"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, May 16, 2016

Poxing both houses isn't principled – it's stupid

“If Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee," said Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska in February, "my expectation is that I will look for some third candidate — a conservative option, a Constitutionalist.” He got thumped by his own state's convention yesterday.

Still, it's a widely shared sentiment, appearing in various forms on blogs and social media:

In a choice between two evils, better to give neither the absolution of a vote. 

If harm befalls us, better that our hands be clean and our conscience unblemished.

Political gains are not worth sacrificing one's principles.

And so on. But this level of sanctimony when it comes to political creed is not recommended even when it comes to religious creed. The Christian church in its early years, responding to the frequent martyrdom of believers in the Roman empire, held a council in the town of Elvira, Spain in 309 AD. Discussing those Christians killed for openly defying Roman gods, the council decided against martyrdom: "If someone smashes an idol and is then punished by death, he or she may not be placed in the list of martyrs, since such action is not sanctioned by the Scriptures or by the apostles." A believer is not a kamikaze; faith demands making an effort to avoid detection when necessary. Spitting on idols isn't martyrdom – it's stupidity. 

If even the early Church made room for prudence, surely the art of the possible can do without the sackcloth and ashes. It is not necessary for party and principle to be always aligned. The shoulder on the road is there for a reason. We can, with principle intact, continue laying firmly on the horn, going nowhere. Or we can hitch a ride with the bastard in the service lane throwing off dust and flipping the bird. Just maybe, the opportunity for safe and sensible travel awaits at the next exit, if only we can arrive there.

Principled conservatives like to blame their political fortunes on losing the culture. Trump offers a part of it back. It might not be pretty, but once you've got an audience you can tinker with the programming. Who knows, maybe they'll stay tuned in. And "history shows that it is no easy matter to excite a large people into any vigorous and continued opposition to the government they have been long habituated to respect and obey....The waves do not rise till the wind blows." No Republican since Reagan has stirred up as much wind for the GOP as Trump. Principle does not provide its own opportunity. And while opportunity sometimes knocks, it seldom nags. Spitting on Trump isn't principle it's stupidity.

11 comments:

Sardonicus said...

"Trump offers a part of it back. It might not be pretty, but once you've got an audience you can tinker with the programming."

Okay, I'll bite.

Which part of the culture does Trump offer back and why should principled conservatives want it?

At this point, for many conservatives, I suspect this IS indeed about principle. Trump has promised to use executive orders to achieve his goals. I have spent nearly eight years discussing my issues with the current administration with people, including the use of executive orders (which I have stated would be problematic for me regardless of president or party).

Many other thoughtful and intelligent conservatives have argued the same way, written the same things, offered criticism in the same manner. Now, you will have us say...what...when we vote for Trump?

"Well, separation of powers and federalism were important so long as it was your guy who was using them. When it's our guy, we're voting for him in spite of those same problems?"

Substitute for "separation of powers and federalism:"

1. Pro-life arguments
2. Abuse of the military
3. Egoism and narcissism
4. Personal foibles (at least the current President has stayed married to one woman)
5. Cozying up to big money
6. Lack of political experience
7. Lack of coherent foreign policy

Now, it seems like you're telling principled conservatives to ignore all of that, and exchange it for becoming part of the mob, and having some sort of standing to address the mob. I do not think we can be mistaken in seeing many Trump voters as voting for precisely the reasons you note - sheer anger at the ruling class. The mob is fickle, and rule by ochlocracy seems as poor as autocracy or oligarchy.

Tim Kowal said...

And in your arguments with Democrats, what percentage success do arguments have based on purity of principle? Any at all?

The left knows these kinds of charges don't stick. In politics you can disavow the means but keep the ends. Trump's actually a perfect foil in this regard: he's sui generis, a blowhard, standing well outside the conservative tradition. Whatever charges Dems can make stick against him won't stick against conservatism. If the GOP plays it right it will come off as a one-time course-correction.

Sardonicus said...

"And in your arguments with Democrats, what percentage success do arguments have based on purity of principle? Any at all?"

None at all. I don't expect them to - nor do they have traction with many conservatives. But, I will at least avoid having to look myself in the mirror and accuse myself of rank hypocrisy.

Trump, and the vast majority of Republicans, stand well outside the conservative tradition.

This is the problem, as well: the GOP will not play this right. They're already shifting to fall in line with him.

