Opinion

The Moral Case for Conservatism

Lee Habeeb & Mike Leven – from The National Review Online –

In the early 20th century, two of England’s towering minds, the socialist George Bernard Shaw and the Catholic G. K. Chesterton, engaged in a series of debates. Shaw was an atheist, socialist, and vegetarian; Chesterton a Catholic, moralist, and meat-eater. Shaw argued against private property, and for redistribution of wealth. Chesterton argued for private property, and warned about the perils of consolidated power. It was like Ali vs. Frazier. A clash of style and vision.

Shaw, sounding like a modern progressive, said this about wealth and equality:

The moment I made up my mind that the present distribution of wealth was wrong, the peculiar constitution of my brain obliged me to find out exactly how far it was wrong and what is the right distribution. I went through all the proposals ever made and through the arguments used in justification of the existing distribution; and I found they were utterly insensate and grotesque. Eventually I was convinced that we ought to be tolerant of any sort of crime except unequal distribution of income.

In came Chesterton:

We say there ought to be in the world a great mass of scattered powers, privileges, limits, points of resistance, so that the mass of the people may resist tyranny. And we say that there is a permanent possibility of that central direction, however much it may have been appointed to distribute money equally, becoming a tyranny.

Chesterton added, “Mr. Shaw proposes to distribute wealth. We propose to distribute power.”

The moderator warned the audience that what they were listening to wouldn’t have relevance in 20 years. How wrong he was.

Those men were engaged in a debate that rages today. How do we best organize a society? From the top down or the bottom up? With the individual — and, as Chesterton argued, God — as the ultimate sovereign, or the state, as Shaw argued? Which system drives the most effective and the fairest outcome?

If there is a single reason why conservatives continue to lose the battle of ideas, it’s because we don’t make the moral case for freedom and free markets. Our political class instead makes the economic case for our philosophy. Our smart guys are so impressed with their own intelligence; they think we can win the debate using numbers and data, charts and graphs, and political tactics and strategy.

It’s the Left’s secret advantage. They create the feeling that they care more about the average American because they make the moral case for their philosophy.

One of the advantages this confers on the Left is this: They get to play large ball, while we play a dour brand of small ball.

When you play large ball, you get to be on offense. When you play small ball, you always feel like you’re playing defense. They make big bold moves about big bold things like Obamacare, while we wallow in the weeds explaining why Obamacare won’t work. What can we do about this regrettable state of affairs? Let’s start by talking about the moral implications of a government that tries to do too much for its people.

Dennis Prager wrote a great column two years ago that included the following formulation: the bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.

He argued:

Not only does bigger government teach people not to take care of themselves, it teaches them not to take care of others. Smaller government is the primary reason Americans give more charity and volunteer more time per capita than do Europeans living in welfare states. Why take care of your fellow citizen, or even your family, when the government will do it for you?

From there, we should take Prager’s formulation one step further: the bigger the government, the smaller the private sector.

As more of our money goes to feed ever expanding government bureaucracies, it leaves less money for us to do with as we choose, and less for the private sector. As big government crowds out the private sector, the result is less innovation, a less efficient economy, and less job creation.

Does anyone think government is the engine of innovation, efficiency, and job creation? Will government create the next medical breakthrough? The next iPhone?

We can extend Prager’s formulation further still: the bigger the government, the smaller the church.

As the state takes more of our money, there is less for us to give to the churches, synagogues, and mosques that take care of the weakest among us. And not just with a check, but with a caring human being connected to that material support. We can point to 20th-century Europe’s experience. As the state grew, the churches there had less influence and eventually emptied.

From there, we can take Prager’s great line a step farther: the bigger the government, the smaller the family.

As people in Europe left their churches, they lost the connection between love, sex, marriage, and family. Birth rates fell below the replacement rate in many of those countries. In many parts of our nation, too, they are barely at replacement rate. Moreover, as we work longer hours and pay more to the government, it leaves less for our families. Kids are expensive, and parents keep families smaller out of economic necessity.

