Part of this morning’s reading is Charles Krauthammer’s “Moving from Left to Right” about his political conversion, from his book, Things That Matter. Therein, he tells the story of how his mind changed from when he was young and part of the Democratic party and ethos, through what he read as well as saw,
I’d been a lifelong Democrat, and in my youth a Great Society liberal. But I had always identified with the party’s Cold War liberals, uncompromising Truman-Kennedy anti-Communists led by the likes of Henry Jackson, Hubert Humphrey, and Pat Moynihan.
The results of the Great Society experiments started coming in and began showing that, for all its good intentions, the War on Poverty was causing irreparable damage to the very communities it was designed to help. Charles Murray’s Losing Ground was one turning point. Another, more theoretical but equally powerful, was Mancur Olson’s The Rise and Decline of Nations, which opened my eyes to the inexorable “institutional sclerosis” that corrodes and corrupts the ever-enlarging welfare state. The ’80s and ’90s saw the further accumulation of a vast body of social-science evidence — produced by two generations of critics from James Q. Wilson to Heather Mac Donald, writing in The Public Interest, City Journal, and elsewhere — on the limits and failures of the ever-expanding Leviathan state.
As he notes, this is a fairly common political journey. The “idiosyncrasies” of his story lead me to remember my own conversion, which had to do with a growing horror of communism and a rejection of the social theories of the Left that would lead the US there.
This, of course, relates to other posts on the blog about persuading those on the Left or at least to the left of the Right that what they propose for government and society really will not work. A unified message? Maybe the best we can hope for is a preponderance of evidence. The variety of expression of rightward principles seems to defy easy unity. Maybe we need a Conservative Digest to bring together the best of conservative thought on the Web and in print? On further reflection, we probably ought to call it anything other than “Conservative” as that would preclude any anyone other than conservatives from reading it, which is exactly what we don’t want. What organizational name would do us any good? We cannot exactly counter the Center for American Progress with a Center for American Regress. We can imagine how that would go over; even conservatives wouldn’t like it.
Conservatives really are no longer, if they ever really were, “standing thwart history, yelling Stop,” but rather, “Not this way, that way!” and looking for change we can believe in rather than change we simply cannot believe in. This kind of revelation can come to liberals in many forms, of course. Which reminds me of another conversion I read about this week, that of “‘Godfather of Hipsterdom’ Gavin McInnes [who says that] Feminism makes women miserable” ([h/t Julie Ponzi] I confess that I am so unhip as to have never heard of him.) He is praising the traditional family. What he says he is not saying about women is as interesting as what he does say, because he is not saying we must go back to a (somewhat mythical) time when women stayed in the home and “did not work”. McInnes is talking about a conservative vision of what women should do with themselves and their lives as liberating. His quoted comments reminded me of Harvey Mansfield’s, Manliness, although a saltier, more basic version of the idea. If we are not complete without families and the joy of that and doing a good job at it is in making good people of the children we create, then the liberation of the creative, erotic, familial impulse can mean liberating women to stay at home with their children. He says,
“I always describe New York as an elephant’s graveyard for ovaries,” he said. “All these unhappy women, and I am talking about 100 percent of my friends waiting too long and regretting it, and I’m not saying that you have to have babies and you have to stay in the kitchen and you can’t have a life. Nobody is saying that. That is a totally unreasonable thing to say. That is a fascist, communist thing to enforce. All I am saying is: Why are you trivializing such a miracle?”
Another implication of what he says is that if men just take an empirical moment with their children, conversions, religious and/or conservative, are inevitable. Would that it were always true. Different things catch different people differently and what is moved in them is not principles, but an understanding of how those principles will play out best. McInnes is evidence, as is Krauthammer, that beginning from the supposed ideals of the Left, such as a concern for humanity and the good of society, we can read the world from Left to Right.