Posted by: Chris | March 12, 2010

Often Miles Gets Pwned On the Lure

I guess Gregory Kohs and I have one more thing in common, other than an interest in the flaws of Wikipedia and being insane, and that’s making a mockery of Miles’ attempts at argumentation.

Let’s review what has occurred so far.  Andrew Sullivan wrote a piece in part lamenting that the modern conservative movement did not hew to his definition of the term, which is essentially a synthesis of a Burkean “disposition to preserve” and an epistemological modesty (hereafter referred to as “classical conservatism”).  Miles agreed with Andrew’s lamentation and went one further, arguing that, because the word retains Burkean connotations, the modern conservative movement can and does claim traits it does not posess.  I replied that the conservative movement neither regularly claims or is seen to believe in the older definition of the term, using some mundane examples for both.  I argued that the word is undergoing the same (one might say complimentary) evolution that liberalism has in America and that this is lamentable but natural.

Thus we left with Miles’ attempt at a rejoinder.  He dismisses my post as lacking evidence for its claims and then simply reiterated his original point, now supported by a singular new data point: movement conservatives from the high brow to the dittoheads regularly claim Hayek as their own.  Alas, poor Popus, you have only reinforced my point.  I am sure you know that Hayek explicitly rejected classical conservatism for exactly the reasons Andrew laments its passing: its distrust of change of any sort and its rejection of ideology.  Hayek preferred to see himself as a (classical) liberal whose alliance with conservatism was sone of convienence since “most movements that are thought to be progressive advocate further encroachments on individual liberty.”  Thus the preference for Hayek or Von Mises as philosophical loadbearers (and even they too are a number of steps removed from the ideology professed by the modern conservative movement) over Burke/Oakeshott/whomever emphasizes the totality of the shift away from the values of classical conservatism.

As for “classical liberalism” vs. libertarianism, you are certainly correct that the latter has connotations of greater ideological purity (likely correlated with the small number of its supporters; iffy on the direction of the causal relationship there).  But these are modest differences of degrees and you would have to be splitting hairs quite finely to argue that the two stem from different schools of thought.  Libertarian shibboleth it may be that “liberalism” ever meant anything as stringent as their fine religion, but it is certainly true that the word referred to something identical to “classical liberalism” and still does in most of the world.  I  also suspect that the Libertarian movement would rapidly resemble the rest of the “classical liberal” parties if it ever felt the need to win votes/adherents.  It remains true that the meaning of “liberalism” in America underwent a significant shift during the mid-century and, rather quixoticly try and reclaim the word, we have simply preferred to fumble about for an alternative, including both “classical liberalism” and libertarianism (though admittedly they replace the word liberal in slightly different contexts).

What I don’t understand is the need, exhibited by both Miles and Andrew, to fixate on the semantics of this all.  Doesn’t it suffice to disagree with stuff like this on the merits rather than fretting about which of the two of you gets to keep Edmund Burke?



  1. […] can also serve as yet another data point in our ongoing discussion of the public perception of conservatives and their percieved ”classical […]

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