All Roads Lead To What We Have Now

From Streetwise Professor: The Last Shriek in the Retreat: Neocons Threaten to Leave the Republican Party

Since 2008 or so, neoconservatism has become the whipping boy or black sheep of politics, blamed by liberals and conservatives alike for all sorts of problems – recession & banking crisis, war in Iraq quagmire, the deficit, and much more. Nevermind that ‘fair housing’ doctrines under various democratic administrations planted the seeds of the financial problem.

I confess: I’m sympathetic to neoconservatism, mainly because it’s among the most logically consistent of the major ideologies, striking a good equilibrium between freedom and government, by balancing government with individualism, national defense, and property rights. Neoconservatives are also pragmatic and consequentialist to a fault, which is why some neoconservative polices (such as Bush’s deficit spending or the bank bailouts) may run afoul of conservative orthodoxy. Many conservatives, if pressed, hold views that are not too dissimilar from neoconservatism, save for one or two issues.

Free market capitalism? yes (a much better alternative to state-planned economies) [1]

Police and military against threats domestic and abroad? yes

Property rights? yes

‘Rule of law’ and ‘order’? yes

Entitlement spending reform, low taxes, and less regulation? Yes, yes, and yes

Although I support low taxes, I’m skeptical about certain aspects of supply-side. With the exception outliers like Henry Ford, Steve Jobs and Bill gates, who created entire new categories and industries, demand typically creates the supply, not the the way around. As any entrepreneur knows, when widgets are on the shelf unsold, producing more widgets will not get any of them sold. Lowering taxes creates demand which is used to buy excess inventory.

(some) Traditional values? Yes, although neoconservatives are bending on issues such as the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage

The differences arise over interventionism and deficit spending, which traditional conservatives tend to vigorously oppose. There is also some overlap with civil libertarians in opposing ‘surveillance’ measures, although traditional conservatives support border and immigration controls more so than neoconservatives and libertarians. Part of the problems is this mistaken belief by by the ‘anti-surveillance’ crowd that terrorists have yet to evolve beyond snail mail for communication, supporting strong borders but opposing any form of surveillance of electronic communication. Border control in conjunction with some surveillance is optimal; one without other is a porous defense system.

Although nation building ‘worked’ for Japan and Germany, it failed in the Middle East. This is a major reason why the legacy of George W. Bush is blemished.

Many on the neocon right are ‘partial libertarians’ – some ‘state’ to hold everything together and enforce laws, defense, and the border, but otherwise low regulation, low taxes, free markets and personal autonomy. Paleocons and traditionalists tend to be skeptical of free markets, arguing that they subvert ethno-nationalist tradition, promote amorality, and hurt native workers.

We have individualism and meritocracy within a caste (economic, IQ, etc), with ‘rule of law’, property rights, and free markets. The cruel twist of fate is that all roads lead what we have now as being the best of all alternatives. What I mean is that is we start with a prototype ‘government’ that is supposed to be different as Moldbug an others have done, but after making modifications, eventually, given enough time (sorta like a cellular automaton), we end up where we are now, albeit with some small gradations that may be hard to define. [2] As the questionnaire above shows, you start with some fundamental assumptions (property rights, law & order, autonomy, etc) and you get something resembling neoconservatism or neoliberalism, even if you don’t call it that. The EU leans more neoliberal; America more neoconservative.

Many criticisms against neoconservatism are wrong or out-dated (inapplicable).

Why? Well, precisely because neoconservatives are antithetical to the classical liberal, small government, and libertarian types who are also called “conservative” in the American political lexicon.

But neocons have never billed themselves as a ‘small government party’. ‘Small government’ is not the solution; better policy is. Large, global threats, for example, like Islamic terrorism, require large, coordinated counter-responses. WW2 is another example. After getting bombed, the USA was finally forced to get involved, requiring a substantial counter strike that a tiny government would likely not have been able to provide. On the other hand, many programs are waste and should be reduced or eliminated, examples being the dept. of education and the EPA.

Entitlement and healthcare spending is out of control, and neoconservatives are aware of this problem. Neoconservatives tend to advocate incrementalist approaches, except for crisis, in which case they support strong, coordinated responses.

Neoconservatives are anti-individualist, and statist. Neoconservatives owe a considerable part of their philosophical foundation to Leo Strauss. Following Strauss, neoconservatives are hostile to individualism, and the natural rights of individuals. Individuals pursuing happiness are merely egotists, and lack virtue. Achieving virtue requires collective projects, carried out through the state, and guided by an elite.

Hmm…not so sure about this. Neoconservatives, perhaps surprisingly to some, are individualistic, with George W. Bush himself coining the term ‘ownership society‘, albeit a lot of this ‘ownership’ was built on a sandbar of bad mortgages. It’s welfare liberals who are collectivist, wanting to overtax the most productive of society to be spread to the least, with state-mandated healthcare (Obamacare) that require the able-bodied to pay in the form of higher premiums for those who would be rejected due to pre-existing conditions.