Now let’s take Prager’s formulation one last logical step: the bigger the government, the smaller the dreams, and the smaller the future.

More than half of recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed. And in inner cities of America where government manages nearly every aspect of too many people’s lives, youth unemployment is at rates never seen before.

When we make the case against big bureaucracies, we are actually making a moral case that the bureaucracy will, over time, generally seek to serve itself at the expense of service to its customers. And even at the expense of its employees, if they have the desire to reform the bureaucracy.

Big, as we all know, too often becomes impersonal and breeds alienation. Talk to anyone who has attended a high school with 3,000 students, as opposed to one with 800 or 500. No matter how hard the educators try, and no matter what economies of scale a large school creates, something important is lost — something personal, something human.

That is why great innovation often comes from small companies, from a few guys in a garage. And it is why, as companies grow, their greatest challenge is to keep that contact with the customer, and the ability to adapt quickly as the customer’s needs change.

In a similar way, government that is small and close to home can best serve its citizen’s needs and more easily adapt to change.

The fact is that the Left doesn’t have much faith in the little guy. Or the individual. Or much faith in the faith community. Indeed, what they really believe about us without ever admitting it is that we are not very smart. We are not capable of making choices on our own. And we are incapable of great and small achievements without them.

What the big-government crowd has faith in is themselves and their ability to heal, help, and guide us along.

Their side may talk about fairness, but how is their version of fairness working in inner cities in America? How does public housing look, and how are those schools working? What if we instead gave all of those families a choice — a voucher — and let them decide for themselves where to live and where to go to school?

How about calling into question a public-education system that rewards teachers only for the amount of time on the job, and not for their performance? Is that fair to the good teachers? Is that fair to the students trapped in bad classrooms?

Does the union monopoly in education promote fair outcomes?

We should start calling the Left’s ideas unfair and their top-down approach insensitive. We should assert that their worldview empowers bureaucracies, not people.

We should then compare their dim view of mankind — and the shoddy outcomes it engenders — with ours.

While they have the heartless bureaucracies on their side, we have the love of the individual on ours. We believe in the power of the individual and in the God-given talents of all people; that the more choices we all have, the better off we all are; that we have more power over our lives than we know; and that our best guide to living productive and decent lives — our standard bearer — should not be the state, but God. Or some guiding light — some North Star — of our own.

We should then propose bold solutions to America’s problems. Show Americans of every race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and class that we care about them, but also that we believe in them and will fight for their right to be happy, productive members of our nation.

Of course we should have safety nets for those in need. But those nets should not become cages. Those nets should lead people to self-sufficiency and the real self-esteem that comes from a good job, hard work, and independence.

The truth is that our side has the moral high ground, if only we have the courage to seize it. And we can win these arguments, if only we dare to make them.

— Lee Habeeb is vice president of content at Salem Radio Network. Mike Leven is the president and chief operating officer of the Las Vegas Sands.

 

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41 Comments on "The Moral Case for Conservatism"

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Why don’t we just call a spade a spade? Liberals promote lazy citizens who don’t need to try hard to be the best they can be. They promote more Lazy Liberals who take what they can get any way they can get it. Obama is a prime example of someone who is lazy. he does not govern, does not initiate a budget required by law, does not pay attention to the ecomony by tightening the White House belt. He simply allows the taxes of working folks to take care of his lavish lifestyle. Travel, travel, travel. I say stay at home and take care of the peoples business. That’s why we elected him. I don’t want a cool president! I want a president who will work for the benefit of the people…all of the people! That includes all colors, all races, both rich and poor. When the rich do well,… Read more »
Get your Men face on with iPhone

I’ll immediately seize your rss as I can’t to find your email subscription hyperlink or e-newsletter service. Do you have any? Please let me realize so that I may just subscribe. Thanks. Get your Men face on with iPhone http://bz.sdhzz.com/forum.php?mod=viewthread&tid=55036

What in the world does their diet have to do with this? I’m a very conservative woman and vegan for 35 years. I didn’t realize one precluded the other. The inclusion of their diet is supposed to prove what? I thought being conservative was all about the freedom of personal choice. I’ll be avoiding any future commentary by these two authors. Ignorance is obviously no longer just a feature of the left. AMAC, I thought you had your own writers…!

