David Brooks describes Conservatism's paternalistic core

This week as David Brooks and Gail Collins discussed "Who Decided That This Election Should Be About Sex?" Brooks laid bare the core of the Conservative philosophy:

I do think it’s consistent to be economically libertarian and socially paternalistic. In fact I’d argue dynamic capitalism requires a stringent and coherent social order to help guard against its savageries — tight families to educate children, anti-materialist values to police rampant consumerism, a spiritual public square to mitigate the corrosive culture of greedy self-interest.

Free market beliefs and socially conservative beliefs require each other, so long as those socially conservative beliefs are traditional, not theological. I’m for traditional values, with government playing a small role to support them. I get worried when some politician begins trying to legislate his faith’s version of Natural Law.

This statement seems almost unintentionally revealing to me. Isn't it interesting to see what makes it into his statement of core values and what gets left out?

He has a definite view of what constitutes a "stringent and coherent social order" and "tight families": he admits that his approach is explicitly paternalistic, as though empowering women to lead their own lives out from under the thumb of male control leads to the breakdown of the social order and rampant "savageries" (a charged word if there ever was one!).

Brooks thinks that government can play a "small role" to support "traditional values" while the Republicans are currently trying to legislate what happens inside our bedrooms and inside women's bodies. Only a man could see current Conservative causes such as state-mandated transvaginal ultrasounds as non-invasive small government.

But what is really at the core of our country's problems as we try to recover from the worst recession in memory? Look what has happened as capitalism has run unfettered and unregulated in the past decade--near economic meltdown which required a bailout of Wall Street and untold behind the scenes shenanigans by the Treasury department (see for example quantitative easing and the $7 trillion secret loan program).

David Brooks can come across as a reasonable guy at times, which makes him even more interesting to me. We can't afford to ignore the core of the worldview he is laying out. It is not consistent and it is certainly not inclusive. It asks for small government when it doesn't want interference but has no problem trying to get laws or constitutional amendments passed that restrict other people's very personal liberties ("personhood" for zygotes and amendments to "protect" marriage by limiting which relationships can be defined as legal partnerships). Brooks' whole framework is clearly protecting the interests of those in power, as defined by wealthy, heterosexual white men. Even "pretty nice" people can feel that they are not actively racist, sexist or homophobic but they want to preserve a system that structurally reinforces their privileges--privileges that may be invisible to them, but very real to the rest of us. Racism is no longer culturally acceptable, but controlling women and the sexuality and relationships of gay people shows how threatening the Right feels by anything other than their paternalistic world view.

It is time for Progressives to stand up and shake off our "live and let live" tendencies to realize that we need to fight for fairness, inclusiveness, and equality on many fronts. Here in North Carolina we are facing a vote on a proposed Constitutional Amendment that not only would ban gay marriage, which is already illegal, but it would invalidate any domestic partnership other than marriage between a man and a woman. This has far-reaching implications for many issues such as domestic violence. By encoding these restrictions into the state Constitution, domestic violence laws could become unconstitutional. It is very scary to think about what happens when we start encoding this kind of discrimination and liberty restriction into our Constitution--it feels like we'd be messing with society's "source code" without understanding all the damage that could be done. Bad amendments are even worse than bad laws because they are much harder to overturn. Even Jim Crow Laws enforcing segregation, and anti-miscegenation laws, which banned marriages between people of different races, were enacted through laws and not Constitutional amendments. By the way, if anyone can tell me how the bans against gay marriage are fundamentally different than the bans on interracial marriage, I would be very interesting in hearing a substantive argument on that.

I will leave you with two thoughts that illustrate the world views we will be voting on in this election year:

Ellen Degeneres:
“I stand for honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated, and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values.”

or more from David Brooks: "So let’s return to our normal subject. Men, men, men. Let’s go back and have a normal election: men talking about themselves. The love that won’t shut up."

In 2012, the choice is ours and the differences couldn't be clearer.

[Cross posted from my MojoMom.com blog]


National story with huge North Carolina relevance

GOP Tea Baggers like to complain about North Carolina being a "nanny state" because of public policies designed to help people. Now they are hell bent on turning us into an "abusive dead-beat dad" state. It's really sick.

David Brooks has a lot explaining to do

David Brooks proposes an entirely new theory of capitalism, or at least an extremely twisted version of what Adam Smith wrote about in The Wealth of Nations. Specifically, Brooks introduces the novel concept that on its own, capitalism leads to ruin and must therefore be moderated by some other equally immoderate force, such as paternalism. This is truly remarkable for several reasons:

First, of the thousands of possible alternative forces we can imagine, why would anybody believe that the very people who hold the reins on capitalism are going to be any more prudent holding the reins on social structure and behavior?

Second, Smith believed quite strongly that wealth provided its own self-moderating force, no interference required. From Chapter One of the Wealth of Nations:

"A man of rank and fortune is, by his station, the distinguished member of a great society, who attend to every part of his conduct, and who thereby oblige him to attend to every part of it himself. His authority and consideration depend very much upon the respect which this society bears to him. He dares not do anything which would disgrace or discredit him in it; and he is obliged to a very strict observation of that species of morals, whether liberal or austere, which the general consent of this society prescribes to persons of his rank and fortune." Why would the State wish to interfere at all with people who have achieved such rank and fortune as to be able to afford their own home and to be able to make their own life choices?

