Conservatives and the Individual

Last week Ross Douthat helpfully introduced the New York Times faithful to the notion of "reform conservatism." Someone had to do it. He did, I think, rather shortchange the reformers when he asserted that "the crucial idea that conservatism ought to focus directly on the economic interests of downscale Americans has not exactly caught fire within the G.O.P." That's shameful, of course, given how heartily Democrats have advanced the interests of e.g., the green crony capitalists that make money out of high energy prices ruthlessly exacted on downscale Americans. I could go on. For instance, the Democrats insist on sequestering the savings of downscale Americans in "Trust Funds" so they can use the money for buying votes.

You can be sure that the NYT commenters would have none of Douthat's helpful information on the reform conservatives. The very idea! They all knew, from their deep study of liberal talking points, that conservative ideas had been lost in a mean-spirited miasma of individualist supply-side inequality ever since the ill-starred years of Reaganite "trickle-down" economics. Still, I'll lay my nickel any day on the truculence of the Washington Post's highly-evolved commenters on Jen Rubin's blog against the mild-mannered milquetoasts at Ross's blog.
Of course the liberal line is founded on the old 19th century shibboleth of individualism bad, collectivism good. Back then they had an excuse because scholars hadn't yet unearthed the true history of individualism.

And meanwhile folks like Ayn Rand argued that selfishness was virtuous.

One can forgive the Russian refugee Rand for her anti-collectivist fury, but the rest of us need to develop a more measured understanding of individualism to inform our public discussions. And since liberals won't talk intelligently about the individual, except in a post-Greening of America sense that, if a liberal does it, it must be evolved and intellectual, it falls to us knuckle-draggers to do the heavy lifting.

According to Huston Smith, the individual ego was born over 2500 years ago as certain individuals began to question the world of unreflective tradition with: "What's in it for me?" In China this individual ego metastasized in the Warring States period, and after 500 years of egos warring all over east Asia it took a Confucius to invent a program of conscious tradition to replace the busted world of unconscious tradition and bring order back to China.
According to Robert Bellah, the individual emerged in the Axial Age about two to three thousand years ago as the "responsible self." According to Max Weber, the individual emerged in the period of the Hebrew prophets, where the idea got about that each individual was responsible to God for his or her actions. Mortals would no longer propitiate the immortal gods to favor their tribe, but be individually responsible to the monotheistic Him.

Later, it was Christianity that used individualism to make the city work by emancipating individuals from their tribal loyalties and teaching them to develop trusting relationships with strangers in the marketplace of the city.
Just in case, God added divine justice as a backup to the new program to tame the raging individual ego into the responsible ego. The irresponsible ego might escape human justice, but not God's justice.

In our own age the classical economists broadened the understanding of the responsible ego with the invisible hand doctrine. The Methodists boiled it all down to a mantra: Work all you can; save all you can; give all you can.

And this glorious achievement of the human spirit is what liberals want to tear down and utterly transform.

We can see how the left's fatuous opposition of individualism vs. collectivism that started in the 19th century has missed the point. Individualism is not an ideology of selfishness; it started out as and remains a social thing, a response to the anti-social unrestrained ego.

Yet our liberal friends, particularly when found commenting in their favorite online newspapers, seem to be ignorant of all this. No doubt they are also unaware that their identity politics is as reactionary as fascism. (Hint: that's because it is fascism). It is a reactionary return to old-fashioned propitiation, forcing people to bow before the powerful, Lois, to secure their favor and their free stuff. And this attack on individualism has not strengthened the collective, but provoked a resurgence of the unrestrained ego, only this time not in warrior empires but in urban city gangs and educated professorial cabals.

"Why are liberals so rude to to the right" asks closet conservative Leften Wright in the Guardian? Maybe it's because, as the song goes, they don't know much about history, or biology, let alone the Lorentz Transformation, unless it's spelled out in a liberal talking point.

Christopher Chantrill (mailto:chrischantrill@gmail.com) is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his usgovernmentspending.com and also usgovernmentdebt.us. At americanmanifesto.org he is blogging and writing An American Manifesto: Life After Liberalism. Get his Road to the Middle Class.

