Posted by: captainfalcon | March 10, 2010

Often Chris makes an ass out of himself

It’s been established in conversation that Chris isn’t much of a philosopher of language, and his latest outburst is case-in-point. He has three main data points in favor of his conclusion that “conservatism means whatever it is the conservative movement stands for:”

1. “[Movement conservatives] are the large preponderance of people recognized as conservatives.”

2. “Jonathan Krohn…defines conservatism as [what the conservative movement stands for]”

3. “[M]y FSOT test had a question on the definition of conservatism that defined it as basically ideological libertarianism.”

Even bracketing the fact that (3) conflicts with (1) & (2) – movement conservatism and “ideological [wtf?] libertarianism” are two different things – all he’s done is underscore a necessary component of the problem Andrew and I have diagnosed. Conservatism is now defined as movement conservatism. That is: in ordinary conversational contexts “x is a conservative” entails “x is a movement conservative.”

In and of itself, this entailment is unproblematic. However, if it is also the case that “x is a conservative” implicates that “x is a Burkean / Oakeshottian / whatever conservative” then, by claiming the label “conservative,” movement conservatism is able to suggest it has virtues that it actually lacks. Christoph hasn’t shown that this implicature doesn’t obtain.

Nor can he. The fact that the right – including adjutants of movement conservatism such as Heritage and AEI (whose event looks like it was quite good, btw) – can, with a straight face, still claim Hayek as one of its seminal thinkers is decisive evidence that conservatism retains the connotations Chris would deny it. (And what I anticipate is his reply – but the ordinary conservative doesn’t even know Hayek’s name – is (a) probably false because e.g. dittoheads are notoriously well informed (see fifth paragraph here) and (b) inapposite because the fact remains that political elites still associate Hayek and conservatism, thereby conferring, in their minds and on the printed page, too much legitimacy onto movement conservative leaders.)

One final quibble: Christoph’s concluding analogy is inopportune. “[I]ts [sic] time for people sympathetic to Andrew’s definition of the word…to lament its passing and move onto a new word, just as classical liberals did to libertarianism.” But classical liberalism still means libertarianism (more or less – it carries with it connotations of pragmatism that “libertarianism” lacks). Also, relatedly, but also unrelatedly, it is a shibboleth of the libertarian movement that liberalism ever referred to libertarianism. All the great liberals – JS Mill, (the early) Herbert Spencer, Jeremy Bentham – allowed for a more robust role for the state than does libertarianism – Cf. Raymond Geuss’s “Liberalism and Its Discontents” in Outside Ethics, which is upstairs.



  1. […] we left with Miles’ attempt at a rejoinder.  He dismisses my post as lacking evidence for its claims and then simply reiterated his original […]

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