Bonnie Barber — the comment about the diets of the two men was nothing more than an attempt to demonstrate to what extent the two contenders were exact opposites of each other. No judgment was made in favor of nor against either of the dietary choices. There was no criticism of anyone’s personal choice. I hope that misunderstanding on your part did not prevent you from reading the rest of the article. If it did I would urge you to give it a second attempt. There really is much food for thought to be found in it. (No pun intended.)

I really hate to say this, but I really think that you should get over yourself. While I agree that Mr. Shaw’s or Mr. Chesterton’s dietary preferences are not necessarily relevant to the conversation, there is a much deeper discussion of philosophy going on here. Maybe we should worry less about being offended over some trivial comment and spend time working on not giving away our freedom.

Sorry for the multiple posts. Like Diana Erbio said, I submiotted the post and it did not post. I waited a day and it still had not posted so I re-submitted it–now it posted twice..Don’t know what else to say. Sorry.

I apologize for posting my comments multiple times….at first they did not post so I reposted.. now they are posted three times …

Great article. I wish every member of congress could read it.

Marcella A Dellaposta

Unfortunately, in this world there are people, who say they are Christian but their actions prove that they are not. They are hypocrites and therefore, their lives are not good. True Christianity does not seek to convert people by violence as do the Muslims and the extreme left. God gave us free will to either accept Him or reject Him. The socialists now in power do not allow us to use our free will. Instead they impose their “progressive’ beliefs on us and make us pay for their interference in our lives. Government is always the problem, never the solution.

Why are mu posts not being posted?

Great Article Lee and Mike. I grew up reading Animal Farm and 1984. So I have always known in my gut that economic freedom leads to prosperity for all (even the poor) and that socialism/comunism leads to poverty and slavery for all.

Our government just pours money and entitlements to the masses of the people to keep their mouth shut. People in time get use to the freebes and just sit and get lazy

The labels Liberalism and Conservatism should be renamed for what they actually are: TAKERS AND PROVIDERS

To Shaw the natural distribution of wealth was criminal and it was the role of benevolent government to correct that evolutionary defect. America’s Founders were content to accept the rule of the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God (a notion which later found support in Chesterton’s moral defense of those laws). Through the studied understanding and application of those laws they sought not economic equality, but the Blessings of Liberty. “We the People of the United States, in order to… secure the Blessings of Liberty for ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Americans understood that for a benevolent government to redistribute wealth fairly and equally (if it were possible to do such a thing) it must know too much about all of the citizenry and control too much of their lives for them to enjoy the Blessings of Liberty. Today,… Read more »

George Bernard Shaw held extreme views on eugenics. In one recently surfaced clip, he suggests that people of ill breed are ‘more trouble than they are worth’, and should be forced to justify their existence. He also proposed implementation of the lethal gas chambers as part of eugenic policies, of which the development of a ‘humane gas’ was essential.

George Bernard Shaw held extreme views on eugenics. In one recently surfaced clip, he suggests that people of ill

breed are ‘more trouble than they are worth’, and should be forced to justify their existence. He also proposed

implementation of the lethal gas chambers as part of eugenic policies], of which the development of a ‘humane gas’

was essential]. George Bernard Shaw is now in eternity…may he rest in HELL

Socialism and communism fly in the face of human nature. They assume that people will continue to be productive when the rewards for productivity have been taken from them by the state. Thus, the empty grocery stores in the Soviet Union. Soviet citizens used to say, off the record, “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.” What kind of life will that give you?

