February 18, 2011

Big Government or Small, the Culture Must Be Healthy

Justin Katz

It's unfortunate that Rich Lowry's article in the January 24 National Review, "What the Whigs Knew," is inaccessible except to subscribers, but two portions are worth typing out:

[Eva] Moskowitz combines a fiery faith in the ability of all children to learn with a traditional — nay, downright retrograde — means of molding them into successful students. The New York Times describes the educational philosophy of her Harlem Success Academy as "a mix of the liberal Bank Street College of Education approach and the traditional Catholic school model.

"Parents must sign the network's 'contract,' a promise to get children to class on time and in blue-and-orange uniform and guarantee homework, and attend all family events," New York magazine explains. Children who defy the school's strict rules must show up for "Saturday Academy" together with their parents. New students get instruction on how to walk appropriately in the school's "zero noise" hallways and how to engage in active listening — "legs crossed, hands folded, eyes tracking the speaker."

Of course, such an approach won't work for all students, and some parents won't care enough about their children to keep the rules, themselves, but there's something intuitive about the approach and something undeniable about the importance of the objectives that Moskowitz's policies seek to achieve, mainly parental involvement and a respect for structure.

The second portion:

America has become a less mobile society because so many people have lost touch with the Whiggish virtues, and even more basic ones. Society's most important cvharacter-forming and -reinforcing institution, marriage, is in retreat among everyone outside college graduates. This retreat is why we have a semi-permanent underclass, and it contributes to the struggles of the working class. The dependence on government of able-bodied adults is almost entirely a cultural phenomenon; the economic stagnation of the working class is partly one.

The Left has no interest in hearing this. It champions what can be thought of as a libertine statism — an expansive government that is neutral or hostile toward traditional values. It offers dependence on the state to those whose disorderly lives run counter to these virtues and makes it difficult to succeed in a capitalist society. It tends to create a society whose dysfunction is a constant call on government.

That pretty well sums up the conservative view of statism: The freedom offered is the freedom to be sufficiently self-destructive to have to rely on the government. Traditional values — that is, Western, particularly American traditional values — served mainly to strengthen the individual and the family. There's very little room for social engineering and bureaucracy in such small, localized groups.

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I've often said that there is a critical, under-appreciated difference between libertarians and libertines.

Libertarians are generally personally quite conservative, because they know that living according to such principles is required in order to be successful as an independent, free person.

Libertines are usually Leftists because they want everyone else to pay for their lack of responsibility. It's an epidemic form of Peter Pan syndrome.

Posted by: BobN at February 18, 2011 10:18 AM

Interesting to hear Jim DeMint whine that last week's CPAC was too libertarian because it allowed two gay GOP groups to participate. I guess anybody to the left of DeMint, including many CPAC attendees, are just libertines.

Posted by: bella at February 18, 2011 10:34 AM

That's correct, BobN. The vast majority of the libertarians I've known are personally very responsible and do believe in family values (meant literally, not as a reference to heterosexual marriage). I'm the most "conservative-type" personality you could ever meet, and I want everything legalized. I don't smoke, do drugs, eat junk food, or even drink much. The grossly out of shape people I knew in college and law school who were totally out of control alcoholics or drug abusers partying up a storm every week were all very vocal liberals. At least three hospitalizations occurred that I witnessed - due to complete irresponsibility and excess. They were also the ones who took out loan, after loan, after loan, after loan. Where did the money go? Vacations, sports events, concerts, alcohol, etc. They'll never get out from under that burden, especially since most of them are now working for non-profit legal clinics that pay $30-45k.

It's amazing how many people are incapable of separating advocacy for freedom to engage in a behavior with advocacy for the behavior itself. I just don't want to pay for other people's stupidity - it's a simple concept, really.

Posted by: Dan at February 18, 2011 11:56 AM

Limbaugh's politics may have changed, but I guess his physique and personal habits didn't.

Posted by: bella at February 18, 2011 7:31 PM

Exactly what do you mean by that, Bella?

Posted by: BobN at February 19, 2011 7:58 AM

How soon we forget about Rush's pill-popping. And when he felt his privacy had been invaded, who did he go running to? That's right, the same ACLU he demonizes on a regular basis.
Hey, Rush is more flexible than we give him credit for. It's even okay to be gay...at least if you're Elton John.

Posted by: bella at February 19, 2011 10:26 AM

Why did you bring Limbaugh into the topic?

Posted by: BobN at February 19, 2011 11:10 AM

Bella's comments are always just confusing to me.

Posted by: Dan at February 19, 2011 11:16 AM
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