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

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Neo-Con Repents

"We increased the size of government in the false hope that we could bribe the public into keeping us in office," sayeth non-neo-con John McCain today. But it sure works for the Democrats, so why not the GOP?

Adam Smith's wonderfully wise and sadly overlooked other book, The Theory of the Moral Sentiments (1759), tells us why:

We do not, therefore, thoroughly and heartily sympathize with the gratitude of one man towards another, merely because this other has been the cause of his good fortune, unless he has been the cause of it from motives which we entirely go along with. Our heart must adopt the principles of the agent, and go along with all the affections which influenced his conduct...If in the conduct of the benefactor there appears to have been no propriety, how beneficial soever its effects, it does not seem to demand, or necessarily to require, any proportionable recompense.

In other words, since the GOP is not known for "caring about people like me," as the pollsters so disingenuously put it (and a perception the Democrats spend a considerable amount of their time reinforcing), "compassionate conservatism" was playing a game it could not win. No matter how much largesse it spread around, no matter what good it achieved, no matter how many people it may have helped, it would and could never receive a whit of credit for it.

As a battered and bruised neo-con (if neo-conism still exists at all), I can say it was still worth a try, but I must defer to the wisdom of the ages, and the estimable Mr. Smith. The Theory of the Moral Sentiments is the Democrats' playbook, and stealing pages from it is folly, since they can get credit for doing absolutely nothing just by paying lipservice to "caring."

Strangely enough, the playbook for the party of Lincoln, evangelicals and others not bent toward materialist philosophy remains Adam Smith's second tome, An Inquiry into the Nature And Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), a far more worldly tract.

"[Americans] still prefer common sense conservatism to the alternative...Common sense conservatives believe that the government that governs least governs best, that government should do only those things individuals cannot do for themselves and do them efficiently," McCain addeth sagely, and hopefully.

6 comments:

mdvoutlook.com said...

Tom,

I wonder if Senator McCain believes in limited governement when it comes to campaign finance reform, whatever the heck that is? Or when he voted against GWB's tax cuts (although he's "seen the light" and voted to extend them)? We'll see what a lust for power will do to the good Senator when it comes to being a consistent, across the board conservative.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I think he's trying it on for size right now. What's ironic is that RudyG seems to be getting a pass for far bigger departures from conservative orthodoxy. Politics seems to prefer the devil it doesn't know to the one it does.

Jay D. Homnick said...

It is perhaps extraneous to point out that the Bible does not agree with Adam Smith. Our obligation of gratitude is founded in the fact of receipt, and imputing ulterior motives to the giver to relieve my burden of indebtedness is considered base behavior.

This point is made by citing the case of a kindness that we know without a doubt was tendered from self-interest, namely the Egyptians hosting the Jews in their land. "You should not abominate the Egyptian, for you were an outsider residing in his land." (Deuteronomy 23:8)

Tom Van Dyke said...

Smith does implicitly make the distinction between the gratitude of the recipient and a third party (limo liberals?) giving credit to the benefactor.

Quite right, Jay, nobody likes an ingrate, God among them.

S. T. Karnick said...

Jay, your analysis is based on a false premise. Motives are recognized as important, indeed essential, in the Bible. Note, for example, that God rejected the Israelites' sacrifices because they were not from the heart. There are numerous other examples throughout Scripture, and in the part to which you do not subscribe, motive is depicted as the central basis of morality. In addition, the example you cite does not imply that God rejects the value of motives (which would contradict the rest of Scripture); it simply reminds them that there were a variety of motives at play in the Israelites' position in Egypt.

Nicholas said...

Anyone know what McCain's political philosophy is this week?

Nicholas Stix