Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Jonah Goldberg Responds to a Reader

When I went to the city council and spoke on behalf of bike lanes, I think it raised a few eyebrows. Were my actions conservative? Perhaps even libertarian? As it happens, Jonah Goldberg explored those issues in a recent exchange with a reader.

Here is the link

"From a reader:

Dear Mr. Goldberg,
I am writing this as I read your unbelievable book. This is one of the greatest books I have ever read. It has opened my eyes up to the truth. I salute you sir for this fine work.
The question that I have is, you point out that fascism is a community driven ideology such as Nazism was. When my liberal fascist friends ask me if I do not believe in building community and helping the community what do I say? Because I see in their words my times how they have no idea what they are talking about, but have a sincere heart.
Thank you so very much,

Me: Thanks very much for the kind words. A couple points. First, I don't know that your liberal friends are necessarily liberal fascists.
Second, and more important, I don't know that you should be against building community and helping the community. I'm not against either of those things. What I generally (though not absolutely) oppose are efforts to build the state while invoking the language of community as if the two are the same thing. The state isn't the community and the community isn't the state. And what I passionately and absolutely oppose in almost every instance (freeing slaves, smashing Jim Crow, are good exceptions to this rule) are efforts to destroy traditional community with inorganic state-imposed customs all the while claiming to be on the side of community.
But it would be absolutely crazy for me to say that I don't believe in building community. I am 100% for "building community" — rightly understood.
This gets us to an important point that I haven't discussed too much around here. People ask me why I've become more libertarian because of writing this book. The simple answer is that the one thing libertarians grasp better than conservatives or liberals is the danger of the category error when it comes to the role of government. While there are certainly plenty of radical individualists swelling the ranks of libertarianism, libertarianism is not in fact an ideology of radical individualism. Or at least it need not be. The fundamental insight of libertarianism is that the government is the government. It cannot be your mommy, your daddy, your big brother, your nanny, your friend, your buddy, your god, your salvation, your church or your conscience. It is the government. A big bureaucracy charged with certain responsibilities, some of which it is qualified to carry out, many of which it is not.

Now, I would invest more cultural authority in the government than a typical libertarian would (see Jim Manzi's post here for clues as to why). And generally speaking, conservatives, because of their patriotism and faith in a culturally coherent and sovereign nation, are prone to over-romanticizing the government. But libertarians are simply immune to this temptation. This immunity sometimes blinds them to the poetry — for want of a better word — inherent to politics, but it also blinds them to the totalitarian temptations hardwired into human nature. That's not a bad trade-off.

Meanwhile, most libertarians I know believe passionately in the Burkean little platoons of civil society. They support their local communities, churches, associations, whatever (read Charles Murray's elegant book "What it Means To Be A Libertarian" for more on this). This is real community. The category error comes when you try to translate that sense of community to the national level. It cannot be done, save perhaps in time of war (hence the eternal liberal desire for the moral equivalents of war). And even in wartime, what you have isn't community, so much as unity of purpose. Many on the left seem tone deaf to this distinction. Real community is diverse, local, particular, quirky, organic and grown from the bottom up. You can have something like a national culture, but the idea of a national community makes me very nervous.

This is my chief complaint about the New Deal and why I find nostalgia for it so troubling. “At the heart of the New Deal,” I quote William Schambra in the book, “was the resurrection of the national idea, the renewal of the vision of national community. Roosevelt sought to pull America together in the face of its divisions by an appeal to national duty, discipline, and brotherhood; he aimed to restore the sense of local community, at the national level.”

I don't want a "new New Deal" as so many liberals do, precisely because I don't want the State to foster a single one-size-fits-all conception of a healthy community on the entire nation.

Anyway, I'm rambling now. But you get my point."

In other words, Goldberg is arguing (and I would agree) that conservatives and libertarians should focus on local and community issues in order to avoid the (as he calls it) "one-size-fits-all conception of a healthy community" that might be foisted on the whole country by social engineers. So I do support some local organizations that focus on local problems. To do so does not make me a liberal. It makes me more conservative.

1 comment:

Michael Schuyler said...

Please send a quick email to me at I'd like to send you some information about the McCain blog roll and ask you to join it. Thanks. Michael