These days, some conservatives are defending Laura Bush’s idea to increase the National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) funding. It will go to good arts, they insist, not the smut we’re used to seeing our tax dollars subsidize.
This is not the only place where some conservatives are asking the government to promote the Right’s agenda. Big government conservatism, however, rejects the fundamental tenets of the philosophy handed to us by Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk. In fact, on many issues, today’s conservatism ought to embrace the policies of libertarians.
On National Review‘s website, Roger Kimball wrote recently:
[T]here can be no argument that if we are going have public support of the arts, it should be done in an enlightened and life-affirming way. This is the George Bush approach to cultural reinvigoration. Conservatives–by which term I mean people who are interested in conserving what is best from the past–should applaud his efforts. After years in the wilderness, the NEA has finally come home.
What Kimball is prescribing has appeal to pragmatic conservatives. At essence, though, it is social engineering out of Washington. Conservatives, though, think society ought to be “engineered” instead by the free association of family, church and community. Kimball’s is, at bottom, a leftist approach rooted in the same mindset that gives us politically correct speech codes and bans on prayer in schools.
Conservatives who favor arts funding (lets call them NEAcons) observe that if Congress is funding smut already, shouldn’t we call on it to fund good art? Some make the same argument on the faith-based initiative. This ignores the inherently corrupt and corrupting nature of government.
Congress didn’t originally sign off on the NEA with the intention of funding blasphemous nudist lesbians, but they were fools if they thought it wouldn’t happen.
The last time we had a President Bush, his Department of Education and National Endowment for the Humanities set out to create national guidelines for U.S. history curricula. The motivation was noble, and the idea sprung from a conservative disposition: students ought to know more about their founding, the roots of their culture, its freedoms and values.
After the academics and bureaucrats were done with this curriculum, it didn’t mention Paul Revere, Robert E. Lee, the Wright brothers or Thomas Edison. Instead it focused heavily on obscure minority and woman figures, dwelling mostly on oppression and patriarchy. Political correctness pervaded it, as should have been expected.
Government poisons what it touches. Centralizing power or money always backfires in the long run because greedy ambitious politicians and bureaucrats will get hold of the power and wealth.
Bureaucrats will generally not be on the side of conservatives for much the same reason social workers, public school teachers, college professors and most of the media are liberal. People who follow through on “making the world a better place,” (they’re called busy-bodies) tend to hold progressive viewpoints. Conservatives, meanwhile, quietly attend to their families, their jobs, their communities and their own souls–all of which demand plenty of attention.
The NEAcon might respond, “Well then, we need to take over these institutions. We must become the busy-bodies.” A conservative central-planner, however, is as self-contradictory as a libertarian one–though for subtly different reasons.
First, coercing tradition forgets the virtues of tradition. We love tradition not because men were better in days of yore than they are now. Men have been fallen since Eden. We respect tradition because it is what has lasted, worked, succeeded.
Western culture is dominant in the world because the intellectual tradition of Moses, Aristotle and St. Paul understands human nature better than other cultures. Something like a survival of the fittest has taken place, and tradition is the product.
This is not to say a conservative ought to accept the newest cultural trend that pops up–quite the opposite. He ought to grumble about, abstain from and resist most innovations in how to live life. But he need not turn to Leviathan to push the tried and true. If tradition is so feeble that it needs to be put on welfare, maybe the cultural progressives are right.
Admittedly, the Darwinian analogy goes only so far. Good culture will, at times, lose out to the crass and the vulgar. Conservatism, however, sometimes means letting bad things happen. Radical measures can destroy a particular threat to order, but they will be disruptive themselves.
This tragedy of conservatism is tied to the Kirkian/Burkean idea (and is part of the argument for federalism and individual freedom) that a free marketplace of ideas is most conducive to virtue and happiness.
Conservatives don’t think individuals or states left to themselves will steer clear of error and vice. No, it’s precisely man’s tendency to make mistakes that makes conservatives wary to arm him with much power. When it comes to the common good, the invisible hand is wiser than any individual’s judgment, which gets led astray by appetites, self-interest and the natural shortcomings of reason and foresight.
These general perceptions about man and power, and specific appreciation of the way our government works, ought to direct conservatives to reject government’s reach into culture and community.
The faith-based initiative will lead to increased government control of churches. The strings may not come attached right away, but Washington didn’t originally attach conditions to highway funds to states–that is, until the states became dependent on them. Then the feds demanded speed limits and stricter DWI laws and the states had to give in.
At first, school vouchers appear to increase parents’ freedom. However, in Milwaukee (the poster-child of school choice), there is already a push to place more conditions on the schools that can accept the vouchers. In other words, if you want to compete with other private schools that thrive on voucher money, you need to listen to what Madison tells you–which won’t be good.
One cringes to think what the bureaucrats at the NEA will do to Shakespeare.
No, conservatives cannot use the tools of the left to push their cause. The best they can hope for is to find a sphere where they can live a good life, raise their children towards virtue and worship freely. We must not let in the Trojan horse of government “help,” even if it is dressed up like tradition.
As they say, the only way to get rid of corruption in high places is to get rid of the high places. With the House, Senate and White House in Republican control, power tempts us. We ought to be tearing down the high places. Instead, we are empowering the state, and we will live to regret it.
Tim Carney is a reporter for the Evans-Novak Political Report.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Jacob Hayutin
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Hadley Heath