What needs to be done is educate the public, which has become largely ignorant of history, why socialism / communism in all its forms is ultimately a failed ideology to follow. The last 100 years of world history provide more than enough real-world examples from which you could fashion a compelling case against what is portrayed as the socialist utopia. Capitalism, which is conservatives economic principles, has done more to lift people out of poverty and provide more opportunity in the countries where it is practiced, than any other ideology. Socialism / communism has led to more death and misery over the last 100 years, than both WW1 and WW2 combined. If you keep the discussion framed in those terms, you have a compelling argument the left can’t refute. There are NO SUCCESSFUL cases of socialism / communism ever leading to wide-spread improvement of their populations. All have either collapsed… Read more »

G. K. Chesterton was a prominent member of the Distributist Movement, who believed that owning his own land and what the work of his hands produced was sufficient for good life, free of government intervention. (a rather incomplete synopsis of his position, I admit)

Until the Republican extremists get off tehir moral high-horse, we will never win anything again. When the flamers on the right speak of the “rightness” of their god, their beliefs, and their values, it then becomes NO different between them, and the same pap and trash the taliban and al-quaida are spewing out of their mouths. If true conservatives truly believed half the stuff they say, they would then leave others alone and let those who disagree with them run their lives the way they see fit. Hypocrites always say one thing and then try to force the opposite onto others because the others are “wrong” and they are “right”. If you believe abortion is wrong, then don’t have one, and teach that to your children. If birth control is morally wrong for you, then don’t use it. Stop playing the holier-than-thou game and complain about liberals forcing things on… Read more »
Liberal hypocrisy knows no bounds. Look in the mirror, it’s the liberal control freak tyrants in power who want to control everyone and for their own greedy gain. Government is force and it is not pretty. You should see what a shambles government has made out of Detroit. Check it out some time, if you have the courage. It’s the future of the USA if the “liberals” in the Democrat Party have their way. There are two ways to get ahead, one is hard work in the market economy serving one customer at a time. They don’t use force and can’t get a penny from anyone without SERVING the customer. The other way is government force, corruption and collusion with their crony friends in big business. This is how Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Corzine and other politicians get rich. The bastards made me pay for a GM car, buy… Read more »

I agree that people should make their own choices within the law and should not be judged for those decisions by other humans. I just do not want to pay for everything they choose to do. That is the rub. As government gets more intrusive (more law) I have to pay for programs that happen to be legal now and require my tax dollars but with which I do not agree. If a person wants an abortion,or agrees with that practice, then let them pay for it or use their money to support providers of that service. Don’t force me to participate. It drives me nuts that the ruling elite insists on dragging us all along with their totalitarian collectivist claptrap.

Agreed! The fastest way to get people to understand what is wrong with socialism / communism is to make them pay for the choices they make. People have the right to live their own lives and make their own choices, whatever they may be, but they don’t have the right to expect me or you or the general public to pick up the tab for their choices. Right now, the government masks the true costs of a lot of things from most of the public, by “socializing” the cost through the passage of legislation (laws), that mandates everyone chip in, via incremental tax increases. People need to see that socialism isn’t “free money” or “free services”. That money is extracted from other people through higher taxes. If someone wants an abortion and can pay for it themselves, then that is their choice. I don’t have to agree with it, but… Read more »

Wynn: While I totally agree with you, I don’t like paying for tax exemptions for churches either. No different from your viewpoint however.

The best way to address all these tax exemptions is simply to reform the tax code to a simple flat tax paid by everyone over say $20,000. The current IRS tax code is an unworkable mess filled with so much nonsense, that it would be impossible to straighten out. The flat rate should be no higher than 15 percent. No deductions. No exemptions. The starting point above $20,000 is to take into account the truly poor in this country that require assistance from society as a whole. Government would have to cut spending to live within the means of what the tax revenue would support. That means real spending cuts, not this phony baseline budgeting nonsense that assumes annual budget growth of 6 or 7 percent each and every year automatically. That would force government to make the hard choices none of the politicians in Washington want to make. Do… Read more »
The best way to address all these tax exemptions is simply to reform the tax code to a simple flat tax paid by everyone over say $20,000. The current IRS tax code is an unworkable mess filled with so much nonsense, that it would be impossible to straighten out. The flat rate should be no higher than 15 percent. No deductions. No exemptions. The starting point above $20,000 is to take into account the truly poor in this country that require assistance from society as a whole. Government would have to cut spending to live within the means of what the tax revenue would support. That means real spending cuts, not this phony baseline budgeting nonsense that assumes annual budget growth of 6 or 7 percent each and every year automatically. That would force government to make the hard choices none of the politicians in Washington want to make. Do… Read more »

