Speak Progressive, But Win Conservative Reforms

Whether we like it or not, "we live in a progressive world," writes Jonah Goldberg in National Review.  He means that when conservatives go into the public square they must use the language of progressivism. In debates on public policy,

"The good is measured in material terms — greater health, greater prosperity, greater comfort — and the social sciences are the disciplines that allow us to engineer society in ways that will maximize the good."

This materialist public policy is based upon the SSSM, John Derbyshire writes, "the egalitarian, "blank slate," Standard Social Science Model of human nature cherished by the modern Western intelligentsia."

In the United States today, you must speak the lingua franca of the public square, the materialism of progressivism and the egalitarian, blank slate of the SSSM in order to get a hearing.  If your thoughts fly above the flatland of gray, materialist slate, you must still translate it into everyday speech.

Back in the 1950s when conservatives spoke their own language of "permanent things," "prescriptive institutions," and absolute morality, nobody paid them any attention.  It wasn't until conservatives were joined by the supply—siders in economics and the neoconservatives on social policy that they started to get political traction.  When the Keynesian consensus drove the United States into the 1970s stagflation, the Bob Bartley wing of the conservative movement was ready with supply—side economics to dig us out.  Lower tax rates, said Bob and the indefatigable Jude Wanniski, and stagflation will go away.  Did it ever.

The liberal "root—cause" view of social pathology was exposed as rubbish in the years of the War on Poverty.  Crime rates went up as billions were expended on root causes.  But neoconservatives were ready with their "broken windows" policing.  Arrest the vandal and the turn—style jumper, they said, and crime rates will go down.  And how.

Last week the broken—windows boys were in Tony Blair's New Labour Britain advising on how to bring down Britain's violent crime rates, presently about 23 times the rate a century ago.

These great conservative victories were won by using modern progressive language, presenting problem and solution in straight Newtonian terms: Action and reaction are equal and opposite, cause—and—effect, and all that Enlightenment stuff.

In fact, of course, supply—side economics is not Newtonian.  It does not experience people as billiard balls to be expertly bounced around by political pool players.  Instead it sees them as sensitive, emotional creatures that value and price every thing (and every idea) in the world at the margin.  This is something that progressives, who only understand the economic world in bureaucratic, command—and—control terms, cannot grasp.

Nor is broken—windows policing merely a question of racial profiling troubled youths before they offend again.  It is based on the exquisite understanding that criminal youths are living, breathing social beings, and will mostly respond meekly to a society that establishes the rules and then defends them.  This is something that progressives, who understand a world peopled only by creative egos (themselves), helpless victims (their political dependents), and bigots (everyone else), cannot grasp.

Then there was welfare reform.  It turned out that welfare recipients were not helpless victims as the liberals insisted, but resourceful, social humans who responded to society's changed expectations with startling agility.  If society wanted them to be helpless victims, they were happy to oblige.  But if society insisted that they get a job, then they were happy to do that too.  Today, only four percent of former welfare recipients work at minimum wage.

The three great conservative reforms of the late twentieth century worked because they were based on real knowledge, nuanced and sophisticated understanding that soared above the blank—slate, SSSM world.  But the reforms got passed because conservatives cast their reforms in dumbed—down, progressive, SSSM terms.

The next issue to come up is going to be the family.  Conservatives know, both from traditional knowledge that comes down to us from the pre—scientific age, and now, with the developments in the genetic sciences, that the childless, "diverse" family is a suicide pact.  But once again, conservatives are making the argument for reform using progressive terms.

In social science research and in books like Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher's Case for Marriage, Carolyn Graglia's Domestic Tranquility, and Jennifer Roback Morse's Smart Sex, conservatives are arguing on that women and children are safer when mother is married to father, and that social pathologies in general are reduced when men and women get married and stay married, and men focus on market production and women on domestic production.  Not that men should be forced into market production and women into domestic production.  Oh no.

It's humiliating to have to talk progressive in order to get conservative reform.  It makes conservatives feel unwelcome, marginalized and under—valued. But you can't argue with the results.