No - I think the good were right to reject this advice, from Lord of the Rings:

"As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow, and the Wise, such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it. We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends. There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only in our means."

Tim Kowal said...

First, despite the lack of equivocation suggested in the post, I do understand and empathize with the crisis of conscience.

I, too, wish to avoid hypocrisy. The philosopher in me wants to pursue truth, and can accept losing meaningless battles in that pursuit.

But I am also a father, and in that regard I can find so solace -- my children can find no solace -- in allowing a fire to burn what is left of Western civilization because the only good men left chose philosophy instead of politics. The merely rational soldier will not fight. "If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace." --Thomas Paine

If there were a percentage in sticking to principle, I'd consider it. But if this is all about looking at yourself in the mirror, please give a thought to the people who will have to live with the consequences of our political decisions today.

You said it yourself: the pursuit of truth is not aided by pitting truth-seekers against sophists. The first order of business, then, is to expose the sophistry.

D. said...

In politics it always good to have a seat at the table of power. The #nevertrumpers
are kinda stupid at this point in this regard.

Tom Van Dyke said...

But I am also a father, and in that regard I can find so solace -- my children can find no solace -- in allowing a fire to burn what is left of Western civilization because the only good men left chose philosophy instead of politics.

You may not be interested in politics but politics is interested in you. Leo Strauss argues [successfully, I think], that although the philosopher has no interest in power, only philosophizing, he cannot neglect politics if only out of self-defense.

Socrates accepted the hemlock because he was an old man and chose not to flee Athens, but to make a final stand for philosophy. Fine.

But I see nobody making a final stand for anything except their own moral vanity. Vilifying Trump takes no courage atall. You have half the right and all of the left patting you on the head.

Anyone can shoot their own. You have position. From behind.

CK MacLeod said...

"In politics you can disavow the means but keep the ends."

Didn't you used to be a "conservative"?

Tim Kowal said...

"In politics you can disavow the means but keep the ends."

Didn't you used to be a "conservative"?


The quote is from a far away land called Context. It its native land, its a descriptive statement, not prescriptive.

CK MacLeod said...

Descriptive of your prescription, in this instance: The means, apparently, would be support for Trump, even though intrinsically he and his movement represent something different from anything you've ever stood for or hope some day to stand for again, so that later you might capture some significant number of his supporters, and put yourself or people like you in a position to exploit them for your actually wholly other, contradictory purposes.

The ends would be, apparently, in your mind, somehow, to save "Western civilization" or some vanishing chance to rescue it or delay its descent,

Do I have that right? I'm just trying to get clear on what you think you're doing and advocating.

Tim Kowal said...

CK, I got distracted from our discussion and forgot to return. Sorry.

My first choice is Cruz, as he's best to save the courts and life and rule of law. But he left the race so I must look elsewhere.

I do not trust Trump on the courts, but that question's not relevant. I trust him more than Hillary. Same on life. And rule of law. Etc.

If that were all, I'd still be intrigued by the Hamilton Rule. But Trump has one compelling asset in defanging the venomous fangs of the viper left, which have made it effectively impossible for conservatives to get a fair hearing. Now, personally I would not accept the invitation to be ungentlemanly. And I would not coax Trump or anyone else to do so. But Trump is a product of the debased culture. I'm not willing it, just allowing modernity's ouroboros to eat itself.

There's a long road to saving western civ. Trump was no thinking person's prescription, but he's the better of the alternatives we have to choose from.

CK MacLeod said...

TK: I believe that our Twitter colloquy advanced this discussion well beyond the exchanges above. I may try to move forward from our exchanges, here and tweeted, later.

In the meantime, I would like to commend to you and yours this rather thoughtful, tightly argued, not excessively remonstrative piece by Erica Grieder on "The Conservative Case for Hillary Clinton": http://www.texasmonthly.com/burka-blog/conservative-case-hillary-clinton/

I might, of course, choose different emphases than Grieder would, but I think it's an excellent presentation. I tried to cut to the chase at my blog, and, if you agree that she frames the conservative pro-HRC/anti-Trump case usefully, I would invite you (or TVD or anyone) to respond there (to the 6-point case and the bonus point, not just my excerpt), if you care to. http://ckmacleod.com/2016/06/06/erica-grieder-the-conservative-case-for-hillary-clinton-texas-monthly/