“Conservatism” is Limp Dicked and Useless

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What is “conservatism,” exactly?

I was one once – and I can’t tell you. Not coherently, anyhow. Which got to bothering me when I was a “conservative.” Which is probably why I no longer am a “conservative.” I like a philosophy that has defined, defensible principles.

Like Libertarianism.

Conservatism, on the other hand, is intellectually transgendered – a confused mishmash of conflicting urges.

It claims to be for “small government” – but at the same time, one of its bedrock must-haves is a “strong” (and therefore,necessarily big, permanent and expensive) military . . . and not a purely defensive one, either.

How do those two things – “small government” and a big, permanent and expensive military – fit together, exactly?

When “conservatives” talk about a “strong military, they usually mean the projection of American power outside the physical borders of America; that is, they endorse and support the projection of the urges of the clique of powerful professional politicians and bureaucrats who control the federal government, via its taxing power.

How does one keep a government “small” when there are professional politicians and bureaucrats? Both of them very well-paid (and paid-off).

How does a “small” government manage to also be powerful without becoming not-small?

And when government has the power to impose a general tax on people’s incomes – which also necessarily means it must have the power to collect information about people’s income  – where they work, who they work for, how much they earn, what they posses, etc. – how on earth can anyone expect it to not become very big indeed?

How does one limit a government that can take as much of the people’s money as it likes? Does it matter at all what this taken money is spent on? Isn’t the relevant fact that it has been taken?

“Conservatives” aren’t opposed to taxation as the theft it is. They simply prefer less theft – and that the booty taken is used for purposes they approve of.

Like a “strong” military! (And limitless aid to Israel and its military – let’s never forget that one.)

A defensive militia, decentralized and composed of volunteer and part-time citizen-soldiers may be compatible with “small government.” But what “conservatives” want is a professional military and a massive “defense” industry that spends billions of dollars of other people’s money, taken by force. Note that when the American federal government was somewhat limited, had no power to tax income, there was virtually no military (i.e., a standing/professional army), just a militia – mostly at the state level – and a very small navy.

The sort of purely defensive and decentralized force most current “conservatives” would bemoan.

You can’t have your small government cake and a giant (and offensive) military, too.

“Conservatives” should pick one.

Or accept that you can’t have the other.

“Conservatives’ ” supposed liking of small government is likewise not compatible with another thing these “conservatives” generally support:
The war on some drugs.

That is, the war on some people who choose to partake of substances “conservatives” don’t like.

Meanwhile, other substances are ok with these “conservatives” – for reasons entirely arbitrary.

Whether you agree or disagree with another person’s choice to partake of  “drugs” – whether pot or alcohol (or heroin or coffee) isn’t the issue. The issue is reconciling the notion of a “limited” government with one possessed of limitless power to put people in cages and deprive them of their liberty not because they’ve harmed anyone else but because of (supposed) harm they are doing to themselves. Or might cause.

If that principle – of presumptive harm caused, and of certain punishment for harms not caused – is accepted, then there is no longer any limit on what government may do. And so, will.

And so, has.

Why are “conservatives” surprised by this?

What possible coherent argument could a “conservative” present in opposition?

They have already accepted every premise of the left.

It is why the political left has been so successful. Because the political right – “conservatives” – have no substantive arguments with which to combat the left. They fundamentally agree with the left; the two just bicker over particulars.

Over how the government will flex its muscles. Not whether it ought to have any.

Do conservatives ever engage in thought? Here’s one:

If it’s acceptable to criminalize the use of pot, why not alcohol? Why not anything that could be – accurately – characterized as a “drug”? Why not criminalize the drinking of “too much” coffee? Seriously… why not?

“Conservatives” have no answer … that’s intelligible.


How does one intelligently argue against Obamacare when one has already accepted the principle that it’s acceptable to force people to buy car insurance? (More on that here).

And if health insurance, why not gun and life insurance, too? The same principle applies.

Conservatism is vacuous.

Give the left credit for at least having principles. They are collectivist and authoritarian, certainly – but they are principles. For the left, the good of the collective – however elaborated – always trumps the rights of the individual. And unlike “conservatives,” they are open about this.