However, there is some grey area regarding individualism and externalities. Consider the obesity epidemic. Libertarians and conservatives may argue that lifestyle choices are a personal matter, but then you have the economic externaltities that arise from the healthcare burden obese people impose on society.

Neocons are elitist and anti-populist. Again reflecting their Straussian roots, neocons believe that a robust state pursuing grandiose national projects can only be led by an elite. The people are too fickle, too ignorant, and too self-regarding to be trusted to carry out great schemes. But to implement their agenda in a democratic system, neocons have to manipulate public opinion, in part by telling different “truths” to different groups.

It should be. There is a hierarchy (culturally, biologically, economically, etc …plus the concept of individualism within castes stratified by biology and social status), and as Bryan Caplan has shown, the masses are too ignorant on the issues to have a role in deciding policy. Neocons are aware of this, and being pragmatic they know that policy that may be unpopular with the masses may be necessary nonetheless.

From Max Weber on Rationalisation:

In a dystopian critique of rationalisation, Weber notes that modern society is a product of an individualistic drive of the Reformation, yet at the same time, the society created in this process is less and less welcoming of individualism.[4]

Features of rationalisation include increasing knowledge, growing impersonality and enhanced control of social and material life.[4] Weber was ambivalent towards rationalisation; while admitting it was responsible for many advances, in particular, freeing humans from traditional, restrictive and illogical social guidelines, he also criticised it for dehumanising individuals as “cogs in the machine” and curtailing their freedom, trapping them in the bureaucratic iron cage of rationality and bureaucracy.

Economically, society prizes individualism, and this leads to advances in technology, but success is determined in large part by biology, which means that individuals, whether they wish to or not, must fall into a cognitive ‘caste’, with smarter people having the potential to advance more so than less intelligent ones. This contradiction is why we have a meritocracy that many don’t understand, with free will juxtaposed with cognitive castes. This is similar to compatibilism, to reconcile this apparent logical inconsistency.

Robert Lindsay disagrees:

More nonsense, and I actually feel like banning you. I know quite a few people with IQ’s from 130-150 who make low to average incomes (max $40K) but most make $12-18K. I know many high IQ people who have never made much money in life. It’s a complete lie that high IQ people can automatically make bank, what a stupid joke that is.

We’re talking about the average, not individual cases, which shows that , overall, smarter people earn more. Maybe there is a point of diminishing returns, but the correlation between IQ and income still holds at least to an IQ of 120-140, and many millionaires and billionaires (especially in technology) have even higher IQs.

It’s not the tyranny as in a despot or a bureaucracy, but rather competition and biological limitations. That could explain why happiness surveys show no improvements despite rising living standards.

And finally to wrap this up this already lengthy post:

The neoconservative movement was begun by an assortment of leftists whose political home was the Democratic Party. They ranged from dyed-in-the-wool Trostskyists (or is it Trotskyites?) to New Deal Democrats. The rise of the New Left in the 1960s and 1970s left the soon-to-be-neocons marginalized within the Democratic Party, and they decamped to the Republican Party. Now that they are being marginalized in the Republican Party (such as it is) by a populist uprising, so they are looking to return to their old political home. Not that they will fit in comfortably there, either.

Due to progressive liberalism, after a couple generations, these labels become almost meaningless. Neocons, in their zeal of property rights and ‘rule of law’, are the antithesis of revolutionist, proletarian-minded Trotskyites. Just as pre-Nixon democrats bear no resemblance to post-Clinton democrats, Neocons bear no resemblance to New Deal Democrats.

[1] This invokes the ‘excluded middle’ fallacy : either you have free markets or socialism/communism, ignoring alternatives. As in the case of Venezuela, Communist Russia, and other examples, Anti-Marketism tends result in significant problems – poverty, economic malaise, and possible revolt. Generally, as a simple economic model, you have what is called the Production Possibility Frontier, which gives the optimal production between two choices. In the example of Mao’s Great Leap Forward, in rejecting pareto optimality, resulted in the excess production of substandard steel at the cost of harvest sizes, resulting in famine.

[2] One problem is that NRx, as of late, has almost become too philosophical and or abstract, resisting definition or reification.

From the Reddit Dark Enlightenment sub sidebar, I find myself agreeing with:

Hierarchies are a natural consequence of innate differences and are necessary for societies to function. Stratified outcomes alone are not enough to prove discrimination or a failure of “social justice”. There is no “social justice,” only traditional justice.

Neoreactionaries acknowledge the legitimate flaws inherent to Democracies and are “predisposed, in any case, to perceive the politically awakened masses as a howling irrational mob, it conceives the dynamics of democratization as fundamentally degenerative: systematically consolidating and exacerbating private vices, resentments, and deficiencies until they reach the level of collective criminality and comprehensive social corruption.”

But I don’t think I’m ‘reactionary enough’.

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