Thursday, August 27, 2009

Liberal Democracy (its two wings) and other forms of government

The above is a review (more or less) of Sam Tanenhaus book, The Death of Conservatism. The review was written by James Piereson. [It was sent to me by a blog-reader, for which thanks.]

I have been interested in recent times in contrasting Liberal Democracy (formerly called “Capitalism”) with Russian Sovereign Democracy, British and Japanese Imperialism, Communism and Fascism. So it was a bit jarring to read Piereson’s article and be reminded that “Liberal Democracy” means the opposite of “Conservatism in American politics.

From my own point of view, and with a nod to American politics, I see two wings to Liberal Democracy (Capitalism). The (Right) Conservative Wing (where I would put myself) subscribes to small government, government that leaves American citizens as free as possible to do, say, and think whatever they like. The Conservative Wing accepts the accommodations that have been made to modern technological progress. Also, “Entitlements” aren’t bad per se, but we need to live within our means. We shouldn’t vote ourselves more entitlements than we can afford, as the French and some other European nations have done. Demonizing “Conservatives” as revanchists, as Tannenhouse has done, and Piereson rightly criticizes is silly.

I think of the other (Left) wing of Liberal Democracy as leaning toward Socialism. It would probably sign up to the label “Welfare-Statism.” It favors more centralized government controls. It doesn’t trust or want people to handle their own affairs, at least not all of them.

Interestingly, Francis Fukuyama didn’t distinguish between the Welfare-Statism of Western Europe and the more Conservative form of Liberal Democracy we have seen in the US. From a broader perspective it must be classed as Capitalism, or rather what Capitalism has become: Liberal Democracy.

Do Russians or Chinese see the Left-Wing Liberal Democracy of Barack Obama as being radically different from the Right-Wing Liberal Democracy of George W. Bush? I don’t think so. Sure they see differences in nuance, but not fundamental differences. Liberal Democracy (Capitalism) was not abandoned when Obama took office, and neither Russian nor Chinese politicians assumed that it would be.

The Left-Wing Liberal Democratic “nuance” I was most interested in had to do with Obama’s proposed “diplomatic” approach to foreign affairs. I have been watching this approach with interest and wishing him well. I wouldn’t count anything he has done on the diplomatic front a failure, at least not yet.

On the domestic front Obama’s Left-Wing Liberal Democracy seems more heavy-handed. He seems resolved to get major “entitlements” through congress without reference to whether the US can afford them or not. He seems very much in step with European thinking here.

James Piereson in his review thinks Tannenhouse was premature in declaring victory for the Left-Wing Liberal Democratic point of view. Obama’s “poll numbers have come back to earth in response to the public’s wariness about his ambitious proposals. . . The polls offer no support for the claim that conservatism is dead among American voters . . . One may confidently assume, if the past is any guide, that a conservative Republican will succeed President Obama in 2012 or 2016, and that Republicans will recapture one or both houses of Congress before Obama completes his tenure in office. . . .”

I think Piereson is correct here, but I am not completely happy with this state of affairs. I wish Obama had been more sober in his Welfare-Statist ambitions so that his “Diplomatic Approach” to foreign affairs could play out longer. I would love to see a diplomatic solution to North Korea’s belligerence and Iran’s misguided ambitions. But if Obama loses the confidence of he US public because he is spending its money like a “drunken sailor,” this may damage the credibility of his diplomatic efforts. Something along the lines of “why should we pay attention to him if his own country won’t?” But maybe some diplomatic progress can be made before Obama’s (US) credibility crumbles too much. I certainly hope so.

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