The issue I have with your thought is that, at least for some conservatives, there is the basic notion that all of society is better with the mores and values they espouse. Sure, personal freedom must be maintained, but if a leftist, statist society allows abortions, gay marriage, etc. then the value of all life and the nurturing of successful and stable children are in fact, unquestionably undermined, without question, in the long term. These are facts the libertarians and the leftists have a very difficult time accepting, because they fly in the face of ‘my interests now”. Christian living, according to nature and nature’s God, is the only way to long-lasting stable society that protects the freedom, liberty, and pursuit of happiness that the founders envisioned. Conservatives need to focus on these FACTS.

Paul: I will never see how my neighbor’s behavior affects me. If he’s gay and pushes for abortions for others, that does not change or effect my life one iota. I agree thast social norms can effect the society as a whole, but once again, your comments just reflect what I originally said. Your beliefs are not necessarily best for others, just you. Finally, a statement is NOT a fact simply because you choose to believe it or live it. Not everyone who lives by “christian values” is a good person, parent, or human. conversely, There are atheists whoa re good, wonderful and decent folks. so the question I ask again (which very religious folks never actually answer) is how are your beliefs and the things you push for in society any different than muslim extremists, ultra-orthodox Jews, or the crazies on the lunatic fringe of the left?

DrJCA1: You said you.”.. will never see how my neighbors behavior affects me.”. And you probably won’t. Mostly because your closed mind will not allow to see anything you do not want to see. My neighbor’s behavior should not affect me and it wouldn’t if he paid his own medical bills instead of passing them off on the rest of society to pay for him. He can advocate for tolerance of homosexual behavior and that doesn’t bother me either. But when he advocates for laws to restrict me from expressing my opinion of his behavior and to force my pastor to conduct same-sex marriages in the church I attend, then he bothers me. I care not one wit who you or anybody else mates with. I do care about my life being regulated by the ungodly views of the lunatic left. You said that not everyone who lives by “Christian… Read more »

You obviously went to a public school.

Gloria: Yes I did and when I attended public schools in Brooklyn, almost every one of us graduated and went on to college. Im my poor Jewish neighborhood, none of us were wealthy, none of us were on welfare, and all of us were self-sufficient. Dad went to work, mom stayed home and raised the kids, and as a community, we were all responsible for ourselves and for each other (by choice, not law). I graduated nursing and medical school with honors and not one cent of government money.

Great Points. I especially like the Conservative simple message “While they have the heartless bureaucracies on their side, we have the love of the individual on ours. We believe in the power of the individual and in the God-given talents of all people; that the more choices we all have, the better off we all are; that we have more power over our lives than we know; and that our best guide to living productive and decent lives — our standard bearer — should not be the state, but God. Or some guiding light — some North Star — of our own.” Now we as Conservatives need to as you say “Show Americans of every race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and class that we care about them, but also that we believe in them and will fight for their right to be happy, productive members of our nation.” This week in… Read more »
A good example of how bureaucracies grow so big they eventually take care of only themselves is the Benghazi affair. No leader in any of the departments involved is seeing any consequence for 4 American citizens being killed on the aniversary of 9-11 by terrorists. Hillary Clinton who was the head of the State Department “took responsibility” but what consequences did she suffer? She led a department that did not provide adequate security for the Benghazi consulate which requested it and, in fact, turned down repeated requests for additional security. She said she was monitoring the actions in Benghazi as they were happening but never communicated with the Leon Peneta who might have been able to get forces in to help the people at the consulate during the 7 hour attack. She said she knew it was a terrorist act from the beginning but repeatedly misled the American people by… Read more »
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