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Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Road to “Neoconservative” Serfdom

I realized how alarming the political thinking of the neoconservatives is in 2007 when I read George Will’s book Statecraft as Soulcraft.

You would expect the conservatives to stand for small government, lower taxes, and better rule of law, but the neoconservatives have the overarching agenda of propagating their own brand of morality—like the medieval mystics, they want to whip people (the lesser mortals) into becoming “better” souls. Will is of the view that instead of trying to cut the size of the government, the conservatives should actively use government’s powers to spread “better” values in society.

In his article, “The Road to Conservative Serfdom,” (Published in Reason magazine, December 1983 issue), Prof. Douglas B. Rasmussen has identified the problems in Will’s political thinking. Here’s an excerpt from Rasmussen’s article:
There is for Will only one "first question" of government: "What kind of people do we want our citizens to be?" Ethics and politics are welded together, he maintains; liberal theorists have attempted to separate them, but such attempts are inherently futile. Government necessarily legislates morality—by enacting laws, it not only proscribes and prescribes human behavior; it affects in numerous ways the habits, dispositions, and values of the citizenry. So the idea that government cannot and should not become involved in the so-called inner or private life of its citizens is radically wrong. The essence of government is not coercion, but authority, and its task is to use its authority in ways that will help to develop human excellence. 
Man is, after all, a social and political animal, notes Will, not some isolated individual who begins life in some state of nature. Hence, he argues, "reflection about how the individual should live is inseparable from reflection about the nature of the good society." Moreover, the effects of one's actions are not easily confined. "Society is like a Calder mobile. Touch it here, it trembles over there." Thus, Will believes that statecraft is, by its very nature, soulcraft. It follows, then, that the basic problem with current political philosophy—be it "Manchester or Massachusetts liberalism"—is its failure to recognize the state's true function: developing good human beings.
Rasmussen is correct, when he says:
Trusting politicians will, however, not do. Without a clearly understood basis for distinguishing between what ought to be (moral standards) and what must be (political standards), appealing to a sense of "national purpose" will not provide any principles for government policy. Instead, government policy will be up for grabs. Interest groups from both "left" and "right" will seek to determine policy through various forms of pressure; or, and this is usually worse, the politicians will every now and then "get religion" and seek to force some moral principle, legitimate or not, down the electorate's throats. Principle will be the last thing to guide government policy.
In this article, Rasmussen is calling Will a conservative. But I think most ordinary conservatives have a much better political opinions than people like Will. He is not a conservative—he is a neoconservative. I know that he has ranted against the neoconservatives in a few articles written after 2007, but has always been very close to the neoconservative camp.

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