standards” and c) those who want to use the federal government to enforce “accountability” and “standards.” It’s just that groups b & c disagree on what those standards should be. Those of us in group A want local communities to establish the standards for their local communities, because of the principle of subsidiarity.
Of course, slavery and civil rights are often cited as the reasons to oppose “states’ rights,” yet those work both ways. After all, it was the Supreme Court which ruled slavery constitutional and then later ruled segregation constitutional. And there are other ways these issues might have been corrected without recourse to federal tyranny. For example, they invented “hate crimes” as a way to get around state authority and double jeopardy. Murder is a state crime, not a federal crime. Since many murders in the South–including the murders of Catholics which don’t get talked about as much as murders of blacks–were going unprosecuted, or else the murderers were getting off at trial, the Liberals invented the concept of “hate crime” and made it a federal crime. Now, if a person murdered someone in a “protected class,” then it was a *federal* crime and could be tried in federal court, and if the person was acquitted of murder at the state level, it wasn’t double jeopardy, since “hate crime” was a different offense!
However, instead of doing that, they could have simply charged the negligent state prosecutors and judges with violating the 14th Amendment.
So, today, you have “conservatives” who want to “do good” by making abortion a federal crime, as opposed to a state crime. Completely contrary to the names conservative and Republican, and to the principle of subsidiarity, they trust the federal government to have that much power.
I think many such people fail to understand the concept of “federal crime.” Take the “All late term abortions are legal except this one kind” Act, otherwise known as the Partial Birth Abortion ban. The act makes it a federal crime to perform this one kind of abortion. That means that
1) the perpetrator has to be investigated and arrested by the FBI; local police have no jurisdiction
2) the case has to be prosecuted in federal court.
As we know with many liberal laws passed at the federal level, this will be selectively enforced, since the FBI’s resources are taxed. Consider the many federal gun laws on the books, which hardly ever get prosecuted because it requires too many resources to enforce them at the federal level.
3) If you have a liberal Attorney General and/or FBI director, or you have liberal federal judges, then these crimes won’t get enforced at all.
Compare to states. In Kansas, “Partial Birth Abortion” is illegal at the *state* level except for certain circumstances. Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline tried to prosecute George Tiller for cooking the books to get around the state law, but was thwarted by being voted out of office before the case went to court. The new, liberal, attorney general (who, like Kathleen Sebelius, got into office with a lot of campaign funds from Tiller), simply ignored the evidence, softballed the witnesses in court, and let the case fizzle out.
Obviously, these things happen in state law, as they happened in the south before the Civil Rights Acts. *However*, at least at the state and local level, there’s more opportunity. A George Tiller might get away with it in Kansas, but maybe his counterpart in South Carolina would actually be prosecuted if it were state law. Do you think any abortionists are going to be prosecuted under the federal “ban” so long as Barack Obama is president?
Turning over power to the federal government ultimately means turning power over to the liberals.