Let Us Pause For A Moment In Remembrance Of The Strawmen Set Ablaze By Peter Wehner

Peter Wehner has a post at Commentary that is the cause of much discussion on the right, thanks in part to Jim Geraghty highlighting it in his Morning Jolt newsletter today.

 It strikes me that this ancient insight–of how we do not live in isolation, that we are part of a continuum–has been a bit neglected by American conservatives in recent years. The emphasis one hears these days has to do almost solely with liberty, which of course is vital. But there is also the trap of hyper-individualism. What’s missing, I think, is an appropriate appreciation–or at least a public appreciation–for community, social solidarity, and the common good; for the obligations and attachments we have to each other and the role institutions play in forming those attachments.

It’s not exactly clear to me why conservatives have neglected these matters. It may be the result of a counter-reaction to President Obama’s expansion of the size, scope, and reach of the federal government, combined with a growing libertarian impulse within conservatism. Whatever the explanation, conservatives are making an error–a political error, a philosophical error, a human error–in ignoring (at least in our public language) this understanding of the richness and fullness of life.

Conservatism has never been simply about being left alone. It is not exclusively about self-reliance, individual drive and “rugged individualism,” as important as these things are. We need to be careful about portraying life in a constricted way, since our characters and personalities and sensibilities are shaped by so many other factors and forces and people all along the way.

Oh, poor strawmen! Cut down and burned in your prime!

At no point does Wehner ever point to any conservative who claims to “live in isolation”. He never mentions anyone who denies the Burkian idea of “a continuum” (an idea much in the news with conservatives defending that very concept against Keynes’s famous, some might say infamous, quote that “in the long run we are all dead”.)

Wehner never points to any examples of conservatives retreating from the community. Does he think conservatives are eschewing participation in churches or other religious communities? Have they stopped participating in their children’s schools, Little Leagues, or Scouting programs? Have conservatives abandoned volunteer groups or charities? Are there no conservatives who serve as volunteer firefighters? Or on the local school board?

We are never told by Wehner how conservatives actually have demonstrated a lack  of “an appropriate appreciation” for the “common good”. It is simply asserted.

There is one hint as to what Wehner maybe referring to. He speaks of, “the role institutions play in forming those attachments”. Whener never identifies what “institutions” he is taking about but having already identified a number of communal “institutions” I think conservatives are very much attached to, I’d say it’s fair to infer the institution that dare not speak its name is “government”.

If Wehner thinks conservatives are insufficiently appreciative and supportive of government he should be willing to say that. It’s a debate worth having, and in other articles he has made an explicit call for a bolder, more pro-government form of conservatism. But he should be willing to lay his cards out on the table to support that argument and not cast vague assertions that conservatives as a whole have removed themselves from society and attempts to improve the common good.

Conservatives are very much involved in Burke’s “little platoons”. On the whole however we are not interested in signing up for a crusading army of government mandated and funded “obligations and attachments”.   To conflate the two is the kind of cheap rhetoric one would expect from the statists.

(Thanks to Nathan Wurtzel for pointing out I spelled Wehner incorrectly throughout the post. I apologize  for the mistake.)


About Drew

I blog about politics and hockey because I sort of understand those things. I'd blog about women but I'll never understand them.

Posted on May 9, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. I think it should be spelled “Whiner” or “Weiner” myself

  2. Troll Feeder

    Conservatives do not do not do not DO NOT believe that the “government is the only thing we do together.”

    Community to conservatives is much more than the government. By and large, not only have we not forgotten or lost interest in the non-governmental parts of community, our outrage is directed at the fact that the government seems hell-bent on invading every previously non-governmental community sphere.

    Truth be told, conservatives are the real defenders of community because of the fact that what we oppose is the leftists’ never ending push for “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.”

  3. Troll Feeder

    And Laura, may I say that your avatar looks lovely today? Never have I seen a snaggle-tooth so well displayed and accoutremented. Bravo!

  4. Liberal and squish conservative caricature of conservatives.

    I am Crom, living all alone, strong in my mountain!

  5. Troll Feeder

    Perhaps one reason conservatives value non-governmental community organizations is because they can leave the organizations if they decide they no longer want to be associated with them.

  6. the “conservatives are all Randians now” conservo-pundit critique is overdone, yeah. However it’s true that Republicans are largely bereft of any economic policy ideas that don’t have to do with our debt level right now. There seems to mainly be lazy catch-all “it costs too much” (doesn’t address the substance of a program/reform) or “government caused the problem in the first place” (not always accurate) responses.

  7. However it’s true that Republicans are largely bereft of any economic policy ideas that don’t have to do with our debt level right now.

    Gee, their primary focus is on the primary problem? THE HORROR!

  8. Well, Cliff, I now also support reforming our public school grammar curriculum. After we deal with the ‘debt level’, of course.

  9. you can think the debt’s a problem while recognizing it’s a separate issue from economic growth/what the ideal social safety net should look like

  10. Slartibartfast

    “bereft of any economic policy ideas” is just a little hint of the striving for One Policy to rule them all & in the shadows bind them, etc.

  11. I read that yesterday and as far as slaying strawmen for the commentary, I didn’t make the connection you did about government, and I should have. Excellent. Wehner is bemoaning faith in the FEDERAL government to fix our lives and desire to be at arms length from it.

  12. “you can think the debt’s a problem while recognizing it’s a separate issue from economic growth/what the ideal social safety net should look like”

    O.K. let’s add basic arithmetic and economics to our educational reform list.

    Or mebbe we could just screen public school attendees and train those with IQ’s under 80 to only be elevator operators, and never, ever, let them post their silliness on the Internets.

    “Separate issue” – to quote Bugs Bunny, “What a Maroon!”

  1. Pingback: BREAKING: Jay Carney Lied About the Benghazi Talking Points | RUTHFULLY YOURS

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