America’s False and True Conservatives- A Response to Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh, an incredibly talented blogger with impeccable credentials for social conservatism (though perhaps not temperamental conservatism) recently posted an article on his Facebook feed with a comment urging someone to denounce President Obama as a tyrant.

Somewhat entertained, I commented this response.


“Impeach him? As a tyrant? 

He’s going about the basic tasks of governance as outlined by precedent and the constitutional authority of the president, loosely defined (as it has been for the entirety of our nation’s history since George Washington, and yes, including under Jefferson and Jackson, those two great strict constructionists. One of them smelt a rat at the constitutional convention, the other one was raised and influenced by people who fought the constitution tooth and nail and were happy with the Articles of Confederation.)

Here’s my beef with you Tea Party types and other modern iterations of the populist libertarian strain endemic to our culture- you guys are what the historian Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics.” You’re always convinced that liberty is days away from destruction by a corrupt and pernicious elite. You can’t entertain any serious governance by corrupt human beings, being under the sway of the fallacy that the government is capable of doing no good, and you are blind to the mass amalgamations of positive good the United States government HAS accomplished in the last 23 decades. You don’t realize that the market is maintained by government, that society is protected by government, and that the institution of the state was the second human institution- the family being the first. If the blessings of government went away, you’d like to entertain the notion that civil society would fill the void- but watch any Western and see what true libertarianism bears.

I don’t by any means think the progressivism of the contemporary ruling class is beneficial or excusable. The excesses that the New Deal and Great Society reached were a disgrace to human nature, and we still inhabit the world of their making. The idea that you can fix all the problems of society through a paternalistic technocracy based upon social science and entitlement is almost antithetical to the republican (lower-case r) tradition. But they were not bad because they were extensive overreaches of the federal government- they were bad because they were premised on a flawed conception of human perfectibility. Ironically enough, the same conviction of man’s inherent goodness animated the Democrats not only of the 20th Century, but of the 19th Century- including Jackson, Madison, Jefferson, and, had he stayed on rather than went over to France, Thomas Paine.

So who were the conservatives, the ones who took human nature as it is and strove to build the best society possible while acknowledging man’s inherent corruption? 

The advocates of big, non-progressive government over the course of American history, who have in every case possessed a calmer, more reasonable temperament than most of the individuals also commenting on this article. George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Cabot Lodge, Theodore Roosevelt, Nelson Rockefeller, Dwight Eisenhower, George H.W. Bush. These men- impeccable conservatives all- believed in vivacious government for the common good, had no respect for ideals of human perfectability, and saw the Constitution as the list of guidelines for governance that it was, rather than eternal laws from on high. FDR might have made this list had he not joined the progressive excesses of Woodrow Wilson. Note that these are the men who have built and transformed the Republic from the Founding to the present day. Others have maintained it; few have rejuvenated it.

In case it’s not clear, I’m accusing all of you of ‘not really being conservative.’ Y’all are radicals as much as any Occupy Wall Streeters out there, simply radicals of a different sort. You who would tear down the institutions of the state, who would value liberty over order, who would burn true traditions in favor of false nostalgias, and who would demonize great men as traitors and tyrants- you are doing nothing to perpetuate the great traditions of the Republic, and you are doing a disservice to the Constitution and its principles.

Matt, I like your social conservative instincts. You have a real penchant for the natural law and all its manifestations. But I think you are in the wrong American political tradition. Always remember, it was Thomas Jefferson, the champion of the common man (or so he said,) the hawk of small government, the worshipper of liberty, who cheered on the seas of blood of kings and priests spilled during the French Revolution. It was Jefferson who believed in the perfectibility of Man, going so far as to edit the Bible to suit his own personal moral preferences. It was Jefferson who saw rights as more fundamental than responsibilities, and thereby birthed the entitlement culture we struggle against every day.

It was Alexander Hamilton, the champion of energetic and efficacious government, who knew the evil in men’s souls and designed the institutions of our republic to limit their worst excesses. It was Hamilton who piously took communion hours before his death. It was Hamilton who saw the revolution in France for what it was, and condemned it as the most unholy catastrophe ever conducted in the name of liberty. It is Hamilton to whom all American conservatives owe the greatness and moderation of this country.”

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