Last week Ross Douthat helpfully introduced the New York Times faithful to the notion of "reform conservatism." Someone had to do it. He did, I think, rather shortchange the reformers when he asserted that "the crucial idea that conservatism ought to focus directly on the economic interests of downscale Americans has not exactly caught fire within the G.O.P." That's shameful, of course, given how heartily Democrats have advanced the interests of e.g., the green crony capitalists that make money out of high energy prices ruthlessly exacted on downscale Americans. I could go on. For instance, the Democrats insist on sequestering the savings of downscale Americans in "Trust Funds" so they can use the money for buying votes.

You can be sure that the NYT commenters would have none of Douthat's helpful information on the reform conservatives. The very idea! They all knew, from their deep study of liberal talking points, that conservative ideas had been lost in a mean-spirited miasma of individualist supply-side inequality ever since the ill-starred years of Reaganite "trickle-down" economics. Still, I'll lay my nickel any day on the truculence of the Washington Post's highly-evolved commenters on Jen Rubin's blog against the mild-mannered milquetoasts at Ross's blog.
Of course the liberal line is founded on the old 19th century shibboleth of individualism bad, collectivism good. Back then they had an excuse because scholars hadn't yet unearthed the true history of individualism.

And meanwhile folks like Ayn Rand argued that selfishness was virtuous.

One can forgive the Russian refugee Rand for her anti-collectivist fury, but the rest of us need to develop a more measured understanding of individualism to inform our public discussions. And since liberals won't talk intelligently about the individual, except in a post-Greening of America sense that, if a liberal does it, it must be evolved and intellectual, it falls to us knuckle-draggers to do the heavy lifting.

According to Huston Smith, the individual ego was born over 2500 years ago as certain individuals began to question the world of unreflective tradition with: "What's in it for me?" In China this individual ego metastasized in the Warring States period, and after 500 years of egos warring all over east Asia it took a Confucius to invent a program of conscious tradition to replace the busted world of unconscious tradition and bring order back to China.
According to Robert Bellah, the individual emerged in the Axial Age about two to three thousand years ago as the "responsible self." According to Max Weber, the individual emerged in the period of the Hebrew prophets, where the idea got about that each individual was responsible to God for his or her actions. Mortals would no longer propitiate the immortal gods to favor their tribe, but be individually responsible to the monotheistic Him.

Later, it was Christianity that used individualism to make the city work by emancipating individuals from their tribal loyalties and teaching them to develop trusting relationships with strangers in the marketplace of the city.
Just in case, God added divine justice as a backup to the new program to tame the raging individual ego into the responsible ego. The irresponsible ego might escape human justice, but not God's justice.

In our own age the classical economists broadened the understanding of the responsible ego with the invisible hand doctrine. The Methodists boiled it all down to a mantra: Work all you can; save all you can; give all you can.

And this glorious achievement of the human spirit is what liberals want to tear down and utterly transform.

We can see how the left's fatuous opposition of individualism vs. collectivism that started in the 19th century has missed the point. Individualism is not an ideology of selfishness; it started out as and remains a social thing, a response to the anti-social unrestrained ego.

Yet our liberal friends, particularly when found commenting in their favorite online newspapers, seem to be ignorant of all this. No doubt they are also unaware that their identity politics is as reactionary as fascism. (Hint: that's because it is fascism). It is a reactionary return to old-fashioned propitiation, forcing people to bow before the powerful, Lois, to secure their favor and their free stuff. And this attack on individualism has not strengthened the collective, but provoked a resurgence of the unrestrained ego, only this time not in warrior empires but in urban city gangs and educated professorial cabals.

"Why are liberals so rude to to the right" asks closet conservative Leften Wright in the Guardian? Maybe it's because, as the song goes, they don't know much about history, or biology, let alone the Lorentz Transformation, unless it's spelled out in a liberal talking point.

Christopher Chantrill (mailto:chrischantrill@gmail.com) is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his usgovernmentspending.com and also usgovernmentdebt.us. At americanmanifesto.org he is blogging and writing An American Manifesto: Life After Liberalism. Get his Road to the Middle Class.

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