The left makes a principled, coherent argument for things like Obamacare and doesn’t rely on mealy-mouthed objections about how much it costs (the typical “conservative” argument) and they don’t quibble that it denies people the freedom to decline to participate – another objection “conservatives” can’t make because they disagree with the idea of letting people choose for themselves, including the choice to have nothing to do with whatever it is, if that is their wish.

“Conservatism,” like liberalism (leftism by another name) is fundamentally paternalistic while left-liberalism is maternalistic. The “conservative” adores the paterfamilias – Big Daddy government. The left-liberal, Big Momma. Note their respective heroes: For the “conservative,” Ronald Reagan – who talked about “small” government, but did so while deifying armed government workers (soldiers, cops) and increasing the power of the government over people’s lives. But “conservatives” didn’t mind because RR spoke loving of the flag and other totems of government authority . . .which “conservatives” love, even as they bray about “freedom.” The German Nazis did the same. Only the “freedom” they had in mind was the freedom of the state to do as it liked.

“Conservatives” like that sort of “freedom,” too.

For the left-liberal, the heroine is (lately) pants-suited menopausal harridans like Hillary!

But the point is that both ideologies seek to parent other adults, with one (the left-liberal) at least conscious of it and unashamed of it, while the other mouths meaningless platitudes about “protecting freedom” while systematically undermining it.

Unlike Libertarianism, neither “conservatism” nor left-liberalism respects the right of other adults to be left alone, provided they’re not hurting anyone else. Not hurting their feelings. Not because someone doesn’t approve of what they’re doing – or not doing. Only if they are actually hurting or have hurt someone in a material/tangible way. Otherwise, MYOB!  

The old country rejoinder – he ain’t bothering you; leave him be! – cuts no ice with either the “conservative” or the left-liberal. But the “conservative” is far more annoying because of his unthinking hypocrisy.

That’s the really scary thing about “conservatives.” Most of them actually do believe there is a difference between them and the “liberals” (leftists) they can’t stand.

But they can’t stand them only because the focus of their authoritarian collectivism lies elsewhere. Because they (the left-liberals) don’t parse the Bible daily, are ok with fluid sexuality, which generally repressed “conservatives” can’t deal with – and use substances “conservatives” don’t (or don’t admit to using) and have different “values” generally.

But when it comes to power, they are both on the same page.

It’s said the most virulent forms of hatred are the result of projection; you deride that which most reminds you of what you hate about yourself.

“Conservatives” ought to think about that.

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  1. Hi Eric, et al,

    Well, I’ve had a great time perusing various websites, both “liberal” and “conservative”. What I never see on either type of site is an operational definition of what the terms mean. Without such a context, no rational debate can proceed. This is also an issue that leads me to wish people would not use the word liberal when the position under discussion is leftist implementation of socialism (for example most identity politics and the victim olympics that goes with it). Most of what people claiming to be conservative hold to be desirable is the same old interventionist claptrap with a goodly dose of Israel’s issues must guide our foreign policy. What some people I’ve grown to respect in the skeptic community describe is an environment which divides into authoritarians vs. freedom lovers. In the authoritarian class you have all politicians…every single one of them and all of their supporters. All the dimwits who espouse “There ought to be a law” every time they feel slighted. Butthurt SJWs, raving loons on the “right”, the whole lot of them fall into the authoritarian camp. I will say, from a pragmatic PoV, I am relieved that Hillary Clinton went down in flames. She was just quivering in anticipation of trading missiles with Russia. Well, in spite of it all, Happy Saturnalia to all. P.S. – Eric the check’s in the mail and that’s no lie….

    • “What I never see on either type of site is an operational definition of what the terms mean.”
      Not only that, some of them don’t even know what they are.
      Now most of the Faux News scum (Judge Napolitano excepted) will admit to being ‘conservative.’ But most of those ‘on the left’ refuse to think of themselves as leftist. They think they are ‘moderates.’ Well sorry, but not by any reasonable definition of moderate. But then there is nothing reasonable about them.

    • Hi lib,

      So true, most modern conservative politicians revere FDR! They mouth objections to every new “progressive” policy, but fail to prevent the policy from being enacted. After a while, the new policy becomes “normal” and conservatives cease to object, in principle. Instead, they switch to “saving” said “vital” policy by introducing “reforms”, which do nothing but help maintain the previously objectionable policy. Conservative politicians eventually embrace every asinine progressive, interventionist scheme, and legitimize it by doing so. Progressive politicians eventually embrace every asinine conservative, interventionist scheme, and legitimize it by doing so. It’s almost as if both “sides” are merely playing roles in a theatrical farce, hmm…

      In this vein, I put the odds that “conservatives” will truly repeal the ACA at zero. They may reform it, repeal and replace it, etc… but, whatever they do, the mandate will remain intact.


