Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Burkean Conservatives Tell Diedrich Knickerbocker-Style History

Diedrich Knickerbocker was Washington Irving's fictional historian who told a fictional account of early New York. In a similar way, Edmund Burke and his conservative followers tell a fictionalized history of the world in which Europe was originally a free market society and through the "progress" of "liberalism" the freedom has eroded to the point where rights established in the 17th century now need to be protected from further inroads. That story is a Diedrich Kinckerbocker history.

Here are a few points about the fallacies of Burkean conservatism:

1. Liberalism was an innovation of Locke and other liberals in the 17th century, and it evolved out of a reaction to state-dominated social organization. The European kings had been attempting to centralize state control of the economy since the fall of Rome. In fact, Rome was the inventor of the mixed economy, centrally controlled political system pretty much what is called "Progressivism" or "state-activist liberalism". Hence, this economy is neither liberal, conservative or Progressive. It is reactionary.

2. "Liberalism" means "of freedom" or pertaining to a free man. It was Locke's and several other theorists' radical creation. Although British institutions had evolved gradually since the Norman invasion, the dominant world view of Europe and Britain was the "great chain of being". Liberalism rejects the great chain of being in a much more fundamental way than any other ideology, more so than Progressivism, mercantilism, socialism or communism which re-create the great chain of being, asserting the need for centralized elites. It is therefore the most radical of any ideology.

3. There was never any other meaning of "liberalism" until the Progressive era in the early twentieth century. There was never a debate between "liberals" and "conservatives" in the 18th or 19th centuries. These terms were later creations, and both are creatures of Progressivism.

4. American conservatism begins with William Howard Taft's presidency. Taft did not like Roosevelt's idea of establishment of the Federal Trade Commission and regulation of trusts. Roosevelt wanted to establish a regulatory agency to manage trusts and to control prices. Taft wanted to regulate trusts through legal prosecution under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Both Taft and Roosevelt were Progressives.

The modern "conservative" movement descends from Taft-style Progressivism. The modern "liberal" movement descends from Roosevelt-style Progressivism. Neither has anything to do with the liberalism of the 19th century. Both are radical breaks.

5. The ideas of current-day "liberals" or "progressives" are a recapitulation of mercantilism and the Roman economy. Hence, they are not "progressive" but reactionary. The ideas of free market capitalism descend from Adam Smith. Both mercantilism and free market ideas were created at the same time. David Hume, Lord Shaftesbury and the other mercantilists and the advocates of free market capitalism, Adam Smith, were rough contemporaries. Smith wrote in response to mercantilist ideas that had been discussed in his lifetime.

6. Federalism, Montesquieu's creation of the 18th century, was NOT a gradual creation and was not conservative. It did exist in Switzerland, so unless the United States had been a colony of Switzerland, federalism's application here was radical. Montesquieu argued that federalism was the best system to create a democratic form of government. There was nothing conservative about the adoption of federalism by the founding fathers. They had read Montesquieu and they applied his ideas anew.

7. Current day "liberalism" is mercantilism. It advocates a strong central state to manage the economy. American liberalism of the nineteenth century lead by the Democratic Republicans starting with Jefferson and on through Andrew Jackson and his followers rejected mercantilism. Mercantilism did not reappear until the Progressive era. The Progressives called mercantilism "Progressivism".

8. Alexander Hamilton and John Adams were Federalists. Washington was NOT A FEDERALIST. Hamilton advocated mercantilism. Adams, who had been Washington's vice-president, was the only elected Federalist. The Federalists supported the anti-libertarian Alien and Sedition Acts. Adams lost in 1800 and the Federalist Party disappeared, completely and soundly rejected. Although Hamilton's Bank of the United States continued until 1836 (it had been terminated and then re-established in 1816), it was terminated as the country became more committed to freedom and less committed to mercantilism.

9. The debate between "conservatives" and "liberals" in the twentieth century was between two sets of mercantilists, neither of whom focused on the chief aspects of free market capitalism that characterized the nineteenth century.

Hence, American conservativsm is NOT CONSERVATIVE. It conserves nothing. It is an aberration from the evolution of the American economy in the nineteenth century and it asserts insitutions such as the Federal Reserve Bank, economic regulation and Social Security that have absolutely no continuity with the American past.

To assert an American conservativism, conservatives have a choice of several illogical claims.

1. They can claim that it is conservative to support the Progressivism of Roosevelt but not the laissez faire economics of Jackson.

2. They can claim that it is conservative to support the 18th century mercantilism of Hamilton and Hume but not the 18th century free market ideas of Smith and Jefferson.

3. They can claim that it is conservative to support the free market ideas of Jackson, but to reject the older Roman and 16th century emphasis on centralization (Henry VIII, for instance, aggressively centralized monarchical power and stripped away the aristocrats' local armies and other of their powers).

There is little that is conservative about the Bill of Rights. These were innovations that were occurring and need to evolve as stresses on freedom change. There is nothing conservative about any of it.

Rather, there is a choice between state control, which goes back to the Egyptian, Persian and Greek times and before, and freedom, which also goes back to the days of Athens. There is nothing "progressive" about state control (and calling it "liberal" is Orwellian) and there is nothing "conservative" about rights.

There is liberalism or libertarianism and there is authoritarian or totalitarian authority. "Progress" or "conservation" are ruses and are used for deceptive purposes.

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