Christopher Chantrill is a blogger.  His  Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.

Whether we like it or not, "we live in a progressive world," writes Jonah Goldberg in National Review.  He means that when conservatives go into the public square they must use the language of progressivism. In debates on public policy,

"The good is measured in material terms — greater health, greater prosperity, greater comfort — and the social sciences are the disciplines that allow us to engineer society in ways that will maximize the good."

This materialist public policy is based upon the SSSM, John Derbyshire writes, "the egalitarian, "blank slate," Standard Social Science Model of human nature cherished by the modern Western intelligentsia."

In the United States today, you must speak the lingua franca of the public square, the materialism of progressivism and the egalitarian, blank slate of the SSSM in order to get a hearing.  If your thoughts fly above the flatland of gray, materialist slate, you must still translate it into everyday speech.

Back in the 1950s when conservatives spoke their own language of "permanent things," "prescriptive institutions," and absolute morality, nobody paid them any attention.  It wasn't until conservatives were joined by the supply—siders in economics and the neoconservatives on social policy that they started to get political traction.  When the Keynesian consensus drove the United States into the 1970s stagflation, the Bob Bartley wing of the conservative movement was ready with supply—side economics to dig us out.  Lower tax rates, said Bob and the indefatigable Jude Wanniski, and stagflation will go away.  Did it ever.

The liberal "root—cause" view of social pathology was exposed as rubbish in the years of the War on Poverty.  Crime rates went up as billions were expended on root causes.  But neoconservatives were ready with their "broken windows" policing.  Arrest the vandal and the turn—style jumper, they said, and crime rates will go down.  And how.

Last week the broken—windows boys were in Tony Blair's New Labour Britain advising on how to bring down Britain's violent crime rates, presently about 23 times the rate a century ago.

These great conservative victories were won by using modern progressive language, presenting problem and solution in straight Newtonian terms: Action and reaction are equal and opposite, cause—and—effect, and all that Enlightenment stuff.

In fact, of course, supply—side economics is not Newtonian.  It does not experience people as billiard balls to be expertly bounced around by political pool players.  Instead it sees them as sensitive, emotional creatures that value and price every thing (and every idea) in the world at the margin.  This is something that progressives, who only understand the economic world in bureaucratic, command—and—control terms, cannot grasp.

Nor is broken—windows policing merely a question of racial profiling troubled youths before they offend again.  It is based on the exquisite understanding that criminal youths are living, breathing social beings, and will mostly respond meekly to a society that establishes the rules and then defends them.  This is something that progressives, who understand a world peopled only by creative egos (themselves), helpless victims (their political dependents), and bigots (everyone else), cannot grasp.

Then there was welfare reform.  It turned out that welfare recipients were not helpless victims as the liberals insisted, but resourceful, social humans who responded to society's changed expectations with startling agility.  If society wanted them to be helpless victims, they were happy to oblige.  But if society insisted that they get a job, then they were happy to do that too.  Today, only four percent of former welfare recipients work at minimum wage.

The three great conservative reforms of the late twentieth century worked because they were based on real knowledge, nuanced and sophisticated understanding that soared above the blank—slate, SSSM world.  But the reforms got passed because conservatives cast their reforms in dumbed—down, progressive, SSSM terms.

The next issue to come up is going to be the family.  Conservatives know, both from traditional knowledge that comes down to us from the pre—scientific age, and now, with the developments in the genetic sciences, that the childless, "diverse" family is a suicide pact.  But once again, conservatives are making the argument for reform using progressive terms.

In social science research and in books like Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher's Case for Marriage, Carolyn Graglia's Domestic Tranquility, and Jennifer Roback Morse's Smart Sex, conservatives are arguing on that women and children are safer when mother is married to father, and that social pathologies in general are reduced when men and women get married and stay married, and men focus on market production and women on domestic production.  Not that men should be forced into market production and women into domestic production.  Oh no.

It's humiliating to have to talk progressive in order to get conservative reform.  It makes conservatives feel unwelcome, marginalized and under—valued. But you can't argue with the results.

Christopher Chantrill is a blogger.  His  Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.