  2. eric, you really had on your best writing hat on this one. I had just read these quotes right before your article. If the authors had included conservatism with liberalism they would have nailed both quite rightly.

    “You don’t have to scratch liberalism very deeply to find socialism underneath, nor socialism to find authoritarianism underneath.”
    — Don Luski

    “It has been well said that really up-to-date liberals do not care what people do, as long as it is compulsory.”
    — George Will

    “The Radical Centre seem to have the same obsession with control that the fascists and communists had, but unlike them, it is control for control’s sake rather than in the service of some clear ideology … They do not seek the triumph of Volk or the dictatorship of the proletariat, they just seek to replace all social interactions with politically mediated interactions. They seek to regulate everything via a total state that … just wants a world in which nothing whatsoever is private, everything is political. Their symbol is not the Hammer and Sickle or the Swastika, it is the CCTV camera.”
    — Perry de Havilland
    British founder of Samizdata

    As it is, these guys are still sucking your exhaust for not making the same points about conservatism. Wow, conservatism, sounds like one of those bad diseases where you’re as likely to die of the cure as the disease itself.

  3. All true and well told as usual. Now back to my quasi OT derivative take on your well laid dissertation.

    Progressives and Conservatives are mere chimera stripes stateside. They are real elsewhere.

    The Conservative and Unionist Party has power in the UK.

    The Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats is the second largest power in the EU.

    US coasts and blue states are still democrat progressive socialist. Still fighting the soviet corpse republicans in vain.

    West Middle South red states are Christian Trump Bannon Tea Party Economic Nationalists now.

    Bannon: ‘I’m an economic nationalist’

    Republican or Democrat is their forgotten maiden name now. They are focused on jobs and wellbeing now. They understand laissez faire is all they can afford though many submit to Trumps dangerous braggards over reach fantasies.

    It will at least be a different shitshow. And bedazzled Centibillionaires loom large basking in the emerging light from this long tunnel of fiat lunacy.

    But maybe Trumpistan will once again return to precious metal and commodity backed money and we can again work for ourselves and a flawed nationstate instead of the Globalist Tyrant Cartel that’s impoverished us so long.

  4. I grew up thinking of myself as a conservative. Then sometime in my 30’s I realized that conservatism was nothing more than defending the status quo. (That’s my dictionaryish definition). And that the status quo was no longer worth defending. That was still some time before I learned to call it the ‘statist quo.’

    • Hi PTB,

      What politicians wish to conserve is power, and all that flows from it. They pretend to disagree so that we believe the choice matters. Each side merely speaks to the tribal bias of the target group; flattery and condemnation usually suffice to make corporeal this binary illusion.

      To those still clinging to political conservatism, please read this beautiful essay by Joe Sobran.



  5. All so true. We are going to find out how as we move forward into the conservative vision of the “audacity of hope”. We’re about to get a real good dose of hopey chancey stuff from the latest itinerant mountebank to ascend the throne.
    Let’s see how this version plays out..

  6. A smarter person than I put it this way:

    The only difference between the two main political parties in the US is one of them walks leftward, while the other runs leftward.

  7. The main failure of our form of government is the two party system. Everyone knows that there’s not much difference between the parties, except for a few hot button issues like abortion that are there mainly to rally up the base voters. The cartoon Futurama did a pretty good job of summing it up:


    There’s nothing liberal about wanting to keep all the progressive era stuff that continues to be ineffective. And there’s nothing conservative about wanting to micromanage everyone’s lives from Washington. Yet, both sides are more than happy to pretend they’re different.

    • I’d say the main failure of our society is the need to put ourselves in a bucket. We need to figure out what group we belong to and come up with a label. Even though we have no control over what those in power of that label do, we still belong to it because you have to have a label.

      • Very solid point, Todd… one of the keys to breaking the power of the ruling clique is to not put ourselves (and others) in “buckets.” To stop thinking in collectivist terms…


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