Third, the solution to the problem Smith immediately raises with those who have no rank nor fortune is almost precisely the progressive agenda itself:

"A man of low condition, on the contrary, is far from being a distinguished member of any great society. While he remains in a country village, his conduct may be attended to, and he may be obliged to attend to it himself. In this situation, and in this situation only, he may have what is called a character to lose. But as soon as he comes into a great city, he is sunk in obscurity and darkness. His conduct is observed and attended to by nobody; and he is, therefore, very likely to neglect it himself, and to abandon himself to every sort of low profligacy and vice. He never emerges so effectually from this obscurity, his conduct never excites so much the attention of any respectable society, as by his becoming the member of a small religious sect. He from that moment acquires a degree of consideration which he never had before. All his brother sectaries are, for the credit of the sect, interested to observe his conduct; and, if he gives occasion to any scandal, if he deviates very much from those austere morals which they almost always require of one another, to punish him by what is always a very severe punishment, even where no evil effects attend it, expulsion or excommunication from the sect. In little religious sects, accordingly, the morals of the common people have been almost always remarkably regular and orderly; generally much more so than in the established church. The morals of those little sects, indeed, have frequently been rather disagreeably rigorous and unsocial.

"There are two very easy and effectual remedies, however, by whose joint operation the state might, without violence, correct whatever was unsocial or disagreeably rigorous in the morals of all the little sects into which the country was divided.

"The first of those remedies is the study of science and philosophy, which the state might render almost universal among all people of middling or more than middling rank and fortune; not by giving salaries to teachers in order to make them negligent and idle, but by instituting some sort of probation, even in the higher and more difficult sciences, to be undergone by every person before he was permitted to exercise any liberal profession, or before he could be received as a candidate for any honourable office, of trust or profit. If the state imposed upon this order of men the necessity of learning, it would have no occasion to give itself any trouble about providing them with proper teachers. They would soon find better teachers for themselves, than any whom the state could provide for them. Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition; and where all the superior ranks of people were secured from it, the inferior ranks could not be much exposed to it.

"The second of those remedies is the frequency and gaiety of public diversions. The state, by encouraging, that is, by giving entire liberty to all those who, from their own interest, would attempt, without scandal or indecency, to amuse and divert the people by painting, poetry, music, dancing; by all sorts of dramatic representations and exhibitions; would easily dissipate, in the greater part of them, that melancholy and gloomy humour which is almost always the nurse of popular superstition and enthusiasm. Public diversions have always been the objects of dread and hatred to all the fanatical promoters of those popular frenzies. The gaiety and good humour which those diversions inspire, were altogether inconsistent with that temper of mind which was fittest for their purpose, or which they could best work upon. Dramatic representations, besides, frequently exposing their artifices to public ridicule, and sometimes even to public execration, were, upon that account, more than all other diversions, the objects of their peculiar abhorrence."

In other words, Smith recommends *the opposite* of what Brooks cooks up, and proposes instead to fully fund public education and the arts.

And finally, lest there be any question whatsoever that Brooks has it backwards and the whole Tea Party has it backwards as well, Smith states:

"In a country where the law favoured the teachers of no one religion more than those of another, it would not be necessary that any of them should have any particular or immediate dependency upon the sovereign or executive power; or that he should have anything to do either in appointing or in dismissing them from their offices. In such a situation, he would have no occasion to give himself any concern about them, further than to keep the peace among them, in the same manner as among the rest of his subjects, that is, to hinder them from persecuting, abusing, or oppressing one another. But it is quite otherwise in countries where there is an established or governing religion. The sovereign can in this case never be secure, unless he has the means of influencing in a considerable degree the greater part of the teachers of that religion."

Brooks and others may think they can stick their invisible hands up every woman's skirt and get them to follow obediently their benevolent paternalism, but that goes against history. And it goes against common sense.

What he said!

Indeed. Gotta love that commenter!

Seriously, it is really interesting to go back and read what Adam Smith actually said. And for anyone who wonders whether Michael was cherry-picking his quotes, they were from Chapter One.

Twists and turns

Lately I've been making the case that progressives are America's true conservatives. That's partly because conservatives have spend the last century engaged in revisionist history, distorting facts about the past to make them tell the ideological story they want. That's as true for their lies about the role of Christianity in the founding of America as it is for their understanding of freedom and markets.

Progressives are the guardians of the integrity of the constitution, as well as the personal freedoms it guarantees. We are also the guardians of the environment and the protesters against elective war.

The only things "conservatives" want to protect is (1) the right of men to dominate women and (2) unfettered access to taxpayer dollars by private businesses.

I agree with you, James

I agree with you, James--if there were an actual conservative candidate who had not made a pact with the religious right and big business, I would consider voting for him or her. But that person doesn't seem to exist in the current political climate.

And it pains me to see how President Obama, who is governing quite moderately and even embracing ideas put forth by Republicans ("Obamacare" being the major example), is painted as a left-wing ideologue which is just not true. Seems like truth and sanity have taken a holiday this year. Santorum in particular is blowing so many dog whistles, saying stuff he knows is not true but will motivate his base with crazy talk.