“I am not a conservative.” We have not heard Donald Trump say those words, but many commentators have put them in his mouth by observation. For example The Federalist recently ran a story entitled Trump Is Not A Conservative – And That’s A Good Thing. And Pat Buchanan repeated the theme at lewrockwell.com.
Trump, says Frank Cannon in The Federalist, is “at war with the progressives who have co-opted American society”. Indeed, he is criticized by his detractors for his willingness to attack our nation’s institutions. Elite conservatives are offended, because their philosophy depends on maintaining unquestioning respect for these long-standing institutions and believing in them as a bedrock of our republic.
This conservative position is, in the word chosen by Mr. Cannon, naïve. (President Trump would probably coin a more vitriolic phrase.) The institutions of our republic have been undermined, corrupted and politicized in an unrelenting process of re-engineering that we call progressivism. Trump is therefore judged, logically, to be “anti-progressive”.
Anti-progressive is a great thing to be. Progressives have worked hard and worked systematically to subvert American institutions, and the shattered wrecks that are left deserve none of our respect. Institutions mediate between individuals and society – effectively today, between individuals and their government – with the role of reconciling divergent interests. What the progressives have done is to politicize our institutions so that they are rigged to favor specific special interests, i.e. corrupted them to the point of destruction. Progressives have politicized the family, religion, education, the economy and, worst of all, the justice system, from traffic court to the Supreme Court, and from local policing to the FBI.
Trump does not let himself be hampered by the Conservative rules about not criticizing institutions even after their progressive corruption is complete. This conservative tactic, says the Federalist, results in a perpetual state of losing. Instead, he calls out their illegitimacy, their capture by the forces of progressivism, and the distortion of their true purpose. Whether it’s the news media, the judicial system or the NFL, Trump is vocal and fearless in pointing to failures of trust and subversion of the republic.
Why Hayek Was Not A Conservative.
“I am not a conservative” are actual words of F.A. Hayek. A famous essay was extracted from his book The Constitution of Liberty and published under the title “Why I Am Not A Conservative”. The version that’s online at cato.org carries the author line: “By Nobel Laureate F. A. Hayek”. Perhaps there is a worry that someone stumbling across this paper might think it’s by our current President.
Anti-progressive And Anti-conservative.
In the essay, Hayek describes progressive movements as encroachments on liberty, and conservatism as opposition to change. He is opposed to both. For Hayek, the big problem with Conservatism is that it has no objective – “it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving”. The best it can do is slow down undesirable developments, but it cannot prevent their continuance. Yes, it can defend long-established institutions, but since the progressives have more energy and more specific policies to “reconstruct all social institutions”, conservatism can not keep the tide of corruption and politicization at bay. In The Results Of Human Action But Not Of Human Design, Hayek points to one example of the damage that the subversion of institutions can do to civilization. Speaking of what progressives have done to the justice system, he says that they have “deprived law of all …connection with justice”.
Hayek does use the word “progressives” in identifying those he is accusing, but he also famously employed another epithet: intellectuals. In The Intellectuals And Socialism, he calls socialism a specific form of the destruction of traditional democratic institutions, and accuses intellectuals of directing their main effort towards this goal. They are people with an “absence of responsibility for practical affairs”, i.e. they know nothing of the real world. In fact, they disdain it. It’s deplorable. They are guided by abstract intellectual constructs – for example, material equality, which is a generalized concept free of any analytic evidence or particularity. It is to be achieved by design and by social engineering supported by legislation.
These intellectuals work very hard to recruit the right people to their ranks. They make sure that holding progressive views leads to high reputation and lucrative appointments. They expand the number of bureaucrats and functionaries at every opportunity.
Their goal is the entire reconstruction of society, and their views are a threat to civilization, says Hayek. Conservatives err when they try to maintain their own personal standing within the existing order without resisting this anti-civilizational crusade. Conservatives want to be “practical”, “sensible” and “realistic”. They are interested in the preservation of existing features of society even after are no longer defensible.
Trump, on the other hand, is a radical anti-progressive. He attacks the moral authority and legitimacy of co-opted institutions. Hayek would be by his side..