Monday, March 22, 2010

The Tipping Point

I generally don't write about politics on this blog, but last night's events are too much to ignore. John Derbyshire is at his best writing about moments like these.

I tend to share Derbyshire's political pessimism, but not his general pessimism, since I believe the world is in the hand of a God Who has already saved it. God has promised that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against His Church, which is the only reason it is still around after two thousand years, but He has made no such promises regarding any particular political arrangements, including the arrangements detailed in the U.S. Constitution. They will come and go like any other political arrangements and, as Derbyshire points out, the normal political situation for humanity is rule by imperial despotism. We are slowly but surely headed back to this natural state of affairs. Conservatives will continue to manage some tactical victories, as the Wehrmacht continued to do against the Red Army after the Stalingrad debacle, but the strategic war has been lost.

The reason our constitutional arrangements are doomed is that they take for granted that the focus of citizen's lives will be something other than government. Government is an evil, albeit a necessary one, that establishes the framework within which individuals may pursue the true meaning of their lives, a way discovered by themselves and left unspecified by government. The main purpose of government is to protect the freedom within which the individual pursuit of meaning may occur. Conservatives tend to live according to this model, and do not like spending their time or energy thinking about government, since the focus of their lives is somewhere else (e.g. their family, their Church, their business..) I count myself in this group.

But there are always people for whom the improvement of the world through government action provides the primary meaning of their lives. Government, for them, is not a secondary thing to which we must devote some time before getting on with the primary things, but the primary thing itself. These people never get tired of trying to expand the size and scope of government, no matter how many defeats they may suffer, since the battle itself is primarily meaningful for them. Not so for their conservative opponents. The conservative congratulates himself on a tactical victory in holding back the incipient forces of government despotism, then returns to his Church, his family, and/or his business. Soon the "progressive" forces are back, with a new and even bolder plan to expand the government, based on the lessons learned from their prior defeat. Meanwhile, the conservative has not been planning how to defeat the next progressive assault on liberty, since he does not see the point of his life in battling progressives, but in getting on with his personal adventure in family, Church or business. This time the conservative loses the battle, and government expands accordingly. The conservative goes back to his life, and soon the progressives are back with yet another attempt at the expansion of government at the expense of liberty, and on and on...

This is why conservatives occasionally slow down the progressive destruction of liberty, but never roll it back. To roll it back would require a dedication to government on the order of a progressive, a lifetime commitment to actively counterattack the progressive Leviathan that matches the progressive dedication to feed the Leviathan. But the conservative is just the man who finds the meaning of his life in something other than the government and its workings. The conservative will never match the progressive passion when it comes to government, and when he tries, he finds himself becoming what he hates, as the Republicans became increasingly indistinguishable from Democrats the longer they stayed in power in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

I believe the Obama progressives know this, and understand that ObamaCare will never be rolled back by conservatives, because conservatives will never match the lifelong passionate commitment of progressives to sustain it. There will be a backlash against Obamacare in the 2010 elections, for sure, but soon after that, when it becomes clear that Obamacare is something that will take a long time of dedicated commitment to reverse, people will learn to live with it. It doesn't really matter what its costs or benefits are. The question is whether you will change the focus of your life away from your family and Church to the mission of rolling back Obamacare. The answer of most conservatives will be: No. Government and its workings is not the point of my life, and I will not make it the focus of my life, for then I will have lost in an even more fundamental sense.

This is the fatal paradox for conservatives, which is that preserving a political regime based on freedom requires a distinctly unconservative commitment to politics. It's why the natural political state of man is despotic rule.

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